His grandmother is trying to arrange a marriage. Divine Fury. Chapter 11
January 3, 2013
ENZO LEE CAPPED off his four-mile run with a bottle of water, a bagel and a cappuccino in Union Square. He’d gotten up early, jogged down the hills from North Beach and then found his rhythm going north on Sansome until he came out on the Embarcadero. He headed north for a few blocks and took a quick loop around Pier 39 to see if the sea lions were awake. They were, warming up for another busy day of napping and squabbling over space on the boat docks they had won by simply exercising their animal squatting rights five years earlier.
Then, Lee followed the long stretch of the Embarcadero waterfront south to the Ferry Building and Market Street. Commuters were emerging from the underground BART and Muni stations as he turned down Market. The coffee shops were tossing up their metal shutters. Small lines were forming where people waited to grab their scones and lattes before entering the downtown office buildings to begin their work days.
Whenever he left his North Beach flat for a run, Lee thought more about what he would see than the miles ahead. Grinning tourists hanging onto the cable cars. Eager techies talking animatedly into invisible microphones. Sidewalk merchants setting up their piles of sweatshirts, CDs and worn paperbacks.
Lee slowed to a walk a few blocks from Union Square to cool down and let the morning breeze start drying the sweat which had soaked through his black Giants sweatshirt. The bagel and cappuccino marked the official end to his jogging regimen. When he was finished, he cut across the square to Post, walked the block to Grant Avenue and headed up toward Chinatown. He passed Saks, Gumps, Brooks Brothers and a dozen high-end fashion stores before he reached the first gold and red signs with Chinese characters.
Grant and the side streets were already bustling with hand trucks bringing in supplies from hastily parked delivery trucks. The smell of cooking food, particularly the roasted duck and barbecued pork, already permeated the neighborhood. Early shoppers were out and bickering with the merchants before they could even get all their goods displayed in their cases and on tables along the sidewalk.
“Taai gwai la. Taai gwai la.” (“That’s too expensive. That’s too expensive.”)
Lee stopped and had a butcher quickly chop a duck into bite-sized pieces. He continued on, letting the duck – sitting in a Styrofoam box held by a plastic bag with handles – swing by his side. He turned down a side street and went into a three-story building that was an assisted-living home where his grandmother lived.
His grandmother was 84, small and thin. At times, she was forgetful but could be vivacious if she wasn’t too tired. She was an early riser and would be up, probably watching television. This was her latest passion. She seemed particularly devoted to reruns of Designing Women and Law and Order.
“Ni hau ma, lai lai,” said Lee. His grandmother averted her gaze from the television to her grandson. She broke into a wide smile.
“Enzo,” she said, holding her arms toward him for a hug and leaning forward in her recliner. He set the duck down on a table and complied.
He sat down and she looked at him happily through her thick glasses.
“You’re looking great,” Lee said. He meant it. There was something different about her.
His grandmother nodded toward a covered dish sitting on her dresser that had a brown powder in it.
“Master Chu give me Chinese herbs,” she said. “Make me feel better. Help me digest the food better.”
Lee had introduced his tai chi coach, Master Chu, to his grandmother. They were close in age and Chu had become very protective of her. He often chided Lee for failing to visit her sufficiently, although Lee dropped by every two or three days.
Lee removed the lid from the dish, picked it up and smelled the greenish brown powder. It had an earthy, mossy odor. He took a small pinch, dropped it in the palm of his other hand, and licked it. The grittiness of it instantly filled his mouth. He felt as if he had just tasted dirt.
“Yuck,” he said. “That’s horrible!” He moved his tongue around trying to get the gritty feeling out of his mouth.
His grandmother chuckled.
“Take with water,” she said. “Not dry.” She tittered again, covering her mouth.
Then, she pulled herself to her feet, walked to her dresser and rummaged around in one of the top drawers. When she found what she was searching for, she closed the drawer and sat down again. She handed a small photograph to Enzo. It was old. A pretty young Asian woman smiling into the camera while her portrait was taken. It was his mother. Lee guessed she was 19 or 20 when it was taken. It was hard to tell. But he knew his mother had had little contact with her parents after she turned 21. That was when her romance and eventual marriage to his Scottish-Italian father had created a rift that never healed.
“It was lost,” his grandmother said by way of explanation for the photograph. “I found it yesterday in another book of photos. Your mother. So pretty.”
His grandmother had reached out to him over a separation created by mutual stubbornness after his mother and his grandfather had both died. Lee’s own father had died in a car accident when he was a child. His grandmother had shown Lee scrapbooks she’d hidden from her husband that were filled with photos and mementos from his mother’s early days. She had even collected articles that Lee had written during his reporting career.
Lee hadn’t realized how deserted he felt without his mother. He had a few cousins scattered around, but none who felt like close family. Gaining a grandmother and having a family of two was vastly superior than his lonely family of one. He relished having his grandmother only blocks away.
Then, Lee saw that his grandmother had another photo that she’d placed along the arm of the chair where he couldn’t see it. She held it to him. It was of another pretty Asian woman, maybe in her late 20s. This photo looked recent.
“Chu’s friend,” she said by way of explanation. “Friend’s daughter. Very nice. Very pretty. Maybe you meet? Like her?”
Lee had to grin. The idea of his grandmother and Master Chu playing matchmaker and rescuing him from his bachelorhood struck him as hilarious. He could picture the two of them conspiring together. They must have seen many arranged marriages in their day.
His grandmother was not amused, however.
“You getting too old,” she said, tartly. “You need a family. Not girlfriend, girlfriend.”
Now he thought he understood the motivation a little more clearly. After Sarah’s death, his grandmother had first worried about his sadness and depression. As that lifted over time, she’d recently met a couple of women whom Lee dated for short times. Perhaps that moved his status from simply unmarried to confirmed playboy with his 40s in sight.
“C’mon,” he said. “I’m not even 40 yet. I’ve still got time. You know men can have children when they’re older.”
His grandmother’s lips pressed together in a thin, unyielding line. She took the photograph from him, turned it over, and handed it back. It had a name and telephone number on it. She didn’t say anything more. She just stared at him through the thick glasses… blinking…waiting.
“Okay,” he said finally, rolling his eyes. “Look. I’ll think about it, okay?”
She gave him a small smile, a tiny nod, and said, “Thank you, Enzo.”
Lee knew he wasn’t likely to call the girl. An arranged relationship? What were the chances? He was just happy he had mollified his grandmother.
And then Lee realized why his grandmother looked different today. Her hair was darker.
“Umm…by the way, your hair looks a little different today,” he said. “Are you coloring it?”
She blushed like a school girl.
“It…it not your business,” she said.
Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
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