By Christine Yan
Emilee finally returns home to Chinatown after a long semester, welcomed by her family members who have been preparing for their restaurant’s opening. But before she even sets foot in their door, an unexpected trip happens.
When Emilee turned the corner, a familiar scene greeted her. Fruits were laid out on storefronts and teens lined up to buy rice cakes from small food carts. Making her way through the locals and tourists in Chinatown, she heard someone call to her.
“Emilee, you’re back!”
A large truck was parked in front of their building, and she could see the outline of someone moving in the cargo bed. “Box number four with chair covers.”
Emilee immediately broke out into a smile and ran over. “Mama! I missed you,” Emilee said. “Let me do the rest.”
Emilee scanned the list on the clipboard, took a deep breath, and hoisted herself into the cargo bed. She let out an involuntary cough while waving her arms to clear the dusty air. Using her feet, she cleared the scraps scattered on the floor to form a narrow pathway.
Boxes of supplies and pieces of furniture were haphazardly stacked on top of one another. She smiled when she spotted the LED signs she designed. Emilee thought back to how she stayed up several nights in her dorm, sketching over and over her drawings of lanterns and their signature ramen. She even traveled back and forth from her school in Boston to New York on weekends to practice Chinese calligraphy with her father. The traditional aspects of their restaurant had to be perfect.
Placing the clipboard to the side, Emilee picked up the top box from the pile and passed it back to her brother.
She updated the list and began to lift the next box filled with customized glasses and plates. She faltered from the weight and started to stumble. Barely able to see past the large cardboard, Emilee was dangerously close to tripping over her own feet.
Emilee’s muscles started to cramp. The box she was holding flew out of her hands, landing a few feet ahead with a loud thud. She let out a small scream as her knee and fingers on one hand smashed right into the hard floor of the truck.
Emilee looked at her hands and grimaced. There were roughly two weeks left until the restaurant’s soft opening. With the injury, it would take twice as long to make the launch invitations alone.
“Emilee!” a voice called. It was her mother.
“I’m sorry, Ma,” Emilee said, trying hard not to cry.
As she was being treated, Emilee studied Ma. For the past twenty years, her mother had been working from home as an accountant, balancing raising kids and carrying out job responsibilities. Emilee could feel the calluses on her mother’s hands: evidence of all that she had labored through.
“Done,” her mother said. She carefully wrapped the finger. “Let’s get you inside. Baba will be back home soon.”
Emilee sat in the kitchen and watched Ken speed in and out. She couldn’t remember the last time she and her brother actually had the time to bond. They grew up playing basketball together in Columbus Park with Baba and the other kids from the neighborhood. They all made memories there. Ken once got stuck in a baby swing and Emilee had to run home to call for Ma’s help. They held water balloon fights and played tag through the sprinklers during the hot summer days. They cheered on Baba during his Ping Pong matches and competed in endless rounds of amateur chess with strangers.
But after Emilee started high school, the time she spent with her family was replaced with volunteering at Red Cross events, painting wooden sets for school plays, and completing her art internship at the Met Museum. Before she knew it, the only time Ken and Emilee had together was taking the Uptown 6 train in the morning to school.
Feeling that her knee was becoming numb from the ice, Emilee limped over to the smell of red braised pork belly that filled the kitchen area.
She placed a piece in her mouth and savored the sweet and tangy soy glaze sauce. The meat was just the right amount of tender and had the “melt-in-the-mouth” texture. She quickly took another one, layered a piece of bok choy on top, and popped it into her mouth. Her mother looked at Emilee with fond eyes.
“Grandma’s secret recipe,” her mother said, taking a piece from the bowl for herself.
Just then, a jingling sound came from the bell hanging near the front door.
Everyone’s home—just in time for dinner.
Colorful side and main dishes soon filled the table. The sounds of spoons and chopsticks clinking against the bowls filled the room.
“Have you guys been eating these dishes every night while I was away at college?” Emilee playfully glared over her bowl at her parents and brother.
Her father shook his head. “Of course not, this is our first meal together again as a whole family and as soon-to-be restaurant owners!”
Excitement filled the atmosphere as they clinked their cups to a toast for the busy coming weeks. Emilee smiled as she listened to her father and brother’s meaningless banter. Although her finger was hurting, her heart was full.
I was inspired by my own family history and family dynamics to write “Bruised Pork.” Like Emilee, I also come from a family of four. But rather than it being my parents, my grandparents always had dreams of opening a restaurant. Every weekend that we visit them, they would have a new dish for us to taste. I thought of them when writing the descriptions of the dishes. Through the process of developing this short story, I faced the challenge of creating a conflict. But my mentor, Avery, and I worked together in brainstorming different ideas—this story definitely would not have been complete without her help.
Christine Yan is a first-year student in college in New York with an avid interest in storytelling, journalism and photography. Academically, Christine aims to pursue a major in the intersection of finance and data science. She loves working on projects that connect people and business solutions. Language and writing help her express herself and her ideas, both creatively and academically. When Christine’s not writing or editing pictures, she can be found painting for fun!