Discovering Race

Fiction (Short Stories, Anthology)

  1. Eunice Lee
  2. Eunice, Again
  3. Charity
  4. Adoption
  5. Finding Kin
  6. Miscegenation
  7. Literature
  8. Teaching
  9. Congress
  10. Aged Care
  11. Neighbors
  12. Publishing

Discovering Race is a collection of twelve fictitious short stories about individual Americans around the country who believe the West’s new rules about race. They learn they were wrong.

A newly graduated Wilmington, Delaware accountant is offered job interviews by firms thinking from her name that she is Chinese. She isn’t. A young churchgoer organizes a free Christmas gift stall in Boston, Massachusetts, which a Chechen family exploits.

Without thought of race, a woman in Seattle, Washington adopts a Native American baby, but race becomes increasingly important to the growing boy. A New Orleans, Louisiana man welcomes his son’s black girlfriend, but she expects his son to abandon their family’s whiteness they’d never before appreciated.

A father representing parents on a Red Bank, New Jersey panel hiring a schoolteacher presumes the candidates’ capacity to teach English is important, and that their race is not. No less naïvely, a young teacher trusts a Baltimore, Maryland school to have reason to be proud of its racial diversity.

A Congressman who’d long supported immigration realizes that changing demographics within his district will cost him his seat. An elderly widow in Alexandria, Virginia, hires a Nepalese caregiver, leading ultimately to her needing help from her Christian and Jewish neighbors. A New York retiree considers white America’s future becoming a racial minority.

1 Eunice Lee

Human beings are innately tribal, preferring the company of their own to the presence of others, loyal to their own as their own is loyal to them. Conflicts arise within tribes, but between tribes, tribespeople defend and often advance their own.

            So people have unashamedly thought and behaved throughout their histories, whenever their families, clans, and races encountered other families, clans, and races. More often than not, they minimized encounters between races altogether.

            With one exception: following the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, the most powerful and influential of European peoples (in Europe and elsewhere) lost interest in their race and races. (Whether there is a single white or European race with different ethnicities or different white races is a matter of nomenclature, as it is for other races and the ethnicities into which they can be bracketed, although other races are much less likely to bracket their race with other races than white people are.)

            Those powerful and influential white people (the richest, but not only the richest) ceased advancing their race and decreasingly defended it, but continued advancing and defending their individual selves. Whenever they believed they personally benefited, even if simply by feeling better about themselves, they advanced other races at the expense of their own.

            During the ensuing decades, more and more white people meekly followed their leaders into neglecting their race, or spoke as if they did, believing they should. White people who continued caring about their race learnt to keep quiet about it, as they became fewer and fewer.

            Two decades into the twenty-first century, when white people mentioned race, it normally wasn’t the race of a particular person or group of people. It was the plethora of races coming through the West’s porous borders. “Diversity makes us strong,” they’d say and repeat. “Immigrants enrich us,” they’d say and repeat.

            “We are all immigrants, a nation of immigrants,” they’d first said in supposedly post-racial America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They increasingly said so in Europe too.

            Among them would have been young Eunice Lee, as would have been all the Delawareans she knew in her middle-class neighborhood near Wilmington, except that she rarely gave such matters much attention. If Eunice noticed anything physical about a person, it was his or her hair, because hers was so long, wide, and naturally red. Nobody shied away from mentioning her sprawling red hair, complimenting her for it. So she never shied away from remembering it.

            Words she heard said freely about her fiery red hair, she never heard said about other people’s black or brown hair, or their hair texture, skin color, facial, nasal or eye structure, or other observable feature of race. Some people wouldn’t even mention other people’s height, weight, or figures, which also varied with race, at least not in their company (except in relation to children becoming tall or occasionally their adult weight being much improved). They would not mention anything physical about a person, physical differences having been where considerations of race began.

            Even beauty was becoming circumspect. Many white people dared not mention it.

            Thus Eunice had only her brightly ranging red hair, of note. It made her beautiful, some people implied, although the boys she’d dated more likely said it made her more beautiful. They would.

