Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Charades by Chance McLaren

Read by Saffron Chan

That time of year again. Ma fusses, dancing around the topic, but always landing on it, flat-footed, while aunties, uncles, the cousins, and now a little niece and nephew wait for my reaction. Ba doesn’t say a word, but you know what he’s thinking. Isn’t it about time? Thirty-one, and no one serious? He looks at his watch and up at the clock as if to confirm his suspicions that his only child is past her sell-by date.

This time I’ll show them. Can’t wait to see their eyes pop, their jaws drop when Wang Fei drives up in the posh rented Mercedes. I told him to wear a suit, look the part, please—successful Hong Kong banker, ya know?

Last year’s date--were we more than that?—had been a disaster like the year before when I came alone, empty-handed. Sure, the guy was cute, and the aunties cooed over his blond crew cut, his broad shoulders, the deep-set eyes. They didn’t seem to mind that he taught math (“Ah, education, that’s good!”), but he was one of them after all. It’s okay for us to explain how to make dumplings, to exchange “Ni hao’s”, and to smile a lot. It’s something else to be a future son-in-law.

Why can’t a pretty, smart, and successful woman like you find a husband? Is Hong Kong so small? It’s not a fishing village is it? Our Mei Li, with her diplomas from famous American schools, should land quite a catch – either a more successful Western man (okay), a southerner (better) or a northerner (best of all!).

We warned you, one day you would have the three gao’s, the three high’s that are every woman’s curse – high intelligence, high income, and now high age. Men run from that. Looks will get you so far, but against the three highs, it’s a losing battle. Thanks, aunties. Five years ago, when I moved to Hong Kong I smiled at their talk, and at visa applications that listed “spinster” instead of “single”. Not any more.

Fortunately, this time will be different. A sound of heavy tires crunches on the gravel-and-dirt drive leading to my parents’ house. Ah, Wang Fei, my savior, is here. The silver Mercedes, its windshield splattered with mud from our village’s country roads, pulls up close. From the kitchen window, I see Wang Fei get out and fastidiously make his way, stepping stone by stone, to the front door and carrying a bright-red, gift-wrapped box matching the scarlet Lai See packets that are making his pockets bulge. Hmm. I hadn’t even suggested anything special.

Ma restrains herself from rushing to the door, and instead, she and the aunties shoo Ba out of his chair to greet our guest. I’m right behind as the two men shake hands, sizing each other up, the one deferential, the other hesitant in their greetings.

I kiss Wang Fei, then look over to the kitchen as he holds me in a hug. Inside, the aunties and Ma exchange glances as the sound of Wang’ Fei’s perfectly accented Beijing dialect reaches them. Royalty has arrived! As he steps inside, they stammer and stumble to welcome him, and Wang Fei, like a master, instantly puts them at ease. “Happy new year, happy new year, such a lovely home. You’ve prepared so much; it all smells delicious. Here—this is for you, Mrs. Fu.”

Within minutes, it’s as if he’s been a part of the family for years. His manners are impeccable, and he answers the shower of questions with the grace that I knew he would. Wang Fei’s easy laugh rises above the din, and all my relatives vie for his attention. Dinner goes well. Wang Fei knows just what to say in the toasts and impresses the men with his ability to knock back the obligatory shots.

After dinner, the aunties and Ma urge Wang Fei to start a game of Majiang with them, the cousins stand apart from Wang Fei at a respectful distance, as if in awe, and the two toddlers loll about Wang Fei’s long legs, pushing their toys at him and babbling. The clicking tiles, the cries of the youngsters, and the contented stupor of lots of food and drink – I’m sorry that it all eventually must come to an end.

As dusk settles into dark, Wang Fei and I say our goodbyes: “Ba, Ma, it’s time for the drive to Shanghai.”

“Oh, do come back soon, dears!” My parents wave from the door as I, the still-sober one, pull the car out of the drive and turn onto the bumpy road.

When we reach the nearest metro station, I park the car and switch off the lights. Wang Fei and I get out. He looks at me. “How did I do?”

“You were great, just great.” I take out the packet of money, already pre-counted from my purse, and hand it to him. “Here’s for your performance.”

Wang Fei smiles, “A pleasure. Do you need a receipt?”

“Uh, no, I don’t think the bank will reimburse escorts.”

“Ta ta then.” He waves and strides off.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Wang Fei again. I’m sure I’ll hear about him for many months in the weekly calls home, for wistful new years to come, and as nostalgic reminiscing about the one that got away.

1 comment:

  1. Saffron's reading's so captivating, making me want to hear more!