The annoyingly, painful sound of my blaring alarm filled my ears on an early Tuesday morning. I slammed my hand down on it. “Shut up,” I mumbled as I turned around, plunging my face into the pillow. The thought of waking up and going to school only gave me another reason to stay in bed for a little longer. A minute passed. Maybe two, and the sleep that danced on my eyelids, slowly overcame me.
A dog barked in the distance. I dug my head deeper into the pillow. A car pulled out from someone’s driveways. I dug my head even deeper into the pillow. A lawn mower started. I sighed and turned around. I was too awake to sleep, but too tired to get up. I’ll just lay here, I thought as I placed my blanket over my head.
Bump! Bump! Bump! Footsteps came up our carpet stairs and I quickly leaped out of bed. Ma Ma would not be happy seeing me still sleeping, I thought as I threw my closet door open and hastily slapped on an old hoodie with a pair of sweats. The door creaked open and Ma Ma’s head peaked in, checking to see if I was up.
“Morning, Ma Ma,” I said as I walked into the bathroom to brush my teeth, pretending as if I wasn’t just sleeping five seconds ago.
“Morning,” she replied and closed the door, detecting nothing suspicious. Her footsteps faded into the room next door and I let out a breath of air. I leaned over the sink and grabbed my plastic pink cup, filling it with water. I looked up in the mirror. A tired, exhausted, sunken reflection of me stared back, making me cringe.
“Look at my eye bags,” I said to myself as I rubbed my face and started brushing my teeth. High school was definitely taking a toll on me. The bathroom door opened again and Ma Ma came in startling me.
“You can do an eye mask tonight if you want,” Ma said as she handed me a new charcoal cleanser, “It might help your eye bags.”
“Yea sure, I’ll see,” I said as I finished brushing my teeth and grabbed the cleanser from her hand. Ma Ma walked out the bathroom door.
“Hurry up a little,” she added before leaving. I nodded and quickly leaned down to douse my face with water. Hopefully, this gets rid of all my acne, I thought as I applied a blob of it onto my face. I let the cleanser sit for a minute and leaned back against the bathroom wall.
My eyes trailed to the window.
“Hey, little guy, I forgot about you,” I said to my tiny kumquat plant, whom which I had forgotten to water in awhile. I poked at its droopy leaves and sighed. Ma Ma would kill me if I let this die, I thought as I poured a little bit of water into his pot. “Here ya go, don’t worry now,” I said and gave the little plant a quick pat. Hopefully, his leaves will look less droopy, I thought as I leaned back down at the facet to rinse my face. I sighed. Giving me a plant to look over was a mistake. I could barely even take care of myself, I thought as I remembered how Ma Ma had entered my room carrying the plant.
“I don’t want or need a plant,” ten year old me had argued with Ma Ma.
“Yes you do,” she had said curtly, “it’s a symbol of prosperity and good luck.” I rolled my eyes.
“Ma Ma, a plant can’t give me prosperity or good luck,” I argued again, but she wouldn’t hear any of it. And so, I bit down on my tongue and kept myself from arguing with her any further. I still highly doubt that it had given me any sort good luck or prosperity.
I continued to wash my face and the water turned black as all traces of the cleanser had left my face. I grabbed the small, yellow towel hanging next to the mirror and headed out of the bathroom.
My room was still dark when I returned, but sunlight slowly began trickling in between the cracks of the curtains. I threw the curtains aside and opened the morning dew covered windows. The smell of freshly mowed grass and crisp air flooded into my stale room.
My neighbor looked up and I waved to her before siting down at my desk. I opened my drawer. A stash of makeup was on one side and my textbook was on another. I reached for the makeup brush, but stopped mid-air, hesitating. Ma Ma never approved of me wearing a full face of makeup. She simply didn’t understood why I needed to wear a full face of makeup daily. Nor did she understand why I needed fake eyelashes to cover up my apparently already long ones. Or the crop tops that I wanted to wear in the middle of winter.
