With gratitude to Pu Songling
Before the fur handbag, gorgeous Canton Therien would never look at me. I had a massive, irrepressible crush on her that must have shown in the way I stared. I knew my staring was kind of creepy, but I couldn’t help it. She was so far beyond me I didn’t think it mattered what I did anyway. She would never be interested in me with my wide, pimply face and heavy glasses. I could talk Irigaray and Cixous with the best of Dr. Marina Pavic’s feminist theory class, but it didn’t matter, because I was not in their league in any other way. The classmates knew it, Canton knew it, and I knew it too. Though this lousy social knowledge was unspoken, it was real as the boardroom table we made for our seminar by pushing eight smaller tables together at the start of every class. Because this knowledge was palpable and all-encompassing, I felt that it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do. So I stared at her. If they could have their feelings and act on them, I could do the same. I knew there was perversity and self-loathing in these thoughts, this act, but I didn’t care. She was beautiful to look at.
Once, as I was heading into the Sedgewick Library, I ran into her coming out, carrying a large load of books and files. She wore a backpack too, stuffed to bursting. We had a research paper for Pavic due at the end of that week.
“Hi Canton,” I said.
She didn’t look at me.
But then a second later, a wind blew up from nowhere and it started to rain. Loose papers from her files went flying. I ran after them and gathered them up, while she stood there, helpless because her arms were already full. I handed them back to her.
“Thanks,” she said, and turned her head toward the clock tower.
“I’m Devora. I’m in your feminist theory class.”
“Yup. I know.” And she rushed away as though I were a wet insect.
I saw her again at the bus stop at the end of the same day, but I didn’t approach because I wanted to see what she would do. She pretended not to see me. She waited for me to board the bus, and then got on at the very end when the bus was crowded, and stayed up at the front, as far from me as she could stand. She clearly despised me. I wished my crush away, but it insisted itself like a hungry dog.
My uncle in Hong Kong started sending me pieces of leather. I don’t know why he thought I ’d be interested. I never said anything to him about it until quite a long time after he started sending the materials. It just arrived, buttery soft, of excellent quality, clearly expensive.
I started out making little ID pouches, simple wallets, things like that, which I gave to my friends and family. I even sent some back to my uncle for his own use, or to share with my other uncles, my aunts, my cousins, and grandparents.
He sent me a piece of fur. I wrote him to ask what kind of animal it came from, but he never replied. The fur inspired a sort of traveler’s handbag, an irregular round shape like a little hedgehog with pockets. I designed it so it could be a handbag, a shoulder bag, or a backpack, depending on how you clipped the strap. I wore it to my French feminist theory class and Anna Kowalski said it was beautiful and unique.
“Where did you get it?”
“I made it,” I told her.
“Do you make them for other people? I ’d be happy to buy one from you.”
To my surprise, Canton spoke to me as though we were friends. “I ’d pay for one of those.”
Even the prof, the esteemed Dr. Marina Pavic, said it was nice, and that if I was starting a business, she ’d buy one too. We were well into The Powers of Horror that week.
Dr. Pavic said, “What does Kristeva mean when she says there are two types of polluting elements?”
Smart-boy wannabe Silvan Paulie said, “Excrement and menstrual blood.”
“Yes,” said Dr. Pavic. “What about them?”
Canton said, “You want to get rid of one, but your identity as a woman is tied up with the other.”
I said, “Menstrual blood is part of you that you want to keep and get rid of at the same time. And the doubleness of that desire is what makes you a woman.”
Silvan Paulie said, “So women’s identity is caught up in this double, contradictory desire.”
“Very good, Silvan,” said Dr. Pavic.
Canton gave me a look like what the fuck.
After class she came up to me. “Could you believe that? Marina Pavic calls herself a feminist, but did she even hear a word I said in class today? Or a word you said? She gave that moron Silvan Paulie full credit for OUR ideas.”
I said, “You wanna get coffee?”
I couldn’t believe it when she said yes. We swapped cell phone numbers and made a plan to meet up after the midterm paper was due.
There was enough fur to make thirteen bags. I sold one to Anna Kowalski and one to Silvan Paulie. But I couldn’t make Canton pay.
“Present,” I said.
“It’s too much,” she said.
“It cost me nothing but a little bit of pleasurable labor,” I said. “I want you to have it.”
She smiled and took the bag. “You should start a business,” she said. “I really think you could make something happen.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I kind of like school. Maybe I’ll become a prof like Dr. Pavic.”
