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How to Make a Crab
The sun knew what I did. The sky knew what I did. The tables knew what I did. And the chairs. And the backpacks. Summer was spying on me.
The month was July. Year 2015. I was 8. The sun massaged the blacktop and the trees in the courtyard, and little inklings of light played peek-a-boo on the windowsill. The Sunflower Summer School churned with excitement—in the halls, kids were laughing and hollering and screaming with each other. Like always, I was sitting in the corner of the bright yellow classroom, at a four-person table surrounded by empty chairs, and reading a novel avidly. Suddenly, Jerry, a boy with a buzzcut, a toothy smile, and a bright red t-shirt, skipped into the room, surrounded by countless friends. In his hands lay a giant book that he could barely carry. Overlooking me, the cluster of kids gathered at the center table, setting their backpacks on the ground and chatting loudly. While Jerry and his three closest friends sat down in their seats, others stood behind them, trying to include themselves in their conversation. I glanced at Jerry’s book to read its title.
“Or-rih-gah-mee Ex-truh-vuh-ganzuh,” I sounded out in my head, my eyes steady and determined. Origami?! My eyes lit up, and I remembered the countless times I’d seen my Yi create paper cranes for me. I always admired how the cranes would spring to life the moment she finished the last crease, how majestic they appeared, each a different color, sitting on my table and socializing with each other.
I watched as Jerry opened the book to a page titled “How to Make a Crab.” My heart spiked with excitement, and in less than a second, I decided that I not only wanted a crab but needed a crab. My whole body pulsing with desire, I tapped my foot impatiently on the ground and carefully set down my book.
C’mon, c’mon, go ask for a crab. Go ask!
In the next few minutes, Jerry’s friends left him, and he stayed behind, sitting alone and gazing at his book. Mustering up courage from somewhere deep inside me, I rose from my table, approached him from behind, and asked in a nice, quiet voice, “Hey, can you make me one of those?” pointing to the geometric, strawberry red crab printed on the glistening page of the origami book.
Jerry’s head whipped around to gaze at me, and his doe eyes lit up large for a second.
“I can try!” he exclaimed, turning back around. As he tried to follow the instructions, I stood, staring down at him intently. He folded a random piece of paper around, tilting his head confusedly as he could barely understand the English words in the book.
Ben dan, I thought. The words meant a less-than-friendly thing in Chinese, its literal translation being “stupid egg.”
And behold, less than thirty seconds later, Jerry dropped the paper and said, “Don’t know how.” He shrugged, as if he didn’t care at all about my desire for a crab, stood up from his seat, and ran outside. I stood, completely still, staring at the book, and with a sort of anger that felt awfully familiar, I waited patiently for a few other kids to clear out of the room.
Then, finally, I was alone.
My eyes transfixed on the book. I couldn’t force them to stop.
EYES! STOP! NO NEED FOR A CRAB! I yelled to myself. The air conditioner churned on, and distant yells of happiness rang from the courtyard.
Like any other good, studious girl, I knew I shouldn’t steal, but temptation was burning at me. I bit my lip and shakily stepped forward.
Suddenly, the crab was the only thing I could see.
I twisted my fingers together nervously, imagining all the crabs I could have. Crabs that would spring to life the moment the last crease was finished. How majestic they would appear, each a different color, sitting on my table and socializing with each other.
They could be the friends I never had.
It’s not stealing.
It’s not stealing.
I squeezed my hands into fists.
You can do this.
I took the book, walked to my table, and shoved it into the center compartment of my backpack carelessly. The petite yet sturdy school backpack was the prettiest one I’d found while digging through my family’s closet of old things, but its blue, purple, and green tie dye design was now fading. As I quickly forced the zipper closed, it jammed on strands of the backpack’s fabric.
And it’s not stealing because I’ll return it tomorrow! I’ll just bring it to Yi, and she’ll read the instructions and know how to make me a crab! And I’ll have as many crabs as I want.
This intense satisfaction overwhelmed me, so I felt no guilt.
I grabbed my novel, and without looking back once, I sprinted away from my crime scene to find another quiet spot to read.
When class resumed, the first few minutes were peaceful, and I breathed in a sigh of relief. I would get away with taking it, and everything would be okay. I even forgot about the book all together until Jerry popped out of his chair, in the middle of Teacher Huang’s lesson, and cried out, “Where’s my origami book?!”
I froze mid-breath, and a quiet thumping suddenly arose inside of me. I could hear it in my ears. Jerry’s head darted side to side frantically, as everybody stared at him, and he began to pout.
“Are you sure you left it on the table?” Teacher Huang asked, her eyes focused on Jerry as she walked from the whiteboard to the center table.
“YES! It was right here!” he replied, pointing to the exact spot where he left it. His eyebrows raised. “Someone must have stolen it!”
I sunk into my seat, and head thumping in my ears, I grew smaller with fear.
“Well, who was the last person in the room at break?” Teacher Huang asked, tired but patient.
It was me, I thought, horrified, expecting someone to remember.
But no one spoke up. And for once, I was thankful for having no friends, for being invisible.
Jerry would not let Teacher Huang resume the class. He wanted to search and keep searching, so that’s exactly what he did. While he interrogated others, I glanced down at my bag over and over. My vision began to blur, the lights becoming stars, and the thumping was growing louder and louder.
