Sunday, 15 December 2013

Missing Our Girls

I am standing in a mall, waiting for my husband, when I see them: a woman about my age and her grown-up daughter. They are window shopping, their arms linked, and they are deep in amicable conversation. The daughter--she has to be the woman's daughter; they have the same high forehead and wide-spaced eyes--is about four months pregnant, The expression on her mother's face makes me want to cry. She is obviously so happy to be with her daughter, and so proud.

They stop in front of a window display of clothing for toddlers and admire the tiny coats, sweaters and shoes. The daughter laughs and points at a stuffed zebra the size of a panda. 

Suddenly I miss my daughters! My husband and I have missed them ever since we arrived here, in late summer, but at this moment, seeing this woman and her daughter together, I miss them so much I can hardly stand it.

Earlier, I looked for presents to give my girls for Christmas. I browsed through trays of carved hair ornaments, rows of sweaters on plastic hangers, stacks of tee shirts I thought they might like. I found so many things I thought would please them, but I stopped myself from actually buying them. I want to see my girls trying these things on--see them wearing the sweaters, frowning at themselves in the mirror--Do you think this is my color? Would a smaller size be better? I want to drink coffee with them afterwards, take them out for lunch, try on lipsticks and perfume with them that we have no intention of buying.

We are generally happy here, my husband and I. We are doing interesting and demanding jobs; we are struggling to learn Chinese, which is as engrossing as it is frustrating; and we are gradually getting to know this country. But being away from our daughters is so hard!

My husband rejoins me and we take the elevator to the basement. There, we walk past a huge play area where children tumble about on brightly-colored mats and climb plastic honeycombs. One kid is bawling his head off, kicking the floor. His exasperated mother watches him, arms crossed over her chest, a look of irritated resignation on her face. Ever so often, she bawls out something that he is making too much noise to hear.

"Been there," my husband murmurs as we watch the struggling toddler, and I automatically echo, "Done that."  We continue walking, but the toddler's screams are still perfectly audible from quite a distance.

And yes, we feel a little bit better. But we still miss our girls.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Triumph Of Tomatoes

There is a greengrocer's near our apartment. It is a small shop along a busy road, run by a bustling, no-nonsense middle-aged woman wearing an apron. Up until last night, my husband and I have pointed, gestured, and sometimes drawn air pictures of what we want to buy, always to the amused reaction of the greengrocer. Once in a while, we have tried to use Chinese--to the even more amused reaction of the greengrocer.

But last night, a small breakthrough occurred. I went into the shop as usual, picked out the produce I wanted -- apples and pears -- and then I stopped and frowned, unable to see any tomatoes. And I really wanted tomatoes.

"What are you waiting for?" my husband asked, anxious to get home.

"Hang on while I get some tomatoes," I said. He shook his head. "I think you're going to be disappointed." He gestured around us. "Do you see any tomatoes?"

I approached the greengrocer, my heart pounding. "Xihonshi yomeiyo?" I managed to squeal, working hard to get my tones right. At first she just stared at me, then she asked me to repeat it.

I said it again more slowly and she said ah! For a second I couldn't believe she had actually understood. Then she walked over to a box of pears and lifted it up. Underneath were tomatoes. Glossy little ruby-red tomatoes with tiny green tops.

We went home and ate them, along with the apples and pears I bought, which were very sweet. But the tomatoes were sweeter still.