“Grad school is a dead end,” she said. “A company would be way better.”
She did a surprising thing then. She leaned over and kissed me. I was so surprised I nearly fell off my chair.
I brought one to Dr. Pavic.
“Oh Devora,” she said, “I can’t accept a gift this large. It’s too much.”
“I made it from materials my uncle gave me,” I said. “It didn’t cost me anything.”
Pavic made a funny face, half pleasure, half worry. “I can’t improve your grade in any way because of this.”
“I wasn’t expecting you to,” I said. “I’m thinking of leaving grad school anyway, to start a handbag company. You can be an early adopter.”
In truth, I wasn’t sure of my motives myself. The bag seemed to want to go to her. And as for me, of course I would have liked a higher grade. So much of my identity was caught up in how smart I had been, how well I had done at school at Prince of Wales Collegiate in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I ’d grown up, where my father had a job as a history teacher and I was at the top of my class. But that was a lifetime ago. I ’d squeaked through an undergraduate degree in sociology after barely passing my first year in engineering and deciding it wasn’t for me. Now here I was working through an MA in English for no good reason except some part of me still dreamt of a vindication that clearly wasn’t forthcoming. I ’d be better off drinking, chasing girls like Canton Therien, and eventually settling into a job as a bank teller and filling my rental suite with an army of cats. Did I actively think that giving Pavic one of my weird furry bags would be enough to bribe her to give me a better grade? Of course not. I wasn’t that calculating. Would I have accepted that grade had it been forthcoming? Absolutely. I wasn’t a fool.
Dr. Pavic laughed. “You’re a strange kid,” she said. “Don’t quit grad school. You’re doing okay.” In the end, she gave me a B+, same as Silvan Paulie.
This was, of course, a mixed message. To stay in grad school, you have to keep your grades in the A-range. When my cousin Hao showed me the stamp she ’d designed and cast as a brand for my bags, I began to think more seriously about it. I was going to make the brand a circle, but when I saw what she ’d done I knew instinctively that it was right.
“What is it?” I said. “A lady carrying a bag?”
She laughed. “You could think about it that way.”
The design was abstract. But the lady’s face and the bag were both shaped like crescent moons lying on their sides. The lines on the side of the face stuck up a bit, though, vaguely reminiscent of horns.
I sold my bags at half a dozen craft fairs. I ’d bought a large variety of leather-working tools that I hadn’t, up till that point, known existed—an awl, a leather punch, a rubber mallet. Eventually I bought a leather-sewing machine. It was hand operated, and thus slow, but it worked amazingly well. The shapes of my bags were becoming more elaborate and interesting. I named them after their shapes: the Hedgehog, the Durian, the Puffer Fish. Canton was over almost every day, and our love was gooey and joyous as a hot red bean pancake.
Canton came back one day with all the paperwork to start a company.
“What do you think?” she said. “We could make a mint. I’ll be your chief financial officer. Hao can do the marketing. All you need to do is cut and sew.”
“I’ll need to do more than that,” I said. “If you want a company, that means mass production. We’ll need workers. Quite possibly overseas.”
I didn’t notice the glimmer in her eyes, though it was plain to see. I guess I didn’t want to see it.
When I was over at Hao’s for dinner, she said, “Maybe you should be the chief financial officer? I know you really like Canton, but how well do you actually know her?”
“She has the skills and patience for the job,” I said. “I really don’t. I just want to make the bags.”
“Hmm,” said Hao.
“You’re not jealous of her, Hao, are you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m your cousin. She’s your girlfriend. Of course I’m not jealous.”
I talked to my uncle about it, and he was thrilled that it had gone that far. “I’ll help you,” he said. “I’ll have a market for my fur and leather, and you can have a little storefront in Vancouver.” He hooked me up with a small factory in Shenzhen where the workers were skilled in stitching hide. He flew all three of us out there to instruct and inspect.
When he saw the Hedgehog, he said, “Hmmmm. It’s not exactly Gucci, is it?”
“Not exactly. It’s way better!” Canton beamed.
One look at her beautiful, glowing face and my uncle was sold.
It was the first time I ’d crossed from Hong Kong into Shenzhen. The moist, green scent of the forest filled my nostrils and rushed into my brain and my brain jumped in response as though it might return my body to something it had been a very long time ago. Cicadas sang loud as sirens warning us of our entrance into another world. Except for the strident green streetlights shining on asphalt we might have been Qing dynasty refugees trekking inland by imperial edict.
