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Revolving Door

一日三秋 (A Day Three Autumns Long)

Author's note

This chapter contains depictions of transphobia, racism, parental verbal abuse and heavy drinking

There’s a line painted on the ground, separating the nationless territory of the airport from the grey concrete of Beijing, China, home. For a moment, Hong Yi stands with one foot across the line amid the oppressive racket of the arrival hall, uncertain of which side to wait on.

Then he sees them coming through the doors, their faces stark in the bobbing sea of heads. A smile breaks through his glazed stare, and he makes a beeline through the milling crowd, arms outstretched.

There are the tearful hugs right there and then: from mother, father, Nai-nai, all with more streaks of snowy gray in their hair.

“Are you well?”

“I haven't slept in twenty hours, but I'm hanging on.”

He doesn't ask how they are doing. He can read it off their faces: they’re haggard and hollow-cheeked, and their faces crinkle and furrow even as he grins and laughs with them. His father’s crop of hair is thin as a drought-stricken plain, not the lavish black coif it once was.

He doesn’t ask. Now’s not the time for uncomfortable questions.

*

The conversation swerves sharply into the subject of Hong Yi’s classes. All the way down the intercity highway, they interrogate him about his classes and friends, about whether the professors are any good, about what he’s done during the breaks when he didn’t come home.

“I had a job at the aquarium,” he says as the first stodgy houses rise from the horizon.

“Did they pay you?” his mother turns back in the front seat.

He grins sheepishly. “Yes, but it was just intern rates, but yes.”

The Chen family home sits on a little street on the edge of Langfang. The garden is abloom when the five-seater car putters to a stop outside the narrow gate an hour later. Hong Yi watches, breathing the stale car perfume with his chin propped up on the sill, as the rest of his family pile out of the car. While his father lugs his bag onto the driveway and rolls it inside, he stares out the dusty-streaked windows at the plum trees, shorter than he remembers, and the drifts of petals at their feet.

*

When Hong Yi steps through the front door, he is greeted by the family’s awards wall. Just like that, the past three years in Boston fade like a mirage.

It’s all become a blank. Christmases that smelled of air freshener in malls, dropped ice-cream on sidewalks, that rich summer sun, and those days by the Charles River, feeling too different to really be a part of that world—they’re far away now, lost in the miasmic fog of this tiny house.

Shelves of trophies, their wood veneer peeling. His parents’ degrees in engineering and accountancy hanging from nails, beneath the watchful grey photographs of a sour Nai-nai and Ye-ye from the Forties. The scent of mothballs. The smoke from the joss sticks.

He is ten years old now, papers wrinkling in his hands as he memorizes endless lists of chengyu. Yi ri san qiu: that was always his favorite, something about its air of sadness, misty to his understanding, beyond his grasp. A day’s parting, or so they say, might as well be three years long.

He is eleven years old, poring over Zhongkao revision books, smudging pencil marks with the side of his palm. Now he listens to the rattle of gravel as his mother sprinkles it on the ground, piercingly aware that he has done something wrong, though he doesn't know what, and he will soon be cutting his knees on gravel.

Hong Yi stretches and yawns as he enters the living room, plopping himself down in his favorite spot on the couch, opposite his father. Frying oil hisses from the kitchen, sizzling as something is slapped onto the pan. Off the rattan coffee table, the surly man plucks an envelope, scoring it open with his nail. He makes a grumbling noise in his throat. Hong Yi studies his furrowed face, tips his head back to look at the ceiling.

It’s lower than he remembers, wide cracks splitting the paint. The ceiling fan is dangling by its wires. He frowns.

An aroma of frying snatches his gaze away from the unsettling dilapidation. “Ma! That smells great, what’s for lunch?” he calls out, springing out of the couch at once.

“One year away, and you’ve forgotten the smell of your favorite dish!” she shouts back, with the sound of a pantry slamming shut. “Zhajiangmian, don’t you tell me you don’t like it anymore?”

No, he does, but he’s had so many dishes since, he no longer knows if he’s got a favorite.

“No, no, it's good!”

It takes some time figuring things out, as his mom calls him to the kitchen to help serve out the bowls of noodles. When he returns to begin the meal, he starts pulling himself the chair at the corner of the table only to be met by both parents’ warnings, pointing out the wobbly leg. Picking a better seat and setting his own bowl down before it, he drops into the chair and immediately digs into the sauce-darkened noodles.

His slurping is interrupted by a disparaging look from his mother, and then he drops the chopsticks in a splash of sauce.

