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A string of bullets spattered a few splash off the torrent of the river, the man quickened his stroke, only fifteen meters was left, he could see the silhouette of the shore, there was a banyan tree exude soft light, it turned into the lighthouse of a Buddha. He murmured a pray and choked a mouthful of water, an outcry of death stunned him, he saw the mist of red fog, it was a head shot, the blood, the brain mixed with the water, instantly the body went down, washed away by the torrent. The river had engulfed another family member, discharging his loved one to the sea. He saw the Buddha beckoning him, he would be safe. Then immense pain overtook him, as the bullet knocked into his skull and turned his brain into soup.
Matthew Chow woke up with the taste of nightmare still fresh on his mouth. The cold sweat dropping down his cheeks and forehead, his hair was soaked wet. The nightmare was what his maternal grandmother had survived. At the beginning of the journey there was a family of five, when they reached ashore only the daughter and the father were breathing, they were lucky, soon the immigration policy had changed.
His grandma told him the tale when he was little, and each time Matthew's parents brought him to that island, the tale was retold. The old woman didn't like America, one summer many years ago, she stayed with her daughter's family for two months at Seattle, all the white man, black man, and the Mexican scared her, she retreated back to her tiny apartment in Hong Kong, she was lucky, her father bought the apartment before the property price went bug-mad crazy, most of her friends lived in rented cages, the size of a coffin. The free market hit stratosphere, the little guys stare at the skyscrapers, too expensive, they went back to their cages. That was the fate of the refugees, those of whom escaped a famine, and not realizing they were entering a cage. The greedy capitalists suck their blood, the smiley billionaires, with their charity, do good, pillars of society, sucking their blood, the apparatchiks of capitalism. Communism and capitalism, that's between propaganda and commercial, the kind of deception permitted.
The death toll of the famine is a state secret, more souls perished than massacres carried out under Japanese occupation. The radical cursed the Japanese, their invasion aided the communist, and condemned the Chinese the fate under the Chinese Communist Party. The torch of evil is still burning.
Soon after grandma's father buried his own parents, he promised himself he would take his family out. The village was patrolled by militias, peasants were asset of the state, sheep, cow, land were asset of the state, held under the name of the collective. There was no food, he chose his moment carefully, he waited for the shift, when there was only one guard on duty, he offered the guard tobacco, he showed the guard his timid looking young daughter standing next to him, clinching father's clothes with her fist, malnutritioned and skinny, the busting of chest was undetectable. The guard grinned, he groped the girl, those were hard time, he took whatever offered. The man wanted to steal food from the collective field, peasants pilfer, rain fall, wing blow, snow melt. He yanked the girl to his chest, snorting her face like a pig, his hand ran down her crotch, the girl didn't resist, only twitched. The guard wasn't interested at her breast, there was nothing there, the famine got there first.
By then, even the militias were poorly fed, it took awhile for the guard to manage an erection. In the middle of the intercourse, the peasant bounced, and knocked the guard down, he smashed the guard's head with a brick, tied him up the way peasant tie up pig for the slaughtering, then they ran. The family were hidden nearby, they were watching, they had prepared this for weeks. The father had some education, he knew there was an island two provinces away, the Opium War, the British Imperialists, and no famine. Rumors whispered, near the border entire villages were empty, collectively, they all escaped a continent of terror and despair, and marched themselves onto an island of hope and uncertainty.
Decades later, the country moved on. A high ranking official overseeing the dredging of Shenzhen River, he witnessed all those skeletons resurfacing among the mud. At the shore of the Shenzhen River he saw China's Berlin Wall, he prayed this time it would be right, but when 1989 visited China, he was purged by the party, he had conscious, he voted against the tank, the party couldn't trust a guy with conscious.
Matthew didn't share his grandmother's hatred, as an American citizen, the cruelty of the communist regime, rested in the same altitude as the coldness of Antarctic, they were none of his business. But he do remember some energetic kid handing him a leaflet in Hong Kong,
"Citizens united, we fight for freedom, we fight for universe suffrage, we fight for justice."
The boy had that cheerful look on him, as if they can turn the city into a better world, the world of democracy, freedom and prosperity.
