The White Tiger restaurant was the centerpiece of Chinatown in San Francisco, but today was a sad day because, due to the pandemic beginning to affect the state of California, the place would be closing its doors for the immediate future. Not a permanent closing but it wouldn't be open anytime soon at the end of the day.
Still, even if it was the last day to be open, there was still work to be done. The twin teenagers Leixia and Xian were employees at the Tiger and they were hard at work making sure business ran well for their grandfather. However there was still minor dissent for them.
It was Xian's turn to do the dishwashing this time around and he wasn't too happy about it. He hated washing the dishes, not because they were dirty but because he was stuck in one spot the whole time while his sister was out serving customers. Unless he was sitting down playing video games he preferred to be moving from one spot to the other doing multiple things at once. Luckily his break was extremely close for him and he could unwind a little bit.
"Hey Xian got another stack of trays for you here."
Speak of the devil. The teenager moved to greet his older sibling and took the trays she offered. "Thanks sis, how's it going out there?"
Leixia was fixing her long hair into a high pony tail. Even in the midst of her day job the sixteen year old girl was always making sure she was prim and proper. Wearing the red and black uniform of the restaurant she fit right in. "It's quiet today, not surprising given what's going on out there."
"If it's bad here it must be worse back in Hong Kong," said Xian as he began to wash the newest stack of trays. They were hardly dirty but he was going to wash them regardless.
The twins had been born and lived for the majority of their lives in Hong Kong, but they had been in America less than a year by now. Though it had been their home before Hong Kong was nothing but a distant memory most of the time. They hardly spoke about it as it brought back terrible memories.
Sighing lightly Leixia spoke, "I heard the country is on lock down, and that is all I know."
"Lockdown huh…social distancing is gonna be a pain for us here," said Xian.
His sister smiled, "Must be heaven for you. That means you get to train and play video games all day."
Arching an eyebrow Xian made a sudden realization. She was right. "Never thought of it that way before."
Fixing the black apron she wore Leixia added one little detail. "But that also means we will be helping with housework far more often."
Xian's shoulders slumped. "Tiān a..." Having gone to a high and then hit an all-time low in less than a minute didn't do well to the young man's enthusiasm for the rest of the day.
"Cheer up a bit, brother. We still have our time to train. That is far more important than your video games right?"
Shrugging his shoulders Xian returned to washing the dishes. It was then that he noticed some sort of commotion going on outside the window next to him. Three young men were in the alley between the restaurant the adjoining building. Though he couldn't hear anything due to the dish washing machine and the music playing in the restaurant Xian could tell that they were arguing. Two men were shouting at the third who wasn't shouting back but cowering in a corner seemingly unable to defend himself. What got Xian's attention was the third man was Asian.
It wasn't anything new.
It had been happening ever since the pandemic had started. Asians were being blamed for bringing the virus to America. That had been trending on social media of hate crimes against those of even remote Asian descent. The news spoke about it all the time, and how it didn't seem to get any better. Chinatown hadn't been spared either. Vandalism of property, jeering and even physical assault had been common, which was one of the reasons that the White Tiger would be closing temporarily. The only fortunate thing was that the twins themselves had been largely left out of it, though it wasn't by choice but by chance. Day and night the twins worried for each other but more importantly for their elderly grandfather. It wasn't easy, and there were no signs of life getting better anytime soon.
Seeing the man outside getting roughed up was not easy for him to watch.
He should just keep his nose out of it. Stay safe and leave the cruel business to run its course,
Too bad Xian wasn't the one to sit down when a wrong doing was going down. He dropped the towel he was using and ran out the back door, not caring if anyone saw him. Once outside he could hear all sorts of profanity being used on the cowering man. He replied in Cantonese, but the men assaulting him neither understood nor ultimately cared for what he had to say.
Gathering his courage Xian shouted from the far end of the alley. "Hey!"
The two men heard him and turned to him. Their distraction was what the third man needed to slip away. By the time the other two realized it their quarry was long gone.
"Fuck man! He got away!"
They started to walk towards Xian, fists clenched and anger boiling. Xian walked to meet them, his own blood starting to heat up. "Glad he did. What you were doing was wrong."
"It's your fucking fault that we're suffering like this!"
"You should just go back to Shanghai or wherever the hell it is you were born you slant-eyed prick-"
Xian knew anything he said would fall on deaf ears, no matter how he tried to sugarcoat it. He raised his fists, ready for a fight when he heard a feminine voice from behind him. "We're from Hong Kong, thank you very much."
