By Cuifen Chen
From issue 22.1 of Fourth Genre
This is how I know my teachers have come to my name on the class register: a pause. A squint so fleeting across their faces, I only don’t miss it because I’ve been watching for it. Their lips forming half-whispered shapes as they try the unfamiliar sound of my name in their mouths, and I sit with my own mouth full of my own silence, wondering if it tastes to them like it does to me.
My professors in England have the hardest time saying my name. I get used to hearing every possible rendition of it. A soft C, I tell people, making the ch sound for them. I get used to spelling it. I get used to repeating it again and again until it sounds strange even to me, in the way of your reflection looking increasingly unfamiliar the more you stare at it. Did I always have that line in the corner of my eye? Did my smile always quirk up a little more on the right side of my mouth? Did I always stress the first syllable of my name that way, straining to make it sound less exotic for ears unused to it?
The worst thing I get used to is not being called anything for an entire semester. No one can fault the practicality of this solution. My name cannot be misspoken if it is not spoken at all. The worst thing I get used to is the anchorless feeling of not being seen.
Cuifen Chen was born and raised in Singapore where she now lives and works, having spent time abroad in the UK and Australia. Her fiction has been anthologised by Ethos Books (Singapore)/Margaret River Press (Australia) and Regulus Press (USA), while her poetry has been published in Southeast Asian Review of English and her creative nonfiction in Fourth Genre. Cuifen was the winner of the Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2018 and the Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition 2019. She is a graduate of the MA Creative Writing programme at LASALLE College of the Arts, and loves coffee, liminal spaces and fantastic things.