Torn Between Two Lovers
. . . . .
The train station in Peking was a nightmare. Attendants had to use force to control the masses. They did their utmost to squeeze passengers into the compartments. They showed no mercy for women or kids. They were brutal, and the people fought back. It appeared hopeless. I didn’t think I would ever find Ming-Lee in the crowd, especially after I waited for one train after another to arrive from the coast. Doubts began to take over. My mind was blanking out. I tried to picture her face but I couldn’t remember it. What was happening?
It was Ming-Lee who saw me first. How could I ever have forgotten that lovely face, those beautiful eyes, that wonderful smile? We didn’t think about customs or traditions, or what people might say. When I saw her coming toward me, and she saw me, we threw ourselves into each other’s arms. “Roger booked us a room in a Chinese hotel where we can both stay,” she said. That was one problem solved. We found the hotel, and for two days we didn’t come out of our room. We had our meals brought in; I never knew love with an Asian girl could be so grand. I also discovered streetcars do not run sideways. Some things, I learned, do come naturally.
Ming-Lee had friends she had to look up so I was able to spend a few days in class. At night we did the clubs at the bases around town and we had most of our meals at Wagonlits. Unlike in Tsingtao, we were not worried about appearing together in public; we took pedicabs and traveled together from place to place. But we did have other concerns. Tensions were running high in the capital. Rumors had it that Nationalist forces were beginning to yield control of the North to the Chinese Communists. Some even said the Nationalists were considering a “polite surrender.” General Fu Tso-yi, the Nationalist commander, was attempting to negotiate a separate peace for Northern China. Meanwhile in the Nationalist capital of Nanking, Generalissimo Chiang K’ai-shek, who had been fighting the Communists for more than twenty years, announced that he was considering retiring as president of China with the hope that his departure would bring an end to the hostilities. We figured it was another of his ploys. Whatever happened, Mao Tse-tung was prepared to take control.
No one knew which way to turn. Tsingtao was still the stronghold of north China, but how long that would last was anyone’s guess. My classes were starting to get me down. I was tired of arguing with pseudo-intellectual students and I felt my mind was being twisted and turned by problems I could not solve. I no longer looked in the mirror and wondered why I didn’t look Chinese. Instead I put on my uniform and stared at myself, glad that I was a Marine.
I knew that my time in Peking was about up. Ming-Lee had been with me in the city nearly three weeks and we decided it was best that she return to Tsingtao. She could look for a room for us to rent. I was waiting in my room for her to phone when a knock came at the door. It couldn’t be her, and the only other person who came to my room was Bon Yee. I slid out of my warm bed and in my skivvy drawers I partly opened the door. Katarina stood there. I was startled and reached for a towel to wrap around myself.
“How did you get in?” I asked.
“Very simple. They told me your room number and pointed out the direction.”
“But women aren’t allowed,” I said. “They said that was the rule.”
“Not everyone’s rule. Aren’t you going to ask me in?” “Yes, yes, I’m sorry, come in,” I mumbled and stepped
aside. “But I don’t understand. I was instructed no women were allowed.”
“No women,” she said. “They mean no Chinese women: I am a white woman, a White Russian, you remember?”
I didn’t have time to answer. She came to me and threw her arms around my neck. “I can’t bear it any longer,” she sighed. “I want you. I need you.” I could feel my pulse quicken. She reached down and took the towel from around my waist and threw it over the back of the chair. She took off her coat and placed it too on the chair. Without taking her eyes from me, staring straight at me, she took off her boots and stockings, removed her dress and inner garments, and stood there in front of me completely naked. I could only look upon her Vargas-girl body in disbelief. Her skin was flawless, and absolutely white. Her breasts were firm; her waist thin. She stood there, letting my eyes and thoughts feast upon her. She held her garments in her hand, and then slowly turned to place them on the chair.
She saw something that made her gasp. She jumped back as if she was confronted by a demon with fangs about to pounce at her. She clasped her hands over her mouth. The door to my closet was open.
“What is it?” I called and leaped toward her. “Your uniform!” she cried.
“My uniform,” I replied, “what about it?” I saw my uniform that Yee had hung carefully on a hanger, along with my shirt. The chevrons were exactly as I told him to sew them on. “What’s wrong with that?”
“The stripes! You are only a corporal,” she stammered. “What’s wrong with that?” I said, completely confused. “I thought you were a captain.”
“A captain! What made you think that? I never told you I was a captain,” I said
“They call you captain,” she cried. “Who?” I asked.
“All the guys, Gilbert, the others,” she replied.
I suddenly remembered. They did call me captain-Captain Mitty. The guys started calling me Captain Mitty after we had seen the movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” starring Danny Kaye and Virginia May. I started acting out the lines: “We’re going through. Damn, the pounding is increasing, listen-ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa.” Sometimes I’d say, “Never mind, it’s only a broken arm,” like Captain Mitty did when he stood at the helm of a ship in a storm. The guys would laugh, and soon they began calling me Captain Mitty. Before long they dropped the Mitty part. When Katarina told me this, I had to laugh. I tried to explain who Captain Mitty was and how it all started. She wouldn’t listen.
She quickly began to dress, her skirt, her blouse, finally her shoes and stocking. “I don’t know what you are thinking,” I pleaded, “but I didn’t know you thought I was an officer.”
“You don’t understand. You don’t know what it is to be homeless. I don’t mean just poor. I mean without a country.” “What does this have to do with me being a corporal? Does that change how I feel about you.”
“Yes, for me it does!”
“That’s the only reason you went out with me, because you thought I was an officer?” I asked.
“Yes, because you had promise,” she replied. “I didn’t promise you anything,” I insisted. “Not that kind of promise,” she fired back. “What kind then?” I asked earnestly.
“The promise of a future.”
“Like what? Like getting married.”
The anger in me flared up. All the time she was using me, like a pawn. I was her pawn, her checkmate, her ticket to get out of China. She had absolutely no feeling. She was cold and calculating. She had deceived me completely. . “My mother married a Marine, and he couldn’t even live in the same house. He had to sneak back to base every night. My aunt fell in love with a sailor. She could have had a Hollywood executive but she gave m to a sailor, and he sailed away and never came back. They say he died in the war, but he probably had a wife in America. My other aunt fell in love with a Flying Tiger pilot, and it turned out he was married. I swore I would never let this happen to me. You can’t give me what I want.” At that she grabbed her coat and fur hat and muff and rushed out of the door, slamming it behind her.
I slipped into my clothes as fast as I could, not even bothering to put on my shoes, and ran down the steps to the lobby. By the time I got there she was gone. I rushed up to the desk. “Where did the girl go?” I asked.
“She go half hour before,” the receptionist said.
“A half hour ago!” I shouted. “What girl you talking about?” “Chinese girl who come from Tsingtao,” he said.
“She came here and was waiting?” I asked.
“Same, same,” he replied stoically.
“What did you tell her?” I demanded.
“Me talkie her she was no allowed here,” he answered.
“Me say you cannot come down. You in room with Russian girl fiend.”
I reached out and grabbed him by his collar, shook him, and sent him flying back against the wall. “You little gook bastard,” I shouted and ran back up the stairs to my room. I dressed as quickly as I could, but it wasn’t quick enough. When I got to the hotel, Ming-Lee had checked out and was gone.
She had to be heading back to Tsingtao, I thought. I caught a pedicab and had the poor fellow peddle as fast as he could to the train station, just in time to see the tram departing for Tiensin. Ming-Lee was gone.