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1st Prize Winner (Group II) - If I Miss…

April, 2016
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IF I MISS…  

“Daddy, come on!” I used to shout impatiently when the tantalizing smell of burritos hovered above me. Back then, as a four year old living in my home town of San Ramon, I would often run as fast as my short, stubby legs would carry me to my favorite fast food restaurant.  Surrounding the eye-catching red pepper logo would be the bold white words: Chipotle. My dad would help me push open the heavy door and I would bounce in and shout, “Ms. Vicky! I’m here!”

Ms. Vicky was a nice lady. She had fair hair that was always tied in a neat bun on the back of her head. Her big, sparkling blue eyes twinkled and stood out on her rosy cheeks when she would make my burrito.

“Same thing again, dear?” she would ask me.

“Yep,” I would reply, and recite what I wanted, “Pinto beans, cheese, cilantro lime-rice, and of course, guacamole.” Licking my lips and jumping up and down with excitement, I would watch with wide eyes as Ms. Vicky put all of my favorite fillings into the burrito.

“Here you go, honey,” she would hand me the burrito calmly. I, however, would not be so calm. The shiny tinfoil did not stop its mouthwatering smell from drifting into my nostrils. Nearly grabbing it from Ms. Vicky, I would sit down on a chair and devour it within seconds.

I simply loved burritos. 

On my last visit to Chipotle before my family moved to China for my parents’ job transfer, I asked Ms. Vicky with a mouthful of beans and rice, “You know I am leaving soon, right?”

Ms. Vicky nodded her head as I continued, “If I miss burritos in China, what should I do?”

With her usual sweet smile she replied, “If you miss burritos, keep this cup with you,” she bent down behind the counter and took out a Chipotle paper cup, “this will remind you of home and burritos.”

Puzzled, I took the cup and said farewell.

Now, I am in China.  I find myself as a fifth grader, slumping in my seat, with my head resting lazily on my hand. The memories of me as a little kid happily eating burritos fade in and out of my mind and evoke a twinge of melancholy in me, as I look at the Chipotle cup I have kept on my study desk. I read thestory again that had been printed on the cup.

Written by Lois Lowry, my favorite author, the story gives an account of a girl who misses her dead dog, Jake. She put his collar under her pillow every day, until one day the collar gets taken out and strapped on a starving stray dog that she adopted.  

*  *  *

“Daddy! Please stop!” I begged my dad.   

The car tire squeaked to a halt on my way back home from school beside a small food stall. My eyes just couldn’t leave what the people I saw were eating. It looked just like a burrito. Without hesitation, I blurted out to my dad, “Can I go buy that burrito?”

My dad chuckled, “They’re not burritos, they’re Chinese Crepes!”

“What are Chinese Crepes?’” I asked.

“You can regard them as Chinese burritos,” he replied.

“If I miss burritos, can I go eat a Chinese Crepe?” I asked.

“Of course, go out and try a Chinese Crepe,” he replied.

I leapt off the car and expected a tantalizing burrito smell to come swirling into my nose, but none came. Instead, there was an unfamiliar smell of something crisp and crunchy.

 

As I noticed who was selling it, I became a bit uncomfortable. The owner of the food stall was nothing like Ms. Vicky. Her grey hair was tangled and untidy, her apron was splattered with food and sauce, and her black beetle eyes were hidden behind a face of wrinkles.

Uncertainly, I walked a few steps closer to the stall. Just when I was about to recite my list of fillings for the Chipotle burrito, my jaw dropped. There were no black beans or cheese, and most important of all, no guacamole! Replaced, were several brown crackers, sliced onions, black bean sauce and chili sauce.

All of my excitement of eating a Chinese-styled burrito drained away.

Sensing that I was a new customer, the lady started to introduce me to all the fillings in a surprisingly soft, pleasant voice. Recovering from my shock, I could see that behind all the wrinkles, were a pair of amiable eyes that strangely reminded me of Ms. Vicky from back home.

“By the way, you can call me Aunt Wang. So, what would you like?” she inquired with a warm smile.

