June 29, 2021

ELI Student Writing Series: An Essay by Xiaomin Deng

By Christine J Trotter

Xiaomin Deng has been studying English at the ELI for four semesters. She wrote this piece in a Reading and Writing course in the Comprehensive English Program with instructor Priscilla Karant. She was inspired by two readings: an excerpt from Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Sam Sussman’s essay “The Silent Type.”

                                               My Tom Sawyer by Xiaomin Deng

“You’re the most conceited brother in the world. I hate you. I want to go home.” I closed my eyes, feeling tears streaming down my face in exasperation. We had gotten lost on our way home. Because of the rough terrain, we could no longer ride the bike. I followed behind him, while he rolled the bike by his side. 

“You coward. Can’t you just stop crying? We’re on an adventure. I promise we’ll get home,” he hissed. 

It was a sweltering hot day, muggy and uncomfortable. The only thing in front of us were the vast rice fields with stubble left. No one else was in the fields, only the song of cicadas could be heard. My brother walked his bicycle carefully along the ridge of the rice field. I followed, annoyed but silent.

I couldn’t help recalling what had happened ten minutes ago. We were on the way home after almost a one-month stay at my grandmother’s home. I had been sitting on the back of my brother’s bicycle. He was sweating as if he had just taken a shower, cycling hard on a long uphill. I could hear the hen–the gift my grandmother gave me for my mom–intermittently clucking next to my seat in the basket, seemingly complaining about this unbearable heat.  

Abruptly, my brother changed the route back home: “Let’s try this road. Wow, this is a long downhill. Wow…” He was excited and relaxed, rarely stepping on the bike pedals. My temper was about to flare but there was nothing else I could do, only clutch onto his shirt. That’s how and why we got lost.

We plodded along the ridges, succeeding in crossing many small ditches. Two hours passed. The sun began to set. Suddenly, I heard a splash, seeing my brother falling into a ditch with his bicycle. He tried to scramble up and found that the hen was flying away: the knot tied to the hen’s feet had become untied. I couldn’t help but laugh out in gleeful disbelief. I had been angry enough, frightened enough, but now interested enough to see this accident. 

He scrambled up the hill, cleaned up the mess, pulled back the bicycle and captured the hen, and we kept going. Then a nearly eight-foot-wide creek came into view when my brother screamed, “Let’s walk along this creek. I’m sure we’re going to find the main road.” But we had to walk on a single-log bridge. Apprehensively, I was reluctant to walk on it. I winced, with tears suddenly filling my eyes. At that moment, my brother took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his trousers, rubbed his shoulders, and motioned me to get on his back. His gentleness and bravery had calmed me. He had become my anchor. He whispered, “Don’t worry. I’m with you.” I felt relieved. “Yes, brother.” 

                    A reddish, purplish sunset, some wispy clouds overhead

We continued our walk for more than a half-hour. My brother snapped his fingers. “We made it! Here we are!” He parked his bicycle, running over to me. I was a bit behind him. I picked up a lump of earth and threw it at him, and he caught it, laughing, and threw it back just missing me. Finally, we were back on the main road. I was back on my brother’s bicycle. Looking up, I saw the sunset was making great splashes of fiery red across the sky.  

Adventures with my brother were always full of tears and sweat but also filled with excitement and achievement. He is my forever Tom Sawyer, instructing me to cut down the thorns and ride the waves wherever I am.


Xiaomin Deng, a student at the ELI, is currently working as a production coordinator manager in Manhattan. She hopes to return to school to get a Master’s Degree.

Priscilla Karant, Clinical Assistant Professor, teaches in ELI’s Comprehensive English Program.

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