Joy squinted her eyes in effort as she pulled on the wrench. In the two weeks since the Triad attack, one of her main jobs in the village was helping Longwei and some of the others who had experience with cars and other vehicles break down the four leftover trucks from the attack.
She was amazed with the variety of ways the villagers had put different truck parts to use. Seatbelts had been stripped out, unwound, and the belting used to repair a plow harness for one of the farms. Engines were pulled out and mounted on wooden stands to act as electrical generators, while driveshafts were converted for the village’s windmills. Even the windshields had been used, with two of the houses in the village now sporting what Joy could only think of as “picture windows.”
Today, Joy was helping on one of the biggest jobs Longwei had devised for the trucks. It was going to be a multi-stage project, requiring months of work from everyone, but once set up, the village would become totally self sufficient in terms of fuel and heating for the winter. Joy didn’t understand it all, but was more than willing to lend a hand where she could.
Which left her here, grease and grime up to her elbows, pulling with all of her might on a wrench, trying to free the last nut holding the oil pump to the main frame of the truck. She had volunteered for the job, as she was the only person with the right combination of strength and small frame to get into the tight space. Unfortunately, the bolts had been seated with a pneumatic impact wrench, and getting them loose with the hand tools the village had was difficult.
Gritting her teeth with effort, she pulled with all of her might on the wrench, grunting with the strain. Suddenly, the bolt loosened with an audible squeal. Unfortunately for Joy, the lack of resistance from the bolt meant that her hand smacked against the frame, her knuckles busting on the dirt encrusted steel. She cried out, sucking on her knuckle as she hopped around, trying not to cry from the pain.
“You OK?” Joy turned, and saw one of the village’s schoolchildren, a teenage boy named Jian, coming around from the other end of the truck. He had a screwdriver in hand, from his job of removing the tail lights. Since joining the village, Joy had helped teach the children English along with Longwei, and the children had taken to it much more than they had previously. Longwei thought that it was due to the fact that with a real, living reason to use the language, the children were more motivated.
Joy pulled her knuckle from her mouth, looking at the oozing blood. “No, I think I need a bandage. Where’s the first aid kit?”
When Jian tilted his head and smiled, shaking head that he didn’t understand, Joy tried again in Chinese. She was still horrible in the village’s dialect, but she tried her best. Perhaps it was the sight of the blood, or maybe she actually was getting better at village Chinese, but Jian nodded, and jogged off towards the doctor’s office. Joy followed behind, walking in the clear midsummer’s day. It was truly beautiful, and despite the pain Joy smiled at the quiet pleasantness. It wasn’t far to the doctor’s office, only about half a mile, but by the time she got there, the sting from her knuckles was lessening.
Entering the cool, shadowy office, Joy was warmed to see that Jian had already talked to the doctor, who waited for her. Patting Jian on the shoulder, she smiled and said thank you as best she could, before Jian jogged off again, back to his work. Joy watched him go before turning to the doctor. “Sorry, I didn’t think he was going to come all the way here. I just asked him for a first aid kit.”
Doctor Wong, whose English was passable if heavily accented, smiled. “We don’t have any besides normal household items. And this office is closer than your home.”
Joy chuckled at the idea of ‘her home.’ While she and Longwei had never publicly said so, it seemed the entire village knew that their living arrangement was not just ‘village elder and guest,’ but as lovers. She still maintained her own bedroom, and Longwei always treated her rooms as her own private space like an apartment, but they shared meals together, and at least half the time slept together in Longwei’s room. It was a new experience for her, being this close to someone.
“Well, thank you for treating me,” Joy said, holding out her hand. “The truck didn’t want to let go of its oil pump.”
Wong looked at Joy’s hand for a few seconds, before shaking his head. “I must clean this. Too much grease and dirt. This will hurt some.”
Getting up from his chair, Wong led her over to an exam table before going over to his supply cabinet. It was like no other doctor’s cabinet Joy had ever seen, filled with an odd collection of modern supplies, herbal remedies, and things she couldn’t even begin to put a name to. With the village being so isolated and not on friendly terms with either the Triads or the government, he had to make do with a lot of substitutions.
Wong turned around, holding a square of cloth and a bottle of clear liquid which made Joy cringe. One of the main substitutions Wong had to often use was a strong alcohol instead of normal topical antiseptics. Stronger than any vodka she had tried in the US, Wong’s alcohol was made of squeezings from cut bamboo and rice, which were fermented to eye watering strength.
