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Asian American Coming of Age Inspirational

Hana could feel the sweat dripping down her back. She was suffocating in her small car, the humid night clinging to her skin like a damp blanket. She had always hated the summertime. For most, it meant going to the beach and seeing friends. For Hana, it meant torturous heat on top of 12-hour work days. A blaring ring suddenly shook Hana from her stupor. Begrudgingly, she glanced down at her phone.

Siri,” she commanded, “accept the call.” 

Her father’s raspy voice rang throughout the car. “Arumi! Where have you been?” He half-shouted, “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all day!” His words were thick with a heavy Korean accent. 

“I told you, Abeoji,”-father, she said, pressing on the gas, “I’m a taxi driver. My phone is silent during the whole day.” Though she couldn’t help herself, Hana knew better than to explain. It’s not like he would have understood. He never did. “And I told you to stop calling me by my Korean name.” 

Aish,” he scolded, speaking to her in Korean, “don’t give me that. You know better than to disrespect your elders.” Hana could feel her temper rising, her anger caught in her throat. 

They started arguing, but before he could say anything else, Hana slammed the red disconnect button. Her hands clenched around the wheel with barely contained frustration. They fought like this all the time. She often wondered why he even bothered to call at all. Pulling over to the side of the road, Hana released a shaky breath. It was getting late. Even in the city, there were barely any people out. It was only then that she heard a cry. 

“Please, help me!” 

Hana squinted before she saw a hunched-over figure waiting by the curb, an outstretched hand beckoning her closer. At first, she thought it was her imagination, or perhaps some sort of divine punishment for her ungrateful attitude, but it continued to call out to her. 

Locking all her doors, she slowly drove closer. Only after rolling down her window to a crack, did she ask “Can I help you?” 

An old man stood before her. He must have been at least 80 years old, with fine gray hair and a scraggly beard. His face, lined with wrinkles, was wearing a troubled expression. He was holding a small, weathered black suitcase. Judging by his features, Hana guessed he was Korean. 

Ahjussi,”-Sir, “what is the matter?” she repeated. She could not speak Korean very well, but she bowed her head in greeting. 

“Please,” he begged, “I need to get to the airport.” 

Hana hesitated. She was exhausted from a full day of work. A round trip to the nearest airport would take her nearly an hour. She knew she should refuse, it was on the tip of her tongue– and yet, she unlocked her car doors. She couldn’t leave him there. Something about this old man softened her resolve. 

“Sure, Ahjussi,” she smiled, “hop on in.” 

Other than the sound of the old man’s labored breathing, the car ride was quiet. Hana opened her window, letting the dry breeze tousle her hair. She rubbed the back of her neck awkwardly. 

“So, where are you going?” she asked, keeping her eyes on the road. He was quiet for so long, Hana wondered if he fell asleep. 

“Home,” he finally answered. 

He must’ve meant Korea. She laughed to herself. What an ambiguous response. She was briefly reminded of her father. 

“What is your name?” He mumbled. 

Hana paused, wondering which name she should use. She was always Arumi with her father and Hana everywhere else. 

“I’m Arumi,” she concluded, hoping that she sounded sincere. 

“Ah,” he mused, catching her eye in the rear-view mirror, “that is unique.” Hana’s cheeks burned with embarrassment. Arum meant beautiful, and Koreans were often surprised at her outdated name. She usually avoided mentioning it. “Nonetheless,” he added, “it fits you.”

She thanked him, “Gamsahabnida.” 

“My name is James.” He offered. For a minute, Hana was shocked at the use of his American name, realizing that the old man lacked a Korean accent. She simply assumed that he was an old-school immigrant like her father. 

“In that case,” she stammered, “I’m Hana.” James let out a hearty laugh, the tension broken by his amusement. 

“Nice to meet you, Hana.” 