The two men stopped and Xian looked back over his shoulder to see his older sister approaching the fight that was about to brew.
"Sis? How'd you-"
She stood next to him, not looking too pleased but she nonetheless stood by his side. She'd give him a lecture later. "Saw you take off from the kitchen. Didn't take long for me to find out where you'd go."
"Who the hell is this broad?"
Leixia raised her chin, her eyes narrowed in a glare that could stun anyone. "His sister, and like him, I don't like what you were doing."
"So what? You guys bring a virus here that ruins our lives and don't expect us to have you pay for it? You're a bunch of bakas!"
The two men agreed with each other while the twins rolled their eyes.
Leixia was the one who responded, "Baka? Seriously you're a couple of morons."
"What? That's the word for idiot in your language isn't it?"
Xian shook his head, "Uh, no. That's Japanese, you báichī. We're Chinese, in Chinatown no less. You just made a pair of asses out of yourselves."
Not caring that they had made fools of themselves, the two men raised their fists and while the twins did the same yet another voice stopped them.
"You will not fight."
There was no mistaking who it belonged to. The twins' grandfather approached from the other end of the alley. He was none too pleased.
The twins lowered their hands, immediately capitulating in the face of the one person who could reel in their feisty nature. The two men on the other hand, simply turned their attention to the old man. "Oh look, another monkey! This one is an older one too!"
Leixia took a step forward, the fact that they had insulted her was no big deal but to insult her grandfather was a big no-no and she wouldn't let that down. Regardless she would have attacked them had they gone further but she saw her grandfather shake his head when she took a second step stopped her. Then the old man tilted his head to the twins. Seemed he wanted them to go inside.
"You two finish your shift. I will be with you shortly."
The twins, though inwardly they wanted to protest, didn't have much of a choice. Disobeying the man who brought them into his home, relation or not, was out of the question. They nodded once and went in through the back door.
Though they had gone back inside, the twins kept an eye out the window, keeping an eye on their grandfather and ready to run outside the moment trouble started.
To their shock there wasn't such a thing. In fact the older man had gone back in through the front door without so much as a word to the rowdy men despite the jeering they made in his lack of verbal defense.
When he approached them at closing time the twins had expected to get a lecture on how they had left their posts or that as violence was against the rules of the house and why it was bad. But they didn't get such a lecture. In fact their grandfather spoke not a word to them even after the restaurant was closed.
So, after cleaning up and making sure all their chores were done the twins retreated to their room. It was only past eight in the evening and the sun had only just begun to set. Leixia went ahead and took a shower while Xian played his video game. He'd take a shower as soon as Leixia was out, until then he played some Street Fighter V to try and calm his nerves. Calming his nerves meant mashing the buttons on his PlayStation controller so hard one would fear he'd break the thing. Too bad his mind was lost in his personal frustration at the events from earlier.
'Those jerks...should have moved faster and kicked their asses 'fore sis showed up...' he thought as he finished the match on the screen. He won, though only just barely. His mind had been only partially on the game, and he couldn't help but think to earlier almost every other second. He had gotten careless and nearly lost as a result. He set the controller down and sighed before falling back onto his bed. Staring up at the underside of his sister's bed on the upper bunk he still felt frustrated beyond relief. 'How can people think that we are responsible for this pandemic?'
The door to the room opened and Leixia walked in. Drying her hair with a towel and dressed in her pajamas consisting of a teal t-shirt and matching shorts both of which had small pandas imprinted on them. She saw her sibling resting on the bed and knew without asking what was wrong. She tossed the damp cloth into the clothes hamper before going over to the window and opened it. The weather for the night was expected to be cool and the house tended to get warm with all the windows closed. She liked it cool.
Xian turned his head to his sister, "Sis, can I ask you something?"
The girl was busy putting her hair into twin tails but she turned to him. "Yeah?"
"This whole thing...how are we going to live with it? I mean this isn't going to go away anytime soon, but I am not sure that I can handle this whole...discrimination."
Sitting down on the floor Leixia found herself unable to give a totally satisfactory reply. Sure she could say things would turn out alright in the end, but that made her sound like a broken record. She had been on repeat for the most part it drove her mad, regardless of how sugar coated she made it out to be. "Wish I could give you an answer, brother, but I don't think I could give one. One that could put your mind at ease."
