Frogs
Tai Dong Huai
Break
They were alone in one of the upper rooms of the Yishiyuan Hotel, just getting ready to go down to dinner, when the phone in their room rang. Their translator— "facilitator," he preferred to be called— was downstairs in the lobby.
"The baby is here," he announced. "Can we come up?"
As my adoptive mom tells the story, they were both exhausted— close to delirious— from the twenty-hour plane trip from Kennedy. Neither had slept more than an hour or two, but what were they going to say? The whole reason they'd traveled 7,000 miles to China was now eleven floors beneath them.
When they opened their door, the facilitator— a young Chinese guy who called himself "Bobby"— led the others into the room. The orphanage administrator— a woman of indeterminable years— followed, and behind her a severely retarded boy. The boy, an orphan himself no doubt, carried me under his arm as if I was a stack of school books.
Neither of my prospective parents was ready for this. They had been told that they would receive me the following day, after a needed night's sleep, at the orphanage in Taizhou. Afterward, they would start the long, bureaucratic adoption process. "But be prepared," the adoption agent back in the states had warned. "It's China. Anything can happen."
While the orphanage administrator surveyed the surroundings, the retarded boy unceremoniously stuck me in my adoptive mom's arms. For the rest of his time in the room, he sat on the bed and fiddled the dials on the clock radio.
"Turn off air conditioner," the administrator barked. "Baby not used to air conditioning."
Nanjing is known as one of China's "three furnaces" for a reason. This particular August evening the outside temperature was at least ninety, and the humidity hung like damp, heavy drapery. Still, my adoptives, perhaps in the interests of hurrying things along, did as they were told. When my adoptive dad offered to get Cokes from the machine in the hallway, the administrator stopped him with an upheld palm.
"Baby hungry," she said. "First feed baby." And to my adoptive mom: "Baby need change. You change baby."
Whatever they were ordered to do, they did. They fumbled, they spilled powdered formula on the carpet, they put the disposable diaper on backwards. But they hustled. They remained, under the circumstances, cool-headed. The orphanage administrator, if not impressed, found them to be, at least, satisfactory. Before leaving she posed for a picture, taken by Bobby with a timer, of all of us. Even the retarded boy, responsive to command, reluctantly turned from the clock radio to gape at the camera.
And then it was just the three of us. A moment of stillness. My mom, her arms exhausted, tried to put me down. I wailed. She tried to pick me back up, but I screamed even louder. My father took a shot, but I continued going off like the victim of a murder-in-progress. At first, nothing could calm me. Not the American toys they brought, nor the Western fairy tales they read, nor the bright red pacifier they pushed toward my uncooperative lips. I only began to settle when they started to hop. How they came upon this solution they cannot, or will not, say. But the image is strong. A ten-month old Chinese girl in a hotel-issued crib, and two middle-aged white people hopping around the room in order to keep her still.
Even after two hours, after the people below banged on the ceiling and the couple next-door complained to the desk clerk, they continued to hop. "Like frogs," my adoptive mom will say at this point. "Sometimes together, sometimes taking turns, but never stopping until you finally fell off to sleep."
"We didn't know what we were going to do," my adoptive dad will add. "We were afraid we'd made the biggest mistake of our lives."
"But it wasn't," I'll say. "Right?"
My mom will smile and say, "We had them send up the two coldest beers they had."
"And then," my adoptive dad will add, "we turned on the air conditioner."
Tai Dong Huai's fiction has appeared, or is scheduled, in elimae, Hobart, Word Riot, Wigleaf, 971 Menu, Dark Sky, and other great places.