One slurp after the other, the tongue glided across the roof of his mouth. Katya inwardly cringed at the sound of the noodles being sucked in in an almost ritual like manner. She stiffened a little, unnoticeably, as Naoki methodically pulled in the remaining few noodles in his bowl and got up to place it in the sink. They had been eating a typical bourgeois Japanese curry based soup served with a generous portion of udon noodles and sautéed, succulent pork, all garnished with a sprinkling of chopped scallions. She had tried pork chops for the first time. How exquisitely multipurpose pigs are! Bacon, pork chops, pulled pork, ham – so many options. The girl thought of her father, who insisted on expressing his belief in Zionism ardently but only in the comfort of his own home in a southern enclave of Brooklyn, NY. He refused to eat pork chops because they weren’t kosher yet he ate fried kielbasa with great zeal. She had tried to extricate whatever logic was behind that decision and failed. She peered up at Naoki. He was casually leaning over the sink – as if in contemplation about whether or not to face the stack of dishes which had been piling up incessantly since his mother left to Paris a few days ago. Her gaze drifted across the whole room as she observed the objects she had seen plenty of times within the past two years. Somehow, she never ceased to marvel at the beautiful intricacy of the Shintoist objects and the traditional, stone bowls varying in sizes and color patterns. She couldn’t even understand the rushed necessity of slurping up noodles like the “Japanese businessmen who have very limited time during their lunch breaks but crave piping hot soup noodles” do.
Observing Naoki’s profile, Katya remembered the conversation she had with her mother earlier that day. Her mother had questioned her attraction to Asians for the countless time: “Katya, I don’t get it. What do you like about Asian features?” This constant questioning was really vexing. The superficiality behind her mother’s question was mind boggling. It was as if her mother genuinely expected her to give a breakdown of why she preferred Oriental features to Caucasian features. It was ridiculous. Katya considered just shoving the phrase “yellow fever” down her mother’s throat. Not yellow fever like the virus which so many people had succumbed to in the early 20th century but the modern term for a constant attraction to Asians. Yellow fever didn’t even apply to Katya. The only other boy she had dated who was even partially Asian was half Japanese half Brazilian, but he was barely in touch with his Japanese heritage.
Naoki still had not started washing the dishes. She contemplated asking if she should help and decided not to. She always washed the dishes whenever they cooked food. Let him do it this time. What was he even thinking about? He seemed so lost in one of his frequent daydreams. She got up and walked over to the bookcase in the living room – such a varied assortment. The manga collection stood out most to her. She never found the appeal in them, in a bunch of anime characters. Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon were cool back in second grade. She sorted through the lowest shelves, filled with fashion books of Issey Miyake’s collections. Katya loved fashion and always longed to be in Naoki’s mom’s place when she flew biannually to Paris for Fashion Week. What else lined the rows of the shelves? There was a lone Nicholas Sparks novel which Katya didn’t regard as literature worth reading past preteen or at best teenage years. The novels lining the many bookcases in her house were so different. She remembered her childhood favorites: Cheburashka, Krokodil Gena, Zolooshka. Her parents’ collection of novels sprawled the shelves. Katya’s love for Lermontov, Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Bulgakov had been evolving since middle school. Would her children read their works later? Would they even speak Russian at a remotely decent level?
She turned around and noticed that Naoki had decided to save the dishes for another time and was now spinning the handle of a knife between his thumbs. What an extraordinary habit that was, Katya thought; always playing with a knife. Always making one feel, too, frivolous; empty-minded; a mere silly chatterbox. Katya amused herself with the idea that perhaps this really was an art form he had inherited from his samurai ancestors. Whether or not he even had samurai ancestors neither one of them knew. Her grandfather thought himself to be quite the comedian each time he asked her: “How’s your samurai?” Perhaps it was funny the first few times, but Katya knew that he looked down on her relationship with Naoki with disgust. It wasn’t enough for her to be happy with someone she found to be an intriguing person and an excellent companion. No, she had to find a good Jewish boy. She must have gotten caught up in her own musings, for she was startled upon hearing “Katya, are you okay?” “Hey Katya, let’s go outside,” he said, already heading towards the doorway.
What a lark! What a plunge! The air of Park Slope was no longer dewy and had begun to blossom with the onset of afternoon. Katya had always felt more at home here than in the gentrified Brighton Beach her friends preferred to establish their domain in. Not as much of a hipster oasis as Williamsburg further north, Park Slope had just the right amount of young moms with cute little kids in strollers heading to Prospect Park, the occasional Rastafarian, older Chinese grandmothers, etc. It was nothing like Katya’s Midwood neighborhood filled with Orthodox Jews or her grandparents’ Sheepshead and Brighton Beach neighborhood filled with ostentatious former Soviet grandmothers. She could too easily guess what those grandmothers thought upon seeing her with Naoki. The two of them were an odd sight in a neighborhood like Brighton Beach; Naoki stood out with his shoulder length dark hair and lack of both Jordans and a baseball cap. Like her grandfather, the grandmothers probably questioned why she was stooping beneath herself. She couldn’t wrap her mind around what reasoning they had for making such a claim. Were they serious when they shoved their rhetoric down her throat about preserving the purity of a race? These were the children and grandchildren of the very people who had been killed in the Holocaust by the Nazis because Jews could stain the purity of the Aryan race, and now these people were reiterating the same nonsense.
“Naoki, want to go to the park?” she asked. He nodded his head in agreement. Strolling down 7th avenue, she liked to imagine them in the future. What if they stayed together through college and ended up getting married? What would their lives be like? She grasped Naoki’s hand tighter. A family passed them. The mother looked Oriental, maybe Korean, and the father was white. Their daughter was absolutely adorable, and the family seemed to exude an aura of effortless bliss. If they could do it, why couldn’t Naoki and Katya?
Elizabeth Levitis, Age 17, Grade 12, Stuyvesant High School, Silver Key