A few blocks away, Matthew rolled the leaflet into a ball and slipped it down into the trash bin as he strode passed it, he was a tourist passing by, not a trouble maker. When his grandmother passed away, she left Matthew two copies of the same book, Tombstone: An Account of Chinese Famine From 1958-1962, by Yang Jisheng. One copy in English, the other at the author's mother tongue, Matthew never read the book.
Only in prison, Matthew with nothing better to do, pondering his family's past, and it dawned on him, the famine was a tactic. All communist regimes need famines. They took away the food, they created the famine. Who control food, control life. The memory of starvation, the memory of the deceased loved ones, it was the source of the regime's legitimacy.
Matthew turns his body in the darkness, his mind roaming to his paternal side, the first member of the Chow family was shanghaied off the street of Shanghai. Matthew's father believed, they were from a prestige family near Taihu, the biggest lake of East China, it is near Shanghai. The Chow family was part of the Chinese gentleman class, the equivalent of western aristocracy. In the 1980s Matthew's grandfather took his young son, Matthew's father back to China, after donating some fifty thousand American dollars to a local school, back then it was a fortune, when Deng Xiaoping's reform was turning apparatchik into capitalist. The generous donors were offered a copy of a very ancient looking book, it had the name of the first Chow family and it also had a prime minister a thousand years apart. Between banquets and drunken faces, the almighty dollar re-linked this American family to Mother China.
Fiction always possesses a better narrative than truth, when the Chow left China, it was in the midst of the cult of the Taiping revolt, the southern part of China was rampaged by war, it was a slaughtering between the self-proclaimed Christian and the beastly Manchu government. A hundred years later, historians reckon, the devastation of that war cost eighty million lives. The Chow family in an effort to avoid that fate, they took their gold and silver, seeking refuge in Shanghai. The city was colonized by the British and the French, another poison fruit out of the Opium War. With the war and chaos, the first member of the Chow family could be anybody.
The first Chow was a Chinese refugee, sold as indenture labor, came to America on a slave ship. When Abraham Lincoln liberated the negro slaves, the demand for Chinese indenture labors was high. In reality, the slave system evolved, nowadays, the demand for illegal aliens is pretty high.
In the new world, the first female to marry Chow was an indigenous woman, they had five children. The second Chow of Matthew's linage married an Irish woman, and chances were, she was a whore, only a white whore would marry a China man back then. The third Chow married an African American woman, and after that there were new waves of Chinese immigrants, who were not shanghaied off.
Seventeen years of prison life, for the crime of the century, a crime he didn't commit. The kernel of the spy ring, that was on the FBI indictment file. From hindsight, Matthew fell into a classic honey trap, his wife Allison was a spy from the Chinese Intelligence Agency, when mission accomplished, she left him, took their infant daughter with her, and disappeared as if she never existed. Only when the FBI agents knocked his door, and all the lawsuits, reminded the rocket scientist Matthew he did once fall in love with a beautiful Chinese girl. So beautiful, too beautiful to be true, God, even after all this had happened, he still longed a night with her again, pretend nothing ever happened, just endless passion until nothing was left, until his prick was not so damn hard and hurt.
He sits up straight, and the sound of the creaking bed wakes his bunk-mate Harry the big black guy, his protector in prison.
"You wake up so early?" Harry murmurs half awake, half asleep, half out of protest, he is ready to go back to sweet dream, and then he remembers something, "Excited? Today is your last day here."
"Seventeen years, wonder what the world has become."
Matthew grabs the sheet to dry his hair with some scrubbing all over, he is sweat wet by the nightmare.
"No need to worry, my brother Henry has a job for you." Harry says reassuringly, "All is taken care of."
"I guess, I was here too long, seventeen years, the butterfly is flying all over my stomach."
"Common feeling, all my buddies serving long term felt the same shit." Harry chuckles.
"I guess so." Matthew is happy he has a place to go to.
"A driver will be waiting for you at the Chicago train station." Harry rolls back his head, ready to reclaim another hour of sleep. He has a day's labor ahead of him, thousands of toy ducks needs to be sewed, Harry is a sewer, every day he sewed the label 'Designed in Californian, Made in America' tens of thousands time, the prison labor quota system is strict.
