I woke up to the sound of silence. My stomach was feeling a little queasy and my heart seemed to be lopsided in my body. I rubbed my eyes and poked my head out the door. No one was up, or at least, if they were, no one left their room. I took a step outside of my room. The thought of breakfast was on the tip of my mind. I better eat something, I thought as I tip toed down the stairs.
The kitchen was empty and I grabbed a donut from the fridge before heading backstairs. I heard a door click. Not now, I thought, I haven’t worked on my apology yet. I don’t know what to say to Ma Ma. I ran up the stairs. Nai Nai came out of her room. I simply gave her a wave hello before disappearing back into the safety of my room.
As I returned to my room, I closed the door behind me. I’ll go apologize to Ma Ma when I hear her door open, I thought and took out a piece of paper. I better figure out what to say by then.
The clock struck twelve - noon of course, and my little cousins and brother came running down the stairs. Funny, Ma Ma hasn’t woken up, I thought as Ba Ba called me to come down stairs. I slowly walked down the stairs. My little cousins and brother saw me and immediately, rushed to wash their hands, forgetting to use soap. They snatched the towels, speed-dried their little fingers, and continued to run through the kitchen. I saw Ma Ma helping Nai Nai who just happened to be carrying the fish. I guess, I didn’t hear her wake up.
“Aiyah!, slow down,” Auntie yelled as Nai Nai jerked sideways to keep the fish from slipping. “Sorry,” the little kids yelled, but continued to run until each snatched their favorite chair at their table. “Those kids,” Uncle sighed, shaking his head as he took a seat next to Baba and Yéye at the adult table.
“It’s fine,” Yéye chuckled, picking up his glass of hot water, “It’s Chinese New Year anyways.”
I smiled as I set my bowl down at the adult table.
“Ha! You’re old ,” my little cousin heckled before dashing away bursting in laughter. I rolled my eyes.
“Hey! I’m only sixteen…You little -,” I yelled as I chased him around the room.
“Aubrey! Watch yourself,” Ba Ba exclaimed, interrupting the game of tag. I nodded and quickly stopped before rushing to the kitchen to help set the food on the table.
I entered the kitchen and I immediately felt as if I walked into a wonderland. Little pig-shaped buns filled with red beans and custard came out of the ovens. A bowl of tofu with mushrooms sat in the microwave. Pork dumplings and delicate spring rolls were placed in pretty plates. Spicy glass noodles and a meatball soup filled the air with a delicious aroma. Fried rice filled everyone’s bowls to the top. The fish that my little cousins and brother almost ruined was placed gingerly on the center of the table. “Perfection,” I thought as I took a seat next to Baba waiting for Auntie, Ma Ma, and Nai Nai to join us.
“Ah..Aubrey. How are you? How was your progress report,” Yéye asked in Mandarin.
“It were good,” I said, smiling.
“Oh, I see. Congrats,” he said, as he lifted his cup to take a sip. Grrrr. My stomach grumbled and I stood longingly at the pig-shaped buns. My mouth watered. It looked so perfect: squishy and round. I looked at Ma Ma. She was busy chatting with Auntie. I sighed. I guess I’ll just have to wait until after, I thought as I picked up the pair of chopsticks in front of me and began playing with them. Nai Nai slowly walked over to take a seat. She grabbed the chopsticks from my hand and gently placed them on the table.
“Down,” she said and I smiled at her. Nai Nai ruffled my hair before sitting down. I peered over at my little cousins and brother. They were eyeing the food as well, calling dibs on the different buns. I turned to Ba Ba who talking about finances to Uncle. I sighed. I won’t get the chance to talk to Ma Ma, I thought as I leaned my head on the table.
“Aubrey, lift your head off the table,” Ma Ma said as she grabbed her phone from counter. I simply nodded, feeling the whole room tense up. Everyone looked at me. Then, back at Ma Ma. Then at me again. Only Auntie and Uncle sat at the table, completely unaware of the situation.
“Everyone, let’s take a picture,” Nai Nai said, interrupting the awkwardness as she move to sit next to Yéye and beckoned everyone to gather around. I quickly got up and walked next to my little cousins.
“Oh first, let’s give out red packets,” Auntie interrupted as she ran to her purse, “We can take the pictures with the red packets.”
“Good idea,” Ma Ma replied as she and Nai Nai followed suit, giving each of us a little red packet.
“Gong xi fa cai,” my little cousins and I said in unison as we grabbed the packets with both hands and bowed to them. Ma Ma and Auntie laughed and beckoned us to gather around.
“I’ll start the camera in 10 seconds,” Ma Ma said as she adjusted her phone and clicked the button. She quickly ran back to the group and posed.
Nine, eight, seven.
“You set the timer for quite some long,” Ba Ba said through gritted smiling teeth. Ma Ma simply laughed and playfully slapped him. Everyone laughed.
“Alright, get ready,” Auntie called and we all posed. Click! The camera took a picture and everyone rushed from their seats to look at the picture.
“I hope it didn’t catch my bad side,” Nai Nai said as she looked down at the picture.
“No! Let’s retake,” Auntie exclaimed, “Look at my hair. There’s a piece of hair just poking out.”
“Yes, I agree,” Nai Nai added, “Look at my arm! I look so awkward.” Yéye laughed.
“I think everyone looks lovely. Let’s just eat,” he said, eyeing the food.
“NO,” Nai Nai and Auntie shouted. Everyone else sighed and quickly returned to their places. We retook the photo. Then, we retook it again. Then, again, and again, and again. I looked down at the food. It’s going to be forever until we eat that, I thought as I continued to force a smile picture after picture.
After what felt like eternity, we finally got the perfect picture that satisfied everyone.
“Time to eat,” Nai nai exclaimed and everyone rushed to their seats. I touched my cheek. It was sore from all that smiling. Soon, chopsticks were raised and buns, dumplings, rolls were picked off of their plates like little fish. I grabbed the pig shaped bun and sank my teeth into them. The warm custard filled my mouth and my stomach grumbled in approval. The room was filled with chatter and laughter as the food slowly disappeared.
But after ten minutes, I noticed that Yéye stopped eating. Odd. I looked around the room seeing if anyone else noticed the strange site, but everyone continued to eat as if nothing had happened. I stared at him confused. He caught my stare and smiled.
I smiled back before picking more food off the plates. Why wasn’t Yéye eating? This was always his favorite meal of the year and we always included all his favorite foods. Is he feeling okay? I looked up at him, furrowing my eyebrows. He looked back at me, beckoning me to eat more. I turned right and grabbed a spoon of meatball spoon. Plink! A small, white rice ball landed on my plate. A tang yuan.
I looked up confused and stared at Yéye. He stared back at me and I looked around. Each one of us had a little white ball in their bowl. Yéye rose from his seats and we all turned towards him.
“Together. Thank you,” my grandfather said before sitting down quietly and resuming to eat. Ma Ma and Ba Ba nodded their heads in unison and I followed suit. Everyone sat solemnly for a second. “Let’s eat,” Nai Nai said and the chatter once again resumed as if nothing had happened.
When we all finished eating, I helped my parents clean up. We brought the bowls to the sink as Nai Nai and Yéye went upstairs for their afternoon nap. Ma Ma disappeared before I could even find her. As I was washing the last plate, Ba Ba came up to me.
“Your Yéye,” he said, “is glad he made his sacrifice of immigrating. Seeing all of us today happy means everything.” And with that, Ba Ba left me alone in the kitchen, thinking of the tang yuan. In Chinese culture, tang yuan is the symbol for “togetherness.”