“You crazy,” she would say and simply shake her head back and forth to emphasize her point.
I leaned back in my chair and thought for a moment. I better not wear any makeup, I finally decided as I took out my textbook instead and placed it into my backpack. I need to get to school early to study for calculus anyways, I thought, slumping over my heavy backpack on my right shoulder before standing up and heading to the door.
The smell of deep-fried dough sticks filled the air as I opened my door and I headed downstairs, my mouth watering with each step. Plates of scrambled eggs with soy sauce, white buns with red bean, and rice cakes filled our modest kitchen table, greeting me as I walked toward the kitchen. No time to eat breakfast though, I thought as I grabbed my shoes from the cabinet.
“Ma Ma, can we go to school early? I want to study for the calculus test,” I said as I opened the door to the garage.
“No,” Ma Ma replied bluntly as she beckoned me to sit down, “No point in studying and taking a test on an empty stomach.”
“But, I really need to do-,”
“Breakfast is good for the brain.”
I sighed. There was no point in arguing with Ma Ma, I thought as I took a seat. My stomach grumbled and I looked at Ma Ma who shot me a knowing smile. I smiled bashfully. Ma Ma knew me too well.
“Health is the most important. Eat up,” Ma Ma said in mandarin as she placed the plate of scrambled eggs with soy sauce in front of me before pouring herself a cup of herbal tea. I nodded and took a bite. My mind drifted back to the calculus test later that day. God dang it! I hate shells and disks, I thought, they don’t seem to make sense. Okay, if I eat super fast, I can still—
“Don’t give yourself too much stress,” Ma Ma said as if she could read my thoughts, “ It’s impossible to do well on every single test, just try your best and don’t be lazy.” I nodded again and yawned before lifting my arm, trying to wipe the sleep from my eyes.
“You should have studied more a few days ago,” Ma Ma added as she gave me a side eye from the kitchen, “Find a better balance next time.”
“Yea I will,” I replied.
Ma Ma sat down across from me and took out her phone, checking her WeChat for any messages. Her bony fingers swiped up and down on the tiny screen in front of her. An old red shawl covered her shoulders and her black hair with only a few traces of grey was swept to the right side. The sunlight trickling in through the window panes hit Ma Ma’s face, giving her a glow. Age didn’t seem to affect Ma Ma.
I sighed. I loved Ma Ma. In many ways, she kept me balanced. When I got lazy, Ma Ma always reprimanded me when necessary. When I worked too hard, Ma Ma would remind to slow down and often brought me sliced fruit during late nights of studying. And when I wanted to give up, Ma Ma would always motivate me to work even harder.
I stared at Ma Ma. I was grateful for her. Ma Ma never needed me to be the best out of everyone. She just wanted me to be my own best. She didn’t believe in giving a child external pressure. Instead, she hoped that I’d be responsible enough to give myself internal pressure. I sighed again. Ma Ma had always believed in me. She had always done so much for me and because of that I was terribly scared of disappointing her. For me, I always worked hard for Ma Ma’s sake.
The two of us sat in silence for a few moments. The house was quiet in the early morning aside from my clinking utensils against the plates and the boiling of hot water in the kitchen.
“Aiyoo. Look at what Auntie Mai is eating,” Ma Ma said, interrupting the silence, as she clicked on a picture and turned her phone to show me. I gave Ma Ma a funny look. Definitely not something I’d be excited at, I thought as I looked at the bland looking fried rice in my auntie’s picture.
“Aiyah, it’s so wonderful to cook like that,” Ma Ma said before looking back down at her phone and continued to scroll through her WeChat moments. I finished up my meal and left the plate in the sink before running quickly up the stairs to brush my teeth again. Wouldn’t want any left over egg in my mouth, I thought as I gurgled the water before spitting it back out. A faucet turned on in the room next to me. Ba Ba had woken up. Yikes. I must be running late, I thought as I grabbed my backpack from the chair and rushed downstairs.
“Let’s go,” I called to Ma Ma as she hurriedly followed me to the car.