"It feels right to me. I'm not afraid to be direct with the Chinese. I think they expect that of Americans. That's why we have to be up front with these people, Vincent. We represent millions of Christians in America they're never going to meet. There's a lot of things in this town that worry me. And it's not just the gambling and all the weird stuff that goes on in the temples. Yesterday, I saw that other American guy, that friend of yours, riding around with a Chinese girl on his motorcycle."
"He's a Scotsman. His name is Alec."
"That hardly matters, because she was leaning right up against him, had her arms all over him. And that's what infuriates me, because the Chinese are going to think we're the same as him."
"Not if they get to know us."
"Well, how many of them do know us? We have about fifteen students coming to the house for lessons, but what about everyone else in town? That's why I think we need to make ourselves more visible. That's why I'm going to tell you about an idea I have."
Vincent closed his eyes a moment, a meditation of patience. Another idea, he thought, get ready.
"I think we should start visiting people in their homes and introducing the Word of God. I've seen the Mormons do it in Taipei and I think they've had good luck with it."
"No," Vincent said. "It's an intrusive way to try and win people over. And besides that, I'm too busy right now."
"We can go out in the afternoons before you teach. I'll set my alarm clock and start getting up earlier. Please, Vincent, I really think this can work, but I need your help." By now the irritation had seeped out of her voice, and she turned toward him, tilting her head pleadingly to one side. It was an appeal meant to be girlishly endearing, though it struck Vincent as hollow and therefore somewhat unsettling.
"No, I still don't think it's a good idea."
"Please. Let's just give it a try."
"We'll go out one afternoon, and if it doesn't work, I won't bother you with it again, all right?"
"No, I'm afraid it's not all right."
"One afternoon. That's all I'm asking."
He shook his head and sighed.
"Please," she said. "I'm not going to let up. That's the kind of person I am. You're just going to have to say yes."
"I thought I'd made it clear how I feel about -- "
"Just say yes and I'll stop all of this and we'll both feel better."
"All right...yes. I'll go out one time and one time only."
"Oh good, Vincent. That's so sweet of you. That's all I wanted to hear, that one little yes."
At the Ming-da Academy, Trudy's class now carried on without her. In Vincent's mind there was little difference: only the element of unsavory surprise had been eliminated. The remaining forty-one girls were as forthright as ever, their maroon jackets pressed and worn crisply across their narrow backs, their bright, untroubled faces turned toward him.
The language laboratory contained a VCR and a series of half-hour English-language programs. After viewing these, the girls were generally positive, but again their language ability outrivaled the programs' curriculum of mild cartoons and giddy puppets. Next, he rented and showed the class E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Just as he expected, they were enchanted by the homely visitor from space. Vincent paused the tape after the first half hour and stepped before the class with a prepared sheet of questions. He glanced at the seating chart and called on Cookie.
"Please describe E.T. Where does he come from and what does he look like?"
Cookie rose sheepishly to her feet. "E.T. is a man from the stars. He is a small man. He is not a handsome man. I cannot think of one thing that he looks like. He has a true and lovely heart. My classmates and I like everything about him, but there is one thing we do not like."
Copyright © 2004 by John Dalton
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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