Flickers of red paper floated in the air, curling into a cacophony of orange, black, and white. If she’d been just a little younger, she would have been down there with her cousins, arguing over who would get to light the fuse. There were another couple of sets to go – she’d seen them just after dinner, doubled rows of little red cylinders, packed with the tiniest amounts of explosives. She thought she’d heard one of her older cousins say that they’d gotten them from a shop down the road, and only for fifty ringgit!
The calculation appeared unconsciously in her head. It was just over fifteen Australian dollars. She wondered how many sets she’d be able to get back home for fifteen dollars.
There were fireworks, too, but this was different. On their way home, her mother would tell her they were technically all illegal, but the powers that be all turned a blind eye on Chinese New Year. The fireworks may have been louder, flashier, with more patterns and colours, but it wasn’t anything she hadn’t seen before at home. Most of them would go off at the stroke of midnight, but she’d already seen a couple of displays off in the distance.
She watched the children scream in delight as the next set of firecrackers burst into sound. It was a little different to the cartoons she had seen when she was younger. But then again, she’d never seen real firecrackers before. At least, not until about a few hours ago. She’d grown up with the stories, though. Her parents would have never let her grow up without telling her the stories.
They were supposed to scare the monster away. Loud noises, the colour red. That’s why firecrackers were so important – they were a double whammy. They would keep the monster at bay, to ensure a smooth start to the new year. She wasn’t the superstitious sort, and she didn’t live in a Chinese village up in the mountains, but it was tradition, right? Surely she owed that much to her family and her heritage. And honestly, she would take any kind of luck or karma or whatever it was called.
Because her monsters weren’t afraid of the colour red, or a series of loud noises. They weren’t the subjects of old folk tales, or of traditions passed down from generation to generation. Her monsters were relentless, invisible. They yelled and screamed when no-one was looking, and whispered little secrets when no-one was listening. She didn’t know how many there were, where they lived, or what they were going to do. She knew they had followed her here, and they would follow her home. But for this one night, they were nowhere to be seen, or heard.
She breathed in the smoky air, and watched another two, three sets of firecrackers explode into the air. Flecks of red landed amongst the loose gravel that made up the driveway, and they would drive over it when they left for the airport in the coming days. The noise died down, and the children hurried back inside to the TV, to stare intently at their phones, and to annoy one another until the year turned over. She turned away from the balcony too, a glimpse of a smile playing on her lips.
It would soon be the start of a new year, and she knew she couldn’t stay here forever. She would take her fifteen dollars of luck, and head back home. Hopefully it would be enough to tide her over until next year.