By the same author
|© Copyright 2003-2009 K S Mulholland|
Chapter 14 - Chinatown
Monique was very proud of her new writing desk.
Mathew Black brought it home that evening and between him and Louis, got it up to the girl's bedroom where it was installed in the now somewhat cramped space. 'Perhaps Monique,' he wondered out loud, 'now that the other bedroom downstairs has been cleared out, you might like to have it, on a temporary basis, of course.'
Louis looked momentarily glum. He was supposed to be getting it as his own room, yet being the oldest of the children and a rather resourceful and caring boy, he manfully nodded saying, 'that's a good idea Dad, Henry and I are O.K. up here until Monique's folks come for her, and this room's smaller than ours.'
'It was once a powder room that was later enlarged, so the Real Estate people told me,' said Mathew, looking at what little space was left to manoeuvre.
'Please, Mister Black, I'll be just fine here with Priscilla...that is if she doesn't mind?' said Monique, looking pleadingly from Mathew to Priscilla.
'I...what? Me mind? Noo, we're cosy up here Dad, and it isn't fair on Louis. He's the oldest and should have a room to himself. Henry'll be the first to agree...'
'I agree!' said Henry, popping in through the open door and grabbing Louis around the waist. 'About time I got rid of you so's Gizzard and I can have our own space!'
Mathew pursed his lips. 'Well it was just a thought, guess I'm out-voted. Feel like making your move tomorrow mate?'
Louis broke into a broad smile, which was somewhat rare, 'Thanks girls, thanks Squirt!'
Just after four o'clock on Tuesday afternoon, Mathew Black managed to find a multi-level car-park in Chinatown not far from the Chinese Museum, and took the girls down there to experience some of the atmosphere. They were delighted with every new discovery: the antique costumes, wedding gowns woven in gold, the musical instruments and the below ground-level, deep-lead mine, winding through exhibits of the Guan Gong temple, goldfields and a Canton sailing ship. But they were especially impressed with the newly imported Millennium Dragon, the largest in the world, side by side and dwarfing its predecessor Dai Loong.
'They are so colourful, and the new one is, how do you say? Vast?' said Monique, somewhat overawed.
For the next couple of hours the three wandered through the streets and alleys and lanes that cover the two blocks of Chinatown. There, where people of many nationalities rub shoulders, they found much to see. Restaurants were everywhere, most of them beginning to fill, but there were other shops of all description, Asian food stores, cameras, mobile phones, jewellery and especially clothing and footwear, and the two girls dragged Mathew from one to another until his head began to reel.
Just on seven o'clock they arrived at the doorstep of the restaurant. It was a modest looking establishment easily missed if you were wandering out of Little Bourke Street down Market Lane. In fact, it comprised a single door with the name Lhasa Green Dragon emblazoned in jade letters across the top panel. On entering, the three found themselves on the upper level of a stairway that u-turned and led out of sight. They could hear faint, jangley music sounding distinctly oriental, rising from below
'Woa! Hope this place is alright,' said Mathew, leading the way.
When they reached the lower level they came to another opaque, pale green glass door and opening it, were met with both delicious aromas and wonderful interior design. The room was long and low with a predominant emerald and blood-red colour scheme. There were tall lacquered folding screens and inlaid timber partitions in various areas masking the doors to the rest rooms and kitchens where waiters, wearing jade-coloured waistcoats over their white shirts, were bustling, carrying rattan trays filled with many dishes. Booths with intricately cut fretwork around the tops already had patrons sitting in them, drinking green tea and eating from small white and blue bowls. Carafes of wine and bottles of water were dotted around the red starched tablecloths, as were piles of steaming, fluffy towels on plates and finger bowls, ice buckets and containers of chop-sticks. At the far end, mounted on the wall, was a magnificent painting of a fire-breathing green dragon on a red, circular background.
'What wonderful decor, looks like something from an old Charlie Chan movie,' said Mathew, his director's eyes envisioning some future location shoot.
'Er, Charlie Chan, Dad ? Any relation to Jackie Chan, the Martial Arts guy ?' Priscilla asked, wondering who the heck was Charlie Chan.
