Generation Three, Chapter Ten
Despite being near strangers and in China for completely different reasons, I found myself in Lochi's company a lot in the following days. He extended an invitation to join him almost every time he left the hostel – though I secretly wondered how much was out of pity. I lacked an agenda as much as I did luggage so I usually took him up on it – always making sure to leave my cell phone behind in the room to continually avoid real life back in Caramel Canyon. In the first three days after arriving, he visited a dozen local farms, sampling various fruits from each one. He easily got lost in the work, leaving me to watch from a distance while the farmer's family stood by awkwardly trying to make conversation with me in broken English. It certainly had the potential to be dull but I found it all oddly distracting. By the fourth day post-wedding, I only thought about Felix and the disastrous event a half dozen times.
"Where are we off to this time?" I asked as we headed down the hill toward the road. "Another farm? I though Chang's was the best personally..."
"No, today is for exploring. For sightseeing if you like," Lochi said, shooting me a grin. "I've already put in an order with Mister Chang actually."
"Sightseeing? What are we seeing then?" I asked, jogging a few steps to keep up with his pace. "There's some of the Terracotta Army around here right? We could go there..."
"I was thinking of the Dragon Cave actually," Lochi said.
I stopped in my tracks, twisting around to peer through the trees toward the infamous Dragon's Maw tucked into the neighboring mountainside. We could see it from the hostel balcony and had joked about going cave diving just the night before but it had just been chatter. The cave was rumored to be an intense labyrinth of passages that one might get lost in for days. "Are you serious?"
"Sure I am," Lochi said, turning toward me. "We need to stop in the village for a few supplies and I recruited a guide to lead us through the upper level," his face practically beamed with excitement as he gazed toward the foreboding cave but he still picked up on my hesitation. "I mean if you want to..." he hedged.
I bit on my lower lip and considered for a moment before finally nodded. "I do – I do want to," I said, feigning confidence. The old familiar SimAm smile slipped into place to reassure him.
But Lochi wasn't buying it – he saw through me and shook his head. "No you don't. It's alright Zuli – we can go see the Terracotta Army if you'd rather." The previous excitement faded away as he pulled out his cell phone to cancel plans but I grabbed it away from him before he could dial. "What...?"
"Let's go to the cave," I insisted, palming his phone and shoving it into my own pocket. "I'm serious – I mean, I'm nervous about it and all but I really do want to go." When I smiled this time, it was legit.
Still Lochi hesitated but finally nodded. "Well then, adventure awaits I dare say." He offered me his arm again. And this time, I accepted, hooking my arm in his and letting him lead me to the road where a taxi waited for us.
The upper most level of the Dragon Cave was designed for tourists. The "traps" were stage effects and the "treasure" was minute at best. Still, our guide stood back as we poked around and used the conveniently placed pick axes to smash through a pile of rocks to get to a door. I wondered how often someone came in to restage all the rocks and make sure it was ready for the next group. After a few hours, the guide suggested we return to the entrance but I could tell Lochi was eager to keep going. Though it may have been foolish, we dismissed the man and, surprisingly, he didn't argue – quickly leaving us standing alone in the cave with a rudimentary map of all the 'known' passages. "Well, where now?"
Lochi flipped the crude map around a few times to orient himself and then pointed left – at a blank wall. Glancing toward it, he frowned. "According to this, there's a room on the other side of that wall which leads toward several other rooms." He offered the map to me and headed toward the wall, feeling helplessly along the seems of the bricks as if searching for something.
"Do you honestly think there's a latch or something Lochi?" I asked. To both our amazement, the wall suddenly gave a mighty shudder and the seam revealed itself. It took both of us leaning into the wall to begin moving it but once the momentum began, it swung forward the rest of the way – throwing us into a whole new room with a pair of doors on every wall. "I see now how people get lost in here..." I said, glancing at each identical door in turn. "Where to now navigator?"
Together, we pushed further into the tombs and in each room, we turned to each other a repeated all the steps we'd taken to get there in hopes of finding our way back to the Room with the Many Doors. It quickly became apparent that Lochi's map was useless, so we scribbled in our own map as we went. "Maybe we should start back," Lochi suggested while stifling a yawn. "It took us six hours to get this far..." he said forlornly, glancing back toward the door we'd come through. It was at least a dozen rooms, several corridors and one pool of water back to the starting point.
