“You want the help from me sir?” Shirley stared at the stranger. He eagerly nodded.
“I am a writer. I want to write a story on Chinese food. Would you help me please?”
“Now I have the understanding to your request. But sorry sir! Then you have to talk to master ‘Yongi- Chai -Nyo” She voiced out.
“Who is he?”
“He is the my master”.
“But I want to talk to you.”
“Sorry sir, I have no such liberty to discuss with the customer until my master give me the permission.” She kept her face to the floor while she spoke. He understood her fears.
“Alright. May I talk with your master then?” He insisted.
She left and in a short while, a middle aged man with a muscular face that resembled all the Chinese he had seen since his arrival walked up to his table.
“Beautiful day, to you, my dearest customer! My woman is telling me that you want to write about our Chinese food for your Africa?” He stood beside the African; with his arms folded behind. “I have the plenty and plenty of good Chinese food in my kitchen.” He proudly added. The stranger noticed that her master wore a pale face and was sweating. He wondered why. The temperature was moderate and the weather outside was friendly. ‘You never know what is the thought of these Chinese restaurant operators and their tight faces.’ He consoled his conscience.
“Yes I do. But I would prefer to talk with Shirley…”
“That is the big problem!” Her master interrupted. “You see beautiful customer. Here is our busy hour and my woman you call that Shirley is commonly attracted to, too many customers like you very well. May be I answer to talk to your question.” He tried to coaxed him. But his effort was useless as the black man could not be convinced. Instead speaking in hope-filled tongues he persuaded.
“I do understand the situation on ground. But if you’ll be gracious enough to permit her to attend to me, I won’t hold her for more than twenty minutes. Please mister…” He paused. “What is that your name?” He presented a friendly smile, which the Chinese did not adore.
“My name is the Mr. Yongi- Chai –Nyo”. The stranger didn’t attempt to pronounce it. Shirley’s master frowned. He was not happy that he was about to give in to the persuasion.
“Dear customer, come back tomorrow and I give you my woman: Shirley, to talk to her.” He hesitated. The stranger placed both his arms on the table, braced forward and smiled.
“I will be traveling back to Zion by morning…” He explained.
Mr Yongi- Chai –Nyo grumbled in his native tongue. He instructed another stewardess to take over Shirley’s tables. He like every one else wanted the stranger to leave as soon as possible. The African thanked him but he didn’t wait to hear the compliment as he walked away, grumbling in his mind and cursing whoever must have directed the black man to his eatery. Shirley removed her apron and stood beside the African.
“My master agreed for me to talk to you sir, for twenty minutes and no more. We have a lot of work to do.”
“Sorry for all my little troubles.” He apologized. “And what was that your name again?”
“Shirley sir.” She reminded him. He smiled. She saw dimples on his cheeks.
“Yes! I won’t forget again. My own name is ‘Owoicho Ikeh Ogbe’ I am a writer from the tribe of Judah. But I am stationed in Africa.” He formally introduced himself. She bowed her head as courtesy demand. “Good profession. I envy writers.” She remarked.
“Just like I envy Chinese Kunfu fighters!”
She almost laughed aloud. The waitress who was relieving her post winked her eyes in disapproval. Shirley got the message. ‘She was supposed to get rid of him.’
“Lady Shee. Tell me a secret. Why is it that Chinese women do not like marrying black men?” The stranger raised a different issue. Shirley was not expecting such question. She sheepishly stared at her shoes.
“Permit me sir. But you said we talk about our Chinese food?” She probed.
“That is true. But I have decided to change my mind.” He tapped the five fingers of his left hand on the table. “I am considering writing a novel about a Chinese woman who fell in love with a writer from Zion. Will you help me?”
Shirley liked the idea. She smiled and asked. “How may I help in that story?”
“Tell me the ways to the heart of a Chinese woman. We could start from there.”
She all along had managed to avoid direct eye contact with him. But the proposal he made to her gave her the courage to probe his face. Her tiny black eyeballs into his.
“Are you American -African?” She enquired. He glared at her and shook his head.
“No. I am not an African-American.” He indirectly corrected her phrase.
“I earlier told you that I am from the tribe of Judah. I am stationed in West Africa.”
She reluctantly nodded her head, despite that she did not understood what he meant.
“You have not answered my question yet.” He reminded her.
“Sir, I am not a woman who is engaged now. May be my answer will be no good for your novel…”
“I commend your openness.” He interrupted. “You are a beautiful Chinese lady. Tell me what you would naturally cherish about a man.” Shirley squeezed her face. She thought about the compliment the stranger made about her. ‘A beautiful Chinese lady’. She felt flattered.
Her master continued looking out of the kitchen window towards them. The discussion was becoming lengthy. He hoped that Shirley will cleverly draw it to an end. ‘That man is evil,’ he was very sure that.
“Lady Shee. Like I asked.” The unknown coined ‘evil man’ continued. “Why is it that you Chinese people do not marry blacks? Tell me. Is it because of ‘our racial’ differences, ‘religion’ or ‘social status?’
He picked the folk with his left hand and began to toy with his neglected food.
He separated the vegetables from some unknown condiments. ‘Too much of mushroom and red pepper.’ He sniffed his nose, realizing that he never even had the appetite for such meal. “How much is the price of your Chai-Chin -Ting?” He demanded, diverting her mind back to her job. She was taken by surprise again. She was about to draw the attention of her master when the African who sensed her move tapped the plate with his folk.
“No don’t do that! I was not really hungry when I entered.” He whispered. He tapped his belly.
“You do not like to eat our Chinese food?” She sounded offended.
“Yes I do! I just don’t feel like eating any more.” He defended. She shrugged her shoulders.
“You waste your money. It’s a shame.” She rebuked. He refused to openly draw any argument with her, in respect of what her opinion had rightly pointed out.
“Do I?” He exclaimed. ‘You’re entitled to your opinion.’ He murmured and snapped his fingers. “How much is the food?”
She told him.
He brought out four new notes from his old wallet and placed them on the table.
She reached out for them.
“Keep the change too…” he said. She smiled.
“And keep this too!” He added. He placed a piece of paper-A tract near the notes.
She picked it and began to read.
“Lady Shee, do you believe that a living God exist?” He asked in a very sweet but low voice. The eatery was almost empty by now. Shirley hesitated to answer him or she was too shock to speak. He asked the question a second time.
“I don’t know. I go to the ‘secret temple.’ She stammered. Her face pale.
“What about your master?” He further enquired.
She refused to speak on his behalf.
“Shirley Khasn Sioski!” The stranger correctly pronounced her full name.
‘This must be a seer.’ She thought and tears of repentance gathered in the corner of her eyes. She noticed that there was compassion in his eyes.
“I came purposely to China for thy sake! I bring you a message of ‘hope’ from the holy one of mount Zion!” He sounded more serious than ever.
Shirley’s master who was still watching from the window heavily shook his head. ‘What was he seeing?’ Has he mistakenly rubbed pepper in his eyes? From the eyes of his mind he thought that he saw another ‘black man and Shirley’ sitting on another different table. Then another table and another… He washed his face with water and then wiped his eyes with the kitchen towel. ‘Was he seeing a trance?’ He tried with difficulty to open his peppered eyes. But he was not destined to witness how his most valuable worker came to the knowledge of Christ.
Shirley knelt before the stranger,… weeping. She had her face down, while she repeated after the mysterious black man the simple prayer of salvation.
The cell phone rang heavily. Shirley tossed and turned upon her thick foam. She felt weak. Although her encounter with, the stranger in China and all the rigors of ‘Chai De Hunfu’ bukataria turned out to be a dream. The message she had received burned inside her soul and she began to weep.