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A mouse scurried along the thick wooden beams and Chen Mu’s gaze followed its silhouette until it disappeared behind the bunches of onions and garlic hanging from the ceiling. Beside him his mother slept, and the anger that had been festering in his belly ignited into hate. In the pre-dawn grey he could make out the shape of her cheekbones, the pale skin stretched dry and tight over bone before it darkened in the hollows beneath her eyes. She snored, her mouth open, and her stale breath sickened him. He wanted to kick her. Shake her awake and demand to know why she was sending him away to live amongst the barbarians. He was only seven, had never even been outside his village, and now she was sending him to the other side of the world.

She mumbled and turned, moaning and clutching her belly protectively even in sleep. A strand of saliva slid out of the corner of her mouth onto her hair, and pity replaced Chen Mu’s anger as he remembered the blood and putrid mucus he’d seen in their shit-pot, and the way she moved, bent almost double, when she thought him asleep. Gently, he pulled up the quilt and tucked it snug over her shoulders.Read more


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grey-floral-designHe pushed his way through the throng that crowded the footpaths, ignoring the leper showing his sores, the group of professional beggars. He saw a woman up ahead that he thought was Ming Li, but she turned and he saw he was mistaken. The bitter yet sweet pungent smell of opium in the air suddenly sickened him, its soft musky sharpness no longer sensuous as it became one with the smoke from the fires and the smell of frightened, sweating bodies. The wretched humanity around him, the babble of tongues, suddenly provoked nothing in him but annoyance. Nanking Road was but a couple of blocks away and he considered for a moment stopping at the Cathay to drown his frustrations.

The woman he’d mistaken for Ming Li passed him and he realised the only similarity was the hairstyle. Ming Li. LiLi, as he privately thought of her. Since first meeting her and Xueliang at the Cercle Sportif Français, he’d sought out functions where she too was invited – easy to do in a place like Shanghai. And the more he saw of her, the more he wanted her.Read more

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