My seven-year-old daughter wants to become a writer when she grows up. She writes this on an oyster shell with a gold marker and hangs it on a Christmas tree at Marion Square, where she, her classmates, and her teachers have gathered for the annual tree-decorating event. Last year they strung popcorn, and the year before, if I remember correctly, they cut pieces of stale bread into palm-sized stars, lathered them with peanut butter, and rolled them in bird feed. The ornaments of choice have always been edible, at least for the wildlife.
This year, the year the city banned the use of plastic straws during tourist season and passed a bill that prohibits single-use bags, and the year we elected an anti-offshore-drilling Democrat to Congress, the school decides to utilize what can be found in any and all waste receptacles in Charleston: oyster shells. The city is known for its oyster bars and oyster roasts. The mollusk is, without exaggeration, everywhere. I once jumped off a boat in Charleston Harbor and landed on a bed of them, cutting my feet in crisscrosses—I was pulled back into the boat by a friend, emerging with what looked like bloodied gills for feet.
Here, we rely on marine life not only for food, but also for attracting tourists, and now the coast is under threat—and actually has been for a long time. Now we are paying attention because the city has had to be evacuated three years in a row due to impending hurricanes and flooding. With each evacuation comes a city-wide shutdown, and with each shutdown, hundreds of thousands of tourist dollars are lost. The tourism industry and rental rates and sea level are rising at equal pace. Our level of care is, too.
So with all this talk about the environment, at home and at school, I think that I am raising a future sustainability expert or an ecologically minded engineer, but no. My daughter pulls me by the hand toward the adorned tree and points at her contribution. “Look, Ma. Read what I wrote.”
I want to be a writer when I grow up.
I say, “That’s nice.” But I know there is nothing nice about being a writer. I hug her anyway and tell her I am proud of her no matter what, and she kisses me hard on my cheek the way my late grandmother used to kiss me—a long, vacuuming sniff. The way Grandma used to kiss me right before she’d tell me that I had overcooked the rice or that I hadn’t julienned the carrots thin enough. It is the kiss of Judas. “Like you, Mama. I want to be just like you.” I already want to cry. I want to tell her, Have I not taught you well?! I smile again and tuck her hair behind her ear, and I take the breath all mothers take when their child has made a declaration that deserves pause (“I kissed someone” or “I am taking a gap year” or “I am dating my boss”).
To take my mind off it, I chat my way through the throng of mothers. My girl runs off to play tag with a friend. I ask the moms about the school fund-raiser and the house renovations and the new baby and the new project. I nod and ask follow-up questions. I do and say everything I can to keep the conversation from centering on me. I like to disappear at these things. I have to disappear at these things. When they finally ask me about my writing, I clam up. I zip my jacket all the way up. Then I say the words I’ve rehearsed in my head: the book that’s out is doing well but could get more press, and the book on the way is almost done, but I haven’t had time all week to write, not with the teaching and the guest speaking and the online book promoting and the grant writing and constant emailing to ensure I have work coming in the new year and all the other side gigs like calligraphy and office organization I need to take on to afford a life here and the electrical fire and the dishwasher leaking, and this, the much-anticipated tree-decorating event.I tell the mothers my daughter wants to be a writer. “Oh, like you. How sweet,” one says, with the face a person makes when they see a puppy they want to pet.
The words come out meandering like an essay and snarky and whiny like a tweet, and not like the gracious, controlled couplet I had imagined it to be in rehearsal. The collective mood falters. Everyone takes a long sip of their latte or tea. I rescue the afternoon and my reputation by saying, “Great idea, these oysters. What have your children written?”
The mothers smile again, thank goodness. Pilot, one says. Ballerina, says another. Scuba diver, painter, veterinarian. “What did your daughter write on hers?”
I tell them she wants to be a writer.
“Oh, like you. How sweet,” one says, with the face a person makes when they see a puppy they want to pet. “How special,” another says. “Ah, just so special—that they can be anything they want.”
“Yes,” I say. “I guess.”
My daughter is in the thick of the first grade bridge unit, the six-week span when her progressive projects-based school encourages curiosity about physical structures such as the bridge. The school does not teach facts nor does it test for a grade. Their job, they believe, is not to fill a child with information. They do not think that a child is an empty vessel waiting to be poured, pounded, or crammed into. Rather, they present concepts that could tease out skills, interests, and propensities innate in the scholar. In the bridge unit, the teachers help the children use all available resources, such as books, the internet, local experts, museums, LEGOs, and their physical surroundings, to investigate what makes a good, sturdy bridge—and how to make it on a small carbon footprint.
