Novel

            My first novel, the manuscript of which was completed in December of 2016, is a fusion of fiction/nonfiction. It paints a satirical portrait of the cloak and dagger world of English education in China, rife with corruption, fraud, exploitation; just add a dash of romance, rebellion against tyrannical authoritarian structures, poetry, politics and philosophy, and you should have an idea of what this work is like in a nutshell. The Final Draft is very near completion; currently I am seeking a literary agent or publishing house with interest in assessing the book’s potential.

            The first chapter is available here for anyone to read. If you have already read the first chapter and would like to read more, please feel free to query me at ascottbuch@yahoo.com.

第 1 章

Baijiu. For men and maniacs. . .”

            A FOREIGN RADICAL smuggled in the bowels of a train headed away from Beijing gazed at a muted fireworks display going off above distant mountains. He squirmed in the seat that was too small for him, holding opened to page one a censored erotic thriller of minor political import. Wheels clacking over steel tracks shook the creamy bluish interior of the coach. It lulled him into a trance. Spools of thought ran through the projector of his mind like a psychological cinema. So he reached for his flask of baijiu. Sizzling down his throat, warming his stiffened extremities his mind, momentarily blanched by the Chinese spirit, conjured up visions of this Dragon Year’s festivities. There he was arm in arm with an old homeless drunk dancing volatile figure eights around a Tiananmen square hutong subsumed in smoke from the torrents of rockets pummeling the brisk January air like a fluorescence of arrows. Now heading back to a city in Sichuan not far from Chongqing called Wuzhou, still with a kaleidoscopic glint in his hazel eyes, staring at the moon fixed motionless outside; even that seemed to allude to a feeling that Wuzhou was where he had left his heart. Whatever she had done to him, she created this transcendent causality pulling back on the tides of his consciousness. He reached again for the baijiu, his favorite brand Old Wuzhou, distinguishable from its stench but also its Red Star logo. A friend had once referred to this spirit as “wine,” pronounced like “ween” in his thick accent, but anyone who has ever tried baijiu knows that wine is a manifestly ridiculous way to refer to it. Even the term liquor feels less adequate than say, moonshine, not only because of its frequently 112 proof strength but also because Old Wuzhou was perhaps most affectionately described as tasting like dirty socks soaked in gasoline. Or at least one might have said that about the rotgut Maoist blend; the better Chairman Mao stuff it could be argued, was more appealing, as if those socks had been infused with subtle flavors and the gasoline mellowed with age. Wincing after another swig of it, hissing between his clenched teeth, he noticed the train beginning to ease into a stop. Once the mechanical shrieking gave way to silence a ferocious wind suddenly sucked into the coach succeeded by a uniformed man trailing behind him the resonance of authoritative footsteps.

            ‘护照.’ He stood stiff. A gust of wind blew at the tail of his green trench coat. ‘护照.’ There seemed to be no way to communicate besides with gestures and grunts. ‘Passport.’ The uniformed man finally said. The item was surrendered, then returned. Afterwards heheard passengers in the vicinity referencing him, although as to what they were saying he was clueless. All he recognized were the words laowai and waiguoren.

            Being these were among the only words in Chinese he understood had the effect of making him feel pretty much exactly like the thing that they signified. Foreigner.

            Only eighteen more hours until Chongqing but after that the journey still continued. There remained the perplexity of Chongqing to have to navigate before pushing further southwest into Sichuan, ultimately arriving in remote Wuzhou, where he hoped she would still be waiting for him. What could be said about Wuzhou; other than it was the kind of place which has a long history of being just exactly that—a place with a long history—although it was at least marginally famous as the “Wine City” of China. Shuddering after another sip of the city’s trademark booze, about enough of it had settled in him now such that imbibing the spirit became rather than an onerous task, more of a pleasant experience. These conflicting aspects of the substance actually, he embraced in their totality; indeed he loved to get his kicks about as much as he abhorred this recursive struggle against that tendency of things to change into their opposite. The same principle was at work in that, without returning to the exploitation of their workplace, there could be no going back to her. Back to where a classroom was only a classroom in so far as it had been granted the appearance of one.

