And then just as suddenly, the wheels of time started to spin again, after taking a moment to fix one place, and each of them was beginning to move towards the gate – though they were still looking at each other. Then, finally, she begin to move, Her body went from pointed towards the glass, to akimbo with shoulders bouncing to and fro, with a purpose, and directed down the corridor, passed the gawking stragglers – who had not seen the person they search for – and the people who have seen the person, but were walking quite slowly. With aplomb she moved her way through these people, but she made it seem as if she were lilting among people who were less than a third as study as she was. It was almost as if she was internally in motion, while the people around her were stone cold. And a few minutes after she was leaving through the bodies, he to had moved to reach her in the waiting area.
At this moment, he closed his eyes – and remembered the awful day when two towers, or should he say Twin Towers, where hit by a pair of planes. But he stopped, it was too horrible to think of. Instead, he forced himself to think of anything else – which meant that he thought of her. In his mind, he could see your not as she was in this present time – but as she might have been on the rape of Nanjing, imagined because of course neither one was there - tonsil and burrowed, with the expression of a dazed look on her face. Not as she was now in patterns of silk and on her feet a pair of short green slippers – but as she might have been then, in the attire of the time. He even though her presence in the way she was a about, speaking the way Chinese was different in time and place. In my imagination, she had pearls, flowing over a long dress, in the style of mid-century. At that time, there was a sweeping change in dress for fashionable women, a mixture of Western and Eastern. No Western woman would wear pants, but Eastern women did so. And on top was something which could be called a dress or a skirt. Why was he thinking this? Because in a dream he met her in Nanjing 193-. it stayed with me, though he do not know why. But that vision remained fixed on her face, even though he could very much see her face was northern Chinese, not southern.
He could small price hand resting on a stone rock, and, above all, a face with her hair solidly come back, in the manner of the time. In the background are painted chrysanthemums and other ornate flowers. But then just as suddenly, he was back in the present, and her dress was completely different, made of white with only a view pearls to accentuate the loving way her face was drawn. With a keen eye, that was orbed with luminous eyes, that were slightly too large for her face. Or perhaps it was appropriate, and all the rest of the world's women were slightly too small. Her face could argue that it was the right one, and all of the others were somehow deformed, or at least, some how not as graceful as hers was.
And then he realized that he had been staring at her face for far too long, and had absorbed more than he ought to have. Each flick a movement of its own, taking my breath away with every inch that he longed for. This would not do. He did not want to seem enchanted by the first meeting, even though this had already been communicated to her. Outside her face, the white walls were crashing in around them, and it seemed that only that face kept them in place.
All the world was producing things for Shanghai, and Beijing, and the conglomerate which centered around Hong Kong. And though she was not aware, or it seemed such, she was a new face in China. She was not the petite little, and that she knew. But this did not matter, because she was herself, and only herself. And she was beautiful beyond measure.
“Are you in who wrote to me?” Even the voice was old and new again. It was her voice, and no one else's. Unlike so many other voices, which could be confused, one for the other. “I am sorry if I am talking to the wrong person. Excuse me.” she had only turned half away, because something insider said that she was talking to me, and he was deciding if he wanted to talk back. Of course there was noise and hubbub, with hundreds of families shaking hands, or doing other things more intimate than that. He realized that he had to join in the melee, or be shorn and go back, even though there was no going back.
“Hello, did you come all this way for me?” This was not the way he had intended this, and off key to an off handed remark. But something was at least started, and would, he hoped, continue with this woman of the unique face.
“I did not know what to say. Is my English correct? I worried about this as I was thinking on it. It has been a long journey, and innumerable things crowded in to my mind. And I know you have had these that were inside the you would want to speak. We shall drop our things at my apartment, and we will go long way, where no one else speaks English and converse. I mean chat.”
How could one say “innumerable”, and not love the person who said it? It was a picture perfect expression that no one could have guessed, or at least he could not have guessed. Her English was not perfect, their was a distinct tone that he knew was Chinese, but the accent was graceful and lilting. It was almost as if her voice was the correct one, as her face was also the correct one, perfectly centered and focused to a fine art. It was as if the rest of us could take lessons from her.
He realized that he was in something verging on lust and love, though he would not know which it was.
