Flirting. There was no other word for it. Meili cocked her head to the side as coquettishly as one can in a blue bathing cap and flowery swimmers stretched over a bulging belly. She flicked water at the broad-shouldered man, who immediately returned the favour. The water having hit her face, she then slipped and ‘fell’ into his waiting arms. It took a l-o-n-g time for her to regain her footing.
I sighed and left them to it, heading down the pool to do a few lengths. As I rhythmically sliced through the water, I relaxed into memories. Was it only last year that I’d attended Meili’s wedding? She’d been almost sullen that day, having reluctantly broken up with an ‘unsuitable man’, instead agreeing to marry the ‘suitable man’ her uncle had found.
I did a flip at the end of the pool. There had been a lot of water under the bridge since that warm summer day last year. Meili had worn a poofy red dress and her face had been thick with make up. Her worldly belongings had been packed into a red bag which sat by the door. Meili’s parents had sat in the next room, waiting for the inevitable.
Firecrackers announced the arrival of the ‘suitable man’ and his entourage of friends. The insistent banging on the door was ignored as we ‘played the game’ the way it should be played. Certainly the buzz of excitement was far from what might be expected for a wedding, but this ‘suitable man’ was anything but the centre of Meili’s life. He was simply a decent fellow who had a house and needed a wife. Finally, after the ‘suitable man’ had slipped reasonable bribes of red money under the door, Meili’s sister opened it.
Like a swarm of angry ants, the men scrurried into the bedroom. One fellow grabbed the red bag while the ‘suitable man’ leaned down to pick up his bride. But what was this? One red shoe was missing from Meili’s not-so-small foot. The ‘suitable man’ and his friends scoured the room. The shoe was eventually retrieved from its hiding place, the bride was carried from the room and formal goodbyes were offered to Meili’s parents. The entourage whisked Meili away in a smoky haze amidst another fanfare of firecrackers.
Meili’s parents were tearful but content. Being traditional people, her parents would not attend the wedding reception. The girl no longer belonged to their family. No more would she come home for Spring Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival. She now belonged to the Wang family. A good family. A stable family. An eminently suitable family.
Arriving back at the shallow end of the pool, the handsome man waited for me. “Meili was cold. I’ve sent her off to have a hot shower. Could you go and check on her? She’s like a panda bear these days, you know. Round and cuddly, and needing special love and attention.”
Ugh! The sentimentality was almost enough to make me puke. Pulling off my red swimming cap, I pattered my way across to the change room.
“Meili, are you okay?” She turned and smiled, her eyes flashing with life and laughter.
“I couldn’t be better. Isn’t he just wonderful in the pool? Did you see how well he swims? He was trying to teach me, but, oh dear, if he hadn’t held me afloat, I’d have gone under for sure. Here – could you scrub my back?”
We finally slipped our prune-like bodies into summer clothes, gathered our belongings and prepared to leave the change room. Stopping at the door, Meili grasped my elbow. “Look at him,” she whispered in a conspiratorial tone. “Isn’t he just gorgeous? Do you know, I never expected to find true love, but love found me!”
I grunted in a non-committal way. We stepped out into the lobby of the swimming centre. He quickly strided across to us, put his arm protectively around the shoulders of my friend and steered her out the door and into the warm evening air.
“Wasn’t that fun? We’ll have to do that every week or two from now until the baby is born. It is good for you, you know, my darling panda.”
I muttered a farewell and slipped away. As I cycled down the road, I looked back intending to wave. They were oblivious to me.
Standing in the lamplight, Meili gazed up into the eyes of her husband, an entirely suitable man.
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