There is an ancient art among our people, one we all practice eloquently but are never taught. It is the art of saving face.
There is nothing so dishonorable as humiliation, and there is nothing so crass as causing it to others.
We must always allow others a way out of a situation, we must refuse all gifts given us, we must reject all compliments and be as self-deprecating as possible. Only by so doing can we become powerful.
It is true, as the Christians have said. The meek, indeed, shall inherit the earth.
“This really isn’t so bad, Maya. I’ve watched every rerun of MASH”—
“Don’t you dare.”
Landon chuckled. Maya had grown up with strict parents who all but banned frivolous things like watching TV. Maya couldn’t stand the way that Landon parked himself on the couch for Monday night football. She had once tried to make a “TV chart” that gave him half an hour a day and demanded he finish his homework first.
Well, that was one of the things he loved about her.
“Point is, it’s been fine. Kind of… empty, but fine.”
He could hear her breathing on the other line. He smiled. Maya always held the phone too close to her face, like she thought someone might be listening in.
“What about the rent? Are you going to be okay?”
He sighed and ran his hand through his messy, brown hair. “I think I’ll make it. And it’s only a year until you come out—if I can’t convince you to get out here sooner—
“Baby, you know I want to be there. But I have to make sure I can actually afford it first.”
“I know… so until then… I put up some ads around campus. We’ll see. I’m not hoping too much, though.”
“Be careful,” she said. “I’ve seen some of the… well, be careful.”
He laughed. “This is why you have to get out here. That was completely unfair. Your first time ever in California we didn’t need to go to a random beach… where we didn’t read the signs….”
She laughed too. He loved when he could make her laugh—it made him feel like he could do anything.
“I’m just saying,” she said. “No nudists!” She paused. “And no girls.”
“I would never,” he said. He listened to her breathing on the other end. “I miss you.”
“I miss you more.” He could hear the smile in her voice. “Seriously, Wichita is a lot more boring than I remember without you.”
“Maybe I can convince you…”
She was quiet for a moment. “Keep trying,” she said carefully. “Maybe you’ll break me down.”
He grinned and his heart felt light. But before he could respond he was distracted by a knock at the door. Maya was saying something in the phone but he barely heard her as he looked through the peephole and saw a young-looking Asian guy with close-cropped, dark hair, holding a piece of paper.
“Maya, I’ve got to go—I’ll call you later.”
She faltered in what she was saying. He realized for a moment that he may have offended her.
“Sorry,” he added. “There’s someone here. I might have just found a roommate.”
“Oh, Landon, be careful,” she said again. “Do a background check or something!”
He laughed. “Love you,” he said, and quickly hung up and answered the door.
The kid standing there looked barely old enough to be in college—maybe. He held Landon’s flyer with two hands, a heavy backpack slung over one shoulder. He was a little shorter than Landon, but not by much, and his tan face bore an earnest expression.
“Hello,” the kid said. “My name is Chandler Wang.” He held up the flyer, still with both hands. “You’re looking for a roommate?”
Landon nodded. “It’s a two bedroom, two bathroom.” He paused. “Do you want to come in and look around?”
Chandler smiled and walked right in past Landon. He raised his eyebrows and followed the kid in.
Chandler was already walking down the hall toward the bedrooms, running a finger along the wall. He peeked into Landon’s room and shut the door quickly, then walked into the empty room. Landon followed him, unable to come up with anything to say.
This kid was Asian—no doubt about it—but spoke with an unmistakably British accent. He had a commanding way of walking around that made Landon feel like a guest in his own house. And all this time Chandler was inspecting the paint, the windows, the carpet—and not saying anything. He finally straightened and smiled at Landon.
“I’ll take it,” he said.
Landon stuttered. “Well, umm,” he said, “It’s not really for sale—I just rent it…”
“Oh, of course,” Chandler said, looking a little embarrassed. He recovered himself quickly. “I would like to live here.”
“What’s your rent?”
“For the whole thing, about twelve hundred.”
“I’ll cover it.”
Landon stared. “Your part would be half, man.”
“If I pay for the entire rent and place a five thousand dollar deposit, can I move in now? I’m good for it.” He pulled out a wad of what looked like hundred dollar bills. “You cover utilities and internet, and I pay the rest.” He handed the wad of money to Landon with both hands.
Landon’s eyes practically dropped out of their sockets to the floor. Before he could think, he was already stammering like some kind of crazy person. “Yes—yes”— and he was taking the money and stuffing it in his jeans pocket and staring as Chandler walked right back out of the house.
“I’ll be back in about an hour,” he said in his proper accent. “I’ll need to make some calls so they know where to send my things.” And then he was gone.
Just like that.
Landon stared at the door for what could have been ten minutes, for all he knew. Then he pulled the money out of his pocket. He counted a full five thousand dollars. He didn’t know what to think. He dropped the money right there on the bedroom floor and went to lie down on the old couch in the living room. He stared around at the place. It was old, it smelled slightly like cat pee, and the walls were an ugly yellowish color. He had rented it out because it was close to the law school. That was about the only appealing thing about this place.
But now it was starting to feel like a pretty good investment.
He sighed, rubbing his temples. This guy could be a world of trouble. Who knew what was going on? But he had just given Landon free rent… maybe Maya could come out here sooner….
He swallowed hard. What would Maya say?