At the weasten palace


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At the weasten palace

  1. 1. hat my brother actually said was, " I drove Mom and Second A u n t to Los Angeles to see Aunts husband whos got the other wife." "Did she h i t him? What did she say? What did he say?^ "Nothing n r a c h j ^— ~ ~ " W h a t d T d she say?" • "She said hed better take them to lunch at least." "Which wife did he sit next to ? What did they eat?" " I didnt go. The other wife didnt either. He motioned us not to tell." "I wouldve told;. I f - 1 was his wife, I wouldve told. I wpuldve gone to hincE antl kept my ears open." " A h , you know they dont talk when they eat." "What else did Mom say?" " I dont remember. I pretended a pedestrian broke her leg so he would come." "There mustve been more. Didnt A u n t get i n one nasty word ? She mustve said something." "No, I dont think she said anything. I dont remember her saying one thing." I n fact, i t wasnt me my brother told about going to Los Angeles; one of my sisters told me what hed told her. His version of the story may be better than mine because of its bareness, not twisted into designs. The hearer can carry i t tucked away without i t taking up much room. Long ago i n China, knot-makers tied string into buttons and frogs, and rope into bell pulls. There was one knot so complicated that _ it blinded the knot-maker. Finally an emperoroutlawed this cruel knot, and the nobles could not order i t anymore. I f I had lived i n China, I would have been an outlaw knot-maker. Maybe thats why my mother cut my tongue. She pushed
  2. 2. 164 ( THE W O M A N WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | 165my tongue up and sliced the frenum. Or maybe she snipped scraped away the rest of the frenum skin, because I have ai t w i t h a pair of nail scissors. I dont remember her doing i t , terrible time talking. Or she should not have cut at all,only her telling me about i t , but all during childhood I felt tampering w i t h my speech. When I went to kindergartensorry for the baby whose mother waited w i t h scissors or and had to speak English for the first time, I became silent.knife i n hand for i t to cry-—and then, when its mouth was A dumbness—a shame—still cracks my voice in two, evenwide open like a baby birds, cut. The Chinese say "a ready when I want to say "hello" casually, or ask an easy question tongue is ah evil." i n front of the check-out counter, or ask directions of a bus I used to curl up my tongue i n front of the mirror and driver. I stand frozen, or I hold up the line with the com- tauten my frenum into a white line, itself as thin as a razor plete, grammatical sentence that comes squeaking out at impossible length. "What did you say?" says the cab driver, blade. I saw no scars i n my mouth. I thought perhaps I had or "Speak up," so I have to perform again, only weaker the had two frena, and she had cut one. I made other children —seeo-nd-time—A-telephone—eall~m^ open their mouTETsoTl^du^^^ takes up that days courage. I t spoils my day w i t h self- perfect pink membranes stretching into precise edges that disgust when I hear my broken voice come skittering out looked easy enough to cut. Sometimes I felt very proud that into the open. I t makes people wince to hear i t , I m getting my mother committed such a powerful act upon me. A t better, though. Recently I asked the postman for special-. other times I was terrified—-the first thing my mother did issuestamps; Ive waited since childhood for postmen to when she saw me was to cut my tongue. give me some of their own accord. I am making progress," "Why did you do that to me, Mother?" a little every day. " I told you." "Tell me again." My silence was t h i c k e s t — t o t a l — d u r i n g the three years " I cut i t so that you would not be tongue-tied. Your that I covered my school paintings w i t h black paint. I tongue would be able to move i n any language. Youll be painted layers of black over houses and flowers and suns, able to speak languages that are completely different from and when I drew on the blackboard, I put a layer of chalk on one another. Youll be able to pronounce anything. Your top. I was making a stage curtain, and i t was the moment frenum looked too tight to do those things, so I cut i t . " before the curtain parted or rose. The teachers called my "But isnt a ready tongue an evil 1" parents to school, and I saw they had been saving my p i c - "Things are different i n this ghost country." tures, curling and cracking, all alike and black. The teachers pointed to the pictures and looked serious, talked seriously " D i d i t hurt me ? Did I cry and bleed ?" too, but my parents did not understand English. ("The " I dont remember. Probably." parents and teachers of criminals were executed," said my She didnt cut the other childrens. When I asked cousins father.) M y parents took the pictures home. I spread them and other Chinese children whether their mothers had cut out (so black and f u l l of possibilities) and pretended the their tongues loose, they said, "What?" curtains were swinging open, flying up, one after another, "Why didnt you cut my brothers and sisters tongues?" sunlight underneath, mighty operas. ; _ "They didnt need i t . " During the first silent year I spoke to no-one at school, "Why not ? Were theirs longer than mine ?" -: •. • did not ask before going to the lavatory, and flunked k i n d e r - "Why dont you quit blabbering and get to work?" garten. M y sister also said nothing for three years, silent i n I f my mother was not lying she should have cut more,
  3. 3. l66 J THE W O M A N WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | 167 the playground and silent at lunch. There were other quiet off strokes the way a Chinese has to write her own name Chinese girls not of our family, but most of them got over • small and crooked? No, i t was not politeness; " I " is a i t sooner than we did. I enjoyed the silence. A t first i t did capital and "you" is lower-case. I stared at that middle not occur to me I was supposed to talk or to pass k i n d e r - line and waited so long for its black center to resolve into garten. I talked at home and to one or two of the Chinese tight strokes and dots that I forgot to pronounce i t . The kids i n class. I made motions and even made some jokes. I other troublesome word was "here," no strong consonant to drank out of a toy saucer when the water spilled out of the hang on to, and so flat, when "here" is two mountainous cup, and everybody laughed, pointing at me, so I did i t ideographs. The teacher, who had already told me every day some more. I didnt know that Americans dont drink out how to read " I " and "here," put me i n the low corner under, of saucers. the stairs again, where the noisy boys usually sat. I liked the Negro students. (Black Ghosts) best because When my second grade class did a play, the whole class^hey4aughed-t-he-loudest-an&J;alkedJ;o^ went to the auditorium except the Chinese girls. The daring talker too. One of the Negro girls had her mother