Amy Lai Zhang
This city reassembles itself, the last day of every month. Everyone scrambles, re-composites, throws open their doors to give and take. Mattresses lie dejectedly on the grimy sidewalk. Drawers are gutted and strewn on the street. People are on the move, and as always, they can’t take everything with them.
What used to be hidden in these neurotic crevices of Brooklyn brownstones—therapy books, unused GRE prep books—are now on full display. I relish this information. Finally, a glimpse behind my new neighbors’ facades, something beyond behind the pep and lattes. After a few long walks, and sweeping aside the fallen, crispy leaves, I collect two oblong glass vases, a Marie Kondo book, and a mahogany console table in need of a deep scrub.
When I trudge the table into the apartment, he pops into my mind again. He would’ve been proud of me, taking it in all by myself. I sit, panting, letting the feel of his hand scrunching the hair at the back of my neck come over me…
And then it’s time to distract myself. I should collect boxes. I’ll need fifteen.
The wind is mean. As I lug the deconstructed cardboard with sticky, trailing tendrils of tape down the street, forceful gusts bat me all around. I’m almost home, when I see it. A perfectly constructed, large cardboard box, sitting pretty outside the organic store. No dampness, or cuts. Just sturdiness. I hesitate just for one second, and put down my cargo to walk over.
I look inside.
I Am Hungry That They Are Going to Speak
When moving to another country, with another language, is like being a child again. I am writing in Spanish—I am going to translate this text into English using Google Translate—and every word comes to me super too much; Also, I can’t find the words to say exactly what I want to say. “Otra vez,” for example—I wrote it because I don’t know exactly how to say “again,” but maybe “otra vez” is how we say “again,” even though the exact thing it means is “another time.” All things are like this—the language is necessary for everything in life.
When I moved to Madrid, I felt horrible and I don’t know why. He wants me to feel happy—an adventure!—but I didn’t feel comfortable. It wasn’t like this when I was young. Don’t worry about anything at this age. Always look for new adventures; wants to see the whole world; I felt that life is short, and we need to make all the experiences possible. Nor did I worry about material things—all things in my life were temporary, I could see something in a box on the street and in the next moment, this thing came to me. I want to say “belonged to me”—but, again, I don’t know how to say it.
But now, I get worried when I can’t search for the face cream brand that I like; I worry when I don’t know how to get from one place to another; I worry about foreigners—I have written “extranjeros” for “strangers,” but Google says it means “foreigners”—they seem dangerous to me, I am hungry that they are going to speak to me in Spanish and I do not I will know what to say to them. I worry, I worry.
Amy Lai Zhang
I worry, now, if he comes to Taiwan, a different me he will see. See, even my syntax is different now. Hours of Chinese class, repeating and scribbling, have re-routed the order of phrases and words in my brain. How peculiar it is, this feeling. My brain has become foreign to me.
But, it’s not at all unpleasant! The child me has emerged, too, as the way Taiwanese speak Chinese edges on a cute-sier plane, the ends of questions trailing and expressions more whimsical and slyly mocking. I exclaim over street food, and react to the ends of people’s stories, like a five-year-old would react to a three-scoop ice cream sundae.
In the end, I’m glad I decided to leave all the boxes. Only one suitcase, I carried here.
When he comes, if he comes, who will he meet?
Amy Zhang is a multi-disciplinary art maker, writer, and producer from Hong Kong, Beijing, and New York City. Her non-fiction and fiction can be found in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Atlas Obscura, and Jellyfish Review, and her play “Ascend!” premiered at The Tank in 2021. Previously, she was a producer for Netflix’s Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj and the non-fiction editor for Hyphen magazine, and is currently an editor for Heidi Pitlor Editorial. www.amy-zhang.com
Vauhini Vara is the author of the novel The Immortal King Rao and the short story collection This Is Salvaged, which is forthcoming from W. W. Norton in September 2023. She is also a journalist and the secretary of Periplus.