In my mind, it’s always present. One flash inside the other, never past, never future, forever happening. Right “now,” I am twelve. A sound: water nearby. The scent of leaves, bamboo, China. Among the woods, a broad, clear circle on the floor invites me in. The sacred ground where we train. Although this time, there’s more.
He watches us. Two arms point out; a third, a foot lower, aims at me; a single leg bends forward, like a cat stance. I return the look, in respect. The wooden man, icon of all Kung Fu, from the North of Shaolin to the South of Wudang, is ready for battle. Mine, at last.
Sifu’s robes make him seem made of wind. He floats towards my new training partner and stands before it. Clat! He tests the stems with an upward slap and we exchange looks of excitement. Sight back to the enemy, he drops on his knees down and inwards, bring his wrists against the ribs, and begins. Double tan sau between the sturdy fists. Clat clat! A head-grab and a wing hand rolling underneath the arm. Clat! Master’s legs move swiftly around the opponent; their hands never disconnect. Sifu recoils around his back leg. On one side, elbows heavy and wrists soft; the other, a waiting hand near his chest. Then explodes. Bang! His whole body hits the dummy, through the small area of his palm.
It was splendid! The attack pierces through the dummy’s centerline and the trunk shakes in delight. The wood cackles. With the noise, birds fly in fear. Critters peek. Even the bamboo seems to bow. And right there, I learn to love those sounds more than anything. More than George, I think. Clat clat clat! Baaaang!
I check the data. In my trips to present and past, no other memory has been visited more times. I guess that makes it an all-time favorite. In my case, a title so full of irony.
It was also among the trees I met George. In a park, ten years later. Berkeley.
Butt on the grass, I recover from a fall. My students run around like squirrels. “Water! Give her some water!”, one says. “I have green tea, she must like it?” says another one. I am fine. Got distracted with the flashes, lost balance, just that.
Can’t reveal the flashes, though. They must believe I can stay focused myself.
Across from us, a little gathering. There always are. People eyeing the exotic young ladies performing geriatric slow moves. Nothing too bothersome. Sometimes they laugh and point and a single stare sends them away. Americans can’t handle a good, cold look back. There are four of them today. All men, nerds. They laugh and elbow each other and I am about to stand up to send them off, when they spit one of them in our direction.
The dude stumbles and looks back in protest, but the friends point at us. Too late, I have noticed. George, I would learn his name later, wears a scarf but his face still sports teenage acne. He carries a big thick book he uses to distract his eyes from me. A few steps, a reassurance look back and forward again, the chopped stride followed pathetic for a miserable eternity. After a long wait, he’s in front of me. Mrs. Lee drops a “hoooo” and pushes the girls to the side. Is all that a setup?
“Is… is it possible to… can I… are you still taking students?”, he stutters.
I say, “I don’t teach men.”
Why I am always so angry?
My words strike him so hard, he falters. Almost falls on the green. Such a snowflake. It wasn’t my intention, but they were out, the words. Couldn’t take back. His eyebrows get closer together and he shakes his shoulders. I’ve seen that before. Same thing fighters do when get hit on the face, and have to decide if they will continue or tap out. A look of heart. It’s cute.
Grey’s Anatomy, the book he carries.
“She almost fainted. I think she needs a doctor”, says Miranda, the one who I should never trust with men. Her last boyfriend was a bully. He and I had to have “a talk.”
George doesn’t fall for Miranda’s cue. Too easy, I respect that. We have a stare down instead. A few seconds. Then he turns around and leaves. I win. Americans…
Mrs. Lee, my oldest and naughtiest student, pokes me with her bare toe and makes a “what the fuck?” face. She’s right.
Not so fast, sir. I run after him, now I am the pathetic one, rushing through the uneven lawn while watched by both my students and his friends. I grab him by the arm and he turns back with a victorious grin. Well played, nerd.
“Hey, sorry. It’s not about you. I don’t teach guys. One of my rules.”
He stretches the neck and checks my students again, all ladies indeed. They wave. He asks why.
“Not sure. It just is.”
He squints, raises one cheek up to the left eye, then smiles. Suddenly, it’s like if the light has shifted around us. Despite the red face and the neck curtain, the stuttering, the pathetic initial stride, that little facial twist somehow got me melted. Who would have guessed?
George doesn’t look strong. More of a nerdy meets hipster dude. We go for coffee and I can hear the girls behind making sounds. We order some iced drinks, grab a seat and we talk. And talk. And talk. Then we get up. My hot twin students work at the shop, and they are already back, all bathed and everything. We must have been there forever. They giggle and wink. We leave, but first I make him ditch the muffler there.
Night falls, as we are entering my building. Three minutes and two floors later, we pass the door amidst a sloppy hard kiss, and I take his shirt off. Hang it over the hand of the old dummy on the wall. “My boyfriend,” I say, tapping the wood man’s third arm, which sticks out a few inches higher than my belly button, like a giant Kung Fu erection. It reacts with a whisper: “Clat!”
So wide are George’s eyes, they may drop. Should I say it’s a joke? Up to the end, he was still unsure if that was serious. No, let him wonder.
We kiss again. I mean, I kiss him and push him through the open loft, where I sleep, study and train. On the other side, a thin mattress laid straight on the floor pretends to be a bed. Never learned to sleep in a real one, too far from the ground, messes up with my chi. We stumble towards it and as soon as we get there, I swipe his leg. He falls on his back, mute.
My turn to undress.
Then, I finish the job. Still not sure I know what I do in the bed department, and nerds don’t get too much action. But his mouth hanging to the side as he fell asleep is still quite flattering.
I wake up later. It’s pass midnight, my birthday. Everything’s quiet, and the apartment smells like sex. Plus flowers and my fighting gloves. Couldn’t have had a better start for the new year. He’s asleep and the only light comes from the neon sign from the restaurant across the street, which is enough. I roll towards the edge of the bed and reach to the drawer of the side table. Grab the little book, and a square-holed coin I flip in the air.
In my recursive memories, the i-Ching is the only thing that changes.
I watch the golden disk spin up and down, then fall quiet on the white cotton of my bed. Five to go. Except at that point he had his fingers back on me. So soft it sent a cool wave down towards my ass and my entire skin bursts up in chills. He says, “What’s this mountain?”
“Wudang. Where I was born.”
He watched for a while, browsing the tip of his fingers through the blue lines of my tattoos. The mountain, the fog, the tigress standing fierce, ready to attack.
“Is it really this foggy?”
“Those are clouds. That’s where I picked my name from. Claudia.”
Anyone else would have asked about the Tigress, always the tigress. Not George. He has no hostility, no anger, no scars. He’s only curiosity are for his brain things, his medicine books and how to make people feel better. In our lives together, he never once tried to compete. To protect. To be the prince. Once a dude tried to fight us in traffic. George didn’t mind I stepped up to defend us. Not beyond his usual disdain for physicalities, at least.
A true man of yin, for a girl of yang. Interesting how the Dao is. You spend your entire life preparing, then out of nowhere, a messenger comes to remind you your training isn’t done yet.
He gives me a gentle, wet kiss. And we fuck again.