"Robert, your socks."

They could be heard through the bedroom wall earlier that morning. The master was nervous. There was to be another jamboree today, another spectacle revolving around him, and nerves made the old master forgetful.

“Robert, your face,” she said.

The master shaved his face.

“Robert, your socks.”

And the master removed his shoes and put on a mismatched pair of socks. He came out of his room with his shoes untied.

Now the sycophants arrived, a few party officials and also Li Zhensheng, the competent and brave Chinese photographer who documented China during the Cultural Revolution and hid the photographs underneath his floorboards during its bloodiest days. One of the high officials was flabbergasted to find the master unprepared. In an outrageous and obsequious gesture of respect, the official got on his knees and tied Frank’s shoes. Another official took Frank’s elbow to steady him. Li brushed the dandruff from his shoulders and hugged him with his hands. Frank, sour-faced at the spectacle, clutched the only thing familiar to him—dear old Billy—pulling the waistband to his navel.

© Charlie Le Duff, Vanity Fair, April 2008

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