[This piece won Second Prize in The Diversity Story Cultural Writing Competition - High School]
BY KELLY JIN
ii. step one: sweat and tears
On my tippy-toes, barely managing to peek over the edge of the dining table, my ears remember more than my eyes of the orchestra in our kitchen where my mother held the baton as its maestro.
In the mornings, I hear the plog, plog, plog of all-purpose flour and water gathering into a dense, sticky ball. She kneels over the bowl, which is nearly twice the width of my head, and kneads the ball from fingertips to palm, fingertips to palm, hitting the sides of the bowl at a quick but steady rhythm. Plog, plog, plog, giving a heartbeat to the wooden floors beneath my feet and when I catch her gaze soften and wander, lost to the rhythm––I wonder––does she yearn for it back? A fever dream that took place across the Pacific and across time where my grandmother taught her how to mould her dough just right for the perfect bite.
When she is done, plastic wrap covers the bowl and insulates her labour within. It is now time for it to rest, forgive, but never forget.
iii. step two: patience
When the sun reaches its peak in the sky, I am much older and taller now although our kitchen table is no longer the same. Yet, the dough remains unchanged, only softer and stickier. She finally lets me help her and I choose to master the rolling pin.
Wood against wood, the clicking sound clack, clack, clack carries through the air at an unstoppable pace. I think she is happier than she shows to have my company because in the kitchen today, the air also fills with her humming.
The dough, now rolled into smaller clumps, is flattened into thin, round sheets within ten strikes of the rolling pin. Like a tempo on a metronome, one hand rotates the dough wrapper and another flattens its edges with a speed and dexterity learnt only through age.
She passes the rolling pin to me and I envision myself as one with the rhythm: clack, clack, clack and I’d be able to prove myself. I’d prove my heritage, my blood, and my veins that trace back to far, far away. They wrap up like spools of thread left tangled and tied in the sewing drawer and I can only look hopelessly through the eye of a needle. My clumsy, unsure hands fumble to keep the dough in place and I am so, so offbeat.
She only laughs and repositions my hands, moulding them as she did to the dough. And there I made my first dumpling wrapper in perfect harmony with her humming tune. You have no burden to prove anything.
iv. step three: love
The sun has set and now, I pass each wrapper to her waiting palm with new energy. Not restless or impatient like before, but a bit more relaxed, comfortable, and sure.
Lamb, carrots, oil, salt, and a bit of love. This is the flavour she chose for tonight. With chopsticks, she picks up a modest clump of filling and folds it into the wrapper I prepared. Sometimes my wrapper still travels slightly off tempo to become too large and thin or too small and thick. But when it is just right, the filling sits embraced from both sides by soft, but sturdy white walls that keep it from crumbling apart, keeps its juices intact in the boiling pot, and lets the mouth tear it open like a red pocket on New Year’s Day.
As plates fill and the aroma carries like wind behind doors and up flights of stairs, and the rest come flocking to the kitchen one by one to get their fill.
Flour turns to dough. Rolling pin against white flesh. Lamb filling pink and raw. Seal, pinch, boil. Enjoy your dumplings with a brush of dark, pungent vinegar. I eat my serving, but it is really the laughter, history, pride, and life that I eat to become full. I will grow out of old shoes, change kitchen tables once again, and kiss my mother goodbye––but––I know I will always be home with my rolling pin even if sometimes home seems not to be here, nor there.