Chapter 9: Of Birthday Stares and Undeniable Love for John

“Everyone in this entire teahouse is staring at you,” giggled my Chinese tutor Mandy, as she clutched my arm on the way to the restroom.

We were at the Good Moon, a teahouse near Hangzhou University, celebrating my birthday with friends. As I scanned the people we passed in the teahouse, I saw Mandy was right. And, later, my friend Joshua would say the same. “You commanded the casual glances of almost everyone in the teahouse.”

I wore a tailored burgundy qipao, glittering with golden plum blossoms, my hair folded upon my head like a wreath of curls, and my face perfectly made up with the help of Swallow, one of the translators in our company.

But it wasn’t just my hair or clothes or makeup. There was something else about me — a certain intangible radiance. The radiance of someone in love.

If the casual onlookers could read love in my face, then what would Frank think when he saw me? I had invited him as one of my friends.

I never told Frank before that I was flirting with John. Of course, it was none of his business, and, anyhow, Frank and I were still working on a friendship. But, more than that, nothing between John and I had been certain until the night before. And why should I tell Frank? I’d done enough to hurt him.

Or maybe I hadn’t.

Frank had arrived after John. He didn’t see the bouquet of flowers John had presented me, upon coming to the teahouse. The flowers were as much of a surprise as John’s buzz cut, one that had sadly trimmed away a more handsome haircut.

By the time Frank walked in, we were already sitting at a bamboo table in the corner of the teahouse. John had already sat to my left, but there was still an empty seat to my right. That empty seat became Frank’s, and he sat down gladly. So there I was, between the man of my past, and the man of my future.

Well, inevitably, everyone wanted pictures with the qipao-clad birthday girl. But I was surprised to discover who volunteered to be my photographer. “I’ll take the pictures,” smiled Frank from my side.

It wasn’t so hard for Frank to photograph me with Mandy, or Joshua, or Caroline and Swallow, the other translators. We stood beside tables and faux trees, before the stream flowing at the entrance of the teahouse, and in cozy corners.

But then there was John. I sat down on a chair by his side, with his arm curled around my shoulder before the bridge and stream entrance to the teahouse. In the close-up, Frank must have read more than he wanted to know in the lens — not long after, he left.

“I should go home…it’s getting late,” he announced hastily, waving his hand to the table. He had the same stoic look upon his face, and as I tried to say ‘Zaijian’ and meet his eyes, he looked away.

In the end, he had to look away — my eyes were now for one man only. I didn’t mourn his departure, because I had done that long ago. It was my time, my night, for happiness. It was time for John.

——

Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.

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