Zou had his sleeves rolled up, which meant the work day was over, except if his cell phone rang, or an important email came in, or if he ran into a client somewhere between the stoplights and storefronts of the busy shopping district.
His wife, Roslyn, wore her favorite cardigan – lavender colored, with sleeves she pulled down over her wrists to hide the pale blue veins crisscrossing under her skin.
They didn’t hold hands today. His were shoved in his pockets. Hers held grocery bags, full of food she was still acquiring a taste for. In Connecticut, there was less writing on the labels. The labels here were covered in narrow rows of kanji, with splashes of bright colors and exclamation marks. Even with Zou, food shopping was an intense experience.
“Remember that I am also not from Japan,” he’d tell her when he saw her freeze up amongst the cans of soup and sacks of rice flour.
He was right – China wasn’t Japan. But the business world had its own culture, its own landscape that he’d learn to walk with firm footing.
It was that firm footing, in addition to his kind eyes, that persuaded her to accept his offer of marriage last year. They’d met earlier the same year when he approached her on the street. She was looking through a store window at the bubbling fish tanks inside.
“Did you call your mother today, my Roslyn?”
She looked down, watching the fabric of her long dress swish around her ankles as she walked.
“No,” she replied quietly. “She was difficult last time. She thinks dad is stalking her,” she added, sensing his concern.
He didn’t respond. Instead he removed his hands from his pockets and took her grocery bags from her so she could tug on her sleeves, as he noticed she always did when she spoke of things from home.
They walked like that for some time, until Roslyn froze up amongst the throngs on shoppers and pedestrians.
“What is it this time?”
“Zou. I accidentally stole this bracelet.”
She lifted her wrist to show him the bracelet – loose-fitting on her slender wrist, and thin like a trickle of silver water.
“Back in Asakusa. I tried it on and forgot to take it off.”
They had only stopped in the artisan’s shop briefly. She was drawn to it because it wasn’t lit up with halogen and chrome like the other stores they saw so often, and because an entire wall of the tiny shop was dripping with strands of jewelry, glinting faintly in the dim lamplight. She tried on that bracelet in particular because it looked like something a mother would give their daughter.
She began to cry.
“There is no reason to cry, my Roslyn. It is an inexpensive bracelet. By the time we return to Asakusa, the store will be closed.” He kept his voice soft but his jaw tightened like a knot above his neck. There were so many people on this street today.
He was right – the sun was setting now, drenching the glass skyscrapers in sleepy pink light. Soon their silhouettes would recede entirely and in their place, flashing signs and lit windows would carve themselves into the night sky.
She nodded and walked on, wiping her eyes on the ends of her sleeves. She would return the bracelet tomorrow, just after dawn before Zou woke for his morning tea. She’d take the metro and look out of the window as the outside world blurred past, too fast for her to recognize anything at all.
That night, she thought, she would return her mother’s phone call.
Illustration by Ziqi Wang