A Boy Named Hu

The school called. Again. He can hear his wife’s anxious, incredulous voice. She comes back to sit at his side, cradling her mobile phone. “Well?” he asks. “He wasn’t at school today,” she says, wringing her pretty hands. If she wrings them any tighter, she might manage to extract some of the anxiety she feels. He breathes deeply to stem the anger that has risen. Exhales, trying to control his voice. “We cannot leave work every time he goes missing. He will be back to eat.” She shoots him a furious look. “We are talking about my son, not a stray dog!” The familiar scene repeats, ending in tears and apologies, both the mother and step-father in a state.

A client calls for their attention. She offers him a seat on a footstool as he takes off his shoes. She pours her special brand of hot water and herbs to relax and soothe the feet. The men make small talk as the client’s feet soak. The wife is massaging his shoulders, back and neck. She is kneading the muscles and her frustration and fear for her son evaporates. Her job consumes all her attention. She must be focused to do it well. She cannot allow herself to be distracted by worry. As the client relaxes, she gets into a rhythm. “Shall I do the head too? It’s extra.” The client agrees. He is putty in her hands. The cranial technique is like opening a valve. She likes to think of it as a Ouija board. She lightly touches the head and it responds on its own, revealing secrets.

Time for the feet now. Her husband has prepared the lounge chair with fresh towels. He dries the client’s feet and props them on the footstool. It’s a busy day on the street and the client takes in the hustle and bustle from his oasis. The foot and leg massage has begun, with the husband expertly applying lotion to one foot and rubbing and massaging pressure points on one foot, then the other. He’s working on a few rather painful points as his wife is offering tea and a snack of dried plums. She wraps the kneaded feet into a hot towel and rubs them then dries them. The husband continues working up the leg, and into the thigh, then handles the other.

They make a great team. They have a steady stream of clients and cannot resume their conversation about Hu. They close shop at supper time. They live upstairs so it’s not like they waste time in the commute. They hardly ever give each other a massage, though she would sorely need his healing hands today. She complains of a headache. He offers tea, but no massage. He is tired too, and anxious she knows. The boy has not returned, and night has fallen. He can feel her gaze on him though she says nothing. He tries to read the paper, knows he won’t escape it. He puts his mobile phone in his pocket. “Call me if he comes back,” he says softly as he heads out for the Internet cafes.

Hu is possessed by the gaming demon, has been since he was a boy. As a teenager, he is even harder to corral, and all their efforts have come to nothing. Hu dreams of fame, of being discovered. He haunts Internet cafes where he is a local celebrity. His parents want him to have normal dreams, at ground level. He wants nothing to do with the business. It is a rough patch like all parents and children go through. They hope that with patience and love he will find his way into the foot massage business, an honourable occupation, if not profitable. The father walks the streets alone, entering arcades and cafes, on his fool’s errand, handling the phone in his pocket to feel the vibration that will call him home. Being a father can be a lonely business.

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