scruta

Either you are sorting it out, or you are full of it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Shanghai in a Box – Part 8

[Ferret arrives at the address on the card after working his way though a long residential lane. The apartment is on the 7th floor of a walk-up. He feels himself sweating in the heat and humidity of the late Shanghai summer. By all accounts, it's just another apartment. The door is a nondescript gray-green metal slab with grating in the middle, allowing someone to open it and see who's there. This small door opens and Ferret sees a Chinese man in his 50's looking at him.]

Cai Xin
Yes?

Ferret
你是蔡鑫吗?
Are you Cai Xin?

Cai Xin
Yes, I am. Please speak in English. It’ll be faster that way.

[Cai Xin speaks American English without a trace of an accent. He opens the door for Ferret.]

Ferret
Hello.

Cai Xin
Hi. Come in.

[Ferret walks into the apartment. Cai Xin motions for him to take off his shoes. Ferret does so and puts on slippers that he provides. The living room is immaculate. All white walls give way to spotless floors of real ceramic tile with patterns in blue and white. It's like walking on dinner plates. Ferret notices that every single one is different. There's a black leather sofa with two identical floor lamps on each end. Adorning the top of each lamp is a giant red lantern for a lampshade. In front of the sofa is a table made of dozens of pieces of restored, antique rosewood. Behind the sofa is a classical Chinese calligraphic picture. Above it, there is a projector. It says 谈以可, or read from left to right 可以谈 - “One can speak". Cai Xin motions to the sofa.]

Cai Xin
Please, have a seat.

Ferret
Okay.

[Ferret sits down. Cai Xin takes out a set of keys and puts them down on the table.]

Cai Xin
These are for you.

Ferret
I’m sorry?

Cai Xin
For returning the book.

Ferret
The book?

Cai Xin
The notebook. You don’t remember?

Ferret
I do. It was a while ago.

Cai Xin
Yes.

Ferret
You’ve been waiting this whole time?

Cai Xin
I’ve been living here waiting for you.

Ferret
Waiting for me?

Cai Xin
Yes.

Ferret
And now what?

Cai Xin
Now, I’m free to go.

Ferret
I don’t understand. I don’t need an apartment.

Cai Xin
I’m not here to rent you the apartment.

Ferret
What is this about?

Cai Xin
You are to become the new caretaker.

Ferret
Caretaker?

Cai Xin
Yes, you will be the one that watches the house.

Ferret
Well, what if I don’t want to take it?

Cai Xin
I advise you to take it.

[After giving his advice, Cai Xin looks at Ferret blankly, then allows a strange smile to creep up across his face.]

Ferret
Can I look at the rest of the place?

Cai Xin
Of course.

[Ferret gets up and walks through the living room to the kitchen. It's small, but perfect, complete with marble counter tops and even a dishwasher, a luxury for Shanghai. Best of all, to the left of the kitchen there is a door which leads out directly to the rooftop. A deck has been laid down on it complete with patio furniture. Behind it is a stunning view of Xujiahui and Shanghai's western skyline.]

Ferret
Quite a kitchen.

Cai Xin
It’s manageable. You don’t have any allergies, I hope.

Ferret
No.

Cai Xin
Good. Food will be delivered to you. Do you cook?

Ferret
Sometimes.

Cai Xin
Ah. I see. Well, then cooked food can be arranged.

Ferret
What? The house comes with food?

Cai Xin
All that you require is provided.

[Ferret walks out of the kitchen and Cai Xin follows. Ferret speaks as he walks into the bathroom full of bamboo, ceramic and glass. A skylight is embedded in the sloping ceiling above the shower. Natural afternoon light fills the room.]

Ferret
I don’t understand. This seems like a job.

Cai Xin
You could see it that way.

Ferret
But I don’t understand. I wasn’t even interviewed.

Cai Xin
Of course you were. You were given a task, and you completed it.

Ferret
What?

Cai Xin
There were others. But none of them made it this far.

Ferret
Other people got the call?

Cai Xin
And the package.

Ferret
And returned it?

Cai Xin
Only two of you returned it.

Ferret
What happened to the other one?

Cai Xin
I’m not sure what happened to her.

Ferret
Her?

Cai Xin
Yes. Is that strange?

Ferret
No. No, I guess not. I mean. I don’t know. What sort of qualifications do you need to be a caretaker?

Cai Xin
I don’t know. I’m just a caretaker.

Ferret
Just the caretaker?

Cai Xin
Yes. I was informed of the process for finding a replacement, but I know little else.

Ferret
Well, do you think you did a good job?

Cai Xin
Maybe. I can’t say.

[Ferret walks into the bedroom. It's quite spacious. The low bed is also made of reclaimed wood. Expensive cotton sheets cover the bed. Wide floor to ceiling windows look out over the rooftops of the neighboring lane houses to the south. The other wall is dominated by a pair of sliding closet doors. There's a large writing desk in the corner with a single desk lamp in it, an art deco antique. The walls are white. Nothing hangs on them.]

Ferret
It does look very nice.

Cai Xin
Yes.

Ferret
Who owns this place?

Cai Xin
I don’t know.

Ferret
You don’t know?

Cai Xin
I have my guesses.

Ferret
Well, do I have to keep to any schedule?

Cai Xin
You are allowed to come and go freely. I was recently more confined because I was waiting for a replacement.

Ferret
Well, I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.

Cai Xin
It’s quite alright. I knew that it might take a while.

Ferret
So, if I decide to become the caretaker, then will I have to find someone else if I want to stop being the caretaker?

Cai Xin
I don’t know.

Ferret
You’re just the caretaker, right?

Cai Xin
Exactly.

[The two laugh awkwardly.]

Cai Xin
I can guarantee one thing.

Ferret
What’s that?

Cai Xin
You will not be bored.

[Ferret looks at the afternoon sun setting through the floor to ceiling window in the bedroom. It enchants him.]

Cai Xin
There’s a folder with information about the house. Phone numbers. Maintenance schedules, etc. I’ll get it for you. You can read it as I pack up.

Ferret
Okay.

posted by ferret at 12:52 am  

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