I felt the pull of drowsiness and nodded, "yeah probably – but we haven't found anything except a few pieces of jade..." I dug into my sack and pulled out the pretty trinkets. One was a raw stone but the others had been carved by an artisan of some sort. I secretly hoped they were ancient with a magical story to tell but they were probably carved by some random guy in town who salted to tombs for gullible tourists like myself.
"I have a tent..." Lochi offered, then immediately turned scarlet and stared at his feet. "I meant that we could camp here. To continue in the morning – or after some sleep..." After a moment of consideration, I nodded and we set about putting the tent up. In hindsight, it made no sense – seeing as we were inside and already covered in dirt and grime from our explorations that day – but it seemed silly to take it down right after putting it up. I pulled out a few dried food packs and cans of fruit I'd picked up in town and we settled down on the dusty floor to enjoy our dinner. "So, Zuli," Lochi said between bites, "you seem fairly well versed in cave diving – if it weren't for you, I imagine I would have gone in a gigantic circle. Surely there's a story there. Are your layovers so long you can moonlight at Indigo Jaffa?"
I smirked, vividly recalling my last tomb exploration in Egypt. As Mom and Nepal's faces filled my mind, my amusement faded and I turned my attention back to my food. Lochi didn't press, obviously sensing my discomfort, so we sat in silence for several minutes. "I did explore the Great Pyramid once," I offered quietly. "Years ago – with my family." I expected Lochi to exclaim or respond but he didn't. When I met his eyes, he was simply watching me. Waiting. "My brother – my twin brother – and I were sixteen. I'd convinced him to fly with me to Egypt to meet our biological father for the first time." Though I imagined he was confused, Lochi asked no questions. "You see, my mother was Violet Dust..."
Finally he responded, though not in shock but with a nod. "I know," he said simply. "The name gave it away."
"Not many Dusts in the world that aren't related to her I suppose," I said. "Well our biological father is Mirage Kashmir – though nobody knew that then." Like before, he didn't respond – perhaps he read the tabloids after all. "Anyway – so Cobalt and I ran away to Egypt and Mirage was a berryhole, as he always has been, and then my mom showed up with Nepal and we went exploring. It was a disaster really – we didn't come prepared at all and there were bugs and fire and we got lost and that's the whole of it really." I rushed through the rest of the story as a single question burned in my mind. "How much do you know about me exactly? I mean, it seemed like you didn't recognize me at all – which was a relief and now..."
"Calm down Zuli," he said quickly, holding up his hands as if to shield himself. "I love zombie movies. And zombie television shows and zombie anything really. It's just one of those things. Like you and scenery."
"What about me and scenery?" I asked, briefly diverted.
"You're always looking past people or buildings toward what's in the background. Sometimes you stop in your tracks and I think you're going to say something but you're looking over my shoulder and I have to look harder to see what you're seeing," Lochi explained. "You don't even know you're doing it do you?"
I shook my head but as I did so, I thought back on all the times I'd heard only half a conversation because I focused on something else. "Okay," I said slowly. "So you like zombie movies and that's how you knew my mother's name. Which you then put together with mine... and that's it?"
"I looked your mother up on the cab ride from the airport. Only so much as to confirm what I suspected – that you and she were related. I didn't go any further," he said.
"Why not?" I asked, after convincing myself he was telling the truth. "Most people would have gone further..."
"I didn't need to know anything else," he said with a shrug.
"Thank you," I said, pushing the last remnants of fruit around in the can.
"For what?" Lochi asked, genuinely confused.
"For a long time now, when I meet people they already know who I am. They know where I went to school and all my siblings names and all my uncles. They know who I went to prom with and what I wore to my mother's funeral. They know too much for strangers... so thank you for NOT knowing me," I said with a small smile.
Lochi's business was wrapped up during his first week in China and as his departure day drew nearer, I found myself dreading it. Twice now, the front desk had informed me of an open room but I'd refused them both. I realized now that I was afraid to be alone.
"Alright, I have thirty-two hours left," Lochi said, thundering in with three Chinese guidebooks in his hand and pencil tucked behind his year. "So far I've seen exactly two things on the Top Twenty Things list..."
