A Tale Of Two Cousins (Flash Fiction Part 2)

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Flash Fiction #163

This is the 2nd part of the story. The 1st part is here.

I didn’t want to go, but my father insisted and my mother agreed with him. My mother always agreed with my father. They told me that Aunt Hoi and Uncle Dao were knowledgeable people–Hoi was a professor and Dao was an engineer at the time. I was going to be tutored by the best professor on the campus my aunt and uncle lived. I finally agreed to go, although very reluctantly.

Little did I know that the college campus was located in a dusty rural town on the edge of Mongolian Steppe very far north. My aunt went to college there and when she graduated, she just stayed on to serve as a teacher. How could my aunt go to a college hundreds of miles away was beyond my understanding at the time. My family and most of my relatives live in a subtropical city with a lot of good food and endless entertainment options. Well, at least there are trees and flowers and birds in the place we live.

So I took the train with my aunt Hoi and my cousin Nalan, who came back to visit my grandma at the beginning of the summer. Now they were heading back. It was an endless train journey. My aunt Hoi never smiled and my cousin Nalan was as silent as a clam. My heart sank as I sat on the train with them. They didn’t talk, they didn’t joke, they were like mummies who could breathe. I missed my mother who always inquired about what I wanted to eat and what I felt like doing. My aunt Hoi showed no interest in me. She never had any interest in any child at all as far as I could remember. I never saw her hold or hug or talk to a child even once. She was probably a witch.

As the train got near the Steppe, everything was turning yellow and dusty. Even the trees and grass were hardly green since dusts covered everything. When the train passed a long dusty bridge, my cousin Nalan suddenly burst out, “that’s the River” as if there is no other rivers in the world. “There used to be a woman warrior who guarded the river on top of that mountain.” She pointed to a treeless rock formation in the distance. I looked out and saw the dried river bed under the bridge, all cracked up. There were even trucks moving on the riverbed. For a moment, I was so stunned that I couldn’t speak. I had never seen a river like this before. Then I said, “but where is the water…” I couldn’t finish saying it since tears started to roll down my cheeks.

Nalan put her hand on my shoulder to try to comfort me, but I pushed her away. I hated her. She was part of this landscape that I really wanted to get away from. My aunt Hoi sat there as a statue, as if she didn’t see anything or couldn’t feel anything. She looked so cold and inhuman.

Nalan started to talk to me, probably trying to cheer me up. She was a very strange girl who could be silent for a long period of time as if she wanted to make herself disappear, and then she would suddenly have an outburst of a story, quite out of context. And then she would continue no matter people listened to her or not. So she was saying something about a girl who tried to save her village, about Mongolians who came to this area but didn’t like to do farm labors. She said her father was a Mongolian as if that’s something to be especially proud of. She was weird.

“Stop it. You are annoying.” I shouted at her. I was not really angry with her, but I had no other ways to vent my feelings. Actually if I knew what she would do to me later, I probably would have shouted at her even louder. She deserved it. She’s a mini witch. Like mother, like daughter.

“Nalan, don’t bother your cousin.” Aunt Hoi snapped.

Nalan, Twenty Five Years Ago

My cousin Arjin’s arrival surprised my father, who insisted that my mother didn’t tell him in advance, for which my mother retorted that she had telephoned him and told him, but he never listened to her.

Having never raised a boy themselves, my parents didn’t understand the amount of food an 11-year-old boy could eat. Soon my mother realized that a boy who’s growing needs a lot more food. My parents would often buy some expensive food items, which my father enjoyed. Arjin’s presence made my father realized that he could only enjoy half (or less than half) of the good items he had used to enjoy. And this was an inconvenience my mother didn’t think of before. Just like a typical narcissistic couple, my parents treated any inconvenience with their usual bitterness and derision.

“How much he could eat!” My mother would say when Arjin was not present. “He’s a bottomless food container.” My father would echo. The two shared a smile at each other. Actually Arjin became their target, against whom the two had a shared disdain.

My mother fought with my father almost every day and almost in every verbal exchange, except when they had a common enemy. Before Arjin came, I was often their target, which had made me develop my “grey rock” exterior, under which I tried to be as invisible as possible.

Other couples with the same dislike for each other would have learned to minimize the interaction, to the point that one of my friends’ parents only wrote notes to each other. However my parents’ narcissism and self aggrandizing tendency could not allow them to be honest with themselves. They had to present a united front, no matter how fake, against their imaginary enemies, and they had to look like a perfect couple at all costs.

(To Be Continued Here)

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