            His mind now drifted in this direction. Towards a place where the dour faces of Isaac Newton, Karl Marx and Mao Zedong glared outwardly from static prison on the crumbly wall of this “classroom.” Where row after row of rambunctious teens mashed into defaced, wooden desks seemed to stack along the vanishing point into infinity. Where scores of dusty footprints oppressed the damp concrete floor being mopped as routinely as the deck of a ship. Where an insufficient blackboard was screwed into the wall somewhere there too, seemingly as an afterthought, requiring most of the students in the very back to squint just in order to comprehend what had been written there. It reflected the unfortunate although thoroughly accepted fact that “learning” was and is a secondary, therefore unnecessary part of what it means to get an education. Where at the end of the day, obedience to the authorities teaching you how to get the answers “right,” became all that truly mattered.

            He stood before this angsty mob that clamored endlessly about, until a hypnotic melody of chimes structuring all aspects of their life on campus prompted most of them to sit down generally. Although by that point since the laowai had already begun speaking its incomprehensible tongue, about two or three minutes of preliminary silence transpired before the clamor had picked right back up again; rendering his voice almost completely inaudible once and for all, over their triumphant racket.

            ‘Hi, how are you?’ He asked, fumbling awkwardly with a piece of chalk that he was clutching between two fingers like a cigarette. ‘Do you remember me?’ He received at least some answer in the form of blank stares and cynical smiles.

            The truth was that for months it had remained unclear—especially to this foreign teacher—just exactly what it was he was supposed to be doing. There was only the routine; merely an imitation of what was called in this business “teaching.” He knew as well as they knew these ritualistic machinations were intended for little more than conforming to the time slot; filling that up with mindless chatter they were only hypothetically supposed to be listening to. Never having quite assented to that reality, normally he made a point of trying to apply at least some modicum of integrity to the practice of “teaching” in such a ridiculous context. Suddenly he realized however, caught in the thick without a lesson plan that continuing to fight along these lines, or finally just giving in to the superficiality of it all, was but one in the same. This thrust him into a state of dissociative panic but outwardly that was hard to notice. As his mouth continued to form words; his legs still carried him back and forth in front of the blackboard; his hands were still writing on it, continuing what appeared to be the lesson. Because of course he had to maintain the façade; had to persist in acting in such ways as to suggest that he was still in control. 

            ‘Quiet, please, everyone—ahem!’

            Whether this crisis of authority had caused, or been affected by a sudden increase in chaos the classroom now descended into was unclear. What was very clear was that he was stuck, as it were, in between an unstoppable force and an unmovable object.

            ‘Then. . . so—what. . .  what we are going to do is. . . ahem. . .  what we are going to do is. . .’

            Backed against the blackboard, relapsing into amateurism he quickly sketched a cartoon gallows and stick figure man on it for them to hang.

            There he was.

            Rallying the last bit of energy he could sustain, he tried to corral the five or six pupils out of fifty who were if not paying attention than at least being quiet, into participating in a game of Hangman. When this gesture was unsurprisingly not met with enthusiasm but rather an utter indifference to it, finally this triggered his penultimate surrender to wishing for nothing more than a bottle of baijiu just to wash away the thought.

            Until Rex walked in the door.

            Just inching his head in at first the class immediately quieted on catching sight of him, the Chinese teaching assistant. Cutting through the last remnant of disorder with his stern face, in truth it was only in rare moments like these he commanded that kind of authority. Otherwise Rex was a small, rather unimposing man. He had his hands clasped stoically behind his back, his shoulders arched slightly as he paced up and down the aisles, his dress shoes click-clacking on the concrete, echoing around the room.

            Laughable as a threat, but the students were nonetheless at rapt attention. Now all eyes were on the laowai. Like some magic transformation just took place manifesting a real teacher before their very eyes. One come to enlighten them with what in this new atmosphere, deadly silent bar Rex’s footsteps he was forced to go on with as such.

