Once I was on an airplane beside
a village girl in the window seat. At takeoff
I asked her, “Where are you going?”
“Waw!” She shouted in surprise, and grabbed
ahold of my hand, “You speak like me!”
“Yes, I speak Say Yup language.”
“Are you from the village?” “No, my MaMa
and BaBa came from Say Yup villages.
They left for New York. They lived in New York,
then California. I was born in California.”
I feel like a child, younger than this girl; I’m
telling about parents as if I still had them;
I’m talking in my baby language. “Waw!”
she exclaimed, loud as though yelling across fields.
“I am going to New York! I
am meeting my husband in New York. He’s
waiting for me in New York. He works
in a restaurant. He’s rented a home. He sent
for me, and waits for me.” She did not
let go of my hand; I held hers tightly
as we flew the night sky. She looked
in wonder at webs of lights below.
“Red red green green,” she said.
“Red red green green,” my mother
used to say, meaning: Oh, how pretty!
The lights were white and yellow too, and gold,
blue, copper. And above, stars and stars.
Mother, MaMa, as you leave
the village family you’ll never see again—
Grandfather walked her as far as he
could walk, stood weeping in the road until
she could not see him anymore when
she turned around to look. She’s off to that lonely
country from where he returned broke. “I felt
that I was dying.”—MaMa, girl,
you are not traveling alone. I am
traveling with you, here, holding your hand.
I know that country you’re leaving for,
and shall guide you there. I know your future.
I’m your child from the future. Your husband
will certainly meet you. BaBa will
be at the East Broadway station.
You will recognize each other,
though he be dressed modern Western style.
You will have a good, good life.
You will have many children, and live a long,
long life. You will be lucky.
“You are lucky. Your husband has work.
He’s rented an apartment, and made you a home.
He saves money. He bought your plane ticket,
he will be waiting for you at the airport.”
She listened to the wise old woman teaching her.
But how to instruct anyone the way to make
an American life? How to have a happy
marriage? For a long time in the dark,
dozing, dreaming, thinking, we sat
without speaking, without letting go
of warm hands. The red red green
green appeared again. I told her,
“That’s Japan. We’re over Japan now.
We’ll be landing soon in Narita.”
“Waw! You speak Japanese too.”
She admires me too much. Inside
the horrible confusion of the international
airport, how can a mind from
the village not fall to crazy pieces?
I found a nice American couple making
the connecting flight to New York, and asked
them please to take this Chinese girl
to the right gate. She thanked me. She said
goodbye, see you again. “Joy kin.”
She did not look back. Good.
Gotta go, things to do, people
to meet, places to be.
This is an excerpt from I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2012.
translation by Chun Yu 俞淳
Maxine Hong Kingston is Emerita Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of California, Berkeley. For her memoirs, fiction, and poetry—The Fifth Book of Peace, The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, and Hawai’i One Summer—she has earned numerous awards, among them the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the PEN West Award for Fiction, and an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Clinton, and the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. She is a “Living Treasure of Hawai’i.”