The Train to Lo Wu
private kindergarten, like they do in Shanghai and Beijing, where the parents pay. That way you can have enough blankets and cots and chairs for every student. You can do painting and music and teach English. And you can get your own cook and have decent food. Only a certain number of students admitted every year.
    There’s nothing ridiculous about that, I said. How much would it cost?
    She looked down at the table, a flush rising from her neck.
    It’s impossible. They wouldn’t let me change my residency. And I would have to buy a new teacher’s permit—if they would even sell me one.
    Are you sure of that?
I wanted to ask, but something stopped me—the way her shoulders seemed to go limp, or the bright spots on her cheeks. Thank you, I said. I’m glad you told me that.
    Why?
    Because I don’t want to leave you.
    She furrowed her eyebrows; for a moment I thought she hadn’t understood me.
    We can’t talk this way. You don’t know what you’re saying.
    I think we have to, I said. I don’t think we can go on this way much longer.
    You don’t understand, she said. There’s no other way. There aren’t
options.
    Maybe we should go someplace where we can talk alone.
    I live in a dormitory, she said. It’s a women-only building. If anyone saw me with you I would be evicted overnight.
    Then maybe we should—
    Go to a hotel room?
    I don’t want to be vulgar, I said. I just want to spend more time with you.
    There are places, she said, pressing her lips into a line. But you have to pay by the hour. And sometimes they don’t clean the sheets in between.
    Fine. Then I’ll spend the night in a hotel, and we’ll go out together for dim sum in the morning.
    She shook her head. Understand this, she said. It isn’t that I don’t want to. But in Shenzhen, if you pretend to be a whore, you are a whore. And I won’t do that. Not even for a second.
    You don’t have to, I said, tightening my fists under the table. It won’t come to that.
    It took me two weeks to find a solution. When I first told Little Brother what I wanted, he laughed so hard I took the phone away from my ear, and shouted at him to be quiet and get serious. Two days later, he faxed me a list of flats in Shenzhen that could be rented by the night, the week, or the month, no names taken, and no questions asked.
    Don’t you have any friends in Shenzhen? I asked him the next day. I’m looking for a—a more personal arrangement.
    What does that mean?
    I don’t want to pay, I said. Not directly. Maybe you could give him a gift, and then I could reimburse you. But I don’t want to have to give money directly. I made a promise.
    You are a strange one, he said. What kind of girl is this?
    She’s very principled.
    And you’re going behind her back?
    There’s no other way. I’m not happy about it.
    Whatever you say, flying fish, he said. All that salt water finally went to your head. I’ll find you something.
    When I told Lin about it, at first she refused. You’re missing the point, she said. I told you already. If you pay for this, you might as well pay for everything. I won’t belong to anyone, don’t you see?
    I’m not paying anyone anything, I said. Someone’s doing me a favor. There’s no money involved.
    But it’s
yours
. It’s your friend. It’s your power to say yes or no.
    Then you decide, I said. I’ll be there on Saturday. You can come or not.
    That was how I came to stay at the apartment on Nanhai Lu. It was in a new building, painted white, at the end of a little strip of land that jutted into Shenzhen Bay. The rest of the strip was taken up by a hotel development that had been abandoned, leaving only concrete foundations and rusted metal prongs jutting into the sky. The apartment was on the fourth floor, and the bedroom windows faced the water; there were times when I woke up there and gazed out across the bay, forgetting where I was.
    Sometimes Lin came on Saturday afternoons, left in the evening for work, and didn’t return;

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