In Memoriam: Sumpha Or

Aunt Sumpha sampling a batch of Orville Redenbacher's best popped goods - Home, Phnom Penh

Aunt Sumpha sampling a batch of Orville Redenbacher’s best popped goods – Home, Phnom Penh

This is in remembrance of Sumpha Or. Today was the first time I was in her room, and when you enter, on the right, there is a single portrait hanging on the wall slightly off balance. It is Sumpha as a young woman. You can recognize the round eyes, the button mushroom nose, the cropped wavy hair, and the warm smile that spoke the soft, gracefully husky voice I have grown to rejoice in over the last four months. She looked the same today, when she came back home, on the other side of my bedroom door, asleep on the ground, like me.

Tonight I am sleeping next to the dead.

For the last two days, I’ve been sleeping on the ground in my room. My mattress is doing an unpleasant number on my bones, shifting them into positions that just aren’t proper, making me feel like someone tore my limbs apart during my slumber. Determined to remedy this situation, I decided to sleep on a different kind of bed. It’s called a cream tile floor, a green yoga mat, a ratty white towel, and a fuzzy, red blanket. And it worked well.

But this morning, waking up on the new bed was a rude awakening. I heard voices and movement in the front room a little after 1 a.m. Aunt Sumpha went to the hospital yesterday so I thought she was perhaps back. I opened my door to the fully-lighted sitting room, squinty-eyed and wild-haired, and asked what was going on.

Aunt Thine came up to me and said, “Sumpha died. She’s gone.”

And the rest of the hours of that dark early morning passed with a spirit of loving urgency:

Moving furniture and knick knacks out of the front room;
Sweeping dust from the floors;
Spreading mats across the bare tiles;
Looking for a white shirt, and her favorite blue skirt;
Searching for a new American quarter coin;
Planting candles in dishes of melting to firming wax;
Marking the perimeter with vases of lighted incense;
Hanging up a painted canvas banner of the Buddha;
Discussing the list of things to be bought: lotus flowers, both pink and white,  etc.;
Flipping through photo albums crammed in plastic bags under her bed, for a photo to put on display;
Setting up the skeleton of a tent to cover the house’s courtyard entrance;
Cutting and arranging a field of white and yellow flowers, to grace the coffin.

They were all a series of tender scurries, to welcome Sumpha’s body back home.

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