            Whether she really was beautiful, few people Eunice encountered wore hair so noteworthy. That left her with nothing to notice in most people’s physical appearance.

            If asked, Eunice would have said she only noticed what was inside a person. That was what Americans said, although Eunice never gave any thought about what that might mean. It was probably their character and interests, considered in the kindest conceivable light. It wasn’t their intelligence, which was something else Americans didn’t like to ponder because pondering a person’s intelligence might not be nice, about that person or about others, and because their forebears thought intelligence varied with race.

            Twenty-first century Americans said they judged people by the contents of their heart, although they didn’t really judge them. Their words merely affirmed their conviction in the innate goodness of people, all people, without evaluating them.

            Whatever those phrases meant, Eunice had far more pressing challenges to deal with. Foremost among them were her college studies and accountancy career looming ahead.

            Eunice was among the better students in her accountancy classes at the University of Delaware, although her grades weren’t quite enough to get her an internship or interview at any of the major accountancy firms in Wilmington. Since the end of the nineteenth century, Delaware had attracted corporations trading elsewhere with friendly laws, relatively undemanding in terms of cost, compliance, and disclosure. Two decades into the twenty-first century, half of America’s publicly traded corporations were incorporated there, even if their only business in the state was paying lawyers, accountants, and other professional advisers.

            Smaller than those major accountancy firms in Wilmington, but still a considerable enterprise, was the firm Xiang & Xiang. Eunice’s grades had been good enough for the firm to grant her an interview: her first for a professional job, instead of the mere dalliances her part-time and vacation jobs had been.

            For that first interview in an accountancy firm and the start of her career beyond it, Eunice cut her long red hair short. Nothing better demonstrated her commitment to her career than cutting her hair; friends and relatives who had stopped mentioning her hair, mentioned their surprise she had cut it. They might have complimented her for her new appearance or might have expressed their disappointment her long hair had been lost, but they never hesitated mentioning it.

            As much as her career, her shorter hair demonstrated that Eunice was growing up: maturing into life beyond college, when even college no longer seemed as mature as it once had. Girls wore hair longer than women wore it, and Eunice might have spent too long being a girl; girls in college often did Eunice realized, after she’d finished there. For her interview and coming career, Eunice rehearsed tying her newly short hair in a tight ponytail behind her head.

            For that first interview, Eunice bought a dark blouse, jacket, and skirt better than anything else she owned, or had even worn. She bought shining black leather shoes with pointed fronts slight uncomfortable to wear and tall thin heels slightly uneasy with which to step, but she knew her feet and balance would, in time, adjust to them. She also bought a black leather handbag, like the bags older women carried, although not Eunice’s unprofessional mother.

            To appear what she thought was professional, and to monitor the progress of her journey from home to the interview if not the progress of the interview once it started, Eunice carefully fastened to her wrist a silver watch she’d inherited: the only wristwatch she owned. (She’d never before worn it.) Through her pierced ears, she set her simple silver earrings.

            Her new bag in hand, Eunice left home that warm Monday morning not yet used to her new clothes, shoes, or hairstyle, or even to wearing a watch. Always ahead of schedule, determined not to be late to her interview (as she was never late to anything), Eunice arrived early to downtown Wilmington, North Market Street, and finally Hercules Plaza. Loitering outside, intermittently checking her watch, she again rehearsed answers to questions she expected her interviewer to ask.

            Eunice had always been good at mathematics, so that accountancy was a logical career. (That was a better answer than saying accountancy offered more certain employment than other professions. It certainly offered better prospects than manufacturing firms like the one that had employed her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, before her father reluctantly closed it three years earlier.) In five years’ time, Eunice hoped to be in a firm like Xiang & Xiang, satisfying the interests of its business clients, solving their problems.

            Five minutes before the time scheduled for her interview to begin, eleven o’clock, seemed the right time for Eunice to check her clothes again for any loose fibers or anything else unprofessional. She removed her telephone from her handbag, switched it off, and secreted it back there. She collected her posture, straightening herself even more upright from her new high heel shoes, before bravely joining the adult suits and skirts entering Hercules Plaza.

