Good morning and Happy Friday! Today I’m delighted to share an extract of Happy Families by Julie Ma with you, as part of the blog tour!
Three generations, two secrets, one extended family . . .
Amy is thirty-four and has just given up her glittering career in the big (Welsh) city to move back in with her grandfather, returning to work in the small-town Chinese takeaway where she spent her bookish and boring childhood. Why? That’s a secret she won’t tell.
Just like the secret of why her grandfather, Ah Goong, and her father, TC Li, haven’t spoken to each other in thirty years. Weirder still, they’ve lived in the same small flat about the takeaway for the majority of those years, with Amy’s mother Joan acting as their unfortunate go-between and buffer.
Now Amy’s parents have moved, leaving her in charge of looking after the old man. But then Ah Goong collapses in the street and Amy realises time is running out if she wants to play happy families again . . .
‘Ay yah, what are you doing here?’
Lisa leans forward to give my mother a kiss and Mum’s shoulders rise up to touch her earlobes. All this physical affection must be the style in Lisa’s family, but I know it’s something my mother has only just learnt to tolerate.
‘We thought we would come and see how you’re get- ting on,’ says Ray. He has his hands in his grey trouser pockets and is rocking himself backwards and forwards on the balls of his feet. ‘And to check if you want a lift to the hospital to see Ah Goong. Visiting hours don’t start until six thirty so there’s no rush.’
‘Can you stop that fidgeting?’ snaps my mother. ‘Of course I want to see him. Who else is coming? If your father comes as well, do you think your wife would mind helping Amy look after the shop for a bit?’
We’re talking about Lisa as if she’s not here, in a language she doesn’t understand. It seems extremely rude, although it isn’t meant to be. To be on the safe side, we all take great care not to look in her direction in case she twigs. She doesn’t seem too bothered. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see she’s produced a tube of lip balm and is fish-puckering her mouth while applying it. It’s mesmerising, like watching a cat washing its face.
‘I’m sure she could do, if you like,’ Ray replies.
‘Are you having a laugh?’ I interrupt. ‘Dad’s not going to want to visit.’
I don’t know what’s come over me, blurting it out like that. Perhaps it’s the thought of being left in the shop with Lisa to help me out. I’m sure she’s great at picking out an ISA, but in this line of work she’s as much use as a toddler helping you with the washing up. Basically no use at all and just as likely to break something as clean it.
‘Why wouldn’t he want to come?’
My mother turns and glares at me. Ray flashes me the look.
You dared speak on the unspeakable matters, it says to me, leave it alone.
Sorry, my eyebrows reply, cheekbones flushing.
Luckily, Dad appears in the doorway leading out from the kitchen. He nods to us and Lisa starts forward to give her usual kiss and hug greeting but I spot Ray’s restraining hand on her arm and my brain does one of its turns of thinking in Cantonese, not English.
Sei gweilo sing. Bloody western ways.
‘Ay yah! What are you doing here?’ he asks.
‘Well, I work here,’ I reply. ‘I live upstairs.’
‘Not you.’ Dad turns his attentions to Ray. ‘Do you want to take something back with you?’
He means for their dinner. Dad’s a feeder. Food = love.
‘Not tonight. We were just coming in because we’re
off to visit Ah Goong in hospital and wondered if you or Mum wanted to come with us.’
My mother beams at Ray’s pretence that we’re a nice, normal family.
Dad has turned to pull some of the day’s earlier orders from the lethal looking spike on to which they have been skewered, and starts shuffling through them.
‘Well?’ my mother asks.
‘Hmmm? I don’t have time now. The Prawn Man is coming at seven to take the order.’
Every Wednesday, a rotund Taiwanese man comes from that well-known fishing port of Wolverhampton with his frozen van of shellfish to fill the orders that power a thousand chop sueys, chow meins and curries filled with the familiar apostrophes of protein.
‘Well then,’ says Lisa in English, turning towards Ray, ‘it looks like it’s just you, me and your mum then.’
How did she work that out?
Happy Families by Julie Ma is published 18th February 2021 by Welbeck, priced £8.99 in paperback original. My thanks go to Megan Denholm, ED PR and Welbeck for the invitation to the blogtour.
Until next time!