Reading 16

The following passage is adapted from the short story “Rose Colored” by M. Evelina Galang (© 1996 M. Evelina Galang). Here the Filipino-American narrator describes a visit to Chicago.

  1. I’m standing at the corner of
  2. Washington and LaSalle,
  3. trying to keep my feet still
  4. upon the sidewalk, but people
  5. rushing past sway me right,
  6. then left. Bump me. Push me.
  7. Toss me dirty looks. I’m waiting
  8. for the light to change.
  9. Next to me stands a woman,
  10. gathering glances from all
  11. around her. She stands
  12. oblivious to her admirers. I
  13. wonder how she can’t see them.
  14. People who stare make me
  15. nervous. When I sense someone
  16. watching, I look to my shoes,
  17. click my heels, make myself
  18. disappear. But she doesn’t seem
  19. to care. She’s nearly six feet tall
  20. and has long brown hair tinged
  21. with red, straight and free as
  22. a hula skirt. Her cheek bones
  23. are high, square and smooth.
  24. And her eyes are black almonds.
  25. She looks more Asian than
  26. white, though her skin is still
  27. paler than the brown of my
  28. own. She stands up against the
  29. wind, the current of people
  30. and the sun’s glare as it
  31. bounces from a sea of chrome
  32. bumpers. When a cab slows
  33. down next to the curb, she is
  34. the only one who waves it
  35. away. Other people scramble
  36. to the cab like rats to a sewer
  37. hole. I wonder how she came
  38. to be so strong, my beautiful
  39. cousin Mina. 
  40. “Let’s grab the El. It’s a few
  41. blocks away,” she tells. “Come
  42. on, Rose.”
  43. I follow her, as I have always
  44. followed her. When we were
  45. small, I would spend summers
  46. at Mina’s house in Connecticut.
  47. There, I’d follow her around the
  48. neighborhood, through fields and
  49. creeks. Mina always knew where
  50. the boys kept their secret
  51. hideouts. And the boys would
  52. always pretend to hate her,
  53. but I could see then what I see
  54. now, Mina is beautiful. Nobody
  55. hates Mina. 
  56. “Wait for me!” I shout. I feel
  57. the curls in my hair sagging with
  58. the heat. I look up. She’s floating
  59. across traffic, gliding between
  60. cars and I’m stuck at the median.
  61. “Wait!” I call out again. I drag
  62. my suitcase on wheels and it
  63. slips between my legs. “I
  64. can’t go that fast.” But she is
  65. already on the other side of the
  66. street, waving past taxis,
  67. distracting pedestrians. And I
  68. feel so short and ugly. 
  69. We take the elevated train to
  70. Mina’s neighborhood. On the
  71. way there, we pass forgotten
  72. chimneys, weathered back
  73. porches, clotheslines weeping
  74. with socks and shirts. In the
  75. distance there is a curtain of
  76. haze behind which lies the
  77. Chicago skyline. This is what
  78. Mina shows me. She points:
  79. “See over there? The John
  80. Hancock Building and the
  81. Sears Tower.” What I see are
  82. the factories, paint chipping
  83. from its brick and yet brightly
  84. decorated by gang graffiti.
  85. Each time the train grinds to
  86. a stop, heat rises from under
  87. the tracks, suffocating breath
  88. and sound. Unbearable. 
  89. But all I say to Mina, “Wow,
  90. that’s amazing.” I’m not sure
  91. what I’m looking for. Maybe
  92. mountains and snow caps,
  93. maybe evergreen trees. 
  94. A businessman stands next to
  95. our seat, carrying a leather
  96. attaché. His body is encased in
  97. a starched white shirt and suit.
  98. “Excuse me,” he says. I turn my
  99. face up to him, push the sleeve
  100. from my wrist, ready to give
  101. him the time of day when he
  102. says, “Are you women from
  103. China?” Mina ignores him.
  104. “Miss,” he repeats, “do you
  105. speak English?”
  106. Mina slowly turns to the man,
  107. her hair falling away from her
  108. shoulders, eyes widening as
  109. she examines him. “No,” she
  110. says, “sorry to say, I don’t.
  111. Do you Rose?” 
  112. I smile at the man in
  113. embarrassment. “Mina—”
  114. “Are you from China?” he asks.
  115. “Does it matter?” she wants to
  116. know. Mina clenches her jaw,
  117. her face drawn and irritated
  118. red.
  119. “Vietnam?” he persists. “I’m
  120. sorry, it’s just that you’re
  121. both so beautiful. You remind
  122. me of a Chinese woman I
  123. used to love.”
  124. “Oh please!” Mina laughs.
  125. The train lurches forward. She
  126. grabs my arm.
  127. “Come on, Ling-Rose-Lee, this
  128. is our stop.”