            Inside the building foyer, she checked that the Xiang & Xiang offices were on the floor she already knew they were: the eighth. The directory she’d checked from her home had been correct; the firm hadn’t recently moved offices. Before approaching the elevators, Eunice brushed her jacket a final time.

            The Xiang & Xiang offices reception area was bright and modern, as she’d expected it to be. No other person waited but, behind the desk and beside the closed door presumably through to the offices, sat a young Chinese woman no older than Eunice. She sat typing at a computer or something else that Eunice couldn’t see, looking down in front of her.

            Eunice approached her. “Hi,” said Eunice. Pausing from her typing, the young woman looked up. “I’m Eunice Lee. I have an interview with Mister Xiang.”

            “An interview?” the young woman asked. The question didn’t startle Eunice as perhaps it should have done. “Do you know with which Mister Xiang?”

            “Stanley Xiang,” answered Eunice.

            “Please sit down.”

            Eunice turned away. She couldn’t help but hear the receptionist behind her speak into whatever telephone or other microphone was at her desk. “I have a Miss Eunice Lee to see Mister Xiang,” the receptionist said.

            It was the first time Eunice had heard anyone speak her name, her full name, with a title Miss. To hear it in such offices in a downtown office building, Eunice felt she should be there.

            In the closest of several wide cushioned chairs standing against a wall, Eunice sat, placing her handbag on the floor beside her. In front of her was a coffee table, on which lay copies of the Wall Street Journal and News Journal. Reading them might have made a good impression, so Eunice picked up the News Journal.

            She sat not really reading the newspaper for several long minutes, before the door from the offices opened. Eunice looked up, to see a middle-aged Chinese man dressed in a fine dark suit and tie step through. He looked past Eunice to the empty chairs. He stepped forward and looked around the reception area. Only Eunice and the receptionist were there.

            He looked to the receptionist. “Where is Eunice Lee?” he asked her.

            The receptionist tilted her head towards Eunice. “That’s Eunice Lee.”

            Taking her handbag back in her hand, Eunice stood up, facing him, but the man again looked to one side of her and then the other, as if a person was hiding behind Eunice and might soon appear. Finally, he looked towards her. “You’re Eunice Lee?” he asked.

            “I am,” she replied, stepping towards him. She thought of offering him her hand to shake, but that would be presumptuous.

            “I thought you’d be Chinese, with a name like Lee, a name like Eunice Lee.”

            “No,” she smiled, shaking her head. “I’m American, as we all are.” The man and the receptionist both spoke without any accent, or at least no accent different to Eunice’s accent.

            “Yes, yes, American, I know, but Chinese.”

            Eunice stood silently. The answers she’d prepared for the interview had not prepared her for this. He’d not actually asked her a question, anyway. “My grandmother’s name was Eunice,” she explained.

            The receptionist sat watching Eunice, as the man did. He had still not introduced himself to Eunice; she only presumed he was Stanley Xiang. “I am sorry for inviting you here,” he told her.

            “I have Chinese friends,” persisted Eunice, “Americans do.”

            “I’m glad, but I only invited you to come for interview because I saw your name and thought you were Chinese.”

            “Isn’t that illegal?” asked Eunice, certain it was.

            “I once invited for interview a man whose family name was Hoy because I thought he was Chinese,” the man continued. “He stood where you’re standing now and I told him what I’ve told you. He accepted it.”

            “I can do all the work you want me to do,” Eunice persevered. “I can fit in with everybody; we’re all Americans as far I’m concerned.”

            “Yes, yes,” he said, again, “I know we’re Americans and I know you can do the work, but you’re not Chinese. You should accept that.”

            “I accept that,” answered Eunice, her voice firming up, “but I can’t accept being told I can do the work but you won’t employ me because I’m white.”

            “It’s not because you’re white. It’s because you’re not Chinese.”

            “Is that supposed to make me feel better?” asked Eunice. “Wouldn’t you be upset if an Indian accountancy firm wouldn’t employ you?”

