Diary of Tarantula Lau – February 16th

17 04 2017

I cut through the university grounds today. Found a gap in the fences around the large field by the gate and walked on the grass to feel it under my feet. It was brittle, and pale yellow – the color high class women favor for the parlor or the bedroom walls.

I wanted to fill my eyes with only one thing. Ignoring my black boots and dark green stockings, I was able to do so. The pale yellow seeped into every corner of my vision. It reminded me of the day they gave me away.

We were the first ones to walk on the blanket of snow that had fallen the night before. She was sniffling, but I don’t think she was crying. He coughed, because he’d spent another night sleeping by the stove in the folding bamboo chair. Our kang was narrow. Three pairs of footprints made a black trail of footprints behind us, but the ground before us was pristine, monochrome, glinting and almost blue.

I left the field, and walked over the bridge. For some reason, every university in China has a river running through it, and at least three bridges.

There was an old woman in a small grassy clearing surrounded by trees. The glade and the veranda reminded me of old ink prints of imperial concubines – Consort Yang with attendants on a terrace. Except the old woman, though zaftig with the bulk of several outer garments, would never be mistaken for a great beauty of ancient China.

Head down, she paced slowly across the clearing, contemplating each footstep like it would be her last. I wondered how she came to be at the very center of the university, if this was part of her routine. Her daily bread.

Rise at seven, and pass through the neighborhoods flanking the school. Make her way down the stairs, across footpaths, past students, bicycles, and cars all missing her vortex. Step, slowly, for hours, to arrive at this glade, which she probably thinks of as her glade. To pace back and forth, looking at the pale winter grass, filling her eyes with just one thing.

I took the bus to Taoranting Park, and sleeping on the way, dreamt of them for the first time since coming here. They were stepping carefully through the snow, placing one foot in front of the other, like it would be their very last, and between them was a hollow.

A shadow. Just wide enough for a ghost.

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Diary of Tarantula Lau – March 5th

15 09 2015

I thought I saw my mother today. My real mother. I saw her in the park. An old woman walking at sunset. The low slope of her shoulders, her side to side shuffling walk. She even held a bag at her side which swung the same they used to when we were walking back from the market. I sped up to overtake her and turned my bike around to look. The face staring back at me was so suddenly wrong it gave me a sharp jolt, and I almost fell off.

The woman opened her mouth, and I hoped for a mad moment that she’d say my name despite her incorrect countenance, but she only dismissed me and brushed past.

I watched her leave, and began sifting through the faces again. I lost track of time and the number of faces I sifted through. I kept riding until the snow began to fall. I watched it settle on my bare fingers and waited for it to melt, but it didn’t. Then I felt the cold stretching down into my bones; so I turned my bike around and came home.

When I opened the door to my building, the security guard nodded awake, and went back to watching his program. It was one of the singing programs, and a girl was singing Silent Night. Hearing the song made my stomach hurt. I know it’s cliché to be affected by a song like Silent Night because all the people in stories are moved by a song like that when they are cold and lonely and alone, but the reason things like that happen in books is that they happen in real life.

I went up to my flat, stripped naked and just looked at myself in the mirror. I looked sort of small and dark and insignificant. I wonder if she would recognize me if we happened to pass each other. I wonder if she had to break herself of the habit of looking for my face in the crowds. I tried to break myself of that habit because it did not make any logical sense to be looking for her in American shopping malls when I knew very well she was all the way back in China. I thought I’d forgotten, nevertheless, I’m here.

I turned on the faucet and let it fill up the sink for few minutes before soaking my still-frozen hands in near-scalding water. The tingle that went through me was sister to what I felt when I heard that girl sing Silent Night.





Diary of Tarantula Lau – February 8th

25 08 2015

I’ve been in Shanghai for a month now. The winter’s not as cold here as it is up north, but the chill goes deeper. I’ve noticed more people on the street with southern faces – pale, delicate, girlish. I found a small place in the city center and paid for it with some of the money she gave me. After a day of wandering the streets, I stand on my balcony and look at the city settling into night.

Yesterday, Shanghai was covered in a thick mist. Not pollution for once, but rain – hesitating to fall. The tops of buildings were suddenly truncated by the fog. Towers rose from the clouds like ghosts.

I like to sit on the ledge of the balcony with my feet hooked under the handrail and lean backwards. I like to hang 20 storeys above the ground. I like it so much. No one sees me. A ghost dangling above a ghost city. I feel at home. It’s my time to laugh.

Tonight is different. The air is fresh from the day’s precipitation. The buildings are clear this magic hour. Angular. Their lines are sharp and sure. Confident of their shape and heft, they look like blueprints, clean out of the printer. The clouds are high, and have been blocking out the sun all day, but a hint of pink sifts through. Faint. It might be the sun, or my imagination, or the reflection of neon lights off some building I can’t quite see.

Later, before I sleep, I will look at the city again when all the cars and people have gone home. Almost every light will be out. Only the red ones they use to caution airplanes will be blinking. They will blink, and I will blink with them.

They remind me of the lights up on South Mountain. Those lonely, sinister lights flickering red in the thirsty night. And I will be reminded of that one summer, ’96 or ’97 when it rained so much that the brown desert mountains turned a tender green for some brief weeks, and I turned green right along with them, in the anticipation of change.

It stopped raining eventually, as it always does, and the mountains browned back down. But I stayed green. Something took root in me that summer. A longing. A longing to sit atop a stack of recycled boxes, bottles, and newspapers. A longing for the back of my father’s brown neck. A longing for green hills, and if not green hills, then at least the rain.

Tomorrow I will ride my bicycle up and down the city streets. The rain will feel like sleet on my skin, and my knees will not warm for hours afterwards, but I will go, because I have a hankering for home, and because Liang Ayi told me at Taoranting Park last month. She told me they came south to Shanghai three years ago, and she hadn’t heard from them since. So I will go, I will find them, and when I do, the rain will turn the three of us verdant.





Diary of Tarantula Lau – January 1st

17 03 2014

My name is Tarantula Lau. This is my diary.

I’ve started writing because I’ve lost too many things in my life, and this was the only way I could think of to keep some of them.

I remember spending New Year’s Eve in Taoranting Park, huddled in the midst of a dark crowd. All of us were there because we wanted the night to be more significant than it was. But it fizzed out anyways. There were only a few fireworks, and they were obscured by the cloud or the fog or the smog. The sound of them blurred and covered over by the honking of cars. I think I went to a bar or a nightclub afterwards, but I can’t remember how I got home and I wasn’t even drunk.

Things have a habit of slipping away – the names of people I met once or twice, a pet, or a house, or a city. Whole days, weeks, months.

I can’t remember last October. November is blurry. I know what happened in December because December only just passed.

But some things I’ve lost, I haven’t forgotten. My memories of them are so clear I can almost touch them with my fingertips.

My father, pedaling his tricycle laden with boxes stacked improbably high. The sunburnt freckles on his bald spot shifting as he pushed the tricycle up bridges or hills. His grey jacket flapping as we went down the hill, and me, sitting on top of the pile of reclaimed garbage. The crunching of bottles beneath me as we went over bumps and holes in the road. Young and on top of the world. Floating above with my arms outstretched.