Pasar Malam

Pasar Malam

Pasar Malam

I shake my head to wake up, as if the pasar malam, with its blue tarps and packed crowds and smoke from slightly burnt satay, is just a dream. People fill every corner of the night market, streaming through the narrow path carved by riverbanks of easy-ups lining the street. Vendors shout and yell and their voices spiral like a bakery’s sweet aroma, their tables and carts overflowing with food that tastes like home.

It is easy to get lost here. No one would notice if I was swept away in this mosaic river of locals who brave this market rush hour every day. My mom is surveying an assortment of crispy fish balls on sticks. My brother is next to her, sipping a grass jelly drink with boba. My dad is out of sight, lost in this ocean of people—he must be where the row of tents end, buying a bag of sweet rambutans.

From dusky sundown to moonlit-night, this street is a breathing torrent of bustling activity. It is all too easy to get carried away by the fluid motion of customers sauntering from vendor to vendor. I’m swerving through the flood of skin and hijabs when I notice up ahead the crowd parting as a rock divides the river. I move with the stream of people until I reach the rock that I can’t see. That’s when I nearly step on him.

He is sprawled on the floor, belly flat against the tar of the road. His skin is brown and sunbaked and wrinkled, like tree trunks. His arms are stretched in front of him, hands like twisting branches clinging to a tin can half-filled with dollar bills and spare change. Where his legs are supposed to be, only the tail ends of his dirt-covered shirt conceal two stumps.

People step around the legless, homeless beggar. Their eyes dart elsewhere—to the stand of socks, to the family buying Chinese yo-yos, to the girls selling cheap jewelry. They swerve out of his way as if he is Moses parting the Red Sea, only he has no staff to give him dignity.  

He is banging his head against the ground. Words have escaped this man. “Please,” he has learned, is not sufficient. The world has reduced him to the most primal form of begging because pity is not enough to halt people in their tracks and give him what they can. He has learned guilt is the best incentive of all.

I take a step away from him, and another. My mind can’t shake the image of him, but I am, like everyone, a creature subject to the laws of inertia. It is hard to stop our movement as we propel through life, or crowds, and before I know it, I am tents away from him. I spot my dad, and the same inertia propels my hand to tug on his sleeve. He takes out his wallet and gives me what I asked for.

Turning around is much harder. Now I am vulnerable as I crouch in front of him and place the crumpled bill in the can. His eyes meet mine, and for a moment I think I may have stopped his vicious cycle of banging, but his head hits the ground again. And again. And tomorrow when the pasar malam returns with its tarps and smoke and people pressed in close proximity, he will still be here, gravel embedded in the creases of his skin. I wish I could give him more than money and a prayer. I picture myself catching his forehead before it hits the ground, stopping his inertia, holding him close until he stops shaking. I want to give him everything I have.

Instead, I stand and push my way to my parents, who are buying charred satay. I cling to them, wrapping my arms around them like a relentless tree branch as the crowd sweeps by.

Writer: Cassandra Hsiao is in the Creative Writing conservatory at the Orange County School of the Arts and an editor of her school’s award-winning art and literary magazine, Inkblot. Her work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the National Student Poets Program. She also conducts print and on-camera interviews as a Star Reporter and Movie Editor for multiple online outlets.

Artist: Eesha Azam Khalil moved to California from Pakistan. She studied Graphic Designing from Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi, Pakistan. Passionate about Animation, her move to California was a perfect fit. In her free time, Eesha loves to go hiking and taking pictures.

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Ava used to rest her head on my shoulder
her short, feathery hair overlapping mine.
I’d lean back against her, too.
She would show me her real smile, crooked from her braces, and I’d hear
her terrible jokes that were not too cheesy. I knew her
stories, both petty and serious, and saw
every sketchbook insecurity.
The weight of her was as familiar as
the dreamy lilac color of my bedroom walls,
the slightly roughened texture of my skin,
the ups and downs of my own still-changing voice.

