A Tale from the Cobblestoned Street — Hana Jiang


One early evening, a little greyish dog appeared in my sight. It sniffed along the path and stopped at my doorstep, and then raised its head to look at me for seconds. Ah, it must have smelled my stewed beef! I ran to the kitchen and sliced a chunk of meat with a bone for her. The dog chewed off the bone and ran away.

The dog was out of sight in no time, but along came a crippled lady who walked slowly across the street. She was tall, skinny, and slightly hunchbacked. Her outfit was outdated and funny-looking: a pair of high boots wrapped her jeaned and stick-like legs; a girlish floral-patterned short skirt, an oversized cowboy-style hat covered her head and face where scattered whitish blonde hair slipped out; her long neck was encircled by a stand-up laced white collar; and her right hand, holding a walking stick, wore a laced white and pink glove. Overall impression: her entire body was oddly shrouded. The dog soon reappeared, wagging its tail unhurriedly. While playing with the little dog, the queer looking lady had passed back and forth several times at a slow pace across the street.

The very same dog visited me almost every day – mostly in late afternoon – since then, for I didn’t ever fail to feed her (by then I knew “it” was a girl) something nice. She always dashed in and kept circling around me with gaiety until I grabbed her, and she then lied down with limbs open to enjoy a massage. That was her way of greeting me. It became part of my daily routine. I would leave the door ajar until dusk on the days she didn’t show up, and a sense of disappointment would engulf me when I closed the door for the night.


This happened a few years ago after I had traveled to a small town called Axixic in Mexico. That place, it is said, miraculously cured and eased then sickly and restless novelist D. H. Lawrence who fled Europe in the early 1920s. He first traveled to America in the hope of finding a quaint place to stay for a while, but eventually found this hidden gem which sat by the Lake Chapala. During this stay, he started one of his famous novels “The Plumed Serpent”. Probably because of its lure of literary spirit, the down-to-earth lifestyle, and of course the weather, like-minded writers, artists, and people interested in alternative living environments have been flocking to the town ever since then. Local people call them “Gringos”.

Admittedly, I fall into none of those categories, nor am I a Gringo, but I was simply lured to its cobblestoned streets which (besides the weather) triggered my childhood memory. There was this alley I passed every day on my way to school as a child in Shanghai, China. The fact (I learned later) was that there wasn’t a single street in the town that wasn’t paved by cobblestones, except for a highway. The purpose of such pavements was not pretty. Naturally, they would not evoke nostalgia, but their construction was an economical way to solve two issues: making paths for use and letting water go away easily. The so-called highway was merely a two-lane main street, which was east and west bound and lined with shops on both sides. Mountain La Chupina was right behind the town; therefore stones were forever the lowest-cost material for making community streets.

I stayed for a week on my first trip, and for the second trip, I bought a one-way ticket heading south, and to my delight I found a small two-bedroom house for rent right on one of those cobblestoned streets.


It was mid-October, the rainy season had just passed, and Mountain La Chupina was at its greenest peak. I sat by the front door, lost in my thoughts while admiring the majesty of the mountain at such a close distance. All the while, there was a trumpet blowing out music intermittently from one of my neighbors’ houses. The trumpeter, I could tell, was an amateur, the melody sounded choppy yet staunching. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it while watching the sun setting to the west-side of the mountain. It somehow touched my nostalgic nerve.

One day the little dog came, followed by the queer-looking lady. The dog disappeared in the backyard, as if she was already familiar with this place very well. The lady then approached me.

“I want to thank you for taking good care of my Schneiki.”

“Hi, hello, but who are you talking about?”

“My dog.”

“Oh, is she your dog?”

“Yes, she is. Isn’t she cute?”

“She is, and she’s clever, too.”

The lady’s outfit today reminded one of a traveler. The colorful floral scarf tied on her head well fitted her faded and worn-out leather vest with tassels dangling down, and the boots went well too. The complexion of her pale face matched the whitish blonde strings of hair that slipped out. Still, she was a fine-looking lady for her age.

“Are you the new owner? What’s your name? My name is Sofia Buzinski, by the way.” She introduced herself before I was able to answer her questions.

“I am the tenant, Hana, a Chinese-Japanese name, meaning ‘flower’.”

