to celebrate national novel writing month (or the unfortunately nicknamed "NaNoWriMo") this year i will spare myself the white-hair-inducing effects of writing 50,000 words in the month of November by writing a story a day.
these stories will be of any length and veer into any territory i wish. the idea is for me to write one a day for every day of november. these will be first drafts with minimal editing.
if you are into any of it. please comment below! perhaps you can help me figure out if there's ANYthing in these stories worth adapting or polishing into something awesome.
today is october 31st. i know. i'm giving myself a head start. wish me luck!
story 1. ancient grandma. (by jenny yang. thursday, october 31st, 2013)
everyone thought ancient grandma was just a little old lady in taipei but i knew better. ancient grandma was a superhero.
i know. by definition a grandmother is ancient and superheroes aren’t supposed to be ancient. but ancient grandma was my grandma and i knew ever since i could remember my own thoughts that i came from a special family. i called her a-ma. she was my mother’s mother and in taiwan, a-ma is how we made sure everyone knew that she was less important than the grandma on the father’s side just in case it wasn’t clear that women were not the shot callers in a marriage - at least not when you’re ancient.
a-ma was ancient for a few reasons: one, she was my grandma. tiny and old. duh. grandmas were the ones who wore black canvas kungfu slippers way before Tom decided to slap his blue label on them and sell them for fifty american dollars. two. she always wore her long stringy black hair in a tight bun on the back of her head. since i didn’t see her hair out and loose, that meant she’s old. three: the skin on the tops of her hands were creased like tissue. i would pinch that skin and it was so loose it would stay pinched even when i released my little five-year old fingers. that’s pretty old.
yes. i was five years old when i witnessed for myself how ancient grandma was special. you see, when i was born, it was a-ma who took care of me everyday. my mother and father were busy working all day - dad was an office guy downtown at a cargo airlines company and mom worked at my uncle’s cardboard box factory. a-ma bathed me, clothed me and fed me. my brothers were eight and nine years older than me and were off at school. i cried a lot out of loneliness and she made me her buddy. she fed me soy sauce duck feet that i ate happily with my little kid teeth. i spoke to her in her native language, a taiwanese dialect very closely related to the dialect of China’s Fujian province. she didn’t speak mandarin chinese. in taiwanese is how i loved my a-ma.
jia bung. jia bung! that means ‘time to eat’ and it was my favorite phrase.
i finished eating some rice porridge so I ran to skip over the little gutter creeks that ran between the buildings of our home. when your house is built with a kitchen that is a separate concrete house next to where you sleep, then you get really good at skipping across these little gutters that look like huge rivers when you are just five years old.
i skipped and i skipped. one side to the other.
‘time to take a walk a-fang’ a-ma said. a-fang is a shorter nickname for my name.
a-ma took my hand and we walk out over the stone driveway of our home and up and around to the paved street. this one road curved up and over and behind our home into the hills where our neighborhood was nestled. this was the time in the xindian district of taipei where the subway station had not yet ripped a gash into our hillside so that tracks and cars could pass through. it was a hillside wallpapered in green where the kids ran in to find rocks, climb trees and play with little frogs in the creeks.
the sky was bright but grey - an overcast sky lit our fall morning walk. without stopping, a-ma took me up in to the hill to where the paved road gave way to rocks and moss. she usually would stop along the way to examine some weeds and say “this is good for a bad stomach” and pluck some for home, but this time, she did not linger. today was different. we walked straight to the theater stage.
the taiwan neighorhood theater stage was common in taiwan. they looked like a gazebo and wrestling ring hybrid topped with a Chinese-y looking ornate roof. this was before there was really any television. we would get our entertainment at the theater stages where a lot of local neighborhood events were held. our theater stage was empty this morning.
a-ma led me to the stage. this was my first time inside of there! i had only seen the stage from the outside! she set me dead center of the square stage.
i looked up into the roof of the theater and saw a tiny mirror and my little eyes staring back at me. the mirror was a green, yellow and red ba gua mirror, the kind that is shaped with eight equal sides - the ones i usually saw over people doors outside or by their windows. but i was five and i just thought that was a cool mirror.
‘a-ma. that’s me’ i said.
‘yes. stand right there.’ a-ma grabbed me firmly by both shoulders to emphasize that I was not to move. ‘when no one is around, remember this moment. i and your family will always be with you.’ ‘lee shi wah eh ing nah’ a-ma said, meaning ‘you are my child.’
she left me on stage and walked out to the audience benches. she sat down in the middle of the front row and smiled her toothy gold-capped smile.
a-ma sat for a few seconds, beaming at me. when she stood up what was sitting in her place appeared another person. this person looked like a-ma but was very young. she had two long pigtails and a long wide skirt. this young woman was smiling at me like she knew me.
when a-ma sat down next two this young woman, she sat again for a few seconds while the first young version of a-ma was looking at a-ma’s work. then a-ma gets up and where she sat appeared another woman wearing a bamboo hat and loose pants folded up to her knees. this middle-aged woman had a dark blue apron that she held up against her chest as if carrying something she harvested. and so on. and so on. a-ma continued sitting and leaving behind different women of different ages all as coloful, alive and whole as if they were gathered there all along. Eventually a-ma filled up all the seats in the audience until i found my own mouth parched from having left it agape for so long. watching my a-ma work like this was nothing i had ever seen or imagined. i was on stage but i was watching my a-ma perform.
‘boh gan cuan’ she said, implying that none of them were the same. they were all different women.
‘waaa! a-ma! beh bai!” not bad, i replied, still awestruck.
at this point all the women in the audience had already started to chatter amongst themselves. i couldn’t quite catch what they were saying but it was an orchestra of small talk punctuated by the occasional chuckle.
not wanting to disobey a-ma, i stood there watching. a-ma walk back up to where i stood and look out at the audience of women.
‘open your eyes,” she said as she crouched down to my height and put her hand on my back. “this is me and all the woman who came before us.”
following orders, i opened my eyes until my eyelids couldn’t stand it anymore. in that moment, all the women quieted down and beamed at us with their smiling faces.
“see? they are always there with me. and now that you are bigger, you can know that they will always be with you too,” she continued.
‘how did you do that?’ i had to ask.
‘you and your mother come from a long line of women who have done remarkable things without much attention. we can do these things because we have the wisdom and talents of all of them!’ she points her hand toward the audience.
at that moment, the crowd of women start clapping, quietly at first, then built to a joyous frenzy.
“wah sai, a-ma! are they always around?” i asked.
‘yes, a-fang. they help me clean the house and make food. shh. don’t tell anyone.”
then i bowed in gratitude to the women and they stopped clapping.
then i said, “this is kinda scary.”
and a-ma replied, “you will be one of them someday...muahahahahah!” and cackled in a way i had never heard before.
in that moment, i caught a flash of light from the ba gua mirror above us underneath the theater roof. i looked up and saw i the little mirror my own eyes, but they looked older, MUCH older...like I was twenty-eight years old or something.
“blech. that’s scary too, a-ma.” i cried.
then the women got up and surrounded the perimeter of the theater, generating a cloud of heat emanating from the earth. then a-ma and i shot up into the sky like a rocket.
“isn’t it beautiful….” a-ma asked.
but i could barely here the rest of what she said because i was screaming my head off.the end.