My daughter comes alive during the unit; it’s all she talks about on the way home and at the dinner table. She tells us why the triangle is the most stable shape, and how engineers take into consideration not only the length of the bridge but also the depth at which it will be constructed—Will it be built over a stream or the ocean? As she falls asleep, she mutters the names of the world’s longest bridges, oldest bridges, bridges strictly for wildlife use. “There are bridges that can only be used by crabs, Mama.” She is a fifth of my age, but I have a fifth of her engineering expertise and physics knowledge. She might become an engineer, like my father, I think with much relief.
“Good night, my little engineer,” I say.
“No, writer. I’m gonna be a writer.” She closes her eyes and that’s that. She has my teeth, my cheeks, my hair, and one day, my problems, too.
Last October, I sat on my hotel room floor, sobbing. I was in Michigan to record an audiobook, but I was also in the middle of writing a new 10,000-word essay while revising an old 12,000-word one. I had also started teaching a series of workshops funded by a museum back home, and I offered language and composition tutoring sessions on weekends. I had agreed to do it all at once because I needed to meet my personal freelance goals and because, as it is in the arts, everything felt like it was now or never—tomorrow nobody might ask about what kind of work I could do for them, how my art could benefit their mission or vision, how my story/ies could fill a void in the cultural conversation they are trying to steer. I was also a working millennial mom, which meant I was as sleepless as new moms, in more debt than older White moms, and I worked like a horse as most people under the age of forty do, but without the luxury of weekends or weeknights or brunch or generational wealth like the latter two often enjoyed.
Add to all that the fact that I was Brown, the confusing kind of Brown: Was I Vietnamese? Thai? Latina? Making friends in a predominantly White city was deliberate at best, but more exactly put, it was exhausting because I constantly had to explain who I was, what I was, why I did or didn’t do things. And, because I wanted my daughter to be familiar with our Filipino heritage, I took her to events, activities, and restaurants that were 30 to 120 minutes away from our home.
It took a flight to the Midwest to make me realize how fatigued I was. I was pulled out of the routine I had taught myself to power through, and there, on the pilled Holiday Inn carpet, I curled up into a ball and cried with such desperation my neck veins popped out and my forehead felt fever-hot. My crying was ugly and loud enough to alert the room service attendant, who slipped a note under my door that said, Everything okay? I opened the door and ducked my head out into the hallway, and said, “Hello? You there? Thank you! I’m okay!”Making friends in a predominantly White city was deliberate at best, but more exactly put, it was exhausting because I constantly had to explain who I was, what I was, why I did or didn’t do things.
I closed the door and headed for the bed, where I hid under the comforter and used the top sheet to wipe my tears as I scrolled for my agent’s name on my phone. I called. He answered. “I want to quit,” I said. “This is too hard.” He laughed nervously. “We’ve been through this with book one. This is typical. You’re not really quitting.” “No, I really am this time.”
He listened to me explain why this is it, why I think I should go back to waiting tables or making candles. Then he said again, “This is typical. You’ll go through this again with book three.”
There will be no book three, unless it is a children’s picture book I can write in a week, I told him. Then I said only sadistic fools made a living writing their most painful memories, that the endless hours and mental rebound and emotional toll were merciless, that my daughter made more money per hour selling lemonade on a street corner. “I don’t wish this kind of work on anybody.”
He tried the usual response first, told me I was smart and brilliant and that I could make a reader think and feel, that my writing was brave but non-alienating, that my work was timely, resonant. He said we could ask for a deadline extension and a cut on the word count, and I said it didn’t matter, I was already beyond my threshold. I had run out of whatever it took to produce material that someone would not only want to read but also pay for. He said I was a bottomless well of stories, and I rolled my eyes and grumbled. When he felt like the agent-y answers weren’t having an effect except maybe pissing me off, he finally said, “Hey, I’m having a hard week, too, if that makes you feel any better.”
The rest of our talk then became about how excruciating the publishing industry was, how much we gave for the little we got. I asked him if he had been excited by a pitch or manuscript that had landed on his desk recently, and, with a sudden change in tone and energy, he told me about a novel, a work of investigative nonfiction, a memoir, a middle-grade book, and a book of literary criticism. He said he was going to Nebraska for a university-sponsored literary event, something he looked forward to each year. He blathered on about prospects and projects, and I put him on speaker phone. I unfurled from the braid of sheets I had wound around me in my writhing and sat up on the side of the bed as he continued to rave about his clients. He truly was proud of every one of us.
My phone started to buzz—a FaceTime call from my husband was coming in. “Hey, hate to stop you, but I’m getting a call from home,” I said. “Oh, yeah, of course. Take it. I’ll email you once I’ve renegotiated, okay?” “Okay. Thank you.” “Hang in there. Don’t quit.”
“Mama, when can I read your book?”
My daughter is referring to Monsoon Mansion, the book I began writing when she was born, the book that took six years to write, revise, and publish, the book that I basically raised alongside her. It is almost like a sibling to her. It shares physical space in her room—a row of hardcovers on the top shelf in front of her bed, and a box of paperbacks on the floor. When the book was still an accordion folder of drafts, it lived on an IKEA desk in the corner of the nursery, where I could be far enough away from the dishes, laundry, television, and—where I promised myself it would never interfere— the marital bed. As the book was being printed and bound, distributed and displayed, my daughter was learning phonetic sounds, silent letters, and some of the most commonly used words in the English language: I, am, is, are, the, want, to, be, a.
When we launched the book at the Charleston Library Society, my daughter wore her favorite purple sequined dress and greeted guests at the door. From there, I toured to places as near as Charlotte and as far as Oakland, with my daughter in the plane seat next to me and copies of the book and some autograph pens in the carry-on under the seat before me. At book signings, she sat on my lap and finished off my signature with a heart in glittery pink ink. The book’s epilogue, which I like to read from at these events, ends with a scene where she’s diving into a pool: “And she is shining, sparkling, gliding underneath the hot sun. . . .She has touched the dark waters ebbing from my past. With light. Of light.” She has heard me read these last lines out loud to different crowds, but she does not know the chapters that come before, what I was writing all along as she napped in her crib or in my arms.It’s hard enough to ensure the anonymity and privacy of family when you make a living writing about your own life.
“Mama, I said, when can I read your book?” When she is adamant about something, she juts her jaw slightly to the right so her upper front teeth do not line up with the bottom ones.
“You look like Popeye when you do that,” I say, digressing.
“Who is Popeye? And tell me when I can read it!” I tell her who Popeye is and that she should wait until she is ready to read longer works. I remind her that the longest book she’s read is thirty-two pages, with pictures. I commend her on how hard she’s worked on her reading this year. “Soon you’ll get to 50 pages, then 75, then the 200s. Then you’ll be ready for mine!”
“It’s nonfiction, right?” she asks, having just learned the difference between the genres. “It means it all happened in real life. You didn’t just imagine it.”
“Yes,” I say. And I think of why I wrote the book in the first place—to learn whether or not the images in my head were imagined, whether or not they happened, whether or not they happened to me. “I’ll write about my real life one day,” she says, plunging her fork into her bowl of pasta.
I make a suggestion to write about fairies, the ballet, mongooses, talking cats, or even bridges to neverlands. “You loved learning about bridges. You were so sad when the bridge unit ended. Maybe you can write something about them?” “Maybe, Ma.” She scoots off her chair and walks to our roller cart of art supplies for a pen and paper. She sits back down, shoves a forkful of pasta into her mouth, folds the paper lengthwise, and writes on the front: About Me.
My husband is away for work and will not be back for a few more days. My daughter has planted herself in our bed, which I like because I’m the restless, lonely sleeper type. It is why I cannot sleep at hotels and likely why I end up crying at some point when I am away, overtired and vulnerable. The dog, who is typically not allowed on our soft furnishings, has also been sleeping on the bed. He loves it so much, I have to carry him out the door for his last quick walk for the night. Comfortable now that I am surrounded by breathing beings, whose limbs all fall on some part of me, I fight sleep as it comes prematurely. Asleep before 9:00 pm means I’ll be up before 4:00 am, the worst time to be awake when you’re a nonfiction writer prone to anxiety and flashbacks.
I slide from underneath my daughter and dog and pull myself toward the little light above the stove. It shines just enough soft yellow across the kitchen counter and on one side of the dining table, and right where it ends, my daughter’s “book” rests. I sit down by it and trace the letters of the title with my finger, and I consider opening it but feel like I am prying. It’s hard enough to ensure the anonymity and privacy of family when you make a living writing about your own life. How much more intrusion can my daughter withstand? I think of that idea some more, how here, in her sleep, she has dreams I might never know about, and that’s a gift. She has pages she wants to fill, a rendition of the story that will not be mine nor ours, but just hers.
I think of how much exposure she’s had to the literary world, not only from having spent the majority of a year on the road with me and meeting editors and writers I swooned after for years, but also from climbing on my desk chair as I typed on the computer. I swatted her quick hands away from the keyboard as she tried to type jxbdteygcvjnpoigfhgmshl! into one of my chapters. At the playground, when she had found a friend, I dashed from the sandbox to the bench where my manuscript and red editing pen waited. When she was even smaller and still nursed, I wrote on index cards or spoke into my phone’s recorder as she suckled. I have clearly made the impression that there is something so captivating and marvelous about words that I made them my company, sometimes my sole company, through early motherhood. Why would she not want to try it, too? Her school believes that we introduce concepts to tease out what is already within. Here’s the tease; now what is within?
Is it because she was born in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where centuries-old oaks bowed down over the road when we brought her home for the first time? Or the cypress knees that she sees sprout out of the marsh and the egrets that perch on them? The oysters? We have fragrant jasmine, too, and magnolia thick with their recognizable leaves and history and memories.I whispered so many prayers when they expressed dissatisfaction, hoping my daughter would be protected from the damaging, White-aspiring, self-erasing, poisonous, postcolonial beliefs held by my family.
Or in there, in the hippocampus and the amygdala, which she recently learned the functions of at her progressive school, do less idyllic scenes reoccur? There was her birth, when everyone held their breath waiting to see who she would look like. My family hoped she’d have her father’s green eyes or at the very least hazel, and that she’d have skin that was fairer than mine. Filipinos love their lightskinned children. What a letdown it was for them, I remember, when I flew her to New York to meet family when she was not even two months old. They did say she was beautiful. But they also said, disappointedly, that her eyes were dark, her nose was small, and that she was not born with the one supposedly good thing Asian babies are born with: a full head of thick, black hair. My baby had a halo of wisps, and it was exactly that: a feathery ring of brown around the crown of her head but none on top.
I whispered so many prayers when they expressed dissatisfaction, hoping that she’d be protected from the damaging, White-aspiring, self-erasing, poisonous, postcolonial beliefs held by my family. I protected my baby, and myself, by seeing family infrequently and cloistering us in Southern living, a way of life that had been presented to me in magazines and other media as hospitable, comfortable, and at the time of my pregnancy, Instagram-worthy country-chic. My mother-in-law, ever gentle and genteel, became my source of comfort and safety. She prepared calorie-heavy casseroles so I could replenish my body after nursing and produce more breastmilk. She taught me how to put baby mittens on, how to correctly and swiftly wipe and diaper a newborn, and how to hold an infant with her belly flat on my forearm so I could burp her, shush her, and cook at the same time.
My mother-in-law also drove me around so that my husband’s relatives could meet the baby. And that was when another kind of seemingly harmless yet psychologically damaging dialogue began to surround us. They said my baby was so pretty because she was, in their words, half Filipino, which made her interesting or worse, exotic. The comment might have seemed like a compliment to my people and heritage at first, but I had repeatedly, almost routinely, received the same message from Americans since arriving here as a teenager. I know the subtext. When people say things like “Filipinas are beautiful” or “Filipinas are meant for beauty pageants” or “You’re beautiful because you’re . . . ,” what they are really saying, though they might not be conscious of it, is that we are useful in this certain way—in the way that unicorns, mermaids, and fairies are useful for fantastical lore. They sexualize and mythologize our existence so that fantasies and myth are where we exist—and only there. For as long as we are beautiful and magical and enchanted in these otherworldly, sexualized ways, we will remain outside their circles, their families, their spheres of comfort and familiarity. Para-normal, or outside of the norm. In other words, other.
Will it be these stories of otherness that will fill my daughter’s book? Will she write about the time a little blonde girl touched her elbow and asked, “Why are you Brown?” I was standing by the door, picking her up from a playdate, when the question was asked. My daughter, then six, thought for a minute and said, “Because my mama is Brown.” Then she looked at me and smiled, proud of her cleverness. I smiled back, but I didn’t want to have to. I didn’t want to have to affirm my daughter’s quick wit and thinking on her feet because soon enough, it will become repetitive, exhausting. She will have to come up with such responses to explain or excuse herself over and over again, while the other party will get away with being “innocent.” That was what the girl’s mother said, after all, that it was an innocent comment. I do believe that children are innocent, but situations and stations are not.
Every time something is made to pass as innocent, I ball a little fist inside my sweatshirt pocket because people keep giving other people’s children passes for their innocence, while they keep robbing my daughter of hers. When someone touches my daughter’s elbow or upper arm or hair, something is broken into and broken inside her. While I agree that children say the silliest, most unintentionally hurtful things, I do think that it is up to these children’s parents and their communities to teach them more honestly and comprehensively, to bring them in closer proximity to things that, to them, are distant and unfamiliar now but that can become frightening or alarming or worth calling the cops for later. I read a line from Glennon Doyle Melton’s blog once: “Fear can’t survive proximity.”
Where we live, my daughter is often the only proximity these other children have to Brownness, to Asianness, to her certain kind of otherness. I know many of them don’t want it to be so, but intention is never the point. Even snails have intention. Some scientists say even plants do, too. Action is what my daughter and I await and need.
My daughter and I, like these other families, can also opt for inaction, or antiaction, and hide behind our no-accent accents, behind the impression of celebrity and intelligence that my occupation gives off, or behind the fact that the other head of our household is a Southern, White male with multiple degrees. We can armor ourselves with our different rudiments of passability, from my knowledge of the English canon to the Scandinavian DIY feel of our home’s interior, or even our Christian roots, and misuse the sense of agency with which we either prop up other people of color, or step on them to get ahead or merely stay alive. Being Filipino can mean that we are in the inbetween of White and Black/Latinx. This is what scholars such as Elaine H. Kim have called racial triangulation, or the reality described as the Asian/Asian American having to choose between supporting Whiteness or unhooking from it.
In our life, it plays out as spending Saturdays at the mall that White families from my daughter’s school do not visit. At the mall, she jumps and climbs in the play area where five out of six children are of color. On Sundays, it means driving thirty to forty minutes north of where we live so we can go to a church with Spanish speakers, Asian congregants, and a pastor who is not only African American but also native to Charleston. Habitually and unprompted, my daughter says as she steps out of the car, “I like our new church. I like that I’m not the only Brown kid here.” I stay in the car for a few more seconds when she says this, locking in with me the air in which she spoke these words, sitting in it to let it marinate: My daughter says she is happy; what a relief. But she says she is happy here. How does she feel elsewhere?
After Sunday supper at the church hall, we drive another twenty minutes to the naval base so my daughter can participate in traditional Filipino dance and eat a merienda of pancit and ube ice cream from the commissary. When Monday rolls around, we are a little deprived of our culture and language, so we watch YouTube videos of Ruby Ibarra and Rivermaya.
When the Asia unit begins at the school, I volunteer time for a show-and-tell that includes not felt cutouts nor Google printouts, but hand-embroidered Philippine slippers, handwoven Philippine bags and fans, and cups of coconut water and mango juice imported from back home. I bring a stack of books that have Filipino protagonists or authors, and I tell the students a short anecdote about my life as a child. I tell them that hearing and sharing personal narrative is much more accurate, authentic, and inclusive than learning about a people through Wikipedia, the encyclopedia, or National Geographic. While I am not the first Asian or Asian-American parent to volunteer time in this way for the school, I am the first Filipino one. I offer to do it to give my country and daughter representation, and to see to it that the students understand that Asia is large and populous and diverse in culture, history, religion, and politics—that we are not all the same.
Most importantly, I do it for my girl. I do it so she feels mirrored when she sits crisscross-applesauce on the foam mat. I do it so she feels like she can do it, too.
At a school function, I ask another mother if she wants to raise funds for scholarships for students of color. I say, “Since our children go to a progressive school, don’t you think it’s worth asking who we are progressing?” She, who moved from New York and has the aspirations of someone who has lived in an international city, asks how we can get more children of color to receive the top-notch education our children get. I say that taking reparations and equity advancement seriously means more than just supplying the school library with “diverse” books, that it would take people like her writing numerous letters and making incessant calls to raise and allocate funds for students of color and their families—that the advancement committee would not only need to garner monetary support for tuition and fees for students of color, but also for their backpacks, uniforms, lunches, transportation, and the dollar equivalent of hours their parents or guardians will spend helping with homework or attending school events, and the dollar equivalent of the work hours lost when the school is on break or holiday and childcare is necessary.
When I help with after-school care, I walk to where the Mexican cleaning lady’s grandchildren are playing with vacuum cleaner attachments and ask if they want to play with the students. I call them by their names, just like I do with the matriculated kids, and I urge them to correct their new friends when their names are mispronounced. “CAR-los, not Cahr-lowes.”
When Friday arrives, my husband is beat from a week of work, and I am, too. But I am also tired from responding to Instagram messages from readers and online trolls—questions like, How can we make our local moms group more sensitive to the needs of children of color? or Do you feel like you post too much about, or go to too many, Filipino things? In late October, after my meltdown at the hotel, I do myself and my family a favor: I quit social media. When Thanksgiving comes around, I host a Friendsgiving at our place and invite only immigrant families. I serve them ensaymada, and I don’t have to explain what it is. I actually have a good, restorative holiday. I eat my sweet roll and even dunk it in my coffee. I chase it with a prawn cracker steeped in chili vinegar, and nobody winces.I tell my daughter I’ve always been a collector of information. “You learn a little about everything from being a writer.” She gasps and follows it by saying, “You can be anything!”
To live freely—does it not mean not having to explain?
Then why, after all the freedom I have tried to afford her, does my daughter want to become a writer? Why does she want to spend a lifetime telling people who, what, when, where, why, and how? Why does she want to expend her energy elucidating, illuminating, enumerating, justifying the existence of . . . all that she is? She can just be.
She can just be an engineer.
Engineers busy themselves with what is: A equals B, or this here is the cause of that effect there. This is this, that is that. Nobody questions, nobody messages on Instagram, nobody trolls, nobody stops her midmeal to ask what her opinion is on what is more important: racial unity or the environment? It is exhausting enough to be Brown in Whitelandia. For her sake, I hope my daughter chooses a career that will not leave her pried open for people who will salivate just to see her bleed. But I am being dramatic. Part of the job, too, no? Physics. I hope my girl studies physics.
I am almost out of activities the night before my husband returns from his work trip, so my daughter reminds me that she received an interactive world map on her birthday. We retrieve it from her pile of year-end hoarding. I open the packaging with my teeth, pull out the meter-wide glossy sheet, and try to read the instructions printed on the wrapper I had just ripped in half. Stickers fall out as my daughter unfolds the map, and we begin to understand what the interactive aspect of the map is all about: stickers of penguins, koalas, the Statue of Liberty, etc. are to go on their respective parts of the world. My daughter peels off a Matryoshka doll sticker and asks where it goes. I point at Russia. She does the same for a yeti, a baguette, a basket of pineapples and macadamia, and so on. I tell her where they all go. “Mom, how do you know all this?” she asks with big eyes.
I tell her I’ve always been a collector of information. “You learn a little about everything from being a writer.”
She gasps and follows it by saying, “You can be anything!”
I don’t know what she means, but I don’t ask. I keep stickering, placing landmarks and indigenous wildlife and plants where they belong. She keeps gasping and says, “. . .and find Amazon birds . . . and climb the Great Wall . . . and cross the London Bridge . . . and train capuchin monkeys . . .” We finish marking the map, but her gleeful waffling does not end. She jumps onto her bed and bounces. “Anything! Anything!” she shouts. “Monday, a scientist! Tuesday, a pilot! Wednesday, an artist! Thursday, Mary Poppins!”
She jumps and exclaims this nonsense she is proud of for several minutes more, then she plops on top of her sheets like a splat of slime. I splat out next to her, bulldozer over her legs, and say, “Friday, a construction worker paving a road!” When I am on the other side, she plows right back over me, and we go back and forth, turning it into a game.
“Time-out, Mama,” she says, making a T with her hands. “I’m tired.”
“Okay,” I say, and I brush her hair away from her face and study the beads of sweat forming on her nose. I blow them off. I kiss where they were. I thank God for time alone with her, and I think to myself that this should be the only way, and reason, she should ever tire.
Excerpted from Malaya by Cinelle Barnes. Copyright © Cinelle Barnes 2019. Reprinted with permission from Little A.