I expected the factory to be a small brick building reeking of leather, death, and labor exploitation. The exploitation was probably there, but it looked different from what I expected. The building was a contemporary one, massive, built of concrete, glass, and steel. Inside, the owner himself greeted us, gave us burgers and milkshakes while he explained the production process. He asked us to call him Mr. Liu. After we finished eating, he showed us the production lines, how each worker had a task—to punch a hole, to sew a seam, to add a zipper or attach a buckle.
“We can make anything you want,” he said. “At any price point.” The factory smelled of plastic, cotton, and bubblegum-scented cleanser.
The thing that astonished me most was how much the workers looked like me. My uncle saw me notice. “They could be our relatives, for all we know,” he said. “Our natal village is somewhere up the road.”
“Where up the road exactly?”
“You have to ask your PoPo. A lot was forgotten after the revolution.”
The owner explained the process—the design stage, the paper prototype, the sample stage, then actual production. At the end, the bags are X-rayed to make sure there are no needles accidentally sewn into them. “It’s very rare for it to happen,” he said, “but of course, the consequences if a customer is pricked are immense. So we just want to make sure.”
One of the women working the X-ray machine looked so much like me that Canton commented on it. “Your doppelganger, Dev. Look.”
“All Asians look alike,” I said. “Don’t leave me for her.”
But the woman noticed too, and said something in Cantonese.
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak,” I said.
She burst out laughing as if the universe were playing the most hilarious of cosmic jokes. I laughed too. Everyone saw it then. Though our clothes, hair, and makeup couldn’t have been more different, we were exactly the same height and body type, and our faces were identical. We laughed so hard our laughter began to infect everyone else. Soon we were all red in the face, weeping and holding our jiggling bellies.
“Take you to your village,” she said, pointing to my eyes, just like hers.
My uncle said no.
“Why not?” I asked.
He gave me a searing look that said very clearly shut up now.
But on the way upstairs, back to the factory’s main office, he whispered, “It’s often a scam. The village is long lost. Don’t look for it, it will only bring you a lot of trouble.”
Back in the office, he said to Mr. Liu, “My niece is starting a line of bags. The shape and materials are a little unusual, but it’s a bag for young people, so the price still has to be good. What can you do?” And then to me: “Show him the bag, Devora.”
Both Canton and I put our bags on the table, two odd furry fruits that seemed more alive the more we used them.
Mr. Liu scowled. “Very strange bag,” he said. “You design?” He looked at beautiful Canton, as everyone does.
She opened her mouth, but before a sound could come out, Hao jumped in.
Hao said, “She designed it. Devora.”
Mr. Liu looked from my uncle to me. “The niece. Of course.” He had the slightest of Chinese accents, but really, his English was impeccable. And then, “Where you get the idea for this design? Very original. But so ugly!”
I flushed. Hao stepped up to my defense. “It’s not ugly! It’s the cutest bag going. Dev is going to make it big, just you wait and see!”
Canton said, “It is kind of ugly, but in a cool way.”
“Gonna be expensive to manufacture,” said Mr. Liu. He took a slurp from his still-unfinished milkshake. The cup beaded moisture onto his hand. “Because of the curved lines, and the fur.”
My uncle said, “I can supply the fur at a good price.”
“Hmm,” Mr. Liu said. “Okay, leave the bag. My designer will make a prototype and some samples. Then we talk numbers.”
I hadn’t thought to bring an empty sample. My uncle was irritated. “Devora, I set this all up for you and you forgot to bring a sample? Leave yours for Mr. Liu then.”
The owner stepped in. “Gift for you. A sample from Coach. One of a kind, because we didn’t put this model into production.”
“Worthless,” he said. “Just interesting. No problem. You take.”
Canton said, “Oh my god, Devora, do you know how much a one-of-a-kind Coach sample is worth?”
It was a tote bag in a pale tan color with the signature logo patterned through it in dark brown. Not my style at all, but an expensive gift, not to be sneezed at. “I couldn’t,” I said.
“Just take,” Mr. Liu said. “You’re about to bring me lots of business.”
He wanted to take us for supper, but my uncle insisted it was his treat. They argued and bantered and laughed together in Cantonese. We ate too much, drank too much, and got back to the hideous pink granite hotel really late. I was sharing a room with Canton and Hao, while my uncle had his own room across the hall.
