Creative Writing Risa Akiyama Short story

Second Best but Never Enough – A Short Story

This story depicts a life of a young African American boy who is in his second year of high school. After the global pandemic hit, his parents are constantly busy with their night shift at Stevenson Hospital. In this story, we see the dark reality of social inequality in today’s world and how the spread of Covid-19 makes this disaster visible.

Written by Risa Akiyama

I turned on the nightstand light in the living room with my frozen pizza on one hand. I slumped down into my sofa, inhaling the dust coming out from it. I took a bite of my pizza and placed it back on the plate. As I opened my laptop carefully so the wobbly screen wouldn’t break, I went to my school’s website to check my grades for the term. I wasn’t worried. I knew I was doing good in school and all of my teachers liked me. I wasn’t the brightest student when I was in middle school but after my first year of high school, I promised myself I’ll do better from sophomore year. As expected, all A’s. I closed my laptop and finished my pizza listening to the clock ticking. 

I was woken up with the dim light and noise coming from the kitchen. “Marquis Marquis Marquis…” The disappointing voice was my mom coming back from her night shift at the hospital. She was cleaning the mess I made from making myself dinner. I turned on the nightstand light trying to wake myself up from the deep sleep I was in. “Marquis, are you awake? Why do you always leave the pizza box out? Put it back to the refrigerator where it belongs.” I tried to talk back but I knew she was tired and stopped myself. I was also extremely zoned out and I couldn’t grasp what was going on. It’s been like this around the house ever since both my parents started their night shift, dealing with patients infected with Covid-19. My mom and dad are both nurses at Stevenson Hospital. That’s where they met. The hospital is known for its great service and kind staff which naturally attracted many patients. Not just any patients but rich ones who could afford the luxury of kind nurses and doctors, on top of the expensive health care. 

I used to go around my friends boasting about my parents and the high reputation the hospital they worked at had. Both of my parents were still young when they had me and they had to work non-stop to get to the place they are today. That’s why I have so much respect for them. I see them as my role models and they inspire me to work hard in school. 

But my boasting stopped one day when I was going about my normal routine of talking about my parents to my friends at school. When the topic changed to how my parents worked hard to become nurses at Stevenson Hospital, one of my friends asked, “But why aren’t they doctors? I’m not saying that nurses aren’t great but in my view, nurses are secondary to doctors.” The rest of the crowd nodded. Suddenly, it felt like everything that I believed in was a lie. Everything that I had pride and faith in was taken away. I felt humiliated and angry at the same time but I wasn’t sure what this feeling was targeted towards. As time went by that day, I also started to wonder why my parents didn’t become doctors. 

During dinner that night, I had the dilemma of whether to ask them this question or not. “Marquis, why are you so quiet tonight?” My mom always noticed the slightest change in me. I sat there in silence for a while and then spoke up. “Why aren’t you and dad doctors?” Both of them looked shocked for a split second but started laughing. I didn’t understand what was so funny. My dad asked, “Marquis, why do you want to know about that all of a sudden?” I could still see his shoulders slightly moving up and down. He continued to explain, “Well, I at least thought of becoming a doctor but as you can tell, getting a doctor license takes more time and money. I couldn’t afford either of those while seeing you grow up in front of my eyes. I knew I had to become stable fast for you and for the family.” My mom was nodding her head but looking down at her plate. I then realized that my parents weren’t nurses by choice but because they couldn’t afford to become doctors. I felt a part of me break that night. 

I finally managed to wake myself up and walk to the kitchen to help my mom clean the mess that I had made. “Marquis how many times…” “I know I know, I was just really tired. I’ll clean it myself” I cut my mom off before she started with her long speech but I instantly felt bad and asked her how her night shift was, to change the mood. “It’s the same everyday. Another Covid patient coming in right after their vacation somewhere in Europe. I can’t believe we have to take care of these white folks who think Covid is just another minor cold.” My mom and dad have been telling me that the patients who come to Stevenson Hospital for Covid-19 are mostly rich white people who decided to ignore the existence of the deadly virus. Some patients continue to deny that they caught the virus while heavily coughing which I find it to be extremely bizarre. These ignorant patients have blown my mind away. 

What’s more mind blowing to me is the fact that my hard working parents are risking their lives for those who aren’t socially aware, responsible, and think that just because they are rich, they can do anything. It makes me furious. These rich white people aren’t thinking about the consequences and prioritizing their leisures. Sure, for them it might not be an issue even if they get infected with Covid-19. They are wealthy enough to afford the treatment but what about us? My parents didn’t do anything wrong but they are responsible to take care of the uneducated white people? Nonsense.

I recently read an article that stated black Americans are more at risk of catching Covid-19. Not because they go out to have fun, but because they don’t have the luxury to work from home. We are the ones who expose our bodies to the world filled with a deadly virus. We do not have the choice to stay at home like some rich white folks. That is why I am furious. When they are given the chance to stay at home and do nothing, they still choose to go out and make trouble for us. I call it twenty-first century slavery where black people like my parents are giving their lives to save the unbothered white folks. Some may say that I’m exaggerating the situation but this is just my honest analysis. 

I don’t share this anger with my parents though. I keep it to myself because I know they are feeling the same way and nothing will come out of me venting. I just pray everyday that my parents come home safe. 

The following day, I woke up right before my zoom class. I rushed to wash my face and opened my laptop carefully. I signed into my literature class. We are now learning about the peerage of England as we are reading a masterpiece by Shakespeare. The teacher shared a screen that showed the ranking of English peerage and there, I found my name. Above every position but second to the Duke was Marquess, different spelling, but the same pronunciation. That caught my attention for some reason and it bothered me. It bothered me as if being second had something personal to do with me. I couldn’t pay attention to the rest of the class and the rest of the day. I had to get this off my mind and decided to cook a proper dinner for my parents as a surprise when they come home. I went into the kitchen and started to prepare for dinner when I got a sudden call. 

It was a number that looked familiar but it didn’t come to me before I could make a judgement to pick it up. I tapped “accept” on my phone screen and a female voice was on the other end. “Hello, this is Stevenson Hospital calling for Marquis.” I got chills all over my body. Usually when my parents have something urgent they don’t call from the hospital but through their private phones. “Hello, yes, this is he.” There was a pause and the lady continued, “ Your father was tested for Covid-19 and the results show he is positive. Your mother is currently dealing with other patients and this number and your name was listed for his emergency contact,” I couldn’t believe it. I crumbled down to the floor, leaving the phone on the kitchen table. I could hear the lady saying something about how all doctors and staff had to take a mandatory test for Covid and the test results came in today. “Hello? Are you there? Hello?” Once the lady finished explaining the situation, she realized that there was no response on my end and repeatedly asked if I was still on the phone. I just sat there in the kitchen, feeling the cold floor taking over my body. 

This short story is originally written as an assignment for the course DCUL 233: Anthropology of Disaster, offered by Dr. Takeshi Uesugi

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