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VOLUME 2, NUMBER 32    <>   MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2001

ordinary lives

The threshold between worlds

Jenny led her boyfriend down the streets of Chinatown.

Calling it a town was really an undeserved exaggeration — it was more like a string of tiny shops and rundown buildings crammed into one block. Still, as Jenny glanced at the colorful paper lanterns adorning the streets and the crowds bustling along the sidewalks, she couldn’t help but feel at home. This was the world she’d grown up in.

“Wow, this place is incredible,” Patrick said, gaping at the commotion around them. “I didn’t even know this existed here.”

Jenny smiled, trying to see her world as he would. The clicking of mahjong tiles from games along the street, the shopkeepers bartering with customers behind heaps of red-kissed litchis, the sugary scent of coconut mooncake from a nearby sweet shop. She doubted he noticed the finer details — the slowing of the games as they passed by, the sidelong glances as they wandered hand-in-hand through the market, the hesitation of the pastry chef in handing them samples. But to her the reactions were obvious, and it was clear where they came from.

Patrick was American.

Not that a Chinese-American couple was so out of the ordinary, just not in her family. In her family there was tradition, honor, and commitment to one’s origins.

She wished she could share who she really was with them, to laughingly tell them about that crazy spy bar she went to last week, or that she wanted to be a sculptor instead of a businesswoman, that she’d applied for a scholarship to an art school in New York.

But no, they’d just shake their heads. Jenny would wither under their disapproval.

Not that her friends knew her any better. “Your folks are too conservative,” they’d say. “They need to lighten up.”

She was conservative too, they simply didn’t see. She didn’t really mind the role of the dutiful daughter, living with her parents, working weekends at their store, and helping her grandmother dice vegetables for dinner every night. It just wasn’t the entirety of who she was.

But, one group wasn’t interested in knowing about the other, or didn’t understand. Couldn’t her parents see the world around them changed every day, grew different, more varied? Didn’t her friends notice the subculture around them, a whole generation of immigrants’ children searching for an identity?

No, the world was simpler for them; the facets of their personalities didn’t compete against one another.

Jenny ushered Patrick past a row of hanging dried ducks and into a dim sum parlor. The warm smell of pork dumplings brought hot saliva to her mouth. Well, she sighed softly as they sat down, at least she had Patrick. He was the only one who seemed to understand how difficult it was to live at the threshold between different worlds.

“You know,” Patrick said, interrupting her thoughts. “This place is really cool. I’m really glad you brought me here.”

“Me too.” She smiled absently.

“I’ve got something to share with you too, something you should probably know about me.” He fidgeted with his fork. “There isn’t any easy way to say this, so here goes… My last relationship wasn’t what you think. It was, well, it was with a man. I’m bisexual.”

And Jenny’s world just sort of stopped.

Vanitha Sankaran (vs_renard@yahoo.com) is presently writing a collection of vignettes, to be titled Ordinary Lives. Her recent work can be found online at Prose Ax, The Independent Mind, Orchard Press Mysteries, and The Paumanok Review. Her current print work will appear in upcoming issues of Mindprints, The Guild, and FUTURES. She is also an editor at the new e-zine flashquake.