“Didn't you ask for scrambled eggs?” Jackie keeps his head down and murmurs timidly. His pimple-filled forehead is soaked in sweat and his cheeks blush from this embarrassing moment like a freshly-washed apple.
“I’ve said it a million times I want fried eggs! And how dare you talk to me like that?!” The man stares furiously at Jackie. Beneath a pilling cardigan, he is wearing a plain white shirt. The Rolex watch on his left wrist seems to be a vintage one but carefully maintained. The diamond ring on his index finger has suffered from several deep cuts.
Jackie hears the man pacing towards the door and saying that the next time he does some-thing this stupid, he’s fired. He walks like an aging leopard. Slow yet firm. Jackie is left in the room alone, embarrassed.
“Don’t forget the talent show is tomorrow.” A muffled voice yells.
The fleeting sun paints the New York skyline afar in orange, scarlet, and a hint of light blue. The golden sunlight splashes onto a sheet of paper, dangling on the whiteboard, titled “Annual Talent Show Performance List.” Jackie walks towards the paper and discovers his name on the top: Jackie Lee, violin performance. He feels a churning in his stomach. Why the hell does he has to go first? How is he going to play in front of hundreds of sharp-tongued coworkers?
The mid-summer breeze brings in the tantalizing scent of from the Chinese restaurant nearby, a place Jackie now rarely goes as he often orders overcooked pasta and cheeseburgers like everyone else does. He’s always shocked to realize that in just three years, he has changed from a college rebel to a mindless copycat. Jackie lights up his last cigarette, inhales, exhales, and watches the smoke slowly fill up the cubicle — sometimes he wishes he could just disappear like a puff of air.
Through the window, Jackie sees the man who yelled at him earlier having a cigarette on the balcony alone. He decides to talk to him about the talent show tomorrow. Jackie steps onto the wide-open potholed balcony. Intimidated by the previous rebuke, Jackie gently taps on the iron door to gain his attention. “Hey Mr. Lee, sorry for disturbing you. I was wondering if we could talk about the show tomorrow.”
Jackie holds his breath, waiting for a response, but Mr. Lee takes another smoke with his back facing Jackie, remaining silent. Seeing no reaction, Jackie asks if he could be taken off the list tomorrow. He continues to explain that he hasn’t played violin since losing the competition in college and was humiliated in front of the crowd by his family. Jackie stutters and meticulously squeezes out every word, trying to not enrage the man standing in front of him. He knows him too well.
Mr. Lee still does not speak a word. He takes time to finish the cigarette and tosses it down the balcony. “You are just like your mother. A quitter.” He says at last. “You are going first tomorrow.” Mr. Lee leaves without acknowledging Jackie.
Strips of clouds extend to the end of Liberty Island, painting the patina statue in lavender. Like a group of well-trained ballerinas, a row of wild geese skims across the sky, shuffling into a V-shaped form as the leader speeds up and the rest follow behind. These creatures drift in the darkening sky like waves advancing to the shore. Their high-pitched honking sound so dreamy and free, as if asking Jackie: “when shall we set sail for happiness?”
Jackie takes a deep breath — he better gets home before the sun sets. The bow still needs to be rosined.