When her mother arrived mid-morning to collect her from her aunt’s flat, Neoma insisted on showing her the flowers. “They came for Aunty Mayin at breakfast time,” the girl gushed at her mother. “They’re beautiful!”
Her mother, Ley, had to admit that they were. The arrangement was tall, slender, elegant and sparse. Simple pink flowers climbed up three brown-black bare branches set in a black stone bowl. The accompanying note was similarly intriguing:
I fear that I was inadvertently and unexpectedly both intrusive and inappropriate. Please accept these as my apology for any offence I may have caused. I will contact you at a more convenient time to discuss the possible alleviation of my disability.
It was signed by a group of foreign characters.
“These look like they’ve been done with some sort of stamp,” commented Neoma’s mother to her sister-in-law.
“Yes,” agreed Mayin. “It’s his name. He’s used his private chop, not his command seal.” She paused for a moment. “Ley, this is the first time I’ve been given flowers.”
“And they’re very serious flowers,” agreed Ley. “What does he mean by ‘alleviation of my disability’?”
“They believe that if you have a psychological component to your injuries you can ditch it by paying the person who gave you the injuries to take it away.” Mayin looked at the flowers pensively.
Her sister-in-law asked curiously, “Does that work?”
“About a third of the time,” was the offhanded reply. “Trouble is, I think it got more complicated when he called me a luck witch.”
“More complicated? How?” It was a sharply asked question.
“That’s the problem. I’m not sure.” Mayin kept looking at the flowers.
Two days Mayin emerged from her office building to get some lunch and found him waiting outside, like an island in the stream of pedestrian traffic going in and out of the building. He was wearing the same clothes he’d had on when he’d come to her apartment, the long coat a shade too warm for the weather, and he was standing at parade rest. She almost changed direction and went out another exit but something about the stoic way he stood there, waiting, appealed to her so she went up to him instead.
“Oberxiao.” She stopped just outside his reach. “May I help you?”
“I came to find out if you had accepted my apology and to offer you lunch as a venue for discussing my problem.” He shifted a little uncomfortably on his feet.
She looked at him curiously and asked, “What would you have done if I’d brought my lunch with me today and not come outside?”
He shrugged. “You would still have to leave the building to go home. Today I can afford to wait.”
“Negotiating a price for your disability is so important that you would put up with this,” she indicated the crowd, “all afternoon?”
“My particular disability affects the way I think about myself and limits my social options. Buying it off was important to me but now I wish to negotiate a different solution.”
Mayin consulted her watch. “I can give you forty minutes before I need to start back to my desk. All of these little sit-down places just here are good. We can eat and negotiate at the same time.”
“Excellent,” and he smiled.