Hands will always have fingers.

He was on his rust-eaten green cyclo. Truth be told, he was snoozing away on it. It had been like that for the last five years

of the twenty-five years he’d owned it. The leather seat had worn

off, shedding debris every time he mounted and dismounted. “Never

mind that rusty old seat,” he always said. He meant it, but he’d

grown older, so had his senile body and his thoughts about it. He

had never arrived at fixing that old piece of a seat, not for the

lack of trying, he hadn’t enough savings or the resources to

actually administer it himself. But he felt fortunate enough that

the cyclo still had all its three wheels intact. It could’ve been

worse, so thank God.

It was a clear morning. Nocturnal fog had long been lifted,

and the sun beat down in vicious rays of light.

 

He flinched awake to the sunlight that had spread from his

feet to his entire body and face. On the maroon front seat, he

squeezed his eyes, popped his back, and stared blankly. He ran his

right hand over his left and clutched onto it a few times as if

someone could’ve stolen it. It was only paralyzed due to his

insatiable habit of sleeping on his left. He tried to switch to

his right, but had failed.

He was in the parking lots of Orussey Market. His cyclo was

both his office and his home, so by that logic, he’d never

abandoned it, not without first verifying and double crossing and

checking that it’s in safe hands, or chain lock.

“Who would even want this old junk?,” asked a motor taxi

driver friend.

“I don’t know, but the hands will always have fingers,” he

said.

All he could remember, he’d always been fond of the phrase.

Hands will always have fingers. He learned it from his mother,

after he was caught stealing father’s wallet money.

“I don’t see why you’ve hit him,” she said.

“Simple, he stole, and I’ll never raise a son who steals,”

his father blustered.

“Yeah, but he’s a kid, with active hands, and hands will

always have fingers.”

His father still hit him after that, but it made an impact on

him. Because, well, he still had all his fingers.

 

His days were marked. And each one by the same things. He

would wake up half-heartedly on his cyclo in random crooks and

corners of the city, wash himself with water that he had bottled

up and tugged inside the little compartment underneath the cyclo

maroon seat. Later, he would roam the streets in the pursuit for

customers, and repeat the whole process the next day. His stomach

growled, he had not eaten for one and a half day. It’s fine, he

told himself. He had survived longer without a grain of rice. He

only needs water, that’s more than enough. He clenched the

armrests and thrust himself off. He looked over at the market, and

it was full of people.

A crowd of hastening women and men could be seen from where

he was standing. A stocky woman was approaching. Her neatly combed

black hair swiveled in the wind, her blue t-shirt’s tucked between

the layers of her body. In her hand was a basket of fruits and

vegetables. Suon called out to her, she could be his first

customer. She shook her head while pointing to her car. She won’t

be his last. Business has been tough, with cars and motorbikes,

and electrical machines. Ten years ago he was able to earn just

enough so he could bring home to his wife and daughter some decent

meat and rice. Now, it’s tumbling away, and there’s nothing he can

do about it, except to ‘shut up’ and do the work.

Ambling from inside the market, a tall and thin mother

emerged holding her son’s hand while clutching onto a large bag of

groceries in the other. The little boy had a smaller bag of his

own.

“Ma’am, Ma’am…Ma’am, cyclo…,” Suon howled. And again,

another shake of the head was shown.

Such a sight impelled him to think about his daughter. She

died of malaria seven years ago. He would never consider erasing

her out of his memory, but she required a lot of emotional strain

to think about. He didn’t have much grief over her passing away.

It struck him as a practical joke, a prank, seemingly executed by

his close friends and family. He froze still with his eyes fixed

on her unanimated body. Any minute now, she would jump up and

exhale the surprise, and all the doctors and his wife and

everybody else would gather round and have a good laugh about it.

But she didn’t move. She never moved. He thought of god. He hated

him. He hated him for ripping apart the only thing that mattered.

His legs were reduced to a bungee cord surging up and down. His

breath grew shorter, till he found himself gasping. He didn’t want

to, he wanted to follow her, be wherever she’ll be. It had never

been the same after that.

He turned to the help of alcohol hoping that it would piece

together the fragments that was his life and make it whole again.

It didn’t, but being sober wasn’t much better either. He became

less social, hardly ever uttered a word to his wife. It was a

bleak and silent room with two strangers shielded within their own

quarantine. One night, she couldn’t contain it anymore. She lashed

out at him for being immature, for being inconsiderate to her, and

worse of all, for acting as if it only affected him. She hit him.

He kept still. She hit some more. He said nothing. His marriage

ended a month after that. And it would never be the same, even

though he still had all his fingers.

