Got a meeting, running late. Be down in 15 minutes. I’ll come and get you.
I can hear Bian’s voice in her email: sharp, clipped phrases, an almost accusatory tone, even when she’s in a good mood. It’s just an artifact of a thick SE Asian accent I can’t place. I close the mail app and step back from my phone. It’s 11:45, she’ll be here around noon… I start to pace around my desktop. I’m not scared, I just have a lot of energy.
We go for walks, Bian and I do. It was her idea, or it was something she was doing long before she brought it up in a staff meeting. To appear engaged, one of the managers asked the room what they do to stay refreshed, keep healthy. The outdoorsy types had their long lists of hiking, biking, kayaking, all that kind of stuff. A couple other people made noises like it might be fun to do, but I was the only one who actually caught up with her after the meeting and asked if I could come along.
Her wide mouth opened to make room for a large laugh. “You? Hah! Puny li’l you? What good are you?” Hurt at the time, I would later learn this was her sense of humor. She talked tough and came off as abrasive, but this was just a front, coming off as tough to compensate for her short stature. Small and scrappy, raised in SE Asia. I think that’s what let me slip behind her armor: she didn’t need any pretense of toughness around me, vulnerable as I am.
“I can’t walk as fast as you,” I said, “obviously. But you could bring me with you for the conversation.”
“Hah! I don’t need no conversation! Jus’ me and my thoughts, dat’s all I need.”
“You like being alone with your thoughts?”
“I din’t say dat.” Some people found it difficult to chat with Bian, when she dodged and wove and contradicted herself in a simple exchange. For some reason I found it intriguing.
“There you go. And if you ever want to take a break somewhere, you can watch me walk around you. We’ll both get our exercise.”
She swore and snarled and regarded me askance, but we became a pair. Once a week, she’d come down to my office in Legal. Easier for her to come down here and come get me.
Those three words: come get me. So charged. It doesn’t mean the same thing for anyone else, that was for damn sure.
I walked around my desk a couple more times. I really didn’t need such a large desk, no, I didn’t. It was clear even to me I was trying to prove something to my peers. Short Man’s Syndrome, you could call it, though it’s much more than that. But one simple call to HR could clear all this up. They’d set up an appointment with an ergonomic specialist, the company would pay for the evaluation, and I’d be fitted with a desk, chair, and online interface scaled to my specific needs. I really should do that, I thought to myself, rounding a pile of papers.
“You ready?” Bian’s braying voice shattered my inner peace. I looked up, caught flat-footed on the far edge of my desk, far from where I “sit,” opposite where my smartphone rests in its easel, tethered to a laptop. And she walks up to the far edge of the desk, the edge where I’m standing, parking her hips right up against the vinyl bumper ringing the pressboard surface.
She’s wearing jeans today, and the edge of the desk bites gently into their fly, into her lean and rangy thighs where they socket into her pelvis. I walk up to her, raising my eyes respectfully to greet her face. Her thick lips spread in a wide grin and her nostrils flare, especially round, as she snorts at me.
“Useless li’l you, look at you. Were you doing your laps around your desk?” She parks thin, small fists upon her hips. She peers down at me over cute breasts in a hot pink T-shirt. Not for the first time, I’m amazed at what they get away with, up in Administration.
“No, I was just pacing, waiting for you to get out of your meeting.”
Without a word, her hand unfolds and swipes me off the desk. For such spindly arms, for such a short person, she’s got kinda large hands. Square palms of rosy flesh, incredibly soft and usually warm. Off we go.
The dim light of my office gives way to the brilliant glare of the hallway. Over the shuck-shuck-hummm of the printer I hear slabs of foam slapping against bare soles. Bian wears dollar-store flipflops all year round, but then our seasons never vary as greatly as other states. And really, if you think about it, it’s not only economical for her to buy cheap, comfortable flipflops, but it’s good for her feet, too. They’re not constricted, they breathe well. She could trim her toenails a couple times a year, but still.