Soaking a section of his cloth in the alcohol, Wong cleaned the skin surrounding Joy’s cut knuckle, his free hand holding her fingers still against the unstoppable twitch as the exposed nerves were assaulted by the stinging liquid. Squeezing her eyes shut against the pain, Joy kept her lips pursed as Wong tutted and fretted over the wound, wiping at it carefully with his cloth. Finally, he looked up. “You lucky,” he said with a smile. “Clean to the bone, but no other damage.”
“That’s lucky?” Joy asked incredulously. “And what is unlucky?”
“Tendon cut, bone broken, or nicked vein,” Wong replied. He patted her hand, and went back to his cabinet, returning with another square of clean cotton cloth. “Now, I give you some of the alcohol for keeping it clean. No drinking!” he said mock seriously, a twinkle in his eye. “Clean twice a day, and come to me if it gets red or pus. Change this bandage every day, keep it clean.”
“No stitches?” Joy asked, looking at her hand. With the dirt cleaned off and the blood wiped away, she thought she could see the faintest hint of white bone. Feeling just a bit nauseous, she turned her eyes away.
“No need,” Wong replied. “Small cut, only one centimeter. You will have scar, but will heal fine if you keep it clean.”
“So no more work on the truck today?”
“One week, no dirty work,” Wong said with a smile. “Maybe help schoolchildren?”
Joy sighed and nodded, smiling. She’d have to talk to Longwei and the schoolteachers, but she was sure she could do something besides sit around all day. Leaving the doctor’s office, she headed back to the temple, or as Doctor Wong said, her home.
Making her way through the large stone and wooden gate of the temple, Joy felt a wave of peace pass over her, even more than the normal peacefulness of village life. The courtyard of the temple was shaded by pine trees, with the stone and wood construction stretching out horizontally rather than vertically. Joy didn’t know what if any religion the temple was associated with, but it didn’t matter to her. The building spoke of peace and tranquility to her.
Heading inside, Joy found Longwei in the temple room that served as a village office. He was looking over a small pile of papers, which were tightly packed with writing on both sides. Joy knocked on the frame, causing Longwei to look up. “Hi,” he said, setting the papers aside. Spying the white wrapping against the normal brown of her hand, he stood up, concerned. “What’s with your hand?”
Joy showed him the cut, carefully unwrapping the cloth Dr. Wong had used. “The truck bit me,” she joked, as Longwei held her hand gingerly. “Doc Wong said no dirty work for a week.”
“Well, there goes my idea,” Longwei said with a smile as he kissed her. His long tongue caressed hers, sweeping against her lips before he stepped back. “Unless…?”
Joy laughed, and pushed Longwei back, enjoying the feel of his chest muscles under her hands. “Not right now, love. So what were you studying so intently?”
“Just some reports from the villagers. I try to get around as much as I can, but this village still has almost three thousand people in it, spread out over a large area, mostly farms. Some of the more outlying farms I don’t see more than once a week.”
“Well, one family is expecting a baby, another has a pig in ill health, nothing out of the ordinary. Since we’re a very communal village, it falls on me to help sort out work and other things in these situations.”
Joy just shook her head. She understood that the village ran under a strange, seemingly archaic blend of feudal and communistic systems, she knew that the village’s belief in Longwei and his supposedly dragon inspired wisdom helped, but she also knew most of Longwei’s wisdom came not from any supposed magical dragon blood, but him working hard and using all of the learning he had gathered in obtaining his Master’s degree and his travels.
“I’m sure you’ll do your best,” she said, as she always told him in these situations. He had confided in her that her presence was a comfort, because it gave him someone to confide in that didn’t see him as a mythological being. “So with me stuck unable to use my hand for a week, what can I do to help?”
“Let’s have lunch, and we can talk about it then.”
That afternoon, Joy walked out to the farm that was the ostensible reason why she was in the village. Yingtai, the young woman whose life she saved, was sitting in the doorway of her family’s small house, holding a bai luobo radish with the crook of her injured arm, while rubbing the dirt away using a soft brush in the other. Her burned hand was still wrapped, although her healing was progressing well. When she looked up from her work and saw Joy, she set her work aside carefully and greeted her with a wave of her good hand and a smile. Joy returned the wave, waving with her hands for the woman to sit down. Yingtai’s English was almost nonexistent, so Joy tried her best in the village’s dialect of Chinese.
“How’s your hand?”
“My hand is good.”
“Do you still have pain?”
“Some. My,” here Yingtai said a string of words that Joy didn’t understand, “still hurts. It feels better bit by bit.”
“How did you hurt your hand?”
Joy wasn’t sure how to say the proper words in Chinese, so she pantomimed the truck, the wrench, and her accident for Yingtai. The young Chinese woman watched intently, listening to each of Joy’s English words, repeating them softly to herself as Joy told her story. When Joy showed her the cut, which had now crusted over into a rather ugly scab, she clucked her tongue in commiseration. “We will both have scars, now.”
