When the ten days ended, he had no choice but to return to Canton. “I should be going with you,” she said.
“It’s too dangerous,” he replied. “We have Anna to think about now. Macao is a safer place for her. Most of China is dangerous what with the Taipings, bandits and the smaller rebellions bursting into flames here and there."
“I should be sharing the risk with you.” The spark he missed was back in her eyes. He regretted leaving. She said, “Cousin Weed’s wife will take care of Anna. Have you forgotten that I fought beside you against the Longhaired Bandits and saved your life?”
“My answer is still no,” he said, and walked away as he had in Canton. He felt her eyes staring at his back, and his stomach twisted itself into a painful knot. It felt like he had eaten spoiled salt pork.
He wanted to hold her and tell her she could come with him, but his legs refused to cooperate. He kept walking until he was off the boat and ashore. He regretted that he hadn’t spent enough time alone with her.
The last thing he saw was Guan-jiah standing aft watching him. His servant held Anna in his arms. He took her little hand and made it wave goodbye. When Ayaou did not appear, a stab of pain and regret twisted his guts—and the pain was deep.
Guan-jiah was doing his job being a father to his child. The eunuch was more of a man than he was.
Thinking like that was dangerous. As the man of the family, he had to earn the money. His job was in Canton, a place too dangerous for the woman and child he loved.
* * *
Back in Canton, there were many sleepless nights where he thought of the Ayaou he’d known and loved in Ningpo. He lay awake on the narrow bunk in his cramped quarters while the sounds of rockets and rifle fire crackled in the distance. He dreamed of returning to Ningpo when he had been teaching Shao-mei and Ayaou how to read in that house where his two girls had painted a river with fish in it on the brick stove.
Why wasn’t life like that all the time? he thought. The buzz-saw snore of the major in the next cubbyhole seemed to vibrate the wall between them. Robert covered his ears.
He remembered how Ayaou had helped guide his Chinese teacher, Master Ping, in the language lessons. He recalled with fondness the discussions late into the night that he had with the girls about the meanings buried in the books and poems they read together.
What he missed most was the sound of Ayaou’s voice—of her singing in the morning when she cooked.
He wondered if he would live to see Ayaou and Anna again. Tears filled his eyes. He buried his face in the pillow. He couldn’t even be miserable. The major’s snoring intruded on his suffering.
Links to Reviews for "Our Hart"
Honorable Mentions in General Fiction