I have strong opinions about Bian’s feet. We have a close relationship.
The copier shuts up when the heavy door closes behind us. Her flipflops smack against the stairs in a staccato flutter, ringing in the stairwell. There’s no point in trying to talk now: I just ride along in her fist as she hustles us out of the building.
As soon as we’re out, her pace slows. The echo of the polished floors gives way to distant cars and the rustle of wind through the tops of trees. It’s a beautiful summer day, I can see as she rests me upon her shoulder. The huge hand cups around me as I find my footing on her slim trapezius, wrapping my fists up in the thick strands of Asian hair. As short as she is, I still can’t quite come up to her ear. Going up on tippy-toes would be a stupid idea, what with my tiny shoes digging into the soft and narrow ridge of her muscle, while the rest of her body is rumbling with every massive stride. Instead, I just clench her glossy, thick hair and shout up into her ear.
“How was your weekend?” That’s how I always start. It’s not very interesting but I only see her once a week, so it’s something to talk about. She tells me about the art fair, and mostly she’s critical of the pottery but found a couple paintings she liked. She tells me about going out to dinner with her family, how her mother doesn’t like any place she recommends but always ends up going to the first place she mentions. She swears about how her stupid father won’t go to the doctor for a simple examination, even though he’s clearly in pain. I ask her about cultural difference, she shrugs and nearly dislodges me, and she’s careful to appear unconcerned about this. We turn corners and cross streets and wait at lights. The sun warms her hair, and I’m wrapped in a breeze of wildflower shampoo. I close my eyes and hum quietly, clenching tighter against the dizziness of the sun’s warmth or hers. Or both. Hard to tell. I let my body sag slightly and sway with her footsteps.
I hear her snort. “Oh, you know, same ol’ thing. Din’ do nothin’. Watched a dumb TV show with my parents. Made a bunch of soup.” She shrugs and I hold on tight. I’m not scared, not after so many walks. She’s never careless, she just likes to challenge me once in a while. She’s also right there in a second if she thinks I’m slipping, though she hates to appear concerned. And now that there’s no fear paired with her shrugs, I can appreciate the various aspects of that mechanism, how the rising collarbone casts new shadows upon her smooth skin, the feeling of the muscles tensing and sliding around beneath my feet. It’s exciting, really, being so close to the inner workings of such a large… of this woman. I feel like the messages that come up through my feet let me know more and better information about her than anyone else gets to share.
I too struggle to appear cool and detached. “What kind of soup?”
“Dumplings. Noo-dulls.” Holy crap, I love her accent. “Dat kind of thing. I jus’ made a bunch so I don’ have to do it for two weeks.”
“Is that for the whole family?”
We go on like this, as she drops scraps of information and I ask dumb questions to keep the conversation going. Bian will never ask me about myself, and I’m fine with that. It used to hurt, but that’s just her way: if she asked, then you’d know she cared, and she only feels comfortable when people don’t think she cares. I don’t know who hurt her in the past. I’m guessing it was some boyfriend (or maybe one of her shitty parents) who betrayed her trust and made her scared to open up to other people. At the same time, she answers all my questions.
That’s the thing with this gentle giantess: when you don’t know her, so much of her behavior is hurtful and offensive. The comments she makes in a meeting to make someone feel stupid, how she belittles me (no pun intended) when we go out for our walks, how she never asks about my life. It feels incredibly awkward at best and callous at worst, but like I said, there’s a reason for everything and most of it’s just pretense. When I realized it was a kind of game, then I knew I could participate, and once I did that she let me in. In her way. Somewhat.
Most people don’t get that close. They choose to stay offended and keep her away, and maybe I’m the only person who knows how much that hurts her. As you might imagine, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle: she does something dumb that hurts people around her, they keep her at a distance, and she tells herself that other people don’t like her. I’ve tried to explain this to the other Bigs in my office, but they’re pretty married to their hurt. It’s just easier to write her off as an asshole, I guess.
“Beautiful weather today.”
