Tuesday 14th October
When we left the restaurant the black BMW had gone and couldn’t have been happier. It meant that it no longer pissed me off. I drove home beneath a blanket of cloud that was punctured with holes of sunshine, my stomach sinking the entire journey.
Now we’re sitting in the living room the day after. It’s close to five thirty. I’ve decided to catch up with my gaming while Mei and her mother are nattering with each other.
Her mother has always been bitter about me playing games, seeing them as a waste of money. But what does she expect me to do while she or Mei are watching something together on the laptop? I like gaming and see myself doing so until my dying breathe. I’ll probably die with a controller in my hand.
And then her mother does something that takes me by surprise. She goes into the kitchen and fills up three cups of warm water and brings it in for us all. What surprised me was that she got me a cup as well. The last time she came it was almost like I didn’t exist. I feel a little warm inside, and not just from the water.
I should explain about the warm water thing.
In China they have to boil their tap water. Up until Mei and I moved in together I didn’t mind drinking tap water. In fact I quite liked it. I believe our filtration systems in this country are brilliant and it’s safe to drink. But since Mei boiled it all the time I have got into that habit and now when I’m at home it’s all I seem to drink. And it warms you up. The heating system in our house is crap to tell the truth. It’s warm air central heating that was invented by cavemen and installed by monkeys. It only warms the living room when it wants to so I leave the heating part off. I just use it to warm the water tank. So boiled kettle water helps a lot.
It’s now eight in the evening and Mei is preparing a classic Chinese dish for us all: tomato and egg soup. It sounds like a strange combination, but it’s bloody tasty. She adds a little bit of sugar to it and sometimes we have it with noodles. But tonight it’s just tomato and egg soup.
This is my favourite Chinese dish of all. Mei says children in China like it, so that’s why I like it.
I say, ‘But what does that make you then? Huh? Another child is what.’
Her mother asks what we’re talking about, and so starts the next few months of Mei playing translator to us both, which will eventually get annoying for her.
I do try and learn Cantonese to try and ease the burden on Mei. In fact, when Mei is at work and I’m at home with her mum, that’s the time I learn the most Cantonese because I have no other option. Her mum has tried to speak some English but I think it’s easier if I just learn her language. Maybe it’s me wanting to improve myself or do it for Mei, or maybe it’s the English in me wanting to pamper to others so not to put them out. Whatever the reason, I’m learning Cantonese. It’s just a slow process.
We’ve finished eating and I’m in the kitchen washing up. I have a habit of leaving the hot tap running so I can rinse the bubbles from the dishes before leaving them to dry. I have to wash the bubbles away because Mei says so. But it’s not just Mei; it’s her mother and many other Chinese people we know. It’s something to do with not putting chemicals into your body. Harold next door told me he washes them off, but not for that reason. I can’t remember his reasoning, probably that when they’re dry the bubbles leave marks on the plates, I don’t know. Mei and I had argued when we first moved in over who was right, but being the man in the relationship, I was wrong and she got her way.
I don’t mind doing things her way and over the last few years I think I’ve relaxed a lot more.
Whenever I visit my parents in Blackpool it’s much the same story: my dad ignoring my mum when she moans at him or him just doing as he’s told to. I remember him telling me from a young age that men are usually wrong and if you want a happy life then do as your wife tells you. I didn’t like that idea back then but now I see what he means.
I hear Poppy barking outside in Harold’s garden. There are voices out there, shouting.
Our house falls silent and I rush outside to see what’s happening, loosely putting on my shoes.
I see Harold shouting some abuse at a small group of children. I recognise one of them from number one hundred and twenty. His name is Jason. A horrible boy who is always around when trouble starts. He’s about twelve years old and he deserves a slap. He was a little shit when he was younger but now he seems to be getting worse. And he seems to be permanently excluded from school.
‘What’s the matter?’ I ask.
‘Just those kids swinging on my fence and winding Poppy up.’
The kids have gone out of sight.
Mei and her mother are at the door looking. Harold waves to them. They wave back and head inside.
He says, ‘I’ll be all right. It’s not the first time. I just can’t be bothered with them today.’
I’m going to ask him why, and then I realise the date: October fourteenth – the anniversary of his wife’s death. He’s especially out of sorts with the world on this date and the last thing he needs is kids annoying him.
‘Let me know if there’s anything you need,’ I say, not because it’s something people say, because I generally want to help. I often help him with things, like when I go to the shop I sometimes ring him and ask if he needs something. I don’t do it to be a ‘goody goody’, as he might call it, I do it because I don’t want to see an old man struggle. Although in reality he’s probably more fit than I am.
‘I’ll be all right,’ he replies.
Sometimes it’s just easy to forget he’s not some frail old man in need of a saviour.
‘Hey, thanks Lee. I’ll see you later.’ He heads back inside.
I do the same but not before I have a quick look around to see if those little shits are waiting for him to go inside.
I tell Mei what happened and she relays that information to her mother. I think it must be exhausting for her to have the same conversation twice in such a short time frame.
Her mother is visibly angry and wants to go out there and find the kids. This kind of thing doesn’t happen often in the parts of Guangzhou they’re from. I could be wrong but I think kids can still be slapped over there when they’re bad. I remember being slapped when I was a naughty kid and it didn’t do me much harm.
Or did it?
Mei says, ‘Those kids are so naughty. They should be punished. It’s not the first time is it? Where are their parents?’
I say to her, ‘Punished how? Kids these days know nobody can touch them.’
‘If they were mine I would hit them.’
‘Yeah, my dad slapped me and it didn’t do me much der der derrrr.’ I say it slow like I’ve just had a lobotomy. I stick my tongue out and blow a raspberry.
She doesn’t find this amusing but I do.
I finish washing the dishes and join them in the living room and return to my games.