Around the pool table in a Chengdu hostel, a girl eating a massive dragonfruit introduces herself as Yumiko. The fruit is cheaper here compared to Japan, she says. Nothing’s contrived about her, a carefree Zen posture. A fresh look in her eye of a blank canvas with no painted scars.

Yumiko offers me dragonfruit.


The following evening, I return from my place down the road to the hostel to meet Yumiko and her two Chinese friends whom she met here. She’d invited me out. Yumiko greets me with a firm hug and I plant a kiss on her cheek. One of her friends is celebrating her twenty-first. The three girls and I take a taxi to a club.

A private booth and cake and drinks. Yumiko and I hold hands and we all dance on the bouncy dancefloor. Chinese people smoke, like everywhere in this country. The circulating fumes become overwhelming and Yumiko wants some fresh air. I go outside with her. She’s wearing a Gryffindor sweater.

“Are you a witch?” I point at the Harry Potter references.

“Of course.”

“Are you a good witch?”

“I can’t tell you that. You’re a muggle.”

“Oh yeah?” I lean in to kiss her. She pulls away.

“Let’s go back inside,” she says.

I guess I blew it.

Back inside, the two other girls are drinking and dancing. Yumiko is tired from seeing the pandas today and I want to move on from here.

A taxi home. The birthday girl is drunk, so we help her into the building and her room.

“Do you have a private room or are you in a dorm?” I ask Yumiko.

“Private. I have too much stuff.”

“Okay, let’s go there.”

In her tiny single room, we take off our shoes, sit on her bed and she pulls out a pack of cards to perform a magic trick.

“See, you’re actually the muggle,” I say. “This is all the magic you’ve got.”

After a couple of rounds of her trick, I lie down. She’s still entertaining herself with the cards, so I say, “Put your magic away and come here.”

We make out under the covers. She says she’s had insomnia for two weeks, since her boyfriend broke up with her. Nights are filling her with dread.

“He didn’t like me anymore.”

Part of me resents that she’s offloading her baggage onto me already, rather than simply being with me. But I feel the pain rising from her gut to her lungs and throat and now I feel sad.

Our clothes join our shoes on the floor somewhere and things progress and she’s unsure whether to go all the way. She sits up.

“Yes. No. Yes. No,” she says aloud to herself.

“Relax.” I place my hand on her shoulder. “We don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

The goosebumps on Yumiko’s slender body are nervous soldiers on guard. Their weapons drop as my palms knead her softening muscles, goosebumps dispersing, before both our bodies are heating each other. Between her legs is saturated, the rattling air-conditioner doesn’t prevent our sweat, and her dragonfruit contracts as the bed bashes the wooden wall.

My eyes open. 5.30am.

“I should probably go home now and let you be.”

“Do whatever makes you happy.” She smiles.

I tie my shoelaces. “Tonight was nice.”

Yumiko grabs my hand. “Thanks for making me happy.”

This kills me.

Along the empty road before dawn, the drizzle sprays my face. I wipe away the raindrops and trickling tears, wonder if she’ll sleep well, and my building’s gatekeeper is passed out on his chair.

Cover via Flickr

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