Volume 33, Number 4

What Comes in Threes

Rina Olsen

The curt clicks of hard-soled shoes penetrated the distant hum of traffic. “Ching-chong.

A jolt ran through me. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a middle-aged man, dressed in a simple white shirt with faint grease stains on the front, oversized trousers, loafers. He wasn’t too close, maybe a distance of ten feet, but it was enough to make the hairs stand on the back of my neck. His gaze was trained on me, flinty pieces of shrapnel. I whirled and continued my morning walk.

“Ching-chong. I know you heard me.”

The sweat from the beating morning sun was suddenly a cold glaze on my throat and limbs.

“Come on, boy. I can tell you’re afraid. I’ll beat you and kill you, I can do that.”

It was just our two footsteps beating in dangerously calm harmony on the street.

“You yellow people are disgusting. You’re stinkin’ up this country.”

I sped up and crossed the zebra crossing towards the gas station on the other end. His shadow joined mine, off the light gray sidewalk and onto the black pavement.

“I know you can hear me. You’re not fooling anyone. Go back to where you came from, Ching-chong.”

My pace wobbled to a halt and I pivoted. My insides turned to frigid jelly, my bones going rigid and stubbornly urging me to keep going, but I ignored everything and opened my mouth. My vocal cords futilely strained to keep my words: “Where do you want me to go? I was born here. Just like you.”

All this time he hadn’t stopped walking, and he didn’t stop now. “Chink. Don’t compare me to you, chink. I’m gonna murder you, I can do that. I’m gonna—”

When his shadow touched my foot I turned and ran for the gas station. Inside I could see the cashier peering out the large glass windows at us, pausing in the act of wiping down the counter. As I neared the station his footsteps grew fainter, but I didn’t risk a look back. My heart pounded in my ears as I swung the door open and staggered inside, a whoosh of AC cooling my already cold sweat. The cashier resumed wiping the counter like nothing had happened.

I went up to the counter, my sneakers squeaking on the recently polished floor. “I’ll have a BLT sandwich, please.”

She didn’t even stop or look up. “We’re out.”

“Oh… then I guess a grilled cheese sandwich.”

She dropped a paper-wrapped square onto the counter, and I forked over two dollars, grabbed the sandwich and went to a table to eat it. I stole a glance out the window as I unwrapped it. The man was gone. The zebra crossing bore no sign of any altercation that had happened two minutes ago, just the slant of the sun that dyed the white paint gold.

The door swung open, and the piece of sandwich fell out of my mouth as I whirled. It was a young woman, decked out in tight workout gear, large sunglasses perched on her nose, long blonde ponytail trapped under her visor cap. Her sneakers squeaked louder than mine had when she approached the counter. “BLT sandwich.” Her voice came out brisk and breathy, like she had just gone for a long run.

The cashier brought out a paper-wrapped square and placed it on the counter. “That’ll be a dollar-fifty.”