His plane had arrived late. Too late to ride the party bus.
Sipping his tea, he watched the old woman sitting at the table closest to the kitchen. Her hands moved lightning fast, manipulating a wooden tongue depressor to place dabs of pork in the wonton wrappers, dipping the makeshift tool into a bowl of water, applying just the right amount to seal the dumplings, shaping them like little sculptures. It was art.
“Excuse me,” he called to her, no servers being about.
The old woman, maybe the owner, looked up over her glasses from her work.
“Could I please get more tea?” He raised the empty pot.
“Yes, sure,” she said, putting down her tongue depressor and rising. She disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a fresh pot.
“You’re hungry too, I bet,” she said, picking up the empty. “You like something for snacks?”
“No, thank you so much, no. They should be coming pretty soon.”
The woman looked into his teacup. “No leaves,” she said. “Good you eat tea leaves, yeah?”
He smiled. “Yes, that’s right, right? You don’t drink it, you eat a bowl of tea.”
“Yes, yes,” she said, “that’s right, that’s right. But still not going to fill you up. And cannot tell your fortune too.” She laughed.
Turning, she disappeared into the kitchen. He checked the time. They should be coming any minute.
If only the flight hadn’t gotten hung up in Chicago. And then instead of SFO, they’d flown him into LAX, one of the worst godawful airports in the world.
I could have been here in plenty of time, he thought. They’re bringing their ‘ukuleles and guitars. Really, there sure are some talented musicians in our class.
He smiled. Of course I hate karaoke, he thought. It’s so rare, he mused, to hear a good karaoke singer. After all, that’s why they’re singing karaoke and not cutting albums. He hoped karaoke would not be prt of tomorrow night’s cruise, dreading this most because he might be forced to sing. His was definitely one of the worst voices in the class.
He checked his phone. It was after 6:00 now.
Must be traffic, he thought.
His phone began to vibrate. He didn’t care for folks who let their phones ring. It could be pretty irritating. Thank goodness the whole ring tone market was nearly dead.
It was Mel. “Hey, Mel,” he answered.
A woman’s voice said, “Is this Mister Lee?”
Puzzled, he said, “Yes, this is he. Who’s this?” He smiled. It had to be another one of his classmates.
“Mister Lee,” the voice said, “I’m Cheryl Chang, a social worker here at Queen’s Hospital. I’m calling – ”
He cut her off. “Queen’s? Is Mel all right? What’s happened?”
There was a long pause. “Mister Lee, there’s been an accident. The bus that Mister Yonamine, ah, Melvin was on, they were involved in a head-on collision, apparently with a truck of some kind. Mister Yonamine and other passengers were brought here. Mister Yonamine asked me to call you.”
He sat there, dumbfounded. An accident.
“How’s Mel?” he asked.
“Well, we’re watching him very closely. Fortunately he’s been downgraded from critical condition.”
“Oh, that’s good,” he said. “You said there were others? Those are all my high school classmates. How many? How are they?”
“I’m afraid I can’t give out that information over the phone, Mister Lee. I can really only tell you about Mister Yonamine since he gave me permission to talk to you.”
“But I mean was anyone hurt more seriously?”
Again there was a long pause. “I, as I said, I, I’m so sorry about your friends. You really need to come here if you’d like to find out more. We’re contacting all of the family members involved as best we can.”
“All?” he said. “You mean there are a lot of injuries?”
“Well, yes, yes there are.”
He didn’t like what he heard in her response.
“Deaths? You’re saying there are deaths?”
“I’m sorry, no, ah, I didn’t say that,” she said.
But he could tell there had been.
“I’ll be right there,” he said.
Hanging up he called again to the old woman who was back to creating one perfect won ton after another. “Excuse, me,”
She looked up. “Yes?”
He stood, “There’s been a terrible accident. The bus, the one my classmate were riding, they, a lot of them, had to be taken to Queen’s Hospital. They won’t be coming here.”
“Oh my,” the old woman said. “I’m so sorry to hear that. We have all the food prepared.”
He looked at her. What did she mean by that? Was she more worried about the food? He knew they’d already paid for it.
Maybe something about his stare prompted her to say, “If any of you want to have something to eat afterward, please call us and we’ll have it ready for you.”
He felt terrible for having wondered about her sympathy.
“Thank you,” he said. “Do I owe you anything for the extra tea?”
“Oh no no no,” she said.
He thanked her again and headed out the door. Dialing up a Lyft, he thought about the bus accident, pictured the collision, his mind shifting from the terrifying exterior impact to the more horrible interior carnage, his classmates being hurled around, mangled. It was all so awful. How many, he wondered.
The Lyft arrived and he jumped in.
“Queen’s Hospital, right, Mister Lee?”
“Yes, yes,” he said, “that’s right, that’s right.”