Hong Kong. Paul, an American journalist, and his Chinese girlfriend, Christine, face a crisis. A troubling letter arrives from a long-lost brother in mainland China and they feel compelled to travel to his rescue. There they find a village in turmoil and his brother’s life in disarray.
Their dangerous quest for justice begins in a China beset by corrupt politicians, and ruthless business interests, where citizens, still caught in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution have few rights in the face of an all-powerful system.
A powerful, intriguing blend of love story and crime thriller, Sendker explores the tensions and touchstones between the emotive West and the fantastic East, but, above all, he portrays a sense of deep, honest faith in the human spirit.
publisher: polygon/Birlinn Ltd
You are someone who is hungry for love. This was the first time that a woman had said this to him. He did not know whether it was criticism or a compliment. Aren't we all? he replied, without giving it a great thought.
She smiled. Some are more so than others.
What about me? More or less?
More. More, more, more.
He took her in his arms. The delicate body that he was sometimes afraid he would crush. That could fill him with desire and render him helpless through long, sleepless nights like no one else in his life had done. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
More. More, more, more.
Hungry for love. There had been people in his life who would have meant to hurt him with these words. And there had been times when they would have succeeded. He would have taken the words as an insult, and rejected them as an outrageous accusation.
Not today. Although the words hunger and love did not fit together in his head. For him, at least with Chistine in his arms, love was abundance, happiness and fulfillment. Hunger, on the other hand, was a need. Hunger had to be satisfied, at any price if necessary. Hunger knew only oneself, love only the other.
People who where hungry were weak, but people who loved were strong. If hunger and love had anything in common, it was that they both immeasurable.
He asked her what she had meant by it. If he should take her word as a complaint or a compliment.
Neither one nor the other, she said. It's just something I've realized.
They left it at that.
Maybe, he thought, she was right. Perhaps the previous three years had left deeper traces than he was aware of. Three years in which he had wished for nothing more than to be alone. Three years in which a day when he had not exchanged a word with a single person had been a good day. A period in which his world had shrunk to the size of one house and a small, barely inhabited island with no cars, in the South China Sea. Maybe a person who had had to withdraw himself so much, who had lived in the past and on memories, who had loved nothing and no one on this earth more than someone dead, was a person who was in more trouble than Paul wanted to accept.
Hungry for love. It was the neediness in the description that he did not like, although he could not say exactly why. We are all needy, he wanted to say out loud, but knew what Christine would say.
Some are more so than others.
What about me?
More. More, more, more.
He said nothing and kissed her on the forehead. He trailed his long fingers up her neck and massaged her head with gentle rhythmic motions. She closed her eyes and he stroked her face and her mouth. He could feel that his touch was arousing her; he heard her breath quickening. Not a lot, but enough to show him that they would not stop. His kissed her on the throat and she whispered that she wanted to make love to him. Here, on the terrace.
He heard the hum of the cicadas, the loud chirping of the birds, and, from a distance, the neighbors' voices, and wanted to say that someone might see them, shouldn't they go up to his bedroom instead? But she was kissing him so passionately and holding him so tight, showing him how much she desired him, here, now, that he said nothing.
She pulled one of the garden chairs over, pushed him down gently but firmly onto it, and straddled him.
She was wearing a skirt; she did not waste any time. She dictated the rhythm, and more vigorous and abandoned in loving him than he had ever known her to be. At the end she let out a short cry, loud but not light and full of relief as usual. It was dark and deep, expelled with force, almost despairing. As though this was the last time.
They held each other tight for a long time, clinging to each other silently, listening to their breathing gradually returning to normal.
Before she got up, she took his head into her hands and looked him in the eyes. Did he know how much she loved him? What he meant to her? He nodded, a little surprised. Did he promise never to forget?
He nodded again, too tired to ask any questions.
Later, when he brought her to the ferry, she was unnervingly quiet. It was a warm and humid tropical evening; they walked down the hill to Yung Shue Wan and the bushes around them were full of rustling, chirping and cheeping noises. He asked her what she was thinking.
Nothing in particular, she said.
Is everything okay?
She waved his question away.
They had to run the last few meters. Chistine could not miss this ferry; she had promised her son and her mother to be home by dinnertime.
He hated rushing. The next ferry left in forty minutes and Paul found it an intolerable imposition to be forced by a timetable into hurrying. He was often to be found walking in measured steps toward the quay while other passengers rushed past him panting, responding to the ringing that announced that the gates were slowly closing, leaving him the only one who missed the boat.
Instead of cursing, he sat down calmly on a bench under the shade of the pine trees in front of the bookshop and gazed at the sea.
Or he crouched by the edge of the water and looked at the spray beneath him. Even as a child he had liked to watch the drops of water moving through the air; he had been fascinated by how they separated themselves from the sea, took shape for a couple of seconds, whizzing through the air, before disappearing almost immediately into the expanse of the ocean. People were like these little drops of water, he had thought then, they rose from and disappeared into same infinity they came from. They stopped existing but still remained part of the whole. Somehow, this thought had been comforting to him as a ten-year-old. His father had liked it too, but he thought instead that people came to an end like drops of water falling on a hot plate. They disappeared into nothing with a quick his. The young Paul had found that comparison anything but comforting.
He loved looking at the waves, they way they played with the fishing boats and lapped the rocks in front of him. He heard the voice of the sea. Sometimes he even missed the next ferry while he dreamed away like this.
But you don't have a son waiting for you, Chistine said when he had told her about this before.
No, he did not. His son was dead.
She had apologized immediately. She had only meant to say that he did not have any family of professional obligations: no boss, no business partner insisting on punctuality, no one waiting for him apart from her. And, if there were any doubt about it, she would forgive him if he were late.