to his side.
Once the guests were settled in the small drawing room, I slipped in and stood against the wall, so that Hanchin was in my line of sight while I pretended to watch the three poets seated at the front. While they read, I feasted my eyes on Hanchin. He’d had his hair cut since the night of the party. He wore linen trousers and a short-sleeved cotton shirt, as did most of the others in this hot weather. His bare arms were lightly tanned, lean and muscular. I wondered if his torso would be as brown as his arms. From time to time, he closed his eyes to listen and I could tell when he liked what he heard because he would tilt his head slightly and nod. Tongyin sat on his left, and a woman on his right. She leaned over constantly to whisper in his ear. She was thin, with a blotchy complexion, I was pleased to notice.
When the readings were over, a few guests clustered around Father, but most were out on the terrace, where the evening air was cooler and servants were bringing refreshments.
Hanchin and some of the others stood at the far end of the terrace. Tongyin was with them. My brother’s face was earnest and his eyes were trained on Hanchin. The rest of the group kept glancing over at the table, where servants were arranging platters. The three women sat on the wicker chairs beneath the cassia tree, conversing. I could tell the thin one wasn’t really paying attention to the others, her eyes kept straying to Hanchin. As did mine. I had to appear disinterested, pay no more attention to him than to any of the other guests.
But I found myself making my way across the terrace and stopping in front of the group surrounding Hanchin.
“Gentlemen. The food is ready, please don’t be so polite. Help yourselves.”
Although snacks were appropriate for this hour, Stepmother always served hearty fare in addition to the small morsels and sweet pastries. White steamed buns, both plain and stuffed with pork and vegetables; curried-chicken pastries; and slices of roast pork. And, on this evening, shrimp toasts.
Years ago I had remarked that some of these guests ate enough for a week. Stepmother had replied very gently, “For some, it’s the most food they see all week.”
There was a hesitant but eager shuffle to the buffet table. Even the women in the wicker chairs behind us abandoned their seats. Now I was almost alone with Hanchin. And Tongyin. I held my hand out to Hanchin.
“How nice to see you again, Mr. Yen. Can I bring you something from the buffet table?”
Jade bangles tinkled, traitors to my body’s shaking. He held my hand by the fingertips and bowed slightly. He didn’t kiss it in the French style, as I had hoped, but he held on for a moment longer than necessary, I thought.
“Thank you, Miss Song, but I find it difficult to eat when it’s so hot.”
“Oh. Perhaps a cold drink, then?”
“You’re interrupting, Little Sister. We were just talking about Japan’s influence on the socialist movement in China.” My brother’s tone implied I wasn’t equal to the conversation.
“Yes, Japanese writings on socialism made a lot of impact in China in those early days.” I smiled serenely and refused to budge. Tongyin’s eyes bulged at this.
“There’s an article from China Millennium on this very topic,” Hanchin said. “The mid-April issue, I believe. There’s a quote in there I wish I could show you, Tongyin.”
“Oh, we have that issue, it’s in the library. Let me get it.” And with that, Tongyin hurried off, leaving me to stand there, facing Hanchin.
“Are you secretly a socialist, Miss Song?” He said this lightly, in a teasing voice. He knew quite well, as did everyone in Changchow, that Father was staunchly for the Nationalists.
“I’m not sure. Mostly I’d like women to do more for China. Get better educations, take more roles in government. I want to teach.”
“Well, socialism holds out more hope on those issues. Once you’ve graduated from university, will your
Robert Gregory Browne, Edward Fallon