Chinese geisha dolls“She’s suffering from depression,” my mother tells me carefully. We’re sitting across from each other and she’s brewing the coffee. I settle for a cup of black tea and nod absentmindedly.

Her name is Kelsey, and I have not met her before. “Have you met her before?” I ask my mother. Her back is to me, and she’s spooning sugar into a glass container.

My mother hesitates. “Just once.”


She replies with a sigh. “We pray for her at church. She’s twenty-two. Maybe you can be friends.”

The doorbell rings. My mother takes her apron off and wipes her hands hurriedly on her pants, rushing to the door. I follow behind, curious.

Kelsey is short, with long hair and dark-rimmed glasses. She’s biting at her lips and her fingernails are long. She steps in through the doorway nervously and glances around our house briefly. I smile at her but she avoids my gaze entirely. My mother smiles and ushers her in.

“My daughter,” she says, pushing me towards her. “She’s twenty, around the same age as you. Her name is Michelle.”

We exchange nervous, small smiles. An awkward silence follows, before she wanders away. Some things catch her eye. A China doll. The green, unscented candle we keep on the kitchen counter. She makes her way to the bookshelf and peers curiously at one of my books, tucked carefully away. Eager to spur on conversation, I reach out to slide it forward and offer it to her.

“Does this interest you? Would you like to take it home?”

Surprised, she raises her eyes and meets my gaze for the first time. “Would that be OK?”

I smile. “Of course.”

Taking the book out of my hands, she pauses. “My English is not very good.”

“That’s OK. You can speak to me in Mandarin if you’d like.” I pull out a chair. “Do you want to sit?”

She does, wordlessly.

Another strange silence passes. In an awkward attempt to start another conversation, I ask, “What do you like to do?”

She shakes her head. “I’m not good at many things.”

“But what do you like to do? What do you do when you have time?”

“Nothing, really. I don’t have friends.”

I’m perplexed. Just a little bit. “Aren’t we friends?”

She’s startled. Her glasses slide down a little on her nose. “We’ve only just met.”

“But we could be friends,” I point out. “I’m willing. To be your friend. I’ll be your friend.”

Kelsey bites her lip. “My English isn’t very good.”

“That’s OK.”

“And I… sometimes, I don’t want to get out of bed.”

“That’s OK, too.”

This time, she looks me straight in the eye. “I dropped out of school.”

It looks like she has something else to say too, so I wait for her to continue. My tea sits by my hand, untouched.

“I was educated in Hong Kong and then I came to Canada. I spent a few years of middle school here and then I went back to China. But things were difficult for me, and I didn’t know how to make friends. I didn’t even know how to keep up with the schoolwork. My Chinese is not good, and neither is my English.” She looks at me. “Do you understand?”

I nod. “I’m listening.”

“My doctor said I need to see a therapist. I don’t feel good about myself, and I’m always anxious. But being by myself is lonely. I want company.”

“I can be your company.”

Kelsey stops. “Am I strange?”

I blink. “No, of course not.”

“Do you think I’m strange?”


She twiddles her fingers in her lap. “Are you sure?”


“Do you have many friends?”

I think about this for a while. “No, not really,” I admit.

She doesn’t seem to understand. “You don’t?”


Kelsey stares at me.

I smile. “But I’m OK. And you are, too.”

She looks down at her lap. “I’m not in a good place,” she whispers.

“I know. And that’s OK.”

“I have many insecurities.”

“That’s OK, too.”

“Are you sure?”

Her voice is shaking, and I pull her into a hug. Her face tucks into my shoulder and her arms wind around me in a brave attempt to hug me back. “I want you to be OK with who you are. It’s OK not to be OK, you know? It’s OK to be sad. I want you to feel comfortable doing things you want to do.”

Kelsey sniffles. “I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning.”


“I didn’t feel like coming.”

“But you’re here.”

She pulls away slowly and looks at me. “I guess,” she admits.

I laugh. My mug of tea is cold now. When I stand up, I ask, “Are you OK?”

And she… she laughs, too.

by Michelle Ma

image: Chinese dolls via Shutterstock