After that Ruby said we had to go shopping downtown. There was a Forever 21 and some other stores that looked pretty familiar, but there were also a lot of signs in Chinese. We went into an enormous silk store, and Ruby said we should each buy a silk scarf to remember Shanghai because “Shanghai silk is the best in the world.” I picked out a purple one with a design of fireworks and Margo got a light blue one with clouds. My mother picked out a pink one with flowers.
“Dad, buy a scarf,” Margo said. “It’s to remember Shanghai.”
“I don’t need a scarf,” my father said.
“Yes you do,” Margo said. “It’ll go great with your… day-glo orange pants. What is it with the guy who owned that suitcase and day-glo orange pants?”
“Dad, quit being heteronormative,” I chimed in. “Buy a scarf.”
“This one’s really nice,” Margo said, pulling out a blue-and-white pinstripe scarf.
“Oh look, over there are handkerchiefs,” Ruby said hurriedly. “Perhaps you would like a silk handkerchief, Mr. Snead?”
“I don’t need a silk anything,” my father said grumpily, but he ended up buying a red-and-blue-striped handkerchief to keep in his jacket pocket.
Back on the street, Margo’s attention was drawn by a street vendor wearing these things on her sneakers that turned them into rollerblades. She would take a few steps and then activate the rollerblade things and zoom around for a while, then go back to walking normally.
“I should get some of those,” Margo said, pointing. “To remember Shanghai.”
The salesperson zoomed over to skate beside us. “You like?” she asked. “I sell for twenty-five yuan.”
“Sold!” Margo said. “Mom, lend me twenty-five, Grandma won all of my money.”
We stopped for Margo to purchase the rollerblade things. When she put them in her bag we started walking away, but we were immediately accosted by another salesperson skating alongside us.
“You want?” he said. “I give you cheap. I give you for twenty.”
“No thank you,” Margo said, “I already have some.”
“Fifteen,” he said, skating alongside Margo. “I give you for fifteen.”
“I already have some, though,” Margo said, pulling them out of her bag.
“Ten!” he said. “I give you for ten! You won’t find cheaper!”
“Yeah, okay, but I already have some,” Margo said, beginning to sound panicked. At that point Ruby intervened and said something to the salesperson in Chinese and he skated away.
Ruby was pretty adamant that we had to see the skyline, and she said that sundown was the best time to see it, so after standing in line for hours and then wandering around Shanghai for hours and then shopping for even more hours, at about 6:30 we all tromped over to the river after a long day of running around. There were some stone ledges of various heights that most of us chose to sit on, although my father and my brother chose to stand awkwardly. Behind us was a huge historic bank that looked like it wouldn’t be out of place in a European; across the river, there were a million skyscrapers that looked almost too planned out to belong to a real city. There were short buildings and tall buildings, blocky buildings and pointy buildings and even some that were rounded.
We all watched the skyscrapers for a while, but they weren’t really doing anything interesting, so eventually my grandmother pulled out a deck of cards and started dealing for poker.
“I dunno,” Margo said, taking the cards from my grandmother reluctantly. “You’ve already won most of my spending money…”
“Here’s some yuan,” my mother whispered, handing Margo a bundle of cash. “Play poker with your grandmother.”
“But she cheats!” Margo hissed.
“I know,” my mother said. “But she changed your diapers when you were younger. Play cards with your grandmother.”
We played a few rounds, and my grandmother won over most of the yuan Margo and I got from our mom. As she put the winnings in her purse she smiled at the sky and said “Thank you, sweet Jesus.”
“Are you seeing the skyline?” Jim asked.
“No,” Margo said, “I’m too busy watching my spending money disappear.”
“Might want to check it out,” Jim said. I had been so intensely focused on the game that I hadn’t noticed that the sun had fallen and all of the buildings were lit up.
“Wow,” I said. The too-perfect skyline now looked even more too-perfect. The bank behind us was lit up, too, and so were the boats drifting along the river. Ruby was smiling beatifically, the way people in movies look at archeological discoveries. Margo had pulled out her phone and was taking a panorama shot.
“When I stand here,” Ruby said, “I feel like I have the history of the city behind me, and I’m looking forward into the future.” I looked at her, a little startled. Then I looked behind me, at the old colonial British architecture lit up in gold, and forward across the river to the purple and blue and yellow spacescape where every building looked like a rocket ship or something dreamed by a technological futurist.
“You didn’t even see her in our calculus class,” Jim said, putting his arm around Ruby’s shoulder. Ruby shifted, and a shaft of golden light fell onto her face, and it looked like she was glowing.