HOW HAPPINESS WORKS
Everybody writes poems
about the Fung Wah. All my students. Mine's
about the line outside the ticket kiosk in Chinatown, and how
the little Chinese lady
who yells SIX O’CLOCK! and runs
around the corner with a straggly crowd of would-be riders
had already run.
I walked around trying to remember where
was Travel Pack, where the Lucky Star. I found
a shop that sold Lucky Star
tickets, also lottery tickets
and bubble tea. This little Chinese lady started pointing
toward various crowds on the sidewalk
that might be the line for my bus.
I shook my head. She grumbled and took off
her apron and came out from behind the counter,
came outside with me. I thanked her, and she said
No English. So I smiled and gave her a big
thumbs up, which made her laugh and say thank you.
Thank you, I said. Then she tried to leave me
in the Fung Wah line, but I got some Fung Wah
riders to show her their tickets. Not Lucky Star,
Fung Wah. She winced and said Fung Wah!
as if it were a curse. She cursed Fung Wah
and headed off across the street toward another
potential Lucky Star line. It was a busy street, and a car
swerved to miss her, honked. So I took her hand.
She was wearing a coat that was too long for her, so I only felt half
of her hand. My mother's age, the size I was
when I was nine. I took her hand
and she looked up at me and smiled again, and said Thank you!
Thank YOU! I said, and we laughed and
walked across the street holding hands.
Across the street we could see a line of people holding
the pink tickets that meant
we were in the right place, the line of Lucky
Star riders, but we liked walking and holding hands, liked
the winter twilight, the relative silence. I think I loved
her. She took me to the head of the line. No one
complained: perhaps the other riders thought
if we were holding hands, then I must be
retarded. At last she turned me
toward her, and we held each other's hands and said
good-bye: Thank you!
Thank you! On the bus, I sit
in the best seat, up front, and read Little Dorrit
and fall asleep while the driver
whistles, sometimes singing in Chinese.
Jill McDonough is a Stegner Fellow whose work has appeared in Slate, The Threepenny Review, Poetry, and elsewhere