Why Were They Throwing Bricks?

“I’m born. I’m zero years old. I’m suddenly born.”

CD Wu, Untitled. 2016, acrylic gesso, pencil, and neon on canvas. 48 × 120". Photo by Evan Jenkins. Courtesy of Shane Campbell Gallery, Chicago.

I lost hearing in this ear when a horse jumped over a fence and collided against the side of my face,” my grandmother told me when she arrived at JFK. I was 9 and hadn’t seen her in four years. “In Shanghai you slept with me every single night. Every week we took you to your other grandmother’s house. She called incessantly, asking for you. ‘Can’t I see my own granddaughter?’ I said, ‘Sure you can.’ Butlet’s not spare any feelingsyou didn’t want to see her. Whenever you were at your waipo’s house you cried and called my name and woke up the neighbors. You hated her face because it was round like the moon, and you thought mine was perfectly oval like an egg. You loved our house. It was your real homeand still is. Your waipo would frantically call a few minutes after I dropped you off asking me to come back, and I would sprint all the way there. Yes, my precious heart, your 68-year-old grandmother ran through the streets for you. How could I let you suffer for even a second? You wouldn’t stop crying until I arrived, and the minute I pulled you into my arms, you slept the deep happy sleep of a child who has come home to her true family.”

“I sleep by myself now. I have my own bed with stickers on it,” I told her in Chinese, without knowing the word for stickers. I hugged my body against my mother, who was telling my father he would have to make two trips to the car because my grandmother had somehow persuaded the airline to let her bring three pieces of checked luggage and two carry-on items without any additional charges.

“And did you see that poor man dragging her suitcases off the plane for her? How does she always do that?” my mother said. She shrugged me away and mouthed in English to me, “Talk. To. Grandma.”

My father threw his hands up. “You know exactly how,” he said, and went off with the first two bags.

“You remember how uncanny it was,” my grandmother continued, tweaking her hearing aid until it made a small shrill sound and then a shriller sound and then another even shriller sound. “They called me a miracle worker and I said, ‘No, no, I’m just her nainai,’ but everyone said, ‘You’re a miracle worker. You’re the only one who can make that child stop crying.’ They said there was no need for me to be modest. ‘This child prefers her grandmother to even her own mother and father! Why sugarcoat the truth?’ I had to stop myself from stopping other people from saying it after a while. Was I supposed to keep insulting everyone’s intelligence? Protesting endlessly? Your nainai isn’t that type of person. And the truth is, people don’t make things up out of nothing. There’s truth in every widely believed saying, and that’s just true.”

“What?” I said. “I don’t understand Chinese that good.”

“I knew you wouldn’t forget a moment of your real life, your real homethe place you come from. Have you learned English yet?”

“That’s all I speak. It’s America.”

“Your nainai is so proud of you. One day your English will catch up. It’s such a gift to be here now with you. You don’t know how many lonely nights I’ve spent dropping tears for you. It was wrong of me to let you go. Remember how you called for me when you let go of my hand and boarded the airplane with your mother? Remember how you howled that you wanted to take me with you? Four years ago, your father wrote to me, ‘You can’t keep my own wife and child away from me any longer. I’m sending for them immediately.’ I wanted to know if he ever considered maybe you and your mother simply didn’t want to go to America? In those days, you would’ve rather eaten a basement full of rats than be separated from your nainai. Your father’s also stubborn, but I’m not the type to insult the spoonful of food nourishing me. You see what I mean? I won’t say any more. I’m living in his house now and even though he has only made fatally wrong choices, we still have to listen to him. But remember how at the airport you cried and said, ‘Nainai, I love you the most of everyone. I want to stay with you. I don’t want to go to America.’”

“I don’t remember that,” I said to my grandmother. “Sorry.”

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