“He was several years older than me,” my friend signed to me, “so I had to listen to him. And he just kept telling me again and again. It got on my nerves.” She wiped her face with typical Sugar peevishness, slinging her arms back down across her Hello Kitty purse.
“Who?” I asked, trying to understand the leap in conversation.We were in the middle of translating a parable, which they had been curious about for months: where the sower goes out and throws “rice” on the different earth. Who believes and grows. Who doesn’t. But it wasn’t unusual, this logic jump. Between talking about our friend Fiona’s disobedient cats, who had all died from various traumas over the course of a few weeks, Kuu’s plans to make a feathered hat for design school, and my flight back to America in a couple months, we had hopscotched around our subjects all morning.
Sugar signed his name again. “Mark. You know Mark. He got the cancer.” The sign looked like a creeping eating thing. I thought of my grandmother, the blooming purple evil spreading, a house divided against itself. “His knees swelled up,” she signed. “Then he lost them, lost everything below the thigh.” She shook her head with the memory. “Actually, you wouldn’t know him. He’s dead.”
“What did he–” I echoed back his sign name. “–Mark, do?”
Pointing at the crayoned version of “fertile soil” that they had taped to the white board, Kuu waved until she got my attention. “Chun would go over to his house–him and the other guys would rotate who helped him once he lost his legs–and do his laundry. Every time, he was like, ‘Jesus this Jesus that.’ My husband swore he’d never believe. All the guys got mad about it. But Mark ended up giving Chun some books. ‘When you’re ready, you’ll read these.'”
Sugar caught my eye hesitatingly. It had taken her so long to warm up to me, despite all the adventures we had had, wat-hopping and sightseeing and getting lost in Chiang Rai. I was surprised she shared even now. “We were awful to him all through school,” she signed, looking away. “He never retaliated. It was weird how nice he was. It almost made us stop being cruel. But not really. When he died, I couldn’t stop crying.”
“Did you believe then?”
Kuu pointed at the drawing, circled the lush sketchy green of the field that thrived. The believing earth. “Chun was sitting at a bar when it hit him in his heart to go read those books. He can’t read well but he tried. He started asking all his friends, ‘Do you know anything about this guy Jesus?'” She switched posture in the Deaf style of becoming other characters, in this case, his drunk friends sitting on bar stools nearby. It was a humorously male posture, legs spread, shoulders lazily shlumped.
“‘No, dude, you’re drunk.’
‘Do you know anyone who knows anyone who knows about Jesus?'”
“‘Well there’s this farang white guy giving Bear stories over in the north district. He says they’re straight from the Holy Word. Not extra stuff like that scary Korean cult…'”
Sugar shook her head. I thought of her husband, the one with all the questions: Mammon said this. What does the Bible say? Mammon said this and they said it’s in the Bible. What does the Bible really say?
Kuu’s eyes sparkled, corresponding dark jewels to the signature beauty marks peppering her cheeks. “That’s when we met Adam.”
“How long did it take you to believe?” I asked.
“After my dream? A few weeks.”
Sugar lowered her eyes. “I heard longer. But it took me longer.”
“Six.” She shifted in her seat. Then she signed the page on the board:
…a field of good earth. A man reaching into his satchel and drawing up a handful of rice seed. It spills, it arcs. With a swing of the wrist, he strews it across the earth. And sun. And rain. And up comes the growth, a stalk, strong and sturdy. From it drops another seed, which falls to the good earth. And up comes the growth.
“Do you think Mark sees us in heaven?” Sugar asked me.
Kuu pulled a face, like ‘duh.’ “Don’t you know it, Sugar. He’s watching Fiona’s cats ’til we get there.”