A helicopter overhead. A truck engine roars past. Soldiers in dirty green uniforms, surrounded by a cloud of warm brown dust, unload buckets full of raw sardines. All the refugees rush to get in line for food.
My teenage brother held me back saying, "Today is our last day to get a meal like this before we depart to America. We can take our time."
When the crowd was gone, my oldest brother, nearly an adult, walked to the soldiers and returned with three raw sardines and a bag filled with two handfuls of rice. We walked the dirt road home, my five-year-old stomach wanting me to hurry; my bare feet telling me to slow down and avoid the tooth-sharp pebbles. My mother stood waiting in her black dress outside the bamboo hut. Usually full of worry and nervousness, she smiled when we handed her the rice and silver fish. Our departure from a year trapped behind the barbed wire camp fence was tomorrow. Twenty minutes later, my mother, eight siblings, and I surrounded a paper plate of fried sardines and rice on the dirt floor. My youngest sister, Yer, ate first. Our hands unwashed, we each took turns. For my mother, there was nothing left except the meatless head. She took it and smiled. The sardines were so salty I had to stuff my mouth with a handful of rice.
"Mom," I said, "Did you put a lot of salt on this sardine? Why is it so salty?"
"No, my son," she said, "It's your tears."
An airplane flew somewhere far above us. I was frightened of what life in America would be like. "I miss dad. Will he ever come back?"
"He won't, but he is up there watching over you," my mom said. "Let go of everything. It's time to start a new life." Twelve years later, sardines still taste like tears.