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TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 35

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Cindy’s Visit Home

The first thing Cindy and Danny had to turn their attention to, when they arrived back home after their honeymoon, was the impending birth of their child. Cindy bought books on childbirth and rearing; she made Danny read them. They went out and bought a crib, a stroller, baby clothes, toys and other accoutrements. No parents are fully prepared for the birth of their first child, but Danny and Cindy were as ready as most; and if Danny was not quite as enthusiastic as Cindy, he at least acknowledged that his life would now be changed in major—and, he hoped, positive—ways.

There remained the problem of Cindy’s estrangement from her parents—indeed, from her greater family. The intensely clannish Wu and Chin families (Gladys’s maiden name was Chin) stood by the doctor and his wife; it was a shame, the elders gossiped amongst themselves, that Cindy had become so westernized, and had turned her back on the ancient traditions; and even the younger generation, Cindy’s cousins, who might have been expected to side with her, didn’t.

Cindy felt their shunning. One night, shortly after she’d left her parents’ home, she’d phoned her cousin, Lily, with whom she’d grown up; the two were close in age. Lily was abrupt and cruel. “Why are you doing this to your parents?” she asked a startled Cindy. “What am I doing?” “You’re hurting them. They raised you; you have an obligation to them.” Cindy had hung up in anger.

It was a situation she did not wish to continue. She was willing to take the first step to end it; obviously, she would have to swallow her pride, but that was okay. But her parents would have to meet her halfway: accept Danny, and accept the coming baby. One night, a Thursday, after finishing her Lyft stint, she stopped by their house. She had no appointment; driving past, she’d seen the lights on, and their two cars parked in the garage. Knowing they were home, she made a spot decision.

Mrs. Wu answered the door. When she saw he daughter, her face registered nothing; except for the slightest of nods, she might have been a mannequin. “Who’s there?” Cindy heard her father inquire, from the unseen living room, where the T.V. was on. “Our daughter,” Mrs. Wu replied. Cindy heard the familiar sound of her father arising from his easy chair, the small groan of oak planks as the floor received his weight, the flap-flap of his slippered footfall. Then he rounded the corner that separated the living room from the front hallway.

Mrs. Wu seemed to vaporize into the shadows, as she always did in the presence of her husband. There the three of them stood, frozen in a three-sided tableau: the doctor in his slippers on the Persian rug, Mrs. Wu wringing her hands, and Cindy, still at the top of the front steps, her black hair glinting yellow in the harsh front-door light.

Dr. Wu said, “Well, at least come in.”

There were no pineapple buns this time. Cindy got straight to the point. She was sorry, she told her parents, for any grief she had inadvertently caused. She wished to reconcile; her coming child would need its grandparents, and indeed the greater family. For her part, Cindy added, she had done nothing wrong, except to fall in love with a white man.

“And get pregnant out of wedlock,” Dr. Wu sneered.

“Yes, papa, I did,” Cindy retorted, “but we’re married now. It’s not the worst thing in the world.”

“It shamed us,” he went on. “It shamed your grandmothers.” Both Mrs. Wu’s mother and the doctor’s mother were alive, the former living in San Francisco, the latter in a retirement home in Hayward. “At Kaiser, people ask me how my daughter is doing, and I don’t know what to say.”

“Tell them, papa, that your daughter is expecting your first grandchild, and how pleased you and Mrs. Wu are.” Dr. Wu just grunted.

There was no resolution—no happy, hugging moment of reconciliation and closure. Cindy stayed for twenty minutes, Mrs. Wu barely opening her mouth the whole time. Finally, there was no more to be said, by anyone, on the topic. Cindy reached into her purse, took something, and held it out in her mother’s direction. “These are pictures of our wedding, mama, and a few from our honeymoon.” It was a small silver-embossed album. “I thought you might enjoy them.” On her drive back to Castro Valley, she found herself weeping. She could not know that her mother also was shedding tears. Only Dr. Wu remained stubbornly defiant.

* * *

Meanwhile, Devon Camber’s star was rapidly rising. He formed a sort of alliance with the more moderate members of the City Council, and also with the second-term Mayor, who saw in him a political ally and, truth be told, possible successor. He marched with Oakland Unified School District teachers when they went on strike, and received widespread publicity, all of it positive. When a tragic fire broke out in the district, in a crowded bar, Devon was there as firefighters battled the blaze; interviewed live on T.V., he demanded better inspections on the part of authorities. He drove his own Prius convertible in the city’s Pride Day parade, and when the Warriors won another N.B.A. championship, he rode on a float in that victory celebration. He weighed in on national issues; Trump, he declared on May Day, was a hateful racist, who had to be turned out of office. He seemed to be everywhere at once, delivering messages that resonated, elevating his profile. Now, when he walked the streets, he no longer was anonymous. “Devon!” people cried out: he had become another one-name celebrity, like Beyoncé and—yes–Obama. He enjoyed this new status tremendously. But it did require re-evaluating his relationship with Flambé.

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