Only one shop on the High Street held an echo of home. It was called ‘Asian Dreams’ and each evening Mei Fen called in and browsed amongst the shelves. She found comfort in the landscape paintings, scenes so familiar yet out of place, dislocated.
At the back of the store she picked up a box of fortune sticks in a black lacquered bamboo tube. Many times Mei Fen had visited the village temple with her grandmother, a tap-tapping sound and the smell of incense accompanying her petition to the gods.
Mei Fen paid for the fortune sticks and placed them in her backpack. With every step the sticks rattled together, reminding her of sounds from home: the clack and rustle of mah jong tiles from the tea stall in the village; the roar of propane under her grandmother’s blackened wok; the grind of metal on whetstone. Every step took her nearer her rented apartment but further from home, further from the sigh of the wind through the paddy fields and the soft, sibilant voices she loved.
Her apartment above the nail salon had no shrine to the Kitchen God and no space for an altar to long dead ancestors. Instead, she propped a photo of her family on her bed and knelt down in front of it. Both hands clasped around the bamboo tube, she tipped it downwards at an angle and gently shook the container. She closed her eyes.
The rattle of the sticks was mesmerising but Mei Fen kept her thoughts focussed. Slowly, a single stick separated itself from the rest. It inched towards the lip of the tube until it toppled over onto the floor.
All things are difficult before they are easy.
The message bewildered her. But then, like a voice from the gods, she remembered her father’s wisdom.
“Go to England. It is an honour and a great opportunity. Time will pass. Soon you will be home.”
She sat back on her heels and smiled. A year wasn’t very long after all.