Annafray Brunner is at home in southern Germany and northern China. She holds a BA in Social Anthropology and Politics and currently co-hosts a poetry podcast in Chinese: Quince Radio.
summer in beijing
“Is this a good one?“
My co-worker glances up from her desk. “Looks nothing like you. What do you need that selfie for anyway? Here, have some tissue.“
“Thanks.“ I reach over grudgingly, then check my phone again, dabbing at the mixture of sweat and makeup that has somehow made it into my eyes. “Pizza should be here soon! Delivery guy says he’s just round the corner.“
Outside the office windows, Beijing is draped in evening orange, skyscrapers rising from the luminous haze. I switch from takeaway to dating app, tap “nearby“, and start skimming profiles.
23. T. Long term. Running, music. 500 metres.
35. P. Open. Retro, travel. 300 metres.
Her status has not changed. H. Dogs, procrastination. 100 metres. The profile picture is shot from a high angle, a twinkle in her eye, her black shoes like a bow tie attached to her hips.
She was the first to answer my auto-mode question: What’s good about today?
My Aunt's here. A common euphemism: Aunt Crimson and her monthly visits.
You’re one unusual woman if that makes you happy.
Joking. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t get up all morning.
That bad? Have you tried taking medicine?
You know, women shouldn’t treat each other like this.
Did I say something wrong?
Not you. I’m talking about the Aunt.
We chat about whether the best antidote to the summer heat is watermelon or cold noodles or deodorant. How to fall asleep after waking up drenched in sweat at 5 am. Where to travel in your mind while squeezed into an airless morning train with someone else's breath catching in your ear and someone else's heart beating in your elbow. How to care for a relative who is coming to Beijing to see a doctor. What to do about mosquitos.
They’re very attracted to me, I write.
I take competition very seriously.
What to do when one night after work, your boss asks you to accompany him to a public bath, and when you refuse, he locks the door and says, matter-of-factly, that with power comes corruption. That to get on in life, you need to pay favours.
You have to quit asap, I write, feeling my stomach lurch and churn.
Are you okay?
For days, nothing.
Working on your mosquito skills?
Hey! I'm worried about you.
The doorbell rings and my co-worker jumps up. “Oh thank God. Dinner’s here! We forgot about drinks though.”
“I’ll go get some.”
As the doors to the lift slide open, a spark travels down my spine, singeing my thighs. A woman is leaning against the mirror wall, craning her neck, one hand in the air, clasping her phone. I get in, fumbling for the pack of pills in my bag. “Here. This is for you.”
“Sorry.” I turn away to face myself in the mirror. “I look nothing like myself.”
“No, no. You – I'm sorry – my aunt's over? My actual aunt. In hospital. It’s been exhausting. She's fine though.” She beams. “And I quit! Just getting my stuff.”
“Oh.” I say. “Oh. That's – don't be – that's great!” She has the most disarming smile. “That's awesome. Can I – Do you like pizza?”