Every friendship has its limit
and I guess that 11:43 a.m. was ours.
The first time I hesitated to say what I really thought.
The first time we didn’t smile when we met eyes.
Our disagreements weren’t jokes anymore.
And so I wouldn’t upset her, I kept quiet.
I didn’t know if the silence or our bitter words were worse.
Ava stopped laying her head on my shoulder.
She found other people to help illustrate her story.
I’d sit on my own, head heavy, not used to its weight.
She’d preach her problems into the lining of someone else’s jacket
while I pretended not to notice.
When they were sure that Ava could be on her own, independent, strong,
they pushed her away to test the theory,
and she’d fall right back to me again.
Each time, less confident, more volatile.

A best friend is someone you can return to no matter what you’ve done.
Maybe I liked that thought more than I liked Ava as time went on.
Maybe I was holding on to our nine-year-old selves
and the bragging rights of having a friend that long.
Maybe she was keeping me for the sentiment
and my brain, advice, unchanging kindness.
Maybe when she said she needed me again,
it was the only time I felt wanted.
So I held on to her.
Like she held onto me.

Writer: Isabel Nguyen is currently a sophomore at the Orange County School of the Arts for Creative Writing. She mainly enjoys writing poetry, but is dabbling in other genres of writing such as play writing and short story writing.

Artist: Cecilia Martinez is currently enrolled at Fullerton College as a graphic design major. Her minor is Kinesiology but has a passion for writing especially poetry. Writing has been her best friend for as long as she can remember. Up until high school is when she found out that she had a passion for digital art. Two different loves eventually became one.

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Blossoming II

Blossoming II

Blossoming II

After “Paracelsus” by Diane di Prima

I long to flower in this body,
   here in the clear heat of twilight,
      under a mauve sky your eyelids translucent.
I am swimming in air that smells of movie theatre hand soap,
         chalky and humid.

Watch the tide of breastbone into hair into infinitesimal corridors of
   bright, bright, bright endless sternum and stolid bone.

   Shape my smile against your skin—

Can you see the pearlescent dew dimpling my temples?
   Do you want to trace them with the vine of your tongue?
      Do you think of the tessellation of night when I look at you?

   I bury my face into the valley of stars by your neck.

Stretch my arms upwards,
   drink in the night with my greedy, hungry mouth.
   I long to flower, wild and lush,
   next to you.
I want you to see what I am capable of—
   Just how magnificent and rare
   I can become
   if you give me a little more time.

Writer: Euni Lee is a sophomore who studies Creative Writing at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana. In her free time, she advocates for intersectional feminism and tries to remember where she put her bobby pins.

Artist: Sarah Santos uses art as a way to observe and understand the world. It helps her see things not only as they are, but also as what they can be. She likes cats.

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Sestina of the Twenties

Sestina of the Twenties

Sestina of the Twenties

My grandmother wears a chain of opals
in a bluish, bronze­-laced, beaded jewel ring
around her neck. They’re warm on her skin, fair
and pale, so smooth and luminescent—their
multicolored cracks gleam for me to see—
jangling on her as she dances each night.

She tells me that in her youth, footsore nights
were spent at speakeasies, buried beneath opal
sequins, where men lined up at bars to see
the way she would dance. There was not a
ring on her finger, no husband, nothing there
but the roaring twenties and red lips, fair

skin, and eyes so wide it seemed quite unfair
to have a life so free. Loose, wild, each night
she spent swaying with handsome boys, with
their hands placed on her hips, buying her opals,
drinks, glitter and more glitter, diamond rings,
and smooth pearl necklaces straight from the sea.

Downtown, the party began with sweet seas
of wine and evening gowns. A girl with fair
hair and long legs took to the center ring­—
she allowed the smooth jazz to blur the
night in a saxophone sonnet. The opals
flew along my grandmother’s neckline, their

creamy edges diving by her throat, their
shine glowing brighter than the pulsing sea
of shimmering smoke and stunning opal
smiles. Crowds of half-­drunk women and men, fair
cheeks turned red from beer too soon in the night;
this was the life. Chimes of wine glasses rang

in toasts; they cheered for all—from the gold rings
on their toes to the lavish liquor. Their excitement
was contagious in the night
air, lifting up bow ties and glitter. See
the way they would pay the night with a fare
of loose hair, lipstick, and shining opals!

Grandma still wears the ring of stones. Seeing
the cracks on their wine­-scented, foggy, fair
coats, she twirls at night, clutching her opals.

Writer: Jasmine Nguyen is a high school student, and attends OCSA, the Orange County School of the Arts. She is currently in 9th grade, and hopes to continuously improve her writing each year.