teacher, lovely and Hawaiian, should have understood about coil braids over her ears Shanghai-style like mine; we were us, but instead left us behind in the classroom. Our voices Shanghai twins except that she was covered w i t h black like were too soft or nonexistent, and our parents never/ signed my paintings. Two Negro kids enrolled i n Chinese school, the permission slips anyway. They never signed anything and the teachers gave them Chinese names. Some Negro unnecessary. We opened the door a crack and peeked out, kids walked me to school and home,.protecting me from the but closed i t again quickly. One of us (not me) won every Japanese kids, who h i t me and chased me and stuck gum i n 1 spelling bee, though. ." my ears. The Japanese kids were noisy and tough. They I remember telling the Hawaiian teacher, "We Chinese appeared one day i n kindergarten, released f r o m •concentra- cant sing land where our fathers d i e d . " She argued w i t h tion camp, which was a tic-tac-toe mark, like barbed wire, me about politics, while I meant because of curses. But how on the map. can I have that memory when I couldnt talk? M y mother I t was when I found out I had to talk that school be- says that we, like the ghosts, have no memories. came a misery, that the silence became a misery. I did not A f t e r American school, we picked up.our cigar boxes, speak and felt bad each time that I did not speak. I read in which we had arranged books, brushes, and an inkbox aloud i n first grade, though, and heard the barest whisper- neatly, and went to Chinese school, from 5:00 to 7:30 P.M. w i t h little squeaks come out of my throat. "Louder," said There we chanted together, voices rising and falling, loud the teacher, who scared the voice away again. The other and soft, some boys shouting, everybody reading together, Chinese girls did not talk either, so I knew the silence had : reciting together and not alone w i t h one voice. When we to do w i t h being a Chinese girl. had a memorization test, the teacher let each of us come Reading out loud was easier than speaking because we to his desk and say the lesson to h i m privately, while the did not have to make up what to say, but I stopped often, rest of the class practiced copying or tracing. Most of the and the teacher would think I d gone quiet again. I could teachers were men. The boys who were so well behaved i n not understand " I . " The Chinese " I " has seven strokes,, the American school played tricks on them and talked back intricacies. How could the American " I , " assuredly wearing to them. The girls were not mute. They screamed and yelled a hat like the Chinese, have only three strokes, the middle during recess, when there were no rules; they had fist- so straight? Was i t out of politeness that this writer left fights. Nobody was afraid of children hurting themselves
  4. 4. 168 [ THE W O M A N WARRI 0R A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe ] 169or of children h u r t i n g school property. The glass doors to word, and then she sat down. When i t was my t u r n , thethe red and green balconies with the gold joy symbols were same voice came out, a crippled animal running on brokenleft wide open so that we could r u n out and climb the fire legs. You could hearsplinters i n my voice, bones rubbingescapes. We played capture-the-fiag i n the auditorium, jagged against one another, I was loud, though. I. was gladwhere Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-sheks pictures hung I didnt whisper. There was one little girl who the back of the stage, the Chinese flag on their left and You cant entrust your voice to the Chinese, either; theythe American flag on their right, We climbed the teak want to capture your voice for their own use. They want toceremonial chairs and made flying leaps off the stage, One fix up your tongue to speak for them. "How much less canflag headquarters was .behind the glass door and the other you sell i t for?" we have to say. Talk the Sales Ghostson stage right. Our feet drummed on the hollow stage. down. Make them take a loss.During recess the teachers locked themselves up i n their We were working at the laundry when a delivery boyoffice w i t h the shelves of books, copybooks, inky f r o m came from the Rexall drugstore around the corner. He had aChina. They drank tea and warmed their hands at a stove. pale blue box of pills, but nobody was sick. Reading the labelThere was no play supervision. A t recess we had the school we saw that i t belonged to another Chinese family, Crazyto ourselves, and also we could roam as far as we could Marys family. "Not ours," said my father. He pointed outgo—downtown, Chinatown stores, home—as long as we the name to the Delivery Ghost, who took the pills back.returned before the bell rang. M y mother muttered for an hour, and then her anger A t exactly 7:30 the teacher again picked up the brass boiled over. "That ghost! That dead ghost! How darehebell that sat on his desk and swung i t over our heads, while come to the wrong house ?" She could not concentrate on herwe charged down the stairs, our cheering magnified i n the marking and pressing. " A mistake! H u h ! " I was gettingstairwell. Nobody had to line up. angry myself. She fumed. She made her press crash and Not all of the children who were silent at American hiss. "Revenge. Weve got to avenge this w r o n g ; on ourschool found voice at Chinese school. One new teacher said future, on our health, and on our lives. Nobodys going toeach of us had to get up and recite i n front of the class, sicken my children and get away with i t . " We brothers andwho was. to listen. My sister and I had memorized the sisters did not look at one another. She would do somethinglesson perfectly. We said i t to each other at home, one awful, something embarrassing. Shed already been hintingchanting, one listening. The teacher called on my sister to that during the next eclipse we slam pot lids together torecite first. I t was the first time a teacher had called on the scare the f r o g f r o m swallowing the moon. (The word forsecond-born to go first. My sister was scared. She glanced "eclipse" is frog-swallowing-the-moon.) When we had notat me and looked away; I looked down at my desk. I hoped banged lids at the last eclipse and the shadow kept recedingthat she could do i t because i f she could, then I would have anyway, shed said, "The villagers must be banging andto. She opened her mouth and a voice came out that wasnt clanging very loudly back home i n China."a whisper, but i t wasnt a proper voice either. I hoped that ("On the other side of the world, they arent having anshe would not cry, fear breaking up her voice like twigs eclipse, Mama. Thats just a shadow the earth makes whenunderfoot. She sounded as i f she were trying to sing though i t comes between the moon and the sun."weeping and strangling. She did not pause or stop to end "Youre always believing what those Ghost Teachersthe embarrassment. She kept going until she said the last tell you. Look at the size of the jaws!")
