(December 2013)

“Nhi, have you ever got thirty out of a hundred for a test?” he asked his elder sister, who had just lied down on bed.

“Yes,” Nhi replied without giving a second thought. “Sixth grade. In Vietnam. I got my geography quiz back, and there it was, a three out of ten, which is equivalent to the thirty out of a hundred scale.”

“My first time failing a test was in 3rd grade,” he continued, then cut off the conversation and stared at the gray ceiling as if there were stars threaded by the skillful hands of sailors. From the tiny room on fifth floor of the building, both of them drifted off far away into the ocean. Their minds began wandering off into these jungles of contemplation at midnight, when parents had no control over their horizons of thinking. Hundreds of related and unrelated thoughts flashed through these active brain cells, which should have rested after a mind-boggling day that would soon blend itself with the stream of time lucid memories had no part of. Events were recalled. Human’s faces remembered. Hands touched on ecstasy; brains self-lacerated with blades of mental torture. A wink of sleep gave up and slipped through the murky glass window, on which droplets of water were sticking.

Photo Credit: Nhi

A confusing silence fell over the kids, whose sibling relationship’s moments never embraced the word “awkward”.  The elder one was nineteen, female, a senior in high school obsessing about college applications. Eight years younger, the other kid was male, struggling to pass the required common core for fifth graders. Both belonged to a foreign family living in the U.S. for what until then barely reached two years.

“You said that if I went to the bathroom to wash my tear-stained face and brush my teeth, you gonna tell me a joke to cheer me up. Then you asked me if I had ever got a 30 out a 100. What kind of joke is that? ” Nhi said, breaking the monotonous tone of the clock ticking. A gleam of amusement tinged her voice.

“I don’t know Nhi. It is so difficult to make a joke,” he said.

He is right. Especially at this moment when we are both lost for words and actions. People say that we are lucky because we experience different cultures at such a young age, but why are we feeling like we receive the worst of both worlds?

“I am so sad. Why does Mom have to say those words to me? I did nothing wrong right? ” Nhi continued. Whining to a little boy who would grow up under your influence was an absurd behavior that needed a stop, yet she sensed from her brother a relaxing and cheerful personality that could hardly be caked by gray clouds of others’ self-centeredness.

He is so happy. All the time. I am glad.

“Nhi, I already know what happened. I heard what Mom said to you. I was right there, remember?” he answered.

“Do you think that she is right? That I change to become another kind of person after I moved here? Do you think that I am a bad person too?” Nhi asked. Frustrating tears oozed out again, absorbed by the pillow. Her resentment and anger had been simmering since childhood, waiting to erupt.

“I think you are still the same person,” he said easily; his voice revealed no hint of strong emotion.

Nhi waited for two seconds, then her anger tempted her to think of the most disturbing question: “Who do you like more, Mom or me?” But, that was an absurd inquiry that she managed to keep herself from uttering. She suddenly remembered how when Mom was throwing a tantrum at her and calling her something like “worthless or heartless trash” two hours ago, he was the one who talked back for her; he said: “Mom, you are always hurting other people.”

Thinking of those words, she was moved. Her little brother was such a gift in her life. He was both a sibling and a bestfriend. This little boy, when being influenced by her, in turn influenced her back.

“What are you thinking?” Nhi asked.


How come you think nothing? You should at least tell me: “Nhi, don’t be sad anymore.” I was with you all the time, encouraging you when parents just don’t know what is going on with our lives.

“What did you think when I cried because of Mom then?”

“I didn’t think anything.”


“Come on, you must have thought something. I was crying.”

“I didn’t think of anything because I felt sad.”


“Because you were sad.”

He then pulled the blanket to cover his face and went to sleep.


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