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Strangers in a Strange Land -- Gen 1.6
Published Apr 13, 2012


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Written By

spladoum

Storyteller
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Generation 1.6 ... Xiu, continued.

Generation 1.6 ... Xiu, continued. When Xiu came home, the house was empty—and it felt like it. The master bedroom door stood ajar, and she went inside.

There was the door that led to the bathroom with no tub or toilet. There stood the brand-new bed, only lightly marked on one side by her mother's slim frame. And there on the bedside table sat several envelopes that had yet to be opened. They looked important, although Xiu didn't exactly know why.

She lingered in the doorway for a moment longer, but finally went outside to play once her mother returned from a nearby inlet of the river, carrying a small trout.
After supper, Layla retired to the master bedroom. Xiu followed her. "Mama, how come you're wearing nice clothes tonight?"

"Just trying them on. Meeting a publisher tomorrow."

"What's a pub-sher?"

"That's the nice man who puts Mama's stories into a book, like this one."
"Does Dada make books too?"

At the word dada, Layla's mouth drooped. "… no, little one. Dada does not write. Dada does not read very well."

"How come he can't read? I can read!"

"He did not go to school when he was your age. He was … too busy with martial arts."

Xiu was about to ask more questions, but a wiser instinct told her that she would do better not to.

***
The next day when Xiu went to school, she didn't raise her hand much in class. Instead she daydreamed and wondered how her mother's meeting went. She was so quiet that her classmate Francesco mentioned it when he came over that afternoon to play.

"Say somethin, Xiu! You're really scarin' me, you hadn't said nothin' all day long!"

"Sorry," Xiu mumbled. She hoped that her mother might announce some good news about her meeting, or at least look less worried. But the pensive lines remained in Layla's face even when she smiled at Francesco, and they didn't go away.
Layla watched the two children play outside while she stood at the window, completely unaware that she was biting into her lip. She had gone to her morning meeting with high hopes, anticipating that her latest manuscript would be snatched up eagerly by the publishing house. But things had gone wrong when she spied a strange twinkle in the agent's eye. She was offended by his conduct, and he was chagrined by her rebuff. They parted unpleasantly, and soon afterwards she received a call informing her that her work 'was not suitable for publication at this time.'

She touched the brand-new couch that had just been delivered that morning. She had bought it on credit, but there was no money left to pay the bill that would come in just two weeks. All of her cash had gone for her outfit.

She stifled tears as she remembered trying it on at the store. At the time, it seemed so professional. Now it just made her feel dirty.
She wanted to rip off the silk blouse and burn the wool-blend skirt, but that wouldn't help anything. With a trembling sigh, she wrote a check for the last of their funds and put the overdue envelopes into the mailbox.

She hoped like hell that whatever Kim Chong was doing, he hadn't forgotten about her.

***
The birds nesting in the cypress tree flew off, startled, as a rickety car with a noisy engine passed directly below them. Kim Chong navigated the dirt roads carefully—he had to, as residents of his village were wholly unused to cars and did not see any need to alter their customary walk for the sake of an automobile. Also, the car's tires were practically bald and had almost no grip. More than once he had almost spun out in the mud.

It was a shame that this was the best that the current master of the Path of the Wind could offer. The school itself must be in terrible shape, Kim Chong mused as he steered the old clunker up the mountain's side. The underpowered engine struggled to move the car.
Once he arrived at the school, he walked up to the oldest man on site, introduced himself, and made a formal bow. The man returned the bow but quickly explained that he was just a student, and that the master had not arrived yet—Master Shen was very old and didn't walk very fast. Kim Chong spent another hour getting to know the current adherents and asking them questions. He sparred lightly with the students to gauge their strength, their willingness to learn new techniques, their enthusiasm. He was glad to see that morale was high and that the pupils were glad to have a new partner to work with.

As he repeatedly blocked the strikes of one of the better students, he saw an old man shuffle by. Not a word was spoken; in fact, the elderly man didn't even look his way. All the same, Kim Chong shivered despite the sweat running down his skin. No one had to tell him that he had just seen Master Shen.
The master went to a quiet corner and stood facing away from the school. As soon as he finished his sparring match with young Tuan, Kim Chong approached his back.

"Master Shen. It is a very great honor."

"Likewise, young man." Master Shen made room for him. "You are indeed Master Zhang Hua's grandson, you resemble him perfectly."

"Ah … thank you."

