It's hard to say what he looked like. All boys have the same vaguely shaped mouth. From suckling at the breast to sucking hard candy, certain instincts remain on the lips. This was the mouth that fed his ravenous curiosity: a mouth in transition, a mouth that devoured so many fairy tales and adventure stories. You were his fairy tale. Your cavelike room was a distant kingdom, and your every movement had magical powers. The Orient--the word alone was enough to become the origin of all mysteries, at least as far as this twelve-year-old boy was concerned.
Once you got over your shock, you pretended you couldn't tell how young he was. You wouldn't cut a single corner with him, you decided. You smiled at him as if he were a man every bit your match. You never thought of him as just one of the hundreds of little white devils who came to the Chinatown brothels looking for cheap thrills.
Let me tell you about that: In a single year, over two thousand white boys between the ages of eight and fourteen entertained themselves with Chinese prostitutes. One of my books calls it "a most unusual social phenomenon...a contagion running rampant through morality and decency....Fifty percent of the boys visited Chinese brothels on a regular basis, and ninety percent used their lunch money or candy allowance....'
I'm looking at you in the candlelight. There's nothing cheap about you, even though all my sources keep insisting the "cheapness' of Chinese prostitutes is what attracted white boys. Just the way the cheap restaurants, housewares, and produce of Chinatown today attract penniless new immigrants like me, as well as tourists from all over the world.
Now you are walking step by step toward him, this twelve-year-old white devil named Chris. Your steady step makes you seem big and tall, ripe to the bursting point. Ignored so long, your whole body is expectant, like fruit heavy with juice. You are so ready for the hand that picks you, it doesn't even matter whose hand it is.
Every woman has her moment of greatest beauty, that point of fullest bloom, and this was yours. Chris saw it. The little john swooned.
His desire for thrills disappeared. His enthusiasm to try out a cheap Chinese whore turned to adoration. The adoration boys all over the world feel for ripe beautiful women. That age-old, predictable adoration.
Nothing could make him brave now, not even the inferiority everyone of his race ascribed to everyone of yours, including you personally. He could no longer muster his bravado. He just stared at you with those blue eyes, watching you cracking melon seeds with your teeth, watching you pour tea for him. And when you cooled his tea, breath by breath, he trembled with longing.
You look in his eyes now. Stop pretending you don't see the soul floating to the surface of that blue. This marks the beginning of the destiny between you.
After that first time, when he'd left so abruptly after only barely touching your feet, he kept coming back to see you. To watch you play the flute or embroider shoes, to watch you crack melon seeds with your teeth or eat fish heads. Every now and then he opened his mouth too, to ask you something about China, and you just smiled. Sometimes he pulled out a pretty pebble or a beetle that changed colors and reverently placed it in your palm. Each time he came, he stayed just a short time, never more than ten minutes. But each time he left, he frowned and said, Wait for me. A worried look came over his face, funny and moving at the same time.
As if he had forgotten what had brought him to you in the first place, he kept postponing the day he would have you as a man did a woman. He never ate his favorite Swiss chocolate right away either; he always saved it for later. He saved anything he loved from his desire, until he couldn't save it any longer.
You had no idea what he did after he left you. Of course, he had to go back to his own people. He had to pass through the whole city. The city in your day was still in the womb, a strange embryo. But it already had quite a reputation: for prostitutes from all over the world, for gunfights, con games, and high-stakes gambling. Men were routinely kidnapped to work on the ships because the original crews were always running off to the gold mines. Those who had no luck panning for gold were roaming the streets with fake money and real guns and bellies full of hellfire.
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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