While Hao was in the bathroom, taking a shower, Canton and I cuddled on the couch. And then out of the blue, she pinched me.
“Ow! What are you doing?”
She pinched me again.
“That hurts, stop it!”
“Don’t imagine yourself too clever,” she said.
“What are you talking about?”
“You ’d be nowhere without my help.”
She wasn’t wrong—her confidence in me had given me the courage to leave school and try this other, unfamiliar way of living. But what was wrong with her? She ’d been so supportive up till now. I said it aloud. “That’s true. Aren’t you excited about the possibility that the fur bags could succeed?”
“Just don’t get arrogant,” she said.
“I need some air,” I said. I went downstairs to the lobby and out the sliding front doors. On the steps of the hotel, I stuck my hand into the Coach bag to find my vape. The bag was full of junk, because I had just dumped everything from the fur bag into it. I rooted around. My finger snagged a seam and something sharp bit into it. Ow! I pulled my hand out. A single drop of blood glistened at the fingertip.
Just then, she pulled up on a battered scooter. My doppelganger. She wore an ice-blue helmet and held out another the color of the sky at midnight.
“Oh,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
“Your village my village,” she said. “Must be.” She pointed to her eyes and then to mine. “Look.”
“It’s late,” I said. “Tomorrow, maybe.”
“Tomorrow you pumpkin,” she said, giggling and pointing to her shoe. “Cinderella.” There had been a Disney movie recently.
I smelled smoke. At first I thought it was just my vape leaking into the new Coach bag. The flavor I ’d chosen was “tobacco chocolate.” But then the doppelganger said, “Something is burning.”
An alarm began to ring. I looked up. Flames licked up the curtains of a room on the third floor, and then its neighbor. Someone had a megaphone and shouted instructions in Mandarin, but I didn’t understand a word.
“You come with me,” said my doppelganger. “I take you somewhere safe.”
“My uncle, my girlfriend, my cousin,” I said. I turned and went to the sliding glass doors, but they wouldn’t open. I hustled around to the revolving door beside them. There was a guard there. He waved me away. I tried to push my way in, but he pushed me back. I heard a cracking sound, and then an unearthly rumbling. A flash of light. I was on my back on the street. Sirens.
My doppelganger was there. “You come,” she said. “I take you back later. Village not far.”
She scooped me up in surprisingly strong arms. Put the dark blue helmet on my head and propped me up on the back of her scooter. Grabbed my arms and draped them around her as I slumped against her back.
She drove us south through Shenzhen before turning onto the highway at the city’s southern edge. Massive cargo trucks, lorries, and ordinary passenger cars whipped past us at terrifying speeds in the dark. The salty, polluted smell of the Pearl River filled my nostrils, mingling with the smoggy gasoline smell of the city. Beneath, the sweet scent of rice fields and vegetables growing all around us in the dark. I thought about all the stories I had heard of Chinese Canadian kids finding their way back to their natal villages. Of altars, incense, and family genealogies going back to a thousand years before Christ. Of massive feasts and relatives who had survived the upheavals in China, revolution, land reform, purges, and murder. I had seen photographs of the village grannies, the old uncles smoking cigarettes, cousins with faces like ours but whose bodies took on completely different postures and moods. Was this where my doppelganger was taking me?
North of the city, I perked up a bit. We crossed the river into the countryside, where everything was green and the moist wind whipped our faces. I thought I could smell roasted pork, steamed rice, and incense.
The night deepened and I dozed on my doppelganger’s back, arms tight around her waist. I only woke up when the scooter came to a halt.
We stood at the gates of a village. It had a high, white gate with the name of the village carved out of stone in elegant characters that I couldn’t read. She parked the scooter outside and we walked in. It was still late, and still dark. The air smelled moist and green. I heard a chicken shift on its roost, a ruffle of feathers, a settling sound. A dog came down the lane and sniffed my hand. It had a wet, musty smell. My doppelganger took my hand, and we turned through the sleeping village, straight, then left, then left, then right. Or maybe it was the other way, straight, then right, then right, then left? The dark was disorienting.
At last we came to a building out of which light poured and laughter gushed, that full-bellied, boisterous kind of laugh that large men fall into when they’ve drunk just a little bit too much. Beneath it, all kinds of chatter, some serious and deeply engaged, some light and bantering. A full-scale party was in play.
“You ready?” said my doppelganger.
We stepped into the doorway. A loud gong sounded.
A greeter announced, “Miss Hu Siu Fan and her twin sister, Siu Mei!”
