Sitting alone in the bed, Amanda looked out her apartment window at the busy Beijing street. People rode by on bicycles with their groceries in wicker baskets. In the distance, factory smoke billowed from the many smokestacks.
Around her, dragon statues sat cluttered on her desk, her bookshelves, some on the floor. Some were made of bamboo, others of jade, and others of bronze. She loved dragons. She knew about dragons in American films and books, but they were just figments of imagination, cartoon creatures who let children ride on their backs. Chinese dragons, however, were unique in their own right: the four dragons that represented the seasons, the Yellow Dragon that emerged from the River Lou to show people the elements of writing, and Fucanglong, the dragon that guards treasures. These dragons were extraordinary beings that helped their gods.
Out of the corner of her eye, Amanda caught a movement in her bedroom. It wasn’t big, just a minuscule flutter, as if one of her dragon drawings on the wall had billowed in the wind. So tiny that she almost missed it.
At first, she ignored the movement but then realized that none of her windows were opened and the air was stagnant, like a summer day without air-conditioning. So she focused her eyes on the east side of her wall near her closet. Then she saw him, a small dragon. He was crawling out of her painting and across the plaster wall, defying gravity. As he reached a crack in the plaster, he lost his balance, tumbled down to the floor, and brushed himself off. Looking a bit ruffled, he gazed up at Amanda as if surprised to see her. Amanda stared back, feeling as if she were looking at a lizard, but do lizards brush themselves off?
“How are you?” he said in a voice that sounded tiny but deep, authoritative.
Amanda said nothing.
“I’m the ninth son of the dragon. People call me Ping.” Ping held out his hand for Amanda to shake.
Amanda just stared.
“No?” Ping glanced around. “This is awkward.”
“Awkward ...no, this is insane.”
Ping hopped up onto the windowsill and looked outside. “Cities like your Beijing have become full of people, street vendors, noise ... traffic. For goodness sake, people value their phones more than their culture. No one visits any of the great temples to touch the magic stones. Now they buy them on eBay. No one believes in dragons.” The dragon looked around the room, noticing all the dragon drawings on the wall and dragon sculptures. “Except maybe you. Why’re you so obsessed?”
“I guess because I wish I could go back to when dragons were appreciated, when people interacted face to face, no emoticons, just actually took the time to get to know each other, when people believed in the magic of ancestral spirits. Wouldn’t the world be better?”
“I can bring you back.” Ping took her hand, stepped into the wall, and pulled her right through.