I replied, “My name is Elena, and I’ll try everything.”

“Alright, Elena.” She said and she began making the Chinese crepe.

I watched in amazement as Aunt Wang tipped a spoonful of batter onto a round skillet. The steam was floating out, gust-by-gust into the air.  As the skillet rotated, the batter turned to a pale yellow, round, flat pastry.

Then, she cracked an egg and spread it evenly on the pastry. In the blink of an eye, she flipped the pastry over, tossed it into the air, and landed it exactly on the skillet. While the color of the pastry turned from yellow to an appetizing brown color, my mouth began to water.

After spreading some brown sauce, Aunt Wang sprinkled some sliced onion on the pastry. At last, Aunt Wang reached out for the thing I had been keeping my eye on for the whole time: a brown cracker. Sticking it in with all the other fillings and folding it, she handed it to me in a plastic bag.

“I hope you like it,” she said, with a bright grin across her face.

“Thank you, Aunt Wang!” I took the plastic bag and unwrapped it, the smell of oil and crisp getting stronger and stronger every second. I was tempted to gobble it down into my stomach that very minute. I took a large bite. The greasy pastry filled my mouth, and the crisp cracker touched my tongue. I closed my eyes and gasped, “mmm.”

When I finished, I knew there was only one thing missing. It was guacamole.

“Ding! Ding! Ding!” the school bells rang, signaling us that school was dismissed. I leaped out of my chair and sprinted to where Aunt Wang’s food stall stood by the street.

The tantalizing smell of the Chinese Crepe filled the air as I shouted, “Aunt Wang! I’m here!” 

She saw me come and waved, “Elena! You’re back!”

As I got closer, I swung my backpack off my shoulders and unzipped it open. Rummaging inside, I took out a plastic snack box, freshly made guacamole inside.  

“What is that?” Aunt Wang asked, curiosity filling her eyes.

“Back in America, we put guacamole, this, into our burritos.” I answered, pointing to the mushed avocado. “Do you mind if you could put this in the Chinese crepe?

“No, not at all.” Aunt Wang replied, “Same as yesterday?”

“Yes, please.”

 “Alright.” Aunt Wang said as she started doing yesterday’s process all over again. When the cracker was added on, she coated a thick layer of guacamole on it.

Aunt Wang handed the crepe to me. The smell of fried cracker drifted into my nose again. But this time, there was another natural and fresh smell lingering along with it. The smell of buttery guacamole.

I lifted the crepe to my mouth and took a large bite. My teeth sank through the soft pastry, the tasty sauce, the crispy cracker, and eventually, the fresh creamy guacamole.  

“Here’s a tip for adding guacamole inside,” I said and added one Yuan to the bill.

From that day on, I visited Aunt Wang’s small food stall every week as if it were the store back in the States. We sat on the edge of the street, eating Chinese Crepes with guacamole, laughing and mingling.

I simply loved Chinese Crepes with guacamole.

On my last visit to Aunt Wang’s small food stall before my whole family returned to the States, I asked her after munching on my Chinese Crepe, “You know I am leaving soon, right?”

Aunt Wang nodded her head as I continued, “If I miss Chinese Crepes in the States, what should I do?”

With her usual wrinkled warm smile she replied, “Come tomorrow and I will make the last crepe for you.”

* * *

Now, I am back in the States. I find myself lying on my bed, staring out the sun-lit window. Birds swoop playfully throughout the tree branches. The breeze blows through the open window, and kids’ laughter echoes throughout the street.

Streams of unbidden memories in China flood uncontrollably into my head, dancing vividly in my mind. Those of when I first met Aunt Wang, and those of how we had become unbreakable friends. I stare at an object beside theChipotle cup on my mahogany desk, a glass jar.

The glass jar is filled with Aunt Wang’s handmade one Yuan lucky stars. On the jar, I feel as if I see a reflection of Aunt Wang’s wrinkled smile.

 

By Elena Jiang,

10 years, International School of Beijing

 

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