            Pick a letter!

            Any letter!

            Come on!

            One might have assumed, due to his serious air that Rex would have looked down on such playground activities. But the truth was that he was as little concerned as anyone else, when it came to what foreign teachers did on that stage. His bottom line was the same. He was just making his rounds to confirm the students acted obediently. And that they did; indeed for about as long as Rex circled around them. Before the happy chimes went off again and Hangman concluded about as arbitrarily as it began; everything descending right back into chaos.

            As eager as every student was to disperse in his rush to leave a couple of female students shouted after him. ‘See you next week. Mr. James!’ Their accompanying giggles only serving to remind him of what he had realized by way of ideological crisis; namely this relief he was experiencing at the end of a long day was merely temporary. There was no escaping that thing he had to conceal with a smile. Both facets of it. Not just the reality. More so it was the covering it up that he truly despised.

            The laowai known as James hurled himself out of the classroom into a frenetic movement of uniformed bodies. ‘Just—uh, just—uh. . .’ Rex was waiting at the end of the hallway motioning for him to hurry up with an anxious face. ‘Just—uh. . .’ It almost looked like he would pull the thin whiskers from his chin. ‘Go! Go! Go!’ Breaking out onto the campus they bounded down its expansive courtyard dodging hundreds of students playing badminton, table tennis, basketball, exercising in unison, before stopping at the entrance/exit gate for several awkward minutes to wait on another companion, one more laowai. James finally recognized Other James shuffling through a cluster of gym teachers across the shadow of a flagpole.

            Other James was over six foot tall; very slim and pale with long curly blonde hair. There being no mistaking him in a crowd of Chinese people. Taking dignified strides with his head angled downward, a book under his arm he arrived at the gate with quite the sarcastic grin. ‘Hey mate, so how was it?’

            ‘It. . . was.’

            ‘Yeah.’

            ‘That’s about all I can say.’

            James and Other James were best friends basically, not only on account of the fact that they sort of had to be.

            To stem confusion that arose from their sharing the same first name Other James, who was from England went by James; leaving James from America to go by Jim instead.

            ‘Sorry for stealing Rex for so long but you know on Thursdays I have the naughty class. Isn’t that right, Rex, the naughty ones?’

            Rex just laughed. ‘No, no, no.’

            Two guards smoking idly triggered a barricade that creaked slowly open. Even after exiting through putting some distance between them and the school Jim and James still jerked reflexively to attention as the chimes, commencing with the final class period of the day reverberated; the sun just beginning to set on the horizon. Contrasting with that sense of projected order was the manifest lawlessness of rush hour. In a manner that could have been taken as recklessness but which was actually protocol Rex, James and Jim strolled into the middle of an aggressive stream of vehicles crisscrossing to cacophonous honks, zooms, ebbing, flowing through a congeries of traffic hopefully to arrive on the other side in one piece.

            ‘Like a game of FROGGER,’ James like to quip in the midst of it.

            Having crossed this thoroughfare breaking left down a sidewalk stained with dubious liquid they entered an open air market where people from the nearby village peddled cuts of meat dangling from hooks, raw produce spread on dusty blankets, varieties of herbs and spices and live sea food floundering in plastic tubs. The tendency was to pause for gawking here, although Rex impelled his laowai. ‘Just—uh, just—uh. . . Go! Go! Go!’ Nearly to the bus stop where 32 was screeching to a halt just as they approached they practically leapt aboard it, but as every seat was filled, even standing room long since pushed to capacity, they didn’t so much get on bus 32 as get absorbed into its massive clump of passengers. Setting off in a jerk barely affording a second to grab for the railing, so profoundly was everyone squeezed in together that no one could have fallen over anyways.

            ‘I like to think of it as. . . a human full body massage.’ James quipped again. He was jammed between several elderly street sweepers.

            Jim laughed. ‘Best part of the day.’

