TITLE: Melodious Rain 2014 Chapter 2 (May 11)
By Jennifer Liang
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Look for a red scarf.
“Judy!” Tim MacSmith squawked into the intercom system.
“Yes Mr. MacSmith?” Judy Mertz paged back, ignoring his sense of urgency.
“Please come into my office now!”
Tim did not wait for her to shut the door before he held up the note from his desk and spoke angrily “What is this?”
“A note a Chinese-American woman left for you yesterday. She delivered it just before I left for the day.”
“And what time is it now?”
“9:30 a.m. sir. Why do you ask?”
Ignoring her question Tim, obviously flustered, continued, “And how long does it take to get to Tiananmen Square?”
“At least thirty minutes by public transportation, if you’re lucky.”
Calming down a little Tim asked Judy, “Did you read the note?”
“No. I did not. It was addressed to you.”
“It asks me to meet her thirty minutes from now.”
“Well then, you best be going. Here’s your briefcase and keys. I will
With that Tim left the office and sprinted to the nearest subway station. In line for tickets he impatiently shoved others aside, not caring what they thought of his manners or what impression he was giving of his home country. When he reached the front, his muddled mind refused to cooperate and he couldn’t remember even the simplest Chinese phrase though he had been through this situation at least a dozen times with his tutor Max. By the time he did buy his tickets and found his way to the platform he had already missed the train, making him feel like a fool and not the capable former U.S. Navy sailor that he was.
Once on board the next train, he quickly realized he had forgotten the busywork he usually reserved for long commutes. Having nothing else to do, he let his mind wander as the train jostled through the thirty-minute journey to the café. He knew the route well. His apartment was located in downtown Beijing, just down the street from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
Since his arrival at the beginning of the summer, he had thoroughly enjoyed buying his dinners from little restaurants in his neighborhood – braised eggplant over rice was his staple – and sitting at the square after work taking in all the sights and sounds of the city. He was particularly amused by watching tourists of every nation, including many Chinese from other provinces, as they gawked at the many symbols of China’s national heritage nestled in that historic square in the heart of Beijing.
Why anyone would find pictures and statues of Mao Zedong, the most famous of Chinese leaders, fascinating and even want to visit his mausoleum was beyond comprehension, but it provided hours of entertainment for Tim. Families posed for pictures. Children chased each other around the dozens of street vendor’s carts. Tour guides squawked into bullhorns, repeating the same historical facts day after day. If he lingered long enough, inevitably someone would motion to Tim and ask him to take a photo of their group. The national flag was a popular backdrop, even when the stifling stillness of a July heat-wave caused the flag to just drape limply around its pole. Tim noted that of the thousands of people who daily filled the square, the only large families he ever saw were foreign families, a consequence of the Chinese one-child family policy that he understood to still be in effect.
When his train finally arrived at Tiananmen Square, Tim spotted a newspaper stand selling the China Daily and decided to pick up a copy. Joining the throngs of people exiting the subway station, he was surprised, and thankful, that it wasn’t as hot as typical for mid-July, nor as crowded as he expected – at least not for Beijing. Most of the city hadn’t yet stirred to life after staying up late last night into the early hours of the morning celebrating Beijing’s successful bid for the 2008 Olympics.
Finally at 10:20 a.m. he pushed through the doors of the Morning Light and Joy Café. He ordered his usual – a decaf vanilla soy latte with two extra sugars. Settling into a seat facing the door, Tim pretended to read the day’s news but his eyes kept scanning the café, searching for a Chinese-American woman wearing a red scarf.
He had arrived 20 minutes late but waited for another 40 minutes, curious. Expectant. An hour after the scheduled meeting time he finally left the café feeling foolish for the second time that morning. He had acted on a whim, in response to an enigmatic note left at his office, and now found himself having been stood up by a stranger. The worst part was knowing for sure that he wouldn't receive the answers he wanted today, or maybe never.
Even his favorite coffee and optimistic predictions in the news failed to bring him out of his rapidly descending mood. Just who was the woman with the red scarf and did she indeed have what he so desperately wanted? How would he find her? He couldn’t afford to leave to chance anything this important.
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