All the roads are wet and this motorcycle taxi really wants to take me home.
I’m standing a few blocks away from the import food store near the bus stop. My bus, the 2, is here but all the lights are turned off and the driver has sauntered off, smokes and cell phone in his hand. He shoos me away when I timidly approach, waving my money at him. Does the wave mean he’s done for the night? O does it mean he’ll be back in 20 minutes? No way to tell what he wants to say.
This motorcycle taxi though, he’s making it clear. I’ve already pulled out my address to show him. I figure it’ll be clear and he’ll understand; my university is a 45 minute drive away through some foothills even. Too far for a city motorcycle. I expect him to shrug and drive away. But the motorcycle taxi driver isn’t deterred. He even tries to help me find the right bus. He parks his motorcycle and walks over to the bus sign, checking out each bus and seeing where they stop. I’m talking to him in English. I know he doesn’t understand but what else can I do?
“It’s not any of those,” I say. And finally I remember that I know enough Chinese to tell him that my bus is already here. I walk him over to the darkened carcass of the 2 and he finds my university posted as one of the stops on the side of the bus. I can’t figure out if he’s satisfied or not, if he will give up or not, or if he just thinks I’m some stranded and helpless foreigner. He gets back on his motorcycle and pats the seat behind him, talking fluidly in Cantonese as he does and giving me a reassuring smile.
I roll my eyes. We both keep talking to each other, knowing that that the other one has no idea what we’re saying. But there’s just no way. It’s not that I’m totally against motorcycles, I’m not. In fact, I rode one a short distance to the import store. But now I have a huge bag of groceries and an umbrella and it’s getting dark and the ground is slick. I don’t want to worry about balancing on a motorcycle with groceries as we ride 45 minutes through the mountains.
“It’s too far!” I tell him and I shrug and walk away.
The sky is worsening by the minute and the bus driver is sitting slumped off to the side playing on his cell phone.
I sit down too and watch as a dad pedals his pre-teen son home. The boy is standing on spokes sticking out of the back of the bike, his arms are resting on his father’s back. So many people in China bike so far everyday. I never cease to be amazed at the workings of this country. The motorcycle guy is still here, watching me, sometimes making a quiet comment to me about something or other and I wonder about his life, his wages, his family. And for a while, we watch the traffic together. He doesn’t leave. I’m almost glad he doesn’t leave. I entertain the thought that he might be my last hope and I’m comforted by his rare persistence in the face of rejection. It’s an admirable quality.
Finally, finally, the bus driver gets up and walks towards the bus. The motorcycle driver sees and walks over with me to the bus. The bus driver takes his seat and I wave my 5 RMB note in front of him, “Ok la?” I ask and he grunts something I don’t understand. Is that an affirmative? I can’t tell. I look at the motorcycle guy and it seems like he can’t tell either so I just get on the bus and slide the bill through the little toll box. The bus driver seems disgruntled that I’ve decided to be his first customer. I turn back and wave to the motorcycle guy. “Bye bye! Sorry!” I say and he says “Bye-Bye!” to me and then something else in Cantonese. He seems jolly and I’m almost sad we’re parting. But he doesn’t leave just yet. He stays and he’s talking to the bus driver and every few minutes, the bus driver stops and looks back at me. At one point I hear my school name and I hear a price being mumbled out by the bus driver. Is he trying to barter a motorcycle ride for me back to my campus? Are they still conspiring to get me off the bus? The driver looks back again and I flash him a big dumb smile and a shrug.
I decide I don’t care. I’m already here and if I wait long enough and stubbornly enough, the bus driver will start the engine and we’ll be on our way back to school.
And eventually, that’s exactly what he does.