It does not seem likely, but I have seen it with my own eyes: there is a international-style restaurant here in Beijing that runs video feeds of the various entrées as they are being prepared by the chef—dumplings, spaghetti, chicken and cashews, steak—to monitors mounted at eye level above the urinals in the men’s restroom. The only explanation I can offer as to why they might do this, and it is not a good one, is that they believe it is possible to expand the appetites of urinating male clients via live footage of a man dressed in white wielding knives with great dexterity and speed, and thus anything is possible in China.
We were walking to the supermarket not because we really needed to buy anything but because we were bored with being inside but didn’t really want to commit to any single large plan for the day. Thomas was on my shoulders and I was stooped to tie Chloe’s shoe and Analu stood nearby on the sidewalk trying to find the cell phone that was ringing somewhere in her purse. The sky was cloudy. I got Chloe’s shoe tied, and stood back up. Tom was gathering great fistfuls of the skin on my cheeks (yes, I have a fleshy face) and pulling on them, hard. The phone stopped ringing before Analu could find it. Then she said, Ow.
I looked at her. She was just standing there. It was unclear what was hurting and why.
Ow, she said again. She gave a little hop. Ow ow ow ow ow ow.
Now she was hopping faster and faster. I asked her what was the matter. She hopped off the sidewalk and into the street. I looked at the sidewalk. It was empty and clean, apparently innocuous. I went over to her and asked again, and now the kids were nervous. She told us all that she was fine, that she would be fine in a minute; she bent over to look at her foot, so the rest of us did too. She was wearing sandals, and I thought that perhaps a nail had snuck in and pierced, and then I saw that a blister was rising on one side of her foot.
I rubbed her back uselessly and began to curse lazy smokers who throw butts onto the ground and don’t bother to extinguish them, but now there was a second blister, and a third, the whole side of her foot was swelling and reddening, and all of us were baffled. We looked at each other and shook our heads. Then there was a tiny sound, and we looked, and out of nearly invisible cracks in the sidewalk came a nearly invisible cloud.
I went over and put my hand just above the concrete surface. The sidewalk was very hot, practically molten, and the cloud was of steam, and the possibility that the city itself was about to explode occurred though perhaps only to me, and I led us out of there and back toward home at high speed but unpanicked, because that is what great leaders do, at which point Lu asked if we could please slow down, and Chloe asked what about her licorice, and Tom began using my hair for reins and my chest for the part of the horse that you kick whenever you want the horse to go faster, and Chloe asked again about her licorice, and Lu said her foot wasn’t hurting quite so much anymore so we could stop in a shop and get some licorice for Chloe and something else for Tom.
And I made the decision that it should be so, because that is what great leaders do, and as Chloe and Tom made their candy-oriented selections, Lu and I talked about the steam and the burn, about whom we should sue, and to whom we should write nasty letters, and on whose desk we should pound our fists, but of course it was all pointless, so we said the hell with it and paid for the candy and limped home and got some ice for Lu’s foot and read and reread Harold and the Purple Crayon for two hours and, all in all, it was a fine, fine afternoon.