Creative non-fiction / November 2008 (Issue 5)

From the Middle Kingdom

by Sam Byfield

I've been thinking about Prufrock because of the mangoes. At first it was in the privacy of my apartment, then I went public. Juice all over my hands and mouth, in my stubble. I'd never eaten them before — shunned all things tropical — but Thailand changed that. Now I get four for ten kuai, and a big smile from the fruit stall girl. They go bad after two days, starting with the flesh next to the seed. Quick as sunrise the texture changes and the taste becomes turpentine.

Last Sunday night I ate three mangoes then drank red wine with my friend by the Grand Canal, under the three pagodas. We watched old boats saunter by, breaking the water's sunset surface. An old couple sat and talked with us for half an hour, of history and family and blue eyes. Later, we got drunker in my apartment, danced and sang bad Chinese songs. On Monday morning there were birds behind my eyes.

There's a garden on campus, next to a slender river, with a stone path and vine-tangled arches and nine types of flowers. I counted. A man asked me what I was doing — I told him I was looking at the pretty flowers. I don't know how to say "counting" in Chinese. In the middle of the garden lies a stone, taller than me, surrounded by purple blossoms.

("From the Middle Kingdom" first appeared in Meridian.)

Editors' note: Read a review of Sam Byfield's The Middle Kingdom by Edgar Y.B. Mao here.

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