May, Not Mei

I don’t know how to file a missing person’s report. She didn’t ask how I knew the Chinese words for thank you, shrimp dumpling, or bill. I know a few things about May. She was not in Party or Cleaning Supplies. What is spoken does not always come true. She spilt a little when she poured the tea. I don’t know where she lives. She was down every aisle faster than I could keep up with her. How she never tried to set us up. She asked me if it would “pay off” so many times that my wells of patience dried up. She scoffed: Too bougie. I looked up from swiping on my phone down an empty aisle. We decided to say goodbye over dim sum. Or 90s. How he could never keep a job. I walked right up to an empty register and took the store walkie-talkie (which looked just like the ones on the bus) and said,
“May, this is Rachel. ¤
Rachel Will is a mixed-genre writer with interest in autofiction, queerness, and sticky metaphysical situations. I walked outside. The off-brand Aveeno hand lotion she gave me for Christmas. “What do you mean?”
“One dollar for the waiter and one for the busboy.”
I told her I would take care of the tip. The bus driver didn’t even ask where my friend was. The cashier gave me a shrug like this happens a lot. She works as an aide at an elementary school in mid-Wilshire. Please come to register three.”
I waited. I said from inside my head. Then I repressed the memory when she told me her daughter always pays for her. On the last day of the semester I am disbursed $2,684 for teaching an undergraduate class. I imagined that she spelled her name “Mei” in the Chinese tradition, meaning “plum blossom.”
The senior Metro ID that dangles from her neck reads “May.”
She found it difficult to grasp that I was leaving Echo Park for grad school. I ordered it, didn’t I? Salty-sweet Chinese candy wrappers that line my bag. Her retired husband who drives them to Costco on Sundays. She grabbed a green cart equipped with a tall metal rod to prevent theft. I don’t know her last name. She wore a bejeweled shirt that said “Fun and Games.”
I don’t remember what I wore. I was not telephoned by the police. She threw shade at NBC Seafood as we drove down Atlantic Blvd. 
“Not good anymore.”
She read the Cantonese side of the menu and I read the English. Her area code is 213. “We didn’t even get the egg tarts!” she would say. Her eyes seemed to say, “She’ll come back.”
That’s the funny thing about when people talk through their eyes. She told me to tap-tap the table when more tea was poured as a thank you. SEPTEMBER 23, 2018

Our relationship is early morning selfies before the 200 bus. “You like roast duck for breakfast?” An accusation more than a question. I start my grad program and think of her less. Greeting cards, art supplies, sunscreen. I watched the line of traffic go in and out of Costco from the curb the next day. I said, “Sure.”
“Can we go to the Chinese market?” “Sure.”
“Can we go to Chinatown to the egg tart place I go to after church?”
“Let’s start with the Dollar Tree.” I said. Sometimes I would smile and make eye contact. She has a mole on her cheek with a hair growing out of it. We don’t talk about how her adult son lives with her and her husband. Or 2000s. We don’t talk about the fact that I’m gay. We don’t talk about what it was like to live in Echo Park in the 80s. “We have Chinese banquets and then we leave each other,” she told me. And another. “We only miss each other in our hearts, that is the Chinese way.”
She also told me that sashimi burritos are Chinese food. But no one put up missing person signs. “Can we go to the Dollar Tree?” she asked. When she smiles her eyes crinkle up to meet the sun. Hours later, my chest constricting under a sheet, I started to think about her adult son. Then another. “Tip two, right?” she said. It’s OK, I’m not selling anything. I suggested Elite Restaurant. When the bill came we agreed to split it without a fight. After two hours I left the store and went home. When Monday came I was convinced that as soon as I walked up to the bus stop May would be there, scolding me for leaving her.