            “I wouldn’t apply for a job at an Indian accountancy firm. Why did you apply for a job at a Chinese firm?”

            “I thought you were an American firm.”

            “We are an American firm,” he assured her, “but you saw the name of the firm: Xiang is a Chinese name. I thought Lee was too, and Hoy, but I was wrong. I accept my mistake. Can we get you a cup of tea before you leave?”

            “I don’t want a cup of tea,” protested Eunice. “I want a job.”

            “Apply to an American firm,” the man told her, “an American firm that isn’t a Chinese firm. There are many excellent American accountancy firms in Wilmington, we deal with them all the time, where you can develop your accounting skills and be happy, where you can work hard and become a principal.”

            “Those firms employ Chinese accountants,” said Eunice, certain they did. “Aren’t they better because they do?”

            “Of course they are,” he smiled.

            “Why can’t you employ me?”

            “When you’ve developed your skills, you might want to establish your own firm. I know Americans like to do that.”

            “I need to work in a firm now,” persisted Eunice. “Are all your clients Chinese?”

            “We have many very successful American clients.”

            “I can help all your clients.”

            “Please, Eunice, Miss Lee,” said the man, before sighing. “Why can’t you accept that this is America now? Mister Hoy accepted it. When I told him that I’d presumed from his name he was Chinese and wouldn’t have invited him for an interview had I known he was American, he apologized for the misunderstanding. He departed, without causing us trouble. Other Americans respect our wishes to be together without complaining, but not you.”

            Eunice didn’t answer. She didn’t know what America was anymore. She didn’t know what she accepted.

            The man looked back towards the receptionist, as if conveying to her his frustration he could not convey to Eunice. He turned again to Eunice, telling her, “I have tried to be polite, Miss Lee.”

            “I think you’re missing opportunities,” Eunice told him, “if you’re not willing to employ the best candidates, whatever their heritage.”

            The elevator doors opened behind her. Eunice turned to see stepping towards her a tall red-haired man dressed in another fine dark suit and tie, carrying a big black briefcase. “Stanley,” he greeted the man standing with her.

            “Marcus,” responded the man Eunice now knew to be Stanley Xiang, moving past her to greet the visitor, taller than he was. “I wasn’t expecting you today.”

            “I’m here to see Mister Xiang. This tax business isn’t going away.”

            Stanley Xiang led the man towards the receptionist. “Have we a room booked for Mister Richmond?” he asked her.

            “Room one,” answered the receptionist.

            Stanley Xiang turned back to the man. “I’ll let Mister Xiang know you’re here,” he told him. “We’ll get you a cup of tea.” Stanley Xiang went back through the door into the offices.

            The receptionist spoke into her microphone. “Green tea in reception,” she said.

            The visitor stood waiting. He presumably wasn’t expecting to wait so long as to bother sitting down.

            Eunice knew she should not say anything. She should probably just quietly depart before Stanley Xiang returned, but she’d come too far with too much aspiration (if not expectation) to leave so soon. “Mister Richmond,” she said.

            He turned around to face her, looking down at her so much shorter than him. He didn’t smile. He didn’t convey any expression, except waiting for her to speak.

            “I’m Eunice Lee,” she told him. “I’ve applied for a job here.”

            He said nothing, for a moment, as if there ought to have been more reason for Eunice to speak with him than simply her ambition. He might have realized there wasn’t such a reason, when he smiled and said, “Good luck.”

            “Stanley Xiang won’t interview me because I’m not Chinese,” Eunice told him. “He thought I was Chinese from my name when he invited me here, but he saw me and saw I’m not.”

            Again, Marcus Richmond said nothing, waiting for more words from Eunice, before speaking. “The only people I’ve seen work here,” he remarked, “have been Chinese.”

            “Do you think that’s fair?” asked Eunice. “Do you think that’s legal?”

            Marcus Richmond stepped back a little. He looked back towards the door from the offices still closed and the receptionist watching him. He then turned back to Eunice. “Employment decisions,” he told her, “are for Mister Xiang.”