"Now go back and get some of your beauty sleep."
Two minutes later, the rhythm of Harry's snort fills the cell. Harry is a black dope dealer. It was the only profession, a black man can earn above minimal wage. Harry used to say, they were in this business since they stopped picking cotton for white man, long before the master stopped calling them nigger, and it was just a trade, same as those Wall Street guys, pumping toxic assets to main street, they pay the police and judges, so they are legal.
Harry can't understand Matthew's case, did you do it, or didn't you? OK, you didn't, so you are not a spy, but your wife was a Chinese spy, and the NASA Scoop was her mission. Dude, you were really screwed, you look at that video, American shuttle failed in space, two weeks later the Chinese shuttle came to rescue, they docked, and the American astronauts floated to the Chinese shuttle, they went to Mars together. Dude, you were royally screwed, it was a wonder, they didn't send you down to Texas, and put you on that electrocute chair. And zap you son of a bitch to hell.
The first four years of prison life was hell, everything they said about prison was true, and far worse, days in the infirmary, rectal rupture, half a pint of semen in his stomach. Matthew was desperate, he didn't think he can survive seventeen years in prison, he considered suicide. Then Harry became his bunkmate. Harry the tough guy intervened at first, that gave Matthew a glimpse of hope, he was desperate, he would do anything to stay at Harry's good side. Harry was a dope dealer, they smuggled marijuana from Canada where it's legal to grow. And Matthew thought hard, a rocket scientist with a motivation to save his butt, he remembered his college years, when they grew some weed in their bathroom. Inside a week he came up with a better design, so he told Harry, and Harry told his twin brother Henry, who was outside in charge, and the Purple Gang never imported any Canadian weed since its first crop yield.
The Purple Gang officially appointed Matthew Chow, their Chief Technology Officer, and it became Harry's duty, that no harm was done to their most valued technology asset.
When the guard taps the metal bars with his baton, Harry was already off with the general population, on their day of hard labor, this gulag of theirs. Matthew instantly stood erect, he waits for the guard to open the gate.
"Matthew Chow?" The prison guard unlocks the gate as he speaks.
"Yes, sir." Matthew tentatively steps close to the gate, hands drooling down his side.
"Come with me," The guard opens the gate, and watches Matthew walks passes him passively, he relocks the gate, and shovels Matthew with his baton, the touch was harder than necessary, Matthew feels the pain, and doesn't let it show.
The corridor is empty, the baton didn't touch him again, the rows and rows of prison cells are all empty now, Matthew strides with an urgent pace, he couldn't wait to get out of the shithole. Behind him, the guard places the baton against all the empty metal bars, a cacophony of noise emanates, the sound of rubber kicks metal. Some kick, he probably needs it.
The guard takes Matthew to the warden, the warden is a fat middle aged white man, he wears the warden's uniform, with his hair specklessly combed to one side. It is a small office, federal budget, profitable or not, shall not be wasted, and the size of his office makes him disproportionally enormous.
He cleared Matthew's paper without raising his head or taking a look at Matthew, it was all a routine to him, Matthew watches him stamps and signs the paper, and pushes it over,
"Mr Matthew Chow, you are a freeman now." Then, as all was done, his interest or curiosity is aroused, "Do you know, some asshole in Beijing pulled some lever, they made sure you are released today, not three months from now."
The warden sets his curious look on Matthew and asks, "Do you know what date today is?"
"Today?" Matthew looks puzzled, he was informed three weeks ago, he would be released three weeks later, and he was counting off those days, only twenty days left, and another day was ticked off, something like that, what's so special about today?
"I don't know." He answers honestly.
"Well, today is September 11th, 48 years ago, some Islamic terrorists hijacked a commercial airplane, they turned it into a missile, and brought down the Twin Tower in New York City, they attacked America."
"9/11." Matthew quickly catches up, "It was a tragedy for the nation."
