– Hope –
Mei Mei had no other way to break out of the cocoon; she had no courage, no money, and no true friends. She tried going, timidly, from dépanneur to dépanneur (Quebec convenience stores), practically begging to be their helper, wishing for them to shed some sympathy on a pathetic little “Cosette.” She was willing to clean the floors and the toilets, carry heavy goods, put food on the shelves, gather empty cardboards; she was ready to smile to the clients, to say nice words and keep them coming back to the store. She would do anything just to make $7, or $6, or even $5 an hour. Mei Mei tried so hard that a dépanneur eventually took her in.
After finding a job, Mei Mei’s world began to look a bit brighter. She was happy just to be making money, whatever the amount. Ever since moving to Canada, she had lost her right to pocket money, not to mention her grandpa’s spoiling smile and the little envelopes of change he always had for her! But now that she was working and making her own money, she could feel an itch in her bone marrow, as if her spine was growing. It felt so real that she would occasionally stretch backwards just to feel it! She also sensed that there was something creeping under her breasts, as if they were getting bigger. She started to look at herself in the mirror.
“Aiyaya, what a slouching beaten dog I am!” she murmured sadly to herself.
“I’ve got to be different now! I have to be nicer now! I will buy myself a nice dress that is not made in China!”
She smiled for the first time in so long that the skin on her face trembled. Nothing could ever replace Mei Mei’s feeling of revitalization the moment she had $140 Canadian in her little hands after one week of work.
Mei Mei bought a French-made dress, a pretty black low-cut blouse where she could shyly show a bit of developing chest, a bit of her 15, soon-to-be 16 year old young Chinese lady’s pride!
She put the dress on immediately and dashed out of the store on Mont-Royale Street, Plateau Montréal, and jumped on her bike. Flying down the streets she let the breeze whisper nicely into her ears some unknown words of joy. The fresh and exciting energy ran through her whole body, shocking her from the inside out and reluctantly fainting away from the ends of her long dark hair.
As the time passed, Mei Mei studied and worked hard to put money aside, with the hope that one day she would be able to leave her small exposed corner in that noisy and chaotic home forever! She wanted to rent her own little apartment, or share with a friend; she dreamed of meeting someone handsome, a kind hearted someone who could give her the peace she was hungering for, and some sweet words she had never heard before; she wanted to have a sweet long kiss on the lips with her tired eyes closed, and maybe even to pop her foot up in the air, like the Hollywood movie princesses always do.
Mei Mei’s life was nothing but studying for six hours a day and then working another six hours after school. She had no time to be friendly with any boy, nor did she have the interest! Mei Mei told herself to study hard like the Ancient Chinese man, who hung his long hair from a ceiling pillar and put needles on his chair to stay awake, and worked her hands to the bone like the Chinese farm workers in China.
The time for moving out came when Mei Mei turned 17. She was so afraid of her furious-tempered mother that her brain would freeze when thinking of her. She knew what her mother’s reaction would be, and she knew very well that the dishes would be scattered all over the floor again. Her mother had played out too many of those unbearable dramas – a once loving, quiet, and graceful parent, who now seemed seized by demons and deprived of all her senses and spirit. Mei Mei did not know how to bring it up. Of course she could always talk to her father, but she did not feel right to evade the matter and transfer the disaster to him. Her mother would find out anyway, so Mei Mei waited for the “right” time.
On sunny Saturday evening, Mei Mei invited her parents to a restaurant, La Cuisine Sichuan, an authentic and therefore the best Chinese restaurant in town. Her mother seemed happy, and she even kissed her daughter before leaving home, which was really something! Chinese usually do not touch or kiss each other. We do not convey emotions by these actions; we are expected to guess the emotions of others and to keep our own deep down in the bottom of our hearts. Kissing or hugging brings us too close together and intimidates us too much! The Chinese hide their emotions away, the deeper the better. We hide our good deeds to seem “modest.” We hide our shyness in expressing love by actions. We hide our gratitude or even make it disappear, to show that we do not owe anyone anything (useless pride)! Sometimes, we hope that we can also hide the deepest dark desires of our petty little soul from each other, but we just can’t, because “God is awake.”
From the beginning of the meal, Mei Mei started brainstorming for words and ways to break the news. She was too nervous to muster an appetite! Looking at her parents enjoying the delicious dishes with true Sichuan recipes and ingredients directly from Chengdu, China, she felt unimaginable pain and guilt to even think of telling them she was leaving.
But she had to do it sooner or later anyway. She hated her guts out to see her mom deep in worry every day, or to hear her whining about petty things , or doubting her father for allegedly having affairs with other women. She was putting an end to it, for herself, even though she wished very much to end it for her father as well. She mustered the courage to finally say something, with her brain muffled and her eyes filled with nervousness and anxiety.
“What did you say? What did you just say?” Mei Mei did not actually hear what she herself had said, but her mother’s sharp questions woke her up! She quickly sat back in her chair and returned to her usual silence. Her mother was also silent for the rest of the meal, without speaking another word, but Mei Mei knew she would have to harden her skin and tighten her ears when they arrived home.
No need to describe in detail what happened after getting home. Mom, besides being in her usual despair, had a major break down. She cried hard and long, yelling:
“You are 17 now, eh? You are grown up now, eh? You want to leave us now, eh? I have sacrificed all my life for you, I have suffered so much for you! You have wings now and you make money now! You do not love us any more! Maybe you have never loved us anyway. We came to this strange country with no money, no career, for YOU, and now you are leaving us,” she cried on and on.
Mei Mei, no matter how tightly she shut her ears or how hard she held herself up, could not maintain it any more. She has been brought up as a nothing-being with no such thing as rights, so of course she did not know what to fight for and how. But life is simply wonderful in its self-adjusting abilities, and Mei Mei was learning about her rights as a human being and using the most efficient ways to evade the negativities in life. She ran, yes, she could run. Mei Mei ran to a place where she was not a possession and the center of the universe for her parents, nor the carrier responsible for her parents’ happiness and fate! She could not bear the weight any more on her small, skinny, and fragile body; neither could she carry the shapeless responsibilities and guilt on her still undeveloped soul! She was leaving! Leaving to her one-room apartment, shared with another little struggling soul. She had gone down the path, searching for the return of nature of her being, her own destiny!
“My writing of Mei Mei’s story ends here, yet her life continues. She might already be out there somewhere, working professionally as a doctor, a nurse, an engineer, an artist, or a businesswoman. I am sure that she has found her place in the new country, continuing to blend in to the multi-cultural Canadian society with profundity. She might also be creating a new, different culture with her past Chinese cultural richness together with the existing wealth of the Canadian bi-cultural heritage.”