A Manager of the Highest Order
Boo-weep boo-weep boo-weep!
. . . .
Boo-weep boo-weep boo-weep!
. . . .
B-WEEP B-WEEP B———
The alarm clock falls to the floor, clanking and bouncing on it’s round frame until she finally catches it. Her strong hands wrestle with the knobs in the dark, setting the hands back to the same time for tomorrow morning. The bed springs croak as she sits back on her former sleeping place.
Huuahh. A quick, tired exhale. And the time for morning reflection is up.
She moves in stealth to the door, opening it just wide enough to squeeze through. On the other side, she slides her feet into a pair of grey cotton slippers and, rubbing her eyes with her right hand, flicks the light switch with her left index finger. The living room and kitchen flood with light, transforming monsters into furniture and windows into mirrors.
She shuffles to the kitchen in worn blue pants and a pink polo shirt. Her hair is in a messy bun, a few rogue strands reaching for the ceiling. She fills a steel kettle with water; she’s looking at it, but her mind is elsewhere. In habitual movement, she lights the gas stove and places the kettle over the flame. The ambient sound of sizzling droplets breaks the silence.
She works in this productive trance until the dishes are washed and the table is laid with golden biscuits, two cold glasses of whole milk, orange slices, half a loaf of white bread and a jar of strawberry jam.
As she moves on to preparing lunches, a stream of warm sunlight ventures its way through the large living room window. The light casts a glow over Cui Hu (emerald-green lake), the centerpiece of Kunming, capital of China’s Yunnan Province.
Qian takes a brief break from her morning tasks to take a call from her husband, who travels most of the time. He works for a big company and appears to have done quite well for himself. They recently put their life’s savings into owning the modern two-bedroom apartment where Qian raises their son. The apartment sits on a high floor in a brand new building close to the lake.
Qian’s list of responsibilities includes arranging her husband’s travel and her children’s schooling and activities. She cooks, cleans and takes care of any other odds and ends for the apartment and her loved ones. When she finds time, she connects with the rest of her extended family living in rural, minority villages across southwestern Yunnan.
“Mom! Where’s my sweater?” Qian jumps at the sudden yell from down the hall, eyes moving back and forth as she tries to think.
She inhales sharply. Her body turns in the direction of her son’s room.
“Check the laundry!” Qian gently yells back. She looks at her daughter who has just entered the kitchen. They roll their eyes and share a chuckle. Anxiao lives in her own apartment near her university about twenty minutes away. She visits often.
‘White Plump King’, as Qian and Anxiao affectionately call him, makes his grand entrance. His round, short frame looks official in a navy blue and white school uniform. Head held high, he peers over the table to inspect the breakfast offerings. Anxiao wraps her arms around his waist from behind, picks him up, and starts taunting him. Half-screaming half-laughing, he kicks his little legs and begs her to let him down.
‘Sit, sit!’ Qian motions everyone to take a seat. Anxiao lets her little brother go, but not without one final ruffle of his buzz cut.
Qian puts a slice of bread on her son’s plate and opens the jam. The family regularly eats Western breakfasts and traditional Chinese dinners. Qian loves spicy foods and her stirfrys have a tongue-numbing kick.
Smiling, Qian asks White Plump about his homework and stresses the importance of good study. She looks around the table for support. White Plump gulps his milk, eyes crossed and focused on the rim of the glass.
‘Studying is dumb!’ he announces authoritatively, a mischievous glint in his eye.
‘Hey!’ says Qian, swatting him lightly with her hand. She shakes her head but can’t hide her smile.
In less then five minutes, the food is gone and Anxiao is ready by the door. White Plump slides across the apartment, gathering books, pens and toys from all directions. Qian laughs as she tries to hold him still long enough to wrangle him into his coat. When he regains the faculties of his arms, White Plump throws everything in his backpack, squeezes his feet into his loafers and races out without a backward glance.
Anxiao waves as she closes the door behind her, and Qian’s workspace returns to quiet peace.