go by flying fox

my mother invited me on a trip with her old classmates to visit a part of the great wall. she was the only girl in her late 70s beijing pre-med program, and whenever i run into that wall of macho guys, i inevitably end up flexing back at them. at first, i thought it was to prove that i could put up with them; later, i realized it was just as important to show them that my mother could raise a strong human.

we rode a gondola from the tourist village to the watch tower, climbing around crumbling stacks of old stone where the reconstruction efforts stopped. i was fresh out of the rock gym that summer, primed to feel the cracks in the foundation and lean my body weight into unlikely positions to slowly inch up the side of a pillar roped off for visitor access. who was watching? just my mother, her college buddies, and a small trickle of other visitors; none of the park guards ever came this far. none of the security cameras in the area were hooked up yet; i could see cables dangling from the back of every box, snipped vines wilting in the dry northern heat.

but i saw a service path leading from the village to the wall when we glided up in air-conditioned bubbles, and i wanted to find it and walk down on my own power. 'i'll come with you,' my mother said, not wanting to lose me down the cliffside.

'me too,' said one of her more quiet classmates.

we found a sign that read 'GO BY FLYING FOX', with an arrow in the direction of where i thought the footpath would be. there was no flying fox; i might never know if the sign was aspirational or an artifact of a previous, dismantled attraction. our flying fox was a dusty, rocky crevice that trickled down the slope.

'i'm getting ripped off,' said my mother's friend. 'we all paid the same entry price, and the other guys are getting two rides in the gondola, and i only got one.'

he looked pale, but he was still sweating, so i wasn't worried about heat sickness yet. he'd never drink out of someone else's water bottle. i looked down; we were almost halfway back, but who knew how much the trail meandered?

'no, man, you're getting a bonus,' i said to him, cheerfully. 'we all paid for the same ticket, but you get to walk on a path that no one else got to see!'

i don't know if he found my statement funny, but his friends laughed at us when we finally made it back down for lunch. 'it took you guys forever!' they teased.

'bonus trail,' i said. 'we got our money's worth.'

09 April 2018 19:18

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