You are too young to relish the way the dirt road village never changes, stagnant as cars chug by. Only trucks will stop here at the end of the week to pick up Tangkak’s greatest export, made of blood and sweat and aching backs. Before sunrise, you skip school to watch your cousins cleave tree trunks, breaking bark, spiraling slivers. Liquid latex drips into brown cups from the metal tap stabbing the tree. They collect the milky white substance in buckets, conduct a balancing act on motorcycles as they speed off to the factories. Sun and humidity coax beads of sweat. Your cousins measure and pour the white latex into square containers, coagulate with acid and feed the tofu sheets into a roller. The smell assaults your senses. Uncle lets you grip the rough handle. You have to throw all your weight forward to turn the rusty machine and flatten the layers of rubber. You drape the thin sheets on the fence outside. The smokehouses are next, and from a distance passerby mistake the yellow-brown slabs for leather. If today is pickup day, your cousins, elementary school dropouts, would package their livelihood and put on their best suits and greet the city men, but today is not pickup day, so the rubber hangs from wooden beams, flapping in the wind. Your cousins head back home and fall asleep in their wrinkled, reeking clothes, the odor clotting their bloodstreams.
Cassandra is a junior in the Creative Writing conservatory at the Orange County School of the Arts. She is an editor of her school’s award-winning art and literary magazine, Inkblot, and has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards as well as the National Student Poets Program. Her plays are currently being produced by theaters across the nation. Her poetry, essays and reviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, TeenReads, Jet Fuel Review, Feminine Inquiry, Aerie International, and more.