I ran into Chris. I didn’t remember his name until much later, when he told me. He had to ask mine, too. “It’s been eight years!” he said, over and over again. How could I reply? It’s been eight years since we flirted and he once kissed me but I didn’t follow him back to his hotel because I had guests visiting from America. But we’re both married now, and he has kids, a daughter and a son with disabilities. All of that is too intense–not for me at 34, a woman, a wife, and a teacher, but it’s all too much for some girl he kissed in a bar eight years ago. But we adjust.
We adjust and we talk until dawn, only I have no idea the sun is coming up. But —- hasn’t left my side. She has class, she’s worked all day, her husband has gone home hours ago, but she stands there: she is a good friend, and she is at that awkward age where reason hasn’t trumped being there for your friends. I asked her to go home, but I never meant it. Her being there means that Chris’ remembering kissing me eight years ago is meaningless. I have a new world now.
But finally, we not only finish our drinks, but the bartender says it’s last call. No more drinks for us. —- calls a cab and offers me a ride, but I refuse. I want barbecue from around the corner and there’s no danger in it as Chris promises he’ll walk to his hotel at any moment. We’ve been talking about moving out of our family homes when we were just teenagers, which —- did and Chris wanted to do and I never knew was an option.
I walk —- to the taxi and I am surprised to find it’s light outside. It’s well past dawn, only it’s still the weird hour when the barbecue places have closed, but the breakfast shops haven’t opened. I start toward home, but then I remember the fact that I remembered and forgot an hour ago: I don’t have my keys.
J and I always have our own keys. It’s not much of a strategy, we are just both very independent and used to being able to take care of ourselves. But we’ve just gotten back and my keys for the front door are still in my carry-on bag. I call him and let the phone ring and ring until a woman’s voice tells me in Chinese that he’s not answering. I call again and again and the same woman tells me to give up.
I wish you could see Zhongli at the last hour before dawn. It’s almost clean. The drunks are home, but there are a few cars on the street. A taxi passes now and then. It’s the most quiet and boring the city will ever be, so I feel like she could belong to anyone, like it’s my home as much as anyone else’s. She is unsuspecting and she has no agenda. There’s room enough for me here now.
J doesn’t answer. I called three times and let it ring. Maybe the battery is dead, maybe it’s off, maybe the volume is down, maybe he’s so asleep that the phone ring won’t answer him. I think about sleeping in the stairwell, but then being discovered by the neighbor’s young children. I don’t want to hurt anyone. —- doesn’t answer.
I search through my purse for another idea and my hands wrap around my keys, with corks from Virginia wineries as new keychains. I can’t believe my hands, can’t believe my eyes. They were in my carry-on bag, but then I have vague memories of moving them into my purse, a lifetime ago, when I had no motive except putting them somewhere they weren’t already at. I thank that sober, presciecent version of myself, the one who listens to gut feelings and premonitions. No stairwell for me.
I stop at Family Mart for something to kill all the unsatisfied cravings within me. Safe in my living room, I strip down to my underwear and eat a packet of microwaved chicken nuggets and a packet of microwaved dim sum. I’m not hungry, but it tastes like home.