In a take-out restaurant eight thousand miles from Fuzhou, a stereo blared old love songs from the motherland. Under the fluorescent lights of China Garden stood Wei and his younger brother Fung, who sat shirtless behind the cash register.
“I can’t stand this heat,” Fung said, as he pressed a cold can of Coke against his forehead. “Let’s close early. There hasn’t been an order for the past hour.”
“No, I don’t want to deal with uncle’s bullshit if he finds out,” Wei said.
Fung sighed, and as if on cue, the phone rang. He answered, scribbled down the order, and yelled into the kitchen, “Three General Tso’s!”
The kitchen sprang to life, a cacophony of slicing and dicing, clashing with Teresa Teng’s gentle voice emanating from the stereo. Wei turned up the sound until he could only hear her.
“I need some fresh air,” Fung said.
Wei followed him outside, and they squatted down in front of the restaurant. They watched the cars on Northern Boulevard rush by, and Wei imagined himself driving one of them, with his son in the backseat and his wife on the passenger side.
“Once I save up enough,” Wei said, “I’m buying a car.”
“Why? For faster deliveries?” Fung asked. “The extra tips wouldn’t even cover the insurance.”
“I want to take Huifang and Jin on a road trip when they come here,” Wei answered. “Someone left behind a travel brochure for skiing packages in Vermont, and I realized Jin and Hui have never seen snow.”
Fung didn’t respond. He stood up, his chest slick with sweat, and made his way inside the restaurant.
“Go get ready,” Fung said. “Bowne Apartments, building three, 5B.”
Wei biked down the boulevard with a delivery bag strapped to his back. At a red light, he stopped to wipe the sweat off his brow and noticed the full moon hanging low in the cloudless night sky. For a second, he was transported thousands of miles back to Tantou, his home village in Fuzhou. The unbearable heat was gone, replaced by a chill and the murmur of rustling leaves. Him and Huifang were lying underneath a Eucalyptus tree, their faces illuminated by a raging moon. He caressed her stomach and felt for a kick that never came. “I’ll send for you both,” he whispered.
“If you’re not going to move, get off the street,” a voice shouted from behind.
Shook out of his reverie, Wei biked on, eventually arriving at the Bowne Apartments. The apartment complex was made up of four identical buildings distinguished only by the number displayed on their front entrance. Wei parked his bike in front of building number three and ascended the staircase inside, the cries of babies and television sets audible through the walls. On the fourth floor, he was stopped by two men wearing balaclavas.
He saw a fist fly toward him, but he was too slow to react. A sharp pain erupted in his stomach, and he fell to his knees. One of the men pulled out a pistol that was tucked beneath his shirt and placed the muzzle on Wei’s forehead. Wei instinctually placed his hands behind his head as the other man searched through his pockets. When he found nothing, he asked Wei to take off his shoes, revealing a hidden twenty-dollar bill inside the left shoe.
“Is that it?” the man holding the gun asked.
Wei nodded. The three men remained silent, and all Wei could hear was his lurching heart beat louder and louder until everything went black.
Wei sat out on the fire escape, an ice pack pressed against his left eye, and lit another cigarette— smoking wasn’t something he enjoyed, but something about the city made it impossible to quit.
The phone rang, and Fung came to the window holding the receiver.
“It’s Hui,” he said.
Wei took a drag and exhaled. Sometimes he wished the smoke leaving his lungs could carry away the heaviness within his heart.
“Hello?” Wei said.
“Wei,” Huifang said. “You haven’t called in a while.”
“I–”, Wei paused. “I’m sorry. It’s been busy at the restaurant. How’s Jin?”
“He’s started school, and the teachers love him,” she said. “But they tell me he’s too clever for his own good.”
“Sounds like he takes after you,” Wei said.
Huifang laughed and Wei pressed the receiver hard against his ear.
“Hui, I know this is odd but can you sing for me?”
The silence was as long as the miles between them.
“Wei,” Huifang said, “Are you okay?”
“There’s that song you used to sing, remember?”
Wei began to hum into the phone and soon, Huifang joined him. He closed his eyes as her voice filled his ears. Wei was home again.
CHIYEUNG LAU — Chiyeung is a writer from Queens, NY. He is an associate fiction editor at JMMW journal and his work has appeared in Ghost Parachute, Interstellar Literary Review and elsewhere. He currently lives in Philadelphia with his spouse where they rescue stray cats and co-run an A&PI centered pop-up bookstore called Book Harvest.
Art by OCH GONZALEZ — Och’s work has appeared in Brevity Journal, Panorama Journal of Travel, Place, and Nature, Lunch Ticket, Complete Sentence Lit, and Santelmo Journal, among others. Her essays have also been included in the literary anthologies in The Practice of Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Nonfiction: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology. You can find her art at och_gonzalez.