Anne stood against the bridge railing and looked out over the street stretching from underneath it. The street ran next to the river and except for the occasional motorcycle or scooter it was empty. “I used to come by this road everyday,” she said. “I rode on the back of my dad’s motorcycle. He made me wear this big orange helmet back then. He used to always wear the same leather jacket. It smelled nasty, like the air around a construction site, but I can still remember it.”
I wiping my glasses and put them back on. “What kind of motorcycle was it?” I said.
“I don’t know. Yamaha. Something like that. He spent more time with it than all of us.”
“Did he look like one of those gangsters from ’80s HK movies, like Andy Lau?”
“Come on. We’re talking about my dad. N-O.”
“I wasn’t serious.”
The sun was setting over the area. It covered everything it found in gold. The streets, the people waiting at the crosswalk, the lazy storefronts, the idle cars parked on the sidewalk—the surface of the river shined as we made our way across it. It was the kind of light that made nostalgia feel natural and every memory that was recalled was recalled with both fondness for its happening and regret for its passing. Being sentimental was acceptable in this kind of light.
“You never tell me about your childhood,” I said.
“Yeah. About eating roadside flowers and stealing Disney watches.”
“There’s not much else besides that. I studied all the time. How about that.”
“It’s the truth.”
We turned left at an alley where we knew of a good cafe with good coffee. It was part of the reason we had come all the way out here. Two and a half weekends left before we’d be back doing the airport routine. I wanted more relaxing times.
Anne was getting sleepy. I could see the signs and it was only a matter of time before she would complain about it. She never got enough even when she did get enough. Her shoulders slouched now and the heels of her Birkenstocks didn’t even get off the floor. When we went home, a cab would be a good idea. “You look terrible babe. Do you need me to carry you? Because I will you know.”
We found the place and sat down inside the foyer at the center of the cafe. For a weekend, it was not too crowded. Some Westerners played Scrabble and board games at the tables around us. I was getting kind of hungry but it was four o’clock already. I’d get a glass of wine later after the caffeine.
“How’s your family doing? You should call them sometime,” Anne said.
“They’re good. I talked to my mom the first week. Nothing much has changed. She told me I should see them when I get back from Beijing.”
“We’ll see. It’s a long drive. I’ll need to get some income when I’m back in the States.”
A cat strolled closed to our table and looped itself through my legs. It shed fur all over the sides of my black jeans and stood there with its rear end pointed at my shins.
“It likes you. When cats show you their backside it means they like you.”
“Are you sure?” I reached down and scratched the underside of its neck, just under the collar. “You know you like that.” It closed its eyes and swung its tail in a spasmodic kind of motion, then went on its way to another table. It was chubby with pale orange streaks along its back and had a flattened face. Rich kids.
"What about your parents? Do you think we’ll be able to see them on this trip?”
“I want to. But we have to either fly or take the train there. We barely have enough time. I’ve got class during the week and the only time we can spend time together is these weekends. I don’t want to even think about how many are left.”
“It’s too bad. I wanted to see your dad’s motorcycle if he still has it.”
“That thing? He sold it a long time ago.”
“Knowing what I know about your dad, I’m surprised.”
“No choice. It broke down.” Anne added some more cream into her coffee. “What do you mean ‘knowing what I know about your dad’?”
“I mean, since he seems like the kind of man who spends more time with things than you guys, he’s probably stubborn to a fault.”
“I suppose. But you’re wrong about him. You know what he did after that?”
“He bought bicycles for all three of us.”
The orange cat strolled towards for the second time but I ignored it. I was thinking about what it felt like to ride a bicycle. Just normal riding with nowhere to go, even if only for a loop around the block. Beijing was full of bikes but none of them belonged to me. If I had one I’d loop at least one of the ring roads.