  5. 5. 170 j THE WOMAN WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | 171 "Aha I " she yelled. "You! The biggest." She was p o i n t - "That is the way the Chinese do i t . " ing at me. "You go to the drugstore." "Do what?" "What do you want me to buy, Mother ?" I said. "Do things." I felt the weight and immensity of things "Buy nothing. Dont bring one cent. Go and make them impossible to explain to the druggist. stop the curse." "Can I give you some money?" he asked. " I dont want to go. I dont know how to do that. There "No, we want candy." are no such things as curses. Theyll think I m crazy." He reached into a j a r and gave me a handful of lollipops. " I f you dont go, I m holding you responsible for b r i n g - He gave us candy all year round, year after year, everying a plague on this family." time we went into the drugstore. When different druggists "What am I supposed to do.when I get there?" I said, or clerks waited on us, they also gave us candy. They had talked us over. They gave us Halloween candy i n December,sullen, trapped. "Do I say, Your delivery boy made a Christmas candy around Valentines day, candy hearts atwrong delivery ?" _ Easter, and Easter eggs at Halloween. "See?" said our "They know he made a wrong delivery. I want you to mother. "They understand. You kids just arent verymake them rectify their crime." brave." But I knew they did not understand. They thought I felt sick already. Shed make me swing stinky censers we were beggars without a home who lived i n back of thearound the counter, at the druggist, at the customers. laundry. They felt sorry for us. I did not eat their candy.Throw dog blood on the druggist. I couldnt stand her I did not go inside the "drugstore or walk past i t unless myplans. parents forced me to,."Whenever we had a prescription "You get reparation candy," she said. "You say, You filled, the druggist put candy i n the medicine bag. This ishave tainted my house w i t h sick medicine and must remove what Chinese druggists normally do, except they givethe curse w i t h sweetness. Hell understand." raisins. M y mother thought she taught the Druggist Ghosts "He didnt do i t on purpose. A n d no, he wont, Mother. a lesson in good manners (which is the same word asThey dont understand stuff like that. I wont be able to say- "traditions").i t right. Hell call us beggars." My mouth went permanently crooked w i t h effort, turned "You just translate." She searched me to make sure I down on the left side and straight on the right. Howwasnt hiding any money. I was sneaky and bad enough to strange that the emigrant villagers are shouters, holleringbuy the candy and come back pretending i t was a free gift. face to face. My father asks, "Why is i t I can hear Chinese "Mymotherseztagimmesomecandy," I said to the d r u g - from blocks away? Is i t that I understand- the language?gist. Be cute and small. No one hurts the cute and small. Or is i t they talk loud?" They t u r n the radio up full blast "What? Speak up. Speak English," he said, big i n his to hear the operas, which do not seem to hurt their ears.white druggist coat. And they yell over the singers that wail over the drums, "Tatatagimme somecandy." everybody talking at once, big arm gestures, spit flying. The druggist leaned way over the counter and frowned. You can see the disgust on American faces looking at women"Some free candy," I said. "Sample candy." like that. I t isnt just the loudness. I t is the way Chinese "We dont give sample candy, young lady," he said. sounds, chingchong ugly, to American ears, not beautiful " M y mother said you have to give us candy. She said like Japanese sayonara words w i t h the consonants andthat is the way the Chinese do i t . " vowels as regular as Italian. We make guttural peasant "What?"
  6. 6. 172 THE W O M A N WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | 173 noise and have Ton Due Thang names you cant remember. only when you actually struck at the ball.) Sometimes the And the Chinese cant hear Americans at a l l ; the language pitcher wouldnt bother to throw to us. "Automatic walk,"is too soft and western music unhearable. Ive watched a the other children would call, sending us on our way. By Chinese audience laugh, visit, talk-story, and holler during fourth or fifth grade, though, some of us would t r y to h i t a piano recital, as i f the musician could not hear them. A the ball. "Easy out," the other kids would say. I h i t the Chinese-American, somebodys son, was playing Chopin, ball a couple of times. Baseball was nice i n that there waswhich has no punctuation, no cymbals, no gongs. Chinese a definite spot to r u n to after hitting the ball. Basketballpiano music is five black keys. Normal Chinese womens confused me because when I caught the ball I didnt knowvoices are strong and bossy. We American-Chinese girls -whom to throw i t to. "Me. Me," the kids would be yelling.had to whisper to make ourselves American-feminine. A p - "Over here." Suddenly i t would occur to me I hadnt m e m -parently we whispered even more softly than the Amer- orized which ghosts were on my team and which were onrcansr Oncea-year-the-teachers-referred-my- sister_ancLme_ -the-other-r-When-the kids-saidy-^Automatrc-walk7 ~the—girl J -to speech therapy, but our voices would straighten out, who was quieter than I kneeled w i t h one end of the bat i nunpredictably normal, for the therapists. Some of us gave each hand and placed i t carefully on the plate. Then sheup, shook our heads, and said nothing,not one word. Some dusted her hands as she walked to first base, where sheof us could not even shake our heads. A t times shaking rubbed her hands softly, fingers spread. She always gotmy head no is more self-assertion than I can manage. Most tagged out before second base. She would whisper-read butof us eventually found some voice, however faltering. We not talk. Her whisper was as soft as i f she had no muscles.invented an American-feminine speaking personality, e x - She seemed to be breathing f r o m a distance. I heard nocept for that one girl who could not speak up even i n C h i - anger or tension.nese school. I joined in at lunch time when the other students, the . She was a year older than I and was i n my class for Chinese too, talked about whether or not she was mute, a l -twelve years. During all those years she read aloud but though obviously she was not i f she could read aloud. Peo-would not talk. Her older sister was usually beside her;- ple told how they had tried their best to be friendly. Theytheir parents kept the older daughter back to protect the said hello, but i f she refused to answer, well, they .didntyounger one. They were six and seven years old when they see why they had to say hello anymore. She had no