'No relation. He was a famous detective in movies a long time ago.' Mathew screwed up his eyes and stretched his mouth into a thin line, 'Mind like parachute, only function when open, ah so!'
'Sir, you have a reservation?' enquired a sing-song voice from behind them,
'Oh, um, yes,' said Mathew turning, 'in the name of Black, and I have two young Ladies, Priscilla and Monique, with me tonight. I believe a Mister Jien Fon has set a table aside for us?'
The young woman who had spoken, glided out from a small counter, smiling and inclining her head, 'Of course, please follow me,' she said, threading her way between the central tables.
Priscilla and Monique, sauntering along behind, both had similar thoughts about the pert rear of the blue silk-clad lady in the lead and what Mathew might himself be thinking.
'Here is your booth,' the woman said beaming, gesturing toward a table upon which was set a Lazy Susan, cutlery and chopsticks. 'Mister Jien is supervising in the kitchen at the moment, but his ward Tsu is about somewhere, I shall send her to you. Have a very pleasant evening.' She glided away toward her counter where more patrons were already waiting.
'Well, what do you think?' asked Mathew.
'It certainly has atmosphere,' said Monique, 'I have been in restaurants in many places with my parents...' she stumbled on her words, fell silent, and suddenly looked down at the green dragon placemat before her.
'I think it's lovely,' said Priscilla, hurrying on, 'and you're right Dad, it's like you see sometimes in the really old movies on T.V. with gangsters and stolen jewels and...what do they call them? Oh yeah, something to do with fruit...mandarines?'
Mathew chuckled, 'Mandarins I think they are, you're as bad as Henry when it comes to word confusion.'
'Isn't that word Confucius, Dad?' said Priscilla, playing the game and hoping it would snap Monique out of her depression.
'You are as bad as Henry,' Mathew patted her hand. 'Too bad Rachael couldn't come tonight, she would have enjoyed herself, I'm sure.'
'Speaking of Mum,' said Priscilla seriously, 'is she...er...alright?'
Mathew looked at his daughter thoughtfully, 'What do you mean by "alright?" She's certainly not sick, and as far as I know she's very tied up in her new television role...'
'Excuse me, Mister Black.' It was Tsuang Tsu. She was holding three menus and proceeded to hand them out. They were covered in red silk and had dangling green tassels. 'It is good to see that both of you are not suffering from your recent swim,' she said, directing her comment to the girls and standing back with her hands clasped before her.
'No bad after-effects,' said Priscilla smiling, 'so it looks like we'll be school friends together. Will you be living in?'
'Mostly, I shall be going home at weekends sometimes. And you?'
'Much the same,' said Mathew. 'You are the Ward of Mister Jien, is that right?'
But before Tsu could answer, the tall figure of Jien Fon appeared at her side, a smile of welcome on his face. 'Ah, Mister Black, delighted to make your acquaintance.' He gave a slight bow. 'So sorry that we did not have time to speak at the lake, but I observed that you were naturally anxious to take these two courageous girls home. It is a pleasure to have you all here tonight. I have heard of your humanitarian work in the film and television industry. I have an especial interest in such pursuits. Perhaps, after your meal, you would permit me to spend a few moments with you?'
Mathew gazed at the immaculate powder-blue suit Fon was wearing, and then up into his face, 'Certainly Mister Jien, be glad to, as long as the girls don't get too bored.'
'Possibly they might wish to have a look at our aquarium, Tsu would be happy to show them,' Jien offered.
'Is it the sort of aquarium where you keep all the fish that go into the food?' Priscilla asked, looking slightly turned off.
'Oh no,' said Tsu, shaking her head, 'these are tropical fish, very beautiful, very calming. You will be delighted, I am sure.'
Mathew, Monique and Priscilla decided on a banquet which consisted of seven different courses, from Po Jup Yong Nam Kua to Szechuan Chicken and though the servings were quite small, by the time they got to the final one they were flagging. 'Couldn't eat another thing,' said Priscilla, rinsing her fingers and wrapping a steaming towel around her hands.
Monique nodded as she sipped green tea from a delicate china cup. 'That was certainly a wonderful meal. I do hope we will be able to sleep well tonight.'
