不给 (Bù gěi) -- creative nonfiction by Joey Wu
On my dresser sits a small stuffed dog. He’s old and worn, and on his front legs you can see where the seams have begun to come apart—where the fabric of his legs meets the blue and white striped soles of his feet. He’s ragged around his floppy ears and his legs are held together only by a few threads where my younger brother had pulled on them. My parents saw him while looking around my room and asked me why I hadn't put him away, to which I replied, “I don’t know!”
His spot in front of my books makes it so that I need to move him every time I get a textbook from the shelf atop my dresser, only to put him back an hour later. It’s a mild inconvenience that makes me wonder if it’s even worth keeping him there, but I’m dissuaded from taking him down when, in the early morning, his beady eyes take the light streaming through my windows and reflect back the summer skies of Beijing. In his dark eyes, I see the pale blues of days where the clouds would clear up and only a few fluffy wisps would be left behind, dotting the heavens and occasionally passing in front of the sun. I see the days where in the morning, I’d wake up early to walk to the park a few minutes away from my grandparents’ apartment. A gentle breeze would ease the sweltering heat—making it just a bit more bearable—and my grandma would pick a leaf from one of the willow trees planted along the sidewalk to show me for the umpteenth time how to blow them. She’d close the outsides of her thumbs around the leaf and pucker her lips to create a nasal sound similar to that of a kazoo. I could never get it right, but she taught me anyway.
It was after my grandma waved me off. With the security gate looming over where I stood, I realized that the summer that had just flown by was likely my last summer spent in China—the last summer spent at my grandparents’ cozy apartment. At the cute little park I had spent so many hours riding my scooter in: spent walking along the food stalls setting up in the morning, and being greeted by familiar faces. Reality fell on me like a ton of bricks. The SAT, summer programs, and college applications—these prospects grew closer by the minute. When would I ever get the chance to come back? After college, my grandpa would be the ripe old age of ninety-five, and I sure as hell knew what that could mean. I took my first step. Behind me were all of the memories I had accumulated over the years. Summers of shopping for ice cream with my grandpa, learning how to blow the willow leaves, and idly watching cartoons on TV, getting playfully told off for ruining my eyes. Was I ready to leave it all behind? Solemnly, I took the second step. My stuffed dog rested in my luggage, his poker face unwavering. He would remember for me.
Lying among the cotton in his torso is a small squeezable speaker that used to be inside the dog tag shaped like a baseball on his collar. Rough handling and play resulted in it gradually moving into its new residence inside his stomach. There were days where it once emitted the sound of a dog barking a tune, but over the years it has deteriorated into a mechanical shriek. Despite this, he’s retained his original pitch—his desolate cry is reminiscent of the jingle of the ice cream truck making it’s last rounds around my neighborhood.
If I was lucky, after the chime of the truck faded into the distance, the sound of my neighbor strumming the guitar in his living room would creep out onto the porch. I would get up from my rocking chair to peer in through the window, and when he looked back at me, I’d duck and hide away in embarrassment. The door would creak open, and when I looked up, he’d move out of the doorway to invite me in. Sitting among all the children’s toys strewn about the ground and his old CRT television, I didn’t really talk much—I could never understand what he said to me through his thick Indian accent, so the only conversation held was when his baby daughter would let out a squeal and we’d share a little chuckle. I liked to think we had a silent understanding, known through the gentle melodies he played and the swaying of my legs hanging from the chair. Eventually, my mom would come looking for me. She’d scold me for intruding on their privacy and pull on my arm to go, and I’d look back to see my neighbor smile and give me a little wave.
Other times, I’d peer through the window but my neighbor wouldn’t meet my gaze—though I secretly hoped he would. Those days, I’d go back to my seat on the rocking chair and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore—all kinds of books, from Frog and Toad to eventually Harry Potter. It was nice and cool outside, and the buzzing of moths crowding around the lightbulb blessed me with white noise to drown out the racket my brother was making indoors.
After the sky loses its evening radiance and darkens fully, my ceiling light comes on, flooding my room with a warm yellow glow. At these times, I’ll look towards him on his spot atop the dresser to see his eyes emit the light of the cinema on a Sunday afternoon. Not of the screen like one might expect, but rather the soft light that comes on when the movie is over and the end credits roll—the one that reminds me that it’s time to go. The one that sometimes follows with me standing up and almost falling over because I hadn’t used my legs for so long, as well as the one that tells me it’s time to say goodbye to the friend I invited to watch with me. I couldn’t stand the silence that came as my friend walked to his front door. I’d sulk with indignation at going home so soon and ask if my friend could stay the night, only to be met with a shake of the head and the proverb I hated more than anything, which said “all good things must come to an end.”
And sometimes, after any light has long since faded from the sky and the hour hand of the clock ticks towards two, I’ll peel my eyes away from my desk and look towards his eyes for a glimmer, or listen for a sound to come from his mechanical lungs. It’s on those nights where I feel the heaviest—like I’m carrying the weight of the world by myself. It’s on those nights that I look to the sole weight I carried before for a sense of relief—to lift the burden on my exhausted mind. It’s on those nights that I look desperately towards him, only to be met with a pair of sad, tired eyes.
It’s on those nights that I feel truly alone.
Joey Wu is a rising junior who currently spends his days reading novels, coding, and going to fencing competitions. He writes for fun now, but has dreams to let his writing reach more people. He wants to be remembered after he leaves this world. In his spare time, he likes to read and play games online with his friends.