out of convenience
We’re sitting at the counter of a 7-Eleven in Kaohsiung when she says it, nonchalant and contained in equal amounts, like a recipe that calls for ¼ cup of cream and ¼ cup of brown sugar so you can measure them out and only wash one vessel.
“I’m moving.” A drop of condensation from her milk tea rolls down the cup. She doesn’t bother to stop it. “Emmett got a job in London.”
Outside, the rain beats down relentlessly. When customers approach, the sliding doors part to allow them access, warm, soft summer air filling in the gaps they leave behind. Mandopop from the 80s plays in the background, interspersed with ads about the latest deals. The cute cashier I’ve been unsuccessfully attempting to flirt with all summer is on shift, and yet at this moment he could be replaced by a beagle operating a cash register and I wouldn’t spare a second glance.
“Did you get a job in London?” My throat is dry.
“Not yet… but I will.”
“You’re going to London when you don’t have a job?”
She looks at me. “You know who you sound like?”
There’s a man on the other side of the store eating oden, eyes glued to his phone. He takes a bite, I tap my fingers errantly on the counter, and the fish cake looks whole again. He’s so absorbed with his feed that he doesn’t even notice. He bites again, I tap, it repeats. When a couple cycles of this go by and he finally looks at his skewer incredulously, I cough and turn towards my sister, whose disapproval shows between her eyes.
“Stop messing with people like that.”
“I gave him, like, an extra fish cake. I’m sure he’s happy about it. So it’s decided?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Does Emmett know? About…” I wave in her general direction.
She sighs. “No. Not yet.”
“You like him enough to move to a completely different country for him, but not enough to tell him?” I say this to hurt, but in reality I am secretly pleased. This is our thing, the one thing we share that isn’t lineage. I can’t say I have her grace, her way of eating dumplings skin first, like a crazy person, or her ability to leave things behind so easily. Maybe I’m not quite as brave.
“I’ll tell him eventually.” She gnaws at her lip, a habit A-ma always condemned. “Do you… do you think it really matters?”
I watch motorcycles whiz by in the street. “No,” I say. “Isn’t he an atheist?”
“Yeah… but his parents are like, really Catholic.”
“Oh. Tell him not to tell his parents.”
“Why, you think they’ll accuse me of witchcraft?”
“No, I think they’ll use you as their poster child for miracles and you would just let them, being the doormat you are.”
She elbows me, then slides her red bean bun over. There are neat bites taken out of it, slightly more than half left. “You’ll be okay, meimei. You’ll be too busy with your senior year to even think about me.”
That’s the problem, I think. I’m turning twenty-two and I have never learned how to be my own person without you.
Instead, what I say is, “Can you do the thing?”
She sighs, tugs her ear, and then the stock pots of tea eggs stop boiling, the refrigerator buzz vanishes, and Teresa Teng stops crooning. I look over at the other people in the store— Cute Cashier has his face screwed up in a funny way and Oden Guy is halfway through a bite of his milk pop. I hope he doesn’t have sensitive teeth. Outside, the raindrops are poised in midair, like perfect crystals. The first time she did it was also on a rainy
day— I was six, and I remember trying to lick every raindrop. Now, I scoot closer and lean my head on my sister’s shoulder, although she’s shorter than me so I have to hunch a little. She’s wearing the mauve cardigan she stole from my closet this morning, and yet it still smells like her, somehow, like she just can’t help leaving a mark wherever she goes.
I close my eyes and plug my ears so that if this moment ends, I’ll never know.
Ashley Cheng sometimes writes words and music. When not writing, she likes to make clothes and nap with her dog Nana.