The Grey Heron
by Shannon Taylor
The patio, at twelve o’clock on a sunny day in August, was oppressively hot. The shade from the large banyan trees that surrounded the restaurant provided some relief, and occasionally a light breeze from the Pearl River stirred the air. Ned Lewiston sat under a bright blue umbrella studying the menu. He was trying to picture the Chinese version of quesadillas, but when the waitress—”Doris” according to her name tag—appeared he decided to err on the side of caution and order sweet and sour chicken.
Doris smiled and took his menu. “Thank you very much,” she said in careful English. She turned and began to make her way back to the kitchen through the crowded maze of tables and chairs that were starting to fill with the lunch crowd.
Ned leaned back in the plastic chair and took a sip of iced tea. Sparrows pecked at crumbs on the pavement at his feet. He watched a boat full of tourists sail by, then picked up the newspaper he’d brought. He started to read but after a while realized he’d been reading the same sentence over again. He put the paper down, took another sip of iced tea, and watched his fellow diners settle in.
He knew, of course, that many tourists on Shamian Island were families staying at the White Swan Hotel while they waited for appointments with the U.S. Consulate for final approval to adopt Chinese babies. Minnie’s Restaurant was popular with the families, with its offerings of burgers and shakes and other western-style food. Ned had found himself returning every day for lunch since his arrival in Guangzhou a week earlier. He enjoyed practicing his Chinese, rusty though it was, with the wait staff, and they in turn were eager to work on their English with him.
More than anything, he was glad to be distracted from his thoughts.