Many things stand out for me in this rereading: Sekky’s childhood understanding of the complications which surround his father’s virulent hatred of the Japanese, his stepmother’s hurried motions and quiet conversations with Meiying (who lives across the way and minds Sekky after school). The derisive comments that Sekky makes about Kaz, the confusion surrounding Sekky’s attempt to reconcile these attitudes with his observations of Meiying and Kaz together, when they do not realize the boy is paying attention. Sekky’s love for Meiying mixing with Meiying’s love for Kaz and together becoming something that Sekky cannot name, but which he is willing to pretend he hasn’t seen, when he is questioned about Meiying’s whereabouts. (So much is captured in Choy’s telling.)
For weeks now, in the news, the talk of the coronavirus has drawn fresh lines around the Chinese communities living outside China. What’s identified as a fear of contagion is often the same kind of racism that was called patriotism during WWII. A parent suggests that Chinese children be kept out of school. A neighbour storms a Chinese-owned business. For all of us, drugstores advertise disposable gloves and surgical masks for sale, and everyday there are tallies and warnings in the news; for some of us, this news translates into a double threat. (Efforts like this shouldn’t be necessary but people are at risk.)
Travelling north from Chinatown on the TTC, I was reading this part of Choy’s novel (Meiying’s story unfolds over just a few chapters near the end), and observing how Sekky draws and redraws the lines.
“Did you have fun at the library, Sekky?” Meiying asked, as if she hadn’t been with me earlier to meet Kazuo at Powell Ground.
For some reason, I suddenly felt I had to lie too.
“It was okay,” I said, and we walked home, barely able to make out the North Shore mountains in the winter afternoon light.
It’s all very ordinary, isn’t it? There’s a break in the chapter after this. So you can take a moment to think about how something as big as a mountain can fade in a certain light. You can think about how you might call it a mountain or you might call it light.
You can take a moment to be grateful for the writers who cultivate the extraordinary in ordinary everyday details. For the way that their words live on.