On the Train Back Shanghai
The progress back was slow. First they went to WuXi, and rode down the long gondola from a high peak to the ground – swinging their feet with delight, and breaking through the features a bit of sunlight enshrouded their faces. Then caught the next train. It would be quite a ride, more than an hour. For much of this time they were silent – and reserved. It was the ripping out of their innermost selves, and then piecing them back together in quietude. Each one would deny that there was anything different – but of course that was easily discerned as a lie. In reality they were together now, because they could not imagine being separated from each other. Each one knew the secret of the other – not in detail, though they would elliptically talk about it – but enough to know the true egress of it. The boundaries were only mapped out, not truly discovered. He realized that no one had ever known what he was like inside – especially not the details of his transgressions. And she knew that no one had grasped that inside she was a little girl, even though everyone looked at her as a woman – and as a large Chinese woman. But this was not her doing – that was pushed on her by her parents. Then they died. And for the rest of her life she had fought the weight that compelled her.
On the train, in low tones, they had a brief discussion about what they were to do about the men who were clearly from one branch or another of the government. It is not easy to determine which branch of government – or even whether it was Central Government, or one of the myriad interlocking levels. Because there is rivalry between every level of government, even though Central Government was, supposedly, in charge. It was obvious to her that she would have reach out to one of her friends – and point out that as a foreign employed person, she was uniquely establish to deal with this. This would at least tell her whether it was Central Government – which would be bad – or merely one of the localized governments. She actually bet with the provincial government, not the city or the Central Government. This would mean that there were steps to be taken, and while they might be difficult, once things were in the proper channel, they could be resolved. That is the plan, anyway. But it might be that there is some personal wish. And that would be difficult, because there would be a stone wall. And no one else would know of it.
He nodded at this, and, not for the first time, wondered how she was able to grasp these details. And grasp them with confidence. He watched her face, and on it was a look of confidence – as if here is where shifting in her mind, each one being tried out and either selected for review, or discarded. She was examining the possibilities, and discerning which ones would be examined more carefully. Then she would look up, and with a look of triumph, she settled her chin in two hands – and looked at him with delight. This was her field, whether getting money, or fending off suggestions. It was all the same to her. He could not help but smile, while he had observed this, this was the top level echelon. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was his life that they were playing with.
Then they stopped, and it was not at a station. Instantly both of them wondered if they were going to be called out, and what they would do. Stopping a train was a very serious offense, and not planned for in their calculations. She looked outside the compartment, and for several minutes they did not see anything at all. Then, from further down, to uniformed police officers could be seen. The police officers were checking every seat, and examining every piece of paper. They looked at each other, wondering if they should do something. But she motioned with her hands to not do anything, and so they waited. Eventually, the two officers got to their doorway, and demanded to see their tickets. They were both very thin, as if they had only a little bit of sustenance – and only a very small portion would be meat. Uniforms were green with gold trim, and only very little gold. It was clear that they were both of low rank, though one of them was not quite as low as the other.
Each one of them showed the stub. And then they waited, with two officers talking in Mandarin, for getting a job with a real private firm was beyond the capacity. Even in communist party China there was discrimination, in both directions. The higher ranking man gave them back there tickets, and, in Mandarin, explained the situation. The police officers were not interested in them, but instead were looking for two men who had been seen boarding the train. They described to men who were not supposed to be on this train, and if they saw anything suspicious, please reported to them immediately. Then bobbing their way back – because this was an older train, unlike the modern high-speed rail – they stopped at the next compartment, graceful as the mother of God's Son, in the last stanza of Paradiso.
They waited, moments breathless, as a nation decided to plunge into a second wave of war.