The Street You Live On


Adelaide Zheng, Writer

You awakened at 6:30. You brushed your teeth, thinking it was pretty early, and left your apartment on the 23rd floor. You joined the morning crowds in the elevator: a mom accompanying her child to a private school, a high schooler wearing earbuds, the guy who finished delivering fresh milk. When you entered no one raised an eyebrow or looked at you. In this condensed, close environment, even the sound of breathing seemed unnecessary. The only thing you shared in common with those people you saw daily but remained strangers was that you were all listening, or pretending to listen, to the mechanical female voice announcing floor numbers.

Exiting the elevator you realized that you were not early at all; the seniors of this community already started practicing Tai Chi, and from their unified motions you knew they have been practicing for long. Suddenly you thought of your dad who, one day at the dinner table, announced that he joined the Taichi club in his company. You laughed out loud because Taichi was only for the old people, but then your laughter froze because you realized your dad was not young anymore. The man who used to bungee jump and who always carried you on his back, now had lost nearly all of his hair and had numerous hearing problems. Somehow you managed to ignore all the changes and forgot that it has been years since he last rode the roller coasters with you.

This affluent community of the newly rising Chinese middle-class attracted many merchants. Small stores aligned themselves on the street, selling all kinds of breakfast items. The most popular was tofu noodles with spicy chicken, but you would have to squeeze in the crowd and shout to the chubby cook about what you would like, and there was this skinny lady who was the cashier, multi-tasking with several transactions while not missing to ask you for your payment. You heard rumors that all the cashiers were going to lose their jobs because everyone would pay through Wechat or Alipay. You stared at her dancing fingers.

While you were enjoying your noodles a girl came in to the store, asking you in a shy voice if you would like a newspaper. Almost instinctively you said no and started to ignore her. The girl asked several other customers in the store but received the same response. When the girl passed beside you, you took a closer look at her. Her clothes were indistinguishable of colors. Her tiny toes awkwardly poked through her unfit sandals, like withered leaves that would fall down at anytime, but she was barely ten-years-old. You stopped her and asked where she went to school. She shook her head lightly and said her family could only afford education for her brother. Something in your heart trembled and a sense of anger occupied you because your dad’s sister quit school to send him to college. Your aunt’s entire life was summed up in that village prison while your dad moved to this beautiful neighborhood. Forty years later the same story happened again. Happy stories had different flavors of joy; sad stories repeated over and over again with the same outcome, like mechanical products from assembly lines.

You bought a newspaper from the girl. The girl exited the store and disappeared among your neighbors. Mercedes-Benz and BMW cars, signs of the newly rich, howled off the road, leaving dust flying from their wakes. Those tiny, indistinguishable particles struggled to stay in the air for a while, and then they all fell down, as if they were always supposed to be fixed onto the ground, without even the slightest chance of floating away.

We all live in each other’s stories. Today you lived in mine.

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