Again he noticed that the rest of the world had folded in on its self, and only the woman occupied my attention. This was not the way that he had wished things to go, instead he wanted to be detached and only partially engaged. Instead he was enraptured. This would not do, but what other way was there when a not quite perfect, but almost, woman was standing in front of you?
She again spoke: “Would you take your bags, or do you have more, and come with me?”
“I have all of my possessions, so lead on.”
And with that she did, moving to and fro through the crowds, as if she were detached from whatever pattern that the rest of them were guided by. This is the way of China: most people go with the imaginary flow, but a view people, perhaps like fish, are at an axiom, and move at their own distinctive pace. If they are slow, they are like Zen monks, and do not care for the rest of the crowd. But others – like her – were moving quite the opposite way. It was as if the motions of the others were transmitted to them in advance, and they picked and chose their motion.
Thus she was weaving in and out of the crowd, as if they were almost motionless. Her head was up and looking for a taxi cab, which, at this point, were made either locally – and thus were small – or made by a Japanese conglomerate, though most of the material was locally grown. She obviously was looking for the letter kind, because was a distinct difference between the two types. It should also be noted that a great number of taxicabs were here illegally, generally to pick up people who did not know any better.
Outside their was a vast panorama on display, because everything about this airport was new, and you would not know how new unless you stood there. Behind you was a white sheen, focusing on the airport. You could see it wrapping around and guiding itself back around. Since it was night, or better to say the edge of night, most of the cars did not yet have their headlights on. This was still early in the capitalist China, they did not understand that certain things were considered essential, they still had the Communist system in place. Where everyone did not understand that certain things had to be communicated so that people could move about, knowing what other people should do. In their own minds, you should hide these things from other people, and only allow them to know what you want them to know. “Who cares what they think” was a typical expression that many people believed. The cars were going round, each one fighting for a place to alight. It was as if the buildings were immobile, but each of the cars was jostling for position. In the backdrop one could see jet engine planes, both landing and taking off, oblivious to the destruction on the ground that they created. It was as if the capital planes ran in to the feudal cars, and in the middle was a communist toll both trying to squeeze the difference. Thus there were cars everywhere.
But this was not something that she would stand for. And she brushed away illegal taxicabs, and walked to the line that would be the correct one for us. Behind her in the backdrop a luminescent way with the lights was playing at the shadows of her hair, aligning like the profile on an image. Again it seemed as if she knew what she was doing, and everyone else was flogging to catch up with her. She made her way to someone who looked like a taxicab driver, and then veered off as if she instinctively knew that he was not there legally. She then looked around at three or four other competitors, and then zeroed in on one taxicab Driver, and begin to speak with him in Shanghaihua – which was different from the official dialect. While the local custom was to call them dialects, the were really the different languages that could all communicate through the written form. he noted that she spoke perfect diction, because even the taxi cab driver could not know the difference between someone who spoke the dialect from birth.
She turned to me and said: “This is a legitimate cab driver, you should drop your things and have him take them in to the trunk, while we get comfortable in the back.”
At this he nodded, deferring to her obvious command of the language and the hidden signs of nonverbal communication. he was definitely in all of her mastery of the small details which, though he had been in China before, were even beyond my realm of comprehension. And he was easily the Western master of this. But it was clear that she was beyond anything he had beheld.
This was different from our time in London. Partially because this was her native country, and she wanted to show her distinctive milieu, The distinctive way she could master all of the intricacies of form and function. London was my home ground, Shanghai, while not exactly her home ground was like London to me – she knew every fiber of its being.
“How long have you been here.” He asked in such a way as to be nonchalant. There was more verbiage - to keep things on an even keel.
“Right after I came back from London, about two weeks or so, I was assigned to Shanghai. It is a different place from Beijing, and not entirely too my liking.” For an instant he could see deeply into her eyes, and the light that came through the was dark as pitch. He knew that there was a story there, with some sort of whispering behind it. He could say the same thing for his transition to Chinese duties, when everyone who was anyone wanted a piece of Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the big boys wanted a slice of Syria or Iran, so eager to exploit their victory. But that is why he left – he knew that there would be two wars, with them two defeats. It was written on the Cantos of tomorrow, if only people would look. But the country was in a war fighting mood, and wall it was close, it seemed obvious to him that we were going to be trained in such things. This was not the previous war against Iraq, this war would go to the bitter end.
