Excerpts for Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything


Chapter One: The Best Thing About Immigration

The best thing about having a cousin come from another country to live with you is everything.

Ruby liked the parties. When Flying Duck and her parents emigrated from China to Ruby's house, there was one celebration after another. Every day felt like a birthday.

Ruby liked the noise and excitement. Before she got up in the morning, she could hear grown-ups talking in the kitchen. The telephone rang all the time. The doorbell worked overtime. Everyone wanted to meet the newcomers.

Ruby liked being a tour guide. FlyingDuck and her parents had come from a small rural village. Everything in their new American city was strange and fascinating, especially the places on Ruby's tours. They loved to pose with many ordinary things that they thought were extraordinary. Like ferries. And seagulls. GungGung's car. A parking meter. A meter maid. A meter maid scribbling in her notebook. The convictorange parking ticket on GungGung's windshield! Ruby snapped a hundred pictures.

Ruby liked her uncle. He was an expert bike rider, just like Ruby. Once he carried a giant refrigerator on his bicycle. And he had the photo to prove it. Ruby liked her aunt. She was a mah-jongg master before she became an immigrant.

Ruby loved mah-jongg. It was like playing cards, only noisier. And it was very addictive.

"The best way to get to know someone is to live with them and play mah-jongg with them," she told Ruby in Cantonese. Every evening she'd put on a little Chinese music. And serve up a bowl of pumpkin seeds. Then they'd play mah-jongg.

Ruby liked the buddy system. Ruby was Flying Duck's Smile Buddy at school. Smile Buddies were responsible for helping a new student feel welcome. Smile Buddies were friendly and loyal and helpful. They were courteous, kind, and cheerful. They knew the times of lunch and recess and the locations of the bathrooms. They introduced you around. They made everything less scary. Ruby had waited her whole life to be a Smile Buddy.

SMILE BUDDY, said the big, bright yellow grin pin on Ruby's sweater. Ruby wore every day. She was now as important as a crossing guard. And she adjusted it often, just to make sure it was still there.

Show-and-tell improved quite a bit. For nine days straight, Ruby showed UtterPrincess, a hyperaction heroine from China that was a gift from Flying Duck. Ruby carried UtterPrincess with her wherever she went, and in her original box to keep her pristine forever.

"UtterPrincess!" Ruby would say, holding up her box so that everyone could see the doll through the plastic window. Ruby turned it this way and that, as if she were holding up a gem and showing off every facet.

"She swims and speed-reads and speaks five languages," Ruby liked to say. But most important of all, UtterPrincess looked like Ruby and Ruby looked like UtterPrincess.

Soccer improved quite a bit too. It was kiddie soccer, so there was no uniform. You could wear whatever you wanted. Usually everyone tried to look like a soccer player in shorts and a T-shirt. But not Flying Duck. She put on her pink socks, pink sneakers, pink shorts, pink shirt, pink belt, pink pinky ring, and a pink headband with very large pink flowers that jiggled when she ran. Boop, boop, boop. It was Flying Duck's favorite outfit, and she always felt better when she wore it.

Why didn't Ruby think of that? Inspired, Ruby pulled on her green frog-leg tights, green glow-in-the-dark-see-you-a-hundredmiles-away sweater with asparagus-stalk arms and matching asparagus tips on the head that also jiggled when she ran, but not too much. Woomp, woomp, woomp. Wow. Ruby once hated soccer. But now she loved it, loved it, loved it.

But the absolute best thing about immigration was Flying Duck herself.

Flying Duck was a source of endless fascination for Ruby and her friends on 20th Avenue South. In many ways she was more of a curiosity than even the110-year-old mummified man at the World Famous Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, the best souvenir store in the whole world right there on the waterfront, a mere fifteen-minute drive from Ruby's house. The mummy, next to the cabinet full of shrunken heads, had a bullet hole in his stomach still shiny with blood, but Flying Duck was an entire foreign country unto herself.

She ate one-thousand-year-old eggs for breakfast.

And one-hundred-year-old eggs for lunch.

She could read backward from right to left.

And hold her breath for forty-two seconds.

And play mah-jongg past bedtime without falling asleep.

But that was not all.

She could ward off evil spirits up to one hundred feet with her special jade pendant.

Even better than that, Flying Duck could do something nobody else on 20th Avenue South could do.

She could lip-read.

Lip-reading is a very useful skill. It comes in handy when you want to watch TV, but the TV is supposed to be turned off. And it comes in handy if you are outside looking in and your parents are inside talking about you.

Flying Duck could speak and lip-read Cantonese. And because she had gone to English school in China, she also knew a little English.

Flying Duck was lip-reading even before she went to the Taishan School for the Deaf, where she had learned another amazing thing: Chinese Sign Language.

Flying Duck had been deaf for nearly half her life. When she was four years old, she fell off the roof of her house where she had gone to "inspect" the tasty peanuts that her mother was drying in the sun.

"I burst my skull," Flying Duck said in Cantonese. Then she signed it, tapping her head and making a burst of fireworks with outspread fingers behind her ears. Ruby's neighborhood friends, Tiger, Christina, and Emma, did not understand Flying Duck. But Wally did. Wally was from Hong Kong, and he was fluent in Cantonese.

"She burst her eardrums," Wally translated.

But the best part of the story...and Ruby knew exactly how to tell it...was..."The whole village thought she was dead."

Everyone gasped. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to anybody on 20th Avenue South.

Ruby and her friends were quick to learn their first Chinese Sign Language: wiggle the thumb at the knuckle, it means "thank you." It was easy now for even Oscar and Sam, the babies on the block, to remember their manners. They wiggled their thumbs at everything.

Flying Duck was very pleased.

And Ruby was very proud. Flying Duck was just perfect. Having a cousin from China who was deaf was as good as having a cousin who had a third eye in the middle of her forehead.

Copyright ©2006 by Lenore Look

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