"I would be honored if you would demonstrate what you have learned for me, Kim Chong."
The demonstration did not last for long. Despite his outwardly frail appearance, Master Shen had a touch of steel. Being struck repeatedly with those fingertips was painful. Kim Chong soon found himself struggling to breathe. Completely winded, he conceded the match.

"You have a warrior's body, but your heart is elsewhere," the old master observed.
Despite his abrupt words, Master Shen continued to call Kim Chong to the school for training and demonstrations, and the days gradually drifted together and turned into two weeks. It was truly amazing how quickly he fell into a routine of rising early, driving 18 miles (one way) to the remote dojo in the hills, training all morning and afternoon, and unwinding in a rocky hot spring for an hour at night. He might have stayed longer if he hadn't found the road utterly impassable one day.

He stared at the shattered rocks and realized that he was not able to walk the Path of the Wind; he never had been. He flew out of China that evening, knowing that he might never return.
His plane landed at 8 a.m. the next morning. Xiu had already gone to school, but Layla was there, staring anxiously at the mailbox. As soon as she heard the cab pull up she turned to face him, and his heart reproached him immediately.

"You've been gone so long," she said.

"I sorry, Layla." He dropped his filthy bag and fumbled in his pocket. "Not mean go so long. Have money now, take it."

"Money," she repeated, sobbing. "I needed you, Kim Chong, not the money!"

"Layla, Layla … you know not true. You want money. I go get. I home now, no more crying."
Layla might have held out longer, but it was hard to continue being angry now that her husband was back home. She allowed him to take her into the master bedroom and stop her tears. Afterwards, they lay awake, staring at each other silently, completely unable to find the words that they should have spoken instead.

***
Xiu was overjoyed to have her father back, but she was even happier, if possible, about the present he brought just for her—an easel. It was true that the easel's wood was half-rotted and warped. Still, it was strong enough to hold a small canvas and stable enough to withstand the painting technique of a little girl. She spent every waking moment in front of it.

Her first attempts were blotchy messes. Eventually her blotchy messes became recognizable as landscapes.
Layla mentioned all of this on her weekly call home to her sister Mena.

"Wonderful," Mena said sarcastically. "Does this mean that you're going to bring your wonder child to Egypt one day so we can actually meet her?"

"You could meet her now, if you liked."

"Ha, don't be stupid! Aisha told me that you're living in a trailer, how would there be any room for us? Not to mention that husband of yours—"

"Don't mention him," Layla said, sharply. She ran the fingers of her free hand over her abdomen. "I don't care if you don't like him, but you're not going to bad-mouth him."

"Who's bad-mouthing? I was just saying that you don't have the space—"

"For a visit? We could have a picnic, there's enough park space here for everyone."

"Oh, you don't get it," Mena huffed, and changed the subject, the way she usually did when she was losing an argument.

***
Kim Chong didn't think much time had passed since he first came to Riverfront Meadows—after all, his body was still hard and his hair was still back—but he soon found that he was very mistaken. One day when he was discussing household matters with Layla, he was surprised to find a petite young woman in the house, listening to the conversation. He was even more surprised to find that it was little Xiu, truly living up to her name "beautiful."

He sighed. There would be boys in the picture soon. Xiu was not a little girl anymore.

He wished he could have held on to her for just a little longer.
But he had very little leisure to dwell on the past; there were plenty of problems in the present. Layla had been sick repeatedly, and he was worried. Despite their limited funds, he insisted that she go to the local clinic.

"You're having another little girl," the doctor announced when the checkup was done, and Layla groaned. Yet more reminders of her sisters?
Xiu, on the other hand, was doing well in school, and particularly well in art club. She was doing so well, in fact, that the art teacher specifically recommended her for a scholarship.

"In France?" Layla repeated.

"Yes! They said that I could visit the Louvre and the Guimet Museum, and take painting lessons from the top impressionist masters in Paris … please, can't I, Mom?"

Layla hardly knew how to respond, but Kim Chong quickly came to her rescue. It was a wonderful thing that his daughter should have the opportunity to travel overseas to learn. Of course Xiu must go on the trip.
As confidently as he had spoken, Kim Chong soon found himself having another talk with Ginny McDermott. She was gray-haired and feeble now, but still just as sharp as ever. "You look like hell. What's wrong?"

"Need money. Cannot travel, cannot get job, cannot make tree grow faster. But need money now."

