Honey chicken sandwiches and ramen make me think of you. Instant ramen, the ones you told me about as we were in a convenience store, that when you were younger you would get in cups and is usually a dollar but at the Indian market on the corner it’s $1.50, as you hand over crumbled dollar bills you were clenching in your fist on the walk over.
Sometimes in the summer when the weather was lazy and your dad was in a good mood he’d go with you, walking beside you the four blocks to the store where the clerk would recognize you and then smile when your father allowed you a bag of chips or a candy or
a small tin of Altoids (I don’t know, maybe you liked keeping trinkets in the metal tin).
That was on a good day. On bad days he’d walk faster than you on purpose, in a huff, annoyed that he had to keep watch over you because you weren’t old enough to stay home alone and all your older siblings were away at school. When you lingered, passing by the tennis courts in the park he’d flick your ear and tell you those are activities for rich folk, not like you, whose father could only afford the cheapest cup ramen and sometimes a sandwich from the deli in the back. The sandwich was mostly bread but at least there were some meat and veggies. As a child you probably didn’t care for that and I know you also hate chicken, but the taste of the honey in it wasn’t bad. When you shared it with your father he would sometimes leave you just the bread and lettuce, after
he fingered out the meat first.
Your dad didn’t want you to play tennis but instead he told you that wrestling would be more useful. When you were trying to finish your library book before the 3-week due date he’d come up from behind you and try to flip you over on the scratchy carpet in your one-story house that you were renting at a good deal from some 2nd uncle. He’d tell you reading was for girls and you needed to get out and into some scuffles.
You still read anyway, escaping the blue house through the garage door and hopping the fence your dad put up, walking the three blocks to the tennis courts in the park. You would sit on the grass outside the chainlink fence, with your book, watch kids hit balls with their shiny tennis racquets, the “rich” kids. You want to finish your book today. And that’s how you became a fast reader.
You tell me this as we’re at the corner store buying sandwiches for lunch. When the deli man hands you your toasted sandwich you shift the book you’re holding to the other hand. You can buy books now but you still read at the library and finish a book every week. I say you should write a story about this, but you say no it’s too personal. When I come back to the store without you I’ll write it in my mind as I wonder what other books you’re reading and collecting, the same way I’m collecting the stories you tell me.
Written by: Connie Chen
Art title: Breaktime
Artist: Eunbin Lee