Butterfly

Tweety Hsiao

Tweety Hsiao

Third Place Winner; Adult Category. San José Public Library | Fall into Fiction Contest, 2022

Another magic day! Katherine inhaled deeply the mixed fragrance of flowers in the air and then exhaled with a huge relief, so freely that she almost forgot how to breathe without a mask on. Ambling along the hallway, she passed the bulletin that welcomed the returning of all faulty and walked into room 105 for her first class of the day.
 
"Does anyone know the meaning of ‘monarch'?" Katherine asked while writing down the word on the board. 
 
Students raised their hands excitedly here and there, some even lifted both of their hands. It was like a long-awaited reunion between the members of a choir. No one could wait to voice their beautiful sounds.
 
"It's the head of state, like a king or queen," enunciated a student sitting on the first row without waiting to be called. 
 
"Very good, what else?" Katherine urged. 
 
"It's a ruler, like my mother," supplemented by another student sitting in the back, followed by a roar with laughter from the class. 
 
"Well, it...could be," Katherine grinned, "What else?" 
 
"It's a butterfly," a muffled sound floated from the right. 
 
"It's not a butterfly," snapped by a pump boy with a pale complexion.  
 
Katherine trailed the sound and landed her sight on a girl sitting next to the window. "Beautiful! Mina, it's indeed a butterfly. We call this kind of butterfly ‘Monarch Butterfly'. Very good!" Katherine kept beaming and couldn't move her eyes from this timid student, who immigrated from Asia not long ago and never spoke up in the class. 
 
"Mina, do you want to tell us more about butterflies?" encouraged Katherine.  
 
"I...," Mina stuttered, feeling her face growing hot. 
 
"That's okay, you can tell us when you're ready," Katherine assured her. 
 
With earnest vehemence, Mina plucked up her courage. "I've never seen a Monarch butterfly because they're all gone extinct from my hometown. But the country I'm from is called ‘The kingdom of Butterflies'. My mother used to take me to the butterfly museum on Saturdays, but now she lives so far away," Mina said, her excitement subsided. 
 
Katherine, fourth-generation Polish American, immediately sensed a melancholy melody, so soulful yet languid. When Katherine was a student, she was quiet as well. Her silence annoyed her teachers sometimes, because they always thought that she was disengaged and didn't know a thing, which wasn't true. She just preferred to wait – wait for various answers from others, joyful, tuneful, and sometimes cacophonous. Perhaps it was her keen observation and patience that made her an educator. 
 
"Mina, do you want to join me for a short walk to the school garden?" invited Katherine after the class was dismissed." Mina nodded her head, closing her notebook printed with a colorful caterpillar. 
 
"Do you know how long Monarchs can live?" Katherine looked at Mina, whose eyes wide opened, "They typically live from 2 to 5 weeks, but the last generation of the year can live up to 9 months, because they are the ones that fly to Mexico for overwintering and fly back in spring for breeding."
Mina kept silent while Katherine continued, "I know you miss your mother and your home. But don't you think that your mother is like the first generation of Monarchs? She must be sending you here for a reason." Mina looked at her back, feeling like crying. 
 
"How about helping me out with something?" Katherine suggested and led Mina to a plot of land on the corner, "Maybe you and I can plant some native wildflowers here to attract bees and butterflies. What do you think?"
 
"Butterfly?" Mina whispered with delight. She nodded her head exuberantly, feeling excited that she's also capable of turning a barren land into another kingdom of butterflies. She skirted the edge of the raised garden bed, inserting her fingers into the soil, as if a little inspector. Slowly, she began to hum the tune of a folk song in her mother tongue.
 
Katherine stood beside, watching. She couldn't remember how many times she had tried to help those kids. She only knew that they all can sing harmony in a choir full of varied languages and cultures. "As long as we give them chances to sing, the choir will endlessly awe the world," Katherine crooned in a Polish impromptu, her tune echoed with Mina's.

Third Place Winner; Adult Category. San José Public Library | Fall into Fiction Contest, 2022

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