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My name is Raleigh and I don't have a problem with it. People think I might. They ask me why I'm named after a bike, why don't I have a normal name like everyone else. I tell them Baba says Raleigh sounds like my Chinese name and it does kind of if you say it funny. My Chinese name means bright and brave and that makes me laugh sometimes but I guess it makes sense even if I'm a girl. I don't have brothers or sisters, it's just me so my parents have a lot of expectations. Chinese people they think they can change the world with your name, they think it will make a difference if your name means something special. I like my American name better because Baba told me it is from North Carolina where he is now. He said Raleigh is a very important town with a good university. He gave me my American name when me and my mom were still in Taiwan and he was in America. He said, Keep studying your English, you must practice practice. So I study hard and start calling Mama Mom and Baba Dad. But right now we are in Chicago with Aunt Betty and Uncle Wen and I think Chicago sucks. That is the first bad word I learn in America.
We call Aunt Betty Aunt Betty because that's what Chinese people do, people who are friends are called aunts and uncles even if they are not the same family and until I came here I thought everyone did that. My mom's cousin has a classmate who lives on the same street in Nantou as Aunt Betty's friend so that is how we are in Chicago. Aunt Betty told Mom, Raleigh can start high school at the same place where Amy goes. That's her daughter Amy, she is bigger by one year and has many friends, none Chinese and some of them boys. Amy has short hair and puts black lines around her eyes and doesn't speak Chinese or talk to me at all. She has her own bedroom and bathroom in Aunt Betty and Uncle Wen's big house. Me and my mom live on the top floor in one room. It is the same size as the room where me and Baba and Mom and Mom's sister and my two cousins in Taiwan all stayed. Mom keeps saying to me in Chinese, Be careful, don't forget we won't have a big house in Carolina. Then she says in Chinese, Because Baba is still trying to find a good job. Even though her English is not so bad she always talks to me in Chinese when she really wants me to hear. And I say in English, Mom it's NORTH Carolina why can't you remember that. Sometimes I talk fast because she can't understand so good and it makes her mad, but now I say slowly, Remember the last letter Baba wrote to us he said we would live in a house even if right now he is in a room like ours. Mom says, You always believe what your Baba says. I think Well he is Baba why not. But the letters stopped and Mom is afraid to use Aunt Betty's phone to call North Carolina, and Mom won't let me use the phone because she is afraid I will be like Amy talking all the time.
Amy's school is big, I always get lost a little even now. There are many students with names that all sound the same to me like Jenny and Janie and Johnny. Amy never talks to me at school, I see her with her friends and she doesn't see me like I am not there. Maybe she is mad we are in her house and I am not her family and I am not American like everyone else. So I pretend not to know her too. After school Amy doesn't go home she goes into a car to go somewhere and I always ride the bus and walk. Sometimes little kids playing outside see me and come over and walk next to me and try to talk to me. Rally rally you can speak English can't you, can't you speak English or do you only know Chinese and then they say in a funny voice Ching ching dong dong. So of course I think in my head I can speak English but I don't want to talk to them. One puts his face right next to mine, I think his name is Billy, he stares at me and won't let me walk and the other kids say too Rally rally rally ching ching dong dong like it's a song. Then Billy he says shouting and laughing, You freak how can you see, you don't have any white in your eyes, and then he shoves me and runs away they all do laughing. And I think about Amy's eyes and how she has American eyes that are more round than Chinese eyes and how she is lucky and she can wear makeup and look pretty. I walk home. When I open the door my mom is there and she says What's wrong Rayue and I say Don't call me that. My name is Raleigh why do you always use my Chinese name, no wonder Baba won't come get us. And she says quietly Go to your room, and I run upstairs to our room it's not even my own room like Amy's and I look at clothes magazines that Aunt Betty buys for Amy and I think how my clothes are bad ones from Taiwan and how every time I want to buy something Mom says We have to save money, what is wrong with these clothings you have already. I think about how Baba doesn't write or call, it has been seven months since we are in America and Mom won't say anything when I ask about him. I don't go downstairs for dinner, I say I am sick and I think how we were all happy when Baba got a visa to come here, even though we didn't get ours at the same time. He will still be Baba not Dad not till we are all together, that is what I am thinking in my head.
