When I was 12, we lived on the 2nd floor of an apartment building, in a metro city of China. On that floor, there were two units, 1 one bedroom and 1 two bedrooms. We had the two bedrooms for a family of 5. My parents, my brother and I shared one room; my grandpa had a room next to us. Next door, a family of 5 with three grown up children had one big one bedroom. When their son got married, they claimed the public space, the hallway, and built their love nest with four walls. The old hallway became a narrow T-shaped public storage space. It could barely fit one person coming and going. There was one bathroom with a bathtub, at the end of the hallway, shared by all 12 of us. The apartment walls were so thin that I could hear coughing of the neighbor’s.
But, I loved it there, especially after school walking pass the stairways and hallways. The smell was irresistible. Every family had an open kitchen. It was either at the corner of the hallway or the space between the floors. That is what brought everyone together.
I stopped at Mrs. Li on the1st floor and she asked, “Jasmine, come taste my fish sauce.”
I hopped near stove and opened the lid. The smell of soy source, ginger, scallions just flowed into my nostrils. I dipped my pinky and quickly put into my mouth. “Just right. Mrs. Li.”
“Good. My daughter is bringing her boyfriend tonight.”
As I was passing Ms. Ye’s kitchen on the 2nd floor, she was dishing out pork ribs.
“Slow down, missy,” Ms. Ye shouted, “You still look like sticks. What’s your mom making you for dinner?”
“I do not know. She wont’ be home until 10.” I replied.
“Bring a plate. You need to have some of this.”
“Yeah!” I jumped two steps forward.
One summer evening, I went to see Miss Liya, my neighbor’s daughter. She was in her early twenties. I adored her, long silky hair, big bright eyes with nice figure. I could not wait to grow up and look just like her.
“My head is very itchy. Can you take a look?” I complained.
She looked through my hair and quickly grabbed my arm, “I need to get you a haircut now.”
“Why?” I refused, “I want to have long hair just like yours.”
“Well,” She said without blinking her eyes, “You have lice.”
“What? No.” I was humiliated. If cannot be pretty, I always proud myself being clean.
“Don’t worry. I will have my in-law to cut your hair. It would be just fine.”
An hour later, my hair was soaked in fuming chemicals smelled like garbage. I cried furiously. It must be the girl I sat with at the school. I kept my head down the entire time and was mortified. Liya came back washed my hair few times and spread her favorite perfume on me.
Finally, she asked, with a mirror in hand. “Raise your head. Just look at yourself.”
She sounded cheerful. “You look just like me.”
How could that be? I looked up, took a look at her and then myself in the mirror. There she was, hair short, smile big. Me, hair short, eyes not so small. The short hair somehow made my eyes looked bigger. I grinned.
“You look different and prettier.” A boy from the school said to me in the hallway the next day. My face turned red. It was the first time I got a compliment from a boy! From then now, I never went back to long hair….
Now, decades later I still remember that apartment and the wonderful smell from neighbors’ kitchens. Yes, it was crowed and a fire hazard. But, the connections and small happiness I had with Mrs. Li, Ms. Ye, and Miss Liya, I can no longer find in life.
Writing 101, Day Eleven: Size Matters — Tell us about the home you lived in when you were twelve.