friendsbegan school. Although I had flunked kindergarten, I was of her own but followed her sister everywhere, althoughthe same age as most other students i n our class; my par- - people and she herself probably thought I was her friend. Ients had probably lied about my age, so I had had a head also followed her sister about, who was f a i r l y normal. Shestart and came out even. M y younger sister was i n the was almost two years older and read more than anyone else.class below me; we were normal ages and normally sep- I hated the younger sister, the quiet one. I hated herarated. The parents of the quiet g i r l , on the other hand, when she was the last chosen for her team and I , the last-protected both daughters. When i t sprinkled, they kept, chosen for my team. I hated her for -her China doll hair cut.them home from school. The girls did not work for a l i v i n g I hated her at music time for the wheezes that came out ofthe way we did. But i n other -ways we were the same. , u„ her plastic flute. We were similar i n sports, We held the bat on our One afternoon i n the sixth grade (that year I was a r -shoulders until we walked to first base. (You got a strike rogant w i t h talk, not knowing there were going to be high
  7. 7. 174 THE W O M A N WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | 175 •• school dances and college seminars to set me back), I and could turn quickly sideways and slip into a different world. my. little sister and the quiet girl and her big sister stayed I t seemed I could r u n faster at this time, and by evening late after school for some reason. The cement was cooling, I would be able to fly. As the afternoon wore on we could and the tetherball poles made shadows across the gravel. run into the forbidden places—the boys big yard, the boys The hooks at the rope ends were clinking against the poles. playroom. We could go into the boys lavatory and look at We shouldnt have been so late; there was laundry work to the urinals. The only time during school hours I had do and Chinese school to get to by 5:00. The last time we crossed the boys yard was when a flatbed truck w i t h , a •v • had stayed late, my mother had phoned the police and told giant thing covered w i t h canvas and tied down w i t h ropest them we had been kidnapped by bandits. The radio stations had parked across the street. The children had told, one broadcast our descriptions. I had to get home before she did another that i t was a gorilla i n captivity; we couldnt decide that again. But sometimes i f you loitered long enough i n the whether the sign said " T r a i l of the Gorilla" or " T r i a l of the snhi)oiya£d,^the_ati^ have gone home and Gorilla." The thing was as big_as a hous_e,^Th.e-teachers-r y o u could play w i t h the equipment before the office took i t wnlldnTstop us f r o m hysterically rushing to the fence and ill, away, We were chasing one another through the play- clinging to the wire mesh. Now I ran across the boys yard i_ , ground and in and out of the basement, where the playroom ; clear to the Cyclone fence and thought about the hair that , and lavatory were. During air raid drills ( i t was during the I had seen sticking out of the canvas. I t was going to be summer soon, so you could feel that freedom coming on too.I > Korean War, which you knew about because every day the f r o n t page of the newspaper printed a map of Korea w i t h I ran back into the girls yard, and there was the quiet the top part red and going up and down like a window sister all by herself. I ran-past her, and she followed me:.]!-:, shade), we curled up i n this basement. Now everyone was into the girls lavatory. My footsteps rang hard against iijpv gone. The playroom was army green and had nothing i n i t cement and tile because of the taps I had nailed into my , but a long trough w i t h drinking spigots i n rows. Pipes shoes. Her footsteps were soft, padding after me. There 1 across the ceiling led to the drinking fountains and to the was no one i n the lavatory but the two of us. I ran all i toilets in the next room. When someone flushed you could around the rows of twenty-five open stalls to make sure of { 1 1 hear the water and other matter, which the children named, that. No sisters. I think we .must have been playing hide-i running inside the big pipe above the drinking spigots. and-go-seek. She was not good at hiding by herself and There was one playroom for girls next to the girls lavatory usually followed her sister; theyd hide in the same place.!;:-!! and one playroom for boys next to the boys lavatory. The They must have gotten separated. I n this growing twilight, a child could hide and never be found.a" . stalls were open and the toilets had no lids, by which we or knew that ghosts have no sense of shame or privacy. I stopped abruptly i n front of "the sinks, and she came ;..; Inside the playroom the lightbulbs i n cages had already running toward me before she could stop herself, so that been turned off. Daylight came i n x-patterns through the she almost collided w i t h me. I walked closer. She backed t * caging, at the windows. I looked out and, seeing no one i n . • away, puzzlement, then alarm i n her eyes. j ; the schoolyard, ran outside to climb the fire escape upside "Youre going to talk," I said, my voice steady and &?«d« • down, hanging on to the metal stairs w i t h fingers and toes.-y,^ normal, as i t is when talking to the familiar, .the-weak) and- I did a flip off the fire escape and ran across the school- the small. " I am going to make you talk, you sissy-girl." She yard. The day was a great eye, and i t was not paying much stopped backing away and stood fixed. ?:.r>;. ; attention to me now. I could disappear w i t h the sun.; I I looked into her face so I could hate i t close up. She
