Not with the Zhang family book dripping from my fingers like baba, not with my name omitted from the obituary like mama. I walk down from my apartment on the fourth floor, past the corner shop where, each passing day, the lucky cat’s waving paw slows; past the McDonalds (though once a small Chinese restaurant that made jiaozi and tianmi for Chun Jie), and into the cemetery where my parents lie buried.
Every year, mama would bring me to the Chinese cemetery and burn fake bills in our ancestors’ honor. She would clench the black and white photographs of her brother and mother to her chest, somewhere close to her heart. I would watch the smoke coil and dissipate in a matter of seconds as ma kneeled beside me and prayed. When ma prays, she prays to memories she doesn’t possess, to gods she no longer believed. Zis country was never mine, her voice crackled, your skin makes you different from the other boys. Instead, I heard: Your skin makes you lesser. When I kneel in front the mound of dirt, feet above ma and ba, I take out the money and light them and speak her native tongue, but the words break in my mouth and rise alongside the smoke.
Ma, I’m coming to tiang tang with you.
When I was five or six, my mother told me the story of a general and his men had been captured. One night, ma said, the general gave yunxu for his men to die, and when their captors come to find them, all the men had died.
Once the colors of the paper shed to gray, I lie down beside the mound and watch the flame curl. With his last breath, ba had told me: Honor the Zhang name. Honor and respect, I knew, were the two most important things in Chinese culture. I clutch my knees like ma’s photographs because it’s negative something degrees Celsius and I still don’t wear the qiuku ma had made out of an old quilt.
I will not grow to watch my wife knit red sweaters for our children as ma had hoped; will not make baba a yeye. Time will go on and the graveyard will be avoided until there is another body to bury, but by then my body will blend into the earth, feeding a land that was never my own.
Emma Wang is a high school junior in Alabama. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, Harpoon Review, Blue Marble Review, The Mire, etc. and has previously been recognized by the Scholastic Arts and Writing awards on a Region-At-Large level.