“Rude, Xiaoyi,” she clucks, shaking her head. “Aren’t you going to wait for your grandmother? You really are turning into an American.” He knows these words are said in jest, so he forces a laugh, while his petite grandmother hobbles in and settles, hunch-backed, into the last of the four chairs, bony knuckles on the armrests.

Looking out onto their tiny garden is a tall window, spanning the height of the wall, from floor to ceiling. The shadows of leaves fall through it, dappling the marble floor of their living room. As he eats the fried noodles, Hong Yi finds himself watching the shadows of leaves dance back and forth, every now and then sprinkling across the family’s new twenty-year-old CRT.

“How have you been, Ma-ma, Ba-ba?”

“Your Ba-ba was hospitalised,” says his mother.

The words knock the breath from Hong Yi's lungs. “What happened?” he finally coughs up the question.

“Right after you left, I started getting the runs. They just wouldn't stop, you should have heard me in the bathroom, moaning and groaning all day! And then came the fevers. Suddenly I was too sick to walk, and, tian ah, it was so much pain. Your Ma-ma nagged me to go see a doctor, and I told her to take me, so she took me. And you know what they found? Stage three cancer, in my gut, here.” He recounts it all so matter-of-factly, it’s almost as if Hong Yi weren't meant to worry about the revelation. Mr. Chen lifts his shirt to reveal an ugly surgery wound across his belly, pink and raw, the stitches yet to be removed, and he barks a laugh at the stares he gets in answer. “You missed everything, Xiaoyi!”

“Don’t laugh about it,” mutters his mother. “It’s not a laughing matter.”

“You just don’t want me to recover,” his father sulks, supposedly also in jest.

He can barely even muster a frown. It makes sense, now, why they all look as if they've seen the ravages of war or famine, why the paint is cracking and the fan hangs from a wire. Why his mother isn't wearing her favourite necklace anymore.

“Did your aquarium pay you well though?”

“I was earning seven thousand yuan a month. Pretty good for an internship, right? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Xiaoyi, Xiaoyi...do you know the Huang family's son is earning twenty-thousand a month as a receptionist?”

He grits his teeth. “I’m doing what I can, what more do you want?”

Her eyes narrow. “Don’t answer back!”

That is enough to see the conversation sputtering to an awkward stop. But now, his father chooses this moment to speak the words he has been dreading ever since he stepped inside the house. “Ei, Xiaoyi, why’d you cut your hair so short? Are you trying to look like a boy?”

He’d like to tell them: but I am. He’s gotten so used to speaking, being his own person unfettered. But that courage belongs to the other him, that other life. As if he were tangled in a net, his home holds him fast, and he can only draw in a breath to answer, and then shut it.

He bows his head and eats. He sees the wary glance his parents exchange. The food is a bland mush in his mouth now, and he fights to swallow it all in a gulp.

“I’m going to my room,” he says, standing abruptly.

Behind him, he hears a mutter, about insolence and where he must have learned it. There’s a barely-caged grief to their voices, as if they believed they were slowly losing him to the tide of change that has swept this little house in these three years.

And he suspects that this feeling—of not quite fitting into his own home, like a peg jammed in the wrong hole—is all a part of being who he is.


The day the airport staff call him “Sir”, he knows there’s no turning back.

He wants to cast it all off now like an ugly coat, that life of playing a part for his parents; he wants nothing to do with it. But some rope of sentiment tethers him, and it hurts to even think of cutting himself loose: he can't bring himself to throw this name, and its sixteen years of history, away. So the new one is indistinguishable in English, written differently in his mother tongue.

He tears his past away in stages: first the clothes and the hair, though his first haircut is awful, the buzz cut uneven across his scalp. Looking in the mirror, he decides with a laugh that he likes this grotesque haircut more than any other he’s ever had, feeling like some ancient weight has lifted from him. His wardrobe is already exactly as he likes it, all slack jeans and baggy nerd tees, the occasional ugly tracksuit. It will be a while yet before he can afford clinic visits, or even have them without his parents’ consent. This will do for now, he thinks: this is his new normal. Almost everyone gets it right without asking, without him having to ask, and it makes him feel like a fish in spring waters, unbridled and alive.

Of course, there are those who mess up with the pronouns and are all over him in apology immediately; and there are those who hiss at him as if he were some vile demon trying to fool good children. A thin film of guilt coalesces on the surface of his joy. Sometimes, he's afraid they see a costume—but he has so much of that going on already, language and genetics, and the assumptions that orbit in their gravity. There is so much that he has to fight against with every new connection he forms.

