Today I tell you one thing, one thing only.
Amy made a grand gesture. She is enjoying rationing her life story, a bit at a time, and each visit circumscribed in time and etiquette. We don’t start until green tea has been served by one of her girls and preliminary courtesies have been exchanged.
One thing. My mother has no name. My brother one name. I have two names.
But she had no name?
Too much trouble, girls, then. Many Chinese women no name then.
But what did you call her?
It was an idiotic question.
And your brother?
He in China. He like China more.
And he is called?
No need you know. He just my brother.
And you have two names because Amy is your English name and you have a Chinese name too?
Chinese name too.
No need you know.
She was certainly enjoying this.
No wonder you called it Great Secret Miss.
And today I tell you no more.
No, Amy, you have to. You have to leave me guessing what comes next. That’s the game. You’re my Scheherazade.
I was fairly confident that she had never heard of Scheherazade and, wrongly, that she would be entirely unable to pronounce her name. I was getting my own back.
Ah! Scheherazade! Now I have three names!
And with that she disappeared into the murky – indeed secret – nether regions of Great Secret Miss. One of her girls gave me more green tea but it was clear that that was all that I would see of Amy for the day.
I went home on the bus. It occurred to me to think about all the Chinese people in London. All those secrets, I thought. How many of them had unknowable names? Or no names at all? How many of them had husbands in Kettering?
It is of course wrong to generalise – still more so to fantasise – on the basis of nationality. Dame Jenni ™ Murray, had she access to my thoughts, would have brought me to order. Racist, she would have said, and sexist – and she would have been right. A reprimand from Dame Jenni ™ Murray is always a pleasure, a stern pleasure but one that leaves you firmly on the straight and narrow and ready to face the world with one hundred per cent confidence. I have come to value our encounters in the corridors of the film company and I shall be sorry when the production of the first, I hope, of many series of Bunanza! is finished. However, as it turned out, on this occasion a reprimand from Dame Jenni ™ Murray was not necessary to put me right.
I settled into my seat upstairs on the bus. It was nearly full. As I sat down I noticed a young Chinese man in the seat behind me. He was on the phone. He had a rather high voice. That, combined with his very clear diction, meant that although he never raised his voice he must have been audible throughout the upper deck. And I, scarcely a foot in front of him, had him talking directly into my ears.
He was making an arrangement to meet someone for the afternoon in a week’s time .
Now, he said, I am very much looking forward to our meeting and we will have sex together. Maybe we will have some food together first. I like to eat. Do you like to eat? Or maybe after. They tell me that you very much like having sex in your bum. Is that right?
There was silence as the other man (for man, to judge by the pitch of the noises coming from the phone, it was) explained the degree of his desire to have it in his bum from my neighbour. Evidently, on balance, that was just what he wanted.
Well, said my neighbour, I don’t do that very often.
He explained in some detail what it was that he did do very often.
But you want to have it in your bum. And you will. I have a week now. So I will practise. You will like it very much.
The other man apparently explained that he was pleasurably anticipating – in the correct sense – receiving it in his bum from my neighbour.
No. I can’t now. I’m on the bus. Wait till I get home. Don’t do it yet. I call you.
He hung up. Everyone on the bus gave a little sigh. There’s nothing like young love to bring folk together.
But as I walked home from the bus stop I couldn’t help comparing his approach to secrets with Amy’s and I resolved to stop generalising.
I imagined my neighbour’s joyless but enthusiastic experiments with the techniques of sodomy with whatever stand-in bottoms he could muster, and the refinements produced in due course for the delectation of his inamorato.
When I got home there was a text from Amy.
COME TOMORROW. I LEAVE KETTERING AND SEEK FORTUNE. YOURS SINCERELY A
LATER, SCHEHERAZADE. I’M OFF TO MONTENEGRO. X
Who’s that, asked the better half, who was packing.
Amy. She’s got to the bit where she leaves Kettering and eventually meets Aubergine Small.
Pft, said the better half.