            ‘What do you say.’ He rubbed his nose; swept his bangs to the side. ‘Go for a few beers at THE PETTY?’

            ‘Sure.’

            ‘What do you say, Rex! Drink some beers at THE PETTY?’

            Exhausted, Rex put a hand to his face shaking it rapidly back and forth. ‘No, no, no.’

            ‘You must have to go back to WILLiAM, then.’

            ‘Yes. I will to WILLiAM. Yes.’

            WILLiAM, SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE was the institution that employed them. It had been founded in 2008 by a 47 year old Sichuanese coal magnate called Xu Jin. Originally the enterprise was conceived as being of use as a shell company of sorts, although Xu Jin quickly realized that education promised to be a lucrative enough business if exploited in its own right. His plan was to corner the market in remoter parts of Sichuan, before more established franchises like WALL STREET ENGLISH, METEN ENGLISH or ENGLISH FIRST began worming their way in from Chongqing, Chengdu or Kunming. Astute as his commercial sense was he also noticed that there was much profit to be made off of the human resources themselves, essentially rare commodities in places as off the grid as Wuzhou. One of the ways that he did so was by loaning them out to various schools on the fringe of town. Such as Laxi High School in the outlying district of Wuzhou called Laxi, the place they were currently returning from.

            ‘Come on, Rex. Don’t you want to drink a couple of pijius with us?’ James went on. ‘Talk to a couple of lameis.’ He added, winking. ‘Maybe even some shuaiges!’

            Rex turned red. ‘Oh no. No. Ha—ha—ha!’

            ‘Must be forbidden.’

            ‘It is forbidden!’

            They often joked about Rex’s wife keeping the man on a short leash, but to know Rex was to understand, more than he ever could have been able to admit. The woman over twice his age that he was married to was obviously a beard. Their marriage of convenience also served to rescue the woman, otherwise branded as 剩女,[1] from potential spinsterhood.

            ‘So the other day Lulu, she says to me James, don’t teach the students too much knowledge. For fuck’s sake can you believe that? Don’t teach the students too much knowledge?’

            They were sitting now that the brunt of the rush hour crowd had thinned out. Jim turned his head from the vibrating window. ‘You were actually trying to teach them something?’

            ‘I printed out. . . probably six hundred hand outs from the copy machine before Laxi. You know admittedly to see the resulting hysteria, but also because I mean, I never know what the fuck I should be teaching them out there. Lulu, as she’s you know, scrambling around frantically trying to pick up all these papers that are pilling up. The copy machine starts malfunctioning. She goes James—you don’t have to teach them too much knowledge!’

            ‘Classic.’

            Sitting had been blissful for a moment, but no sooner than the pain in their limbs was alleviated did the locus of stress seem to transfer into their bowels. A need to go; turning over at alternating levels of emergency, brought with that a cycle of panic and relief.

            ‘Sichuanese cuisine. I’m telling you, mate. . .’ James remarked dryly, vocalizing the trepidation on their minds. ‘Do Sichuanese people just have to go for a shit all the time?’

            Aside from in customary, cynical conversations there was nowhere else to take refuge. All surrounding texts—signs, advertisements, procedural bus information—anything potentially graspable for meaning was completely incomprehensible to them.

            ‘Lulu man, she tried getting me to teach a class one time, I swear it was less than five minutes before it was supposed to begin. I was like no way, a teacher’s gotta prepare.’

            ‘I stopped trying to prepare—’ James applied air quotes. ‘A long time ago, mate. Makes the whole thing at least half way tolerable because you know, at least you’re being open about it all being a shambles.’

            ‘Man but see I woulda been over my hours though, also is the thing and Lulu, she’s in charge of the schedule so—’

            ‘She’s in charge of giving us the schedule, but of course Ms. Xu dictates to her. . .’

            A few hours later, this conversation carried over for the most part, to THE PETTY BOURGEOISIE’S LIFE BAR. Not much had changed, except for now they were shouting at each other over the din of karaoke.

            ‘Regardless man, this is spelled out in the contract. They can’t just make us teach for more than 25 hours per week!’