"Well, that's a toughie. Unless you wanna start doin' illegal stuff … I'm kiddin', I wouldn't LET you do that. Lessee … the latest craze in town is workin' out 'til you keel over. Mebbe you could be a personal trainer for a while?"

"But … how?"

"Just go to the gym and hang around shirtless. People wanna look like you an' they'll pay you to train 'em. Seriously, try it for a day. Bet you'll have more money than you know what to do with."
Ginny was right, of course. Kim Chong's very first client was the ever-cheerful Cherry Kanto. She was still engaged after all this time—somehow, the marriage had never quite transpired—and in spite of her waning interest in her fiancé, she still wanted to 'get buff.'

During the course of their session it became quite apparent that she was still attracted to him, but outside of some silly smiles and a mock punch to his shoulder, she kept an appropriate distance.
In this way, taking one client after another, Kim Chong was able to keep his family afloat while he waited for the latest crop of vegetables and fruit to ripen. He wasn't afraid of a little hard work, but this new baby meant another room and more construction, more dust and dirt, more headaches, more bills.

Between the impending additions, and Xiu's trip (both she and Layla 'needed' new clothes), they could very quickly rack up some serious debt if he wasn't careful. It was fortunate that years of tedious saving had taught him to be very careful, indeed.

***
The day came when Layla delivered her second daughter. This little girl came out with a head full of wildly curly (if patchy) black hair, and skin as mocha brown as her mother's. Layla pondered names for nearly three hours straight before Kim Chong announced that the little girl's name was Mei, which meant "plum blossom." Layla suspected immediately that he had chosen the name based on Mei's appearance—and certainly, she was as dark as any of his plums.

Just as he had for her older sister, Kim Chong doted on Mei. Whether she woke up early or squealed through the night, he was certain to be there, rocking her gently. Layla felt absurdly jealous of how good he seemed to be with the baby. When she considered that Mei was very likely to turn out as a daddy's girl due to all of the attention, she felt more annoyed than ever.
The months seemed to sail on by. Soon the term was over, Xiu had her final grades (all As, of course), and the plane tickets were in hand, the luggage was packed, the passports were ready. While Xiu slept fitfully, Layla went down a list of last-minute directives. "Now, remember. If you get any calls from publishers, let me know right away."

"Yes, Layla."

"If Mei gets sick, she needs to go to Dr. Weinstein, at the free clinic."

"Mm-hmm."

"I sitting, Daddy!" Mei called. She slapped the side of the potty chair.

"Are you listening to me?" Layla demanded.

Kim Chong laughed. "Layla, worry too much. Will call you if hear from publisher. Will take Mei to doctor if sick. Will feed Mei. Will wash Mei. Will be okay, have good time when gone."
In the morning, Layla and Xiu were on their way. Kim Chong took Mei outside and they spent their time pointing at the airplanes that flew by. Mei asked "Mommy plane?" each time, and Kim Chong chuckled and nodded. He gave her a tomato to eat as he deftly weeded and watered the garden. He had come a long way from five scraggly plants.

Neither he nor Mei felt any desire to go inside the house once the sun set. They stayed out under the stars and sang to each other—she in her high-pitched little voice, and he, in melodic Chinese. She squeezed his face and giggled, and he touched her nose and smiled.

No matter what Layla thought of the matter, Kim Chong was very content with his daughters.



~ to be continued
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5 Comment(s) so far


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#1martoeleApr 14, 2012

I love this legacy, April... and I love Kim Chong for being so sweet with his daughters... The pics are very good.... and I do hope this message comes through... \:\) Just in case... I will copy it. Congratulations on this again well deserved feature! \:cool\:
Fortunately I copied it because it got lost in V8.... So now I'm here in V7 to post the comment... \:D

#2fruitopiaVIPApr 14, 2012

Very interesting legacy, I always love father ajnd daughter interactions.

#3spitzmagicApr 14, 2012

Bravo, congrats on the feature. Great great chapter. Thanks for letting me know it was out.  Waiting in line (as you know) for the next one. \:wub\:

#4orlovVIPApr 14, 2012

\:D Okay. . .posting here at the old site, the other message simply vanished. Love this story. . .Kim Chong has the soul of an angel. . .I get a wonderfully warm feeling from him. . .loved the last chapter as well, but the site ate my comments so many times I just gave up!  Looking forward to the next! Thanks for sharing this with us!

#5staceface2009pMay 14, 2013

Aw, I was so thrilled to see that Layla & Kim were having another baby. A daughter at that. Lovely chapter!

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