Standing in front of her apartment building, she began to count the number of floors that were below her home. She did this by counting each window below hers. There were fifteen. In some of them, the lights were on. She enjoyed these apartments the most because of the silhouettes that occasionally appeared in front of them. For the rest, the lights were off, and the curtains were pulled close. She stood there for at least half an hour, even after counting, until her cell phone broke her from her focus. She looked at the display. It was her mom. The light came on in kitchen window of her own apartment and she could see her mom, holding the phone and looking out over the street. Not onto it.
She put the phone back into her breast pocket where it lit the interior of her coat with each ring until it faded away, like the kitchen window light turning off and the figure of her mom walking back to her bedroom. She hadn't wanted to go home, but she felt obligated to. That once in a while, it was a necessity.
There had been an accident on the road earlier. A man crashed his scooter into the front end of a taxi cab at full speed. His body flipped over the handlebars, across the top of the taxi, bounced off the trunk and into the car behind it. The light was green and it was sudden. No way that traffic was able to stop in time to keep the body from being dragged underneath the frame of the second car, even as the driver slammed the brakes. Nothing stops instantaneously. She heard the crunch of the impact, of the body, of the scooter, of the cab. The reverberations traveled through the protection of her helmet. Then a long silence as everyone tried to assemble and playback what they just witnessed.
"Damn," her boyfriend said.
She was on the seat behind him, her arms wrapped around his torso, her hands crossed at the wrist, fingers hanging loosely.
People ignored the traffic lights. Everything had stopped. No one wanted to move even though the light was green. When the sound became an echo, a ringing in the ears, and all that was left was the visual leftovers, the scooters and cars proceeded through the intersection, driving around the wrecked scooter, the cab, and the second car with the body underneath. Tip toeing.
"Hey, pull over," she said when she felt the revs underneath her legs.
She tapped the back of his helmet with hers. He extended his arm out to signal a turn, pulled the scooter up over the curb and dropped the kickstand. "Fuck. Did you just see that?" he said.
The question irritated it. Of course she saw that. Everyone saw that.
She turned towards the people further down the river. They were strolling along the sidewalk, sitting by the river. The boats, lit like brothels in their hot pink lights, floated along. Maybe they didn't see that. But not the people here at the intersection.
The cab driver stepped out. To her, the act was a long process, the opening stage of an evolving choreography. First, the door opened. Then a foot extended down onto the street. Then the second foot. Then the cab driver pulled himself forward, looked at the scooter embedded in the hood, rubbed his forehead and with a flourish, turned around to the car behind him. Like most cab drivers, his hair was gray and combed into a thinning side part. He wore a blue shirt and khaki trousers. He had taken off his glass and held them at his side. They were silver.
The driver of the second car was already on the street. He had come out as her boyfriend maneuvered his scooter through the pedestrians to where they were now, next to the railing of the bridge over the Ai River. The driver was crouched on his knees and on a cell phone. He looked like a salaried version of death in his black overcoat, black trousers, black shoes and black tie. Unlike the cab driver, there was an air of calm surrounding him. His being there, on the ground, on the cell phone, was a natural act. The gracefulness of his crouching, the way he seemed to talk into his phone, pulled her towards him. No nervousness. No exasperation. The body laying on the ground wasn't keeping him from going home to a wife waiting for dinner to get cold. There was nothing for him to go back to. He was meant to be there. She wanted to be the person on the other line, listening to his voice.
"Is he breathing?" she would say, "Tell me where you are."
"Yes," he would say, "East Beiping Rd. by the Ai River, next to the Film Archive Museum."
"Don't move him. We'll be there right away."
In her mind, he sounded majestic.
The body laid still. She was not able to see much of him besides the pool of blood around the wheel that he was next to. One arm lay outstretched with a palm facing up. The other arm, was laying horizontally across his waist. His helmet was still on, but like the wheel, blood was also pooled around it so she could not see his face. What she wanted was to see his face. He had driven headlong into traffic. Straight into it. It was deliberate act. He knew exactly what he was doing, what was needed of him in this choreography. In a way, she thought it was an inspirational performance. He sacrificed everything for the role. Gave it his all.
She reached for her boyfriend's hand and squeezed it.
The cab driver approached the body and the man dressed in black stood up to receive him. Now, interacting with the cab driver, he seemed normal again. Like a man who was in a hurry to get home from an inconvenience. She felt let down. At this point, the sound of emergency vehicles could be heard coming towards the scene.
"Hey," her boyfriend said.
She chose not to hear him.
"This isn't something we should see," he said.
She held his hand tighter and took her helmet off with her free hand. She held the helmet at her side, letting it dangle from the chin strap.
"The poor bastard."
"Don't call him a bastard."
She let her own hand dangle from his grip.
At her boyfriend's apartment, they fucked. She was not in the mood but she let the motions carry her. In the beginning, she enjoyed pleasing him but after some months, realizing that she did not actually have to do much, she just laid down. She took a deep breath, held it, and closed her eyes. Her yellow sneakers rocked against the overhanging cotton of his t-shirt. When he came, he shivered as if a bolt of electricity had shot through his body. She wondered if the driver of the scooter felt the same bolt of electricity as he slammed against the cab. After the shivers subsided, he collapsed next to her. One arm around his waist, the other, out stretched towards the edge of the bed, palm facing up towards the ceiling.
"What's so funny?" he said.
"What a day huh?" he said.
She put her hand on his chest. In situations like this, she loved his focus and ignorance. "I love you baby. Do you know that?"
"I know. I love you too."
Her mother was waiting for her as she turned the lock on the door. As soon as she stepped inside, the lights in the living room came on. She had hoped to go straight to her bedroom but it never worked out that way. This was part of the dance. It was a necessity that her mom would be waiting for her as soon she got in. After waking up at five every morning, working all day, she wondered how her mom found the reserves to keep pace with her and wait every night. Tonight, her mom was in silk pants with an elaborate floral pattern of roses, a robe and smelled of cigarettes. She stood by the light switch in the hallway with her arms crossed. "Where have you been?" she said.
"I was with Kevin."
"That boy again."
Her mother shook her head and went back to her bedroom. She was honest this time. She was proud of her honesty.
She took of her yellow sneakers off and put them into the closet next to the front door. There was the nagging feeling that she forgot something vital to the night. When the scooter driver hit the cab, she couldn't remember if one of his shoes had come off. What was it that flew onto the sidewalk? She went into her bedroom and laid down. A rear-view mirror or a shoe? She tried to remember.