Nkauj Yiv – A Novella
By Kerry Xiong
For the longest time in all of her eighteen years, Nkauj Yiv had known that she was destined to go to the RiverCentre New Year. It was the one place in the entire world that Hmong-Americans from all over America came to meet. People both young and old gathered in the ballroom to toss hand-sewn balls in courtship of one another. Gentlemen and ladies sang kwv txhiaj telling one another, speaking of the ways they both have suffered in their partners’ long absence. In another room, the arena, was a stage where young talents competed for rankings and accolades. And in another, there resided vendors of all trades – folks who sold Hmong clothes, Hmong knives, Hmong medicine, Hmong movies, Hmong music. It was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. Of course, she’s seen the event on the Hmong TV channel every year when she’d stay home with her grandmother while her father and stepmother attended the New Year ceremony with her two stepsisters, Dib and Taub. But since her grandmother’s passing, not but three years ago, she’s been devoid of this magnificent sight on television not to mention in person. And ever since that time, she’s wanted to come here so very much, both for her own visual experience as well as for her beloved grandmother. It was her grandmother’s dying wish to see Nkauj Yiv out in the world, no longer restrained by the enforcement of her malevolent stepmother and stepsisters.
Nkauj Yiv glided downward on the escalator stairs feeling as majestic as if she was descending onto earth from a cloud. Children of all ages, teenagers, toddlers, wives, husbands, wore elegantly detailed Hmong attire beyond Nkauj Yiv’s fashionable conception. Never being allowed to leave the house on regular outings, Nkauj Yiv’d never before seen such vibrant, inspiring, brilliantly embroidered, beaded costumes in person. She was so enthralled by the colors and shapes and textures, she could almost hardly restrain herself from walking over to one of those strangers and placing her small, unembellished hands upon their clothes in marvel. Oh if only she could. What dismay that that wouldn’t be appropriate. Yet, simply being here, she thought, would have made her grandmother proud. “Nkauj Yiv,” she would have said, “my brave and kind girl had finally won at last.” “There’d come a day when your goodness will defeat the evil,” her grandmother had said. It was a lesson that her grandmother had wanted her to heed and practice with great concern.
It was a trying battle for Nkauj Yiv and has always been since her own mother’s death at her tender age of six. Her father, not having been as strong as she, adapted to alcoholism, a therapy that could only be halted upon his re-marriage to Nkauj Yiv’s stepmother and stepsisters. In all of Nkauj Yiv’s years, she praised the heavens, even today, that through it all, she at least had her grandmother as a motherly guide. Which was why today, Thanksgiving Friday, was so important to her. It was all that she owed to her grandmother, all that she could give her grandmother now – an attempt to meet a Hmong man in hopes that one may offer for her, a hand in marriage. That was what her grandmother would have wanted for her. And she’d be defiant not to give it at least one attempt. Even if Nkauj Yiv knew from the bottom of her heart that this was to end in naught, for what kind of man would fancy a plain girl like Nkauj Yiv? But at least at the end of the day when Nkauj Yiv returned home to settle in the little nook at the corner of the dark kitchen cell she called a bedroom, she can embrace her own barren heart and empty soul, peaceless soul that it was, that yes, grandmother, she gave it a try. She gave it her best shot.
Though she’d no Hmong attire to don, Nkauj Yiv wore her most precious evening gown that was gifted to her by her grandmother. It was her own mother’s evening gown, once ago. It was a pink satin dress with a reserved neckline, but low-cut at the back. Its length draped down past Nkauj Yiv’s small feet and trailed behind her angelically. When she donned it, she felt as elegant as a fairy princess wandering earth. Though she had no powder on her cheeks or color on her lips, her mother’s dress alone gave her the courage and finesse to face society, Hmong society especially, a most disapproving and judgmental one of all. Yet even if a million people were to scowl at Nkauj Yiv and call her a misfit, it wouldn’t stop her today. Her heart raced now. Now that Nkauj Yiv was finally here, she could hardly keep her awe under wraps. Everything was so, so fascinating to her. Boy the scenery. Vendors fried roped Hmong sausages, bright orange skin-on chicken leg quarters, and pork spare ribs to a delectable gloss and simmered them under a well-lit warmer that made her mouth water. Merchants, probably a family member of the same vendor, scooped large ladles of coconut milk and syrup over tri-colored pearls in plastic cups for sale for merely $3. Four or five hair-netted women, in a disorganized line, pounded thick long pestles into mortars of julienned green papaya and mango dressed with thick liquids of lumpy brown and soft black upon freckles of halved cherry tomatoes, whole peanuts, sections of brilliant green long beans, lime slices, and the occasional blue crab claw. Steamy sweet rice died purple fragranced the food court with the nostalgic Hmong aroma, a medley of white rice, shampooed black hair, and fresh clean linen. As Nkauj Yiv walked toward the food court, her stomach ached and growled. She hadn’t the money to purchase a single thing; how she fared to afford her entry ticket into the ballroom was beyond her imagination. Surveying the mass of people consuming appetizing foods, warm steamy drinks, and iced desserts of all assortments, she tied her hopes to the thought that her hunger and longing for such things would, at the very least, make it easier for her exit once she was ready to call it a day.
Just then, she felt a soft touch at her heel. She instinctively shifted her gaze, staring straight at her foot. A golden cloth ball had rolled and stopped at her left foot. She bent down to retrieve the ball but was surprised to feel the swift encounter of a large masculine hand on hers. She yelped and pulled away, but her gaze caught a glimpse of this man. A pair of sharp dark eyes locked on hers. In a brief peer through the haze of her thoughts, Nkauj Yiv realized the shape before her. A twist of an inviting smile from the figure made her nerves rattle and her cheeks hot. A pair of white straight teeth glinted at her from that gorgeous face, a razor sharp jawline that was nicely buzzed, not left fuzzy like that of her own father’s. Nkauj Yiv had to look away feeling bashful. She knew then that she’d stumbled upon the most dazzling, most handsome man she’d ever beheld. And to her astonishment, his gaze wasn’t leaving hers.
“Nkauj Yiv,” he said.
Stay tuned for Chapter 2 in the December 5th issue of the Hmong Times.