And he tells himself this every day, though he knows it's wrong: that it's all a part of being who he is.


The BU Marine Biology class does all the same lectures together throughout the week, so Hong Yi remembers all their names and faces barely a week into freshman year. There’s Jacob, or as he insists, Jake, big dude with a bigger love for his friends, and an endless supply of snacks in his backpack. Peter (“Pete”), who was stony-faced until the day Hong Yi offered him an electric gag pen in the hallway—his moment's humiliation was over quickly, and both had a furious guffaw about it by the preserved animal display. Berrigan, from Down Under, with the accent to show for it—almost definitely as much of an overachiever as Hong Yi is, if not more. Andrea, who’s better at drawing dissection diagrams than any of them, and also better at spilling soup on his shirt. Tana, who's used every digital audio workstation in existence, who ran headfirst into him on the way to class the first day—who can barely hear you half the time. And Mae, who's bleached her hair white and calls it the new emo, always hiding her cutting humour behind a veneer of apathy.

They form an chat group that ensures that the bad jokes don’t end when they part ways at the college doors. By Hong Yi’s suggestion and Jake’s enthusiastic lobbying, they get in the habit of going out somewhere new every Friday night: crashing parties, storming arcades, getting themselves blackout drunk.

In the last aftertaste of summer, they take a day trip down to New York to watch a concert by some obscure band that Mae's into—too obscure to be doing shows outside of local underground venues with empty beer cups littered across the floor. The boys attempt to join Pi Sigma Upsilon together, but the head honcho Harold demands they last out a series of hazing rituals, including a beer pong game against the house.

*

Of these many, many Friday nights, one sticks out in his thoughts all the time: the one where it’s just Andrea and he.

There’s always places around Boston where Hong Yi can find people who don’t take one look at him and furrow their brows in bewilderment. People who don’t judge, who don’t care what parts you have, who get involved with whoever they click with, sometimes more than one person at a time. Very soon he finds a pamphlet pinned to a noticeboard about the Alpha Chi chapter, the closest thing to an LGBT alliance at BU, impossible to miss with its gaudy lettering: an invitation to its annual open-door party on Friday.

So he arrives that Friday evening at the recreation center wearing a plain purple tee and all his charm. The throb of synth music through the evening draws him down the avenue, a layer of chatter becoming audible over the thud of the bass. And when he steps into the lobby, his eyes widen.

The lights glow bright in his eyes, and strait-laced Beijing seems so far away now: an ocean of faces swim in the rainbow light, girls kissing girls and boys cuddling boys and so many who don't give a shit about the concept of gender.

He bumps into someone at the snacks bar as the lights are turning pink: she is as tall as Hong Yi with cropped blonde hair, blue eyes like the sky, and a grin that stirs up a sudden hot surge of nervousness in him.

“Hey,” he calls out, putting on his best smile while he scrambles for an opener. “Have you tried the cheese chips?” Fuck.

Charitably, she takes the hook. “Nope, are they any good?”

“You gotta add the cheese flavoring with your imagination,” he answers.

She laughs as Hong Yi snatches for a plastic cup of beer, and when he turns to meet her eye again, her hand is extended.

“Hale,” she says, shaking his hand.

“Hale! Nice to meet you,” he replies, melting into casualness. “I’m Hong Yi.”

Hon Ee!” Hale echoes enthusiastically, which he can’t help snorting at. “You pretty cute. What’s your major?”

They hit off over bland beer and cardboard chips, and the whatever-th reboot of Spiderman, in a washed-out projection on the wall. They laugh together, fingers creeping towards and around each other's. By the end of the evening, Hale is lying with her head on Hong Yi’s lap. At the door, she halts him with a hand to his shoulder, moving in for a kiss.

“See you tomorrow,” she whispers as she pulls away, smiling lightly. One more clasping of hands, and she leaves, and he smiles after her, heart booming.

*

Things nosedive two dates later, when Hale adds Hong Yi on Facebook.

He’s startled to be cornered outside the lecture theater, where with a stricken gape she asks, “Are you…a dude?”

And he nods. “What did you think?” he answers, eyebrow quirked.

“I thought…you were…something else,” the words come haltingly out of her.

Three weeks later, it crashes and burns, when she finally admits she’s “confused and still trying to wrap my head around it, I’m sorry”.

It’s a good thing he only had three weeks to let the whole thing start sinking in. Still, when he gets to Friday drinks with the Marine Bio kids, he wears all his glumness on his sleeve.

