Ben’s Boy Little Joe (by DJK)

Two ~~~  Complications

The moment one learns English, complications set in.*  This is true whether one learns it at Mother’s breast or later as a substitute for the mother tongue, but it is most true when one of the former and one of the later commence a discussion.  If you add in excitable natures, quick tempers, natural stubbornness, and cross purposes; the result can be catastrophic.  Such a upheaval was currently raging between one Hop Sing formerly of China and one thirteen-year-old Little Joe, who some referred to as the  Little Prince of the Ponderosa.  Of course, the last boy to refer to Little Joe that way in his presence had left Joe’s presence with a broken nose.  The person immediately previous to that had gone unscathed, but then Adam was Joe’s brother, twelve years his senior, and had occasionally been referred to as Prince of the Ponderosa himself.

“You just don’t understand!”  The boy’s foot stomped an exclamation point to his statement.

“Hop Sing understand just fine.  Hop Sing know what father tell number three son before he go, so little boy best understand what he no can do.”  The man used a shake of the wooden spoon in his hand for his exclamation point.


“Say no!”

“I just…”

“No!”  Hop Sing turned toward the stove.  Little Joe indulged his frustration with a less than polite gesture toward the cook’s back, forgetting that Hop Sing took great pride in keeping all metal surfaces in his kitchen in a shiny state of reflectiveness. The exclamation that left Hop Sing’s throat was delivered in his mother tongue, but English was not needed to make Little Joe aware that Hop Sing had seen his disrespect.

Little Joe took a step back as Hop Sing turned to face him again.  He swallowed convulsively as a stream of Cantonese flowed in his direction.

“I…I..I didn’t…”

“Didn’t think Hop Sing know what that mean? Didn’t think I learned that on docks when step off boat.  I learn that before I learn one word English.”  Hop Sing’s voice had gone unusually flat and slow.

Little Joe recognized both the depth of the man’s anger, and the pain beneath it.  “I’m… I’m sorry, really sorry. I don’t… I wouldn’t…”

“Would never do so to father, never do so to brother, never do so to man you respect.  But Hop Sing just cook…”

“No, no, you know that’s not…”

“That what action say.”  Hop Sing turned his back to the boy again.  “Go to room, please.”

Little Joe felt the need to continue his apology, but he also felt the need to show his obedience.  He hesitated, sighed, and said softly.  “Yes, sir.”

Hop Sing heard the sir and drew in a slow breath. He understood the significance of that English word and how few whites, man or boy, would use that word to one of his race.  Both the English and the Cantonese word for forgiveness entered his mind.

*Please note that the first line is a quote from Chromos by Felipe Alfau  that was used as a challenge prompt.


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