Imperfect, Tense

Stick called midway through my teenage girls class — I was telling them that they had to be more focused, that they needed to pay attention instead of coming to class with their minds somewhere else, and then my cell phone rang. Universe: 1, Meg: 0.

“I’m here,” he said.

“What? Here? You mean, Yantai? You said you’d be here this afternoon!” I looked down at my blouse and skirt and thought lovingly of my carefully assembled airport outfit, lying in readiness on my bed at home. (I also thought of the pile of clothes that didn’t make the Perfect Meeting cut and were now lying in disgrace on my closet floor.)

“I’ll come get you in one hour,” I said. The girls were lucky — for the rest of the class, none of us really had our brains in the classroom. We had a very creative lesson on imperfect tense, that’s the interrupted or incomplete action. I was teaching when the boy called. And 12:01 I was running down the stairs into a taxi.

I fished in my bag for something to put in my face, thinking of the lipstick, eyeliner and earrings, arranged next to my sink like little soldiers ready for action. I found some strawberry lipgloss, but everyone who’s been in China is laughing at the futility of putting on makeup in a moving cab.

The taxi driver wanted to know who I was meeting, and when he was arriving, and what airline, and how long he’d be staying and all sorts of questions and didn’t bleive me when I said I didn’t know enough Chinese to answer him. But we were in the one and only cab in Kaifaqu with A/C so I just smiled and repeated the few phrases I could say. I imagined a hungry, tired and disoriented boy would be walking though the airport and wondering when I’d show up.

We pulled up outside the airport, and I started to ask the driver to wait a moment while I got Stick and then drive us back to Kaifaqu, when he said “Look, your husband!”

And there was Stick, standing in front of the terminal, surrounded by bags that held peanut butter cups, Nutella, lotion, tampons and — alas for him — only one shirt. My boy. In China.

I stared at him in the cab. He’s been going to the gym with Hugo. I know he doesn’t want to hear this, but there’s more gray in his hair. The stress of dating me, perhaps?

“You look exactly the same,” he said. “You’re beautiful.”


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