From “Number Three, Garden Road”
Yiyun Li, “Number Three, Garden Road”
“Meilan studied the old man shrinking into the depth of the armchair, his eyes looking past her and dwelling on some distant past she had no place in. How many times in his life had he let himself truly see her? She remembered year ago—when gas pipes had not been installed in number three and when propane tanks had been rationed—she had often hidden behind a pile of coal bricks on the third floor landing and waited for Uncle Fatty to come back from work. How old was she then? Twelve, or perhaps thirteen, too old to pretend playing in the sooty hallway, but she persisted. Once, a rat came out from nowhere and jumped onto the coal, not more than five feet from where she squatted. Neither the rat nor Meilan moved for a long moment, until Uncle Fatty and his wife walked upstairs. The rat scurried away, frightening his wife with its swift movement, and Meilan remembered him looking past her to search for the offender. She had been born ten years too late to bear any meaning for him, she remembered weeping to her journal.”
As a child, Meilan nicknamed the man she loved as Uncle Fatty (more humorous in Chinese culture than it would ever be in America) and when he moves back to Number Three, Garden Road without his wife, Meilan can’t help but feel like he might put their ages aside for love.