            “You’re a client,” Eunice told him. “You’re an important client; I can see that. I’m sure they’d listen to you. If you wanted them to employ the best candidates for jobs, whatever their heritage, I’m sure they would.”

            “I am sorry, Ms. …” he told her. “What was your name?”

            “Eunice Lee,” she said again. “Don’t you in your business employ the best candidates for jobs, whatever their heritage?’

            “Of course, I do, but this is not my business.”

            “Don’t you want the best accounting services you can get?”

            “I’ve always been satisfied with Xiang & Xiang. Whatever Mister Xiang does, it works.”

            The door from the offices opened. Another young woman – Chinese – appeared. Her one hand held the door open and the other carried a small tray, on which stood a small ceramic cup, from which rose some steam.

            The door closing behind her, the woman stopped. She looked at Marcus Richmond and at Eunice.

            The receptionist spoke up. “The tea is for Mister Richmond,” she told her.

            The woman carrying the tray took a coaster from the tray, placed it on the corner of the coffee table nearest to Marcus Richmond, and placed the cup on the coaster. (She did so quite deftly, thought Eunice, as if she was well practiced in doing so. Serving tea might have been her only task at the firm.)

            Marcus Richmond reached down, picked up his cup with his fingertips around the rim, and sipped from it. The woman returned through that door, back into the offices.

            The door from the offices had not yet closed when it pushed open again. Another Chinese man and then another, much older, dressed in suits appeared. They headed towards Marcus Richmond, so much taller than all of them.

            “Mister Xiang,” said Marcus Richmond, returning his cup to the table. He offered the older man his right hand to shake.

            “Mister Richmond,” said the older man, shaking his hand, before stepping back. “This is Johnathan Lee,” he told him. “I have asked him to join us.”

            Those three men shook hands, when Eunice also noticed their free hands. On each man’s wide wrist was a gold watch conspicuously bigger and brighter than the meagre silver effort on her narrow wrist. The three men then proceeded around a corner, presumably to meeting room one, Marcus Richmond leaving his cup behind.

            The receptionist remained at her desk, typing, without looking up. Eunice, the only other person left in the reception area, remained standing. The door to the offices was closed.

            Eunice continued to stand. She looked again at the door from the offices hoping it would open. She looked back at the receptionist. “Is Stanley Xiang coming back?” asked Eunice.

            “I wouldn’t think so,” said the receptionist. “Can I telephone for a taxi?”

            Eunice couldn’t afford to take taxis. Nor could she afford to leave so soon. “Could you please tell him I’m still here,” said Eunice.

            “I am sure he will contact you if he wants to speak with you again.”

            “I want to speak with him,” insisted Eunice. “The interview hasn’t finished. It hasn’t even started.”

            “If Mister Xiang believed the interview wasn’t finished,” replied the receptionist, “he would have returned. Interviews last as long as the interviewers, not the interviewees, say they last.”

            Her bag in hand, Eunice stepped towards the door from the offices, causing the receptionist to stand close beside her. Eunice tried to turn the door handle. It didn’t turn.

            On the wall beside the door was a security panel, with numbered keypads. Eunice pressed the “8” button three times and again tried to turn the handle, but it still didn’t turn. She pressed that button four times, but the handle still didn’t turn.

            “Did you think that would be a Chinese person’s choice of code?” asked the receptionist, a little smugly thought Eunice.

            Eunice stepped back from the door and the receptionist and turned. She walked towards the corridor along which Marcus Richmond and the other men had gone to their meeting.

            “You can’t go there,” called out the receptionist behind her.

            Eunice hurried into the corridor, momentarily slipping from her high heel shoes before collecting herself upright. Slowing a little, she passed the closed door to meeting room one. She passed another open door to an empty meeting room, before approaching the end of the corridor and a closed door.

            “Miss Lee!” cried out the receptionist behind her.

            Eunice reached the end of the corridor and closed door, where there was no keypad on the wall. Her hand on the door handle, she turned it.

            “You can’t go there,” said the receptionist, close behind her.

            Eunice pushed open the door. Ahead of her were several desks at which young Chinese women sat typing, with headphones at their ears and computer screens in front of them. Practically in unison, they looked up at Eunice.

