Tuesday, December 06, 2005

One afternoon in Hangzhou I passed a man with no hands playing the harmonica. Now, if I was telling you this story over a beer, I would admit at this point that my first thought was, "How does he get it out of his pocket?" The harmonica sounds the same in any language, and as I paused in front of him, sweaty and thinking with my every day brain, he looked up and we locked eyes. He seemed much more startled to see me than I was to see him--Hangzhou doesn't really see a whole lot of glaringly pale redheaded girls. He stopped playing and held the harmonica in front of him, propped up between the stumps of what would have been thin, delicate wrists.
We looked at each other, him and I. The back of my throat tasted like lotus seeds and the first lines of the Tennyson poem rocketed through my brain. As I stared he pursed his lips like he was going to speak and I felt my body focus. What did he have to tell me, this old no-handed Chinese man? Would I be able to understand him? He moved his lips and from them issued forth a spent, limp sunflower seed husk. Nodding briskly at me, he raised his harmonica back to his lips, and I, flustered, mumbled the Chinese word for "good" at him and hurried away.

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