  8. 8. I 7 6 | THE "W0MAN W A R K I 0R A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | 177 wore black bangs, and her cheeks were pink and white. She hated her clothes—-the blue pastel cardigan, the white was baby soft. I thought that I could put my thumb on her blouse w i t h the collar that lay flat over the cardigan, the nose and push i t bonelessly in, indent her face. I could poke homemade fiat, cotton skirt she wore when everybody else dimples into her cheeks. I could work her face around like was wearing flared skirts. I hated pastels; I would wear dough. She stood still, and I did not want to look at her black always. I squeezed again, harder, even though her face anymore; I hated fragility. I walked around her, cheek had a weak rubbery feeling I did not like. I squeezed looked her up and down the way the Mexican and Negro one cheek, then the other, back and f o r t h until the tears girls did when they fought, so tough. I hated her weak neck, r a n out of her eyes as i f I had pulled them out. "Stop c r y - the way i t did not support her head but let i t droop; her i n g , " I said, but although she habitually followed me head would fall backward. I stared at the curve of her around, she did not obey. Her eyes dripped; her nose nape. I wished I was able to see what my own neck looked dripped. She wiped her eyes w i t h her papery fingers. The^ke^moi.J:Jie^ack_ and sides. I hoped i t did not look like _sjdiL_piLJLer_Jha,mds_and_ar^s—seemed—powdery-dry,- -like- hers; I wanted a stout neck. I grew my hair long to hide tracing paper, onion skin. I hated her fingers. I could snap i t i n case i t was a flower-stem neck, I walked around to them like breadsticks. I pushed her hands down. "Say the front of her to hate her face some more. H i , " I said. " H i . Like that. Say your name. Go ahead. I reached up and took the fatty part of her cheek, not Say it. Or are you stupid ? Youre so stupid, you dont know dough, but meat, between my thumb and finger. This close, your own name, is that it? When I say, Whats your name? and I saw no pores. "Talk," I said. " A r e you going to talk?" you just blurt i t out, o.k.?. Whats your name?" Last year Her skin was fleshy, like squid out of which the glassy, the whole class had .laughed at a boy who couldnt fill out a blades of bones had been pulled. I wanted tough skin, hard f o r m because he didnt know his fathers name. The teacher brown skin. I had callused my hands; I had scratched dirt sighed, exasperated, and was very sarcastic, "Dont you to blacken the nails, which I cut straight across to make notice things? What does your mother call him?" she said. stubby fingers. I gave her face a squeeze. "Talk." When I The class laughed at how dumb he was not to notice things. let go, the pink rushed back into my white thumbprint on "She calls him father of me," he said. Even we laughed, her skin. I walked around to her side. "Talk !" I shouted into although we knew that his mother did not call his father by the side of her head. Her straight hair hung, the same a l l name, and a son does not know his fathers name. We these years, no ringlets or braids or permanents. I squeezed laughed and were relieved that our parents had had the her other cheek. "Are you? Huh? Are you going to talk?" foresight to tell us some names" we could give the teachers. She tried to shake her head, but I had hold of her face. She " I f youre not stupid," I said to the quiet girl, "whats your had no muscles to jerk away. Her skin seemed to stretch. I name?" She shook her head, and some hair caught in the let go i n horror. What i f . i t came away-in my hand? "No, tears; wet black hair stuck to the side of the pink and huh ?" I said, rubbing the touch of her off my fingers. "Say white face. I reached up (she was taller than I ) and took N o / then," I said. I gave her another pinch and a twist. a strand of hair. I pulled i t . "Well, then, lets honk your "Say No. " She shook her head, her straight hair turning hair," I said, "Honk. Honk." Then I pulled the other side w i t h her head,- not swinging side to side like the pretty — " h o - o - n - n k " — a long p u l l ; "ho-o-n-n-nk"—a longer pulh I girls. She was so neat. Her neatness bothered me. I hated could see her little white ears, like white cutworms curled the way she folded the wax paper from her lunch; she did underneath the hair. " T a l k ! " I yelled into each cutworm. not wad her brown paper bag and her school papers. I I looked r i g h t at her. "I know you talk," I said. "Ive
  9. 9. 178 I THE W O M A N WAEKIOB A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe J 179heard you," Her eyebrows flew up. Something i n those I put my finger on her pointed chin. " I dont like eyes was startled, and I pursued i t . " I was walking I dont like the weak little toots you make on your flute.past your house when you didnt know I was there. I heard Wheeze. Wheeze. I dont like the way you dont swing atyou yell in English and i n Chinese. You werent just talking. the ball. I dont like the way youre the last one chosen. IYou were shouting. I heard you shout. You were saying, dont like the way you cant make a fist for tetherball. WhyWhere are you? Say that again. Go ahead, just the way dont you make a fist? Come on. Get tough. Come on. Throwyou did at home." I yanked harder on the hair, but steadily, fists." I pushed at her long hands; they swung limply at hernot jerking. I did not want to pull i t out. "Go ahead. Say, sides. Her fingers were so long, I thought maybe they hadWhere are you ? Say i t loud enough for your sister to come. an extra joint. They couldnt possibly make fists like otherCall her. Make her come help you. Call her name. I l l stop peoples. "Make a fist," I said. "Come on. Just fold thosei f she comes. So call. Go ahead." fingers up; fingers on the inside, thumbs on the outside. Say She shook her head, her mouth curved down, crying. I something. Honk me back. Youre so tall, and you let mecould see her tiny white teeth, baby teeth. I wantedTo^row" ^ickmTydinbig strong yellow teeth. "You do have a tongue," I said. "Would you like a hanky? I cant get you one w i t h"So use i t , " I pulled the hair at her temples, pulled the tears embroidery on i t or crocheting along the edges, but I l l getout of her eyes. "Say, Ow, " I said. "Just Ow. Say, Let you some toilet paper- i f you tell me to. Go ahead. Ask me.go. Go ahead. Say i t . I l l honk you again i f you dont say, I l l get i t for you i f you ask." She did not stop crying. "WhyLet me alone. Say, Leave me alone, and I l l let you go. .1 dont you scream, Help ?". I suggested. "Say, Help. Gow i l l . I l l let go i f you say i t . You can stop this anytime you ahead." She cried on. "O.K.. O.K. Dont talk. Just scream,want to, you know. A l l you have to do is tell me to stop. and I l l let you go. Wont that feel good? Go ahead. LikeJust say, Stop. Youre just asking for i t , arent you? Youre this." I screamed, not too loudly. My voice h i t the tile andjust asking for another honk. Well then, I l l have to give rang i t as i f I had thrown a rock at i t . The stalls openedyou another honk. Say, Stop. " But she didnt. I had to wider and the toilets wider and darker. Shadows leaned atpull again and again. angles I had not seen before. I t was very late. Maybe a Sounds did come out of her mouth, sobs, chokes, noises janitor had locked me i n w i t h this girl for the night. Herthat were almost words. Snot ran out of her nose. She tried black eyes blinked and stared, blinked and stared. I feltto wipe i t on her hands, but there was too much of i t . She dizzy f r o m hunger. We had been i n this lavatory togetherused her sleeve. "Youre disgusting," I told her. "Look at forever. M y mother would call the police again i f I didntyou, snot streaming down your nose, and you wont say a b r i n g my sister home soon. " I l l let you go i f you say justword to stop i t . Youre such a nothing." I moved behind one word," I said. "You can even say, a or the, and I l lher and pulled the hair growing out of her weak neck. I let let you go. Come on. Please." She didnt shake her headgo. I stood silent for a long time. Then I screamed, " T a l k ! " anymore, only cried steadily, so much water coming out ofI would scare the words out of her. I f she had had little her. I could see the two duct holes where the tears welledbound feet, the toes twisted under the balls, I would have out. Quarts of tears but no words. I grabbed her by thejumped up and landed on them-—crunch!