Daughter, Lost

by Julie Wu Published Spring 2011
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Illustration by Wilson J. OngWhen I was twelve, I got sold to a couple in Hsinchu. My husband used to say, before he died, that my father sold me because I complained too much. But that’s not true. It was my fate.

I think of this as I open the door to find my daughter, Chio-Kwat, standing on the doorstep, smoothing her hair behind her ear, her head bent down. Behind her is Taoyuan’s biggest street, with rickshaws clattering, motorcycles zigzagging, cars crammed from curb to curb. But I know my daughter has walked here in her canvas shoes, her delicate nostrils filtering the must and fumes. Her eyelashes twitch, casting shadows on her cheekbones, which are like mine — too pointy, bad luck. She needs to eat more, to gain more weight like me to soften the angle of those bones.

Her pale skin, also from me, is tight and smooth. She hasn’t cried much over her father’s death. She must have come for the money.

“Have you eaten?” I say. For this is how we greet each other in Taiwan.

“Yes, I had breakfast,” she says, moderately polite. It is noon. She’s obviously come expecting lunch and she looks to the side in embarrassment, her eyes flickering over the shiny rosewood of my altar and side table. “I was just at the market so I thought I would visit.”

Her hands are empty, but it is entirely possible that she was unable to afford anything at the market. She spends all her days in a shack with a corrugated tin roof, stringing umbrellas together by hand with her good-for-nothing husband. I let her in. She is, after all, my daughter, though she was supposed to have forgotten about that.

I serve her sparerib soup and bean thread noodles with pork. I have become Buddhist, a vegetarian, but I still cook meat at home every day to serve my lazy son and his conniving wife. I know, you see, what they’re up to.

“How is my brother?” Chio-Kwat says, and her words jolt me from thinking about the envelope in my pocket.

“Hmm. Still losing jobs. Now he’s in a cannery.”

She eats two bowls of noodles and seven pieces of sparerib. “Ay! When did you last eat?”

Her face sours. “Breakfast, I already told you.”

She is the only person I know who complains more than me. When she was a girl I passed her house on my way to the market, and even then, standing in the doorway, she would look at me with those greedy eyes, trying to make me feel guilty. I just thought, it’s a good thing we gave her away when she was born. Give her five dumplings, she’ll want ten. We would have had to pay dowry, too.

So, you see, she was supposed to remain their daughter, marry their son. And if she had, she would have been better off. Their son she was supposed to marry went to college and wears shirts imported from Japan. He rides a Suzuki and bought a new house, three stories, bigger than mine. Instead, Chio-Kwat knocked on my door when she was sixteen. Unknotted her bundle of clothes on my futon. Complaining, complaining. Her mother beat her, her mother called her names. And so? So she ran away and came back to us. So she married for love, and now she has a husband, poor and beating her every day. Probably beating her with those umbrellas. She could have been wearing nice Japanese clothes like that boy.

I take her up to the roof so I can water my plants. I catch my breath, my cheong sam too tight around my belly. She sits down on a folding chair, smoothes her hair behind her ear. She’s waiting. Waiting for the money. She breathes as hard as me, though she shouldn’t, being so young. Maybe she’s anticipating. My husband, on his deathbed, promised her a house. I see her glance at the table, where there are loose 10NT bills.

“I’m bringing those to temple,” I say. I scoop up the bills and put them in my pocket next to the envelope. I need that money to buy candles.

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