Flash Fiction #107
“Are they friends or are they lovers?” Jan asks her husband Dang when other people are out of earshot.
“Of course friends. Are you crazy? I can’t believe you even ask such a question.” Dang says.
“You don’t observe. You only think about your beer and rice wine and braised pork at a dinner table, like a rice bucket.” Jan says.
Dang at first doesn’t want to say anything in retort. This is just a typical little verbal exchange between the two. One calls the other “crazy” while being called “rice bucket” in return. Rice bucket is a term to describe a person who only cares about food and nothing else. However he can’t help adding, “If they were lovers, it’s all your fault, isn’t it? You mocked every boyfriend Nia ever had and drove each away…”
Their daughter Nia has brought her friend and colleague Lydia to the Luna New Year family gathering. They work in the same sales office in Jersey City, right by the Hudson River, 30 miles northeast of Edison Township. Nia’s mother’s observation is correct in the sense that Nia is so much happier than before after she befriends Lydia.
Nia grew up uneventfully in Southeast Asia until 15, when her family immigrated to America. Although Nia is a smart girl, the adjustment wasn’t easy. She didn’t learn extra English to prepare for her American life because she thought her family wouldn’t be able to immigrate. Actually nobody expected it to happen. Jan’s uncle, who lives in New Jersey, sponsored the family’s immigration when Dang and Jan first got married 17 years ago, but the process has been complicated and slow. Months, years, and a decade passed, and everybody gave up on it. However, when Nia was 15, suddenly the process came to a successful end and they were allowed to go. The family flew to JFK Airport three weeks later.
Nia didn’t have a friend in school and she could hardly catch up with her peers in learning. Edison Township has many Asians but not many new immigrants. The high school assignments, in particular the reading part, were too overwhelming for her to handle. She tried hard, but still couldn’t keep up. The language and the education style were too foreign to her. On the other hand, her younger brother Anu fared much better–his fifth grade curriculum is much less challenging.
Her struggling in school didn’t win her any sympathy from her parents. “Anu is doing very well. Why can’t you?” They chided her. Not that they favor boys over girls. Actually not. In that aspect, they are equally unsympathetic to both. In the old time, they had mocked Anu because his school report had always been less stellar than Nia. Their parental intention was clear–they tried to motivate Anu to be better and to learn something from his sister. However, contrary to their expectation, their consistent scolding and comparison had provoked Anu into a serious dislike of his sister.
Now it’s Nia’s turn to be marked out as a villain. “You didn’t study hard enough.” That’s the verdict of Nia’s parents. Nia was completely isolated in the world with nobody to talk to except her old friends across the Pacific. Thanks to social media, she was in constant contact with them. However they had no idea how challenging the high school English can be and how hard the adjustment can be. For some people, it is quick and probably even painless, but for Nia it is slow and painful.
The school teacher and one or two people in the Asian community told Jan and Dang that Nia might be depressed. They observed her demeanor and behavior, and raised alarm to her parents. This made Jan and Dang even more angry with Nia. In their world, mental illness doesn’t exist but crazy, bad, wayward women exist in abundance. Nia was duly informed of her “wickedness” by her parents, and was told to put a smile on her face and to be sweet when she talked.
The second part of the story is here.