“Ah, what a beautiful name!” We then shook hands. Her fingers were long and bony.

She came here from Germany eleven years ago. A German. No wonder she had a heavy accent. She told me that she had no intention of staying this long, but now she thought she had found her forever home here.

I glanced at her boots and offered her a seat.

“I’m fine, thank you. I won’t stand long. See my boots? They are old but sturdy and comfortable, my best walking shoes for these cobblestoned streets. I’m glad I had brought them with me from Germany.” I felt she had noticed a little embarrassed expression on my face.

“Oh yeah, cobblestoned streets, I loved them, but I may need a pair of more suitable shoes like yours.” I had to admit that my fondness for cobblestones was waning.

“By the way, I’m your neighbor, two houses down the street.” Now I understood why Schneiki the dog would always turn left when exiting my house. “Please come over to join me for an afternoon tea. How about three o’clock tomorrow?” she had an earnest look on her face.

I accepted the invitation, wondering to myself whether the cold side of the German character had been melted in the warmth of Mexico.

She started calling the dog: “Schneiki!” Her voice was thin and faint.

The dog appeared in front of us in the blink of an eye.

“She’s an energetic girl. I’m, however, going in the opposite direction. It is what it is.” She limped away slowly while still talking, and Schneiki, the little greyish dog, got far ahead of her, and was soon out of my sight.


Schneiki barked and came to claw the door right as soon as I pressed the doorbell, but it took quite a while for Sofia to open the door. This was a two-story house with sizable front and back yards. “It’s good for my dog to run around,” Sofia said.

Sofia was wearing a vintage gown, the floral-pattern-dotted fine burgundy silk with exquisite tailoring fitted her well. Schneiki circled around me with her head turned towards me while Sofia was making tea. That was her signature gesture of greetings.

Sofia had prepared two deserts: German style pound cake and small rolled Mexican tamales made by her Mexican maid. She was excited about a newly opened Scandinavian bakery store in La Oaca mall in which she found authentic German bread and cake. The tea set was not-so-shiningly gilded, but it had a floral shaped white space in the center for a delicate, painted flower. I was admiring the tea-set.

“Julia and I enjoyed our teatime so much.” Sofia sighed and gazed at the cup she was holding onto.


“Yeah, my partner. It was long ago.”

Over the next hour sharing tea and dessert, she reminisced about her past.

She was a descendent of a Russian aristocracy. Her family fled Russia and emigrated to Europe in 1950s when she was in her teens. During her college years in Berlin, she befriended schoolmate Julia Schneider who went on to become a leader of the feminist movement, and the two kept a close relationship. They were actively involved in the movement and travelled around the world to support all kinds of events championing the feminist cause. They spent tremendous amount of happy and exciting moments together and became fond of each other. After having participated in numerous activities over a decade, they finally retreated and settled down in a ranch in Black Forest area. Julia had started writing a book when an invitation to give a speech at a convention in Bosnia came, and she accepted, convincing herself this was going to be the last time she would want to stand on a podium. A tragedy happened: Both Julia and Sofia were shot at the convention. One died instantly and the other almost lost a limb.

“My fault, I didn’t stop her, I …” Sofia mumbled, the hand holding the cup was slightly trembling, albeit she seemed calm.

“You have had an exciting life which most people can’t even imagine, Sofia.” I tried to comfort her. “Julia must be happy that you are living a good life here, with the nicest weather all year round, I believe.”

“Sure, Julia would be happy to know I have this little companion with me.” She looked at Schneiki who was comfortably napping with her body stretching on the couch.

“The name Schneiki is unique. Does it have any meaning?” I switched the subject.

“Oh yeah. Julia and I had a plan to have a big dog joining us in the ranch, perhaps a German Shepherd.” She paused. “Anyway, I didn’t want anything without her being with me until a year ago, you know, I had told you. So, I took the prefix of Julia’s last name ‘Schneider’ and the suffix of mine ‘Buzinski’, making her name Schneiki.” Now, I feel have a piece of Julia with me.”

“What a thoughtful name.”

“Sure, it is.”

As Sofia signaled me, I fetched her medication sitting on the credenza, and she took one pill. She had been suffering a cardiovascular disease for years. In her own words, she was at the verge of cracking down. “That’s why I blow the trumpet to keep my heart functioning.”

