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Just Add Water MAG
I was an old woman at age eight. The front lawn had bulged overnight, becoming a mountain too steep to climb. Lemons had infested the pink cabinets of my kitchen, and I lacked a recipe for lemonade. I later found the ingredients were simple: just add water. But at the tender age of eight, who knew?
Wanjiao was too tall when I first met her. I had to tilt my head to look her in the eye, and even then, I was an ant at the base of a tree. I loved the boyishness of her grin. I loved the awkwardness of her limbs‚ all angles, like sapling branches that had sprouted too fast. I asked for her name. I received a blank stare. I asked again, and suddenly, I understood. She was one of those “others,” those wide-eyed creatures fresh from the homeland. She didn't speak English.
Embarrassment made me mute. Incompetence made me resentful. Wanjiao was Chinese; I was not. I was an American stew brewed with Chinese bits and pieces that flopped, like mushy carrots, at the bottom of the bowl. No one tasted them twice. Meanwhile, Wanjiao commanded flawless Chinese. She spoke the language so fluidly that the words rippled, sparkling with all their dips and bounds. She sailed on an ocean of poetry.
I didn't know what to say. As always, Wanjiao did.
“Ni hao,” she said. Hello. Cheerfulness rounded her face. In Mandarin, she proceeded, “Would you like to come with me to the playground?”
Sunlight glinted on scarlet slides and rusted monkey bars. I recall kneeling in the dirt. I recall mud on my fingers, giggles in my ears, the golden breath of the sun on my neck. A thunderstorm had blown by that morning, and our shoes begged to be ruined. We didn't make pies; boorish and barbaric, mud pies insulted our sophistication. Instead, we hatched soup. We fashioned ladles from sticks, stirred up the goo, and seasoned it with acorns.
“Do you remember China?” asked Wanjiao.
“A little,” I lied.
Wanjiao smiled. “I miss my grandparents.”
I learned that she'd left everyone in China – her grandparents, her cousins, her friends. She'd left them in order to come here, to America. She'd left them for parents she scarcely knew, and now she could never go back. She needed a friend.
“Wanjiao,” I said, “I'm glad you're here.”
An old woman left the playground that evening. My feet still scraped the asphalt as I tugged myself home, the murky twilight heavy at my back. Little did I know that Wanjiao would become my best friend. I wouldn't know that for years. All I knew, at that moment, was that life had given me lemons, and I had not a single recipe for lemonade.
Wanjiao showed me the ingredients. All along, they'd been right before my eyes.