Tsuang Tsu appeared at their booth just as a waiter was clearing the table. 'Was your meal sufficient? Would you care for something more?' she asked.
'Just tea for me,' said Mathew, draining his wine glass. 'I have to work off the effects of the wine. I'm driving.'
'Oh Dad, you only had two glasses all night,' said Priscilla.
'One cannot be too careful when at the wheel of a motorcar,' said Jien Fon, arriving at the booth with a tray on which was placed a large white china teapot and several cups. 'Now, who is for more tea?'
'No thankyou,' said Monique and Priscilla together. And Priscilla added, 'We'll go and see the aquarium with Tsu and stretch our legs while you and Dad have a chat.'
'Very well, take your time and get to know each other,' said Fon, setting down the tray. 'It is only eight thirty and all exercise is good for the digestion.'
'They'll get that when I make them walk up the five levels to where our car is parked,' said Mathew, waving them on their way.
The two girls followed Tsu between the tables still occupied by cheerful diners and the comings and goings of busy waiters, and through a door marked Private into a corridor that had several other doors opening off it. These turned out to be storerooms and an office as well as a staff amenity and rest room. Then Tsu entered an open area, turned a corner and there, under soft-blue luminous lighting were several huge glass tanks filled with an array of brilliantly coloured fish numbering in the hundreds.
'Gosh!' exclaimed Priscilla, 'It's just like in the zoo. Aren't they beautiful?'
'Yes,' said Monique, gazing at the shoals of fish drifting lazily through the waving fronds of aquatic plants, 'and very peaceful, you could spend hours just watching them and looking at all their colours, but why do you have them down here where most people cannot see them?'
'They are an offshoot of my Guardian's business, one of his partners imports and exports tropical and rare fish. Those that come into Australia from overseas are first quarantined and then brought here for holding before being distributed to various outlets for sale. That tank holds cold water species like Pygmy Perch and golden Ranchu, and those tanks there contain tropical varieties such as Red Swordtails, Congo Tetra, Pseudotropheus Tropheops and lots of others. Look see that one,' she pointed at a rather impressive looking fellow swimming past, 'he is a favourite of mine, a rare Dragon Fish.'
'Wow!' said Priscilla, truly entranced, 'and how cool are you? You know all their names.'
Tsu smiled, her hand sliding along the stainless steel edge of the tank stand, 'I know much about tropical fish, yet not enough about the two girls who are to be my school companions. I wonder...perhaps you might tell me...' She left the question unfinished.
'Tell you what?' said Monique.
'Well,' and here Tsu drew the word out so that it seemed to linger in the air for a moment, 'considering your brave and selfless action for the life of another human being, I was just wondering, what if you were each given a wish as a reward? What might it be?'
Monique turned her gaze from the hypnotic glow of the tanks and the ever-moving fish, 'I do not think that Priscilla or I would wish for anything, except to have helped save that little girl. That is right, is it not, Priscilla?'
'That's right. Wishing gets you nowhere. We didn't think about what we could get when we jumped into the water, we just did it,' said Priscilla dreamily, watching the red-tailed golden Dragon Fish as it swam through a cloud of tiny black and electric-blue creatures.
'Allow me to ask you both this then,' persisted Tsu, 'what would you wish for, if wishes could come true?'
'Everlasting peace for the entire world, no more war, no more poverty, famine, disease, no more persecution, and in Africa where I come from, there is still plenty of all those things,' Monique replied, wondering vaguely where this conversation was going.
Priscilla shook herself out of the dolour she seemed to be falling into. 'Wait a minute here Tsu, we hardly know you and you're asking us all these crazy questions. Com'on, what gives?'
Tsu sighed. 'What gives? You still haven't answered my question, what would you both wish for, if wishes could come true. Answer that, and I will tell you all I can about "what gives." '
Priscilla inclined her head toward Monique, and her expression was one of, I think this kid is some kind of a nutter. Monique looked back, mystified.
