• Katherine Qiao

Day 5: Strawberry Hibiscus



The tart flavor sketches rainbows in my mouth as my tongue swirls over the expanse of my upper jaw, chasing the last bits of crumb and cream cheese still unswallowed (and a few micro-crumbs at the crinkles of my lips). Within seconds, all remnants of the bundt cake from “Atelier’s Pattissiere” down the street from the new apartment are gone. Too quickly gone, I mourn internally. Still, the remaining sweetness of the hibiscus sugar and glaze are still present, and that, I mull over as I continue the trek down the quiet winding street towards the village shopping center.

Sawtelle wasn’t a village per say, but amongst the larger cityscape of Los Angeles, it often felt like one. Tons of busybodies to be found there everyday, all day, for sure, but everything was on the 2nd floor or lower or older buildings. Older Asian ladies milled around for grocery discounts in the local Japanese market hidden partially underground against a sloping mountain, while their toddlers in pastel outfits and bowl cut hairstyles trailed behind on those shopping trips, preoccupied (or coerced) with sugary crepe and taiyaki pastries to snack on. The little bakeries where the mothers had bought the snacks from, just a hop, step, and jump away from the markets, were the same familiar haunts to older people in their mid-20s and 30s. They frequented those grounds for little coffee get-togethers and nervous, shy first dates - the sweet flavors a distraction and a compliment both to the touch of quieter society Sawtelle brought to the greater Los Angeles area.

I compare this often to the streets of Beijing near my family home, when my mother used to take me trailing through for hot buns and fried dumplings prepared fresh in the miniature street carts scattered across the veranda. That was the extent of the good memories before everything turned sour, and everything turned clinical and money-like.

It comes in waves, missing her. The days when I think about how my definition of “caring”, the extent of caring feelings I allowed myself to feel without feeling like the world was going to explode. This narrow range of “caring”, where feeling anything more than “they’re just there” feels like an ongoing train wreck, about to destroy my insides.

Maybe all I wanted to know was I had someone around without fearing they’d turn away.

I look down and lick my fingers one final time, sucking the last of the strawberry jam so as to not make the bulky package sticky in my hands. It’s an attempt made in vain. The cardboard edges come away sticky anyway, and a faint smattering of fingerprints are textured across. I sigh and let my hands fall to my side, brushing over light lavender frills of my long skirt.

Within a few minutes of walking and weaving amongst young couples and screaming children, I’m standing in front of the local post office. When was the last time I’d ever even delivered a letter in person, what with email and everything else? I think wryly to myself. These kinds of things were efforts too great to consider nowadays. All these busy, busy lives and us being “so connected” by strings across the world. The irony of how our tendency to look forward so quickly makes us complacent and worse at handling the most basic pretenses of the past. Mama, I want to tell you how much I’ve grown, how much I’ve succeeded. Look at me now.

My hands are heavy with the package, but suddenly my stomach feels heavier, and the sweetness of hibiscus in my mouth suddenly feels sour and sick. Mama, I want to tell you how much I want to come home.

But I walk anyway.