May, Not Mei

Our relationship is early morning selfies before the 200 bus.

Salty-sweet Chinese candy wrappers that line my bag.

The off-brand Aveeno hand lotion she gave me for Christmas.

I imagined that she spelled her name “Mei” in the Chinese tradition, meaning “plum blossom.”

The senior Metro ID that dangles from her neck reads “May.”

She found it difficult to grasp that I was leaving Echo Park for grad school.

She asked me if it would “pay off” so many times that my wells of patience dried up.

We decided to say goodbye over dim sum.

“We have Chinese banquets and then we leave each other,” she told me. “We only miss each other in our hearts, that is the Chinese way.”

She also told me that sashimi burritos are Chinese food.

I suggested Elite Restaurant. She scoffed: Too bougie.

She threw shade at NBC Seafood as we drove down Atlantic Blvd. 

“Not good anymore.”

She read the Cantonese side of the menu and I read the English.

She wore a bejeweled shirt that said “Fun and Games.”

I don’t remember what I wore.

“You like roast duck for breakfast?” An accusation more than a question.

I ordered it, didn’t I? I said from inside my head.

She told me to tap-tap the table when more tea was poured as a thank you.

She spilt a little when she poured the tea.

She didn’t ask how I knew the Chinese words for thank you, shrimp dumpling, or bill.

We don’t talk about how her adult son lives with her and her husband.

We don’t talk about what it was like to live in Echo Park in the 80s. Or 90s. Or 2000s.

We don’t talk about the fact that I’m gay.

When the bill came we agreed to split it without a fight.

Then I repressed the memory when she told me her daughter always pays for her.

“Tip two, right?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“One dollar for the waiter and one for the busboy.”

I told her I would take care of the tip.

“Can we go to the Dollar Tree?” she asked. I said, “Sure.”

“Can we go to the Chinese market?” “Sure.”

“Can we go to Chinatown to the egg tart place I go to after church?”

“Let’s start with the Dollar Tree.” I said.

She grabbed a green cart equipped with a tall metal rod to prevent theft.

She was down every aisle faster than I could keep up with her.

Greeting cards, art supplies, sunscreen.

I looked up from swiping on my phone down an empty aisle.

Then another. And another.

She was not in Party or Cleaning Supplies.

I walked outside.

I walked right up to an empty register and took the store walkie-talkie (which looked just like the ones on the bus) and said,

“May, this is Rachel. Please come to register three.”

I waited. The cashier gave me a shrug like this happens a lot. Her eyes seemed to say, “She’ll come back.”

That’s the funny thing about when people talk through their eyes. What is spoken does not always come true.

After two hours I left the store and went home.

I know a few things about May. Her area code is 213. She works as an aide at an elementary school in mid-Wilshire. She has a mole on her cheek with a hair growing out of it.

When she smiles her eyes crinkle up to meet the sun.

I don’t know where she lives. I don’t know her last name.

I don’t know how to file a missing person’s report.

Hours later, my chest constricting under a sheet, I started to think about her adult son. How he could never keep a job. How she never tried to set us up.

Her retired husband who drives them to Costco on Sundays.

I watched the line of traffic go in and out of Costco from the curb the next day. Sometimes I would smile and make eye contact. It’s OK, I’m not selling anything.

When Monday came I was convinced that as soon as I walked up to the bus stop May would be there, scolding me for leaving her.

“We didn’t even get the egg tarts!” she would say.

But no one put up missing person signs. I was not telephoned by the police. The bus driver didn’t even ask where my friend was.

I start my grad program and think of her less.

On the last day of the semester I am disbursed $2,684 for teaching an undergraduate class.


Rachel Will is a mixed-genre writer with interest in autofiction, queerness, and sticky metaphysical situations.