I pass by the spa each morning
when it is empty and I can see her
placing fresh fruit at the feet of the Buddha
in the little red shrine she keeps by the door.
She lights the candles that surround him.
This is part of starting the business day,
alongside counting the money in the till
and turning on the OPEN sign.
When I come in for a pedicure,
she doesn’t look into my face.
She bows her head and bends
her body toward my feet.
This is a strange posture of power
that she and I do not like, and we both spend
the next hour pretending it is not happening.
But she is tiny and powerful.
She is very good at what she does.
She barely has to think. I trust her.
She is sweet and rude. To the other pedicurists,
she speaks suddenly, and seemingly angrily
in their language, though she does not turn
her body to them, and her body expresses no anger.
One time, she tried to speak in English with me.
“How many kids you have?” she asks me.
“None,” I say. “How many do you have?”
“Three,” she says. “All boys.”
“All boys?” I ask.” Yes,” she says.
She shakes her head.
I shake my head, too, in support of her.
She bows her head and bends her body
toward my feet because of – and for – these boys.
She rolls up her sleeves,
and I see for the first time that there is
a long white scar along her left arm.
I wonder what could have happened …
I can see where someone has folded
together the two banks of skin and,
in and out, sewn them tight to dam the blood,
leaving a deep dry river bed,
footprints of holes along the banks
where the government needed to know something,
and then where her boys, perhaps, played
childish games, digging for treasure,
how much she suffered for them.