Standing in a crowd, or sitting with your family, loneliness can still be lurking at the edges. That feeling of disconnect. You feel alienated because it is like no one cares to see you, or hear you. You’re invisible. Or maybe you can not agree with the expectations others have placed on you. You are alone with your indignation, or alone with your sadness. Solitude can be a comfort for a while, but eventually we hear ourselves ask, “Hello? Is anyone there?” You could use a little empathy right about now…
Paying For It
Sometimes life takes us to desolate places.
Being a tall foreigner with blond hair, he was used to ladies trailing him in this area of the city. They’d call after him with invitations for Ma-Sa-Gee, their lips too red and their heels too high. Normally, they were minor annoyances and he swatted them off like mosquitoes as he had no interest in paying for their services. At first he kept up with his quick pace, eager to get back to the air conditioning in his hotel room. The street was a hot soupy mess, and stunk of fried noodles, cigarette smoke, and cheap perfume. He stopped to fish out a pocket pack of tissues so he could wipe the sweat off his forehead. The tissues had pink flowers printed on them, and smelled of menthol. He stood there in the stink of the street, remembering how Kelsey had loved that tissues were sold like mints in China.
In the beginning, his three year contract to work in Shenzhen had sounded exciting. Kelsey had visited twice, but on the second time before she flew back home, she had told him that a long distance relationship was too hard. She had met someone else. Before turning to put her suitcase in the taxi she said, “I don’t even like eating rice.” As if that was some sort of reason to leave him alone in this country.
A man in flip flops spat his phlegm into the gutter. An old woman squatting on a low plastic stool had mangoes laid out on the asphalt. She gave a toothless smile and motioned him to come over. Everywhere, you had to step over filth or fruit. It was like an awkward dance, and suddenly he felt overwhelmed and isolated. He longed to be back in San Francisco. Back on his couch. Kelsey in the kitchen making tofu cheesecake. An NPR podcast coming through the speakers. The option to have pizza delivered. But none of that was waiting for him. All he had was two more years of work among colleagues who only spoke Chinese, and after that, nothing. Back in California, friends were buying real estate and dogs. He didn’t even have a houseplant to go home to.
Off to the side, a girl leaned against the doorframe of a massage parlor. Her makeup was more subtle compared to the others and she looked lost in her own thoughts. He had never really looked at any of these women before, but now he noticed that her skin appeared wonderfully soft and smooth. He couldn’t remember when the last time he had touched another person was. She saw him looking at her and smiled. Maybe he needed to embrace the local culture instead of missing all that was on the other side of the world. When he walked over she greeted him.
“Hello, my friend.”
The first smile of his day stretched across his lips.
The foreign guys were always the touchiest. Local guys were in and out and usually didn’t stay longer than 10 minutes. It was the tourists she had to be careful of, because she couldn’t understand them. Like chickens and ducks having a conversation, it was always hard to gauge what they wanted. Their smiles looked sweet and then suddenly they wanted to play games. One foreign devil had tried to choke her. All he could say in Chinese was “Hao Wan, It’s fun,” but she couldn’t figure out where the fun was supposed to be. Later, her boss had showed her some new porn which featured the choking move. She hoped this wasn’t going to become a trend.
The tall golden haired man was looking at her and she weighed her options: take a chance with him and charge him triple, or spend the night trying to lure in more locals. Boss liked money, and she didn’t feel like going for quantity tonight, so she smiled at him. He followed her up the narrow stairs, while she swayed her bottom with each step.
Sometimes she wondered if she had done something horrible in her previous life to have ended up working at this massage parlor. Her mom had told her since she was born that girls were useless. After neighborhood boys had had their way with her when she was 14, she figured that glass doesn’t mind being smashed twice. Working at the parlor paid more than the factory, and she got her mornings and afternoons free. The money was good, but being in the industry meant she was an unlucky ghost to anyone that mattered. Even though the money she made was dirty, she still sent almost all of it back home to her family. They never wanted to see her again, but she heard that they had built a large brick home in their village, and that soothed the sting a bit.
As soon as she closed the door to her room, she made sure she got the money first. When it was counted and stashed away, she got to work and went to remove her dress, but the man stopped her. He simply stood there and pressed her close to him. He smelled of sweat and sadness. In overly formal Chinese he asked her what her dreams were. Usually she had some sort of flirty remark to make the men laugh, but this time she had nothing. Having no answer, she clutched his waist. This made him squeeze her a little tighter, his nose in her hair.
Being held so tenderly made her think of WeiLi. Back in another life, he had wanted to marry her and used to hold her close like this. He was long gone now. Her tears wouldn’t stop and she was scared the man was going to demand a refund, but he tucked her into bed like an eggroll, and held her hand until they both fell asleep.
Eat Your Emotions - Loneliness: Classic SpongecakePrint This
- 90g (¾ cup) All Purpose Flour
- 3g (1 tsp) Baking Powder
- 2g (¼ tsp) Salt
- 45g (3 Tbsp) Milk
- 30g (2 Tbsp) Butter, unsalted
- 2g (½ tsp) Fleur d’Oranger
- 3 eggs, separated
- 2 eggs, whole
- 150g (¾ cup) sugar, (separated into 2 equal parts)
Tips for Success:
- Spongecake is great with a layer of fresh whipped cream and jam in-between!
- Use 2 round 9” cake pans.
- A stand mixer or handheld electric mixer is helpful.
- Bring eggs to room temperature.
- Preheat Oven to 350 F
- Prepare Pans by buttering and lining with parchment paper.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Melt the butter and milk together. Remove from heat.
- Add the fleur d’oranger to the milk mix.
- Whip the three egg whites into foam. Slowly begin to add 1 part of the sugar. Increase speed to medium and whip until soft peaks. Do NOT beat until stiff!
- Beat the two whole eggs with the 3 leftover egg yolks, and the remaining part of sugar, until thick and pale yellow. Add in the milk.
- Combine the yolks with the whites.
- Fold In the flour mixture into the eggs.
- Bake about 18 minutes, or until it springs back to the touch.
- Remove from pans and cool on rack.
- Dust with powdered sugar or fill with jam and cream!