            ‘I think our contracts must be different. Anyways they’ve got me for 30 hours, unfortunately. Can I get a ciggy?’

            ‘Sure. But 25 hours, 30 hours. Either way, there’s a cap.’

            ‘Depends on how they care to define teaching hours.’

            ‘What’s there to define? Seems clear enough to me. A teaching hour equates to one class period.’

            ‘Okay but there’s something you’re not taking into account. See I’ve brought this up with them before mate. They’re real dodgy about it. . . ’

            THE PETTY BOURGEOISIE’S LIFE BAR, as far as any overarching themes were concerned, defied categorization. It was in essence a spacious stone basement with long wooden tables almost like a mead hall, but these vibes more than clashed with vaguely art deco nautical adornments also coexisting with a bunch of Justin Bieber stuff. Beijing Opera masks were perhaps the most consistent motif doting the perimeter, set above each booth and lining the stage for karaoke in the back although Marxist-Leninist icons were a close second, no hip establishment ever complete of course without a spray painted graphic of Che Guevara. Probably the best explanation for this free for all of randomness was exemplified within the bar itself, where expecting to order a drink finally put one in store for a rude awakening. Despite the presence of a bartender and shelves stocked with imported liquor, not to mention the official looking menu confirming there were plenty of options; only after trying to order maybe a White Russian, a Whisky Sour, a Gin and Tonic, etc. did everything become fully apparent. THE PETTY sold only beer and that was it, just one brand of beer in fact, called GREAT WALL. The liquor bottles on its shelves were all for show, probably filled with tea or water.

            Jim and James often preferred sitting in the area with a glow in the dark mural that portrayed in rad 90s colors, an odd species of anthropomorphic noblemen; this was a few tables down from the ten foot tall statue of Confucius.

            ‘Can I get another ciggy?’

            Jim slid his pack across the table.

            ‘Fuyuan!’ James shouted out, summoning one of THE PETTY’s many bored waiters. One appeared from behind the statue. ‘Zai lai liang ping pijiu.’

            ‘Two?’

            ‘Yes. Two.’

            ‘好的!’[2] The waiter said, then vaulted off.

            ‘You know how a Laxi day takes up,’ mumbling with the cigarette in his mouth, James went to light it. ‘I don’t know a good five to six hours after factoring in the commute.’ As he blew out smoke, suddenly he was gripped by a violent cough. ‘Only. . . two. . . periods out there.’

            ‘40 minutes a piece.’

            ‘Pre—’ Red in the face, he couldn’t stop coughing. ‘Pre. . . cisely. Makes for a grand total of 1 hour, 20 minutes of teaching hours, mate.’

            ‘The commute isn’t factored in, that’s what you’re saying?’

            As the waiter returned, he placed two large bottles of GREAT WALL on the table, taking an opener from his belt, snapping off the caps that fell with a clink onto the ground; then he bowed and ran away.

            ‘What I’m saying is that today, 1 hour and 40 minutes has been subtracted from the number 25.’ Having recovered from his coughing fit, James’s face was still splotchy and red. ‘Furthermore at the end of the week, whatever remainder there is carries over into the next week, because after all, 25 hours per week is just another way of stating 100 hours per month. Or as it is for me, 120 hours. . .’ He reached for the beer, filling Jim’s glass before his own, Chinese custom.

            ‘That can’t be right. That would be just, blatantly. . .’

            ‘Who do you suppose you’re dealing with?’ James drained his glass in a gulp. ‘I’m just imparting the way I’ve seen this handled before. Pretty standard stuff if you ask me. In fact, the more pressing issue I think when you look at it, is scheduling. How Ms. Xu controls every facet. Leaving no room for input. Not from any of us. I mean, sure, they ask us if we’re alright with it. But is that any more than just the semblance of a choice? I mean. . .’ Squinting from his own cigarette smoke, James stood up quickly, snubbing it out. ‘Anyways excuse me mate, I gotta go for a shit. . .’