            The receptionist stood beside Eunice. “Must I call security?” she asked.

            On the inside wall beside them and the open door were several bolts, left unlatched. What the office staff sealed at the end of the working day, they’d left unsealed during it.

            Eunice turned back to the young Chinese women at their desks. “Where do I find Stanley Xiang?” she asked.

            None of them answered. Beyond them was congestion: more desks with Chinese women sitting at them, along with doors spaced along a wall. Eunice had come far from the relative open space of the distant reception area.

            Eunice hurried past those first women at their desks towards the first of the doors, which she pushed open. The room was an office, in which a Chinese woman looked up from her desk. Eunice closed the door.

            Behind her, Eunice heard the receptionist addressing someone, not Eunice. “Call security,” said the receptionist.

            A Chinese man, papers in his hand, looked at Eunice. He stood at a desk, at which a young Chinese woman sat.

            Eunice opened another office door. A Chinese man looked up. It wasn’t Stanley Xiang.

            Closing the door, everybody in sight sat or stood watching Eunice, except for the receptionist. She had hurried ahead of Eunice to an office door several doors ahead. Eunice watched her knock on it, wait, and then enter that office. Eunice started towards that open door, when Stanley Xiang stepped from it.

            People who’d been watching Eunice turned back to their work. The man standing at one desk looked back at his papers.

            “I came a long way for an interview,” Eunice told Stanley Xiang, walking towards him. “I’m dressed for it. I’m prepared for it.”

            Stanley Xiang looked back at the receptionist, standing beside him. “I will deal with this,” he told her.

            Eunice reached him. The receptionist left them.

            Stanley Xiang looked back through his open door into his office, hesitated, and then stepped back to let Eunice enter. “We can speak in here,” he told her.

            His office was large, much larger than the other two offices Eunice had seen. Hanging near her from the wall, beside a Chinese green silk tapestry, was his degree from the University of Delaware.

            On the bookshelves behind his desk, there weren’t any books. Instead, there were Chinese vases and figurines. In a corner of one shelf, was a small dark statue of the Buddha.

            Stanley Xiang closed the door behind them. “Please, sit down,” he told Eunice, motioning her to sit in the chair facing his desk.

            “Do I get tea?” asked Eunice, sitting down. She placed her handbag on her lap, adjusting herself in her chair.

            Stanley Xiang sat in his chair, facing her. “I trust you appreciate this time I’m giving you,” he told her. “I don’t have to.”

            “I want Xiang & Xiang to be the best accounting firm it can be,” Eunice told him, leaning a little forward in her chair, “by employing the best available people.”

            “We do employ the best available people, but you’ve seen most of them now. Is this really where you want to work?”

            “Yes,” declared Eunice, leaning even more forward towards him and his desk. “I want to be an accountant more than I want to be anything else, and I know your work is very good; Mister Richmond said that.”

            “Why do you think our work is so good, Miss Lee? Why do you think this office is so cohesive, harmonious, and happy?”

            “Are you all Buddhist?” asked Eunice, glancing at the Buddha on the shelves so he would realize the reason for her question. “I like Buddhists.”

            Stanley Xiang smiled. “No, Miss Lee,” he told her, “we’re not all Buddhists. Why, we even have Christians here.”

            “I’m Christian,” said Eunice, “sort of.”

            Stanley Xiang almost laughed. He shook his head.

            Eunice looked again around the office: at the shelves and walls, for clues. Surely, the people working there could not have all studied at the University of Delaware. When she couldn’t think of anything to say, she looked back at him.

            “We are all Chinese, Miss Lee,” he explained, as if that alone were an answer. “All our accountants and other employees are Chinese: Han Chinese. We’re a Chinese firm.”

            “We’re all Americans.”

            “I know we’re Americans and we like being Americans, but we’re Chinese. We work very well together. Why would we lose what we have by employing someone who isn’t Chinese?”

            “Wouldn’t you like diversity?” asked Eunice, repeating what she’d so often heard. “Diversity would make you stronger.”