The moment he shuffles into the bar, Pete lowers his mug. Tana and Andrea instantly abandon a conversation about dinoflagellates.

“Your girl dumped you?” Jake asks at once, and when he slumps at the counter, head propped up on an elbow, and raises his hand in a reluctant thumbs-up sign, everyone’s upon him with back-pats and their own stories of their romantic misfortunes.

“Hey, I got dumped after a month, back in senior year, so I know where you are,” soothes Tana, rubbing his shoulder.

“I don't get it?” Berrigan exclaims. “You're the coolest mate I got! What's up with her?”

This, he thinks, is real nice, the best part of having friends you see every day.

But he still isn’t quite sure if they look at him and wrestle with what to think of him, like Hale did. And he knows he cannot explain why it all went so wrong, not in a way that they'll understand, not in a way that he dares to.


Hong Yi tries again and again, he really does. Girls, boys, people who are neither. He gets his fair share of “you’re so short tho’”s and “I’m not into Asians”s and “you’re like a real life anime”s, and none of them stay or settle for more than a couple of weeks. He casts his net far and wide, between studying and concocting large-scale pranks: hitting, with diminishing enthusiasm, on people at bars, in class, and at the water fountain.

But then comes the night. The one where it’s just the two of them.

He can’t deny that, among the group, it's Andrea whom he’s been getting on with the best. The two are the ones always sharing the groanworthy puns, and they get lunch together at the Subway downstairs without the others. In their free time, they've tried learning each other's languages, laughing over mispronounced Z's and R's.

Everyone is a little out-of-place in this bunch, but Andrea is different in a lot of the same ways he is: more of an artist than a sportsman, hiding more than anyone else—something he can sense without having to ask. He is a bit of a puzzle in that way, and all puzzles want to be solved.

Hong Yi figures out a small part of the puzzle that Friday, when he runs into his friend at the door to the Alpha Chi club room.

The instant their eyes meet, there’s an awkward pockets-in-hands moment before Hong Yi finally croaks out his name.

“Hey, Hong,” Andrea replies, finally daring to smile as he approaches. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“Didn't you?” he laughs. “I'm here basically every other week.”

They enter together. And they leave together, full of chips and beer and new knowledge of gender theory. There’s a little silent walking on the way back to the Warren Towers, until Hong Yi pipes up, “I didn’t know you were one of—"

His companion laughs. “I didn’t know either,” he says. “But I guess…I was reading some comics a few nights ago, and I started to realise I might find guys attractive?”

“You crushing on a fictional hunk?” he laughs, jabbing him in the ribs with an elbow.

Andrea glances away. “Maybe…”

Hong Yi snorts. “No shame in it, man, the artists draw them pretty hot,” he replies.

It’s a minute before he composes himself. “I mean…it was the first time, but I figured—I might as well go see what it’s all about, see if it makes it clearer. I’m just curious, that's all. That’s okay, right? They’re okay with people just…not sure?”

“Totally! But did it make it clearer?”

He looks up in thought. “Eh…not really, no, I think I need a bit more time.”

“Take all the time you need. No rush on figuring out yourself.” Hong Yi grins at Andrea under the yellow glow of a street light on Commonwealth Avenue.

Then, as if the conversation had cast some sort of spell, he realises he likes how his dark curls frame his eyes, and how he talks, all quiet and a little shy.

“Oh,” he breathes.

“What?”

“Nothing, I just—think it’s crazy I didn’t even mention to you guys that I was one of them.”

Andrea shrugs. “We never asked. I guess that’s just how it is with Boston dudes…all are ‘cool with the gays’, but no one of them wants to talk about it, you know?”

“Yeah, for real. They're kind of cagey about anything even a little personal.”

Andrea laughs, then his voice dwindles to a sigh. “I can't guess how the rest really feel about it.”

“Yeah. They haven’t said anything about it, but I can't be sure either. Y'know, if they're cool with me, or…”

His companion holds up a finger. “Hong, I’m definitely cool with you,” he finally says. “Don’t tell them, but I actually think you’re the coolest one of us.” He comes to a stop outside the Shields Tower, card in hand. “See you tomorrow at Ecology class!”

Hong Yi walks the rest of the way alone and clutching at his face. “Oh god,” he repeats to himself. “Oh god.”


Hong Yi lasts about three weeks without letting out a peep about the severe crush he's developed overnight. At every turn he resists the temptation to act on it: to try flirting with an unsuspecting Andrea every time they're side by side, to make any gestures that could even be construed as signalling romantic interest. Partly because he's certain it will all go disastrously if he tries...and how.

