Little Red Lunchbox

Poem by Aveline Yang
Graphic by Steph Beer

He takes to work
His little, red lunchbox. 
It is plastic and old, with chipped edges
And rough on the inside, where years of scrubbing
Have scraped away the smoothness.
He works 8-hour shifts, sometimes more
And overtime on Saturdays with a second job on Tuesday
Comes home 15 minutes before midnight, always
Like Groundhog Day for Cinderella
For the last 25 years.
His wife is unhappy –
she has sacrificed so much for seemingly so little and his labour is never enough
To paint the future in the vivid colours she wants it to be
In the way she wants her children’s to be.
But it is hard to see the future so vivid when the brightest thing in his life right now is 
His little, red lunchbox.

It used to be filled with food – 
Spicy tofu and pork floss, oily, braised pork on rice and snowpeas, cabbage and steamed fish made
Just the way he liked it.
Now it is filled with sustenance –
Rice, egg (that his wife hates; it reminds her too much of her father on Sunday mornings), 
Leftover beef from the night before and hastily stir-fried greens.
Every night, calloused, weary hands wash the container
Scrubbing it so it’s a little rougher
A little tougher 
And leaving it to dry, ready
For tomorrow night.
Every day, calloused, weary hands drive to grocery stores and Asian markets
For his sustenance
And for food for his family.

He doesn’t talk much about himself 
Not about his life before, or his life now
Not while he cooks, or while he drives
Or while he watches the TV shows 
In his language that reminds him of home.
His journey from home to here is foggy 
And his children don’t care to ask much
They only know snatches from their mother 
Who doesn’t often care to speak about it.
His story is buried. 
His feelings
Even further than that.

On Sundays, he rests;
Wakes up late and does yard work, if it needs to be done
Brings lunch home from the restaurants near the shops – 
Always crispy chicken for me with the extra soup I like, beef noodles that my siblings love – 
And at 6pm sharp, he starts cooking dinner.
Everyone is there on Sunday night for his family dinner
And everyone brings leftovers home for lunch the next day.
Partially out of convenience and partially
As an appreciation for his labour of love.

On Sundays,
His little red lunchbox sits on the drying rack for an extra night and I think
He is waiting for the day
He can put the lunchbox away.
There is a lot that is unknown about him
(A lot more to be desired, some would say)
But he is easy to understand – he is steadfast, like clockwork
And always, he brings home 
His little, red lunchbox.

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