Which is why he wanted no part of it, obviously. He had had enough of a schooling in London to last a lifetime. And the, let us call it what it was, the meeting with their benefactors and constituents in London convinced him that they were not the ones to make the case. In an arbitrary way, it would be “better”, if one did not count the cost. But there is actually a cost, and it would have to be paid. He was not Kerouac, where everything was negotiable.
Suddenly he realized that something was on his face, because he could see in her eyes a sharp pain as if she were reacting to what was going on inside his mind.
That was not what he had wanted. But then he realized this woman had deep feelings for him and would show them. A twist crept deep within his stomach, as he realized this was not just an affair, but something more ennobling and richer, if he wanted this, and even if he did not. He tried moving backwards and seeing all of her face, to enter in to her mind, and see what she saw. And he knew at least this: there was an affection deep inside her, which was growing every minute, of every day. And he would have to decide if he would reciprocate, because at the end of that was love, a deeper love then he had known for many years. He would have to make his mind, or he would have it made up for him. And he knew which direction his gut would decide. It had been this way in London, before he had sworn that he would not make the same mistake again. But if it was not the same mistake, it was close to it as could be imagined, even though his imagination would only begin to be started once it had something to work with, until then it was like Kerouac, stopping and starting with transgressions that seemed like doggrel.
So in the middle of the crushing and bustling cabs, with their cabdriver backing the bags, they turned and looked in to the others face, and broke out in a mutual smile. And it was that way down the boulevard, because the maglev was not running at this hour, which made no sense at all. Yet this did not matter to the two of them at all. They were sitting, and for all the world, they were the only two that mattered. He looked out the window and saw how strangely the towers looked, near the airport things were flattened, but as they grew close to the city, everything reached higher as if Piranesi had sculpted a freeze; to reach their black hands upwards towards a slightly less black sky. Piranesi was add of his time, at least 100 years hence; when the authors and artists of the 19 century saw a kindred spirit in his work. He remembered the “Imaginary Prisons”, how they both soar into space, and were dark and foreboding – a trepidation of all that was light and dark at the same time, with towers that moved up the center; and bridges from the sides. Close in was dark, far out was light – as if Eugene O'Neill whispered in to her here a soliloquy out of Morning Becomes Electra - “It was seeing death all the time in the war,” it was right around the corner but if the every single time.
And then he turned back to her, and they begin a conversation which no single words meant anything at all. You might think that the chattering would be the thing, because they talked about any number of things. Or you might say it was the way they looked at each other. Yet both of these things happened before the instant arose, and it was a single glance, and the reaction to his bow that really changed the tenor of their conversation. Each person was waiting for something sweet and affection, and though this was not what they had planned, it was good enough, and then some. Because actually they were in love though they did not know what at the time. It was in those long hours texting each other, and calling up all of the feelings that they would share. It was masking what was hidden between each other, and inflection that did not have a name.
Neither one spoke on the car ride into Pudong. It did not exactly reach Shanghai, but instead stopped on the east side of the river, and disgorged its passengers on to either a subway, or a boat, or allowed them to shovel themselves for they had arrived to their destination. The newer sort of inhabitants were allowed to look, but not touch, Shanghai. On this side of the river, all the buildings were new, and distinctly Chinese in their context.
Most of them were white, and not made of the Soviet style little white bricks which were the fashion back in the 1950s, or 60s. It was an architecture which was flourished by the West, but at its heart was Chinese in its face. And the word “face” was a meaning which could only be described in its context. The Chinese called it mian, if they want to connect respect, meiyou if they want to connect disrespect. Think of it as mian having face in a social fashion, where as lien connoted something inside, which was only understood after one grasped its nature when older. Small children would accept either one, but adults would know the difference.
They moved out of the car; with her giving exactly what was the meter. Then they curled up in two a single ball and dragged their wheels behind them. Is was canvas and all black, hers was a light blue. Neither of them caught any of the light, and were totally nondescript. Each of them did not notice them at all, unlike days before when travelers thought the world of their luggage. They cared for it and spend many days searching for the right kind. In fact, they would spend seemingly hours looking through everything spent on traveling, so as to make a set that was totally unified. In this way, it was an encourtment that they wore when traveling by air.
