East [On the Record]

It’s been a while since I’ve felt this tired.

The kitchen door whispers open. She walks upon impressive black heels, more fashionable than I’d be willing to admit. A subtle shimmer of silk stocking renders her legs darkly lustrous beneath the sleek and well-tapered hem of an ebon dress. Her top of deep lavender, falling across the hips, was tailored in a modern cut that oddly resembles a pattern of Oriental origin. Her hair, extraordinary, streams down her shoulder, and radiates with such a presence from those raven locks, as if to absorb every last remnants of the sunlight.

Her hands hold a pair of pottery drinking vessels.

She made a very strong point about not calling them drinking glasses. I can respect that. One’s culture is important, even if one was half the world across from it.

I don’t know a lot of Chinese people, but she insists she isn’t one. Every time I ask her, she would just shake her head and smile, and I’m overcame by an eerie echo of a distant past that seems to resonate underneath that friendly complexion. After a while, I just stopped mentioning it altogether. Instead, I’d inquire why then, if she’s not Chinese, is she working at a Chinese restaurant. She would tell me she was poor, and she needed the money, and that even though she doesn’t speak Chinese, the owner was nice enough to let her stay. I’d inquire why then, if she’s so poor, is she wearing such stunning and vibrant clothing every time I see her. She would tell me that they were her mother’s, then blush slightly when she thought I wasn’t looking.

She sits down beside me. Her shift is over, it seems. It occurs to me that it has already gotten rather late. My nightly job has gotten me so unaware of time. The neon sign outside has already shut down, and the place was barely lit. The owners have probably already gone to sleep by this point.

“Here.” She hands me one of the vessels.

“Thank you.” I take it, albeit hesitantly. The job didn’t go through. I’m not holing a dime with me. “I don’t think I can afford this.”

“It’s alright.” There’s that smile again. “This one is on me.”

She drinks from hers. It amazes me how she does it, so elegant and gentle, yet I know very well she drinks more than I do with every sip. As she puts down the cup, her eyes are slightly dazed.

“Won’t you join me?” She asks. I oblige, and bring the vessel to my lips. Pottery it may be, the heat of the liquor still burns at the touch. It’s nothing compare to my everyday job, however, and I just take it all in. My method may not be very eloquent, but I doubt she expects it to be. “You’re still the only customer to ever drink that twice.”

“Am I?” I am. I know it too, since it’s the only drink she ever brings me. Sometimes I wonder if she really wants to see me drunk that badly. It’s not easy to do, and she would have to leave disappointed. That said, whatever this is, it’s still very strong, and I can feel that burning sensation in my stomach after I’ve taken it all in. “It almost seems like you reserve that bottle exclusively for me.”

I notice that she is now holding a hookah.

It isn’t the same type of hookah you’d see in a bar downtown. It’s instead a wooden pipe, almost, still with the smoking end on one side. She told me it was for smoking tobacco, instead of whatever it is people usually put in hookah.

She offers it to me. I’m ashamed to admit that I never understood how to work the thing. It seems like a simple contraption, and I’ve had a fair share of bongs and waterpipes, but I could never seem to this thing to work. I don’t have a reason to refuse, however. I need the relief.

She hands it over, easing, as if warning me not to break it. Her hand holds the match, and she waits until I have the smoking end firmly between my lips before lighting it. I can’t imagine a lot of culture would do it like that, but then again I’ve never stepped foot out of this city. As the smoke fills the pipe, not that I can see it, I can feel it rushing into my throat. It burns, as expected. I take a hit, then pull away hastily. It’s the only way I know how to stop myself from coughing out of control.

“You still need practice.”

She’s amused; I’m sure. I hand her back the pipe, and she lights up the match once again. She smokes with only one hand, with the same elegance and grace she does with everything else. I feel my eyes pulled towards it, how her lips land on the hot, wooden instrument, and how her chest gradually rises and falls as she inhales gradually.

I want to lose myself in this moment of extravagant and exotic beauty, but I know I can’t. Today was different. Things were no longer going according to plan, and tonight was indicative of that. I can’t stop, but at least I can try not to get others be involved in this shady business.

“Look.” I can’t seem to form words properly.

“Yes?” She turns to me; her smile hasn’t faded.

“There’s something I have to tell you.” She says nothing, instead eagerly awaits my exposition. Perhaps the two of us are expecting something completely different. “It’s about my job.”

The night ends.

I awake, in the middle of the night, by the side of the road.

