“There’s a storm coming,” Leaphorn said, and moved to close the shutters. Zhang removed his ear-buds and glanced up from his monitor, looking out the window. Beijing looked as clear as ever. He dismissed Leaphorn’s prediction with a wave of his hand, rose, and proceeded to make tea. Zhang had to navigate around the thrift-store cast-offs that Leaphorn called furniture in order to get to the hot-plate, which only made his mood worse.
Trouble was, Leaphorn hadn’t been wrong about the storms since he moved in four months ago. It was one of the many things about Leaphorn that quietly pecked at Zhang. His causal ease with Zhang’s native tongue was another. When he had first responded to Zhang’s “roommate wanted” ad, Leaphorn had spoken like those Indians in the old movies, with his Mandarin in harsh, broken sentences. That was part of the reason Zhang wanted him to move in. Now he spoke like he’d lived in Beijing all his life, and his ramshackle chairs were clashing with Zhang’s modernist decor.
“Keep the glass in,” Zhang said over his shoulder.
“You’re insane,” Leaphorn said. “The storm’ll tear up the glass.”
“The glass will be fine,” Zhang said. “Because there is no storm!”
Leaphorn didn’t press. He folded his arms and stood silent. So silent that Zhang could hear the wind picking up.
It started as a low whistle, and a fine yellow tint fell over the cityscape outside the window. Small specks of quartz smacked staccato against the glass pane. The wind’s howl split into two, and then three, whipping up and down the scale with dissonant savagery. The buildings outside were getting lost in the blanket of airborne sand.
Leaphorn raised his eyebrows and motioned to the shutters. Zhang shook his head. He was going to say something, but the machine-gun fire of pebbles on the window drowned him out.
The buildings across the street were now completely obscured. Instead, only ever-shifting patterns of gold and ochre could been seen. Despite his years in Beijing, Zhang had never actually seen a ruin storm before, only heard them from behind ceramic shutters. He has witnessed the damage afterwards, the steel and concrete shredded and worn by the repeated rage of sand and wind. But he had never seen one.
Zhang moved closer the window, shrugging off the hand Leaphorn placed on his shoulder. The chips of quartz had severely scarred the window, making it difficult to see the outside. But Zhang could see the shadows through the amber morass. Things that could be stray newspapers or bicycles or cars or uprooted trees. The window had started cracking, but Zhang didn’t notice. He was transfixed by a particularly bizarre shape tumbling through the sand. One that seemed to be growing bigger.
Zhang was so mesmerized by the chaotic choreography that he didn’t even notice that Leaphorn had tackled him until he was on the floor. The window exploded above them. Sand and glass and quartz spilled into the room like shouted curses. It took the two of them to close fast the ceramic shutters and keep the storm outside.
Zhang coughed and surveyed the devastation . Everything, the walls, the furniture, everything in the apartment was covered with a veneer of fine yellow sand. Everything seemed to be made of sand, all part of one homogenous sculpture. Everything was the same.
Except one thing. Half-submerged in his teapot, almost casually, rested a human hand. Scraped and leaking into the pot, its small, feminine fingers were clenched in a fist, save one. The middle finger remained stiff and erect, even at the cock-eyed angle its position in the teapot afforded it.
Leaphorn was the first to start giggling. It didn’t take long for Zhang to join in. Together, they drowned out the tempest.