What should I do? What should I do? What should I do?! Maybe I can wait until tomorrow morning and come really early and put it on the table, and Jerry will find it magically there, waiting for him. But, will I last through today? Maybe I’ll quickly take it out of my bag right now and put it under the desk and everyone will think it must’ve dropped. But, everyone would see me do it. I need to wait for a time when they’re distracted.
My clammy hands slowly reached toward my bag.
As I looked down at the zipper, I tried to shake my head until my vision cleared.
Suddenly, one of Jerry’s friends pulled his backpack open to show Jerry that he didn’t steal the book.
“See, Jerry? I promise I didn’t steal it!” he claimed, loud and confident. “We can check every bag in the room!”
Startled, I immediately lifted my hands from my backpack.
Oh no. They’re gonna pat mine. They’re gonna find me. I’m being expelled. I’m going to jail. I wanted to cry. I didn’t know what to do with my feet or my hands or my head. I didn’t know how to not look suspicious so that they wouldn’t check mine next.
Everyone can see through me.
Everyone already knows it’s me.
I blinked, thinking of my mom.
Her powerful voice echoed in my mind, “Stealing is the worst thing you can do, Bei Bei, but I know you won’t do it. You’re my guai hai zi.” Guai hai zi—good child, one who listens to her parents and never sins.
You’re smart. Get out of this. You can’t risk them exposing you red-handed. Get out of this, now. Think of something.
“Wait!” I cried out, the sound of my own voice startling me, and the interrogations simmered down into silence. My face felt red, and my neck was burning, as if I had willingly shoved myself into a flaming hot pot.
Countless eyes stared at me.
What have I done? What have I done? What can I do now? They’re going to kill me!
Trembling, I quickly ducked my head under the desk. Time seemed to stand still. The thin fabric of my backpack wrinkled as the cold metal zipper slid open with a long hiss, not catching on any loose strands this time. In the darkness of my backpack lived that exceptionally large book. I reached my hands in, gripped the smooth sides of the hard cover, and harshly pulled it out, bringing it towards my chest into a hug and then placing it on the wooden table. Brushing my long, brown hair out of my face and curling my feet like snakes around the chair, I looked up and faced the cold eyes of Jerry. I gestured to the book and pushed it closer to him.
It had become eerily quiet.
No nothing. He grabbed it quickly.
I switched my glance to Teacher Huang, feeling the burning in my nose that happened whenever I was about to cry. The world blurred as if I was about to pass out when I began to tell my story. Because I could not just give up there. I wanted a taste of innocence.
As I spoke, I became shakier and shakier.
“It wasn’t me! T-there’s this girl … she framed me!” I said loudly. I could barely even hear the words coming out of my mouth—I could barely even feel my mouth moving.
Teacher Huang's face morphed into shock and confusion as she asked more questions about this make-believe girl.
I continued to run my mouth, “She used to bully me every day. She would come to the courtyard and jump the fence and mess up my hula hooping and laugh at me.”
“Does she attend this school?” Teacher Huang asked, her voice more steady than mine.
Without blinking, I immediately continued, “No, no, she lives nearby probably, but she always bullies me, and she must’ve come in here and taken Jerry’s book and stuffed it in my backpack. She framed me!” I felt both pride and shame for creating the horrendous story and stitching it with lies. The two feelings fought each other relentlessly. The pride came in as a breath of fresh air, and the shame, as a steady layer of sweat on the back of my neck.
Well, my mother also told me never to give up.
I glanced around the room and saw shocked faces. Jerry’s mouth hung open as he clung to his book.
“Who is the girl?”
“Are you okay?”
I was shocked.
They all believed me.
Then, I heard a voice above the rest. Teacher Huang said nicely yet firmly, “Linda, come with me to another room.”
Oh no. I stood up and trudged slowly to the dark, empty room next door, my classmates’ eyes following me out the door.
There Teacher Huang waited for me, a sympathetic smile plastered on her face. At that moment, I was ready to cry. Now that I was out of that room, I was ready to burst into a fit of tears that I’d held back for too long, but still I couldn’t.
Teacher Huang patted the seat right beside her, and I sat down slowly. I looked her straight in the eyes.
“So, is that real … or did you take the book?” Teacher Huang asked, leaning in toward me. Her eyes widened, and she seemed more curious than angry.
I tapped my foot on the ground, so quickly that my whole body almost began to shake. I could feel my cheeks waiting for tears to trickle down, but I kept them waiting.
Finally, I squeezed my eyes shut and then shook my head in defeat.
“It’s not real,” I admitted, whispering in her ear. “I took the book. But, please, whatever you do, don’t tell my mom, okay?”
“Okay, I won’t tell her. Let’s go back,” she whispered back, patting my back. No lecture. No yelling. No disappointment in her face. Teacher Huang was nothing like my mom. She didn’t care about what I did—about what kind of person I was. At best, she was probably amused that I had made up that whole story on the spot.
I trailed behind her as she walked back into the classroom, her heels clicking on the floor. When I entered the room, everyone stared at me, but I couldn’t meet their eyes. I didn’t deserve to meet their eyes.
That day passed slowly, like a terrible nightmare.
To this day, the words “How to Make a Crab” are ingrained in my mind. I like to think of the words as the voice of my conscience, reminding me that it’ll always be there, constantly shaping me into a guai hai zi.
A good kid.