It’s been a while since I’ve set foot into Yang’s Kitchen. I don’t miss it, but I miss her. I tell myself I can’t come back. I recall her crying face, how frightened she was when she learnt of my profession. I recall how I walked out on her, ashamed and flustered. She never even said a hurtful word to me, yet I feel as if I can no longer face her.

Yet I’m back here, in front of the door. There is still a flickering light, or so I hope. It’s hard for me to see properly at the moment, as my consciousness is fading quickly. I knock, with all my strength, though I doubt it’s loud. Prudent as always, she is at the door. I cannot lift my eyes to gaze upon hers. I have to wait.

The door opens hurriedly, and I’m pulled inside. I feel myself being placed upon the soft sofa cushion, the one at the back of the diner. I can feel her warmth within my reach, but I have no strength to reach out.

All I could see is the magazine across from me.

VINA ET it says. I don’t know what that means, but I recognise some of the alphabet on it. It doesn’t matter though, since I wouldn’t be able to read it anyway. Maybe this is her native language. How peculiar that the closest I’ve ever been to her secret origin would be when I’m lying on this sofa, bleeding.

“Are you shot?” She’s sharp as always. I nod, because I can’t speak. She opens up my jacket, and flabbergasted at the sight. I must have been bleeding a lot, and by now my shirt should be thoroughly soaked in crimson vigour. She dashes off. Minutes later, she returns with a first-aid kit. I’m barely awake by this point, but I can see her rummaging through the contents of the bag. I’ve never seen her do something with such a lack of polish, but nevertheless, it only builds upon her beauty.

I drift off.

I wake up after, what I presume to be, a few hours. I’m on a bed now, suppose she moved me here. My body still hurts, but I’m thankful. I know that the bullet went clean through me, or else somewhat with a first aid kit wouldn’t be able to remove the foreign object. I hope I’ll eventually heal. Time heals all wounds, they used to say.

To the right, I spot my bra, relatively clean.

It’s expected. It certainly wouldn’t make sense for the blood to spill upward. Only now do I notice both my chest and abdomen wrapped in bandages, even though only the side of the stomach was hurt. Perhaps she did it out of embarrassment, I thought to myself. I can sense a smile on my face.

Soon enough, she comes to the door.

“Hey.” I speak, weakly. After a moment of silence, she runs to me. She embraces me with a gentle passion, her head buried in my chest.

“I was so worried.” She sobs, reminds me very well of my guilt. I made a promise to leave her out of my dangerous life, yet here I am, dependent on her to save my life, and frightening her yet again. “There was so much blood.”

“I’m fine.” I try my best to sit up on the bed, but only manage to do it half way. It hardly matters at this point though; I know my body’s limits. If only that knowledge had helped, I note, but it’s too late already. “I’m sorry.”

“Why do you have to do these horrible things?” She’s yet to collect herself. It’s a moment of weakness I never thought I’d see. I’ve never been able to imagine the bliss of having her in my arms like this, and never thought I can feel this fulfilled.

“I’m a street rat.” It’s true. I’m not the type to mug people, at least, not anymore. Now I kill lowly thugs and gang members, and the occasional broke bloke who owes too much. Once in a while I get in a fire fight, but none has been as severe as this one. “I don’t think I can do anything else. B‘sides, I don’t doubt that the Boss would kill me if I tried to leave.”

She doesn’t say another word. It’s difficult for her to accept it, I’m sure. I hold her, and kiss her hair. We exchange a brief moment of silence.

“Can I see your hair?” She asks. She’s always told me my hair was beautiful, even though I always had it held up and tucked behind the hat. It’s for the best. I don’t want to cut it, but having long hair isn’t very advantageous in my line of work. I notice that the hat’s removed from this point, but my hair is still bundled up.

“Sure.” What do I have left to hide from her? I reach back and remove the pin, letting the blonde river falls over my shoulder. I can’t say I’m not proud of it, since it’s the only reason I even kept it in the first place. She sits on the bed beside me, and runs her fingers through my hair, admiring its every inch.

“Is there anything I can do?” The subject’s back to my job again.

“I doubt it.” It’s the truth.

“Can you at least promise to come back?” I feel her touch from behind. Her ams are around my hip. They’re shaking. “If I can’t help you do your job, at least let me help comfort you.”

“I would love that.” It’s far too late for me now. In my moment of weakness I dragged her into this mess, and she won’t let go. I’ll just have to take her on this ride with me.

She grabs the comb by the bed side.


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