The conversation abruptly ended when Hana’s car let out a gurgle, and a whine, and then stopped altogether. Hana swore she could see smoke rising from the hood. Quickly reassuring James, she found the engine completely busted. Grumbling to herself, she slid back into her seat. 

“Ahjussi,” she cried, “I’m so sorry, I can’t take you. My car won’t start.” 

“What?” He stared at her. “That cannot be. I must get there soon.”

She buried her face in shame. “We could call another ride,” she offered, “but that would take a couple of hours.” It was unbearable to see James looking so dejected, not after she promised him that she would get him there on time. 

A comforting hand patted her shoulder, “Do not worry,” she heard him say. Hana lifted her head. James’s eyes sparkled with determination. “I will get there, one way or another.” He closed the car door shut and started out in a jog, though it was more like a hobble, down the road. Hana could only stare at him in disbelief. He couldn’t possibly get to the airport in time, it was more than a 3-mile trip. Before she knew what she was doing, she found herself running after him. 

“Wait!” She called out. James stopped, turning around in confusion. 

“You do not understand,” he said, shaking his head, “I must go.” 

“I know” Hana panted, “and I’m coming with you.” She kneeled on the pavement so that her back was facing the old man. “Hop on,” she commanded, “I’ll carry you.” 

His shock was written all over his aged face. She could sense his hesitation, but reluctantly, he climbed on, steadying himself on her shoulder. Thankfully, he wasn’t heavy. With James on her back and his luggage in hand, Hana set off into the night. 

Mile one was a struggle, but by mile two, Hana could barely get one foot in front of the other. Her vision was beginning to blur with her own sweat. James was just as uncomfortable. Like her, he was a first-generation, American-born citizen, traveling to Korea to visit his late father. 

“I want to pay my respects, to be buried next to him,” he whispered. “He sacrificed everything for me. Do you ever miss yours?”

Hana was startled by the question. She was constantly angry at her father. Angry at his ignorance, angry at him for always expecting more. She was angry because he left her, for leaving her alone in such a dangerous world. Hana was not sure what prompted her to tell the truth. Perhaps it was because of James’s old age, or maybe the guilt from her previous phone call, but at last, she sighed, “Yes, all the time.” 

Suddenly, Hana spotted a piercing white light. “We made it!” She exclaimed, sprinting to the last part. When they finally got to the entrance, both Hana and James were gasping for air. As she entered the double doors, the cool conditioned air greeted her clammy face. Hana swiped at her beaded forehead. She walked James all the way to his gate. 

“Thank you, Hana.” He wept, wrapping his frail arms around her. “I will never forget this.” His eyes were bright with tears. 

Hana felt her throat tighten, “Have a safe trip, James.” She waited until he was fully boarded, watching the plane take off. When he was finally up in the air, she collapsed on a nearby couch. Now that her adrenaline was wearing off, she could feel the full effect of her exhaustion. Against her will, Hana’s eyes welled up with tears. She quickly wiped her cheeks and sat up. She was merely a taxi driver, and James a customer, yet they had so much in common. Her phone buzzed next to her. The screen showed that it was almost four o'clock in the morning. She remembered James’s late father and his panicked desperation. Reluctantly, Hana dialed a few numbers and held the device close to her ear. The phone vibrated against her skin. She didn’t think he was going to pick up. 

Arumi?” Static buzzed, but she could still hear his concerned tone. Hana smiled and rested her cheek on the screen. 

“Hey Appa,”-Dad, “It’s me.”

May 24, 2023 19:09

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1 comment

Michał Przywara
20:41 Jun 01, 2023

A chance encounter helps Arumi see the bigger picture, and focus on what matters. When she's stuck in her sweltering car for 12 hours a day, it's not a surprise that everything irritates her - and truth be told, her father *is* irritating, seemingly only calling to argue. Nobody wants that. But of course, there's so much more to their relationship than terse, irritated phone calls over the summer. Running into James, a man who is at the end of his life and looking back on his own relationship with his father, helps her see some of that big...


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