—stomped on them, shoulder. I could- feel bones. The light was coming i nw i t h my iron shoes. She cried hard, sobbing aloud. "Cry, queerly through the frosted glass w i t h the chicken -wireMama, " I said. "Come on. Cry, Mama. Say, Stop i t . " embedded in i t . Her crying was like an animals—a. seals
  10. 10. 180 | THE W O M A N WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | i 8i— a n d i t echoed around the basement, "Do you want to stay let alone gets married. Nobodys going to notice you. A n dhere all night?" I asked. "Your mother is wondering what you have to talk for interviews, speak right up i n front ofhappened to her baby. You wouldnt want to have her mad the boss. Dont you know that? Youre so dumb. Why do Iat you. Youd better say something." I shook her shoulder. waste my time on you?" Sniffling and snorting, I couldntI pulled her hair again. I squeezed her face. "Come on! stop crying and talking at the same time. I kept wiping m yTalk! Talk! T a l k ! " She didnt seem to feel i t anymore when nose on my arm, my sweater lost somewhere (probably notI pulled her hair. "Theres nobody here but you and me. worn because my mother said to wear a sweater). I tThis isnt a classroom or a playground or a crowd. I m just seemed, as i f I had spent my life i n that basement, doingone person. You can talk i n front of one person. Dont the worst thing I had yet done to another person. " I m d o -make me pull harder and harder until you talk." B u t her ing this for your own good," I said. "Dont you dare tellhair seemed to stretch; she did not say a word. " I m going anyone Ive been bad to you. Talk. Please talk."to puli harder. Dont make rr.o pull anymore, or your hair I was getting- dizzy f r o m the air I was "gulping. Herwill come out and youre going to be bald. Do you want to sobs and my -sobs were bouncing wildly off the tile, some-be bald ? You dont want to be bald, do you ?" times together, sometimes alternating. " I dont understand Far away, coming from the edge of town, I heard why you wont say just one word," I cried, clenching mywhistles blow. The cannery was changing shifts, letting out teeth. M y knees were shaking, and I hung on to her hairthe afternoon people, and still we were here at school. I t to stand up. Another time I d stayed too late, I had had towas a sad sound-—work done. The air was lonelier after the walk around two Negro kids-who were bonking each otherssound died. head on the concrete. I went back later to see i f the concrete "Why wont you talk?" I started to cry. What i f I had cracks i n . i t . "Look. I l l give you something i f you talk.couldnt stop, and everyone would want to know what h a p - I l l give you my pencil box. I l l buy you some candy. O.K.?pened? "Now look what youve done," I scolded. "Youre What do you want? Tell me. Just say i t , and I l l give i t togoing to pay for this. I want to know why. And youre going you. Just say, yes, or, O.K., or, Baby R u t h . " But she-to tell me why. You dont see I m trying to help you out, do didnt want Do you want to be like this, dumb (do you know what I had stopped pinching her cheek because I did not likedumb means?), your whole life? Dont you ever want to be the feel of her skin. I would go crazy i f i t came away i na cheerleader ? Or a pompon g i r l ? What are you going to my hands. " I skinned her," I would have to confess. .do for a living? Yeah, youre going to have to work because Suddenly I heard footsteps hurrying through the base-you cant be a housewife. Somebody has to m a r r y you be- - ment, and her sister ran into the lavatory calling her name.fore you can be a housewife. And you, you are a plant. Do "Oh, there you are," I said.^Weve been waiting for you; Iyou know that? Thats all you are i f you dont talk. I f you was only t r y i n g to teach her to talk. She wouldnt cooperate,dont talk, you cant have a personality. Youll have no per- though." Her sister went into one of the stalls and got hand-sonality and no hair. Youve got to let people know you have fuls of toilet paper and wiped her off. Then we found my sis-a personality and a brain. You think somebody is going t o ter, and we walked home together. "Your family really oughttake care of you all.your stupid life? You think youll always to force her to speak," I advised all the way home. "Youhave your big sister? You think somebodys going to marry mustnt pamper her."you, is that it? Well, youre not the type that gets dates,- The world is sometimes just, and I spent the next
  11. 11. A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | 183 I 82 I THE WOMAN WARRIOR eighteen months sick i n bed w i t h a mysterious illness. and i n first grade had no I Q — a zero IQ. I did remember the There was no pain and no symptoms, though the middle first grade teacher calling out during a test, while studentsline i n my left palm broke i n two. Instead of starting junior marked Xs on a girl or a boy or a dog, which I covered w i t h high school, I lived like the Victorian recluses I read about. black. First grade was when I discovered eye control; w i t hI had a rented hospital bed i n the living room, where I my seeing I could shrink the teacher down to a height ofwatched soap operas on t.v., and my family cranked me one inch, gesticulating and mouthing on the horizon. I lostup and down. I saw no one but my family, who took good this power i n sixth grade for lack of practice, the teachercare of. me. I could have no visitors, no other relatives, no a generous man. "Look at your familys old addresses andvillagers. My bed was against the west window, and I think about how youve moved," he said. I looked at mywatched the seasons change the peach tree. I had a bell to parents aliases and their birthdays, which variants I knew.ring for help. I used a bedpan. I t was the best year and a But when I saw Fathers occupations I exclaimed, "Hey,half of my life. Nothing happened. he wasnt a farmer, he was a . . ." He had been a gambler. But one day my mother, the