‘GLAD YOU MADE it,′ said my friend. ‘I cannot but believe,′ said I to
myself, ‘that when the history of my famous achievements shall be given to the
world, the learned author will begin it in this very manner, when he comes to
give an account of this my early setting out.′
I AM IN Shanghai for a holiday to visit a friend and he has shanghaied me: no return ticket, a job interview, a contract to teach business English to executives. He is being kind; I cannot refuse. While I do a job I cannot perform, to students who don’t care, I live with his colleague, Fang Fang. The apartment belongs to her lover, or one of her lovers; it is not clear which. The lover’s elderly father lives with us. He sleeps in an armchair in the living room. I have a room to myself and a mattress on the floor. The ayi, the maid, also sleeps in an armchair – except when she wakes to tend the old man, whose face is like something from a fairytale, who has lived through the Revolution and remembers nothing. He and I smile at each other; we converse in the two major languages of the world; we understand nothing. I have offered him my bed but Fang Fang refuses on his behalf. I am forbidden from doing housework: ayi will do it. The thin young woman from the countryside smiles and blushes and takes my soft hand with her rough one.
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