“I Was Confused and Just Wanted to Know”

By James Yeh, originally published in Tin House (2012)

Out on my bike near my apartment I passed a group of boys standing at a crosswalk.

Fuck you, ching chong chang, one of them shouted.

Halfway down the street I decided to turn back around. I was on my way to work, but work could wait. When one of the boys saw me pedaling back toward them, he tapped the others and they straightened their backs and turned their faces away.

Hey guys, I said, pulling up to them. How’s it going?

It was him, said one of boys, the fattest and tallest boy, pointing at the smallest one. Though they continued to look at me, the fat one and the others quickly crossed the street, leaving the smallest one by himself, with me.

How’s it going, I said.

The smallest one smiled in a sarcastic, fixed way.

How’s your bike, he said.

It’s fine, I said, making an effort to stay calm and adult-seeming. Why are you yelling at people? I was confused and just wanting to know.

I’m not pissed, I added, but when I said it the words felt strange, as if I were exaggerating, or performing a kind of role.

Continue reading in Tin House.