What color is the sky today? What time is it? Did you boil water for the milk? Did you measure three tablespoons of Nestlé concentrated milk? I can't hear the water boil; did you turn on the stove? What's this noise? Are you sure you filled the kettle with the right amount of water? Is there any baguette left? Do you have money to buy bread at the boulangerie? Are you done eating already? Is this a cough or are you choking? You were eating and talking at the same time, didn't you? Did you cover your mouth with a napkin? What are you doing now? Are you reading, what are you reading? If you're not reading, what are you doing? Are you writing, what are you writing? Is it sunny today? Is there enough light for you? Sit upright, don't hunch, don't let your head droop over your books! Make sure you don't strain your eyes, take breaks, and look from time to time to the horizon, look at something green, listen to what I'm telling you, listen to your mother. Don't become like me, you don't want to know what it's like.
To live in a colorless world. To move between shadows of grays.
To hear the first drops of rain, a sudden downpour in the hot rainy season, drops splattering against the windowpane. Cannot imagine how the tiled roofs across our street are distorted in waves like trees undulating under wind. To smell the fragrance of Madagascar jasmine, feel the glossy oval leaves. Cannot fathom how the delicate clusters of white petals had burst open overnight.
To hear the first cry of your baby daughter. To hold her in your arms. To feel the softness of the hair, the contour of the nose, the warmth of the breath. To not know what she looks like. To not see how her face transforms from baby to little girl who answers her father's questions, who tells him the sky is blue, the sun is out, it is time to dry the laundry, who holds the basket of clothespins by his side, hands each pin to him while he laid kitchen towels, shirts, and pillow cases on the clothesline, a little girl who didn’t want to play with other children because she wanted to stay by his side, be his eyes, be his extra hands, watch his steps before he trips on the steps between the veranda and the living room. To feel the passage of time in his bones. To not see how the little girl evolves into a rebellious teenager who replies halfheartedly to his questioning, who’s too busy chatting with boys, who doesn’t help him find his lost radio, who turns into a young adult who shouts back at him, who leaves home, who moves to America, who never returned home, who missed the call, who wasn’t at her father's side when he suffered the second and last stroke, who didn't know what heartbreak is until it is too late.
Christine H. Chen
Christine H. Chen is a Hong Kong-born, Madagascar-raised, and Boston-based former scientist and writer whose fiction work has been published or forthcoming in Tiny Molecules, Gone Lawn, The Pinch, The Margins, CRAFT, Hobart, The Ekphrastic Review, among others. Her work won an Honorary prize in the 2020 inaugural year of Boston in 100 Words and she is a recipient of the 2022 Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship. She occasionally tweets @ChristineHChen1.