Saturday 18 June 2022

'#51 Bus To Chinatown' by Eliot Li

At the back of the Asian market, I pressed my face against the bullfrog tank, mound of warty bodies clumped together. I asked Mother if I could have one for a pet. Several cleaver chops later, we carried a plastic bag full of pink frog butts and legs, skin stripped, glossy little white tendons glistening.

Mother whisked through crowded Chinatown streets, me struggling behind her. We boarded the #51. We took our seats, while I caught my breath. Several stops later, an old woman stood in front of us, tapped me with her cane, and said, “Nice children give their seats to the elderly.”

I rose up, but Mother yanked me back down, my t-shirt wadded in Mother’s fist. “Don’t listen to her,” Mother said in Cantonese.

At home, she stir fried the frog legs with ginger and spring onion, in savory brown sauce. Father’s lips smacked, breathing through his mouth while he chewed, sounding like the nozzle of a vacuum cleaner pressing against upholstery.

I stared at the legs on my plate, but didn’t eat.

“There’s no place in my house for a picky boy,” Mother said.

Still I didn’t touch them, even after she slapped my face.

I wasn’t picky. And I didn’t care about Kermit and friends’ amputations. I was famished, and with Mother’s brown sauce, the legs were probably delicious.

I was mad she didn’t let me give up my seat.


Decades later, I’m cleaning Mother’s home after her death. Inside her desk: fake immigration documents, and a photo of the laundromat where she worked. Loose jewelry scattered between books and clothes, her rainy day fund, hidden from potential burglars.

I’m sitting on the #51 to Chinatown, to get oranges to put on my parents’ graves. I look around to see if anyone needs my seat.

1 comment:

  1. So much conveyed in a short space. Bravo.


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