Last Chance Saloon

Entry by: safemouse

27th November 2015
Chasuna is the only woman I ever asked to marry me. Not because I was in love with her; far from it. I asked on impulse one evening because I thought, if not her, than who? I didn't have a ring on me, so I picked up a stone from the ground, using that instead. She joked about it, said I wasn't serious and started dating this Mongolian guy her parents had arranged for her to see.
She was pragmatic. She was coming up to 27 and considered to be a little stale already so she was preparing for a marriage of convenience but hinted in small ways- that if I were serious my offer would be considered.
I was and I wasn't. If she had said yes I would have gone along with it but I needed her to be more into the idea than she seemed, as well. At least that's what I told myself then. I think that evening I'd just panicked a little. The fact is, I'd let several women come and go albeit that I thought with good reason. Reasons were that we weren't on the same wavelength, wanted different things or that the physical attraction wasn't strong enough. And, of course, I was never in love. I knew what I wanted and knew I had to be patient. But naturally I was wondering all the time when this so called Mrs Right would show up. I thought maybe I was a fool to leave Lily in Chongqing, she had such a beautiful laugh- a hee hee hee hee laugh, like a naughty child- that I still miss, she was a nurse and she was er, liberated in bed. What wasn't to like? Nothing I could really think of. Then there was Roselin in Zhengzhou. I kept seeing her in an advert for Calvn Klein after we split. Of course it wasn't her but the fact that I was getting my ex confused with a supermodel says a lot. She was hot-something that became more obvious after the fact and there was nothing spoilt or supermodelish about her behaviour. She was always in a good mood. Happy to eat in KFC. Didn't ask for presents. Satisfied with me and my everyday guyness. And then there was Baozhai, also known as Betty, who was older than the others but who treated me with an adoration that never got old. I think about her everyday because she's such a fine woman. And I don't recall a serious argument with any of these women, either. Maybe that was the problem. The lack of passion. But my last relationship taught me something. That you can be with someone and not realise you love them until it's too late. It doesn't have to be Hollywood love with big swooshing orchestras or holiday love with a moonlit ocean swim. It's everyday love. It's all the little things about them that you didn't realise you'd miss. And all those things that I used to think would matter- like intense intellectual discussion or the same tastes was now something I didn't particularly care for. I liked the way Betty and I would go and sit in a cafe and just be together, like two pensioners sitting outside a beach hut staring at the sea.
Like I say, I think I made the right call at each step along the way but I began to worry. I was young for so many years and then suddenly I wasn't. Finally, things came to a crunch in TongLiao because by the time I moved to Inner Mongolia I had clarity in my mind on certain issues. One, at 38, I simply wasn't the marriage prospect I once was in China and never was in the UK. Unlike a lot of expats I hadn't settled. I'd simply travelled from city to city, working tourist style. I hadn't saved money, built up contacts or started a business. I hadn't many friends. One afternoon I realised-particularly resonantly-that I didn't amount to much and needed to think seriously about my future. Two, unless I got married that future probably wasn't going to be in China. I was done with the life I was living there and was potentially facing a life back in Europe. You can't go back to the UK with no job, no mortage, no money and expect for much of one but I had family and roots to think about.
Chasuna was crazy busy with her masters degree that Autumn but she spared me 2 hours on my birthday. As I say, she was supposed to be dating this guy but she fell asleep on my sofa and we almost got it on. I figured the door was still open. On her birthday, six weeks later, she agreed to come over for half an hour or so between doing one thing and another.
Don't know if it was because she was Mongolian but Chasuna was more direct than my Chinese lovers. When she came round she called me an asshole and said she hated me because I'd eaten a sandwich I'd made for her. Obviously that remark was built on the strength of previous acts of unimpressiveness I had committed though none I can recall. Such is the mind, that self-censorer of what it is about ourselves that bugs others. Anyway, I made her tea and the disappointment with the sandwich was soon forgotten when I started humming 'Happy Birthday' in a silly voice and brought out her present.
“Are you going to open it?”
“Why? Because I'm having my tea. Are you ok recently?”
“Not really, no. Lonely.”
“Lonely? How about your website girls?”
“Not much joy there. But that's okay, that's life, isn't it? I know my life is pretty good going compared to others.”
“Some others like?”
“People in prison, people in North Korea.”
“North Korea?” She said, a little bemused. The sufferings of the North Koreans were not on the news agenda in China.
“Mmm,” I said and took a sip of my tea. I wasn't explaining that one.
“Darling, you've got such big arms,” I said instead.
“Nice to know.”
“They're very sexy.”
“Nice to know.”