“It adds character,” Joy said, chuckling. “Can I help with your work?”
Yingtai nodded, and the two women sat down, both cradling vegetables under their forearm while they cleaned with their uninjured hand. Joy thought as she cleaned, how much her life had changed in just the few months since she had come to the village. She went from trying to be the next Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, cutting her teeth on corruption investigations of the Triad and the Chinese government, to the only black woman in probably a hundred miles, living in a rural Chinese village, happily scrubbing radishes while being the girlfriend/lover of the village leader, who just happened to not only be handsome and smart, but a shape-shifter who could become a dragon at will. Quite a change for a twenty six year old woman from the poor side of Washington, D.C.
“Thank you, sister,” Yingtai said as they finished the last radish. Joy looked at her slightly perplexed, unsure if she had heard properly. Brushing off her hand on her pants, she nodded her goodbye, before making her way back to the temple. When she got home, the sun was starting to go down, which meant for most of the village, bedtime was approaching. With few lights and little money to waste on candles or oil lamps, most of the village rose and went to bed by the sun. Joy still hadn’t totally adapted to the time schedule of the village, but still felt tired. Going inside, she found Longwei just finishing his cooking in the kitchen.
“I thought I should cook tonight, considering you have a bad hand,” he said, emptying out his wok onto two plates. Most of the pile was vegetables, although Joy thought she saw some browned bits of meat that she thought might be rabbit. It was a habit of Longwei to catch a rabbit or two whenever he did dragon training.
“Thanks,” Joy said, sitting down at the low table. “Hey, can you help me? I stopped by Yingtai’s house, and at the end she used a word that I wanted you to help me with.”
“Sure. What was it?”
Joy tried her best to replicate the pronunciation of Yingtai’s words, surprised when Longwei smiled. “Wow, she thinks a lot of you.”
“Will you just tell me what she meant?”
“She called you sister. The real meaning isn’t a family sister, but more of a sisterhood attained through shared hardship, mutual sacrifice, and shed blood. It’s normally not used any more, it’s kind of an old fashioned word. It’s most commonly used in some of the old classics to describe the bond between two warrior women or something similar.”
Joy sat stunned, thinking about what a gift Yingtai had bestowed upon her. She was an only child, and to have someone reach out to her like this was both scary and wonderful at the same time. “I’m not really sure how I should respond. I mean, I’m overjoyed, but I don’t know how to express how I should accept the honor.”
“Just be you. We’re village Chinese, not Japanese. We don’t get hung up on the formality of it all. If you’d like, I can offer to help with any translation next time you go out there.”
“I think I’d like that. But I’m sure you’re a busy man, especially as you’re now a hand short on breaking up those trucks.”
“I’m not worried. I’m actually more worried that we haven’t gotten any more visits from the Triads, or the local government.”
Joy set down her chopsticks, confused. “What do you mean? I figured that attack would be the end of it.”
Longwei shook his head. “Part of me wants to believe that, but I don’t think so. It’s been a long time since the Triads came around here, I’m sure most of it was due to the fact we’re still a poor village, and it just wasn’t worth the effort. It was easier to ignore us instead. Now that we’ve kicked that hornet’s nest, I doubt they are going to just let it go.”
Joy pondered Longwei’s words, eating her food in silence. When she was finished, she set her bowl down, and looked Longwei in the eyes. “Two ideas come to my mind.”
“Oh? And what is that?”
“The first is Sun Tzu. ‘Attack where your enemy cannot defend, and defend where your enemy cannot attack.’ The second is from sports. The best defense is a good offense.”
Longwei nodded. “What do you propose?”
“As long as we sit here in the village, we’re not going to last. Your people were whittled down over however long it took using that method. Instead, maybe we need to move around, stay mobile, and take the fight to them.”
“What do you suggest? That I tell everyone to pack up all their stuff and we become a band of nomads?”
Joy laughed. “Not quite. Instead, I was thinking that our partnering in Hefei produced a lot of good results. What if you and I hit the Triads where they don’t expect us? If we keep them so off balance trying to figure out where we are and what we’re doing, they might just leave the village alone.”
“Where were you thinking?” Longwei asked, his green eyes glowing with anticipation. Joy could see that regardless of his wisdom and his kindness, the dragon in him did want to attack his enemies.
“Well, they’d expect an attack in Hefei or Wuhan, both of which are major cities on either side of us. What if we hit at Chengdu or Chongqing? They’re both major industrial cities, so they’ll have heavy Triad presence. But, both are pretty isolated. I was even thinking if we did want to up and try and move the entire village, the mountains in that area could easily swallow a whole village without any major problems.”
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