And the story continues…
Every time Ryan walked into China Town he was entranced by the similarities and differences of the Chinese encampment. Rows of white tents, cooking fires, but wooden lines of neatly sanded poles for hanging washing from, and banners with chinese figures and the ever present smell of incense and strange food.
He walked slowly so as not to miss anything, not matter how many times he made the journey, with Henri at the end, waiting for him in the doorway of his shop, immaculate in white (no matter the time of day), with black embroidered buttons and a thick ebony plat over his left shoulder just as he was the first time Ryan came upon him, welcoming him with exuberant gestures and an unfailing smile.
“I see you coming, Mlister,” Henri said, his unlined face beaming and nodding (months on he continued to use this as his greeting when Ryan came into sight). The first afternoon, as the sun kissed the horizon and a cool wind picked up, Henri’s small intense black eyes regarded Ryan with interest through the small round glasses huddled at the end of is nose. “You come for good price, yes? You come see Henli, yes?”
“Yes,” Ryan had said. “You offer a fair price?”
“Henli always flare plice, Mlister. Come, come.”
Henri’s store smelt exotic but familiar, of smoke and roses which reminded Ryan of home… the smoke from the kitchen chimney and the scent of his mother’s roses rising in the early morning air. Later Ryan learnt the smell was incense and part of Henri’s spiritual offerings.
The juxtaposition of East meets West permeated every nook and cranny of the immaculately laid out store, which Ryan noted in the late afternoon sun, was free of dust unlike the European competition up the hill. Between the rope and canvas, there were bunches of dried herbs, next to the black iron cooking posts, small boxes of ornate tea pots and tiny cups without handles brightly painted with dragons and foreign symbols. Even the straw brooms looked different, standing next to the galvanised buckets.
When Ryan was done, Henri heaped the items onto a dust-free counter and began to shift beads across a rack.
“What’s that?” Ryan asked, as Henri’s fingers skimmed quickly in time with muttering under his breath.
“Abacus. Ancient counting device. Now shush Mlister. Hen-Lee tinking.”
“No cash register.”
“And those?” Ryan pointed behind the counter to the wall of wooden drawers flanking Henri instead of the shelves with soap, kerosene and matches he’d seen in the other stores.
“Apothcaly,” Henri told him. “I not just tlade in this,” he pointed to the canvas, ropes and cooking bits and piece. “… but in… wellness.”
Henri stopped working on the abacus. “Hen-lee help sick people well and well people no get sick. You Eulopeans… you always sick. You get sick Mlister, you come see me, Henli make good. Now Mlister shush.”
“I shall remember that Mr Hen-lee,” Ryan said.
“No Mlister… just Hen-lee.”
“You have my word Hen-Lee. Now, Mlister please shush.”
Maureen Anderson would have initially been proud of her son, for finding a better price. She would have had issue though with her youngest son conducting business with someone like Henri, who she would certainly have believed to be well below the lowest of the low in Aberdeen and not someone to trust in best.
After a time of silence Henri looked up and said. “Vely good, yes, Mlister?” He scrutined the abacus and wrote down strange figures on a piece of paper. “Henli do special deal,” and into the price (which of course was cheaper than his European trading partners) Henri organised someone to help Ryan raise his tent.
“Henli and Mlister be fliends, yes?” Henri said, as he counted out the English money with a gleeful look on his face.
Ryan nodded his head, extending his hand and the two men shook.
“You come tomollow and we have tea. Special tea.”
“Yes in evening. When shops all closed.”
Having organised to collect his new possession in the morning and returning to the hotel room he’d booked for the night, Ryan knew with a sickening certainty his mother would most heartily disapprove not just his business transaction with Henri, even if he got it for a better price, but the promise of friendship with a man like Henri. Like most other Europeans she would consider Henri a threat to commerce and religious and social stability.