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.