Artist: Larissa Marcano is a junior at Laguna College of Art+Design. She majors in illustration with Entertainment Emphasis and minor in creative writing. She started doing art at a young age and is happy to be making it into a career.

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This isn’t your typical watering hole. There you are, hungry, starving even.  You’ve had beers with a few of these colleagues before, but you’ve never actually sat down to, well, “break bread” with them, especially at some Michelin Star restaurant. You can’t remember how many rolls there even were in this communal basket of bread originally, but you know that there’s only one left and it’s chanting your name.  This particular roll has been sitting there, unattended to for at least seven and a half minutes, not that you’re counting. You debate reaching for it, but you don’t want to be the greedy one, nor do you want to be considered rude.  I mean, what if Stacy in marketing really wanted it and you read the table mood wrong? Instead of waiting that last final moment so she could feel confident enough to take it, you swoop in like Tarzan-before-Jane and then she hates you forever? She really needs to learn to speak up! And what would everyone else think of you?

“There he goes again, just hogging all the carbs.”

“He didn’t even notice that so-and-so hasn’t even had a slice yet.”

“He took TWO pieces and there was only enough for everyone to have one!”

It’s so stressful; it just makes you want to order a whole crate of baguettes for the table.  But what if this place charges for refills?  It wouldn’t be outlandish if they did.  You know, it was a pretty high-quality roll, dissipating in your mouth like a starchy dream.  Not to mention it was also served warm, which everyone knows is a sign of a classy place.  And ritzy venues like this wouldn’t remind you of the price when you asked for more.  Not a single waiter would say, “Of course I can bring you more bread. It just costs $100 extra. Is that okay?”  Instead, here, they’d probably be like, “Right away” and then tack on a herculean amount of money to your already outrageous bill.  Then you’re “the guy” who makes everyone split an even bigger check and is resented for eternity, likely never to be asked out to a work dinner again.

“Remember last time? I mean, c’mon.  No one even wanted more bread. The nerve.”

“We couldn’t even afford college for Timmy after our last dinner.”

Ultimately you’ll most likely die alone with your cactus, only to be found days later by your neighbor’s cat who will smell your decaying body.  Everyone in the apartment complex will be wondering, “How come no one knew something was wrong? His body was there for over a week!”

Mrs. Brown down the hall will say in her loud, accusatory tone, “I thought he had friends. Did no one wonder why he hadn’t called them back?”  She has the kind of voice that will reverberate down the hall like some kind of P.S.A. announcement alerting the entire city of your lonely demise. Then, one of your colleagues will pipe up, “Oh, yeah, well, he ordered an extra very expensive bread basket at dinner a few months ago and it was just, well, we couldn’t maintain a relationship after that. I mean, who could be friends with someone who would do such a thing?!”

“Ah, yes, that makes complete sense. What a selfish asshole,” Mrs. Brown will conclude.

You were only trying to be helpful.  Someone has to either take the last dinner roll or be willing to watch you take it.  It makes even less sense to waste it out of common courtesy. The restaurant is just going to throw it in the garbage at the end of the day.  It’s actually very environmentally friendly of you to heroically volunteer your stomach for this caloric consumption. And when all the buns in the basket are nonexistent, someone has to step up for the shy people who really do want more but feel it’s egregious to ask for some. Somebody has got to be the spokesperson for the hungry; stand up for those who can’t speak for themselves! There’s even a pad of butter still left on the table! Now if that’s not a sign to demand another loaf, you don’t know what is.  You’ve got to do it for the equality of dip to vessel ratio if nothing else.

Stupid societal norms.  Who even invented them anyway?  And we know they were invented.  It’s not like the first chimpanzees sat around a pile of bananas, hands crossed in their laps, politely debating amongst their troop over the last one.

“No, you take it.”

“No, you. I already had two.”

“Please, I insist.”

“This one practically has your name on it.”

Hell no.  They’d poke out the eye of their mother for more of that yellowy goodness.  You look up across the table to see you if have any competition.  You’re totally alpha chimp, no question.

Why is this so uncomfortable?  It’s especially disagreeable for those who are not in the best shape – and this includes you indefinitely.

