Letters by Kenny Mah

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Red eggs

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January 25, 2014

Hey you,

It’s not often someone would make red eggs for your birthday. In fact, as far as I know, it’s mostly reserved for a first month celebration or a first birthday. Not when someone turns thirty-five. But I’ve been wrong before.

My friend assures me it’s not a lot of work. Hard-boil a couple of eggs and dip them in red food colouring. “This is why the eggs are still wet,” he says, the shells a rich shade of dripping blood. Blood is life; it’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t remind me of horror flick gore or vampires having a nice bit of neck sandwich; the colour red is full of life and hope and possibility.

Of course, red birthday eggs are a Chinese tradition, so the colour mostly means prosperity and wealth and abundance. We are a people who are afraid of scarcity. I’m fortunate to have always had food on my plate and a roof over my less than ambitious head, so count me grateful. I don’t need red eggs to remind me of that.

It’s nice to have a birthday so close to the Lunar New Year. It’s propitious, surely. Our home is rather bare this year; we have a dish of mandarin oranges and a vase of last year’s pussy willow (the stalks covered with hard buds, their shells still intact) but not much else. We need to put up some decorations, gold ingots and horse-shaped ornaments; we have to get some beautiful red packets to put crisp, new notes in; we ought to get some red calligraphy paper with auspicious sayings written on them in stark, black ink.

Come to think of it, red eggs are supposed to get their colour from being smeared all over with a wet piece of red calligraphy paper. The results are the same; the colour comes off and stains my fingers crimson as I peel the eggs. You tell me to pause; you want to take a photograph. Twenty minutes later, there are scraps of eggshell all over the table and my hands look as though I’ve murdered something bloody.

“Okay, you can eat the egg now,” you tell me.

I stick my tongue out at you. I no longer complain when you turn an impromptu supper into a photoshoot. It’s what you do. It’s what we do together: the cook, the hand model (both me) and the photographer (you).

The peeled eggs are still moist and covered with gentle arteries of pink. Like a web of life, full of fortunes to be told. Shall I try to read these lines?

That’s silly, of course. Eggs are meant to be eaten. I flatten them with a fork, add mayonnaise, freshly ground black pepper and a dash of shichimi tōgarashi. You tell me I’ll get fat eating this late at night. I stick out my tongue once more. You laugh.

There is no scarcity here in our sparse apartment for we have an abundant home, and a very full and good life.

Yours always and always,

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