Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Neighbor Girl

The other day, I stood outside in the frigid cold, waiting for our dinner to be delivered. A young girl, dressed completely in purple fleece, came running out of our apartment building and then stopped dead when she saw me. Then, she ran up to me.

"Hello!" she said, as she observed me in the way children do. Openly curious. What a strange person.

"Hello!" I smiled. The instincts I developed while teaching English kicked in.

"How are you?" I said slowly and clearly. The girl looked fearlessly into my eyes. In China, it is considered rude to make continued eye contact.

"我听不懂" I don't understand, she replies.

"你不会说英语吗?" You can't speak English? She shakes her head.

"没关系" That's alright, never mind!

We stare at the the trees in the planter in the courtyard. She asks another question. I don't understand and she repeats herself.

"我听不懂" It is my turn to not understand. I search for something else to say. I am pitiful at small talk, even with small children. And here, in this city, all the Chinese I've learned evaporates, leaving me with only the most basic of things to say.

I ask her if she lives here, gesturing to the building she just ran out of. She gives a sort of yes. I live here, I say. She looks at me a moment longer, then runs away a few yards, looks at me, and continues on, sneakers pounding the cement.

I wonder, if many years down the road, she will remember the odd foreigner she met outside her house. I wonder if she has met hundreds like me, or just one.

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