Saul Friedman exited the funeral hall, still holding his messy clump of flowers.
Big Xian’s sister-in-law warmly smiled through her tears.
‘Thank you for the flowers,’ she whispered.
Saul didn’t hear her.
He slouched towards the exit of the funeral hall.
Civil funerals were never quite his thing.
They always seemed to be missing something.
But then, the entire city was missing something now.
Never would Saul eat chicken balls or dim sum again!
He just didn’t have the heart.
Well, perhaps one day he would.
But he would never admit it to himself.
He was stubborn like that.
A little ‘rigorous,’ as he liked to call it.
‘These are lovely flowers,’ Genevieve repeated again.
Saul dully raised his head.
‘You brought these for our Xian, then?’
Saul grunted and almost imperceptibly lowered his chin.
And up again.
‘How nice,’ Genevieve said, her voice trembling.
‘And… how unusual.’
She reached out her hand.
Saul frowned, not quite understanding the gesture.
‘Well… I was only wondering if I may hold… but of course… if you’d rather…’
Saul blinked and slowly extended the bouquet.
‘Is there… is there perhaps any chance we may keep one? You’ve really been so very, very kind to big Xian. He always says he has so many good friends. And yet.. and yet… so few have turned up today. Well… well now! Perhaps it is the weather.’
Saul momentarily contemplated mentioning that this was actually an extraordinarily mild January, by all that he’d heard.
But he eventually decided that actually, this was just all these here neurotypical folks with these curious conventions of theirs. The code was not always so easy to crack, but long years of hard experience had given him some fairly decent competency in the curious symbolic to ‘n’ fro of all them ‘normal folks.’
So it seemed, then, that Genevieve, the wife of Big Xian’s brother Di (not to be confused with his other sister-in-law in China, the daughter of a prominent Party Figure in Qinghai province), was not really intending to make a casual observation about the weather at all.
Well, it was understandable that in this kind of situation, one might wish to speak a little thus… ‘indirectly.’ But what Saul could never in a million years comprehend, no, not in the least, was…
Why the ‘neuronormals’ just took it so damn far?
In a situation like this, yes let’s all use language and words to shield us from painful truths. But in politics? In geopolitics? In international relations? Who gave them the goddamn right to weasel around, like words didn’t matter, and the end somehow inevitably justified the means! These bitches! Ahhh, these frickin’ bitches!
He almost said it out loud.
‘Guess it ain’t much for an old friend,’ he murmured, almost inaudibly.
‘Oh. Oh no. On the contrary. Really, you have been so very, very thoughtful. So deeply considerate. I mean, really. Why, it’s not even the custom here. Now, I don’t know how you thought about it, but these little flowers; well, they really do mean a great deal to us.’
‘Good,’ Saul grunted, shifting uncomfortably in his shoes, and rather wishing he was somewhere else right now.
‘Care to have a little bit of this tea? For, you know, Big Xian was so… just so, so, very good for these beautiful teas, you know.’
‘No,’ Saul said, inadvertently snorting and spluttering like a Neanderthal.
A few steps later, it dawned on him that he had not responded quite correctly.
He half-turned on his heels, looked back, and tried to whisper:
‘No, thank you.’
But the words died on his breath.