"And you want to see the other eighteen in thirty-two hours? Are you insane or you just abhor sleep?" I asked as I snatched one of the books from his hand and began flipping through it. "Well the travel time alone to numbers six, eleven and seventeen count them out..." He leaned over my shoulder to peer at the book, his breath tickling my ear.
"Nonsense. I have a plan...." he said, a triumphant grin on his face. "When are you leaving China again?"
"June twenty-third," I offered slowly. The words were barely out my mouth before he'd whipped out his phone and was on the phone with the airline. With emotions swirling inside me, I gnawed on my lower lip anxiously until he pointed quietly and shook his head. "Did you seriously just change your flight?" I asked as soon as he hung up the phone.
"Yes, I bought us ten more days. Surely we can complete this list by then," he said, a playful grin on his face.
"Don't you have to go home? You do have a vineyard to run..."
"Well that is the luxury of being the owner," he offered with a shrug. "Okay, let's go – the Academy is closest and I booked a training session with a shifu in an hour." Without another word, he grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the door. I didn't protest, simply happy I wouldn't have to spend the rest of my non-honeymoon alone with my own thoughts.
Lochi's shifu instructed a class full of newbies on a handful a basic moves, yielded a dozen annoying questions about how to perform moves like seen in martial arts movies and then sent us to the tall wooden training dummies to practice what we'd learned.
If the whack to my head is any indication – we didn't learn anything. But Lochi and I were the last pair to give up the battle against the wood so the shifu offered us each an entry level training outfit and a plain white belt. He also signed certificates of achievement for us if we should choose to continue our training elsewhere. "Well that was... fun?" I said, rubbing my head. "How many times did that stupid wood fight back for you?"
Lochi chuckled but stayed silent, instead gazing up toward the glittering stars. We'd stayed at the Academy much longer than planned but being so far from the city lights, the evening sky was filled with stars. "Why don't we sit a bit," he said, pointing toward a bare patch of grass. "Maybe we can miss out on Ferra's play by play in the common room," he added, referring to one of the more obnoxious hostel guests we'd encountered. Every evening, no matter what anyone else was doing, the woman insisted on telling everyone in the room every single thing she'd done that day – right down to how and when she'd used the bathroom. While she was kind enough to use euphemisms, it had made the common room a no-fly-zone since the second night we'd been there.
I settled down onto the grass beside him and leaned back, accidentally brushing my hand across his as I did so. Instead of pulling away or even looking startled, he offered me a reassuring smile before returning his gaze toward the stars. As I turned my attention as well, I thought back to last time Sapphy had stayed at my house. She'd been working on a project for her science class and we'd tried to stay up, waiting for a meteor shower, but fell asleep on my balcony. I giggled, lost in the memory, which drew his attention. This time his hand brushed mine and I jumped slightly and then blushed. "Sorry, I was thinking of my sister."
"Don't be sorry. I imagine she's very important to you," he said.
"She is, they are – all of them," I said. Though he didn't press, I sensed his curiosity, "I have two brothers and two sisters. And a brother-in-law," I added, thinking of Lotus.
"So, was it your sister's wedding then?"
"No," I said, shaking my head. For several minutes, we were silent – I suspected he had questions but he returned his attention to the sky, leaving me to think. "It was mine," I whispered, barely audible. "I was my wedding."
To my astonishment, he didn't react. I expected him to pull his hand away or at least look startled. Instead he nodded, as if I'd simply confirmed his suspicions, "I'm sorry."
"Because you're here and your bridegroom is not. I assume it didn't go well," Lochi said as he sat up and turned his gaze toward me. "So, I'm sorry."
"That would be... accurate," I said with a sad laugh. "Yes, it did not go well. It was catastrophic actually." I felt the rush of tears I'd been avoiding all week and turned away quickly. Lochi waited quietly as I dug my palms into my eyes to stem the flow and then laid a hand on my shoulder as my breathing became regular again. "I don't want to go back home – how terrible is that? I mean I do – because of my family but no one here reads American tabloids..."
"China probably isn't where you want to live long term though," Lochi offered with a smile. "Nice for a visit and all..." I chuckled and felt my body start to relax once more. My stomach's growling broke up the moment and soon we were both on our feet.
As usual, Lochi offered me his arm as we walked back to the hostel.