In the surface of the chamber pot, Fusang saw a distorted Amah lift her shirt to wipe her face, exposing a pale belly rubbed slack by countless men.
Just like the madams before her, Amah opened Fusang's small bundle and inspected each and every item to see whether she'd stolen anything. Picking up a green glass bracelet and trying it out against the color of her own skin, Amah asked, Is this yours or mine? Before Fusang could reply, she said, Never mind. I said all along I'd give it to you. Fusang, you really haven't stolen much at all.
Fusang couldn't recall which of the dead girls had left her the bracelet. Looking at Amah, all she could do was smile.
The auction was held in a basement room that would take five minutes to cross. Fusang had never seen an auction hall so big.
Wooden stools and a teak chair were lined up along one wall. The stools were all taken, but no one was sitting in the chair.
Two madams in their thirties were taking turns massaging each other's necks and shoulders and groaning with satisfaction.
At midnight, a man came down the stairs. He was taller than most Chinese men, and well built. His queue was incredibly thick. It quickly became apparent why: His hair grew from the nape of his neck down his upper back, like the mane of a horse or lion. His freshly shaven forehead was the color of steel.
Someone shouted, Ah Ding, I haven't seen you in ages!
Me neither, the guy named Ah Ding answered with a laugh, commanding the teak chair and crossing one leg overthe other with exaggerated ease. Five daggers, stuck in an elaborately tooled leather sheath at his waist, showed through his open jacket. He wore a ring on every finger, big rings with big colorful stones.
Someone said, Hey, Ah Ding, that wasn't you the vigilantes shot?
He laughed again, How the fuck do I know? Come on up and have a look. He toyed with his gold necklace, which was as thick as a leash. How're the goods? he asked, looking up.
The goods were huddled in one corner, behind several reed curtains that formed a pen.
Someone called, Come out, come on out!
The naked goods filed onto the stage. One girl's cough sounded like a gong.
Ah Ding said, "They're just bags of bones, why bother?" He chewed on a wad of tobacco.
Fusang was at the back. Unlike the others, she wore shoes and a top that reached her thighs. When Ah Ding saw her, his brow twitched. He thought she was probably somewhat stupid, for her face showed no anxiety or fear, just an earnest smile. She was smiling to herself. Her big black doltish eyes shone. Her face was red and shiny, and three raw scratches, left by sharp fingernails, ran from the corner of her mouth down her neck. The scratches clashed with her gentleness.
Sensing Ah Ding's gaze, Fusang glanced at him, but her eyelids drooped and she blinked. Through and through, she was a broken-in mare.
He took another look at the rounded legs beneath her top, wrapped in an even layer of fat. The fat on her torso was just as well distributed, and jiggled slightly when she grinned or breathed.
Ah Ding said, Tell her to take off her clothes.
She can't, she's filthy, said Amah.
Ah Ding spat out the wad of spent tobacco and said, Who's going to get her to take off that top?
Amah said, She's on the rag, she'll bleed all over the place. She's a real gusher, that one!
Ah Ding laughed and a trace of lewdness crossed his face. The others were familiar with this look. Once the bidding got underway, he pulled a hair from his queue, wound the ends around his index fingers, forced it between his teeth, and sawed back and forth a few times, dislodging flakes of chewing tobacco. He sucked air through the spaces between his teeth and shut his eyes a moment, as if napping, or scheming. The others were familiar with this too.
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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