The One and Only

by Betty P

The only thing I had to go on was whether there was grey or black coming in through the chink. I couldn’t really tell how many times I’d dropped into sleep, but by my calculations, I’d had my face pressed against my knee for 3 days before the concrete block shoving me into my own body was itself shoved aside.

The pressure that had been exherted on my back from the nape of my neck down to the base of my spine was replaced with a small ashtray-sized area rounded off by a pin-prick of pressure just below it. Momentum behind the pressure rocked me too and fro as I gradually straightened out of my hunched position. My arc of vision that began painfully at ground level in a dusty, grimy puddle swept upwards and my heart soared as I glimpsed my savoiur against the light of China greyness.

I didn’t know I’d never been in love until that moment. Those strange, new pressure points on my back had in fact been a platform stiletto. The slender hourglass figure they underscored was crowned with a face of loveliness that I had never before encountered in all the classrooms, lecture halls, offices, bars, KTV parlours or indeed the DVDs or websites I’d ever clapped my eyes on. Framed by a sleek black bob, it was a determined but calm face, highlighted in this one glorious instance by a mixture of concern, relief and fatigue. Brown-black irises dripped, warm, onto my tattered body. The red nailed fingers of an elegant hand reached down and delicately brushed my face. Despite the hunger and the cramps, and moreover, my intense disorientation and fear of what belied this situation, I smiled with such contentment that my saviour too curled the edges of her mouth, displaying a set of perfect pearly whites.

And so, she had me.

I couldn’t stand yet, so she helped me into a sitting position, perched herself close by and started to explain what had happened. The whole country knew that the resource war had been getting heated, but no one had expected such a vicious attack, and so soon. In a bid to cut China’s energy demand and eliminate competition from the Made In China brand, key centres of industry –  Shanghai and its surroundings included – had been hit 3 days ago by massive and breathtakingly destructive nuclear explosions. There were few survivors, but they had found each other and congregated at key points all over the city, pooling their resources and helping each other in whatever ways they could. It was to one such camp that she told me we would be heading once I’d got my strength back.

With the contents of a battered water bottle and some binggan, she nurtured my screaming insides. In my confusion I began to develop a Shanghai syndrome theory, whereby the saved experiences immense emotional and sexual attraction towards the saviour. However, as I regained energy and we set out towards the camp and began conversing, I realised that this wasn’t the product of Shanghai’s implosion – I would kill anyone who took her away from me – under any circumstances.

We had been thrown together in that war zone, the first exciting months of a romance compressed into a few hours trudging through the broken intestines of Shanghai. Any guilt I felt at not racing straight for home to see whether any of my family may have survived and to salvage what I could from the wreckage were quashed as our conversation leapt and soared from topic to topic.

Tentatively at first we introduced ourselves and gradually and more boldly we nudged forth our thoughts on the world. We philosophized and argued. We joked and laughed. I ached as my words animated her face. As I spoke, her eyes grew wider and softer, those brown-black pools drawing me further in.

Venturing on, over and around heaps of stinking bodies and shards of lives destroyed, she slipped her hand into mine, shyly saying she had never imagined that that day’s search and rescue mission could have ended like this. An unearthly quiet had settled on the city and aside from the smell, which once in a while threatened to permeate the illusion beyond repair, it was as if we were walking through a deserted disaster film set.

By the time she told me we were close to the camp, she and I had already assigned each other a list of books to read and albums to listen to. She knew I hated tomatos, I knew she couldn’t stand dogs and we had planned to elope to Italy and set up a restaurant with a bookshop attached.

We were laughing as we turned, hand in hand into the xiaoqu where the camp was located – I was teasing her – her suggestions for the restaurant’s name were cute, but not quite what we would be looking for. She was acting hurt, but gracefully conceding that I was right.

Giggling, she gave a knock at one of the doors in an alley off to the right. The door swung open and we stepped in to shelter. As my eyes adjusted, my smile froze on my face. I reeled in horror and wrenched my hand free from her tender grasp.

The room was full of women. Each one of them wearing a pair of platform stilettos. Each slender hourglass figure turned with distracted curiosity to glimpse who had just come in. Each sleek black bob swished back into position as each pair of brown-black irises satisfied its curiosity and turned back to take up, with red-nailed fingers of elegant hands, each assigned chore.