The Yellow Umbrella
 by Yafei Hu
translated by Michelle Yu
and L. James Hammond
Yafei Hu 2002
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Amei had two shiny black pigtails. Her large brown eyes twinkled above her rosy cheeks. The apple-green corduroy jacket she was wearing had two delicate flowers embroidered on the collar. Her blue pants were old and tattered. She knew how to take good care of her own things; to dirty a new pair of pants on such a rainy day was simply out of the question. She took her school bag off the hook behind the door, paused uncertainly for a moment and started towards her parents’ room.

“Mom, can I take the black umbrella?” she asked cautiously, poking her head through the half-open door.

“No. Your father needs it.” Her mother spoke absentmindedly. She was combing her hair. Her face reflected in the mirror was very much like Amei’s. She looked at herself again in the mirror and said impatiently, “What a dreary day!”

Amei did not back out immediately. She stood at the doorway while the uncertain expression on her face darkened, like there was something she was unable to put into words.

If she couldn’t take the black umbrella, she would have to take the yellow cloth umbrella, which she had used for quite some years now. Every rainy day, the street which her family lived on, Peace Street, was filled with these cloth umbrellas. Everyone—man and woman, young and old—had a cloth umbrella. They were almost always yellow. It wasn’t a golden yellow, which could make you hold your head high, it was a yellow tarnished with green.

The April showers were mild, not beating down as hard as a storm. But when the rain made a monotonous pitter-patter sound on the yellow cloth, it made people feel that the sky was pressing low and they themselves became shorter, as if they had fallen into a giant wet pit. No wonder the people on Peace Street holding yellow cloth umbrellas were bent over, as if trying to get to some place where the sky was higher. Most of the umbrellas were very old and over-used. A moldy odor came out whenever they were opened.

“I hate yellow cloth umbrellas!” Amei thought sometimes, but she never lingered on the thought for long. She knew that on Peace Street there was nothing that could replace them.

Recently, however, there had been a change in the routine on Peace Street. Amei saw one or two people opening jet-black umbrellas, which glistened in the rain. It was said that they were made of nylon, and that they were as light as a feather compared to the cloth kind.

Before this morning, Amei only thought of owning a nylon umbrella when she passed someone on the street who was carrying one. The thought always vanished as quickly as smoke. It was too far out. How could she own something that most people didn’t have! But just last week, her father’s friend came from Japan and gave them a black nylon umbrella. This morning, for some strange reason, Amei thought that she could try using that unusual umbrella. It would be such a great honor to be seen using a nylon umbrella in Peace Street School! She would no longer crouch over. She would hold her head high, raise the nylon umbrella straight up and make sure everyone saw that she was the owner of this unusual umbrella.

“Mom, please let me use the black umbrella—just for one day” Amei prayed silently.

Her mother put her comb on the small table in front of her, turned halfway around and said, “I said, ‘Take the yellow cloth umbrella!’”

“I hate the yellow cloth umbrella!” The thought finally came out of Amei’s mouth. She turned and shut the door with a bang, muttering, “The rain isn’t heavy. I don’t need an umbrella.”

Her father opened the door and came out into the hallway, carrying a black briefcase. When he walked past Amei, he patted her on the head. Then he picked up the brand new nylon umbrella leaning beside the door and walked outside, unaware of what was bothering her. Amei knew that even if her father realized what she was thinking, he wouldn’t say anything. What was her opinion worth compared to his work?!

She was looking helplessly at her father’s back when her mother caught up with her and said, “How can you go out in this weather without an umbrella? Here. Now go to school!” Before the sentence was finished, the yellow cloth umbrella was thrust into Amei’s hands.

When Amei opened the door, the drizzle started to fall into the hallway. She heard the pitter-patter of the rain hitting the yellow cloth umbrellas. She looked at the familiar scene of people crouched under their umbrellas, walking hurriedly. She reluctantly took the small bamboo ring off the umbrella and stuffed it inside her school bag. The ribs of the umbrella were very thick and now they were jammed very tightly. She couldn’t open it with all her strength.

“Hurry up, you’re going to be late,” her mother said.

“I can’t open it!”

Her mother walked up and snatched the umbrella from her. She opened it right away and handed it back to Amei.

Amei felt her mother’s hand giving a gentle push on her shoulder, then she joined the yellow umbrella crowd, crouched over, and started walking hurriedly toward school.

First published in Feng Hua Yuan (Issue 74, November, 1995)