by Xenia Taiga
I wanted Tomatoe to be my name but two other girls in my class already had Tomato. My next thought was Cherry but that was already taken. I then thought of Harry because I like Harry Potter. Wo de yisi, what I mean is that I love Harry Potter. I like the Harry. Very much! We all go bunches of us to see the film. Gotten the discounted tickets from the newspaper stand and blew into the cinema.
So Harry was my chosen name although the English teacher from New Zealand raised her eyebrows and snickered a bit but I didn’t care. Harry’s what I will call myself.
My name is Harry.
Let me tell you about myself. I like Lady Gaga and Enya. I was very sad about Michael Jackson. At first I didn’t believe. I say that it was a joke. A bad joke. And that later he will come out again like a fire dragon breathing snapping popping firecracker. But it didn’t happen and I think now for sure he is dead. His kids are all over the place. I see their pictures in the free newspapers by the bus stops. They are in Paris and in America. They’ve moved on but I haven’t. I know I need to but I don’t want to, that is how much I love the Michael.
What do I want to do? What do I want to be? I must confess I love these type of questions. English teachers and English books always like to use these questions. I know their purpose is to move us but it always fail. We end up quiet and blank, our eyes wide and fluttering like a sandalwood fan. Our English teachers red and mad like a screaming Mao, and our books empty, sad and useless like a bowl of rice that fell down on the cafeteria floor. But this is not an English exercise so this is OK and doesn’t matter and this is what I will tell you: I want to be happy. Yes! To be happy is very important and to be happy you need money so I want lots of money too. I also like the Karaoke. In fact I love the KTV. The bright lights flashing in the dark rooms. Like a dream fairy tale.
But I must tell the truth, I am shy. So in my dreams this is where I sing. I sing like the Chinese Opera do where crackling bright early morning they open their mouths and instantly glowing red Chinese lanterns flow out, twinkling softly into the foggy air. I like to call it fog, others call it pollution. In my dreams too there is no pollution and I can be anyone. I’m a superstar and my skin is creamy white like freshly boiled soup jaozi and I have long flowing black hair to my ankles, dancing sexy as the boys look at me under the waterfalls, surrounded by panda bears, Hello Kitties and bamboos.
I’m clever too. A very clever girl.
“What are my favourite foods?” you ask. Stinky tofu is my favourite food although I’m banned from the dormitory for eating. Once I made the mistake of bringing it back to eat in the dorm. I was scorned for a week. The smell lasted for a month. That it was cold and damp, the humidity high and our washed wet clothes hanging on the line for about the past month didn’t help. They whined about the smell but they didn’t smell fresh too. Nobody had wanted to take any cold showers in this cold and damp weather but I didn’t mention that. I didn’t say anything about their stinky feet because I’m clever. I just kept my head down, my hands tight on my lap while the five of them screamed and cursed at me in English like I wouldn’t understand. I also do English major too.
When they finished, I stayed there till darkness came and then I moved to get ready for bed and slept. I was like that for a week, head down to show my humility, my error, my stupidity. Mouth shut like sesame seed paste has sealed my gums. Now we are all good friends. But I still don’t trust them because they hurt me because I like stinky tofu. I’m forever on guard like the Imperial Guarding Dragon outside our gates. I dress myself in red strings and wear red underwear to protect myself. I am eager and waiting, looking forward to the good luck that will come to me.
On my moved here to Beijing (oh how shocked everyone was from my village!), I got a new haircut. It was so wonderful. A new me, a new life, I felt fantastic.
No. I must tell the truth. I must confess. The haircut was horrible. It was free so as my family often tell me, I deserved it. I pay for cheap and I got for cheap.
I was walking down from the university when a large crowd of spiky orange, red, purple haired young men jogged by, shouting, throwing their papers in the air. Their black papers with large dancing crisscrossed yellow characters garbaged the streets. I didn’t pick one up. It wasn’t till I got back to the dormitory that I found out from my laughing classmates that one of the paper got stuck in my hair. I was walking through the streets of Beijing looking like a peacock. That night in my dreams I was a peacock.
Pecked to death by the other slim beautiful white doves.
They, my classmates not the doves, persuaded me to go to this hair salon. They said I needed a new look. That I looked too much like a peasant. So I went.
The slogan was that they were looking for models. Models! (Snicker.) You are used as a demo for the class learning to cut and then they take your picture and put it on the board for everyone to see.
A model. (Snicker, snort.)
So I went with dreams of America’s Next Top Model in my head and left looking like a fifty year old lady.
My long hair was chopped off in a single kung fu chop. The teacher yanked on my ponytail and explained to the thirty or forty students that was I was so short, my face so fat and so black to have long hair. She continued pulling on my hair and talking in her high voice explaining how ugly I was to have long hair. I looked at the students before me, their eyes glanced from her to me and then from me to her, nodding their heads, taking notes.
But I was clever. I closed my eyes, closed my fists in my lap and pretended that I wasn’t there. Pretended it wasn’t happening. That’s how clever I am.
When I heard the scissors kung fu chop and felt the cold air hitting my neck like the first blasting fireworks that begins Spring Festival, I was brought back to reality.
She continued to snip and snap and chop around my head. I closed my fists tighter wondering if I was going to look like a cleaned shaved Chinese Monk who sits on the side streets calling out to read you your fortunes. (For money of course, but I never have the money.) Or if I was to look like the other monks walking down the streets, clanging their bells underneath their yellow mustard dresses. Come to think of it, I was wearing my yellow dress that day too. I am not a Chinese Monk and I don’t want to be one. I want to get married someday. I think. Chinese Monks can’t get married. I don’t think that is fair. They are boys and should be married or how else will they help their family?
She finally finished, swirled the chair around and I faced an applauding audience and flashing camera’s light bulbs that brought back my America’s Next Top Model dreams.
I posed with victory signs in the air and danced with the students and teacher never once looking into the mirror.
It was back in the dormitory, surrounded by my fake white faced classmates, hearing their oh’s and ah’s and seeing their dropped mouths that I saw I looked like a fifty year old pecked hen from the country.
I did not despair. From peasant to hen. Is that not an improvement? A hen is almost a rooster, right? There was still life. There was still hope. This haircut will not last a long time. My hair will grow fast.
I went shopping. Got me a new look. Only a new pair of glasses. Big round black glasses. I looked very clever. Clever Harry. (Snicker, snicker.) I also bought two pairs of new underwear. The shop was closing out of business. It was a mad goose house. Everything was really cheap. I got the underwear, well, really grabbed them from the other lady who was looking. She cried but it doesn’t matter. I had them and I raced to the counter to buy them. They were red for luck. I will be victorious. I know that.
I went to the video stall and took some pictures. I did the famous victory sign and some heart shaped poses and posed with the Hello Kitty. They were very good. So good I looked like a model. I taped them to the wall where I sleep in my bunk, the second to the right, number six of eight, dreaming of superstar me.
That night I gave myself a new name too, Harry Cherry Tomatoe.
That is my name, my new name, Harry Cherry Tomatoe.
Snicker, snicker. Snort, snort.
[ This work was first published in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal ]