The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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I interview my mother over Skype. My mother has short black hair with gray strands of wisdom, sharp eyes, and an even sharper mind. This snippet is the beginning of a chain of events that will catapult my mother from the paragonic student/daughter into an independent worker, teacher, business woman, and finally university student like she always dreamed of (and yes, in that order).

The offer came in a letter. Unexpected. No explanations. Ahn-ling rocked back on her heels, wringing her hands as Baba skimmed the piece of paper. His face betrayed nothing, and the only reaction he offered was a rasping hmm.

“Canada?” Mama asked, reading the letter over Baba’s shoulders. “That’s so far away . . .”

Ahn-ling paced the perimeter of the reception room, which felt oddly quiet without the usual flow of customers. Baba had shut down the tea shop early when she’d burst in, envelope clutched in her hand and babbling about scholarships and college. 

“It’s the Canadian sister school to my high school,” she explained. “They’re willing to fund my tuition.”

“But still,” Mama murmured. “Canada. Why can’t you be happy with a Taiwanese university, baobei?”

Ahn-ling grinded to a halt, shoulders sagging at the melancholy in Mama’s voice. She was her parents’ only daughter and the youngest of the four siblings. Mama and Baba held a special, soft spot for her, and leaving the country would drive a blade into that tender place. But the thought of staying drove a blade into Hsueh-ling’s own heart.

Baba folded the cream-colored paper and placed it on a table. “When did you apply for this? I’ve never heard of a scholarship like this--it seems too good to be true.”

“Uh, well, I didn’t apply,” Ahn-ling said. “It’s based on test scores. My school picked the top students for this opportunity.”

He rubbed his chin, thinking. A frown lined his face. She could practically hear the worries rushing through his mind. Is her English good enough? Is Canada safe? We don’t have any family overseas!

“My friends received the offer, too,” she hurriedly reassured. “I think they’re going to accept it.”

“What if it’s a scam?” Baba asked.

She blinked. “What?” 

He shook his head, the corners of his eyes creasing. “Fully covered tuition? At an expensive university? That you didn’t even have to apply for?”

“Baba!” The back of her throat tightened. How could he think the offer was fake?

Baobei, baobei.” Mama wrapped a warm arm around Ahn-ling’s shoulders. “What’s wrong with a Taiwanese school? You have top marks--you’ll be accepted into any university you want.”

Ahn-ling’s chest twisted at the thought of four more years of rote memorization and recitation, where the only thing that mattered was the final scores stamped on the exams. She loathed it. Despised the mechanical and uninspiring educational system implemented throughout the country. Just because she was good at something didn’t mean she had to like it.

She closed her eyes and drew a shaky breath, clinging onto the dream of attending the Canadian school. 

“I’ll think about it,” Baba finally declared, but there was a reluctance running through his voice.

She snapped her eyes back open, hope flaring its wings within her. 

“My uncle works in the Ministry of Education,” he continued. “I’ll ask him what he knows about this offer.”

She let out a relieved sigh, grinning. “Thank you, Baba.”

He replied with a heavy smile.

Mama wordlessly hugged her tighter.


***Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people***

The Letter

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Late 1980's
Taichung, Taiwan

I interview my mother over Skype. My mother has short black hair with gray strands of wisdom, sharp eyes, and an even sharper mind. This snippet is the beginning of a chain of events that will catapult my mother from the paragonic student/daughter into an independent worker, teacher, business woman, and finally university student like she always dreamed of (and yes, in that order).

Decade: 1980s
Rating:
Recorded by Athena Chan on December 8, 2019
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