Each building was different, and yet the same. There was a new style of architecture, thrown out the Soviet style which preceded it. On the low side it was garish, with red – indeed red then red cartoons – which spelled out various buildings to come and entice people with. But that portion of the buildings was only about one in 10. The vast majority had a kind of tall that set them off from the lateral which was the old Chinese style. They had tall everything – windows, especially – that set them as different from the Soviet style, immediately. And every so often there were the cream of the crop new style, each wanting to stamp its style. The apartments they had come out of had a touch of this new style, with wide and lush bushes, which were wide enough to walk between. Here and there, as they grew close to Pudong, there were a few older style buildings – where as in the airport it was entirely new. This odd assortment made the old buildings quite quaint in that Sovieteque style. As it the old would tenaciously hold on here and there, as if to remind everyone where the Chinese People's Republic came from. But it had the reverse effect – with people looking away from these buildings as it they were ashamed they were built at all.
As evening wore into night, they drove up a road – with a private lease officer in charge – and on to her apartment, which was in a very high building, at least 20 stories – into more. She gestured out of the apartment, and they rummaged through a pair of gates meant to keep out the people who were hired to, every morning, clean. Because every morning was awash in natural and unnatural kinds of debris. It could be Chandler for all its history under sunny skies.
He looked over at her and realized she was tired beyond all possible description, as tired as he had seen her. He wanted to lift her up and comfort her. To lift up and carry some of her inner burden that could feel. But what happened was thunder clouds rolled over head, and he stretched over his raincoat – because he had read Chinese weather report – and took out the necessary accouterments. Thus he was prepared for such an emergency, which surprised her. She had not expected him to cover her and direct her to the escarpment along the side of the building. It was the sort of thing that a boyfriend would do, and she responded in kind – with an easy flowing way of expressing a Mark Twain, perhaps in Tom Sawyer.
When up on the high floor, they could see a welter of electronically lit buildings, each one advertising some brand or other, whether escape from the real world – or reminding people that this brand or other would help them in the morning. They could not see any people, obviously, only dozens escaping to the building and out of the rain. It was out of a movie, perhaps by Hammett - if Western and exciting – or by Tanizaki, in the Makioki Sisters, if gentle and rhythmic. There were so many clashes in the two spheres.
While the glittery light show amused him, she went to the – very small – kitchen and made some of Taiwanese tea, which was rare in China still. She waited for him to take a sip and not – and he knew that he should do it. A crackling stream of lightning came down at that moment, illuminating how she was intent to watch his face. The lightning strikes who away, only serving to highlight the one stroke that said that though tired, she was thinking on something. He should taken the understanding that it was time to speak, but he was thinking about other things. He thought about Byron, and he said story of Turing, and of other men who want something they could not have.
Then he watched intently as she turned what the Chinese call “the back shadow”, which is there word for the intense way that the curve of the hips aches to be felt, 花樣年華 which displayed every loving detail of the feminine stars appearance. In front, she was nothing, in back, however, it had seen form of the hips and waist, that he could not help himself but to be attracted. How could make her understand the longing and desire that he felt each time he saw this? Each time he wanted to touch and caress this feeling, it was so unexpected each time. As if a battle of the civil war would turn out differently, though Burns had laid it out in measured verse.
It was then he spoke: “You know, you have two faces – one which is in front of you, and the other which is behind you. The front face is not just plain, but out of place in your society. But the back shadow is something else again. It sings, its sighs, helter-skelter – like something out of the 19th century, it is all wrapped up in petite skirts, and tied with a mystery. I do not think you realize what power this has over all men and women.” Forbearance alone, as reciprocity to implement nations wager - so remarked the poet Soumare.
Oh yes, she knew, she knew, she knew. What she did not know was divided in two to parts; first why he was not caged as others were by the eagle's rapture; and second why did she want to hear him call her sparrow. Because only her much older brother had called her by that name. A long time ago, and far far away. She almost bought that accept for this quirk, she might have well dismissed him like all the others. But with it, she wanted to hear it just one more time.
“I often think that I am enslaved by just a few things that you say, but those few things are so precious and distinct, that I cannot help but feel I love you, even though that is not actually the truth.” this was a sentence from deep in her mind, that she had thought about since before she had actually met him, and had actually touched him. It was pure, it was untouched, and it was nothing like the sun.