Missionariesby Yen-Hua Huang
She is perspiring. It is 101° F outside. Her skin is wet and annoyingly sticky. Her soggy cotton dress pastes to her body uncomfortably, which makes her movements clumsy. Her two little boys are restless from this steaming heat wave. They look as if they had just climbed out of a swimming pool. Beads of perspiration are running down their faces. The weatherman on the Tapei Television Channel has forecasted another record-breaking hot summer day, but she wants to make it a better day.
As usual, she chases after her two little boys, ages two and three, all over the living room and dining room area in order to feed them. It takes a whole hour for them to finish their lunch.
Besides the constant chasing is the cleaning now. Her two-year-old is on a toilet training schedule. He walks around without a diaper. He sits for a few minutes on the toilet every three hours, but still leaves a mess on the floor for time to time. “It will be over soon!” she says to herself. She doesn’t mind constantly cleaning up after him because it allows him to walk more comfortably without having the diaper squeezing between his thighs.
The air is getting muggier and more and more unbearable to breathe. She wishes she had one of those new things called an “air conditioner.” “Yes, I’ll have one eventually. I am sure of it.” She even has a plan for purchasing it. She has saved her food money regularly, by cutting items she needs less, or by substituting less expensive ones. She is amused by her creative ways of saving. She is amused by her creative ways of saving.
After lunch, she puts her boys in a small carriage, with the two-year-old sitting in the front seat and the three-year-old standing behind the back of the seat with his hands holding tight on the handle bar and his feet planted on the lower platform. She checks their security, and then pushes them onto the narrow road in front of her house. She pushes the carriage in circles around the rice field, and then parks it underneath a huge old shade tree. This is one way she uses to keep the boys still for a while so she can get some rest. The boys are busy watching the cars, bicycles, and motorcycles zipping past. How nice it feels, not having to chase them around for a while.
An hour later, the boys are looking sleepy. She wheels them back to the house. She takes them out of the carriage and puts them in bed for a nap. She watches their sweet little faces, feeling every busy moment of time spent on them worthwhile. She wishes that she could have a girl too.
The house is a mess. It is impossible to clean it when the boys are up and running. They knock things down constantly. Now is her chance to clean the place. She goes around picking up toys and putting chairs back where they belong, then sits down to fold those clean diapers. She wishes her boys would grow up a little faster. She smiles at her own thoughts.
The blazing white sunlight shines directly through the three tall trees in her courtyard. She looks outside with her right hand shading her eyes. “Who is ringing the doorbell?” she wonders.
She can smell the musty heat from the ground and feel the steaming soil beneath her sandals. The doorbell rings a second time while she is on her way to answer it.
She hears the noises from the road outside. She senses the energy required to make a living just from the roaring sounds of the cars and motorcycles. She knows people are starting to head home at this hour. Soon, her husband will be home too.
She walks over the grassy ground of her courtyard. The touch of the door latch scorches her flesh like sizzling metal. She withdraws her whole body instantly, with her hand jerking in the steamy air. She pulls down the end of her sleeve to cover her right hand and opens the door.
Two “Westerners” are standing outside her door, each with a bicycle by his side. They speak perfect Chinese.
“Hi! I am Brother Fillmore, and this is Brother Bascom. We would like to talk to you for a few minutes today.” They stand straight and tall like two cement columns. Although both have blond hair, one has blue eyes and one has green eyes—like four glassy balls looking at her. They are dressed uniformly. Both are wearing white long-sleeved shirts and matching symmetrical black ties. The sharp crease-lines of their black pants flow straight down to their black leather shoes, which are tied in front with absolutely even bows. It is so unusual here in Taipei to see such white skin and high nose bridges.
“We have good news we want to give you. Do you believe in God?” They pause and wait for her response. She says nothing but keeps staring at them. Their hair is neatly combed, precisely parted in the middle, and carefully “glued” to the sides. She can’t believe how fluently these two foreigners speak Chinese.
“Well, we believe God is perfect and we are not. His is our Father and He cherishes us. We are all God’s children. You and I are brothers and sisters. He came for us, to redeem our sins because we are no good. He will take away our pain and suffering if we follow Him and do what He teaches us to do. He will take care of us when we are sick and when we are hungry. All we have to do is totally surrender to Him our own will.”
She jumps back.
“I don’t want him to take away my pain and suffering.”
Aghast, she takes another step back.
“My life will be so boring!”
The notions she just heard shock her, and she shuts the door quickly as if she were trying to lock something absolutely horrid out of her house.
She makes sure the door is closed properly and securely, then heads back toward the house, wondering if her two little boys are up yet. She anxiously awaits her husband’s arrival. Feeling rising desire to please him, she thinks about what to cook for his dinner.
Suddenly, she hears shrieks from inside the house. She begins to run, knowing the boys are up and fighting. Although her moment of peace is over, she couldn’t wait to get back to them.
Yen Hwa-Hwang was born in Taiwan and now lives on the Lower East Side. This is her first work of fiction published.