Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Littlest Wedding Crasher

My ties with Sam's family go long and deep. I've been to his hometown and met his parents. I've been to his sister's house, which she shares with her husband and 18-month old son. His daughter has known me all of her life; it was I who named her 'Erica'. My feelings of hurt and betrayal at Sam's hand notwithstanding, his family and I have forged bonds over the 7 years I've been here. 
I have been proof-reading and editing his brother-in-law's physics papers ever since Peter earned his doctorate, 4 years ago. Never mind the fact that I am only minimally educated and he is a professor; when it comes to English, I excel.

It doesn't hurt that I am a total science geek and read constantly and voraciously of everything I can get my hands on with regard to chemistry, maths and, of course, every physics discipline.

Three of his four papers that I edited have actually been published, and he has been awarded a several-million Yuan grant from the Government to study the effects of viscosity on irregular-shaped particles, with the intent to deliver a solution for injecting nanoparticles into cancerous cells. And I helped!

He has long intended to treat me to a nice meal as a thank you for my efforts. When Sam told me about it 2 years ago, I demurred. I was happy to help, and I would take any chance to get my science on! Still, nothing would do but to enjoy an expensive lunch at a fancy hotel.

Today was the day.

These past 2 weeks have been so hectic! On top of my regular schedule, I have been covering night and weekend classes for David, who is up to his eyeballs in senior thesis defense. Besides that, I won a contract to research and publish articles on becoming a tutor in various cities in the UK.

I'd never been to the UK, so I had to do a lot of research to make the articles sound like I knew everything about Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol and Glasgow, Scotland. No mean feat considering the limits on Internet pages I can access from China, my time constraints and a flaky WIFI connection.

Needless to say, last week was not the best time to suffer an allergy attack, but what does pollen care?

Starting Monday night, I was rudely awakened in the wee hours of the morning, heart pounding and gasping for breath. For the first 3 days of the week, I operated in a fugue of fatigue and lack of oxygen. Wednesday night, I gave up trying to lie down and just dozed, sitting up on the couch.

Thursday, my killer day, nearly did me in. At least I did not have any impromptu visits like I had the week before, but I did run into Tina, who wondered why I am never home in the evening. Apparently she couldn't see any light through my drapes and simply assumed I was out. I'm guessing she would have dropped in had she thought I was home, as is her wont. I am glad she didn't, because...

For the second time ever, I was working under a deadline. I had to get those articles written and formatted according to my client's wishes by a specific time.

Incapable of entertaining a thought beyond conducting classes, putting food in my mouth and trying to sleep, I didn't write a single word all week. That left only Friday, my deadline day, to get everything written and formatted.

No problem with the writing. I finally managed to get some decent sleep Thursday night, after teaching 9 periods (45-minute sessions). Friday morning saw me up at 7AM and at the keyboard shortly after.

I was banking on the fact that my client lives in France, meaning I would have an extra 6 hours to work, thanks to the time difference.

Unfortunately, he was online and messaging me at 2PM, my time, wondering where we stood on publishing. I had the articles done, but could not access the publishing platform! Could it have been because of the WannaCry worm attack?

Fortunately, he was very understanding and gave me an extra day.

That would have been great, except for the fact that I had to be in class nearly all day Saturday. And my computer was acting decidedly strange; it wouldn't load any pages. When the client's page finally did load, it refused my logon. After much cajoling and a few well-chosen curses, the Internet cooperated and...

Long and short: the work was completed on Saturday evening!

I was looking forward to enjoying a quiet Sunday, taking care of mundane tasks like laundry and house cleaning that I had been neglecting for the past 2 weeks. But first, maybe a small round of my favorite game app on my phone...

Oh, wait! A text message from Sam: his brother wants to treat us to lunch on Sunday. I was sorely tempted to beg off but, in the end, I agreed to go. And so it came to be that Penny, Erica and Sam turned up on my doorstep a full thirty minutes before they were expected.

It's all good. We've been friends long enough that they could see me put on my makeup. They sipped coffee while I primped and little Erica, ever my buddy, played with my deck of Uno cards. And then, we loaded up.

Not only was the lunch rush was in full swing, but the restaurant we were to eat at was hosting a wedding! Only flimsy pink panels segregated the wedding revelers from us ordinary diners. 

Erica payed little mind to the surroundings, still absorbed with the Uno cards (and me), until the MC intoned via loudspeaker on the other side of the partition. And then, the room was so loud we could do nothing but eat: talking was out of the question. 

My little darling nibbled a glutinous rice cake, gnawed on a braised rib and scooped a few potatoes out of the duck stew. And then, she was up and at'em! Parting the pink curtains directly behind us, she gaped in awe at the lavish event before her until a hostess chided her and pulled her back, decisively closing the curtain with her other hand. Undeterred, Erica waited until the Gardian of Pink Gauze disappeared and then she was back, taking in the whole scene, even snagging a decorative balloon.

                                                        The waitress, pulling her back.

She has to be the littlest wedding crasher ever!

Now that I was not so focused on matching green, red, yellow and blue cards, I could participate in the luncheon and, to an extent, the conversation.

Sam's dad has lost a lot of weight, and he looks much older than when I first met him. When talking  with him I couldn't help notice his breath had the unmistakable odor of ketosis. I wonder how his health really is.

Peter and June, the physicist and his wife, had brought their baby son. It was the first time I'd seen him in the flesh. You might think it strange that I didn't ask or want to hold him. The reason is simple: I can't fall in love with another child only to leave him behind in 6 weeks.

As it was, my eyes were stinging with repressed tears. How dear these people are to me! How ordinary, how casual to meet for a meal in a fine restaurant! How crushing the knowledge that, in less than 2 months, we will most likely never sit around a table together again.

Erica, her burst of food-induced energy spent, crawled up in my lap and we cuddled while she colored pictures on my phone. The tender weight of her, the sublime peace of this beautiful, trusting child. The joy of knowing she draws comfort from me just as much as I cherish these infrequent moments of closeness.

I can't bear it. It's easier to think of her as the world's littlest wedding crasher.     

                                                         The fate of the purloined ball

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