The fourth of our five readers from Flash Fiction for Charity. Also see:
- Daniel Tam-Claiborne, “If Not for the Melon”
- William Wang, “The Antecedents of a Rodent”
- Qing Qing Chen, “The Reckoning”
- Rosalyn Shih, “Taishan No. 20”
6 AM, I wake up on my upper bunk in the company dormitory with a lingering happiness from a dream. I can only recall trees, the smell of damp earth, and the taste of sugarcane. It must be my village. After another day’s work —10 hours, 150 express deliveries, I’ll be on the train home. Another 10 hours later, I’ll be home.
I picture how my 6-year old son would jump into my arms asking the same question like one year ago, “Dad, what does Beijing look like?”When he first asked, I was caught off guard for I rarely had time to tour the city, to find how it differs from any other. “A lot of tall buildings, 10 times as tall as the ‘Tank’.”I pointed to the chunky 5-story county government building across the wheat field. I wanted to tell him about the Great Wall or the zoo but was afraid to draw more questions that I couldn’t answer.
When I think of Beijing, the first thing that comes to my mind is doors. Metal doors, wooden doors, doors that leave paint on my knuckles, doors with three locks, doors that never open. When they do open, the life inside pauses in front of me for a brief moment; when they close, the dinner or quarrel or kissing resumes. I have to be on the next delivery right away but part of me longs to stay, to share a taste of the life inside.
When the recipients open their packages, some are delighted, some disappointed, some surprised. Occasionally, I’ve even seen people cry, in delight or in sadness. I felt partially responsible for that as if I also delivered their emotions. However, the real causes of those emotions remain secrets to me.
As usual, the day passes fast once I get on my package-laden motorbike. In the late afternoon when checking the remaining few packages for the day, I am surprised to see my son’s name, Wang Yaning, printed on one large envelope. I find the address and press the doorbell, imagining my boy running towards me from the other side of the door. It turns out to be a teenager, 15 or 16 perhaps, slightly shorter than I hope my son would be at that age. He tears open the envelope, a hardcover comic book revealed. When he thanks me with a smile, I suddenly realize that I’ve never sent my son anything from Beijing, nothing addressed to his name. An idea hits me: why not deliver him something with my hands. Yes, why not the same book this kid is now holding, the one with a winged snake flying towards the sky? I ask him if I can copy the title of the book. “I want to buy one for my son,”I explain. The boy is more amused than surprised at my words and starts to tweet on his iPhone even before I finish writing down the English letters.
Before heading to the train station, I buy a copy of the book at a bookstore. It is nicely wrapped in plastic paper. I insert it in a yellow envelope, seal it, and then write my son’s name and the address of my home on it. An hour later I find a seat on the jammed train. I hold the envelope to my chest, thinking of how excited my boy will be, despite the fact that neither he nor I can understand the English words in it.
Son, this delivery is different from all others. The words in this book are secrets to both of us, but Dad’s love is not. Dad still can’t give you a nice description of Beijing, but when you open this envelope, you will find something your Dad has not been able to see in this city.
Jacques is an Apple sales operation manager in Beijing.