            It was hard not to appreciate the irony, in that while getting the job was a piece of cake—due in no small part because they belonged to a particular demographic—to the same extent that this was a mark of privilege, it had become, at least in this case, a basis for exploitation. There was only one way to deal with a situation as pathetic as that; summed up nicely in the half dozen or so empty bottles on their table. Less pathetic than say, reprobate was that they had also adapted to Wuzhou primarily through this behavior. By way of “Wine City’s” subculture of Chinese drinking customs. Getting hammered with the locals was how they made friends; how they had first started to pick up on social norms; learn and practice the language. Over time they internalized these conventions, that were indeed culturally distinct from the way they had grown up consuming mass quantities. Every beer was to be shared; poured at equal measure into small glasses, then shot or chugged, usually after a ‘干杯!’[3] That was the imperative used to refer to the process of draining one’s cup. There was an infectious energy to it; to refilling the vessel that compelled its drinker to knock it back once more. Emptiness requiring fullness. Fullness, emptiness. Interminably in this manner. It could be done with baijiu too, but that was when things got truly insane. Even with 3.3% lagers like GREAT WALL it didn’t take long before escalating spirits transformed the mundane practice into an epic ritual at which point, any other night was always on the verge of devolving into myth.

            James returned to the table just as Jerry Carr and Theodore Thomlinson showed up. ‘Gentlemen.’

            Jerry brimmed with sober energy. ‘Freakin’ Chinese people, man, drive like freakin’ maniacs!’ The guy was fresh out of college. He hailed from a wealthy suburb of Chicago. ‘Whassup? Oh god, what are they playing. . .’

            Theodore lumbered close behind; a great deal taller than Jerry, he was also glummer in contrast. ‘You don’t mind if I grab one of your smokes do you bud?’ He asked Jim, shuffling up to the table. His hometown was somewhere in Ontario.

            These two were roommates, but moreover codependents, clinging to their ingrained customs such that they were almost always seen together. Hence they were often referred to collectively, as Thom and Jerry.

            Jerry clapped his hands. ‘OK!’ About to make the announcement they had all been waiting for. ‘Guess who’s going to Laxi tomorrow?’

            James pointed over his empty glass. ‘That’s on you.’

            ‘Oh yeah but guess who else?’

            ‘No.’

            ‘Apparently you go to Laxi tomorrow, too.’

            ‘Balls.’

            ‘Lulu just told me that Ms. Xu just told her to tell me to tell you. Tomorrow you do indeed go to Laxi.’

            ‘Fuck this.’ James was on his cell immediately, phoning up Rex.

            ‘Who’s handling Zizong?’ Jim inquired.

            ‘I am.’ Theodore took a long drink straight from the bottle. ‘Again.’

            ‘My condolences, bro. . .’

            ‘You know that woman drives me fucking crazy. I swear if she just died like randomly, I would feel nothing. Nothing.’

            ‘Mate. You don’t even know what I would do to that woman.’ James said, his hand over the receiver.

            ‘Oh, we know!’ Jerry tittered. ‘We know!’

            ‘No you don’t mate.’

            ‘Tell us.’

            ‘First off.’ James hung up the phone. ‘Rex doesn’t have a fucking clue about any of this.’

            ‘Text Lulu. She’ll tell you.’

            ‘Fuck. Fine.’

            ‘But then you gotta tell us what you would do to Ms. Xu again.’

            James grit his teeth, finishing up with the text. He shook his head, then took a deep breath. ‘Look. You know what I would do. . .’

            ‘Tell us, man.’

            ‘The main idea is that I will I have taken precisely, four baijius with coke or maybe five, doesn’t matter. Point is I’ll be equal parts desensitized and revved up to go by the time my campaign of seduction caps in success. She will have been expecting love or tenderness I suspect, but that’s when the whole thing develops into quite the marathon of a shag, let me tell you. . . Then of course, I would just rail on the little bitch for possibly hours. . .’

            ‘Oh! Ho—ho—ho! Ha—ha—ha!’