doctor, said, "Youre ready My throat cut off the word—silence i n front of the mostto get up today. Its time to get up and go to school." I understanding teacher. There were secrets never to be saidwalked about outside to get my legs working, leaning on a in front of the ghosts, immigration secrets whose tellingstaff I cut from the peach tree. The sky and trees, the sun could get us sent back to China.were immense;—no longer framed by a window, no longer Sometimes I hated the ghosts for not letting us t a l k ;grayed with a fly screen. I sat down on the sidewalk i n sometimes I hated the secrecy of the Chinese. "Dont t e l l , " •amazement—the night, the stars. But at school I had to said -my parents, though we couldnt tell i f we wanted tofigure out again how to talk. I met again the -poor girl I because we didnt know. Are there really secret trials w i t hhad tormented. She had not changed. She wore the same our own judges and penalties? Are there really flags i nclothes, hair cut, and manner as when we were i n elementary Chinatown signaling what stowaways have arrived i n Sanschool, no make-up on the pink and white face, while the Francisco Bay, their names, and which ships they came on?other Asian girls were starting to.tape their eyelids. She "Mother, I heard some kids say there are flags like that. Arecontinued to be able to read aloud. But there was hardly, there? What colors are they? Which buildings do they flyany reading aloud anymore, less and less as we got into from?"high school. "No. No, there arent any flags like that. Theyre just I was wrong about nobody taking care of her. Her talking-story. Youre always believing talk-story."sister became a clerk-typist and stayed unmarried. They " I wont tell anybody, Mother, I promise. Which b u i l d -lived w i t h their mother and father. She did not have to;, ings are the flags on?Who flies them? The benevolentleave the house except to go to the movies. She was sup- associations?"ported. She was protected by her family, as they would " I dont know. Maybe the San Francisco villagers dpnormally have done i n China i f they could have afforded i t , that; our villagers dont do that."not sent off to school withstrangers, ghosts, boys. "What do our villagers do ?" We have so many secrets to hold i n . Our sixth grade, • They would not tell us children because we had beenteacher, who liked- to explain things to children, let lis born among ghosts, were taught by ghosts, and were o u r -read our files. My record shows that I flunked kindergarten.. selves ghost-like. They called us a kind of ghost. Ghosts are
  12. 12. THE WOMAN WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe ( 185 noisy and full of a i r ; they talk during meals. They talk about ory anyway and poor eyesight. And the Han people wont anything. be pinned down. "Do we send up signal kites ? That would be a good idea, Even the good things are unspeakable, so how could I huh ? We could fly them from the school balcony." Instead of ask about deformities ? From the configurations of food my cheaply stringing dragonflies by the tail, we could fly ex- mother set out, we kids had to infer the holidays. She did pensive kites, the sky splendid i n Chinese colors, distracting not whip us up w i t h holiday anticipation or explain. You ghost eyes while the new people sneak in. Dont tell. "Never only remembered that perhaps a year ago you had eaten tell." monks food, or that there was meat, and i t was a meat Occasionally the rumor went about that the United holiday; or you had eaten moon cakes, or long noodles for States immigration authorities had set up headquarters in long life (which is a pun). I n front of.the whole chicken the San Francisco or Sacramento Chinatown to urge w e t - w i t h its slit throat toward the ceiling, shed lay out just so backs and stowaways, anybody here on fake papers, to come many pairs of chopsticks alternating w i t h wine cups, which to the city and get their files straightened out. The i m - were not for us because there were a different number frommigrants discussed whether or not to t u r n themselves i n . the number i n our family, and they were set too close t o - "We might as well," somebody would say. "Then wed have gether for us to sit at. To sit at one of those place settings our citizenship for real." a being would have to be about two inches wide, a tall wisp "Dont be a fool," somebody else would say. " I t s a trap. of an invisibility. Mother would pour Seagrams 7 into theYou go i n there saying you want to straighten out your cups and, after a while, pour i t back into the bottle. Neverpapers, theyll deport you." explaining. How can Chinese keep any traditions at all? "No, they wont. Theyre promising that nobody is g o - They dont even make you pay attention, slipping i n a cere-ing to go to j a i l or get deported. Theyll give you citizen- mony and clearing the table before the children noticeship as a reward for turning yourself i n , for your honesty.". . specialness. The adults get mad, evasive, and shut you up i f "Dont you believe i t . So-and-so trusted them, and he you ask. You get no warning that you shouldnt wear awas deported. They deported his children too." white ribbon i n your hair until they h i t you and give you "Where can they send us now? Hong Kong? Taiwan? the sideways glare for the rest of the day. They h i t you i fIve never been to Hong Kong or Taiwan. The Big Six? you wave brooms around or drop chopsticks or drum them.Where?" We dont belong anywhere since the Revolution. They h i t you i f you wash your hair on certain days, or tapThe old China has disappeared while weve been away. somebody w i t h a ruler, or step over a brother whether its "Dont tell," advised my parents. "Dont go to San during your menses or not. You figure out what you got h i tFrancisco until they leave." for and dont do i t again i f you figured correctly. But I Lie to Americans. Tell them you were born during the think that i f you dont figure i t out, its all right. Then youSan Francisco earthquake. Tell them your birth certificate can grow up bothered by "neither ghosts nor deities." "Godsand your parents were burned up i n the fire. Dont report you avoid wont hurt you." I dont see how they kept up acrimes; tell them we have no crimes and no poverty. Give a continuous culture for five thousand years. Maybe theynew name every time you get arrested; the ghosts wont__ didnt; maybe everyone makes i t up as.they go: along..,If..,we..recognize you. Pay the .new immigrants twenty-five cents had to depend on being told, wed have no religion, no b a -an hour and say we have no unemployment. And, of course, bies, no menstruation (sex, of course, unspeakable) > notell them were against Communism. Ghosts have no mem- death.
