If kites weren’t attached to strings, they’d fly away forever
He doesn’t like me from the get-go. Since entering the restaurant, with the bell at the left corner of the frame tinkling away, I have had this feeling. When I glance at the man, he is looking at me with an inexplicable rage, and a certain neurotic furor. When I lock eyes with him, my phone clutched in hand, rising by the second with my thumb paused over an unsent text (“Quick, should I get house special fried rice or chicken chow mein?”), he smooths his complexion into something apathetic and absent, pinched-together eyebrows sliding off his face like sweat, trickling down in black droplets. But I know it is there— that unsolicited animosity. I have seen it, and I am unlucky. The bell is still chiming. It chimes and my heart quakes and it is still chiming and chiming and I see it. I see it— he’s reaching behind the counter for a chef’s knife, freshly sharpened. The word “bolt” flashes across my mind’s eye, in black and red, and I repeat it to myself, my feet unmoving, my back sweating, my fingers cracking. I turn around and slam my hands against the door. Push, push, push. The sign says to pull. My fingers have left sweaty greasy prints on the glassy acrylic or the acrylic glass of the door, I do not know but I wonder how ominous it will be for the next customer to see. How left-behind fingerprints always mean that the person who left them is no longer around. I pull the doorknob, and it falls off in my hand, but I don’t let go. Out the door it is sunny and raining and thundering. So hot and so cold at the same time, and I am unlucky. All I did was come out for Chinese food, and I have been caught in something that I cannot understand. This is what happens to Asian kids who don’t cook their own Asian food at home. This is what happens to Asian American kids who “have a little too much American in them,” like my uncle often bemoans at the dinner table. This is what happens when you don’t eat your mother’s home cooked meals, and you look elsewhere, away from the love she has cooked up for you. You might as well have slapped the rice bowl out of her hands, how you have shamed her and your family and brought this onto yourself, this danger and this impending doom and all this evil that you deserve. On the sidewalk there is gum everywhere and they beseech me like slime, drag me down towards them like dirty little demons of the street. Tiny hands unseen to the naked human eye clamp onto my new chucks and seep into the stiff navy blue canvas. They do not let go. These gum demons want me and they want me now. But I am a hot item tonight, 75% off and so desirable to all the shoppers. I turn my head back towards the restaurant, and I see the man coming for me, chef’s knife in hand, so slow, so sure, so deliberate in his movements. To him I do not even have a discount. I am 100% off. Free to hunt. He follows me onto the street, and I beg the gum demons to let me go, I need to go, I need to go. Please let me go. The gum demons relent but take my right pinky and ring finger as offerings to appease their king until the next time. I do not know if there will be a next time, but I keep my mouth shut and I bolt, canvassed feet thudding across the grim sidewalk. I do not know where I am going. I am suddenly in an unfamiliar town, and I run but I do not run out of breath and for fault of human error, I still gasp as I run. Down the streets of this unfamiliar familiar unfamiliar place I run, the man so close behind me, knife in hand and never wavering, always pointed straight at me. If he were a sniper, he could have shot me by now and been done with it, steady as his hand was and unwavering in his determination. But he likes the chase. He likes my fear. And I hand it over like I would hand over my precious jewels to a robber because I know of nothing else, I do not know what to do besides fear him, fear this whole place, fear for what I have become and for what I have unknowingly done wrong, in this life and in the past and most likely in the future one too. The man’s face is grinning, frowning, crying— a one man Kabuki theater show as I run and run and run. In and out, and the people of this place fade and reappear. In one second people on the street are looking and shouting at me, in the next second the entire town is empty and I am running all alone with the man chasing me, then in another second the crowd is so thick I cannot see where my feet are taking me, there are elbows jabbing and hands shoving and I fear. I fear so heavily. Past a flower shop I run, but I skid and turn back to smell the plumeria bouquet. The flowers are so delicate and beautiful and fragile, and I pet their pretty colors, absorbing them into my fingertips. I swipe the lines across my cheeks like belated war paint halfway through a battle, and I run again. Even as I thud through the streets, I can hear the little slimy leechy gum demons teetering beneath the cement, I can hear their gnarly soft voices promising and threatening and I do not respond. I know the man is still chasing me. I have been running for so long it feels like I have been traveling for light years to Alpha Centauri, like I am amongst the cosmos looking for Vega and homebound for an alien civilization that loves me and welcomes me and wants me. Into a four-story garage I turn, my hand catching on the sharp stone corner, skin tearing quick and slow at the same time, and propel myself up the staircase. The man is so close behind me. Up each individual stair I go – up, and up, stumbling and gasping and my hands feeling blindly in front of me for something I cannot name. When I finally trip and fall, it is with astounding violence as I spill across one-third of the grimy staircase. My blood, too, spills across the staircase as the man finally puts to work the knife he has been gripping so patiently for so long. I think I have allowed him some relief, that perhaps he deserves. I think perhaps I deserve this too, to be chased, and to have fear instilled in me and to be hunted until I have nowhere to run. Cheek pressed into the metal of the stairs, my eyes follow the black blood trickling away from every yawning pore of my body, bones aching, and flesh creaking like a great beast tossing its weary head. My blood smells like blueberry yogurt. The Yoplait brand, not the generic kind, never the generic kind.
I open my eyes again to a cobbled ceiling, hobbled hopes dashed across each ridge, and I do not breathe. I wish I could close them again.
Damian Wang is a city boy who wears his heart on his sleeve and enjoys rainy days, hunting for boba, eating ramen, reading comics, doing JoJo poses, and inhaling the dusty aroma of old books. He has an 8-year-old cat named Miu Miu who likes to play feline editor by bodily key-smashing incoherent lines into his works. A lover of poetry, Damian currently majors in English at UCLA with a concentration in creative writing. As the son of a diplomat, Damian uses his extensive cultural experiences as the backdrop of his writing, while exploring themes of gender, race, and loss.