“That’s us,” said my doppelganger.
“Welcome, welcome!” shouted the big, red-faced man at the head of the table. He was speaking Cantonese, but somehow I understood him. “You are just in time.” One of the servers showed us where to sit. She wore a lovely jacket with wide sleeves like they used to wear in times long past.
Along with all the other guests, I was given a gorgeous golden goblet, full to the brim with hot wine. It tasted of salt plum, earth, and open rice paddies at harvest time. I tried not to gulp it all at once. Steaming dishes heaped with feast food followed: golden roast chicken, dried scallops on a bed of steamed garlic, giant crabs in ginger and green onion sauce. Even though it was so late, I ate until I couldn’t move.
It was then that the bride and groom came out, a willowy young woman in traditional dress, her face hidden by a red veil. An equally willowy young man in an old-fashioned scholar’s robe, his face shining with joy. They were both so beautiful, I felt like I was on a movie set, except that the rich incense smoke that permeated the air smelled so exquisite that it could not and would not be faked for something that was going to end up unsmellable anyway.
Musicians behind pale blue curtains shook wooden rattles to hail the ancestral spirits. A bright, high gong signaled their arrival. A deeper one signaled their settling into place. An erhu struck up a sweet tune and the bride and groom danced, their long sleeves arcing over our heads and showering us with the scent of plum blossoms.
No one is going to believe I was here, I thought. I emptied my cup of wine, and seeing that all the other guests were engrossed in the dance of the bride and groom, slipped it into the Coach bag, which remarkably hung off the back of my chair.
When the dance was over, the officiator declared the young couple married, and they filed out of the hall, followed by the musicians. The rattles, chimes, and gongs clinked haphazardly but softly in their wake. Guests began to doze at the table. I might have dozed too.
I woke to a hand on my shoulder. The doppelganger. “I take you back to hotel now.” It must have been five or six in the morning. I felt drunk and exhausted. The sky was beginning to grow light. We exited the ornate village gate, and I climbed onto the scooter behind her. In the sparse early morning traffic, we drove back the way we came.
When we arrived at the hotel, there was no sign of a fire. It stood, hideous as ever, a pink granite monstrosity.
“How can this be?” I asked her.
She smiled. “Did you enjoy your time at the village?”
“Yes,” I said. “But the fire? The explosion?”
“See you later,” she said, though I already knew I wouldn’t.
I climbed off the scooter and stepped up to the sliding glass doors, which parted obligingly. I turned and waved to my doppelganger. She waved back. Revved her engine and zoomed off into the city.
I got into the elevator, tapped my security card on the sensor, and pressed 27 to go up to my floor. The card didn’t work. The button wouldn’t light up. I tried again. Still no luck. Once more. A voice came in Mandarin through the elevator speakers. I didn’t understand. It repeated in soothing, perfectly accented British English, “Please kindly see a receptionist who will be happy to help you.”
The receptionist was neither so soothing nor so perfectly accented, but his English was still better than my Mandarin. “I’m sorry, Miss Devora Chan,” he said. “We don’t seem to have your reservation on file. Are you sure you are at the right hotel?”
“Royal Flamingo Shenzhen?” I said.
He said, “Yes.”
“It’s the right hotel. I’m staying here with my girlfriend Canton Therien, my cousin Hao Chan, and my uncle Robert Chan. I’ve only been away for a few hours.”
The young man tapped at the computer for another five minutes. Scrolled. Tapped some more. “Please wait here,” he said. He went into the back. I could hear him talking rapid-fire Mandarin with an older woman. The woman came out.
“I’m sorry, Miss Chan,” she said. “But neither you nor your family seem to be listed as guests here. Are you absolutely sure you have the right hotel?”
“I’m sure,” I said.
I began to feel agitated. “There was a fire last night on the third floor.”
“There was no fire here last night,” she said. “As it happens, however, we do have some vacancy. Would you like to book a room?” She quoted a price.
“My room is already paid for!” I yelled. “What kind of rip-off joint is this?”
A security guard approached. “We don’t allow our guests to abuse the staff,” he said. “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll book a room. I’m exhausted. I need to sleep. We can work this out tomorrow. You’ll see then that the mistake was yours!”
The security guard looked at the manager. The manager nodded. “I ’d be happy to book you in,” she said. “But we’ll have no more of that behavior.”
“There’s a room on the fourth floor that’s ready to go. I just need a passport and a credit card.”
