Wednesday, June 28, 2006
who will remember?
From a book I recently finished reading.
"Did you know, Lietenant, I was once in love with a Chinese girl?"
I flush, wondering why he has made this strange confession.
"I came to China fifteen years ago, to Tian Jing, where I was taken on to work in a Japanese restaurant run by a couple from Kobe. I did the washing-up, the cleaning, a bit of waiting at tables, and I was given room and board in a tiny room. In what little spare time I had, I would sit at the window. On the other side of the street there was Chinese restaurant famous for its stuffed dumplings. A young girl used to go in at dawn carrying provisions and she came back late in the evening, carrying the dustbins. I was near-sighted, so I could barely make out her slim shape and the long plait down her back. She wore red - it was like watching a walking pillar of fire. When she stopped I always felt she turned to look up at me, and through the haze I thought I could make out a smile - which made my heart beat faster."
The Captain stops to refill my glass and drinks his own down in one. His face is getting steadily redder.
"One day," he carries on, "I found the courage to go into the restaurant pretending that I wanted to order one of their specialities. She was behind the counter and as I approached her I discovered her face, slowly, one feature at a time. She had thick eyebrows and black eyes. I asked her for some stuffed dumplings but, as she didn't understand Japanese, I had to draw them on a piece of paper. She leaned over my shoulder to look and her plait slipped forward, brushing past my cheek."
Another bottle is brought to the table, it is our fifth. The wind has died outside and the thunder has fallen silent, but we can still hear the regular patter of the rain.
"She couldn't even write her own name in Chinese," he continued. "We had no means of communication, but we spent our days catching each other's eye across the road, which seemed so wide to us, and we never tired of it. I could only make out the red of her clothes and the black of her plait, I had to reconstruct her face in my mind, having only glimpsed it. I was poor and the only gifts I could offer her were little bunches of wild flowers picked along the edge of the road, which I threw under the window of the restaurant. In the evening she would give me stuffed dumplings fresh from the oven. I couldn't bring myself to bite into these delicacies crafted by her hands, so I would keep them until they rotted."
"One day it rained all afternoon, as it has today. Lots of customers had taken refuge in the restaurant, to eat warm noodles. It was after midnight when I got outside, and someone threw their arms round my neck - it was her. Goodness knows how long the Chinese girl had been waiting for me in that dark corner; her face was frozen, so were her lips. She was shivering from head to foot and, because of the rain, I couldn't tell whether she was laughing or crying. Weighed down by her, I leaned against the wall. As we kissed we whispered words of love to each other, each in their own language, and the rain drowned out what we were saying. I forgot the cold, the dark and the weather."
The Captain sinks into a long silence, then looks up angrily to order another bottle. His hand shakes as he fills our glasses, and the sake spills over his clothes, but he doesn't notice. I can feel the blood hammering in my temples; I follow the Captain's story with all the unrestrained fascination of a drunkard. And he is struggling to speak... what terrible tragedy struck this man who now lives alone?
"The next day I went to a Japanese shop with all my savings in my pocket. I didn't have enough to buy a kimono - a beautiful obi had to do. Without realizing it, I was pouring poison onto our love with this present. Our relationship was soon discovered and a month later the Chinese girl disappeared without a trace."
A painful silence weighs down on our table.
"Later, after I joined the army, I found out what had happened to her. The restaurant had closed years before and the owners, who turned out to be Chinese spies, had disappeared into thin air. When they'd found out that their servant was involved with a Japanese, they'd condemned her to death....
[The moon is no more
The spring is no more
The spring it once was!
Only I, I alone
Am what I once was!]
he recites. And he weeps.
Tomorrow we will be nothing but earth and dust. Who will remember the love a soldier once knew?
-"The Girl Who Played Go"
by Shan Sa
1. The act or an instance of inscribing.
2. Something, such as the wording on a coin, medal, monument, or seal, that is inscribed.
3. A short, signed message in a book or on a photograph given as a gift.
4. The usually informal dedication of an artistic work.
5. Jeremiah 31:33
name. Gar AKA "that Chinese guy"
ethnicity/nationality. Chinese/American, 4th gen.
location. Sea-Town, WA, USA
less-cynical poor grad student
age. younger than you think, older than you know