Felix was lying on his back, holding a book open with only one hand. Another story about a girl, a guy, and the best friend who looks on. His or her job is to smile and wave as the main pair find happiness, thereby accomplishing their purpose for existing: to help the hero or heroine out of a tight spot, and to deliver the 'listen to your heart' pep talk. Felix lowered the book and shut his tired eyes in a disappointed frown.

Casting it aside, he gets up from the unmade bed and stretches. "Yo, what's to eat?" He asks his roommate, Jacob.

"I think I saw half a bag of fries over there at the table." Jacob replied, wearing a bright green and yellow T-shirt, playing Xbox.

"Ugh." Felix said when he found it. "I think I'm gonna go outside for food."

"See ya." Jacob said as the door closed, eyes never leaving the TV screen.

Felix pulled down the edges of his shirt as he shut the door, still a little groggy from lying down so long. He walked slowly down the dormitory corridor, the view through the windows showing afternoon, and a very sunny one at that. There were some people standing in the hallway, including girls who obviously spent the previous night here in the all-guys dorm. "Hey." He said, acknowledging a high-five from a guy he knew but can't quite remember. "Derek!" He suddenly remembered his name.

"Yeah." Derek said, a grinning six-foot giant, his tank top bursting with the outline of his muscles. "Good game yesterday."

Felix smiled back, trying to remember. Oh right, the drunken match of football after the frat party. He remembered Derek had gone back to the dorm afterwards with two girls. A blonde and a dark-haired girl with strange eyes. It's funny how he couldn't remember anything about the second girl, except her eyes, which seemed to glow with a tinge of green. Maybe it had been the beer: he was pretty drunk when he saw her.

But right now Felix was just hungry, it felt like a void was threatening to eat him from the inside out. He asked his stomach what it wanted. Pizza? Sandwich? Soup? It rumbled in its response. Soup it is, he thought.

We are drawn to the familiar choices, he thought. Pizza sounds delicious, but after all it is soup that his mom used to make for him back home in Malaysia. Soup with pork bones and peanuts and lotus root. The delicious stewed chicken meat that seemed tasteless at first, but whose flavor can be restored with a dab of soy sauce. Chicken feet, bird's eye chilli, soy sauce, lotus root, and herbal soup. These were the things he missed most studying here in Arizona.

But pizza here was better than the pizza back home by a huge measure: it had more of everything be it meat, cheese, or flavor. Even the pizza sauce had notes of oregano and bay leaf in it, something you would never find in Malaysia. He had come here in April, and a month later he met May, the sweetest Asian-American girl you could ever find in the entire state of Arizona. Her family was equally happy to discover that their little May was dating a nice 'Chinese' boy from Malaysia, a country where they too had roots. They officially got together six months later with her parents' blessing.

But within that six months, they had broken tradition in a variety of ways. For instance, being with May was like eating the pizza here: it was much more than anything Felix could have imagined, coming from a conservative nation like Malaysia. But now he was dealing with her moodswings, and her insistence on attending Girls' night out every week at Club Reflex, dressed in a manner that neither her nor Felix's parents would ever approve. Felix was wondering if he himself was too old-school, too conservative compared the the highly liberal and loose culture in America.

He hadn't yet told his own parents about May, but in the last Skype call he had casually mentioned that it was his girlfriend who went with him on a trip to the Grand Canyon. His parents hadn't raised any questions over the remark, but he had a feeling they were just waiting for him to bring up the topic.

The cafeteria was out of soup, or so the Hispanic cafeteria lady said. That was one detail that made Arizona seemed a little bit like home: the food workers here were nearly all immigrants as well. But it was still strange for him to spot the occasional white janitor or sanitation worker, since whites were treated like kings in his home country. Felix bought a slice of pizza instead, wondering what his parents would say if they knew he had been eating pizza for five straight days. They'd kill me before my pizza diet does, he thought.

There were no cooking facilities on campus, and the use of any cooking appliances and utensils in the dormitories is strictly banned. Yet, his parents still insist on sending him packets of Chinese soup formula and dried herbal remedies that promised to aid his studies. They also emailed him addresses of grocery stores in Arizona that sold 'Asian' rice, as in rice grown in Thailand or Indonesia. Probably because sending rice by mail would cost them a fortune, and Asian families were always sensitive about cost. In fact, if it wasn't for the scholarship, Felix would have been forced to stay in Malaysia and study business or law in some local institution.

Perhaps life in KL wouldn't have been so bad, he thought. Maybe he would've made it as a junior law associate, or a office drone pushing sales for some bank or big multinational corporation. Life was not that good there, but at least it was easy. It was easy to keep your head down while everywhere, dirty money changed hands. It was easy not to speak up. Here in America, even the most minor of issues sparked a protest or demonstration. Here, speaking up was all you did because you were expected to do it. It is considered the civic duty of every citizen to speak up when they see something wrong, to step in to prevent discrimination or harassment. Which was both good and bad. It also meant you had no secrets.

At that moment, Felix's cell phone rang. It was May. "Hello?" He answered.

At that moment he flinched as the earpiece broke into a series of sharp yells and expletives, punctuated occasionally by the words "ho" and "idiot". Now he remembered why the black haired girl seemed familiar. She had gone back with Felix after the party at first, before finally deciding to join Derek and his blonde girl in their room. All Felix did was say goodnight and goodbye, and all he had been doing was having a friendly conversation with her.

But evidently news has reached May, who is now furious, and there is probably no hope of Felix clearing this up on the phone amid her angry shouts. Felix smiled and half-listened to her ranting, half-imagining how this would have gone down if they were all in Malaysia. Probably not much different, he thought, except he would be apologizing on his knees at his girlfriend's doorstep right now. Finally, because he wasn't in Malaysia, and he was in Arizona, Felix hung up the phone halfway through the call. Because he can.

 

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Published by Viktor Tey