The Mystery Of Ah Sing

Ah Sing comes on Tuesdays to get the washing and on Saturdays to bring it back. He is an urbane, smiling person, who appears to view life impersonally and dispassionately.

One would say that he realized that the career of Ah Sing was not of prime importance in a population so numerous and a universe so extensive. He loves to ask questions. How old is the mistress of the house? Where did she come from? How much does the master of the house earn? What does he do? Why haven’t they any children? Where did they get all the books and pictures?

Ah Sing always wants to know about the vacations, both before and after taking, and looks intelligent when places like Nantucket and the Thousand Islands are mentioned. He follows the family fortunes like an old retainer, and seems to possess a kind of feudal loyalty. It would be morally impossible, not to say physically, to give the washing to any one but Ah Sing. He would come for it, and the mistress of the house would sink through the floor with contrition and embarrassment. He may die out of his job, or go back to China out of it, there to live like a mandarin, but he will not be fired out of it. Never will he join the army of unemployed; never will he stand humbly asking work. He is a monopoly, an institution, a friend.

So far one gets with Ah Sing. To lose him would be like losing a beloved pipe or a comfortable pair of slippers. He belongs amid the furniture of living, and is as simple, homely, and admirable as grandpa’s picture on the wall. But what is Ah Sing thinking about? What is going on across that gulf which separates him from us? How many transmigrations must we all go through before we could know Ah Sing as well as we know the family from Indiana which moved in next door last week? How shall we penetrate to the soul of Ah Sing?

If we could answer these questions we could present ourselves forthwith at Washington with the solution of the world’s most vexatious problem. But the answers are dark, Ah Sing is remote, and the East and the West have not yet met.


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