My husband and I were born a day apart. In exchanging vows on our wedding day I told him that if we grew up together we would play and be best friends. This can only exist within my head, because we most definitely did not grow up together. We grew up in opposite circumstances, he in a small village in Taiwan and I in the suburb of Torrance. But when he recalls fragments of his childhood to me, I imagine my mother-in-law giving her son, a two-year-old, a bath in a bright plastic tub that usually houses water for the washing of vegetables. He tells me that if we were in the same village he would come over very day, knock on my door and ask my mom if I would come out and ride bikes. Since his grandma rises at the crack of dawn to sell the bananas they grew, every few days he would bring bananas over and place them on the counter in the kitchen. Reluctantly he places the dusty fruit on the table at his grandma's bidding, bruised because he was riding his bike fast on the dirt path.
Can Christine come out and play? His mom always reminds him to at least ask, don't just barge in there expecting others to play with you. That's how he is, always thinking that the world is ready for him. This is not necessarily his fault, as all of the older cousins dote on him, telling him how sweet he is. Out of all of the cousins in the family he is the only one his grandpa holds, even once going to the photography studio for a picture together, a man holding a little boy with the same soul, posing in front of a canvas of feathered trees. It is as if they were walking through a serene forest, and oh look, what do we have here? A camera. Grandpa wears a double-breasted blazer and tie, and while he has spent all day getting ready for this picture the little boy, dressed in a powder blue cardigan and out of his element, merely looks at the camera with awe. Grandpa holds on to his grandson and points to the camera. Though Grandpa's eyes are wrinkled with work, age and time his grandson's eyes are new and curious, surprised by a stillness as he is in his grandpa's arms, waiting for the photograph to be taken.
Whenever he asks me to play, I would always refuse in the hopes that I can hear him insist that I play with him, subtly needing this kind of verbal affirmation that indicated to me that he wanted to play with me, that out of all of the other kids in the village he could play with he would rather play with me. That's how I see it anyway, though I know that sometimes I am the only one he can play with because many of the kids are with their parents. Today Cindy is helping her parents hawk buns on the street, while Gao sorts the mail for his dad, who would deliver my family's mail in the afternoon, at around 3 o'clock. Every year we would lose more of our playmates to the consequences of being taller, stronger, and older. The working world of our parents swallows them up. Only the banana lady's grandson is left because his selling duties are relegated to the early morning shift.
Lately he tells me about how his grandma took him to see a movie. It was an American Movie with John Wayne. He tells me how the screen is bigger than the window of his eyes. I like movies too, especially love stories, like the soap operas my mom watches. I have never seen a movie though. They're too expensive, my mom always says.
One day I have this great idea and I ask him, hey do you want to see a movie? He says of course I want to see a movie and so we ride our bikes to the edge of the hill at the north end of the village.
-Are you sure this is where the movie is?
-Yes, this is where I saw the movie, I assure him.
-Are you sure it's free?
-Mom didn't give me any money; look! I empty my pockets.
-Yeah but are you sure it's free?
-I have no money, of course it's free, I say.
We pedal our bikes up the hill, and it's steep enough for our calves to stiffen. Sweat gathering on our foreheads, we ride to the top and I see the new billboard that they raised in the distance. "Happy Family Makes for a Prosperous Country" the billboard says. It is a painting of a family, all smiles while pushing a child in a stroller.
-Where's the movie?
-You just wait. Here, sit here.
We sit together in viewing distance of the billboard. He is anxious.
-Surpise! Here is the movie!
-Movie? This is not a movie! He is angry now and he wipes his sweaty forehead with his sleeves like window wipers on a rainy day.
-The billboard! See the family? We can pretend it's a movie. What do you want the family to do next?
-This is not a movie! I've seen a movie and this is not a movie! I have you! This is so stupid! You're stupid!
With that he gets up, grabs his bike and allows gravity to take him down the hill. I eventually go home too, my movie idea ruined, my heart hurting because I was just there the other day, and the family was walking in the park and taking care of the baby. I thought he might have fun helping me think of what the family would do next in that film, but I am wrong. When I get home I sit in the kitchen and tear up in front of the dusty bananas. My little sister, barely walking, wobbles over to me to show me the new bucket she got from Dad yesterday.
Two days pass before I hear him knocking on my door again.