Learning

I came home and found the note. ‘Home’, then, was Guan-Yin’s apartment, one of several she had, this one near Schaarbeek in Brussels. The note was in her writing. All it was was an address. No instructions. No signature. Just an address, near Brussels Noord. I recognized the street; it was in the roze wijk, the sex district, where the drug dealers and whores plied their trades.

I didn’t keep her waiting. Without even putting down my purse, I pocketed the note, checked my make-up in the reflection of a window, and headed back out the door.

The trains were busy, as usual, but I’d grown up with the NMBS, and the second nature of train schedules, overstappen, and navigating the maze of stairs and platforms had stuck with me, even years after being taken away. Twenty minutes later I was on the street, strolling past a gang of Turkish youths who wolf-whistled at my too-short skirt, as I searched for the address.

Forty-six. It looked abandoned. I checked the note again. 46. It was the right building, and the right door. A year’s worth of dust coating the windows. Dark inside. I tried the handle. It opened.

Inside was… nothing. No furniture. No lights. Certainly no Guan-Yin. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I realized, though, that there was something. Something small and silver, glinting on the floor. My steps took me closer, and I recognized them very quickly. A pair of handcuffs, and their matching key.

So a sex game, then.

Guan-Yin was a very strict, traditional Dominant. I learned these terms later, of course. At the best of times she was distant and reserved; she had expectations of behavior, of etiquette and politeness, and lapses were corrected firmly and immediately. Truth to tell, I was more a servant than a lover, and her affection was much more often a smile or hand atop my head, than any form of passion. But what else could it be? Handcuffs? Under Erhan I’d gained an intimate familiarity with mixing sex and authority. What else could it be?

So I knelt there, on the floor, and took them in hand. Debated for a moment whether she’d prefer my hands in front of me, or behind. Chose the latter. It’s easy enough to apply handcuffs to oneself, even in such a position. And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

Hours passed, with no sound beyond my breathing and the faint cacophony of Brussels-Noord outside on the street. No turning of the handle. No Guan-Yin. I had a cell phone, but only she had the number. It never rang. Finally, confused and frustrated, I manoeuvred myself around to be able to clasp the keys from their spot on the ground, and spent another five minutes fiddling with them until I was able to get them into the cuffs and unlock myself. I rubbed my wrists, stretched out my body, picked up my purse, and went home, frowning the entire way.

Guan-Yin was in the apartment when I entered. Sitting on the couch, sipping tea. She looked up, took in my scowl, and nodded her welcome.

“Was that a trick?” I accused, raking back my hair and dropping my purse next to the door. She hated that, and I knew it. Everything in its place, including me.

“It was a lesson.”

“What the Hell was I supposed to learn?”

Calm. So incredibly, incredibly calm, like I would never be. “The lesson merely teaches,” she responded. “It is the student who decides what is learned.”

“Dragon bullshit!” I shouted, and stormed off to my room.

Two hours later I came back out again. Guan-Yin had finished her tea, and was meditating or praying or whatever it was she did in those quiet moments. A calligraphy brush in her hand, drawing out obscure, mystical letters on a piece of parchment with a goddess’ grace. I knelt to the side, lest I interrupt.

“I’ve learned,” I whispered. “Forgive me?”

She smiled, brown eyes warm, and answered a question with a question.

“Is learning such an offense, that I should need to?”


“All my life they had made choices for me, and I had resented it. Now the choice was mine, and once it was made, I would have no right to blame anyone else for the consequences. Loss of that privilege, to blame others, unexpectedly stung.”
– Megan Whalen Turner


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