            Mister Xiang laughed. “We have diversity,” he told her. “We have Americans, Canadians.”

            “Chinese Americans and Canadians?” checked Eunice.

            “Naturally,” he confirmed. “We have mainland Chinese and Hong Kong Chinese. Why, the last person I hired was Singaporean Chinese. However clever you may be, Miss Lee, however keen you are to learn and to work, you can’t ever learn and work to be Chinese. I wish you every success in your life and career, but you will not be working in this firm. What American firms do is up to them, but what we do is up to us. Isn’t that part of being a free country, Miss Lee?”

            “That isn’t fair.”

            “What wouldn’t be fair would be if we lost our cohesion, became a less happy place to work, because we employed you. I’m thinking of my staff. Can’t you?”

            “We have laws against racial discrimination, Mister Xiang.”

            Stanley Xiang shook his head. “Why would you want to work among people who’d prefer you worked somewhere else?” he asked her.

            “I just want to work,” insisted Eunice. “I won’t step in anyone’s way; you’ll learn to like me. All I’ll talk about is work; I won’t bring my life outside the office inside it.”

            “I don’t want to talk just about work, Miss Lee. I want to bring my life outside work inside this office. I can’t do that with you.”

            “You can,” pleaded Eunice. She looked past him to the artwork, figurines, and Buddha on the shelves. “I love those ornaments.”

            He laughed. “But you see, Miss Lee,” he told her, “they’re not just ornaments. They’re my life, my family’s life, and however much you might like them, and I’m touched that you do, they’re not your life. They’re not your heritage. They’re not your culture. They never will be.”

            “Aren’t you worried that I’ll sue you?” asked Eunice. “There’s a law firm in this building, I saw its name in the directory: Potter, something.”

            Again, Stanley Xiang smiled. “There are many lawyers in this building, Miss Lee,” he told her. “There are many more lawyers in Wilmington.”

            “Racial discrimination is illegal.”

            Stanley Xiang’s smiles became longer, when Eunice would have expected them to shorten. “Please understand Eunice, if I may call you Eunice,” he told her, “you will never work at this firm. If you want to sue us, or me, then that is your right, but how do you think other firms in Wilmington will respond to your future job applications knowing your reaction to this interview? Will they invite you to sit an interview?”

            “They won’t discriminate.”

            “They might not,” he said, “but they’ll know that if you sued one potential employer for one reason, then you might sue them for another.”

            Eunice rested back in her chair. The morning would have been easier to bear had she sat the interview and failed to get the job she might have got. It would have been easier to bear had she fluffed the interview and lost a job she should have got, even if Stanley Xiang had abruptly terminated the interview before she’d finished speaking and booted her from the offices. The worst of possibilities was one she’d never considered beforehand: there was never an interview because she never had a chance.

            Slowly, Eunice took hold of her handbag and stood up. Stanley Xiang stood with her.

            She turned to the closed office door and walked towards it. The handle turned easily.

            He followed her through the open door. Around the offices, people worked at their desks without looking up.

            Eunice turned towards the door from which she’d come, when Stanley Xiang interrupted. “This way,” he said, directing her.

            He led her past more desks and people to a door without a bolt inside. The handle turned easily for him, before he pushed it open into the reception area.

            Only the receptionist was there. She glanced up from her typing, saw Stanley Xiang and Eunice, and looked back down again. Her fingers never paused from the keyboard.

            Stanley Xiang led Eunice through the receptionist area to the elevator, where he pressed the downward button for her. “I do wish you every happiness,” he told her. “Some day, I in my firm might have the pleasure of dealing with you in yours.”

            Some moments, he could seem kind for having accorded her an explanation, for having accorded her any time at all. The elevator doors opened in front of her.

            Outside the building again, in the open air of Wilmington, Eunice needed a cup of coffee. She entered the nearest coffee shop.

            The barista smiling towards her from behind the counter was Chinese. Another person behind the counter glanced at her and smiled. He too was Chinese. Collecting cups from tables was a waitress, also Chinese. Eunice promptly turned around and left.