It appears I still have some growing up to do. My mother spent over an hour telling me off. Mei Ling had told her that I had been hired as an accountant by those associated with the underworld. The pay was good and the working conditions were excellent. At the end of it, she allowed me to speak. I told her what I could without giving away any of the important details.

You may think to yourself that it’s best to be honest in a situation like this. Perhaps for some people. In Vietnam, being able to slip little lies by people is a mark of intelligence. In Nepal, copying the homework of a superior student is a mark of efficiency. Among my family, playing badminton with falsehoods and hyperbole is like watching television or reading the newspaper. I’ve been swimming in this stuff since I knew how to talk; I’ve learned very well how to put a positive face on things. Like I was expected to do now, with my mother.

“How much money you make?”

“I’ll send some to you.”

Silence. Half-hearted grumbling. “I know where this comes from.”

I made a hell of a lot of money. My mother couldn’t really complain about that part.

“Come home within the next two weeks. Tell your employer you need time off. We will talk.”

“I’ll try. My employer is very demanding, though.”

“If you don’t come I will call him.”

“He doesn’t take direct calls, mother.”

“Uncle Frank will find him. Uncle Frank knows everyone.”

We could go back and forth like this forever. I remained silent and let my mother have the last word before she hung up. Immediately thereafter, a call from Bong Cha. On the phone I had just purchased, no less.

“Listen, Liling.” (It pissed me off when she called me by my first name.) “Everything we’ve done was calculated. The call to your parents was to probe you for weaknesses. We found them. The language lesson was to anger you. The effects rippled as intended and closed the rift you had created. The wound has been poulticed.”

“Your reaction was unexpected but lines up within the model. Nobody likes or comments on a novel with a wishy-washy hero, Liling. I would suggest you look to your mother for strength.”

I frowned. She was right.


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