By Glyn Hedeg
"Hello, you want buy?"
"Wo kan kan, I'm just looking." The words came without thinking, and the stallholder subsided. I silently blessed my Chinese colleague who had taught me the phrase while I looked to see if there was anything I could buy for the publishing team back home.
"Wo zai kan ni. I'm looking at you." The voice came from behind me, warm, feminine and alluring. I thought I had grown immune to calls in the market place, but my body turned around without thinking.
Standing there was Jien, who had acted as an interpreter for the last few weeks while I travelled to the villages outside Beijing. The first thing I saw was her smile. I knew she was pretty, but the smile was stunning. It seemed to cover her whole body, starting at the mouth and moving up to the crinkles by her deep brown eyes. Even the way she stood seemed to be part of it. With the smile, she was almost a different person.
"You're going home soon?"
"My flight's on Monday. They let me stay the weekend as I'm not likely to come back again."
"That's a pity. I've enjoyed collecting the old stories with you."
"Well, we've got more than enough for one book. My boss is pretty happy. He's already got some writers adapting them for the western market."
"You should be having a celebration then?"
"I guess so. I haven't seen anything I want to buy."
"Let's go together."
I was slightly surprised by her forwardness, as she had seemed uninterested in me while working. She had completely changed her style. Instead of plain jeans and top, she had red sandals, a tight white skirt, a white blouse with hints of redness under it, and a red silk tied loosely round her neck.
"Is there a night club near here?"
"I love dancing. I could do the dance of the seven veils for you." The smile intensified, with a promise hidden behind it. I stuttered as I tried to reply.
"Isn't that Arabic?"
"I like foreign. I think you might too."
"Please sir, you buy from me?" The stallholder actually grabbed my arm and turned me around. "I have many things you would like, very good to give as gifts." She picked up fans and started opening them to show me the designs. "Very cheap, sir. Best quality." As she spoke, and pile of fans grew, I saw her eyes flicking to look behind me, a slightly worried look on her face.
"No thanks. I really don't want any of these."
"You heard him. Please don't be so rude." Jien smiled as she spoke to the trader, who backed off hurriedly.
"This is the first veil," she said pleasantly, slowly untying her scarf and pushing it gently into my trouser pocket. "Let's go."
We stepped out into the street later in the evening. The music had been a mix of western and Chinese, fast and slow. The club was still packed, but for some reason we'd always had more than enough space to dance together.
"Are all the nightclubs here air conditioned?" I asked.
"Only the best."
"I'm glad that one was. I'm hot again already." The air outside was humid, in spite of the relative cool of the night, and I was beginning to sweat again.
"Take your shirt off then."
"Is that okay?"
"I'll do it too, if you like."
I wasn't sure if she was joking or not, until she grinned at me.
"Are you sure we won't we get arrested or something?"
"China has moved on, you know."
A light breeze blew, and I noticed her perfume again. It had followed us through the night club, and suddenly I was filled with the urge to do something out of the ordinary. I pulled my shirt over my head, and smiled back at her.
She undid the buttons slowly, one at a time, and turned away as she slipped her blouse over her shoulders.
"Do I get to kiss you if it comes all the way off?" she flirted.
"If you like."
Her bra was the same red as her shoes, sheer enough to tantalise without revealing. She took my hand and pulled me close. I had to bend a little to kiss her. As we nuzzled into each others' neck, I felt a sudden sharp pain across my shoulder.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." The pain had already gone, and something was making me feel safe and secure. Warmness spread from my neck to the whole of my body, and I began to feel this dream might go on forever.
"That's the second veil gone," she murmured into my ear. "Shall we go somewhere to deal with the others?"
I felt I was floating, and could go anywhere, do anything. "Let's. Do you have anywhere in mind?"
"My house isn't far from here."
The block of flats was showing signs of wear, but was clearly home to a lot of people based on the number of lit windows. Jien typed in a code on the front door and drew me into the tiled lobby. She held my hand loosely while we waited for the lift.
"Time for the third veil. Take your shoes off." We did it one handed, so we didn't have to let go. I felt proud to keep my balance. Maybe my muzzy feeling was from the drinks we had earlier, but it felt so good I didn't want it to stop. The lift doors opened and we walked in, turning to press the button.
"Hold the lift, please." A man rushed into the foyer and stuck his hand out to stop the doors from closing. When he looked at us, colour drained from his face.
I didn't understand what he said, but he pointed to my shoulder, his eyes jumping between Jien and me. I looked at the large oval ring of red dots. I'd not seen them before, but wasn't worried.
"It's only a heat rash," I said calmly, but it was clear he didn't speak well enough English to understand me.
Jien smiled. "Wait a moment." She stepped in front of me and said something firmly and quietly to the man. He lowered his eyes, and he bowed slightly as he left the lift.
"So sorry," I heard him say as the doors closed and we started moving up.
I lay on the bed, Jien astride me. My whole body was tense, almost burning with expectation, but I had never felt calmer. I looked up into her smile, and shuddered as another wave of pleasure swept through me.
"What about the seventh veil?" All her clothes were lying on the floor next to me, shed during our dancing. Maybe it was a euphemism.
"Now, if you like."
She took my wrist and leaned towards me. With the palm of my hand, she wiped her mouth, and the smile, her beautiful smile, came away. Behind the smile was a mouth unlike any I'd seen before. Needle-like at the edge, serrated across the front, and large crushing teeth partially hidden in the back. Her head seemed larger now, to contain the mouth that must have been at least as wide as my head. Her limbs lost the smoothness of youth, and turned grey, but I still saw beauty in every part.
Amazingly, I still felt no alarm as she took my hand into her mouth and bit down. Instead of pain, I felt a gentle caress across my fingers as the bones were crunched by her chewing. I was pleasantly surprised that there was no blood. Somehow the wound sealed itself, so her perfect body wasn't stained by grisly smudges.
She bent right down and took a bite out of my bicep, taking it nearly to the bone.
"You taste amazing," she breathed, her voice still alluring. It felt so good that she was enjoying me, and my pleasure increased. As she gradually swallowed more and more of me, the feeling of gentle touch across my body increased and became more sensual. The euphoria increased as she devoured me, and instead of dying away, it continued until she finally took my head into her mouth, and I exploded with ecstasy.
The feelings gradually faded and it went dark. I could still hear her body digesting, and her heart calming. The peace remained with me, and stayed. I have no idea how long I was there, comforted by her heart and the muffled voices that occasionally burst into my awareness.
Then I felt squeezed on all sides. Every few minutes it came, the gap gradually getting shorter and shorter. Her heart rate soared, and I felt a level of excitement beginning to build. The pressure continued, forcing me into a narrow gap, until with one final push, my head burst out into the light. I felt something slide across my face and slither over my whole body. Another push and I was in the cold and light, after so much comfort.
"Let me back," I yelled, or at least, I tried to. To my surprise, nothing intelligible came out at all.
"It's a girl," I heard someone say. "She's beautiful. Look at that smile"
"Babies can't smile until they're about six weeks," a male voice corrected.
I was dried and cleaned, and passed to my mother.
"You are truly beautiful," she murmured. "I can't wait for you to grow. We'll have so much fun together."