'O.K. we'll play your game,' said Priscilla, although at this point she felt slightly hazy, putting it down to dinner and the hypnotic beckoning of the fish and the soft lighting about them. She turned and gazed again into the nearest tank. 'I had a beautiful dog up until Christmas this year, a Shetland Sheepdog. Missey was her name. When I was a baby, she was a puppy given to me by Mum and Dad to be my special pal. I can't remember her when I was so little. All I can remember is that she was always there. She's in all the photos of me growing up. When I was four, down at the beach in Queensland, in photos in South Australia and later here in Victoria. All through my school years from one to year six she was always with me. So loyal, so gentle. Never any trouble. She'd sleep with me wherever we travelled, wherever we called home. Louis and Henry never had a pet like her. They had frogs and caterpillars and stick insects, you know, boy stuff. I could talk to Missey, and she really listened. And sometimes that was important...Sometimes, even when you have Brothers and a Mum and Dad, you have to have a...well...just somebody to say the things that are in your heart. But she died that night...Christmas eve...she just went to sleep under the tree...amongst all the presents...She left me without saying goodbye...She was my dearest...' Priscilla choked and couldn't go on. Tears began to streak down her cheeks, beside her nose and into her mouth. And then she slowly lifted her bowed head. 'If I had a wish that could really come true...I wouldn't wish for Missey to come back to me,' she said, wiping the tears away with her fingers, 'I'd wish for the safe return of Monique's Mum and Dad...I'll always have a special place in my heart for my dog...but Monique is my friend now...'
Now they were both silently crying as Monique put her arm around Priscilla's shoulders. 'That would be my wish also. My parents have been abducted, and taken by force I am sure, into Zimbabwe or Botswana in Africa. I have not heard from them for almost two weeks...but still I am so fortunate to have such a dear friend as you...' She reached into her blouse and withdrew a little hanky and after dabbing her own eyes, offered it to Priscilla.
'That is what I thought you would both say,' said Tsu, and her voice seemed to have taken on a different quality, it was almost as if she had actually known about those events before either had answered. Monique and Priscilla turned to face her, somewhat taken aback.
'Such a beautiful stone, said Tsu, and Monique realised that she had inadvertently pulled the ring on its chain out of her blouse along with the handkerchief. Before she could do anything, Tsu reached over and held the peridot in the palm of her hand, gazing at it. 'We cannot turn back time,' she said, her voice now taking on a mystical, dreamy quality. 'Your Missey is gone Priscilla, and will never return. However...' she allowed the ring to slip from her fingers, 'there is someone else; someone who belongs to your house, and in so belonging, will come to be your friend.'
'What do you mean by that?' asked Priscilla, startled, still holding the hanky to her eyes.
'I mean that in the coming days you will both be given opportunities. If you choose to take them, I shall be pleased, as I think will you, at the results.'
'Sorry, I don't get it,' said Priscilla. 'Why don't you spell out what you're on about?'
'To tell you more would not be to convince you. When we meet again at Hopewell Hall on Friday, perhaps you both will have experienced all that is necessary, and you will understand that what I say now means a great deal. I can tell you only this; tomorrow night, when you get ready to go to bed, stay dressed in jeans and pullovers, and wear shoes. If you chose to go, it may get cool after you get there.'
'Tsu, are you feeling unwell?' asked Monique, snapping out of her own depression and looking suddenly concerned.
Tsu laughed, 'There! I knew you both would think that I'm crazy, and I don't mind at all. Take no notice and believe what you will of me now. But by Orientation Day, perhaps you will have changed your minds. Oh and one more thing; remember, conditions do apply.'
Before either Priscilla or Monique could respond, a voice from behind them said, 'Ah Tsu, I trust that your time with these young ladies has not overly bored them, and that they are now somewhat further enlightened?' It was Jien Fon, the powder-blue suit darkened to a shadow by the backlight of the corridor. His tall figure seemed to tower over them as he advanced. 'So sorry to interrupt your observations, but Mister Black has been waylaid by some people he knows in the film industry. Confidentially, he sent me to return you to him as a means of extricating himself from their clutches. Please to follow.'
In the car, on the journey home, Priscilla and Monique were left with colliding thoughts and confusing memories; possibly it was something they ate.
Chapter 15 [Next]
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