“Wow, it was you! I had been wondering who the trumpeter was. I’ve been enjoying your music so much.”

“Ah, I hope I didn’t annoy any neighbors, but I’m glad you rather enjoyed it.” Her mood shifted a bit.

“I meant it. It sounded sentimental and … beautiful to me.”

“Haha, you like my melodrama? Well, I grew up with the influence of Russian literature and music, they are heavy, beautiful, and somewhat sentimental, which became a sort of attachment to me. My sentimentality is why I’ve lived alone this long.”

By dusk, when I sat inside of the gridded front door drinking a bottle of beer, a string of thin and choppy melody from the trumpet was rising slowly in the air, releasing a sense of heart-wrenching sorrow.


Since that afternoon tea, Sofia and I often did things together, like shopping, luncheon, and other fun things, and, of course, I also shared my stories, such as how I grew up in China and how I ended up in the United States. It seemed we’d known each other for a long time, and we were comfortable talking about anything and anybody. But she stopped talking about Julia altogether.

Schneiki’s greyish hair grew long and sticky. I got Sofia’s consent to take her to a dog groomer. Sofia gave me her house key so that she wouldn’t be disturbed when I had to fetch Schneiki for the early morning appointment.

There’s a bit distance to the groomer’s shop, Schneiki enjoyed the long walking. Her paws briskly tapped on the cobblestones and her ears pressed flat to the head as if being blown by the wind. The weather in Axixic was forever nice and warm in the daytime, therefore walking was always pleasant. When I came back to picked her up three hours later, she had a butterfly ribbon on her head. She looked very girlish. She whined and groaned as if complaining in fear of being abandoned. “No, baby, no one will ever abandon you.” I cuddled her and kissed her.

I renewed my rent for another three months. I was in no hurry to leave the town I had been enjoying.

I gradually took over Schneiki’s afternoon walk. If Sofia took a short stroll in the morning, Schneiki would surely slip into my place to get some treats. That was always her happy moment.


“I miss your trumpet, Sofia.” I looked at her. We were having a dinner with some other acquaintances in Scallion, one of our favorite restaurants in town.

“Well, I doubt if I can blow out a candle. Don’t worry, sweetie, I’m just kidding. I still can blow up a cowhide balloon.” She puffed her cheeks and looped her hands by the mouth, bursting into a laughter. We all laughed heartily.

Scallion was a good place for food, music, and dancing every Saturday night. The band loved to play beautiful old America’s melodies, for there were high numbers of seniors in the audience.     

“Come on! Why so many of these old shits!” Having had two cups of wine, Sofia stood up and walked up to the band, and then I saw the guy she was talking to kept shaking his head, but finally he nodded. Suddenly, a passionate piece with marching rhythm came, that was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9! Sofia started dancing, alone. Ah, I forgot to mention that she was once a good dancer, as she told me. Her boots tapped the floor, her hands rested on the waist, and her head abruptly turned, very much like a Mexican flamingo. She then elegantly made several ballet rotations that made her vest’s tassels shiver. In the next second, she fell to the floor.


To this day, I still find myself combing through my memories for many details about Sofia and the town after many years have gone by. The little town seemed a weird magnet, which pulled people over who found a sense of belonging there, and many of them probably had stories behind them. I believe they all had good reasons to move there, but, for sure, not these cobblestoned streets. What would have become of me if I had left the town according to my original plan? I still don’t know why I could so quickly get into a close relationship with Sofia – a much older Russian-German woman. And the ultimate puzzle is that whether Sofia intentionally chose to exit this world this way – in an entertaining dancing pool – like her beloved Julia ended hers at a public podium?

One morning in April, a taxi drove me through the cobblestoned street before turning on to the highway, and it quickly passed Mountain La Chupina. The mountain at dawn was blurry, but I didn’t have to see it to know it was greyish, yearning for the green season to arrive.

When boarding the plane, I had a new companion and an old memento with me – a grey-haired dog named Schneiki and a small-sized brass trumpet.    

Hana Jiang grew up in Shanghai, China. She was a farm camp labourer, a poet, a kindergarten teacher, a children story writer; and she is now a homemaker, a cooker, and an artist (a painter).

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