Monsoon Departure

Lisa Park


The hard-shelled, plastic suitcase did not expand, but she packed one more sweater. Kim, my youngest daughter, was leaving the Philippines today to go to graduate school in Canada. The familiar stone in my stomach, the one I felt when separated from my children, was heavier this time. I felt it with small separations, like when my children went to grade school, leaving me at home during the day. Or bigger ones, like when Kim’s three older sisters decided, one-by-one, to go to America for university. Either way, my body’s response was the same. A sinking rock, smoothed over by the same currents of worries, threatened to pull me down. To keep myself afloat, I made lists of what Kim would need in a cold, foreign country. Sweaters, coats, socks. In the Philippines, we have two seasons- rainy, with occasional monsoons, and dry. Both are hot. She should pack one more sweater.

Over the last two weeks, we took the jeepney, leftover American military jeeps converted to small public buses, to different shops in Manila. It was hard to find winter clothes, let alone ones that fit her. Kim was my tallest daughter, taking after her father. Her face, not heart-shaped like her sisters but an elegant oval like her brothers. Her nose was not flat like my nose but had a determined, straight backbone. Her friends were envious of her nose. The shopkeepers would say, “What long arms for a girl!” She would smile, not complaining when the cuffs of her sleeves would not even reach her wrists. Maybe in Canada, the sleeves would reach. But there, her nose would look flatter, more Chinese, less admired but more a marker, like our black hair, of difference. I hoped her backbone would still be straight, determined.

After days of jumping on and off the jeepney, my feet throbbed. I rested by the window with my feet propped on a stool as Kim bustled about our apartment, packing. My feet remembered this pain from when I was a teenager, and my parents moved our family from Fujian province in China to the Philippines. In China, my parents followed the customs of the time, binding and breaking the small bones of my feet every night to give me lady-like, lotus-shaped feet. But lotus feet were for married women sitting at home, working on embroidery. Not for traveling for hours by boat from China to the Philippines. Not for a mother raising seven children. Certainly not for packing a daughter to go across the world for education.


We did not bind the feet of my four daughters, who walked to school just like their three brothers. During the rainy season, they would carry books above their waists, shoes stacked on top to stay dry. They taught each other to place each foot down carefully in the muddy water, so a pothole could be felt before advancing to the next step.

Camilo, my third son and seven years older than Kim, liked to tease her when she was a young schoolgirl. He would hide her shoes the night before, while she was asleep.

“Kim-ah, time for school! Let’s go!” he would say as she scrambled to get ready the next morning.

“But! I can’t find my shoes! I looked everywhere!” she would cry. Her freshly pressed white shirt tucked into a navy blue pleated skirt, she would run around barefoot hunting in the usual places until Camilo would burst out laughing and give them to her. She would sulk, her sourness only relenting after he would buy her a bag of freshly-roasted peanuts on the way home from school.


If I watched Kim checking and rechecking her suitcase, the stone within me would pull me under. So I turned back to the window, where monsoon rains overtook the streets below. The clouds ached, swollen with fluid, leaking continuously. I watched the water level rise higher, blocking the front door to our apartment building. Even the jeepneys weren’t running their usual routes. So we called Camilo, now graduated from university and the manager at a rubber factory. He persuaded a driver from the factory to drive a box truck through the high waters to bring us to the airport. The box truck, accustomed to hauling rubber which would be made into sandals for sunny days, cut a path through the water.

“Kim-ah, time to go to the airport! “ Camilo hopped down from the truck. “I hope you can find your shoes!” he called up as we looked down from the third floor window.

“But how will we get out of the building? The water is so high,” Kim worried. She sat down to slip on her wooden Bakya clogs.

“We can go down the fire escape ladder,” I told her. I put my small, child-sized shoes onto my hoof-shaped feet.

“But what about you, Ma?” She looked at me with concern.

“Ai-yah, Kim-ah, don’t worry.”

“Tell the driver to pull close to this side!” Kim shouted down to Camilo.

The driver eased the truck as close as he could to the fire escape side of the building. Camilo pulled the fire escape ladder down to the ground. He climbed the ladder to carry Kim’s hard plastic suitcase down to the truck. Kim rolled up her pant legs and descended the ladder. I took a deep breath. My turn.

“Ma, we are ready to help you!” Camilo said from the bottom of the ladder.

“Yes, be careful!” Kim said.

I slowly stepped down each rung of the ladder, using my arms to hold onto the sides for balance. By the time I got down to the street, my qipao, an unadorned simple dress the color of rain clouds, had soaked into a stony gray. Camilo helped me step up into the truck.

Kim smoothed out her pant legs and squeezed in next to me. She wiped rain off her glasses with the edge of her blouse.

“We’re going to make it, Ma,” she smiled at me.

“Yes, you are, Kim-ah.”


Lisa Park is a physician and mother who returned to writing after the pandemic. Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Little Patuxent Review, Gyroscope Review, Pangyrus and others. Her nonfiction work can be found in Months to Years and Under the Gum Tree. She can be found on Instagram @Lisalparkwrites. She lives in the DC area with her family and irrepressible golden retriever.



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