Xian sat up and turned back to his game, grabbing the controller but not pressing any buttons yet, "I mean, the hate is what gets to me. How can people say those sort of things about us? We're not responsible for this."
"Grandpa says that in a rather hopeless situation, people tend to look for a scapegoat for their troubles. One that can satisfy their minds even if it is irrational it defies reason," answered Leixia. She had heard her elder say that to her after a shouting match inside the restaurant between two men arguing about the blame of the issue at hand. As mediator her grandfather had to be impartial and try to calm the situation. He did without raising a hand or his voice. Had it been either of the twins a fight would have erupted, no doubt.
Still, even with that now in his mind Xian didn't feel right. He hunched over and put his elbows on his knees. "...are we going to have to deal with this forever?"
Her more serious exterior melted as Leixia took a seat next to her brother and put an arm around his shoulders. "Wǒmen jiāng jiějué zhège wèntí. Bùyòng dānxīn."
'We will get through this...' Her words of reassurance lifted her brother's spirit a little, "Xièxiè jiějiě."
Leixia smiled, "Your welcome." Then she got up from the bed and went towards the door. "I'm going to go train. Want to join me?"
It was Xian's turn to smile. Training usually meant using the swords. He eagerly turned off his PlayStation and ran after his sister.
While the twins went to do their daily training with the grandfather and the rest of Chinatown began to quiet for the night, there were still vagrants rattling around in spite of the curfew.
A few of those malcontents were very close, and very dangerous.
Outside the White Tiger a group of four men, including the two men who had nearly come to blows with the two teenagers earlier, readied themselves for payback and then some.
Behind the White Tiger was a 'backyard' of sorts which consisted of an old fashioned dojo and a small garden used for Zen and relaxation. That consisted of a koi pond and a large rock surrounded by flowers and a single red wood bench where the grandfather was watching his grandchildren train with a mystical set of swords known as the Storm. They had been at it for well over an hour, and he was watching to make note of their progress.
Using the mystical swords required concentration, and that was exactly what Xian needed to do if he wanted to avoid getting shocked, as the blades of the Storm did not appreciate carelessness.
Twin jian swords clashed as Xian and Leixia went about their training with each other, which was usually fast as lightning and loud as thunder. The two blades clashed and sparks flew, and though they looked evenly matched to the average onlooker it wasn't as clear to the old man watching from his chair on the far side of the garden. By means of grace and strength Leixia was performing better while Xian's usual all power response impacted his timing and strikes. Though the two had used the blades for nearly a year, both had plenty to learn yet from the weapons they had come to use.
Both twins stopped fighting each other long enough to take a breather. Xian had to take one greatly. His flexibility and maneuvering was much more robust than that of his sister, who was like a ballet dancer in her movements.
"Damn sis...you're better at this than me," he admitted through multiple gulps of air. He had worked up quite a sweat as well.
"Stamina plays a key part in battle, not just strength. Power is good and all but you'll pass out long before you ever defeat me," said Leixia as she wiped the sweat from her brow. She had seriously regretted taking a shower before this, and she'd have to take another afterward. Her sword, the blade known as Lightning had no visible wear on its blade despite it being over two thousand years old. After all the heavy blows it had suffered it was still in pristine condition. The same was for Thunder, the blade her brother used. Even the golden tassels at the end of their dragon engraved handles were still bright.
Xian nodded, "Duly noted, sis...let's take a break."
Not disagreeing with this, as they had been hard at it for almost an hour Leixia needed a drink and so she went to put her sword in its sheathe. Her brother did the same before sitting down on the hard wood floor of the dojo with a thud. Leixia grabbed her water and took a gulp before offering it to her brother who took it without a word.
"You should work on stretching. It will help with your stamina as well when in battle," said Leixia.
Her brother agreed, though he didn't do it in a visible form, he was too proud for that. Instead he handled it in a way only he knew. "Uh yeah, and you should have been a dancer with the way you can bend yourself like you can."
"Maybe a shenlong dancer, ever thought of that? It'd be a good hobby for you."
"You mean those people who literally have limbs of rubber and minds of steel? ...no thanks. I like my flexibility the way it is," she retorted. As if to demonstrate she handed her sword to Xian and without so much as a warm up did series of cart wheels and backflips the entire length of the dojo before landing on her feet near the door. A perfect ten. "See? Nothing wrong with me."
Xian shook his head. His sister wasn't one to show off, instead she'd call what she had done proving a point, and she did that.
