I poke at mother’s steaming dumplings (laid on one of those fancy china plates)
with a pair of chopsticks. She then scolds me for my improper use of the chopsticks;
my cloddish grip,
the way my dumpling-prodding is unsightly. Apparently, I am
never to use chopsticks like this again.
Mother iterates this like the chiding I have earnt is parable;
Unwittingly, I cut into her hemming and hawing,
brutishly, unanchored – like how I held the chopsticks.
Then why don’t I just eat the dumplings with a fork?
Her response is short and punchy, like what poetry websites want
in contributors’ submissions’;
How dare you
say that? Then don’t eat dumplings, don’t eat dinner – eat air with a fork!
My face crumples,
but I go on to tell my children How dare you when I realize that my
my cloddish grip
has been passed onto them. Sigh.
I am fourteen years old, easing into the Asian-way of things – fumbling throubh various steamboats and lo heis on Chinese New Year.
This clumsiness is an annual affair.
Another day, another battle.
She sits on the couch, one leg spread out, the other bent at an angle comfortable enough—balanced atop her knee is a bowl, and in the bowl lie six cubes of papaya, orange and vibrant. The fruit must not fall off! She rotates her ankle slightly, adjusting position so the bowl is resting firmly on her knee.
The sight of papaya, its shimmering sheen making it look like an exorbitant jewel in the light of the sun’s rays, elicits a strange heat from her belly. It starts from the pit of her abdomen and blooms up; the heat consumes her front and before long, arches over the straps of her bra and criss-crosses, like a decorative lattice, into the curve of her spine.
I want to eat it. There is music playing on the T.V in front of her. The television is on, like it was when she first sprawled on the couch a month ago, ready to eat her weight in fruit and drink her sorrows away with some form of tasteful drink. Never water, never green tea, never anything that would be deemed ‘nutritious’ on a health broadcast.
I eat healthily, she thinks, shoving slice after slice of pineapple into her mouth. I eat healthily, she sighs, as watermelon juice, red and sometimes sticky, trails down her arms, down her chin, straight into the hollow of her neck, and across her thighs (eating fruit without pants was a great decision, one of the greatest decisions she’d ever made) in the reddest organic glory. I eat healthily, she murmurs softly to herself, eyes downcast and away from the screen of her T.V—her gaze is fixated on the paleness of her banana, freshly-peeled and curving gently into a smile, one that could rival that of the Nepalese.
It is a rainy afternoon. She decides that it is an afternoon for bananas, and separates one of the fruit from its yellow bunch. As the waxy skin comes apart in her hands, she thinks of how it had felt when she was with a group of people, thick as thieves…tight as a bunch of bananas.
How it had felt when someone tore her away from the familiar greenishyellowgreenishyellowgreenyellow colour that she had grown up with. Her nail pierces through the skin of the banana/
How it had felt when someone unravelled her with their own hands. Her finger slides from the top of the banana, now pale and looking extremely…vulnerable (she thinks that vulnerable sits wrong, yet right, when being used to describe a fruit without its skin) in her palms. Her finger traces the tip and then dips into the curve, and smoothens back up against the moist texture of the banana.
How it had felt when she lay there, smooth and unblemished, slipping out of her mother’s womb gently, a smile on her face as nurses wiped away gel and other messy fluids.
You had been born smiling, her mother says. Your dimples showed before your eyes could crinkle, full of tears.
A thought comes to her mind. No, the smiles of Nepalese people are brighter than that of bananas. She takes a fork and slices the banana. A coin-sized shape of the fruit lays nestled in her palm, the paleness of the banana slice contrasting her dark skin.
She pops it into her mouth, and repeats the same process for the rest of the sliced fruit. Hold slice, look at slice, admire the contrast…eat slice.
When the banana is fully eaten, she cleans up her couch-space. The banana peel is deposited into the trash bin, and her table is cleaned of seeds from various fruits. She washes the bowls stacked up in her sink; the translucent juices of fruits: red yellow green orange red yellow green brown remind her of how healthy she’d been eating this past month.
The T.V is still on when she arrives back to where she started—the couch—and she turns it off. The silence is unsettling, almost disapproving, like the static air around her is settling into a frown.
So, she smiles.