  13. 13. I 86 | THE WOMAN WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe | 187 I thought talking and not talking made the difference Mountain leaving Mary, a toddler, i n China. By the time between sanity and insanity. Insane people were the ones they made enough money to send for her, having replaced who couldnt explain themselves. There were many crazy the horse and vegetable wagon w i t h a truek, she wag almostgirls and women. Perhaps the sane people stayed i n China twenty and crazy. Her parents often said, "We thoughtto build the new, sane society. Or perhaps our little village shed be grown but young enough to learn English andhad become odd i n its isolation. No other Chinese, neither translate for us." Their other children, who were bornthe ones i n Sacramento, nor the ones in San Francisco, nor in the U.S., were normal and could translate. I was glad thatHawaii speak like us. Within a few blocks of our house were I was born nine months after my mother emigrated. Crazyhalf a dozen crazy women and girls, all belonging to village Mary was a large girl and had & big black mole on her face,families. which is a sign of fortune. The black mole pulls you forward There was the woman next door who was chatty one w i t h its power; a mole at the back of the head pulls youm o m e n t — i n v i t i n g us children to our first "sky m o v i e " — back. She seemed cheerful, but pointed at things that wereand shut up the next. Then we would see silver heat rise not there. I disliked looking at her; you never knew whatfrom her body; i t solidified before our eyes. She made us you were going to see, what rictus would shape her face.afraid, though she said nothing, did nothing. Her husband . Or what you would hear—growls, laughs. Her head hungthrew the loudspeaker out the window and drove home fast like a bulls, and her eyes peeked at you out of her the middle of the show. She sat like stone in the front seat; Her face was a white blurbecause she was indoors so muchhe had to open the door for her and help her out. She slammed . and also because I tried* hot to look at her directly. Shethe door. After they went inside, we could hear doors slam- often had rice on her face and in her hair. Her motherming throughout their house. They did not have children, cut her hair neatly around her ears, stubble at the back ofso i t was not children slamming doors. The next day, she her neck. She wore pajamas, a rough brown sweater b u t -disappeared, and people would say she had been taken to toned crooked, and a big apron, not a w o r k apron but a bib.Napa or Agnew. When a woman disappeared or reappeared • She wore slippers, and you could see her thick ankles naked,after an absence, people whispered, "Napa." "Agnew." She her naked heels and tendons. When you went to her house,had been locked up before. Her husband rented out the house you had to keep alert because you didnt want her to comeand also went away. The last time he had left town, he had at you from around a corner, her hands loose. She wouldbeen single. He had gone back to China, where he had bought lurch out of dark corners; houses w i t h crazy girls haveher and married her. Now while she was locked up i n the locked rooms and drawn curtains. A smell came from herasylum, he-went, people said, to the Midwest. A year or two which would not have .been unpleasant had i t belonged/topassed. He returned to Napa to drive her home. As a present, . > someone else. The house smelled of her, camphoraceous.he had brought w i t h him f r o m the Midwest a child, half ; Maybe they tied camphor on her pulse to cure her. OurChinese and half white. People said i t was his illegitimate ; mother used to tie dried prunes stuffed w i t h camphor toson. She was very happy to have a son to raise i n her bid ^ our wrists. We got very embarrassed at school-when-theage, although I saw that the boy h i t her to get candy and rags came loose and their contents fell out i n clumps andtoys. She was the one who died happy, sitting on the steps.-3j grains. Crazy Mary did not improve,and so she toowasafter cooking dinner. locked up i n the crazyhouse. She was never released. Her There was Crazy Mary, whose family were Christian ^ family said she liked i t there.converts. Her mother and father had come to the Gold There was a slough where our mother took us to pick
  14. 14. i 8 8 THE WOMAN WARRIOR A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe j 189 orange berries. We carried them home i n pots and bags to her cattails popping seed, white seed puffs blowing after cook i n an egg soup. I t was not a wild slough, although her, clouds of fairies dancing over her head. She streamed tules, cattails and foxtails still grew, also dill, and yellow color and flapped i n layers. She was an angry witch, not a chamomile, fat and fuzzy as bees. People had been known happy one. She was fierce; not a fairy, after all, but a to have followed the hobo paths and parted the tall stalks to demon. She did run fast, as fast as a child, although she find dead bodies—hobos, Chinese suicides, children. Red- was a wrinkled woman, an outburst that jumped at us from winged blackbirds, whose shoulders were the same color as bushes, between cars, between buildings. We children vowed the berries, perched on a wood bridge, really a t r a i n trestle. that we would never run home i f she came after one of When a train heaved across it, the black steam engine swol- us. No matter what she did to us, we had to r u n i n the len to bursting like the boiler at the laundry, the birds flew opposite direction from home. We didnt want her to know up like Halloween. where we lived. I f we couldnt outrun her. and lose her, wed We were not the only people who picked i n the slough; die alone. Once she spotted my sister i n our yard, opened the a witchwoman also went there. One of my brothers named gate, and chased her up the stairs. My sister screamed and her Pee-A-Nah, which does not have a meaning. Of all the cried, banging on the door. Our mother let her i n quickly, crazy ladies, she was the one who was the village idiot, the looking frightened as she fumbled at the latches to lock out public one. When our mother was w i t h us, she would chase Pee-A-Nah. My sister had to be chanted out of her scream- the witchwoman away. Wed stand beside and behind our ing. I t was a good thing Pee-A-Nah had a short memory mother, who would say to her, "Leave us alone now" or because she did not find olir house again..Sometimes when a "Good morning," and Pee-A-Nah would go away. But when bunch of tules and reeds-and grasses mixed and blew and we were by ourselves, she chased us. "Pee-A-Nah!" wed waved, I was terrified that i t was she, that she was carrying scream. Wed run, terrified, along the hobo paths, over the them or parting them. One day we realized that we hadtrestle, and through the streets. Kids said she was a witch not seen her for a while. We forgot her, never seeing her capable of witch deeds, unspeakable boilings and tearings again. She had probably been locked up. i n the crazyhouseapart and transformations i f she caught us. "Shell touch on the shoulder, and youll not be you anymore. Youd I had invented a quill pen out of a peacock feather, butbe a piece of glass winking and blinking to people on the stopped w r i t i n g w i t h i t when I saw that i t waved like asidewalk." She came riding to the slough w i t h a broom bev one-eyed slough plant. • , •tween her legs, and she had powdered one cheek red and I thought every house had to have its crazy woman orone white. Her hair stood up and but to the sides i n dry crazy g i r l , every village its idiot. Who would be I t at ourmasses, black even though she was old. She wore a pointed house? Probably me. M y sister did not start talking amonghat and layers of capes, shawls, sweaters buttoned at the nonfamily until a year after I started, but she was neatthroat like capes, the sleeves flying behind like sausage while I was messy, my hair tangled and dusty. My dirtyskins. She came to the slough not to harvest the useful herbs hands broke things. Also I had had the mysterious illness.and berries the way we did, but to collect armfuls of c a t - And there were adventurous people inside my head to whomtails and tall grasses and tuber flowers. Sometimes she car- I talked. W i t h them I was frivolous and violent, orphaned.ried her broomstick horse like a staff. I n the fall (she would I was white and had red hair, and I rode a such a sight in-the fall) she ran "faster than a. swallow," Once when I realized how often I went away to see these