Authors: Lucy Yam
“Uh,” she felt embarrassed, what did it look like she was doing? Not finding a better answer she mumbled the truth, “I’m looking for a comb.”
“Oh,” he stepped in and held her shoulders examined her closely for awhile, then grinned, “I can see why.”
Insulted by that comment, she glared at him and asked, “Why didn’t you wash my hair?”
“Oh, I didn’t think it necessary. But I don’t mind it.” He said softly, “I like that languid look on a woman.”
“It isn’t a languid look. It’s a horrid look. Give me a comb!” she demanded, seeing his raised eyebrow, she added, “please?”
He chuckled, “Well, there isn’t any comb around. You’re the first woman who’s slept here in the past fifty years.”
She looked dejected. Running her hand through her hair she tried to disentangle some strands with frustration. He held her wrist and stopped her.
“Allow me!” he said gently.
Touched by his eager look, Sharon let him place her hand on the table and waited.
He got hold of that strand and patiently sorted out the tangle. Then he ran his hand through her hair to smooth it while picking up other tangled strands. He repeated the process with great care, making sure he didn’t pull her hair too hard. Sharon was embarrassed at first by the intimacy. She was standing between him and the table and her back brushed constantly against his chest. The heat of his body simmered through the two layers of cotton. She felt his warm breath teasing her ears and her nape. Besides the physical closeness, the act itself also astonished her. He was doing her hair! It very much reminded her when she and Charlene were little. They would play with each other’s hair for fun. Hair was a sacred part of her body and she had never let a man touch her hair like that. Her hairdressers were always women. And now she had thrown her principles into a wastebasket. Worse, she enjoyed it! The man standing behind her was arrogant and demanding, a patriarch in a matrilineal world. He was a head taller than herself and a shoulder wider. With his big hands and thick fingers he could easily throttle her. And yet, he was bending toward her and smoothing her hair? The image pleased her so much that she could hardly suppress a curl of her lips.
“You’re enjoying it, aren’t you?” he caught her smile in the mirror.
Sharon blushed, “Um, not really. But you’re certainly enjoying it. Perhaps you should become a hairdresser.”
“Yes I enjoy doing your hair. But it doesn’t mean I enjoy doing anyone’s hair, darling.” He was whispering that last word into her ear.
Her heartbeat accelerated. Charlene had been only one person in her life who had called her ‘darling.”
Sharon took a quick breath for oxygen, aware that her cheeks were flaming. As Nobul’s finger brushed her cheek whether intentionally or not, she shifted to fight back the overwhelming sensation that was burning inside her.
“Will be done in a second,” he said as if feeling her tension.
She inhaled deeply and concentrated on his work in order not to be
his presence. He was very much like a professional. After he was done he looked at her in the mirror to check the effect after each step, just like a saloon artist. Perhaps he was right: it was the same artistic talent underneath all artists, be it painter, architect, web-designer, or hairdresser. Yet he was more than professional. There was a tinge of excitement in his eyes when he brushed her hair with care. Seeing that and feeling the gentle stroke on her scalp, she almost moaned with pleasure.
“Are we done?” She asked quickly to distract herself.
“Yes.” He looked at her eyes from the mirror, “there isn’t a single stray thread. All silky and smooth.” He carefully brushed a kiss on her head, as if afraid to mess up her hair. “Now let me take you downstairs to eat.”
Before she knew what he meant by “take,” he had lifted her and cradled her in his muscular arms. Sharon kicked her legs in protest but was only reminded of the wound on her right leg by a shooting pain.
“Stop being a restless rabbit and you’ll be rewarded.” His voice was teasing and indulgent.
“You’ll see in a minute.”
He took her across the courtyard where a table and two chairs were placed in the center. On the table there were a pot of tea, freshly steamed potatoes,
and sausages, and a bowl of rice gruel. Her mouth watered in the sight of the food and the smoky aroma of the sausages. “That’s a feast!” She exclaimed as he set her into the chair facing the lake view.
He poured tea in her cup and peeled the skin off a potato before placing it into her plate. Following it was a lump of sausage.
“Um!” she said as she swallowed in half of the potato. These small, home-grown potatoes were so much tastier than the gigantic potatoes from supermarkets in the States. She finished the whole potato before taking a sip of tea.
“Try the sausages,” he urged her, “I made these with extra Sichuan pepper.”
“No wonder it smells so good. May I have a knife?” she asked.
“A knife?” he waited for more explanation.
His puzzled look reminded him that she was in a Chinese village, where table knives were not part of eating utensils.
“Never mind,” she said. Improvising, she took the sausage between her thump and index finger, and stuck it into her mouth. All the while she was aware of the wicked smile on his face. The skin was harder than she had expected and her attempt to take a bite failed miserable. He had stopped eating and looked at her with a look of commiseration, either for her or for the object in her hand. Frustrated, she pulled the sausage hard but was of no use.
