The static buzz of the alarm was dreaded, as it meant a day of haggling and hassling was about to begin. 5:00 AM. Mei-Zhou sat up in bed, and shivers ran through her body. It was colder in the morning, but a deep breath of fresh air could always awaken her. The rest of the family was still sound asleep, so Mei-Zhou steamed some buns for herself as breakfast.
Once she was moderately full, she gathered the cart containing all the bags of rice and harnessed it on her bike. Maybe she could get a good deal at the Market today and get herself a treat. Mei-Zhou's mouth started watering at the very thought. Sweet black bean tapioca candy or maybe salty crackers. Oh! What delicacies! With that, Mei-Zhou hopped onto her bike and started riding towards the city.
When Mei-Zhou arrived at the Nanjing Market Square, streaks of light had just begun to run across the pale sky. First thing Mei-Zhou did was to find her friend, Rui-Xuan, who worked as a delivery boy. They were both fifteen and had started working at a young age in order to support their family. Although Mei-Zhou often remained situated in a single place calling out to passerby to buy rice, Rui-Xuan traveled around the square distributing mail, packages, and occasionally doing free labor (such as hauling Mei-Zhou's heavy rice bags). Both were glad for each other’s company, since otherwise life would be much duller.
“Hello Rui-Xuan! You’re here early today.” It was 5:30, and Rui-Xuan usually arrived at 5:50, or later since he lived further away from the market square. The nannies who were picking up daily groceries would start arriving at 6:30, to get the best pick of vegetables and such, but all the other vendors would only start arriving at 6:00. That meant that Mei-Zhou had half an hour to pick a good spot, unload all her rice bags, and visit the post office for possible news of her younger brother, Xiao-Ling, who had gone to Nanking to work.
“I’m probably going to the post office to check for a letter from Xiao-Ling. Can you watch my table for me to make sure nobody steals anything?”
“Oh, no need! I already picked up your letters.” Mei-Zhou quickly murmured a thanks as she scanned through the stack of letters. There were ten or so advertisements, and four orders for rice, which she would tend to later. Her excitement faded as she reached the end of the stack and still no letter from Xiao-Ling arrived. But instead, there was a stiff, tan colored envelope lined with silver border along the edges. The address on it stated,
“To Wu Mei-Zhou
P.O. Box 24978, 518018, Shen Xiang Province, China, East Asia, Asia”
“That’s funny. It’s a letter from a foreigner! They listed the zip code and the province name, even though they’re the same. Oh, and China, East Asia and Asia are all listed.” Rui-Xuan said amusedly as he leaned over Mei-Zhou's shoulder. Mei-Zhou gasped, and pointed to the stamps plastered all around the envelope.
“Rui-Xuan! Look! This letter is from the United States! America!” Both had heard the stories of the land across the ocean. Where people of all colors and backgrounds and ideological beliefs could be seen on the streets. Skyscrapers that climbed taller than any buildings they had ever met, and spacious houses which housed one family at a time. An extremely different world from what they both knew.
They knew only one color of skin, but that didn’t bother them at all. They also knew of skyscrapers, but it was rumored that skyscrapers in America were five times as tall. They knew of antique houses which had housed the same family for hundreds of years. But this was a world they knew, and one they had grown up with.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Open it up!” With shaky hands, Mei-Zhou slit the envelope and pulled out a stiff piece of high-quality paper.
You do not know me. In fact, I don’t even know who you are. My vast network of agents have scouted you out as the daughter of Ling-Wei, my dear sister. Thirty years ago, I worked on the streets selling rice as you surely are at this moment. But due to my luck, I met an American businessman who soon became my husband. My parents were aghast at my decision to marry a foreigner, of all people! A foreigner from a country across the sea. Without their blessing, I couldn’t marry John, so I left China with him.
However, that is not what is important. My husband died last week, and left me with a huge inheritance. Although my new life in America has blessed me far greater than I could ever have wished for, I still feel remorse for what I did to my family. I’m ashamed to say that I cannot face my sister, since I have not once contacted her all these years, and I cannot do so now. But perhaps you will understand? It is my wish for you to take on my inheritance left to me by my husband. To do so, you must come to America. You really will love it. Once you come here, you can then bring our family.
Please come; I miss the family of my roots.
Mei-Ru (Mira Smith, as is my English name)
P.S. I’ve enclosed a plane ticket, which you will surely need. (You’ll also need your passport and birth certificate.)
There was silence for a moment.
“I suppose this is a good-bye then?” Rui-Xuan said rather hoarsely.
“I mean, you’re going to America now. I shan’t see you again, will I?”
“No, I’m not going.” Mei-Zhou said, staring at him.
“What?! You’re crazy! Look, Mei-Zhou, I didn’t mean to change your mind, ok? You have to accept this offer. America is the land of the future! Of freedom! Don’t you hate this life? Working and toiling away?”
“No, Rui-Xuan. I don’t want to. My roots are here, my language is here. I don’t even speak English. I would be a complete outsider there.”
“But Mei-Zhou, if you don’t take this chance, you will always stay here in China, selling rice. Your children will sell rice. Their children will sell rice. And the children of their children will sell rice. You are trapping your whole family here if you don’t go.”
“I don’t care, okay? You just go back to work. Let this be a nice, normal day. Look, the customers are starting to come.” Mei-Zhou turned away, but Rui-Xuan grabbed her arm.
“Listen to me. You think this life is nice and fulfilling, don’t you? Well, let me tell you this. Here, you have no chance whatsoever of becoming something better. No matter how hard you work, the only thing you’re going to get is an extra piece of tapioca candy. Your children will never, ever, have the chance of being doctors, lawyers, or businessmen. Don’t you want something better for them and for you?” Rui-Xuan's voice cracked on the last syllable, and Mei-Zhou didn’t know how to respond.
So what? I don’t want to go to America, and that’s that. He can’t tell me what to do. And yet the more Mei-Zhou thought of it, the more enticing the idea of going to America sounded. A tall glamourous building which she worked at as a doctor. She had always wanted to be a doctor. And perhaps, in America, she would.
Thank you for reading! This is based on a somewhat of a true story, inspired by the path my parents took (they're both Chinese). So I may have exaggerated some parts (heh...), but the basic storyline is the same.
BIG SHOUTOUT TO: LitLover (I took his Chinese name, Rui-Xuan, so thanks!) Also, Mira Caplan, I'm supppper sorry I couldn't put you in my story as a main character because the names were all Chinese... but Mei-Zhou roughly could translate to Mira. And, Kate Reynolds, one of the KINDEST people I've ever met!