Ah Cha said, That guy of mine is probably here.
How many guys you got? Ah Jiao asked, slapping her on the bottom.
Just one, not like you! Ah Cha said. When he's made enough money he's gonna come for me.
Ah Jiao said, They all say that. She tossed an empty snail shell over her shoulder, hitting Ah Cha in the chest. Laughing and squealing, the two of them chased and slapped and cursed each other, attracting the attention of the men waiting outside the bathhouse.
Hey Fusang, what about you? Ah Cha asked. How many guys you got out there?
Fusang shook her head and laughed. She was wearing a peach-pink blouse and wide-legged pants of black gauze. As Fusang knelt down to pull up her shoe, Ah Jiao whispered in Ah Cha's ear, Who could she have? She can't even remember their names! Look at her; she turns as rosy as pork lungs at the mere sight of so many men....Ah Jiao stopped, stifling her laughter with her hand.
The men outside the bathhouse watched them hungrily.
Hey, which house are you from? Another shouted, I'll be over to see you later!
Her lips suddenly moist, Fusang stood up and gave them a smile.
Another yelled, I've got a bar of foreign soap, it sure smells nice. I'll save you half!
The thug hurried them along.
A crowd circled an Indian snake charmer.
Another crowd was gathered around two Chinese men putting on a meat chopping performance. Fusang craned her neck to get a better look. She was taller than her two companions, who kept asking her what was going on. One guy was kneeling on the ground, his back serving as a cutting board on which the other guy was mincing a hunk of beef. At the end of the act, the kneeling man's back was completely unscathed.
Ah Jiao exclaimed, That's not necessarily beef!
Ah Cha said, Then what is it?
Ah Jiao replied with a mischievous smile, One day someone disappears, the next day it's someone else-- where do they go? When have you ever seen cattle around here?
The three women burst into peals of laughter. Three pairs of tiny feet in red embroidered shoes kicked up little clumps of dirt as they ran into the street. Ahorse and buggy was coming, and the women stopped to get out of the way, patting their chests and panting.
A distinguished white devil in his fifties stuck his head out the gauze curtain of the coach.
Hey, you Chinese hookers, get out of the way!
They grabbed one another's hands. We have, one said.
Go hide in that doorway until my carriage has passed! My wife and daughter are inside, get it?
With a flurry of little feet, the three of them retreated inside the teahouse. They understood: Proper white devil women shouldn't lay eyes on girls like them. They were permitted to exist, but not in the same time and place as the women in the carriage. They were supposed to leave the world clean for such women.
Ah Jiao and Ah Cha wanted to continue their walk; Fusang said she'd wait for them in the teahouse. The thug went to tail the other two, knowing he wouldn't have to worry much about Fusang. One time Fusang ran off with another girl without even really knowing what she was doing and came back on her own the very next day. When they tried to beat an explanation out of her, she just smiled and replied slowly, Yesterday I ran away and today I ran back. Fusang's obedience was just part of her simple streak.
The wind dispersed the fog and the sun slanted through the teahouse doorway.
Gently as a worm, Fusang inched into the sunlight.
Business was slow at Chan Teahouse--two men sitting across the room. They were greengrocers who made deliveries to restaurants before daybreak, shouldering baskets of vegetables on their carrying poles. Now their poles leant against their legs and a few leftover bunches of greens drooped like their faces--this would be their dinner.
From The Lost Daughter of Happiness, copyright (c) 2001, Hyperion Press. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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