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Mr Wu | Pallavi Aiyar | Granta

A middle-aged woman in teddy bear-spangled pajamas came hurtling down on a flatbed tricycle. The smell a mix of sewage and fried rice coated the tiles of the homes that lined the alleyway. Two men stood at the back entrance to a restaurant slick with fish scales, sizing me up as they smoked. Their exposed bellies sagged over trousers rolled up to their knees. Summer in Beijing is hot.