• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 12
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The Weight on Her Shoulders

Ah Poh said that Ah Ma carried me on her back in a blue bag tied over her shoulder like a sling. She cut out two holes to pull my legs through, and off she went, balancing the whole 15 pounds of six-month-old me, a light bounce on her gait while my feet dangled and knocked her hips like a drum. Ah Ma walked unpaved roads, crossed fields of grass with mooing cows and shrieking birds; miles of soil pounded under her thinning soles before reaching the orchard like others like her, mothers, sisters, wives picking apples for $5 an hour in the cooling wind of Fall. Ah Ma’s large, brimmed hat shielded me from the sun. My weight on her back, she ascended the ladder and standing on a rail, she moved her hands in tandem, grasping one fruit after another and twisting its stem until it snapped, and dropping them in the pail on the ladder shelf. Ah Ma said I would fall asleep drooling on her neck, then wake up to wail hunger. She sat me on her lap, fed me with apple puree from a glass container she pulled from her pocket, gave me a fallen apple to play with. By the end of the shift, her bags filled with Jonagold, Honeycrisp, and McIntosh were weighted; money was placed in Ah Ma’s palm. At sunset, she secured me in her makeshift sling, and bounced off with her pockets jiggling with coins and crinkling American dollars, the flashlight in her right hand casting a yellow triangle. Sometimes, a family picked us up from the side of the road. Sometimes, I dreamed I was swimming in a sea of red apples.