            ‘Nice.’

            Jerry adjusted the collar of his polo. ‘Would you guys. . . bang Ms. Xu?’ Rubbing his hands together, he addressed Jim directly. ‘I mean would you?’

            “Jim” however was no longer really listening, now that the metamorphosis was about to begin. It was the point he reached whenever imbibing strictly for the purposes of getting drunk; a crossing over into the unchartable realm of the subconscious. ‘Depends.’ He finally answered; then downed his glass without so much as a cheers.

            ‘Laxi. Zizong. NO. 1 MIDDLE SCHOOL. I just don’t care anymore. I have fifty—what is it now?’ Jerry counted on his fingers. ‘Fifty. . . four more days, then I am outta here, baby! Woo!’ He pumped his fist. ‘U.S.A! U.S.A!’

            ‘Wanna know what’s the very first thing I’m gonna do once I get back to Canada? Know what that is, eh?’ Theodore nudged Jim on the shoulder. ‘I am going straight to space. That’s what. I’m gonna roll the biggest, fattest blunt you ever seen, then I am going straight to space.’

            ‘We should feel sorry for Jim, he’s the one who’s gonna have to go down with this ship.’ Jerry noted.

            ‘Yeah, Jimbo here’s gonna ride off into the sunset on a camel, bottle of baijiu in his boot!’

            Jim’s eyes had become glossy like those of a shark, sort of deadened but instinctually aware. ‘Y’all. . . are some real jokers.’ He muttered, seemingly to the internalizations of his subconscious.

            ‘No joke, buddy. Just you wait. Just you wait until the summer!’ Jerry grew vindictive. ‘How many hours did they have us working, Ted?’

            Theodore covered his eyes.

            ‘Something like. . .’

            ‘60.’ He shook his head; then opening them, stared into his fizzling beer. ‘Or was it 80.’

            ‘Haven’t seen one precious Mao of that overtime pay. Have we, Ted?’

            ‘Nope.’

            ‘What’s it say in yer contract?’ Jim glared through one eye at no one in particular. ‘Huh? Huh? Huh? ‘Cause all I know’s I got twenty four hic twenty five fucking hours in my contract.’

            ‘And he’s sticking to that.’

            ‘And I’m sticking to that! But no. No but seriously, believe you me, fuckers. Believe you me. . . I’ll fight ‘em.’

            ‘Fight. . . who?’

            ‘Who?

            ‘Yes.’

            ‘Who? The fucking Commie sons of bitches? WILLiAM, James! WILL-ee-UM!’

            ‘WILLiAM. Yes.’ James raised his glass. ‘You’re going to fight. . . WILLiAM. Cheers.’

            Jim shot up in his seat, hovering over the table with ambiguous balance. Scores of empty bottles rattled from the force of his rising. He tossed several 100 yuan notes on the table dismissively.

            ‘Dude.’

            One fell just so that it balanced like a steeple on one of the bottlenecks.

            ‘I’ll fight ‘em. I’ll fight ‘em. I’ll. . .’

            He was stumbling down the street, crawling through the air practically. Swerving from left to right, mumbling to himself in embryonic Chinese; what was almost like a mantra. ‘么事是啥子? 啥子是么事! 啥子是么事? 么事是啥子!’[4]

            Every living creature has this instinct, the instinct to fly away home, wired into its brain. So where was he off to then? Nowhere that could be considered a place in the tangible sense. It was more like a feeling. Indeed, it is one of the more perilous forms of love that appears capable of traversing over time and space; imbuing seemingly every little thing with a cosmic implication.  

            He neared the alley that lead into his apartment complex.

            Later as the sun rose, he would awake on the couch still in his clothes. Profoundly confused on one level, but on another it was just more of the same. He could only laugh in astonishment; wondering how much suffering was worth being this foolishly passionate.


[1] Leftovers

[2] ‘OK!’

[3] ‘Bottoms up!’

[4] ‘What is what? What is what! What is what? What is what!’