Dreams 7: Ginseng

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: House of Ghosts

I head to a strange hole-in-the-wall store on a hunt for ginseng.

I was looking for ginseng.

This was a weird part of town, filled with myriad white buildings several storys high. I headed down a tight alleyway paved with brick, and ahead of me was a large rectangular courtyard fenced in by white PVC. Surrounding the courtyard were more of the generic residential buildings.

This was the place. It matched the description perfectly; a ten-stair staircase leading to a paneless storm door peppered with signs in handwritten Cantonese.

The door was locked, and the residence inside served as a most surreal business.

I ascended the staircase and surveyed the room on the other side of the door. It was medium-sized, with a wooden desk and red office chair in the center flanked by sets of drawers stocked with herbs, and glass display cases filled with parts of plants and dried skeletal things. There were a few energy drinks laying around and many foreign knickknacks.

A middle-aged Chinese man appeared from out of nowhere and approached me. He was dressed in a green wool jacket and wore a serious expression.

"Hi, I'd like some ginseng," I said unsurely.

He looked surprised.

"Wait," he said, disappearing into the room to the right, a mostly obscured kitchen.

I looked more at all the signs hanging on the walls and furniture, made from colored construction paper. The only part of them I could read were a few prices.

I heard the tones of conversation then the man and his wife appeared from the kitchen. She smiled formally for an instant then started rummaging through the drawers and opening up several display cases, continuing a lively conversation with her spouse.

He looked at me again and sat down in the chair.

"There are different kind of ginseng," he explained, saying something else in Chinese and organizing a few bags of herbs on the desk. He held each one up in sequence. They were all full of slightly different light-colored roots.

The way he said ginseng, with a hard 'g', was pure and surpringly notable to me.

His wife pointed at the bag in the middle and said it was her favorite.

"Panax," he explained, "This for energy, for thinking. American ginseng, use for stress, memory. And Siberian ginseng, this for immune system and power. Not get sick."

His wife left the room again and I considered the options, eventually settling on Siberian ginseng. It cost eleven dollars. The man wrote a receipt out by hand, carefully attending to each section of it.

I smiled and headed back down the stairs, hiding the receipt and bag away carefully in my pocket.

Heading back, I ruminated on why there weren't more stores like this, and wondered how I had never seen this part of town before.

And I wondered how I had known how to find the store at all.

Submitted: February 12, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Azure James. All rights reserved.

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