IN THE ARLINGTON NIGHT, with the television showing "Alice" and the gallon jug of her husband's newly acquired moonshine on the floor, the Taiwanese lady of no name sat on the couch, trying to explain how she felt. She was scared, of course, and worried, certainly, and confused -- yes, some of that -- but she did not make it easy and cry. Somehow the revolution had come to Washington and the hardest part about it was looking her in the eye.
She was dressed in a flowery pants suit, her long black hair falling over her shoulders. She had a compressed, pushed-in face -- a suggestion of features. She has been here something like four years, years of working as a housekeeper, until she found work in a hotel, in the kitchen where she makes sandwiches. She is from Taiwan and she fears for her family.
"Yesterday I talk to my mother for the New Year," she said. "We don't talk about this. We don't talk on the telepnone."
"They think it's tapped," her husband explained.
"But we never talk politics," his wife said. "We free country, but we never talk politics. Always been that way. Never talk polics."
Her husband is American, vaguely Southern, blue collar by trade, anonymous at his own request. I know them for several years now. They called the day after President Carter announced he was recognizing mainland China and breaking diplomatic relations with Taiwan. We were at a party that night, watching the president's announcement on television, saying it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do. This is good, everyone said. This is good.
The next day they called. The husband asked what would happen now. His wife was very upset, almost husterical about this change in policy and she wanted to know if the Reds -- her word, the Reds -- would be coming to Taiwan. If you had to guess you would say, yes, eventually -- some day. When they want. In some way. When it suits them.
"No, they won't be coming," I said.
It was not supposed to be this way. It was not supposed to be a matter of having to say something hard to someone you liked, taking foreign policy down to the level of avoiding the eyes of a friend. How do you say maybe the mainland Chinese will come and if they do we will do nothing and care even less? Later, she came over for a visit. There were people in the house and so, after a while, she took me aside and asked the question once again. I am in the newspaper and I am supposed to know these things.
"Mister Cohen, will the Reds come? What do you think, Mr. Cohen?"
"No, they will not come."
She looked up and then quickly down and smiled in a polite way, but did not believe what I said. She left right afterward.
In the Arlington apartment, she brought out beers and served them to me and to the husband. For the wife and my son there was something sweet, something yhou drank from a cup. They said they had canceled their trip to Taiwan. They had been advised to by someone and then when they called there they got what you might call negative vibes -- nothing said, mind you, just a feelilng. After a while it became apparent. This was not the time for a American to come to Taiwan. The family had a business there. This was no time for an American husband to be hanging around. It would be bad for business -- the universal explanation. Everyone understood. The trip was canceled but the husband is still trying to come to grips with what it feels like to be suddenly not welcome.
"We've never been in that position, you know," he said. "Maybe you and your family know what that's like because you're Jewish. Me and my family, we've always had our freedom."
So we talked. More beers were brought and the subject, gratedully, changed to Patty Hearst. After a while, the wife started to talk again. She talked about the American Air Force base near her Taiwan home, of the years of friendship between the two nations, how the Taiwanese were prosperous ("We have color television here and they have color television there"), the women stylish, and how on the mainland there was no freedom and everyone wore baggy suits.
"What will happen to Taiwan?" she asked.
What do you say? No one cares? Who knows?
"Probably be like Hong Kong," I said, meaning it a bit.
She smiled at that and later gave my son a Taiwanese flag. He flew it from the car all the way home, but in the morning the city flew the flag of the mainland -- red with yellow stars. It flew from in front of the White House and from in front of Blair House. Later, in the hotel, the Chinese came in their baggy suits and had their lunch and never asked, of course, who was cooking in the kitchen. It was a lady I know. She has no name and probing eyes.
The revolution had come to Washington.