The other kids on the bus liked to joke that I lived in the restaurant even though Benny Mathis gets off at my stop too since his Dad started working late hours at the carpentry warehouse. When the bus stop sign glows and juts out I spit my gum in my hand and flick it out the window before clicking it shut. I like to sit by the entrance so my classmates don’t spat Chinese sounds at me for too long when I stand up. The bus driver is wearing sunglasses so I can’t know if he feels bad for me so I turn to face my classmates and gibber Tagalog at them that’s really just me repeating what I’ve heard Mom say. One time during class Sarah With the Pigtails passed me a note with three cusswords written in capital letters, asking me to circle which one meant whatever I was saying. I circled all of them and she tattled on me and our teacher asked me to
stay inside during recess. I had my head down on my desk and stacked my arms like Lincoln Logs for my head to rest on. I could hear the deflated dribble of a ball during four square and voices overlapping, screaming, you’re out you’re out you’re out. My eyes were closed and my eyelashes combed the skin on my arm. I almost fell asleep, forgetting Mr. Monroe was in the room until I heard him speak, somewhere above me, saying, “Chris, hey.” I heard him crouch down, his knees popping. “Hey Chris, let’s just speak English from now on, OK?”
The restaurant’s “pull” door was broken so I swung through the “push” one. I smacked a man with the door on my way in, his to-go box in his hands almost falling over, while the books in my backpack lunged forward under my shoulder blades. “Kids,” I heard him whisper while I squeezed by, imagining his breath like a poisonous fog. I sat at a table in the corner of the restaurant with a closed to-go box on it. I unzipped my backpack and started on math homework while slurping on lo mein noodles. After finishing an equation I went to the pop machine to refill my water. The ice bin was empty, so I went to the kitchen to scoop up a pitcher. On my way back to the pop machine I left the pitcher on the counter by stray sugar packets to leave for anyone else. I took gulps from my cup while walking back to my table with some of the water running down my lips and dripping onto my khakis. A man, eating two tables down from me, waved me down by pointing his straw in the air. “Hey, buddy!” The man said. I approached him while wiping my sleeve across my mouth. “This straw is punctured, can you go grab me another
one? And a refill please.” He pushed the plastic cup onto my chest and I swaddled my arms around it. I forgot I didn’t say anything until the man raised his eyebrows.
By the time the pop dispenser reached the rim of the cup I felt a pinch on my arm. “Ouuuch!” I turned to see a shoulder wearing a black shirt, a neck with an apron lining, then I saw Mom’s face. “What are you doing?” She hissed. I stared at her with my mouth open hoping there weren’t food bits between my teeth, then I stared back at the man at his table. He was taking pictures of his fortune cookie, unopened, with the flash on. Mom grabbed the man’s cup and headed towards his table while I moseyed back to mine. She mimicked his smile and I read her lips say, anything else I can get you, and the man plucked a straw from her apron and he laughed so hard his face got red and Mom laughed back like she does when she rings people up if she’s working at the front counter.
Mom sat across from me while I scribbled random numbers on my paper.
“Look at me.” I looked at her. She had a lot of wrinkles at the sides of her mouth when she wasn’t smiling. I set my pencil down.
“You don’t work here. You don’t get paid to do work here. Understand?”
“You’re going to study and finish your homework.”
I waited for another question but there wasn’t one, so I said, “I know.”
“Do you know?”
“I know, I know.”
Mom sighed and leaned her head into one of her hands and combed her hair with the other. She stared at the wall mirror beside us. A pendant, that my Lola gave her before moving back to the Philippines, dangled perfectly in alignment with the seam of Mom’s V-neck shirt. It shimmered from the light pulsating from the room’s glowing chandelier. The pendant’s golden chain wrung itself left and right in mid-air as Mom moved around, so much so, I swore it was trying to break itself free.
Alex Simms is an Asian-American photographer-turned-writer from West Virginia, USA. His work has appeared in Rookie, Open Letters Review, Trampset, and elsewhere. He received his M.A. in English literature from Marshall University and currently scares his roommate with how often he reads.