Flash Fiction #135
“Can you persuade her? You are such a good girl, Venven, but your cousin Arlai is the exact opposite. Remember she went to Thailand for vacation and came back expressing her desire to be a Buddhist nun? Remember that? Then she tried to set up an animal hospital with a boy who eventually ran away with their seed money. Remember that? Now we finally thought that she would settle down with her fiancee, only to be informed that she was asking him to buy her a car and a pet monkey. Otherwise, she would call off the wedding. Can you persuade her just to be normal? You are of the same age and I bet you have more to talk about. I mean just ask her to forgo such ridiculous requests and get married and settle down.” Venven’s parents and grandmother plead.
The next day, Venven invites Arlai to a restaurant where she expects that her persuasive power would drag Arlai back from the edge of silliness and childishness. Venven has always been a good girl, hardworking, respectful, selfless, cooperative, polite. She went to college and graduate school on scholarships, after which she got a good job. She dated two guys seriously and now tried to settle down with her boyfriend Rang.
On the other hand, her cousin Arlai just can’t get her act together. She couldn’t finish high school without heavy tutoring from after-school training centers; she barely finished college with a passing grade; Venven’s father had to pull several strings in order to get his niece a job in the government, for which Arlai hasn’t showed a shred of gratitude.
The two cousins sit down. Arlai orders Singapore rice noodles, soft shell crabs, and several dim sum.
“I hope they would pay for this educational meal that will make me a comeback kid.” Arlai says.
“What are you talking about? Who are ‘they’?” Venven asks.
“Please, Venven, don’t play dumb. They are your parents and our grandmother of course. You are on a mission to reform me, trying to do their bidding for them. You are such an artless hardworking simple girl, Venven. You don’t know about the tricks other people are playing on you.” Arlai says.
“Oh, come on, Arlai, what are you talking about? Anyway, your grandmother, your parents and my parents are asking me to tell you this: Don’t you think you are being silly? I mean all these childish things you’ve been doing. Try to grow up.” Venven says.
“After they crushed my dream of becoming a lawyer?” Arlai says.
“You can’t be serious, Arlai. You’ve watched too many American TV shows. Lawyers don’t make much money in our Asian countries. Often lawyers have to get into a bad situation that involves ugly bribery and politics. If you want to have a normal life, you don’t want to choose such a profession.” Venven says.
The food comes and the two cousins continue to talk. Venven tries to convince Arlai to be more practical and more mature, while Arlai tries to say that her life has been destroyed by controlling parents and emotionally depleted growing up process.
“Why are you against your parents, my parents, and our grandmother? I think they are just trying to help you make the best decisions for your life.” Venven says.
“Really? Are they trying to help you to make the best decisions for your life?” Arlai asks Venven.
“Yes, I think so.” Venven says.
“You are so blind.” Arlai says.
“What are you talking about? I am not blind. I think you are the one who’s blind. You are the one who can’t grow up.” Venven says.
“OK. Let’s see who’s more blind here. They introduced Rang to you not for your own interest but for their own interest because Rang’s family is doing the business of …” Arlai says.
“Well, of course Rang was introduced to me, but it is me who has chosen him as my boyfriend and we are going to get married soon. It is my decision.” Venven says.
“Really? Your decision? You have not been influenced? Anyway, it is obvious that Rang is not suitable for you. Completely unsuitable.” Arlai says.
“How so? He is very polite and he is very caring about what I think. He is very generous with money issues. You are just jealous, aren’t you?” Venven says.
“Well, let me tell you why I think Rang is completely unsuitable for you. Rang is aspiring to find a modern independent woman like you because he thinks it is fashionable to do so, but he is really unsuitable for a woman like you. Many times he hates you when you say something he doesn’t know. He can’t handle it. Some men can but he cannot. Rang is from a very conservative Asian family that his father controls every penny of the family finance and his mother has absolutely no power. That’s the kind of family Rang is familiar with. I actually caught him very uncomfortable several times when you talked so artlessly about your work and your friends.” Arlai says.
“Oh…” Venven is really shocked to hear that, “you probably have a point there.”
“Look, you and I both grew up in this narcissistic family with a big narcissistic grandmother. You know narcissism can pass from one generation to the next since our parents don’t know they have been fed …” Arlai says.
“What are you saying? Am I blind? Am I damaged?” Venven is dumbfounded.
“Yes, we are both damaged. You are damaged but you don’t know you are damaged. If you are not damaged, you would have known that you can’t really emotionally connect with Rang; you would have known that Rang is too old fashioned for you; you would …” Arlai says.
The dinner is finished and the two cousins depart.
The next day, Venven calls off the wedding. She is very grateful towards Arlai, but other people in the family are now considering Arlai not only as a wayward misfit, but almost as unforgivable as a witch.