“Stop it,” he finally said, “I’d go crazy if I watched you doing it longer.”
He took the sausage from her hand, put it on her plate and went back to the kitchen with it. Moments later he came back with it all sliced.
“Thank you!” She said embarrassedly, hoping he didn’t have what she thought he had in mind.
The sausage was delicious. Sharon savored it in her mouth as long as she could before swallowing. Charlene had told her that the Moso would slaughter pigs in winters and make bacon and sausages. The main ingredients were salt and Sichuan-berries, a kind of pepper with pungent aroma and gave your tongue a numbing sensation if you chewed it too long. Yet with such a simple recipe, the sausage was irresistibly good. It must have been the quality of the pork, she concluded. And of course, the smoky flavor
due to the pine branches fresh from the mountains.
Nobul had finished his portion while Sharon was still slowly chewing her second piece of sausage.
“No wonder you’re so small.” He watched her eating with amusement, “They say the best way to lose weight is to eat slowly.”
“Then you must have always gobbled up your meals?” she asked after swallowing her food. Although big in his case simply meant tall, for as far as she could see, there wasn’t any unwanted fat around his waist, and neither did he have a protruding belly.
“It is indeed the reason. I learned how to eat fast during the time of communal kitchen. The whole village had meals together and the faster you ate the more food you would get.”
And as Sharon had been told by her parents, that time period was followed by years of starvation as food was depleted and fields were deserted in favor of political movements.
She stopped chewing and looked at him with sympathy. There was not a trace of sadness or self-pity that people had while recalling hard times. Instead he simply smiled while shaking his head, and then he said with self-mockery, “And even after the
communal kitchen had closed out,
I couldn’t change my eating habits.”
He cleared the table and left her sitting idly in the yard.
She felt warm bathing in the sun. Hearing the clinking of dishes in the kitchen she felt even warmer. It was the first time in her life a man had cooked for her, served her a meal, and cleaned up afterwards. In fact, being a first born daughter she had never had the luxury of being served before and after dinner. She enjoyed the indulgence, especially coming from such a gorgeous and talented man. What had she done to deserve all these? Of course she had nearly drowned because of that man. So she supposed she deserved it. Whether he was doing it out of guilt or love didn’t bother her. Leaning comfortably on the back of the chair, she smiled contently and enjoyed the lake view framed in the gate.
While she was waiting alone she saw Urcher walking towards the house carrying her suitcase in one hand and a wet bundle in another.
“How are you feeling?” The young man asked as soon as he got into the yard.
“Great! Enjoying the sun and the view.”
“Are you hurt anywhere?”
“My leg. I had a
snakebite.” She showed him her swollen leg.
“Ouch,” he grimaced, “did the herb help?”
“Probably. Thank you for bringing it.”
“No problem.” He nodded, “And also, the hot spring will help.”
“The hot spring?” Sharon remembered seeing it the first time she was here.
“Yeah, it helps to heal all sorts of pain and wounds. Nobul should know.”
“Oh I would love to try it.” There were hot springs in California but she could seldom find time to go.
“So you see. Don’t worry. In two days you’ll be able to walk again.” Urcher said smiling.
“Two days?” She said, “I was hoping I could walk tonight.”
She wasn’t delighted by the prospect of being carried around for two days. Besides, would she really get well in two days? It was about time for her to go back to the States.
Urcher saw her distress and tried to cheer her up, “Well, be patient. I brought you your stuff. Your sister packed for you. Here is your computer and your sister’s books. You won’t be bored.”
“Thanks. How is my sister? When did she come back?”
“She came back with a couple girls this morning and was going to take them to the village and to the lamasery. She might come see you tomorrow. I haven’t told her what happened yet because she was with people all the time.”
“Oh, thank you!”
“By the way, is this your dress?” He shook open the wet bundle.
“Yes!” Sharon asked embarrassedly, “where did you find it?”
“In the lake near the shore. I’ll wash it for you.”
“Thank you but I can do it myself.” Sharon reached out her hand for the bundle, but Nobul wouldn’t let go of it.
“Where is my brother?”
“In the kitchen.”
Urcher left promptly to speak to his brother while Sharon wondered whether she should read or work. Finally she chose to sit and stare at the scenery instead.
For the rest of the morning she sat in the yard to read while Nobul and Urcher worked on the house. Nobul told her that his grandmother had been an avid reader, and Sharon believed him simply from lying in the Empress’ bamboo recliner. It was custom made for comfort reading. Because of the elasticity of woven bamboo, the curvature of the back could be molded to fit snuggly into anyone, while providing firm support, plus, it had an elbow supporter on each side. Nothing could tempt her to move away from it once she was in it, even though sometimes her attention would drift from her book to the mesmerizing scenery framed peacefully in front of her.