You live right here, 4006 Mango, Alicia says and points to the house I am ashamed of. No, this isn’t my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I’ve lived here…
No, Alicia says. Like it or not you are Mango Street, and one day you’ll come back too.
~The House on Mango Street
Everything started from there, that pole. The one with a string attaching a heavy ball to it. We would stand back to back, leaning against the pole and putting our hands at the highest point of our head. And then, keeping our hands there, we would turn around and compare whose hand was higher up. Our hands were level. We stood there for a long time, our mouths gaping in astonishment. Then, we smiled. I knew at that moment that we would be good friends.
We ran off, exploring the playground, swinging from monkey bar to monkey bar as if it was a forest of vines. We would scale the stairs excitedly as if we were on a treasure hunt. Our giggles echoed through the slide tube, amplifying our uncontrolled laughter. Blisters and splinters were common, but our memories made up for all of them. The playground was our imaginative universe and the special times we shared in those next few years would be there, at that tetherball pole. It was as if our friendship would last forever.
Over time, her laughter was shared with new people. To my surprise, so was mine. There was no grudge or argument, yet we were slowly drifting away from each other. We would never stand back to back at that pole ever again. Even then, somehow, I knew that our hands would no longer be level, as if we were meant to go our separate ways.
Downpour in October
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The night is young, the moon beaming in the pitch-black sky. The house is silent; my sister and I are in deep sleep. It is like any other night. Except it isn’t. Nudging my shoulder, my dad wakes me up, sitting on my bed and holding my hand. I am still half-asleep, squinting in the dark until my eyes reach my dad’s. They are solemn, serious, and tired all at once. Something is wrong.
Suddenly, his lips move to my ear and he whispers, “Ông đã qua đời,” — “He has passed away.” I am too young and too tired to understand what is going on. I fall back to sleep and my dad leaves the room, the squeaking of the closing door following suit.
The next thing I know, blue birds are chirping as sunlight shines through the window panes. My mind recalls yesterday’s events. All my memories are filtered until I reach that moment, that one sentence. He has passed away. The words sound unfamiliar on my tongue. It is the first time someone close to me has passed away. My sister doesn’t even know yet, and I don’t know how I am going to tell her. All I know is that I would rather fall back to sleep. I hope that sentence will never have to be heard by anyone ever again. It is as if it is raining in October.
The Twenty-Seven Year Old Child
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There is nobody on this planet like him. Maybe he is secretly an alien. Maybe he came from a planet far away, like Tatooine. He doesn’t age.
When a nature documentary is on television, his eyes get big — big like Jupiter. It is as if you can see the stars in his eyes, shining brightly. When he sees the towering redwood trees on the television screen, you can see the hint of a smirk at his lips. In the clip of gazelles walking gracefully, you can see him smile. In the footage where a mama bear protects her child, he beams without restraint. It is as if he is seeing the world for the first time.
If you could only hear and not see him, you would think he is a child. His laugh is innocent and genuine. To me, seeing him laugh is life’s greatest gift.
He likes to make slingshots with rubber bands. Most people his age would be enjoying a cup of coffee. You should see his expression when he listens to music. Excitement radiates from him, filling the room with such a beautiful light. Sometimes I watch him listen to music, just so I can see his reaction.
He is not like others his age who just work, eat, sleep, and repeat. He loves to be active; you can always find him playing tennis, ping pong, volleyball, or going to the gym.
He likes to tell stories, stories about himself when he was young. As he tells them, it is like he is reliving them. It is like he is six years old again. It is as if I am older, although he is much wiser and more-experienced. His eyes are young, young and wild. Sometimes I wonder what it is like to have those eyes of his. They seem beautiful.
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I want to be like them. Those girls with cat eyes. The ones who smirk in delight. At one moment they are purring with innocence. In the next, they are roaring with ferocity. Do you want to know how they are feeling? Just look at their eyes. Don’t be charmed by their puppy eyes. Watch out when they’re slitted, venomous in nature.
But unlike most people, I think there is a sense of hidden beauty. They are genuine, rather than artificial or restrained. They have no fear towards the rain of judgment. They are bolts of lightning in a rainstorm. Heads turn wherever they go.
They are bald eagles — free, independent, and soaring only to the rhythm of their heartbeat. With no predators, their wings take them to the top of the world. The places to explore are boundless, extending farther than the eye can see. I can imagine swooping through the forest, across the valley, and above the skyscrapers. The view leaves me breathless, a VR experience as clear as day.
But then I ask myself, Is this possible in a society built upon judgment and reputation?
It is as if we are synthetic, mere blocks of plastic. Society has established the ultimate goal in life as perfection. What an individual feels and believes has almost been drowned out by the reactions of others.
But as long as those cat eyes can be found, there is hope. There is hope of a world where anyone can experience the strength of lightning and the flight of an eagle.
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In the haze of deep sleep, I dream of a house — a house perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It is an artistic piece of geometric perfection, a swirl of circles and squares. Silence fills its interior as only the afternoon breeze can be heard. Upon stepping into the kitchen, I am greeted by a table for one. There is one chair, one spoon, one fork, one knife, and one pair of chopsticks. As I scrub the dish clean, I can see the fluttering of birds through the window.
Soon after, I land on my private island, an oasis of pillows and blankets. There is only one, and it is mine. The mattress is spread neatly across with evidence of only one fingerprint. So is the lamp, and the silky rug, and the light switch.
Early mornings are characterized by a steaming cup of coffee on the velvety couch. My personal alarm clock is a sound of beauty, seagulls swooping through the sky as they migrate to the warm inlands. Palm trees line the sandy beach below, creating a red-carpet path to the shore. Crabs dance across the sand, snapping their claws in coordinated rhythm. The mild scent of sea salt fills the air and the sand is soft beneath my feet. What a paradise.
Except the crabs can’t talk to me. The palm trees can’t either. The silence becomes overwhelming, its weight like the pressure of diving too far down. I can only hear the lonely thumping of my heart.
I begin to talk to myself. Eventually, it becomes as dull as a game of chess against oneself: predictable and gloomy. Suddenly, the birds have halted their singing, flying far away. The crabs have dug holes in the sand, crawling into them and disappearing from the crashing shore. The waves become distressed, erupting in rage. And then silence. There is only the sound of my heightening heartbeat. It is just me.