"That's the windfall for the Chinese, you are their middle finger to us." The warden picks up a candy bar and tears off the paper pack, he takes a bite, "If it is any console, I don't think you did it, because if you did it, with the current harmonious relationship between China and America, you would have been released ages ago, possibly now you would have been rewarded with a mansion and a bunch of hot chicks dancing naked around you in Beijing. But you have done your time, don't hold any grudge, the prison is the coma of the universe, it was all bad luck."
"I am moving on with my life." Matthew watches the warden chewing candy bar.
"It was just bad luck, if the Chinese had launched their Mars project a few years earlier, you would be spared, and you would still have your respectable life, earning the million dollar salary, living in the west coast, a Silicon Valley middle class." The warden shares his philosophy, and signs, "What a pity."
"No, they couldn't, NASA wasn't ready a few years back, that's the problem with stealing other people's technology, they have to wait." Even back then, Matthew knew, the Chinese Space Agency was a few years behind, and a decade behind for sending men to Mars.
"What's your plan?" The warden suddenly realizes, he is talking to a rocket scientist, a really smart guy, about sending men to Mars, all he knows he knew it from CNN.
"I have some friends in Chicago, they have a job waiting for me." Matthew says honestly.
"Good luck." The warden finishes his candy bar, and crunches the package paper into a ball, rolls it into the corner of his table, a dozen paper balls were already there. He smashes his hands, and doesn't offer a hand shake.
Matthew stands up, ready to leave.
"Thank you, Mr Warden."
Matthew put his hand on the paper and carefully folds it and stashes it into his pocket. The paper is useless, all things gone digital three decades ago, it is a formality, something to do with bureaucracy, someone forgot to change the diaper for the baby dinosaur.
"Johnny here will take you to collect your belongings, I hope you have a nice suit." The warden looks at his prison jump suit, they all looked the same in that suit, professor or dope dealer.
Matthew steps out of the warden's office with Johnny the guard.
It is still early morning with a dazzling bright sunshine. Matthew remembers it rained throughout the last couple of days, and now it is such a great day. Does that mean his luck has changed?
He watches the prison door closes behind him, with himself at the other side of that gate, he is donned on a nice suit and shiny new shoes, only the prison buzz cut would give him away, and the location. He looks to the east, there is the corn field, and to the west there is the corn field. The entire Middle West is a giant corn field. Matthew was told to the east there is a small town, from there he could take a bus to Middleton, it is a new town on the map and it is also a part of the high speed railway system that connects cities includes Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake city, Denver, Omaha and Chicago.
The lane connects the prison to the town is not wide, it barely has enough berth for two automobiles, and two terrible drivers with bad temper will have the Mexican Standoff. At this part of the world, inhabited by roughneck and ex-con, two tough guys got off their vehicles, solving the Mexican Standoff. Matthew giggles as he walks, he has the impulse to walk to the end of the world down that lane, that is some freedom.
At the crossroad there is a signpost, above the signpost an array of solar panels rested on a pole. Two birds sit on the signpost, they are weird kind of birds. Genetically modified? Matthew appalls, seventeen years, mass produced genetically modified birds a reality. That is too much change.
He stares at them, and they stares back at him. One of the birds flips its wings, its sound is different than any other birds Matthew knows, it has that buzzing sound, it is the sound of a bee only intense, more like a unique signature, a designed sound pattern. It glides towards him, it has a beak and it has no eyes. And that killed the genetically modified theory, nobody makes weirdo bird, not if they want making money, the holy grail of capitalism.
The bird hovers over his head, its wings flapping, Matthew sees it has no feather, and the beak is not a beak, it is a camera, when it swoops down to his head, he takes a dash, and the bird flies a V curve, it is already back in the sky, but Matthew has glared, at its belly, it has trademark embossed, and it is more scary than genetically modified bird.
The trade mark says,
Product of Banana Inc. All rights reserved.
Designed in California, and Made in China.
Oh sweet Jesus! Matthew exclaimed, Uncle Sam doesn't even make the shit to snoop on its citizens any more. What pisses Matthew off even more, is another line at the belly of iBird, it says:
We respect your privacy, call 800-100-100 and report abuse.
The audacity of those people! Try to look 'shame' in their vocabulary in vain.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.