“Has your boyfriend given you your present yet?”
“Oh. Sorry to hear that.”
“Liar,'' she replied and then after a pause, “Can you give me a tissue?”
“Do you miss me?
“Yessss”, I said. Like my mother had asked me if I'd put the rubbish out. Actually I hadn't missed her that much.
We then argued about where she could put her cup down. She wanted to put it on the sofa arm of my new sofa, I didn't want to risk it being spilt.
“You don't want to give me even a little trust. It is a problem. Always.”
“Like that time we agreed to meet in Xinhua square and I said how are you going to get here on time if you're in Baotou and you said, if I say I will be there I will be there and I said 'Ok I trust you' and you were 2 hours late?”
“Ok, if you talk like this than I'm gonna leave.”|
“Please don't leave. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I forgot. You are always right.”
“Yes. I am. I'm super woman.”
“You look like super woman. A more curvaceous version of her. You look fabulous.”
“Thank you,” she said sweetly.
“So. You'd better open your present.”
“Do you want to say something before I open it?”
“Um...can you guess what it is?”
“A sandwich?”
“Chasuna, the sandwich is ancient history.”
As I was saying this fireworks were going off outside. Not the colourful kind, the loud banging variety that you cannot seem to pass a day in Chinese city without hearing go off somewhere and usually to mark the opening of something, such as a corner store or clothes shop. But then they stopped.
“The look you give me now I remember when we first met," Chasuna said.
“Really? It was rude of me to look at you like that when I'd only just met you,” I replied.
“You should have asked me out yesterday.”
I sat down beside her and looked at her closely.
“You know you'd have said no.”
“You never tried.”
“Laugh my ass off. I'm always pestering you and you say don't put pressure on you.”
It was true, as well. That whole semester I'd been sitting in watching episodes of Lewis and messing around with my sandwich maker. That wasn't how it was supposed to be. I thought if I moved into an apartment on campus she'd be round every five minutes. Of course, the 10.30 curfew for foreign teachers didn't help. But I'm a fantasist, that's the main problem.
Chasuna was silent for a few moments and then replied “happy to meet you,” which is difficult to translate. Happy that we'd met or, most probably, glad that she'd stopped by that afternoon.
After that she opened her present, which was a dress and said she liked it because it was from me.
“Are you going to try it on?”
“No. I have to go.”
“Ok, well, thank you for coming over. Have a good evening...Twenty seven years old.”
“Yeah. Twenty seven. I don't like twenty seven.”
“Why am I drinking your tea?” I asked.
“Are you happy?” She replied, not to my question.
“Now, I am, yes.”
“I mean not only today.”
“Generally, no.”
“Well I'm getting old and it just seems like I'm going nowhere in my life and I want to find someone to settle down with and maybe I never will. I have all the usual worries too. Money problems, family problems, existential problems. What about you? Happy?”
“No. Not really. I am a little confused about my life. I want to travel but I don't think my boyfriend gonna wanna do that.”
“So why don't you ditch him, go abroad next year after you've done your degree and go and work somewhere. Live a little.”
“It is not that I don't want to. Maybe I will marry and then divorce and then I can do what I wanna do.”
Chasuna wasn't kidding. She was wanted to get out of Hohhot and see the world but she didn't want to end up on the shelf, she didn't know whether to pursue her dream of travel or be sensible. Certainly her family wanted her where she was.
"Chasuna, I want to ask you something."
"And...say yes."
"Do you want spend the night in a cheap hotel?"
"What? You know I have a boyfriend."
"No no. That's not... what I wanted to ask."
"What then?"
"Would you like to take part in a mock marriage ceremony?"
"What is a-"
"Like a fake wedding."
"No. I don't think so."
“Alright, alright. What I really wanted to ask is: can I be your teddy bear?
“Your teddy bear? What," Chasuna paused to remove the remote control from the sofa cushion and chucked it across the room "others are there?,” and snuggled up to me.
As I started telling her-iguanas, giraffes, penguins, bonobos, mangabeys- I stroked her hair.
"I've missed you," she said.
"I've missed you too, sweetheart," I said.
We didn't mean it. It was a moment as disingenuous as one of those 'we care' moments in a banking advert. We wanted it to be true, so we said it. Our relationship was just about sex, on both sides but sometimes one or both of us would get confused and hope it was something more.
When we said goodbye at the airport my eyes were getting moist. Chasuna was surprised to seeme overcome with emotion but I think it was just the occasion.
I think I made the right call going home. Sitting here in my bedsit my body heats the duvet nicely and sometimes, when I'm sickened by the gratuitousness of online porn I think of Chasuna. She says it's nice to know.
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