Halloween comes and goes, the windows dressed in paper skeletons and bats, pumpkins popping up at an alarming rate on lawns and doorsteps. Hong Yi celebrates it by accepting Jacob’s dare: with a pumpkin in his backpack, and the aid of an anti-gravitational boost, he clambers through a clerestory window and onto the roof of the Marsh Chapel, and impales the unsuspecting fruit on the cross of the steeple.

The ornament remains there for three days, its juices flowing down the eaves, before a crew finally scales the building by means of harnesses and plucks it off. By then, the fruit—and footage of his daring climb—has been seen and liked at least half a million times on every social media platform, and Hong Yi has enjoyed a dressing-down in the Head of Science’s office, though it isn’t enough of an offence to warrant any other punishment.

He finds the Marine Bio kids waiting for him outside. “Ayy, good on you, taking one for the team,” calls Jake, grinning broadly when they reach the lobby, slapping him on the back. Soon the rest get in on the back-slapping action, which only manages to make Hong Yi’s back sore.

“Oi, how many of us are doing dinner at IHOP tonight?” Berrigan cuts in then.

There’s a bout of general nodding, before Hong Yi remembers the chapter meeting this evening that he’s been meaning to attend. “Wait, no! I, have something on,” he cuts in.

“Ah, same,” Andrea adds, exchanging a glance with him.

There’s a murmur of puzzlement among them. “The same thing for both of you?” Pete pipes up.

“Nah,” Hong Yi says immediately.

“Yeah,” Andrea puts in in the same moment.

There are several raised eyebrows and exchanged glances. “Okay,” mumbles Jake. “We’ll save you guys some leftovers? They make some pretty sick dinner pancakes.”

“Yeah, pretty—sick,” Hong Yi answers, sticking out his tongue to mime vomiting, while everyone else erupts in a chorus of groans.

*

While their friends are off partying with pancakes, Hong Yi slips out of the dorm with just his wallet and phone on him. The crisp night bites at his fingertips, even tucked into his pockets, and he can barely feel his feet as he strolls by the bare, twiggy trees.

This time, he stops and waits at the gate to the Shields Tower, shuffling a foot on the ground, the noise occasionally drowned out by the whiz of a car driving past, or the chug of the light rail.

“Hey, Hong!” The call brings Hong Yi's gaze: before his presence registers, Andrea has come up to his side, throwing an arm around his shoulders and not seeming to notice the effect this has. “Thanks for waiting for me. Is it movie night tonight?”

He swallows. “Yeah, they’re screening that Hairspray movie,” he answers, faking casualness. “Who picks the movies, anyway? It's always second-rate adaptations and reboots...”

“In the end, it really doesn’t matter what we watch,” Andrea says.It’s an excuse for people to get cuddly.” He laughs, and hot dang, does that laugh flood Hong Yi’s stomach with proverbial butterflies.

“What've you been up to?”

“Homework, reading, games, not much. And you?”

“Just watching some videos from that marine channel I follow. Did you see the one with the octopus throwing its lunch at the researcher? It just, crawled out of the tank. And threw it. Right on his keyboard. Oh my god.”

“Oh no, they're learning...”

Mid-laugh, his companion turns, their eyes meeting for several years too long. And when Andrea breaks eye contact first, that’s when Hong Yi makes up his mind.

“Hey, Andy,” he says, maybe solemnly enough that his companion's head perks up in surprise and he turns with a look of concern.

“Yeah, Hong?”

“If I asked, I mean, if I ever did, would you ever…wanna…go out with me?”

It takes all his strength not to break eye contact, but Hong Yi manages it. Andrea blinks at him. “Like, romantically?”

“Yeah. Just, y’know,” he sticks out his lower lip and tilts his head left and right, “a bit of that, dating and stuff.”

An entire universe of emotions fleets across Andrea’s face: a smile melting into a frown, into a quirking of eyebrows. “I’m not…sure.”

“Oof. Okay. I getcha.” He makes an OK-sign with his hand.

No matter how many times it has happened, Hong Yi still struggles with the part where he has to keep his face straight when the words hit.

"Sorry," Andrea breathes, withdrawing a little into himself when he reads the look in his companion's face anyway. “I mean, yeah, I…I…I’ve thought about it, definitely. I've thought about it. But I’m still…not sure. About me.” His face falls. “I just started to question my orientation a month ago, so this is a bit—fast?”

