A lizard keeps following me around the house.
I tell the Tattoo Man about it when we’re sitting on his verandah one afternoon. The Tattoo Man has puffy eyelids and a black beard that he strokes when in deep thought. He’s sitting in his rocking chair with a stray orange cat at his feet, swishing its tail.
From where I’m sitting, I can see where the Tattoo Man starts but not where he ends. The verandah bends in the middle to accommodate his weight. If he were ever to embrace me in a bear hug, I’d disappear into the folds of his body and never be seen again.
The Tattoo Man looks like porcelain stained blue. His face is tattooed with scenes from the Yangtze River. A long boat drifts down his cheekbone, and small figures cast their fishing lines next to his right nostril. Blue dragons curl around his legs, and etched across his left arm is the face of a wrinkled, laughing man.
The Tattoo Man sets me homework.
‘Watch the lizard, China Doll,’ he says, looking over his wire glasses. ‘Chase it into a corner. See what it does. See if it’s scared of you.’
He calls me China Doll as a joke because I’m fat like he is. We both have big bellies. I laugh when he laughs, I rub my belly when he rubs his, and I yawn when he yawns. This is what we do on his verandah every afternoon when my mother thinks I am next door with Mrs Nolan eating devon and tomato sauce sandwiches.