by Frank Orloson
Jingping is a government official for the Peoples’ Republic of China. Last night at a New Year’s Eve gathering 37 people were trampled to death in a commotion, while, at a separate location, he delivered a speech about selflessness. He has just learned of this catastrophe.
“Dad.” In his office in China, Jingping is staring at a photograph. “What am I supposed to—” His hands go out. “What am I supposed to say exactly?” he asks before hearing a knock.
“Jing it’s me!” says a voice outside.
Meanwhile, in the United States of America, in California, Marcia is a student at a college, who studies both Chinese and Agriculture. Her boyfriend Kess has just abandoned her at the front lobby of the Asian Studies Organization’s “Chinese New Year” event; he left to be with friends.
“Kess!” Marcia is bending her toes and fuming. “You—you—”
“Mar it’s me!”
She turns and sees Eriko, an international student, standing and eating chow mein out of a box. “Do you remember at all?” he asks.
“Oh Eric—Eriko, right!” She reaches out to shake his hand. “Sorry! Bad with names.”
“It’s okay it’s okay!” Eriko waves a hand around then notices her hand and shakes it. “You’re here for Chinese New Year?”
“I—yeah.” She looks askance at the empty space next to her. “That’s why I’m here,” she says.
“You want go sexy sexy ski diving?”
“Sexy sexy ski diving.” Eriko begins to wiggle. “We go sexy sexy ski diving you and me for final tea.”
“Jing it’s me!” says the voice outside.
In China Jingping opens the door to see his sister of 48, Qinli, standing before him. “Qin,” he says.
“You still have that picture of Dad?”
“Um—who let you in.”
“Jing I need to tell you something.”
“Well can this maybe wait because—”
“Jing Mom died.”
“Oh you ignorant.” In America Eriko is now stuffing chow mein into his tiny little purple purse as Marcia gawks. “Sexy sexy ski diving, it a quote from Hot Ladies Go Boom best show in all China.”
“Mar,” he says in a suddenly calmer voice.
Eriko smiles and starts removing the chow mein from his purse. “You know I have better English than that.”
“Uh—” It takes her a moment to understand. “Wait. Wait were you—oh my God you little brat!”
Marcia bursts out laughing as Eriko leans and grins. “What kind of racist stereotype do you take me for?” he says. “I started out talking to you normal just thirty seconds ago, remember?”
“I—I thought you were”—she can barely speak over laughs—“I thought you were—oh my God!” and she spits.
“You bought that so easily!”
“Jing?” In China Qinli is staring at her brother. “Did you hear me? I said Mom died last night.”
Jingping has not spoken.
She sucks in a breath, then answers. “Midnight.”
“Eriko.” In America Marcia is now staring at the short boy. “Do you want to go in with me? Into the Chinese New Year thing?”
He frowns abruptly. “I can’t.” All of a sudden Eriko looks like he’s not in the United States.
“What? Why not?” Students begin to enter the main room. “Kess wouldn’t mind—”
“Oh!” Eriko brightens. “Let me ask my uncle!” He whips out his cell phone and, without Marcia feeling really prepared, snaps a picture of her. “Nice dress. Sorry Mar I got a strict talk back home about ‘fraternizing’ with American women.”
“Eriko! It’s just—” She gestures helplessly to the filling room. “I wasn’t—”
“What was Mama wearing?” asks Jingping in China.
“Oh. A cherry blossom frock I think. Black.”
Jingping looks upward before he feels a vibration in his pocket and takes out a phone. “37 people Qin.”
“And—” He stops, seeing the text message. “Oh. Him in America.”
“What does he want?”
“He wants to know if—” Jingping suddenly scoffs. “—ha. If it’d be alright to attend a school event with a girl.”
“His message says she isn’t Chinese.”
Qinli looks down and nods.
Jingping begins to type out the Mandarin equivalent for “No you may not,” when he’s interrupted suddenly by his nephew sending him something else. A picture.
“Jing?” Qinli looks at her brother. “What is it?” She waits. “Jing? Jing what is it?”
“Yes!” In America Eriko pumps a fist then puts his phone back. “He said yes! I thought for sure he’d say no, but I guess something made him change his mind! Wanna go in?”
Marcia’s eyes are changing shape. “What did you—?”
“What an animated face!” He throws out his chow mein and heads in. “C’mon Mar you’re dressed just right!”
“Oh! Okay—Eriko wait!”
Qinli is standing up in China to leave Jingping’s little office.
“Come on Jing,” she says. “You have to start our New Year.”
Jingping’s standing up and almost putting away the cell phone, but gazing just one second longer at the picture of a confused-looking brown-haired girl holding up two startled hands and squinting her brow over top of a long, cherry blossom-adorned black frock. She is beautiful.