She grimaces; I see her cheek pull and she shades her eyes with one massive hand. “Too bright. Din’ bring my shades.”
“It’s supposed to be this nice all week.”
“Darn, dat means I gotta wear sunscreen. Don’ wanna get cancer!” Braying laughter.
“I like your shirt.”
“Well, it’s a dumb shirt, so of course you’d like it.”
I get it. It’s a childish game, and people can easily mistake it for her actively seeking mean things to say. Sometimes it’s exhausting even for me. It helps that I have a raging crush on my coworker, I’m aware of this. It makes me tolerant and generous, and at times it keeps her off-balance. It’s true! If you’re too kind to someone who’s being too mean, for too long, then they understand you’re operating with rules that aren’t familiar to them.
“I don’t think it’s a dumb shirt.”
“Well, it is. I jus’ t’rew it on ’cause I don’ care what I wear to work.”
“I like how it hangs on you.”
“It fits you well. The shoulder, right where I’m standing, it curves over you like it loves you.”
Bian flinches, holding herself back from reaching up and tugging the shoulder of her shirt askew, only because I’m standing here and she doesn’t want to knock me off. “Shut up, you’re being dumb.”
“And then it runs over your body, clinging in all the right places.”
That gets her, every time. “What are you saying!” she splutters.
“It makes me envious.”
And I know I’ve won when she stammers and can’t think of something mean to say. Bian huffs and quickens her stride, and the thunderous impact travels up her heels, up her legs, through her lean, curvy body, into my own feet and legs and body, with an increased tempo. But as fast as her little legs can carry her, she can’t get away from me.
“You don’t think I’ve thought about that, Bian?”
“What’re you talkin’ ’bout!”
“All the other places I could ride on you, all the places I might fit.”
“You geddin’ into hot water, mister!”
“And your dumb shirt gets to wrap around all of you at once. I wish I was a dumb shirt.”
Something in the concept of that makes her laugh. She throws back her head and brays at the heavens. I think she’s slightly buck-toothed, but it looks good on her. Or else I’m attracted to wide, open mouths that look ready to take anything inside. Her thick lips pull back and expose her gums, which I promise you is a rare event! Usually she works so hard at stifling her laughter, or if she can react in time, she covers her mouth and turns her head. Such a weird streak of modesty in someone who thinks nothing of putting her foot in her mouth during business meetings. Where are the lines drawn? I don’t know. Right now I kneel on her caramel-colored shoulder and grip her hair in one hand and the neck of her shirt in the other, and I ride out her uncharacteristic, helpless laughter.
I love hearing her laugh. It’s not a graceful laugh, but it’s absolutely sincere. When she laughs like this, all her defenses are down, all concerns with appearances go out the window. This is one of my few victories, making the spiteful giantess laugh against her better judgment. I watch the tendons in her neck rise, right next to me; I savor the fluctuations of her throat, grinding beneath her lovely skin. I’m surprised she keeps me up here on her shoulder, as intimate as that is, but I’m glad for it because I never get tired of studying every last detail of Bian’s miraculous body. Sometimes I press my palm to her jugular and feel the hot traffic of blood jetting beneath my touch. Or I’ll reach over and place my hand behind her jaw while she’s talking: her voice vibrates pleasantly through my fingers, and I savor the frightening clash of her teeth that jolts up my arm.
I love knowing so much about her, and maybe I’m best positioned out of anyone in our office to learn all this.
2 thoughts on “Walking with Bian, 1”
The only line of description that gave me pause in the middle of this unlikely friendship: “… wrapping my fists up in the thick strands of Asian hair.” It’s possible that I don’t know enough about hair types, I just hadn’t considered that it could be described as “Asian” outside of certain hairdos, perhaps.
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The last thing I want to do is slip into role of Armchair Ethnographer. All I can say is that in my experience, and especially speaking as someone with baby-fine hair, I have dated women of the SE Asian persuasion who have relatively thick hair. Perhaps that’s more a statement on the narrator than the objective world.
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