Amy has a big bedroom with pictures on the walls and a loud record player and a closet full of clothes. I like to go there after school when no one is home, my mom and Aunt Betty are at the supermarket where they work and Uncle Wen is in his office. Amy doesn't close the closet door like Aunt Betty tells her to all the time so it's easy to look at her clothes. I like looking at them and sometimes I even touch them. She has one pink T-shirt that I like, I saw something like it in the magazines. I think how Amy has so many clothes to wear and I decide to take it upstairs and try it just to see if it fits. I just want to try for a little bit I think in my head. And it does. In my little mirror I can see that I look normal like an American so I take it off and fold it and think about putting it back but then I don't. I put it under my pillow and my face is hot and then I try to read a magazine but I keep thinking about Amy coming home and soon she does but she doesn't go to her room till later not till after dinner and TV and homework. Then it is time for bed and I am still nervous but nothing happens. And I finally go to sleep too.
After school no one is home again and I go to Amy's room and I can't help it I decide to take something else. Another shirt this one yellow. And then every day for a while I do this. I start taking pants and a dress and a skirt and I hide the clothes in the suitcase me and my mom brought from Taiwan that is empty in the corner of our room. One day I wear one of the shirts under my sweater to school. On the bus on the way home Danny or Denny from down the street says to me Suzy Chopsticks and starts laughing so hard like he is crying. I say Danny Dickhead like I heard Amy call him and he runs away. Then it doesn't matter that we are still in Chicago where it sucks and Mom doesn't talk so much to Aunt Betty and Uncle Wen like she wants to hide, like me in school, we don't want anyone to see us.
When Amy brings a friend home with her I am watching the TV and they both walk by me and I hear Amy say Yeah that's her, who knows when she'll leave, her dad like abandoned them you know, they don't even realize it you know? They go to Amy's room and the music gets loud and I turn up the TV and they turn up the music again. When Aunt Betty and Mom come home from the supermarket Amy yells downstairs, Mom have you seen my white skirt, the one with the flowers. And even though I am watching the TV I turn red and want to run to my room, but Mom is asking me in Chinese, Why haven't you washed the dishes in the sink, why can't you help out like I ask you to, and she is also saying to Aunt Betty So sorry she is so lazy sometimes, and I am trying to hear Amy too. Then Amy comes downstairs with her friend and she says, Mom I am missing a whole bunch of clothes, do you know where they are, and Aunt Betty says Of course not Amy I'm sure they are in your closet, if you kept it neater you would be able to find everything. And Amy looks at me sitting on the couch trying to watch the TV. I can feel her eyes. She says to her friend Come on, let's go upstairs again, and instead of going to her room they go to the top floor to me and my mom's room. And then I know she will know, and I hear my mom who is washing the dishes say Raleigh where are you going as I open the front door and start to run I don't know where. It's cold outside and I don't have a coat or even shoes on just the slippers Chinese families always wear even in America except for Amy. I think about how now Aunt Betty and Uncle Wen won't let me and my mom stay in their house and it will be my fault and where would we go, where was Baba, I want to go somewhere else not here. I run and run and then I need to rest I can't run anymore and I need to think and it's cold so I sit at the bus stop. Then I hear from far away Raaaallleee, Rallleeee, and it's Mom calling me, she is calling me but I don't move and think in my head Should I run but I don't. And she sees me and she has my coat and gives it to me and she says, Come home now, I tell Aunt Betty you give back Amy's clothings, it's all right. And I start to cry and she starts to cry too and I say, When can we go to North Carolina and Baba, when can we go, and she says, I don't know, I don't know about Baba, and then she calls me by my Chinese name Rayue and says again I don't know.
Yishane is an editor and writer in New York City.
In Posse: Potentially, might be . . .