There was a budding romance developing on an older vine. Divine Fury. Chapter 34
February 26, 2013
MASTER CHU EXTENDED his arms to his sides and shifted his weight to his right leg. He lowered himself to the ground until his left leg stretched almost parallel to the ground with his foot outstretched. Then, he slowly lifted himself and shifted positions until his weight was on the opposite side and he was almost a mirrored reflection of his earlier pose.
The tai chi imagery was that of a snake creeping through the grass. The slowness of the movements were deceptive, though, since the inspiration for the postures are an initial retreat from an attacker, leading him to become unbalanced, and then a counterattack from below.
Lee matched his tai chi teacher’s movements as best he could. The two of them were alone at tiny St. Mary’s Square in San Francisco’s Chinatown next to the statue of Sun Yat Sen as the first rays of morning sunlight warmed them. Lee was wearing black sweatpants and a gray hooded sweatshirt. Master Chu had on his usual 30-year-old sky-blue leisure pants with plenty of stretch to accommodate his movements and a navy-blue London Fog windbreaker. What was left of his wispy white hair stuck straight out from his scalp as if it had a permanent charge of static electricity.
Chu was well into his 80s and Lee sometimes worried about how thin he was, although his strength and flexibility in their early-morning sessions made Lee feel clumsy next to him. For the past four years, Lee had been alternating his morning runs with sessions with Chu. He had come to appreciate both the focused relaxation of tai chi as well as the strength and balance the slow deliberate movements required.
A couple of years earlier, Lee had asked Chu to look in on his grandmother while he was out of town for an extended period. Lee had been both amused and happy that they had become good friends with Chu taking a protective attitude toward his grandmother. They both seemed less lonely now.
After 40 minutes of tai chi, Chu nodded to Lee that their session was at an end. Chu gestured to Lee to follow him. They walked together three blocks to a store on Jackson Street. It had just opened for the day and the workers inside were cutting into boxes, setting up displays and clearing off the counters inside.
Chu had a quick discussion in Mandarin with one of the proprietors who disappeared for a moment in the back. When he returned, he handed Chu a small, flat package in clear cellophane.
As Chu picked it up from the counter, Lee caught his arm so he could take a closer look. Inside the package, he could see four smaller clear envelopes. In each one was a small tan-colored scorpion about an inch long, curled in a circle. They were obviously well dried.
“What exactly is that for?” asked Lee.
“For your grandma,” said Chu. “She not sleeping good right now. Use for tea. Sleep good.”
Lee looked at him closely to make sure Chu wasn’t joking. He wasn’t.
“So…uh…you’re sure about this, right?” asked Lee. “I mean those are scorpions. Poisonous. You don’t think that could hurt her? Make her sick or something?”
Chu looked at him disdainfully. He gestured back toward the man behind the counter who had retrieved the medicinal scorpions. He was watching them with his arms folded across his chest.
“You think he give me this if it dangerous?” said Chu.
Behind the counter where the shop proprietor stood was a wall of brown drawers that reached from the floor to the ceiling. On each was a white rectangular label with several rows of printed text listing whatever lay inside. Next to the drawers were rows of large glass bottles filled with dried parts of plants – roots, seed pods, flowers. It was all meticulously organized and labeled. Lee thought it probably wasn’t much different than shelves of products a western pharmacy would have, minus a lot of elaborate packaging.
Lee knew many in Chinatown relied on the traditional Chinese medicine with its herbs and assorted animal parts – usually dried and ground up. But his own mother had stuck with western medical treatment – yearly trips to the pediatrician with a heavy reliance on antibiotics for ailments. Oh well. Chu and his grandmother had made it into their 80s following their traditional practices. Who was he to mess with that formula?
He walked with Chu another block to Portsmouth Square where the card players were just starting to form their huddled groups around the park benches. In another hour, the place would be packed.
He and Chu sat on an empty bench in the sunlight. Chu looked away for a moment. Then he turned his gaze back on Lee.
“Something I must tell you,” he said.
“Okay,” said Lee. “What is it?”
“Your grandmother and me,” he said. “We get married.”
Lee could feel his jaw drop two yards.
“What?” he said.
“We get married,” Chu repeated. “Don’t know when. Soon.”
“But…but…why?” said Lee. “I mean. You’re both…uh…getting along…in years, you know. I mean…what’s the point exactly?”
Chu looked hurt.
“You think old people don’t get married?” he said. “Don’t want to be together? Don’t want a husband…a wife? Don’t be in love?”
Lee looked away for a couple of seconds as his mind raced to get around this news. As the shock wore off, he couldn’t help but smile. It all made sense. His grandmother’s newly darken hair. Chu’s concern for her and his mild scolding of Lee for not visiting her more often. A budding romance right under his nose.
Then he thought also about having Chu become formally a part of what he viewed as his tiny family. A family of two blossoming into three. That would be a good thing.
“I’m sorry,” he said, turning back to Chu. “Actually, I think it’s great. It’s about time. I’m pretty tired of you two running around behind my back…going off in the bushes.”
Chu looked equal parts confused and angry.
“I’m kidding,” Lee continued. “It was just a surprise. I think it’s great. I will enjoy calling you, ‘Uncle.’”
Lee put his hand on the old man’s bony shoulder and gripped it lightly. He wouldn’t let go until Chu finally smiled back and nodded at him. They chatted a little longer. After he said goodbye to Chu, Lee headed back to his North Beach flat several blocks away. He was grinning every step of the way.
Chapters of the serial are published Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
You can learn more about Divine Fury on Amazon.