A crash was suddenly heard that made Leixia jump and turn. It came from the restaurant in front. "The hell was that?" asked the girl.
Her brother's expression was the same as hers, and yet he was the first to move his feet in a run, his grip on Thunder tight. As he ran past his sister he tossed Lightning into her waiting hands. Both of them ran straight to the restaurant where their noses first got whiff the horror awaiting them.
A large blaze was already engulfing the front tables nearest the front door. The wooden furniture was fueling the fire and a large part of the face of the store was beginning to turn black. Black smoke was also starting to fill up the room as Leixia ran to get the fire extinguisher from the kitchen.
Yet, even the crackling of the flames couldn't hide the hooting and hollering from outside the front door. It was because of that Xian quickly figured out this was no accident.
And it was without thinking of the danger, or thinking about anything other than the anger he felt swelling up inside that Xian recklessly leapt through the fire. The doors were greatly weakened by the fire and so the teen crashed through them. He rolled to his feet on the sidewalk outside in time to see four young men, including two very familiar faces.
Xian's eyes went wide, 'those two again?!'
The four men all panicked and how couldn't they after seeing someone bravely jump through a blazing fire just to reach them? And holding a sword no less? Their panic was shared as they ran to the side alley between the Tiger and the building next to it. Sirens from the local fire department and police echoed loudly in the air and a crowd began to form opposite the Tiger.
Xian wasted no time in taking off for the men, following them into the alley. "Get back here!"
"That brat is armed man, run!"
Too bad that command soon proved impossible as the alley they ran into proved to be nothing but a dead end. Soon Xian caught up with them and they had nowhere to go. Nowhere to run, no one around to see what would happen next.
And for a reckless young man like Xian, whose anger was like that of the river Styx, in a dead end was not where these men wanted to be. However, for their credit, the men were armed with bats and pipes. One of them even had a brick in each hand. Vandal weapons, fitting for them.
His grip already tight on the sheath of Thunder Xian managed to speak for the first time in the last few minutes. "So it wasn't enough to rough up some poor guy just because he was Asian you had to go and deface my grandfather's beloved White Tiger?"
The first man, the ring leader and the one who had called him a baka earlier stepped forward, "Get the hell out of this country, you slant eyed fucker! And never come back!"
Those eyes he had insulted narrowed, and though his anger blinded him to notice it Xian's body was beginning to vibrate. His sword shook with similar intensity. Even the sky above seemed to react to the situation, the previously clear sky was heavily covered with clouds and the rumbling of thunder shook the entirety of Chinatown.
Xian put his right hand on the sword handle, ready to unleash it and teach them a lesson.
The young man turned his head and saw his sister, armed still with Lightning in its sheath approach his left side. Her pajamas were partially blackened from having fought the fire earlier.
"Sis? You okay?"
"The Storm shouldn't be used on riffraff such as them. It'd be a waste of their power. Besides...you'd more than likely end up killing them."
"But-" Xian protested but his sister glared at him. She was serious not just in her warning but in the swords' destructive power.
"I doubt that, even with the satisfaction you'd give yourself, you'd want another set of deaths on our consciousness. Right?"
Flashes of Hong Kong went through Xian's mind. Painful memories he'd rather forget. Those stained with blood and awash in rain. He knew his sister was right, as usual, and he would swallow his eagerness for a fight.
Luckily the next set of actions were out of his hands as two police patrol cars arrived at the end of the alley.
Heavy rain followed with the sudden rising storm and it more or less helped put the fire out at the White Tiger. It had been put out though the entire front of the store had been badly damaged and would cost a lot to put back the way it had been.
The police had taken the men away without further incident, though not before they jeered at the teenagers who had gotten them arrested before being sent away.
Xian sat on the floor in his room, dressed in clean clothes and holding his sword thoughtfully. He had been that way since his grandpa had ordered him to his room. Leixia had also taken another shower and changed before she returned to the room.
She knew her brother had been in personal turmoil the whole day, hell maybe in the last few weeks, and the fact that she couldn't do anything other than tell him to remain positive and that things would turn out alright in the end seemed to be useless after a while.
Yet as she stood in the doorway she looked down at her brother and saw, to her delight, he was smiling up at her.
She liked it, yet had to ask. "What's got you smiling?"
"...justice prevailed, and we didn't have to lift a finger," said Xian before looking at the sword he held in his hand. "I am satisfied. Things did turn out fine in the end."
Leixia couldn't help but smile.