Yen snapped the pumpkin-leaf stem in half. There was a dull pop as the air inside the hollow stem was momentarily pressed and released, much to her satisfaction. The snapped edges were clean, which meant she had done a thorough job of pulling off the stringy veins on the stem’s skin. When stir-fried, the empty stem would wilt and trap oil, fish sauce, tomato juice and pieces of garlic, tasting deliciously sweet. Yen used to pick them up one by one with her chopsticks when the serving plate was almost clean. They were so flat, small and straight that they were easily missed by her family’s impatient chopsticks. But to Yen, it was worth the effort.
The air con hummed loudly in Yen’s kitchen. It was blindingly bright outside, and the plants in her little back yard looked sad. Yen still had not stopped feeling sorry for the trees here, battling for most of their life in this dry ancient land. It was so unlike her hometown, where nothing would die without showing some lush green first. She missed the vibrant greenness of every waking minute of her childhood. Back then, even when she closed her eyes at night, the incessant calling of the bamboo belt around her little house would remind her of their emerald aliveness. Her birthplace was impregnably green, and she had always felt desiccated in this new homeland.
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