LOVERS IN THE AGE
All morning, he has been following her. He gazes at her back, her hair, her slender naked legs under her shorts. And she knows that he is following her. She knows it so well she doesn’t even turn round. Her heart feels angry at him, but at the same time she wants him to grab her, to take her into his arms and to hold her.
She walks along the Yangzi River. The river is calm in the summer noon, but turns sharply along its banks as it flows. She has known this city since she arrived herefrom her village. The river is her place. It is where, during her long and lonely nights, she kills her boredom. But at this time of day, a few boys, eight or ten years old, are swimming in the muddy yellow water, completely naked. They bury their young and innocent bodies under the water, only their wide curious eyes looking at her passing. And the man is still following her.
Last night, for the first time, they made love. The scene is engraved in her body and her mind. She is a hair salon girl in Gong Jian Road, he is a hitman working for the local mafia. He came to her hair salon not to have his hair cut but to get a massage. There was another girl there, but he chose her. He sat on the chair, quiet, observing her in the mirror, and she was massaging his head. She was aware he's a trouble maker, she heard he made his living by attacking and threatening people. But in her heart, she accepted him - rough but simple, just a peasant man from Henan Province, a village even poorer than hers. How could she judge his life? Back home, he used to sell his blood, and that was even more dangerous – In his province of Henan, thousands of people became infected with HIV when giving their blood. He at least doesn’t have this problem. He's healthy - that’s what he told her on the massage chair.
And they made love – or maybe love is not the right word. On top of her, he was violent, as if a war was raging between him and her. But in the darkness, she felt love. She felt a strong force overtaking her,from that man, silent and physical, who was bringing her to a place where she clearly felt her own emotion.She was weak, perhaps, she never knew what to make of her future, but she did realize that she had to do something, something dangerous, to mark her youth in a world where vague dreams only come and go in her nights. She wanted to be banged. Banged strongly, spiritually and physically.
Then he came. Perhaps, during the sex, he loved her, but when he woke up in the morning, he forgot that love. And he had go to meet the mafia. Hastily, he grabbed some money from his trousers, and then threw it at her. He thought she should buy a nice skirt, or eat a decent meal, he didn’t think much of it when he gave her those 300 yuan. But she was shocked, as she lay on his bed, her heart suddenly dropped. She thought he loved her. She clipped her blue bra. I am not a whore, she screamed, and threw the 300 yuan back at him. Humiliation, she was soaked in the morning of humiliation.
And instead of leaving her behind and going, he had dropped his green army bag, gone to her and hugged her, surrounding her angry body with his strong arms. He didn’t even notice she was crying.
And now, she walks and walks on the Yangzi River bank, the sun hitting her hair. She doesn’t know what to feel about him. But what she knows is that he wants her. From the moment she threw the money back at him in the morning. He suddenly changed, he suddenly realized that she is a young woman with some dignity - if a hitman can sometimes feel that way for a girl, a girl of 22 from a small village.
He follows her for so long, perhaps three hours, perhaps four, he is tired, and so is she. At the riverside, a huge ship is waiting to load its cargo. Maybe it will sail to Shanghai, or to Hongkong, even to Hamburg or Denmark, sitting in the muddy water like a rusty squeaky whale, enormous. And on a small pier, there is an old woman who is bathing a snake in that muddy water, a huge snake about two and a half meters long, like an eel from a fairy tale, with leopard-patterned skin. The woman wears a hat, she doesn’t look like some sort of witch who performs tricks with a big snake on a stage. She looks like your next-door auntie, normal. That snake seems to be her pet, her best friend, her special creature. Underneath the yellow river water, she caresses her snake and contemplates it with intense concentration. The snake swims away between the boats, then comes back to her.
The tide is rising, taking over the sandy banks, swallowing the young lovers’ feet. Now the snake swims towards him, the mafia hitman, swirling around his ankles, then gently, it swims to her.
The siren toots. Imperceptibly, the boat starts to move, heading east, slowly obscuring the sight. The river is strong, shimmering in the summer heat.
Xiaolu Guo, Hamburg, 17th Oct 2008
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