They’ve arrived at the entrance of the recreation centre, the leaves all scattered at their feet, various shades of dark in the streetlight. “Yeah, I get it, take your time,” he replies, thinking entirely too long before finally deciding to pat his companion’s back.

“Thanks,” Andrea answers, offering a consolatory smile. “I’m sorry. It really isn't your fault, it's just me. If you…meant it, when you asked.”

Though the disappointment lingers like the echo of a sour note, Hong Yi laughs. “Duh, I meant it,” he replies as they continue their stroll. "But it's okay, man. I don't get to tell you what to feel. Let's forget about it?"

“Can do, if you would like that.”

Some strange bittersweetness is welling up inside him now. Some part of him is glad his friend would be so frank and respectful about it, as he knew and trusted he would be—even if the rest of him is still smarting with the sting.

But that bittersweet sting, coming unexpected at every turn, is starting to wear on him. And he is starting to learn that it's all a part of being who he is.


Day after heady day flies by into winter, so many of them spent with these friends he already knows will always be in his life. After an initial week of difficult, stammered conversations, Hong Yi has become adept at pushing his lingering rue out of his mind’s reach. Andrea laughs along with his jokes as eagerly as ever, and still has lunch with him at Subway, seeming to think nothing of what was said that day along Columbus Avenue. As the exams loom closer, all of them try to set to work independently. But as the natural order dictates, everyone eventually returns to Hong Yi and his cornucopia of knowledge and well-kept notes.

The air goes thin and dips below thirty-two. The first snow falls. Christmas muzak fills the malls down Commonwealth Avenue and on some days, the Prudential Tower vanishes in fog. They are bundled up in winter wear, stopping by at the packie on the way to some sleazy new club in the city where the people kiss and sway, music throbbing in their throats, and maybe somewhere in those lights, he will find…


Hong Yi wakes up.

The ceiling is too low, and its paint is cracked, pieces of the plaster cornice scattered in the corner of his room.

His bed creaks when he leaps off it onto the tiles, almost expecting the carpeting of his dorm in the Warren Towers. But the walls are too close, and his bed is too short, and he doesn’t feel like himself.

Birdsong fills the silence of the living room. A window is open, lace curtains billowing, and in the beige couch beside it sits his mother, opened envelopes scattered on the coffee table before her. “Good morning, Ma-ma,” he greets her.

“Xiaoyi,” she answers, without lifting her head from the bills. “Breakfast is in the kitchen.”

He waits, by habit, for more of her response. But she doesn’t continue. Shrugging, he goes to the kitchen: there’s a tray of pork buns waiting for him on the stove, so he takes one. The back door lies ajar, and before he can think, he’s walking out into their garden.

Hunched on a stool in the garden, in no more than a singlet and tattered shorts, sits his father: the farmer’s son, tan lines across his blemish-speckled upper arms. His thin grey hair flutters in the wind, as does the hem of his singlet: there’s a lot of slack to the fabric, like he’s lost half his weight since buying it.

“Ei, Xiaoyi,” he calls out at the sound of Hong Yi's footsteps on the earth, grinning. “I keep forgetting you’re home.”

Hong Yi comes to sit on the brick ledge beside him. “Wa, forgetting your own—” he chooses the next word carefully—“child?”

His father, Chen Jue Yao, stares out beyond the fence holding in the family’s meager plot. “A year is a long time, you know. I got used to not seeing your face,” he says. “It was like…healing over a wound. If I had kept wanting to see you, then I would have been in pain every day. Especially in the hospital. Especially when your Ma-ma was yelling at me for being sick. Like it was my fault!” His eyes glaze over with these words. “It was just suffering, and I was always alone. Every day, I wanted to turn around and see you at my bedside. I wanted to see my daughter.”

It hits like the sting of a slap. Hong Yi does his best not to wince; his father’s face is too troubled by his own agony. The awkward resentment morphs to fear, to frustration, to guilt. He doesn't shed any tears, like he never has.

“I wanted to see you and Ma-ma, too,” he chokes.

Jue Yao meets Hong Yi’s eye. “Yi ri san qiu,” he murmurs, stroking his chin like an enigmatic sage. Then the weight of his pain suddenly making itself seen as he scrunches up his brow, ageing his face by three years. “your Ba-ba must be getting old. Every day was far too long, and hurt too much...like waiting for three autumns to pass.”

And Hong Yi knows part of him missed this too, despite everything, despite the ache of being here. Just like how part of him misses that life all the way across the world, despite the ache of being there.

His life lies in two pieces, in two worlds, and neither one feels quite like home.

And this, he thinks, is all a part of being who he is.