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The Laughing Wallflower
by Michal Malek

The whole room ooh’d and aah’d as he lifted his shirt to show off his new tattoo. Some of those ooh’s and definitely a few of those aah’s were for the six-pack and bulging chest muscles that accompanied the healing body art. Chen watched from afar. He was an exchange student in a place as foreign to him as a cheeseburger is to Mr. Tattoo Muscles.

Chen had just started enjoying the house party, but with the arrival of this inked Hercules the whole affair had deteriorated into an ogling orgy. In the blink of an ab muscle Chen had gone from exotic new guy to a Chinese wallflower. 

The guy in question, whose name could only be something like Clive, or Cliff or Cody, claimed to love the orient and everything Kung and everything Fu. His latest tattoo was apparently the Chinese symbol for ‘Dragon’, representing his zest for life and inner fire or whatever the tattoo parlour had sold him.

From beneath a low brow, Cody-Cliff-Clive scanned the room for someone. His gaze fell on a garden of wallflowers growing out of a sofa in a far, dark corner of the room. Pale and nerdy faces all turned to one another wondering why this demi-god was looking their way. Soon they realized that he was beckoning to Chen.

Chen felt the heat of the social spotlight on him. He stood up and the party parted before him like the red sea before a skinny Asian Moses. Cliff-Clive-Cody called Chen over and promptly insulted Chen’s elderly horse. Chen had had his horse insulted many times since his arrival in this foreign land, and understood that he was being greeted in mispronounced Mandarin.

Then, the mountain of a man pointed at the ink on his granite body and said, ‘What do you think?’ he asked in a voice as rough as his designer stubble.

For the first time, Chen actually looked at the tattoo chiseled onto the writhing mass of grotesque musculature. ‘This one means ‘Warrior’. It represents the challenges I’ve had to overcome,’ said Clive-Cody-Cliff. He then pointed to the next one down the column of symbols, but before he could open his mouth Chen said, ‘Donkey. Urinal. Hiking pamphlet.’

The man whose nickname was no doubt Cod-Oh or Cliff-Oh or Clive-Oh went quiet. Then a whisper crept from the back of his throat, ‘What?’ he asked. Chen shook his head and deliberately pointed, one at a time, at the three symbols running down this party thief's rippling right flank. ‘This word means Donkey, this one is Urinal, and this one isn’t even Mandarin, it’s Cantonese for Hiking Pamphlet.’

The party went as quiet as a wake.

Abs disappeared under a wilting shirt, and somewhere a wallflower started to laugh.