>John Ingram had gotten used to the stares, but there was one stare he had never quite gotten the hang of. As he ascended the concrete steps past concrete walls past numbers in red haphazardly painted, their chips marking their birthdays, he knew what waited him on the otherside of this door. It was those twin brown puddles under which pulsed an untainted heart that entwined the two of them together. Life and destiny in its most lasting entirety.
He entered the apartment and removed his shoes and put on the black moccassins that she had crafted for him and wriggled his toes. It had rained today. Heavily, and though in Wuhan it always rained heavily, today’s offering had been especially hard. He pulled off his jacket and bits of rainwater splashed off on to the floor. He folded his umbrella and tossed it near the slipper rack and looked over to her. The jewel herself. Sitting on the bed watching CCTV9’s nightly English contest on their tiny, cheap TV.
No remote. Just a knob that groaned a dull click when you turned it. How much had he given for it? Not a Mao. He had pawned a pair of counterfeit boots for that.
He smiled. No. Correction. She had pawned a pair of counterfeit boots for that. His Chinese was barely good enough to order food, let alone bargain with a shopkeep who slept in a cot lined up against rows of cigarettes, themselves likely contenders for counterfeit status carrying human and rat waste and stray leaves, anything but the quality tobacco you lit up for.
Cigarettes that were dangerous to smoke. Perish the thought.
She waited until commercial to acknowledge him and those eyes, those twin pulsing beauties turned in her head and next came the smile and the words.
Baobei. Hao bu hao?
Bu hao. It’s raining like a bitch out there.
Her smile widened. It’s raining dogs and cats.
It’s raining cats and dogs, he corrected her and it was a pleasant correction. A year ago she had been afraid to say hello. He had cured her of that. He sat beside her and lifted the edge of her nightshirt. Come to think of it, he had cured her of many things.
I was worried about you, she said through full lips that never lost their vitality, not even in the coldest winter.
Worried about me, he said and put his arm around her and she snuggled against him.
I was afraid you drown out there.
His pale cracked fingers rubbed her leg.
Well, I can’t swim.
He started to stroke her hair.
I guess if I’d been drowning you’d have to throw a life raft to me.
No, she said. I let you go.
You’d let me drown?
Yes. She giggled and covered her mouth as she did so. That was a trait he’d never cured her of. One he never intended to either.
Do you know what I do next?
Get a new handsome laowai.
Handsome laowai? Oh, I don’t think so.
He pinched the side of her stomach. She poked his belly in return.
Big pillow. My big pillow. No, I take you and I breath the life into you.
He turned to her. Those eyes. He was lost in them. A wanderer in that most pearly land of wander.
How will you do that?
Their lips embraced and he took her as he had every night for the past six months.
Later as they were lying in bed, she sent forth words like offerings to any who could hear them in that dark hot place. A single fan oscillated, a castoff they’d found in a garabage pile on a backstreet not far from here. He raised his hand and felt its brief, welcome breaths as she spoke.
Did you have fun at the netbar?
I did. There was a pretty girl there.
Oh? Did you speak to her?
No. I looked though. I looked plenty.
You can. You can talk with her, and date with her.
Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind on my next visit.
Yes. You can. I kill the girl and I kill you.
Yes, he said laughing. I’ll keep that in mind too.
She never asked him what America would be like but he sometimes felt compelled to tell her. He figured she must be asking these questions, but as time dragged on, he knew these were simply questions he asked himself to which he provided guesswork posing as substantial answers.
After showering the next morning, she sat beside him on the bed.
My skin is different colors.
Here, she tapped her upper thigh, is pale. My arm is dark. Down here, she tapped her calf, is in between.
He looked at her smiling. She returned her own brand. The one he loved.
Nothing on you is dark.
Your arm is dark.
This part, he said tracing a finger from his elbow to his wrist. Up here is all white.
You’re darker than me and whiter than me.
Yes, but that’s because I don’t carry an umbrella around.
She curled up a fist. Da si ni.