Rice cooked in the bamboo. The smoke kept the bees away. So she hovered by the smoke and waited to eat.
She was leaving the rice farm the next day. She had been the eldest person working the farm by a decade. She was both proud of that fact, and lonely that she had to do it alone. She drank the water from the ceramic urn that the farmer’s wife said came from the mountain. She only saw a tub of water and made sure to pick the bugs out before she drank. She loved the chili paste. She was partial to her family’s recipe—the family with whom she lived. She didn’t know how she would live without rice three times a day and the smell of chili heat on her skin. She didn’t mind the beetles who lived with her in the hut. She liked her mat better than her mattress at home.
She didn’t like the man who asked her to marry him. A man from a nearby village who helped at the farm. He mimed putting a ring on her finger; he mimed rocking a baby; he mimed going away to live in his village. At first, it had been charming. She mimed that she was too old. She mimed that she was in a relationship. But she had no ring, and he did not believe her. She mimed, no. No.
He was persistent: taking over her work at the farm; sitting next to her at dinner; insisting that she sit behind him on his motorbike on the way to the furthest rice field. John, the farmer, waved him away, but that did not stop him. She began putting her backpack against the door of her hut—there were no locks and just in case. She began to look through the slats of the bamboo wall when she peed to make sure no one was watching. She stopped smiling. The man spelled baby in English in the dirt. She crossed it out. One night he came to her and showed her an official document that mapped a plot of land. She supposed it was a deed. He gestured to her again. Marry me. She saw his loneliness, but she was tired and angry and ached for home.
She was grateful John hadn’t let him come on the hike that day. The man had insisted, but John took him aside. She watched their arms wave at one another. The man left on the motorbike and she would not see him again.
John prepared the rice and smiled at her. Had he known she was bothered? She would never know. All she knew is she felt safe, and for that she was grateful. Yet it didn’t take that sadness away: Half way around the world from her home and decidedly middle-aged, she still had to be wary of men and grateful at times for their intervention.