You can hear the office gossip now: “He’ll never get his figure back if he keeps ordering bread as if it’s the Last Supper.  I mean, do you know how many calories are in those rolls? Billions.”

If you take that bread, you know you will become the helpless overeater and the judgment will be tangible.  You imagine Stacy, who seriously isn’t in a position to judge, and probably also really wants that last piece, look at you with her beady eyes that just say, “pathetic.”  It’s just a slice of baked goods, lady!  It’s not like you’re going to take one bite of it and suddenly your belt buckle will burst off with a pop, hitting Stacy with such force that she can never see out of her right eye properly again. But, nooooo, you have to sit there with your stomach growling like a hurricane. Until the single 4-inch square of ravioli , in handmade duck urine reduction sauce , gets placed in front of you as if you’re being presented with a new baby who already knows five languages.  And that arrival will be at least fifteen minutes from this barren Sahara of near empty bread basket syndrome.

You could always sneak off to the restroom and absentmindedly walk by the kitchen, casually and coolly asking one of the cute waitresses for a little bite of ciabatta.

“Hey there. You mind giving me an extra roll from that basket?” You nod slyly towards the bread, leaning on the table like a cowboy at a saloon, whispering as if the two of you are in cahoots. “You’re super hot, by the way.”  Flattery is ever so important in this case, don’t you know.

Most likely though, she’ll examine you and hate how you’re dressed. “Who wears striped socks with those shoes? What a loser.” And she’ll tell you that she “can’t, sorry.” But maybe, just maybe, your charm, or the scent she gets of your overwhelming hunger, will get you that piece of bread after all.  Without warning, you’ll just stuff the entire thing in your mouth at once and thank her while white spittles of sourdough rocket from between your lips and land on her face to your mutual disgust.  Then, you are unable to make eye contact with her for the remainder of the dinner as it turns out she’s your waitress for the rest of the night. Just your luck. You might even inhale the bread so quickly that you start to choke and little Miss Four-foot-four will attempt the Heimlich Maneuver, spraining her back in the process of saving your life. You know your catastrophic insurance won’t cover even an iota of her hospital bills. As a result, you’ll have to move back in with your parents who will NOT be happy to see you needing to live at home again.  Your mom will look at you with her hands on her hips: “We told you to major in something more hirable.” Then she’ll turn to your dad, “Didn’t we?” And your dad will nod in agreement as he gets the last word, “I mean, Philosophy, son?” What were you thinking?” He will shake his head slowly towards the ground in obvious disappointment.

You just can’t do that to your parents.  They already housed you for two unemployed years after graduation while you were in the basement with Sartre and Kant “discovering who you truly were.”  They love you and all, but everyone knows that the parents who truly unconditionally adore their children keep their rooms just the way they were left; set up like shrines to the brilliance of their amazing offspring.  Yours have probably already turned your old room into a home office, a gym, or worse, rented it out your ex-girlfriend.  Let’s be honest: They like you and all, but not enough to have you back at this point in their lives.

You notice that your leg is starting to twitch.  A nervous hunger tick you can’t control.  It will soon start sending waves through your whole body—you just know it. See! You need another bun so that your restless hungry leg syndrome can stop, if only for the sake of the table and relief of your fellow eaters.  You know if you keep shaking your foot that the table will look like an earthquake zone in about 30 seconds, the water glasses rippling like a T-Rex is coming for you and that last breadcrumb. You’ve got two choices now: Be the King of the Jungle and order more bread for the basket, or be the guy who took down the table at a five-star restaurant.  You hold your leg down with both your hands, a bead of sweat forming on your brow.  Find something else to do, you tell yourself.  Wine.  There’s wine.  You can pass the time sipping fancy-ass merlot.  You reach for it. It has just enough left for one last glass. But what if someone else was waiting to have it?

Great. Now they’ll think you’re an alcoholic, too.

Writer: Caitlin Orr is a writer of quirky short stories and a lover of wonder. She is a graduate student in creative writing at Mills in Oakland, where she lives with her girlfriend and her beloved dog, Cornelia.

Artist: Harrison Roig is a Graphic Designer who is working toward specializing in typography and logo design. He is a person who loves to think outside of the box for designs. His work stems from being creative and showing people that both he and his art are all about having fun and keeping things exciting.

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