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Oliver Benjamin                            
“Not always,” Ermita said angrily, “Not always,” and stormed out
of the room. Yak and Lily and the stuffed animals fell back into an
innocent pile. From then on, they only did that when Ermita was not
around. He also gave her “horseyback rides” and she would laugh
and hold on to the long mane of hair that flowed from his head like
dark water.
As the years went by, Yak became an essential part of their family,
even taking over a significant portion of Lily’s caretaking. Her father
had been a busy man, a prominent lawyer for the city and therefore
in those litigious times, a star of some lucidity. As she only saw him
at night, and then only rarely, he was like a brief and illuminating
Neither was her mother around much, having created a
crystalline lattice of social interconnections so complex it required
constant tinkering to maintain.
Ermita as well had her hands full maintaining the large empty
house and so had little tolerance for Lily’s incessant questioning. The
child seemed to want to know the answer to absolutely everything:
How did one clean things? How did soap work? What were the
Philippines like? Why did she come to America? What was her
greatest dream? How do you get gum out of your hair?
“I don’ know, child. Leave me ‘lon. Ass’ your crazy frien’.”
And Lily would wait for Yak to come over, then she would pepper
him with questions and giggles. He would teach her all the wonderful
things he had learned from books. If he didn’t know an answer, they
would run into her father’s enormous library and search for it
together. After each discovery, she gave him an affectionate squeeze
on his palm, his arm, around his neck or elongated midsection.
One day she complained, “Ermita says that I shouldn’t hug
people so much.” They were sitting in the library eating Filipino
peanut cookies she baked for them.
“She said twelve is too old to act that way. She says it’s not
“Not polite?” he replied. Unfamiliar with the codes of greater
civilization outside their neighborhood, he didn’t know how most
people comported themselves. It was true that in the classic literature
he read people never seemed to touch each other much.
“I don’t know what’s polite,” Yak admitted. So they slipped into a
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