[Editor’s Note : Every week we will be publishing one chapter from Ansh Das’s book, The Memory Of A Face. Needless to say, we are super excited! Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17 & Chapter 18]
A bedtime story
The Pacific Hotel was not very far from where they were. The snow made the walk enjoyable.
Back at the hotel, Andy took a hot shower while Diano called the airline again. The flight was scheduled for 11.30 a.m.
When Diano came out of the shower he saw Andy perched on the bed with the TV remote in his hand. Unable to find anything promising on any of the channels, Andy switched to the music channel and put it on low volume.
“So, how do you like your new place?” Diano asked.
“There’s still so much to do. And I have to face that monster again on Monday.” Andy let out a sigh.
“Don’t worry. It’ll be okay.”
“You know, nearly all my life I’ve been struggling with one problem or another. I feel tired sometimes,” said Andy, in a sad voice.
“You can talk to me. I’m not sure if I can help in any way or whether it’ll make a big difference, but at least you’ll feel better after sharing your worries with a friend.” Diano splashed some toner on and rubbed it in.
“Thank you. You’re a nice guy. When you are in Guilin, I’ll take you to meet my mom.”
“I’d love to. Thanks. And now tell me your story.”
“Not a great story to tell. I was born in Guilin in a troubled family. I don’t remember anything about dad. Mom said he left her a few months after I was born.”
“Sorry to hear that.” Diano applied some moisturizer on his face.
“That’s okay. My mom took care of us on her own. Since she’d left home and married against her parents’ wishes, her father severed the relations with us. When my mom went back to her ancestral home with the tiny me in her arms, she was refused entry.”
“That must’ve been so hard on her.”
“She took me to Guilin and managed to find work at a clothes factory there. She’s good at stitching and knitting. That helped.” Andy paused. He drank some water from the bottle on the bedside table.
“Then?” asked Diano.
“Then she struggled to balance between work and taking care of me. Some of her friends took turns babysitting me out of kindness.” Andy smiled. “I was everybody’s darling.”
Diano laughed. “Cool.”
“My education was a problem. She had to work overtime almost every week.”
“Were you a good student?”
“Yeah. Fortunately, I was. But I used to get into trouble easily. I was bullied for being softer than the other boys. I’d get beaten up simply because I wanted to play with the girls and not the boys.”
“I’d hide my face when they hit me.” Andy laughed. “But I was stronger than them in studies. I had good grades and I was better at arts too.”
“Maybe they were jealous then?”
“Maybe.” Andy laughed.
“So you moved to Shanghai for work then? I still remember your French classes and dance lessons.”
“You remember that!” Andy laughed. “Well, not really for work. That wasn’t the reason why I moved here.”
“Oh. I hadn’t realized that.” Diano sat down on the bed. “From the beginning, please.”
“Okay.” Andy smiled at him. “When I started working part-time to share costs with mom, she was very worried about me losing concentration in studies. But I knew that I’d be okay.”
“You’re a strong character,” Diano said.
“I was. Yes. I used to think nothing in the world could weaken me. I wanted to stand on my feet and take care of mom. I wanted a successful life. But…” Andy paused.
Diano switched off the TV. He didn’t want to be distracted from Andy’s story. “Then what happened?”
“I was working at a restaurant during summer break. He ate there often. We started talking — small talk. He was a customer after all. I used to get off work after lunch hour, and find him waiting for me to finish everyday. We’d talk and walk around. When school reopened, I got busy. But he’d find one reason or another to meet me. Sometimes there would be no reason. I looked forward to seeing him.”
“I understand that feeling.”
“When I started taking French lessons, he joined the same class. Then he joined my dance classes too. I saw him everyday. Some time later, I realized I was in love with him.”
“Did your mother know?”
“I told her. I was very sick once and he came to visit me. At first she was upset but then she accepted me for who I am. I’m the only family she’s got. She didn’t have a choice, did she?”
“Not really.” Diano laughed.
“She accepted him too.”
“Then what happened? Why do you refer to him in the past tense? Did you guys move on?” Diano felt embarrassed after asking the question. “You don’t need to tell me the details if you don’t want to or if it’s making you sad.”
“No, it’s okay. I think I’m finally getting over it although I feel sad sometimes. But, hey, that’s life, right?” Andy looked away.
There was an awkward pause in the conversation. Diano kept quiet. He didn’t want to break the flow by saying something wrong.
“But it was always rough from his family. They’re too strict. He didn’t have the courage to tell them. We moved to Shanghai to get away from trouble. I missed mom but I had him.” Andy said.
“The place where we stayed initially wasn’t big enough, but we were okay. We started looking for jobs. I managed to find one but he couldn’t. After a few weeks, his dad called him. He’d thought his son had moved to Shanghai just for fun and would return to run the family business.”
“What’s their family business?” Diano asked.
“They own a few restaurants.”
“Ha! And he used to go to the one you used to work at? Sounds funny. Are they that poor?”
“Not really. I worked at a Shanghainese restaurant. He loves Shanghainese food. None of his dad’s restaurants offered that. Funny.” Andy laughed.
“I see. Then?”
“He started traveling between Guilin and Shanghai. His dad forced him to take more interest in the business. So his stays in Guilin got longer and longer. He didn’t have a job here and so he couldn’t justify his frequent visits to Shanghai. I was alone here, waiting for him to come back and wishing that he wouldn’t leave me behind.”
“Oh, poor you.” Diano knew loneliness very well.
“That was still manageable. But I wasn’t prepared for what came next.”
This time, Andy paused longer.