The story became a finalist of That’s Guangzhou 2020 writing competition
China turned out to be the destination of Simon’s first ever year-long business trip, – he’d never been away from home for that long. A square peg, on the shy side of fifty. But he managed.
There was a cafe near their office. A decent place, it resembled home more than anything around there.
One waitress stood out among the stylish staff in a curious way – quite plump, her fingers short and roundish. But that sunny dimpled smile of hers made it impossible not to smile back.
She looked younger than Simon’s daughter – she later mentioned dropping out of high school. Her English was delightfully imperfect but daring, so when there were no clients in the cafe, she’d join him at the table and they taught each other English and Chinese words. She became a friend and Simon treated her like a daughter.
Once she invited him and friends for “huo guo” – and taught them in her improved English how to cook food in a simmering sauce-pan right at the table. It was a thank-you and she insisted on picking the bill, but the men resisted.
With time the foreign experts discovered more places about town and frequented that western cafe less.
Near the end of his business trip she called him and asked to meet. They had used to go on cultural dates often, so Simon thought nothing of it, plus he should say his good-byes anyway. She came in a floor-long sleeveless Chinese dress, holding a bottle of wine in a plastic bag. Her hair let down, she seemed slenderer and more serious than Simon had ever seen her before.
Simon was surprised but not alarmed when she took him to a hotel – she seemed really worried and he was anticipating a psychological talk.
Indeed, over the first glass of wine, using her improved English mixed with the Chinese she’d taught him herself, she blurted out that her parents are marrying her off against her will. Uh, she needed an advice from a more experienced friend.
All attempts to find a solution drowned in her desperate look, which spelled the futility of all reasoning.
– A pity. So, what will you do?
– Marry, – she said, desperate resignation and determination in her eyes.
She finished her wine. Simon was ready to pour more to bitter-sweeten their salvation talk. She put her glass down but instead of leaning back into the armchair she closed her eyes and pressed her lips against Simon’s.
He’d never seen himself as the knight in shiny armor. He’d never even given her any signs and never read off hers. But all there seemed to be left was to go with the flow. Her transformation from an asexual high-school drop-out into an insatiable tigress full of desperado femininity was delightful, outweighing her obvious inexperience and the ever-present girlish Chinese shyness. That flattered Simon’s self-esteem, of course, – and threw him back in time about fifteen or twenty years.
He never saw her since, not in the cafe or elsewhere. How was the life treating her, for surely she didn’t plan to run away with him? And what did it make him? A lover? A savior? A tempter? Or did she just use him, raped and, having reached her mysterious goal, disappeared into the dark alleys of a seaside Chinese town? Has he cheated?
That was a memory he never shared.