You know I too am auctioning you.
You turn around again, and now I see the huge bun at the back of your head, with a hairpin of white jade and a garland of pink silk flowers starting behind your left ear and looped down around half the bun. Several years from now, the depths of this bun will hide a brass button belonging to Chris, that white boy.
The first time he saw you, when he first thought of buying your services, he was only twelve.
Let's take a look at you from the very beginning. Very good: The hazy distance between us has thinned and all of a sudden you're right here.
Your fourteen-year-old colleagues instructed you to "market' yourself: If you don't get work, Fusang, you won't get supper and you'll be whipped naked. Your juniors in the field considered you worthless--you didn't know how to sell yourself; you didn't know how to make eyes at the men outside the window.
The histories describe this marketing in detail:
Chinese prostitutes employed their own unique ways of attracting customers: 'Nice Chinese girl, hey mister, come on in and see, your daddy he just go out!...' 'Two bittee lookee, fol bittee feelee, six bittee do- ' 'Chinese girly, fresh off boat, good girly, only thirty cent!...' Every now and then, moved by such explicit language and cheap prices, someone would turn back, pause, and pick out one of those children, one much like the next.'
You didn't hawk yourself. Whenever a man looked at you, you smiled at him, hesitantly at first, and then so wholeheartedly you made him feel you were wild about him and perfectly content with your life.
It was probably your smile that made these men realize you were no ordinary goods. Someone slows before your window. Bigger and taller than most, you rise from the creaky bamboo bed. The slight delay in your movements makes you seem almost dignified.
People could forget for a moment that you were a caged prostitute for sale.
This is what you were like when you first arrived in San Francisco. I certainly won't let people confuse you with any of the other three thousand whores from China.
Evening fog came ashore from the sea, dampening the dirt on the streets, growing heavier, settling. The dust that caught in Fusang's throat was no longer coming in the window.
A bit cold, a bit tired, a bit hungry, she was watching the buggy lanterns jouncing along.
Next door was fourteen-year-old Doughface, whose voice by now was as hoarse as the sound of ripping cloth. Three little white devils walked by, no more than eleven or twelve. Hearing Doughface call out, they pressed their dirty fingers to their throats to mimic her voice, the sound of their laughter like paper rattling in the wind.
Doughface tried again, Hurry up, come on in, your daddy he just go out!
The little white devils tore open their shirts like brutes, exposing their funny-looking navels. They begged her to unbutton her blouse.
She dickered over the price while fanning her collar open and shut. Her breasts looked like two swollen mosquito bites. She wasn't terribly pretty to begin with and the pockmarks on her face were as deep as raindrops in sand.
Her bamboo bed started singing, creaking out a rhythm. She would eat tonight.
Fusang left the window. The room was so small that with only four steps she had reached the curtain on the other side, where several flies hung, too cold to move. The flowers embroidered on the curtain had not yet faded. She lifted the curtain, with its filth and red flowers and green leaves and flies, stepped inside, raised and secured her skirt, and lowered herself over the copper chamber pot.
The water in the wash basin beside the chamber pot was still clean--no customers. All the prostitutes here told Fusang, You've got to wash yourself as soon as the john leaves, or else you'll stink to high heaven.
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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