On a little bamboo stand were soap, face powder, and rouge. Fusang rubbed a little rouge on her lips. She liked the fruit-sweet taste.
Amah, the madam, pushed open the door and entered, calling to Fusang in a voice as burnt as dregs of cooking fat. Amah Mei carried around a big brass kettle all day, pouring fresh water into the wash basins in every room.
Fusang got up from the chamber pot, a little sorry to leave the circle of warmth she'd made while sitting there.
Amah, parting the curtain with her backside, poured some water into the basin and said, Still no customers? I keep forking out for your rice and salt fish, and what do I get in return? She raised her eyebrows and sighed with a smile at Fusang. What's the matter? You got a lump of gold in your mouth? Afraid it'll fall out if you talk?
Fusang smiled back and said nothing.
At midnight, take off your clothes and wait in my room. The boss wants to give you a good beating. You hear me?
Fusang said she heard.
Don't forget to fasten your hair up tight, Amah continued. Don't let him pull your hair. Once he pulls a girl's hair, he's an addict. Hecan't stop beating her. He loses track of how much he's beaten her. He'll beat her to death and not even know it.
I won't forget.
Your hair is so thick, Amah said. What a great head of hair--you go through three ounces of my hair oil a day. Hey, what are you crying about?
Nothing, nothing, Fusang said, shaking her head. I'm just hungry.
No you're not. When you're hungry you can't pee and I just heard you take a long one.
Fusang wanted to ask Amah for some better sandalwood incense, but the sound of Doughface seeing off her john distracted her.
Amah said, You've got to do a better job. You're already twenty. Other girls are household names by your age. If you don't get a customer soon, I'm selling you off next month and that's all there is to it.
whipped, and then salved,
Fusang walked slowly down the dark hall toward the faint yellow light. When she reached the third door, she relaxed a bit. Her lash wounds were starting to cool off. She entered the dining room, which contained a big table with sixteen chairs. The table had been cleared, though here and there a fish bone or scrap of vegetable stuck to its surface. A boiled fleshy fish head, big as a piglet's, lay in an earthenware pot. Deep red blood still clung to its lips.
Fusang wondered if Amah had been serious when she'd said she'd sell her. After all, she was willing to part with such a big fish head for her. Fusang shooed a few cockroaches from beneath the lip of the pot, sat down, took her feet from beneath her skirt, and rested them on the chair across from her.
She broke the fish head open and lifted it piece by piece into her mouth.
Suddenly, Amah shouted from the hall, Fusang, you've got a customer!
She answered her, then pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from the tip of her nose. She heard Amah shout, Fusang,can't you hear me when I'm calling you? What've you been doing, stuffing food in your ears?
Fusang got up and answered more loudly as she readjusted her skirt and walked toward her room.
She was flustered and glad, almost skipping. She'd been waiting for a customer for a whole month and now that he was here, shouldn't she be flustered and glad?
When she reached her room, she jumped back in shock, figuring she must have barged through the wrong door. Four red candles were burning and wisps of top- grade sandalwood incense smoke were circling into a net, weaving into a curtain, the fragrance so heavy she squinted.
Tongues of candle flame shimmied and the golden-red space of the whole room turned unstable. Fusang thought Amah must like her after all, to part with such good candles and incense.
From The Lost Daughter of Happiness, copyright (c) 2001, Hyperion Press. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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