By Xenia Taiga
She’s a good woman, nice to everyone, even to the prostitutes. In the Beijing high-rise, she lives on the 32nd floor and they were on the 33rd floor. There was another prostitute house on the 23rd floor but they were Russian or Ukrainian. She always forgot which country it was. She met two of them in the elevator.
One was a sweet girl with high, defined cheek bones, lovely lips and pretty light blue eyes. The other one was not so sociable, her caked makeup always dangled dangerously off her face. She was not old, still just a girl, but the heavy makeup might mean that her skin was old.
She never met the prostitutes from the 33rd floor. If they were with her in the elevator, she wouldn’t have been able to tell, all her neighbors looked alike to her. The foreigners were the only ones who stood out, like her.
She was a restless sleeper because of them. No, the moaning did not bother her. It was the clacking that kept her up.
Clicketty clack clack clack.
They clacked across the floor, clacked back to their rooms, clacked to the door. How many were there? Who were they? What did they wear?
Stilettos. They probably wore slip-on 5 inch stilettos.
Clicketty clack clack.
She dreaded confrontations. This was not even her country so what right did they have to complain? But still people needed to sleep, didn’t they? Didn’t that justify complaining?
Her husband first thought of it and she agreed, wondering why she hadn’t thought of it herself. So they bought the slippers. She didn’t know how many was necessary, but thought five pairs would be a good choice. The apartments were not very big.
A young girl opened the door. She had expected this. She couldn’t put her finger on the age. Twenty or maybe seventeen? But here they all look young even the old ones. The young girl knew a little English and understood the meaning of the slippers. She nodded and quickly if a bit rudely shut the door.
That night it was quiet. No clacking. No clicking.
One night noise woke her up again. It wasn’t the clacking and clicking but more stomping and furniture being dragged from one end to the other. Her clock blinked: two a.m. She pulled out a novel and braced herself for an all-nighter, figuring she’d take a nap during the day.
Around 9 a.m., it was finally quiet. She closed the book and tried to sleep, but she could hear a crying sound.
She nudged her husband. “Honey, do you hear that noise?”
She wandered the apartment until she realized that the noise was coming from outside. Out the peep hole she saw nothing, but the sound was definitely louder. She opened the door slightly. A black kitten with a string around its neck looked up at her.
She picked it up. The scrawny thing immediately purred in her hands. She knocked on her neighbors’ doors.
No, no they didn’t know anything about a cat and no, they did not want it.
She went to the 33rd floor and knocked as well. An older couple came out in their PJ’s.
“I think, maybe they had a cat,” they said, pointing to the prostitutes’ apartment and then closed the door when she tried to give them the kitten. Back at her place, there was a scrap of paper almost hidden underneath her door mat. It had one word on it. In large awkward childlike writing done in lipstick, it said: “Please.”
Days later she found out through the hushed tones of the neighbors in the xiaoque that the police had been raiding apartments and would probably continue for the next couple of weeks. The prostitutes been kicked out and taken to the police station and given an ultimatum to leave within the hour. Probably with no place to go, they left the cat at her door.
“Because you were friends with her, weren’t you?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“But you said you knew a girl. A young girl.”
“Yes, but we just talked once. I didn’t know her, we weren’t friends.”
The kitten grew plump and fluffy, its black hair tinged with orange fuzz. They fed the kitten tuna and meat and expensive cat food from the laowei store. They took it to the vet for examinations, shots and spaying. Their foreign friends came and “oh” and “ah” over the cat.
“She looks like a tiger, doesn’t she?”
“Yes,” they said, smiling.
“Where did you get her? She’s so cute.”
“It’s so hard to find a good animal around here.”
“Someone left it at our door.”
“How odd. Isn’t that odd?”
“Yes, it is….”
“But why would they do that?”
“Who would do such a thing?”
The answer went unspoken. They shook their heads, shrugged their shoulders. They didn’t say anything about the prostitutes that used to live above them, about their clacking shoes or the slippers or the moaning.
That was unnecessary information.
That was the past.
They didn’t need to bring that information up. But in the kitchen as she washed the dishes, she could hear the cat.
She turned around to see the kitten. It clacked some more. She dried her hands on the dishrag, picked it up and then put it down the garbage chute.
She stared at the lid for a few minutes, clasping her hands together as if in prayer, then hearing the water sloshing in the sink, she turned around to finish washing the dishes.