I found myself one day helping a 40-ish Chinese mom along the path. It had rained the day before and she was hesitant along the slanted, muddy ridge. The children were far ahead of us. She had been talking about how she’d left Hong Kong, how the father commuted now between here and there, how she and the boy were alone most weeks. She said things were more difficult here because she had no servants. It would be nice even to have them around, she said as she watched her feet testing the trail, just not to be alone so often. I offered my hand to her and after waving it off, she reached out. Her hands were papery and warm and she held mine in a frightened way. At a tricky spot I stepped into the brush along the path and with my other hand I eased her elbow past, expecting to give her a small push up the hill, but she came down on her heels without balance and we bumped face to face.
Oh, she said.
We breathed, looked down, and then up again, her eyes wet.
Her child’s voice interrupted us. We laughed. She pushed off my hand climbing back up the trail and I went to let go, but our arms kept a line between us and eventually like rope they drew taut and I followed. A woman. Her warmth. Her heavy rear in pants.
As she made sandwiches later that afternoon in her kitchen, the trees out the windows seemed to hold everything at bay. We were inside. The full sound of children in the house, her at the counter, and me petting their retriever, feeling the shape of its body under its coat.