"I know. Especially when I'm excited. I'll try to speak. . .more. . .slowly." She winks at him.
Ushman smiles. It is true that she speaks quickly, but he has understood everything she's said to him. He wants to prove this.
"There must be something that lasts. Something that is indelible," Ushman says.
"Not that I know of. But I will let you know if there's anything in the next lecture to give us hope."
"Please do. Now," Ushman says with authority, "let's get some take-out food and watch the eclipse in Queens."
"Take-out Fantastic. Can we get Chinese?"
Ushman nods. She's like an exuberant child. If she weren't so charming, so wide-eyed and genuine, he'd be suspicious of such enthusiasm.
"In the little white cartons? I love that. My parents aren't fans of Chinese food, so we never got take-out when I lived at home. This- you, here, Chinese- is the beauty of leaving home," she says with genuine affection.
"Indeed," Ushman says, imagining the freedom she must feel. Ushman never left his parents' home. Not until he came to America. He never lived in Iran without the dread of his mother around every corner. Even when he was a newlywed, when his mother was confined to her bed, she was still there. Her smell, her voice coming at them through the dark, her hair that had to be brushed. "I never. . ." He starts to tell Stella this and then changes his mind. "I never ate Chinese food until I came to New York."
Stella looks at him. He senses that she knows it is not what he was going to say. She looks away from him, out her window, as if she isn't interested in anything inauthentic.
"It's true. Okay, one time in Istanbul there was an old man selling egg rolls from a cart. I was with my father and he bought us each one." He recalls eating the exotic treat out of waxed paper as together they watched oil barges lumber down the Bosporus.
"A little greasy, but good."
"There's a Chinese place on the corner across from my dorm."
"I know," Ushman says, remembering her face through the big glass window and the boy she had hugged. "I mean, I saw it when I picked you up."
"The crazy thing is that they also have fried chicken, hamburgers, and club sandwiches on the menu. Who goes to a Chinese restaurant for a burger and fries?"
"I find it very suspicious. There should be a police investigation. Maybe sociopaths are identifiable as those people who order burgers at a Chinese restaurant."
Ushman laughs. "But the proprietor puts it on the menu. They shouldn't make the offer."
Stella raises her eyebrows. "Now you're onto something. We can blame it on insecure restaurateurs. They are the sociopaths."
Ushman laughs. "Maybe. It is worthy of study, right?"
"Absolutely. Does your Chinese place serve American food?"
"No," Ushman says. "Not even soda. Only tea."
"I like the tea you made. With sugar cubes between our teeth."
"I am happy to make you tea."
From The Rug Merchant by Meg Mullins. Chapter 10, pages 117-121 of the hardcover edition. Copyright Meg Mullins 2006. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Viking.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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