The spider creeping across its web, its big brown and yellow shiny abdomen and legs reflecting the yellow porch light, should not have freaked me out. It was catching plenty of mosquitoes. It only made me shriek because it perched directly above the chamber pot I was supposed to use. I could imagine myself squatting over the bucket (a paint bucket I think), and the spider, seeing me, and knowing it had such power over me, would drop down on a single silk web and dangle directly above me, just waiting for the proper moment to drop on to my neck.
“It’s a homey spider,” my husband tells me when I ask him to move the pot. “It’s not a dangley spider.”
“Yeah. Remind him of that,” I say. I don’t think it would have comforted me more if he had used the creature’s scientific designation.
We slept that night in utter peace, after I emptied my bladder far from our mosquito-munching friend. After the children cuddled down together, their voices finally drowsy and sweet. After the watermelon and corn-on-the cob fresh from the garden outside our window had cooled us, and satisfied our travel weary bellies. The five-hour bus-ride was long forgotten.
The sounds of the city had vanished, and only the whir of the fan stirred the sultry night.
My daughter was the first to stir this morning.
“Mommy, it’s time to wake up,” she says, kissing my cheek. “The chicken says it’s time to wake up.”
She doesn’t know the English word for the male of the species. That makes me smile. I am happy that she knows more Chinese than English. I am happy that she has anticipated this visit to our friends’ home in the countryside for days. There is an outhouse here, and a solar-heated outdoor shower. Two large black rubber skins hold the water on the roof of the shack. A tube runs down from each to a small shower-head/stopper. Pull the shower-head out of the tube slightly, and the water flows. That is the only running water. We wash in basins scooped full of water from barrels nearby. This is not the city she is used to. But she doesn’t even have to think about being open to the experience, because she is also used to going with the flow. It is all she has ever known. She is a Chinese child.
I help her get dressed. She runs downstairs to play with aiyi and shushu. This “aunt” and “uncle” are more well-known to her than my sister and her husband. She sees her Lao-lao and Lao-ye more often than her real grandmas and grandpas back in America. I had never met these people before last night. They are the parents of a friend of ours. We haven’t really spoken more than twenty words to each other. But I trust them far more than strangers back home with her. They haven’t even said to me, “Oh, go ahead. Leave her with us. You go and relax.” It is more than implied. It is expected. We are really here so they can play with her. I sit in the upper tea room and paint what I see across the road. A pond. A willow. Acres and acres of corn crisscrossed with electric lines. A whole picture without interruption. She falls asleep after noon. Someone else made sure of that. I am breathing.
Later, I am swinging in a hammock strung between two plum trees, eating a plum from another tree. It is ripe and sweet and juicy. The smoke from the barbecue floats by. It is small metal box resting on two bricks. Sticks and hay were lit, then coal bricks were added to the fire. A wire mesh grill will be placed on it later to cook the chuar…stuff on sticks. We eat lamb and beef skewers, a cold dish with clams and cilantro, a hot dish with octopus, peppers and spices, and rice. Then there is the grilled dofu. I politely accept one, and choke it down, a smile on my face. But then, there is more watermelon and more plums and I am stuffed beyond belief.
This is China. I realize people only eat like this when special guest are around. Foreigners always count as VIPs. But this time, the notoriety allows me to relax in a way I can’t in the city. We are a curiosity, my husband and I, as we walk down the farm road past rice fields and garbage. But the curious eyes only glance and then they move on, busy with their work. Our children are safely ensconced in a country home down the lane, playing with their new aunt and uncle. My husband, the best friend I know, and I talk about the future. We look down the lane and wonder where it will lead us next. Then we turn back, and wander in to the courtyard, where our daughter blows bubbles with a new friend.