I rustled about in the awkward Coach bag. The golden cup was still there. I found my travel wallet, pulled out my credit card and passport, and slammed them on the counter.
“Thank you,” she said, soothingly over-polite. She examined the materials while I waited. It took her forever.
Finally I said, “Is there something wrong?”
“I’m sorry, Miss Chan,” she said. “But your passport and credit card are both out of date. The passport expired two years ago. The credit card has been expired for four years.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
She pushed the documents back at me and pointed to the calendar behind her on the wall. The month and date were right, but the year—
“What kind of scam is this?!” I shouted. The security guard had me by the arm then. Before I knew it, I was out on the street.
I sat down on the steps of the hotel and dropped my head into my hands. I felt so exhausted, the jetlag of a thousand years. I rooted around in my bag for my phone, wanting nothing more than a bed or table on which to dump out all the stuff and reorganize it. My finger grazed that loose needle again, and for a moment, at the back of my throat, I tasted salted plum wine.
I tried to call Canton, but the call wouldn’t go through. I got a message about no longer having service. I tried to call Hao. No luck. I had only been gone for one night. Could it be true, that five years had passed since I had last slept at this hotel?
I still had a few yuan in my wallet. I ’d take a taxi to the handbag factory and see if Mr. Liu could help me. I flagged a cab and got in. The cabbie asked me to tap my phone. I asked if cash was okay.
“Shenme?” he said.
I showed him a handful of wrinkled bills. He burst out laughing. “Bu yao bu yao. That’s not worth anything anymore.”
“Please,” I said. “It’s an emergency.”
“Phone tap,” he said.
“My phone is not working,” I said. The only thing I had to offer was the golden cup I had taken at the banquet. “What about this?”
He waved his hand. He didn’t have the language to say “kitschy tourist trash,” but it was all there in the gesture.
“What about this bag?” I said. “You’ll have to give me a plastic bag or something so I can dump my stuff somewhere. But it’s the only thing of value I have.”
“I think so.”
Through the crawling rush hour traffic, he took me to Mr. Liu’s factory.
I must have had an ounce of luck left in my bank of spiritual fortune, because the security guard at the factory remembered me, though he made a funny face. One of the factory hostesses came to take me to Mr. Liu. Her face was placid as a lake on a still summer day, but I could tell that something roiled beneath the surface. She took me up to the office where we ’d discussed the prototype the day before. The room was the same, but brighter. I think the couch I sat on before was older, more worn, and a slightly different color. The wall was decorated with bags the factory makes, including, to my delight, three of my bags—the Hedgehog, the Durian, and the Puffer Fish.
Mr. Liu came in wearing a good quality suit. His hair had been recently cut, and he had a nice watch I’m sure he wasn’t wearing before.
“Miss Chan. Devora.”
“Where have you been these past five years?”
“Oh my god. So it’s true.”
I told him about the doppelganger, the fire, the needle, and the wedding. I felt uncomfortable talking about the golden cup, so I didn’t mention it. I talked a mile a minute, unable to conceal my wonder and horror. The whole time, Mr. Liu nodded gravely.
When I was done, he said, “You know you’re a billionaire?”
“What?” I said. “Yes, all of you—your uncle, your cousin, and your girlfriend. Though she went back to Canada and married some other lady. Your uncle went back to Hong Kong. We all thought you were dead. But your cousin insisted we keep your money for you in trust. In case you ever did come back. She waited so long for you, she pretty much lives in Shenzhen now. You want me to call her?”
Years later, when I was at a dinner held for philanthropists by an absurdly wealthy businessman from Beijing, there was a set of seven golden cups at the head table. “There were originally eight. These cups were held by an Italian collector, and I bought them at auction. They’re from the T’ang dynasty. It’s so important to bring our national treasures home. The story is that one was lost when its owners fled Xi’an in the transition between the T’ang and the Song dynasties. Who knows if it is true or not? Such a long, long time ago.”
“I have a very similar cup at home,” I said. “It was given to me by a friend who has long since passed. I would be happy to gift it to you to round out your set.”
“I couldn’t,” the businessman said.
“You must,” I said. “It wants to be among the others of its kind.”
After I sent it to him, he sent me a note. Where on earth did your friend get this cup? It is not just similar to the seven I hold. It is exactly the same. I believe it to be the actual missing eighth cup.
I wrote back: What hogwash. It’s just a kitschy tourist trinket. But if it brings joy to you, then having given it brings joy to me.