Okay, where were we?
Xiao Tong’s bike was lying in the street, but she wasn’t there. The ambulance had just taken her away, someone said, but no one in the crowd seemed to know where she’d gone. A woman stepped forward and handed me her cell phone, which she’d apparently dropped. An old guy with just a few teeth kept pointing and shouting about something, but I couldn’t understand a word. I asked red coat what her name was. Xiao Li, she told me. She works for a family just down the street from me, and she and Xiao Tong are neighbors. They were riding in together, and she saw the whole thing. There was, she said in English, “very much blood.”
I called the people at the front desk in my housing compound. They speak English, so I explained what had happened and asked if they could track down where a 999 ambulance might have taken my ayi. They promised to look into it and call me back. I dug in my purse for a pen to write down what I was being told. I found: a diaper, a box of wipes, three stale teddy grahams, a packet of tissues, my wallet, a straw from a juice box, and some random coins from two different countries. I did not find a pen. I looked at the crowd of men standing in front of me and remembered that someone once told me that if you pronounce the word for “pen” with the wrong tone, you are actually saying an obscenity for the female anatomy.
“Anyone have a pen?” I asked, and no one giggled. So I figured, either I pronounced it right, or more likely, I pronounced it wrong, but they were all too shocked to say anything. After a pause, a guy with a long fu manchu thing growing on his face produced a pen for me. Phew.
The police arrived. They told me (I thought) to go get my car and come back for her bike. So I trotted back toward my car as quickly as my middle-aged legs could carry me. Amazingly, the car was still there, and it hadn’t been rammed by a bus or anything. I found my way back to the accident scene and waited… and waited… and waited some more, for the police to tell me what had become of Xiao Tong.
When they’d finished taking pictures and measuring and interviewing and doing all those things I know so well from Law & Order re-runs, they finally handed me a couple of pieces of paper. The first was a receipt for her bike, which they wouldn’t be letting me take after all. I think they explained why, but you know, this is China, so unlike the usual Law & Order episodes, they were all speaking Chinese. A lot went over my head. The second piece of paper was the one I really needed: it gave the name of the hospital where she’d been taken. But, ummm… were you not listening when I explained the Chinese thing? Yep, the paper was written entirely in Chinese characters, except for the numbers “999,” which I happen to know is the number for the ambulance service.
I asked, in Chinese, “Where is this hospital?” They answered, “It’s the 999 hospital,” and added on lots more Chinese words, none of which I understood.
So I thanked them, took the paper and drove back to my housing compound, hoping someone there could translate the paper for me. On my way back, the cell phone rang. It was Xiao Tong. “Donna, where are you?” she asked.
“Where are you?” I replied. “I’m trying to find you.”
“I’m at the 999 hospital,” she answered, “and the doctor lent me her cell phone. I don’t know where mine is.”
“Where is the 999 hospital?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “Please, can you come here?”
At this point, I’m smacking the steering wheel in frustration. It’s been almost 2 hours since she first called, and I’m no closer to finding her than I was. But at least I know she’s in a hospital, somewhere in Beijing.
(okay, gotta go put the laundry in the dryer...)