Friday, July 5, 2013

My Best Ride

I took a radio call on a looping street where Cow Hollow meets the edge of the Presidio.  The address was almost at the top of a steep wooded hill upon which lived some of the richest and most power people in San Francisco. The house looked like a stone monastery cut into the cliff with twin turrets winding up the slope on different sides. It had a huge wooden door with a large brass knocker. I raised the knocker as high as it would go and let it loose. It fell and slammed into the door, making a thud that echoed up unseen stairways.

The evening was clear and I could see an almost full moon rising through the trees. I took time to relax and breath in the cool, fresh air. I looked up toward the mansions on top of the bluff and decided that if I ever had the money to live in one, I wouldn't. Too much trouble.

"Are you driver?" An accented voice asked from behind me.

I turned to see a exotic Asian woman looking at me. She was dressed in a way that I'd never seen before. She was wearing a tan coat over a multi-colored vest over a green blouse with a patterned skirt so thick it reminded me of a kilt. Individually nothing seemed to match but, taken as whole, everything fit together – highlighting a lovely face with high cheekbones and light brown eyes with gold specks around the pupils.

'Out of my league," I thought.

She was carrying a cake box.

"Let me take that for you," I said

She smiled warmly and thanked me as she held out the box.

A tall, handsome, causally elegant man in his forties stepped out of the doorway carrying a bouquet of roses and handed them to her.

I put the box in the back of the car and climbed into the driver's seat while they talked.

He was enamored but shy and hesitant. She was uncomfortable and very polite. It quickly became clear that he wasn't getting anywhere and never would.

I decided to talk to her.

"Lovely flowers," I said as she stepped into the back seat.

"Yes," she said indifferently. "Is it common in your culture to invite some person to party and have them cook for you?"

"Maybe if they live on this hill," I said laughing. "Otherwise – no. Is that what he did to you?"

"Yes – I hate cooking."

"Then you'd have liked it better if he did the cooking and you gave him the flowers."

"I would have preferred that he cooked and I ate."

"If it had been me I would've cooked for you AND given you the flowers."

"Are you being French with me?" She asked smiling.

"No – I'm Irish."

"No – what do you call it," she asked, "When man is forward with woman he does not know?"


"Yes," she said with a light laugh, "but what is slang?"

"I think "fresh" is the word you're looking for and, yes, I was being a little fresh. Does that bother you?"

"Not at all. I'm accustomed to such behavior."

"I can well imagine."

"Yes of course, " she said as she opened the cake box and, with a pair of chop sticks, took out a large Chinese dumpling and handed it to me on a napkin. "Try this."

"Thanks," I said as I bit into it. "My god! This is delicious!"

"Of course," she said. "My cooking is proof that one can be great at something even if he hates it."

"I thought the Chinese were supposed to be humble."

"Is there something I should be humble about?"

"Not that I can see ... how come you were partying with flower man?"

"He is Mandarin student of mine. He does business in China. He says he will marry me so I can get green card."

"Why don't you? He's rich and good looking."

"Do you think I would marry some man just for money?"

"No – No – No insult intended."

"Well – I wouldn't! That's not me. Besides, I don't trust him. If he has me cooking for him on date he must only want some servant."

"Good point – where do you teach?"

"Only private students now. I'm trying to get job at some college. I taught at Nankai University in China."

I suddenly had an epiphany.

"I've always wanted to learn Chinese?"

"Really!" She said suddenly excited. "We must exchange numbers."

"Yes of course," I said. "But first I have a question that I hope you don't think is fresh."

"Go on."

"You have beautiful, brown eyes. I've never seen a brown-eyed Chinese before. How did you get them?"

"Brown eyes are common in my family. My ancestors lived in Dunhuang during Tang Dynasty. It's on Silk Road. Some Turkish must have got in there somehow."

"I'm glad he did. Dun Huang? I'd like to go there someday."

"Me too. It was capitol when Tibet ruled China. They have caves with wonderful Buddhas and painting of flying angels. I've seen pictures. But I've never been."

"Maybe, we can go together."

She thought that was so funny she couldn't stop laughing for a long time.

"Maybe so," she finally said with a teasing smile, "maybe so."


Some Years Later

Streaks of pink were beginning to splash though the dark sky as the sun reached upward for the horizon. The sillouettes of sand mountains began to fill in with color. The train had been vastly oversold. Men, women and children were sleeping on the floor, making it hard for me to navigate my way back from the bathroom without stepping on a body.

We were lucky and had seats at a table but I took turns lending mine to my fellow travelers who thought me very polite for a foreigner. I am polite but the truth was that the tables were so small that I was much more comfortable standing. I would have slept like a horse if I could have.

A man graciously rose from my place the moment he saw me returning and I sat down next to Piaoliang who had slept curled up like a cat all night long. She had a scarf wrapped around her head like a Muslim woman to protect her from the cold, night, desert air. All I could see were her closed eyes.

I looked up and could barely discern the outlines of a town in the distance. I looked down and saw gold, speckled, brown eyes looking up at me.

"Woman dao da Dunhuang," I told her. "We're arriving in Dunhuang."

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