He sold his little house, and spent it all on bottled

elixir that was supposed to heal his life back to normal–alcohol.

He spent daylight clutching a bottle, and nighttime hugging and

chugging one until either of them pass out, and it was always him.

He woke up with his head exploding and body reeked of musty rice

wine, and he would always ease the pain with more wine. It takes

fire to beat fire, as he vaguely put it. He’d almost sold his

cyclo. There were two guys who had shown some interests.

“150$,” Suon said.

“We can’t do 150$. We would rather get a new one if it’s that

much”

“130$, that’s the best I can do,” he pinched his head as his

brain banged against his skull.

“Go lower, 100$ is enough”

“100$? Have you seen the thing?” he scoffed. He invited them

outside to witness it with their own eyes. It was a fine cyclo

then. The bright green complimented fittingly to the maroon

leather.

“It’s nice and all, but not 130$ nice”

Suon pinched his head harder. He could feel his veins popping

beneath his skin. How dare they came in and insulted his cyclo, he

thought, the cyclo that he bought with his sweat as a construction

worker——day-in and day-out; the cyclo that fed him and his family;

the thing that drove his little girl to school everyday, and she

was happy and proud to have him drive her there; how dare they.

He could not take more of this. He moved to his green cyclo,

climbed up on it, and rode off without another word, rendering

them speechless. He hadn’t touched a bottle since.

 

He leaned against his cyclo with his right foot balanced on

one of the pedals and his arms rested on the a horizontal metal

rod that is the steering handle. Young people don’t favor the

cyclo. Well, there are more convenient and faster options like a

motor taxi or a Tuk Tuk——a passenger coach attached to a

motorcycle. He was not going to pit himself against machines. That

would be suicidal. He could never pedal 50 kilometers an hour, he

knew that. The weather had heated up only to be interrupted by

short succession of light breezes. Sweat had accumulated on his

forehead. He wiped them off with the back of his hand, and

continued surveying the entrance to the market. Orussey market is

his go-to place. There, he found that ladies who are about his age

love cyclos. He suspected that it was the work of nostalgia.

He had caught her gesturing.

He propped himself up unevenly on the worn-out seat. With a

few strokes of his legs, he was next to her. She was grappling

with twenty plus of clothes and cosmetics filled bags in each

hand. He dismounted. Powdery flakes were sent flying. He plunked

his cyclo down as she positioned herself before dropping every bag

on the wooden plank beneath her feet.

“Where to, ma’am?” Suon asked. She couldn’t explicitly tell

him where she wanted to go, and offered him directions instead.

She was in her 20s, black wavy hair hanged down to her shoulders,

her nose’s thin, and lips were pale. She gestured her hand toward

the end of the street, and he maneuvered.

His daughter would be about her age if she was still alive.

She slipped into his mind every so often, but it had never been so

clear. He could barely distinguish the line of her face, and

trying would worsen the effect. But something about this lady

triggered his ill-functioned memory to jumpstart back to its full

capacity, and projected a series of clear images, one frame at a

time. The good lady in front of his cyclo had disappeared. He saw

his daughter sitting there as she had on all the rides he had

given her. She pointed to end of the road, he kept pedaling. He

kept pedaling as she turned toward him, he saw her. It had been a

long time, never this vivid, her cheekbones, her lips, her hair,

her brown eyes. He teared up.

And, turning back around, eyes opened wide, the good lady was

shocked at what’d just happened.

 

He had always thought that if he had cared a little bit more,

things would have transpired differently. If only he had taken

care of his daughter a little bit more, if he had given his family

a little bit more of his time, if only he had acted a little bit

more rationally, he would still have half his life together, but

any possibilities he had had already been shredded to tiny bits.

He missed his daughter. He missed his wife who had always been

good to him, even when he had caused her anything but pain. She

was a loving wife and mother.

 

“Turn left right there” she said while pointing to the corner

down the block. The heat wasn’t much compared to his effort. No

matter how much the in-coming draft propelled, it didn’t seem to

produce any impact on his sweat.

It had been five years since his divorce. But it wasn’t the

last time he saw her. The last time was about a month ago. She was

working as a waitress in a deli, not far away from their old home.

He could see her clearly from outside. For the first few months of

the divorce, she would find herself yearning for him to reappear,

but it was a broken wheel.

 

“There, you can stop there.”

Suon pulled into the curb before helping her get off the

cyclo. He remembered helping his wife get off the cyclo. The lady

handed him his fee which he quickly accepted. He looked at his

hands.

He hopped on his cyclo, and pushed down hard on his pedals.

He steered through the crowd, and a brief moment later, he found

himself in front of a deli. He hesitated.

 

He pushed the door in with all his fingers.