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The Indochina Man

By Cid Andrenelli All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Drama

Blurb

I wrote the indochina man in the boom-time wildeast of south east asia in the 80s. the Chinese city boys, rich-quick invasions, never count the cost. I wanted to write a separate world as a mirror, a secret looking glass that would sharpen this actual world. My Indochina is an invention of past and present, with cities of language, words as bridges to the interior lands where the coin is not money, where it is emotion. The Indochina man is not history except in so much as all our lives are history. The Indochina man is not romance, other than that all our lives are marked by the men and women with whom we fall in love. The story of a Chinese millionaire, Phang Jin Yu, an impulsive dreamer and believer in destiny. In the year of the Green Wood Rat, his fierce passion for a bossy young concubine takes him on an odyssey through South East Asia. The story weaves in between past and present in a world of Chinese fairy tales, flying dragons and immortals. With a great cast of characters; at first you’ll hate them but in the end you’ll love them and a fabulously visual style of writing, this multi-level plot is held together with a madness so crazy it must be real.

Part One

Part One

He wears cashmere sweaters on cool rainy nights and linen suits under the blazing sun. He has a skinny Indian servant, a shiny Mercedes Benz and a chauffeur to drive him through the forests from Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh. He flies alone from airport to airport across the China Sea, sleeping and dreaming, travelling along the Malaysian peninsula between his tin mines and rubber plantations. He is silent in his dark suit, his briefcase at his side, and no one knows he daydreams of Immortals and the Jade hare. If he could have his greatest wish he would ask to live one year all over again, the most beautiful and the worst year of his life. The year of the green wood rat, an even numbered year symbolic of duality, partnerships and choice, the year to bring about completion or destruction.

His astrologer Mr Tong Hin Chee had warned him:

‘Be on your guard. Be afraid. You were born in the year of the white metal tiger and this is the beginning of the 79th cycle of Cathay.’

He remembers everything that happened that year, and he can still hear her laugh like an out of tune guitar. They’d driven for miles through fields as yellow as her hair and found Hoi Fat in a hotel room. Behind the dirt grey curtain in a rusty bathtub, a jail guard suit and a gun. There was an old stained mattress sunk in a lake and a mad girl in prison chained to the wall. He remembers the smell of death and the look of a man about to hang; his eyes wild like a lassoed horse. He’s forgotten nothing.

1984. A Mercedes raced through the plantations and jungles; shades of dark dense green shining leaves, scents of tobacco smoke and leather. The driver’s thick neck, his saffron brown hands on the wheel. The girl with yellow hair and the rich Chinese man sitting beside her.

She watched the Malay villages whiz past; stalls strung with plantains, piles of spiny durian, shapeless and bulging cut open like tumours, pyramids of hairy rambutan, as pink and red as sea anemones, huts built with wood and woven leaves, the women stood on the roadsides in patterned sarongs their black hair in black buns.

‘I want to live in a house on stilts in the middle of the jungle,’ she said, ‘and I want a monkey.’

‘You don’t want to live in those huts.’ he told her, ‘they’re dirty and full of ants and lice. You wouldn’t like it. You know nothing. I’ll buy you a plantation bungalow then you can keep a monkey.’

‘I don’t want a goddamn bloody bungalow; I want a house on stilts. You know nothing! They’re cool and fresh, and you can live in them naked. You don’t need air conditioning in a thatched hut. Tell him to turn the AC off, I want to open the windows.’

The man gave the order to the driver. The windows rolled down, the hot steamy air pressed into the car, and the girl waved to the kids in the road, her crinkled brow, her cherry lips, a mixture of wonder and curiosity. The kids waved back, standing in their shorts like skinny gangling spider monkeys.

‘Stop at the next stall.’ she ordered. ‘I want to buy them sweets.’

The car was going very slowly. The driver burned red under his dark skin while the girl tossed sweets out the window. The kids galloped along side. They stuck their spindly arms through the window with open palms and she crammed them full of sweets. The kids had shining eyes and tiny bare feet.

Later, when the sun had sunk and the night was black. Tiny light bulbs glittered along the road, strung like fairy lights along the stall fronts. They passed through village after village. The girl was lying across the back seat, head on her plump soft lover, feet dangling out the window, her bright red shiny toenails catching the lights. She puffed hard on a fag making an orange glow in the dark, and flicked ash at the window so it blew around the car.

His name was Phang Jin Yu. He was pale and fat like a creamy white stuffed dumpling with a face as round as a moon cake. He had eyebrows like tiny swallow’s wings, a double chin and rounded sloping shoulders. His hair was so lush that when he woke up in the morning he looked like he’d worn a dozen hair rollers overnight. He always wore rumpled suits with large wide collars and a gold signet ring with a red ruby.

He was in love with this yellow haired girl named Amanda Louise; ‘Better known as Randy Mandy.’ had been her sassy reply when he’d asked her name. She was backpacking across Asia, sleeping in run down hotels, eating in street market stalls and pretending to speak Malay. She believed she knew everything. He was a rich businessman, trained lawyer and a fat lover who believed in destiny.

He’d first seen her on the seventh day of the first lunar month, in a back street Chinese market near the train station in Kuala Lumpur. Squeezed in and dwarfed by skyscrapers it was just a muddy wasteland of shacks and food stalls. The hawkers were squatting in the dirt in front of their gunny bags, there were dried pig intestines hung from shop rafters and shelves laden with glass jars stuffed with thousand-year-old eggs. All that was strange and hideous could be found there; scorpions scampering in bowls, water snakes coiled in tanks and curious vegetables overflowing from baskets and heaped on the ground.

An old Chinese man in a greying vest wheeled a barrow between the stalls, and as he walked, his flip-flops slapped and squelched along through the puddles. His barrow squeaked and yapped like a rusty dog. Inside were two puppies. Sweet puppies. He stopped in front of a stall, where an old toothless woman sat hidden behind a counter stacked with crates of fresh pigs’ snouts and trotters. She laughed baring her blackened gums and handed him a sack. He grabbed the puppies by their necks and shoved them in, then tied the top.

The girl arrived; her yellow hair shimmered in the sun. She could hear the puppies howling inside the sack. The man kicked the sack and the puppies cried louder. The girl pushed the man and a crowd gathered.

The man shouted at the girl in Cantonese, ‘Go away and suck your father’s dick.’

She didn’t understand and the crowd laughed.

The girl told the man in Malay, ‘You’re a stupid pig!’

He understood and the crowd jeered. They howled ‘bodoh babi, bodoh babi, stupid pig’ over and over.

Phang Jin Yu arrived, he stood in his crumpled grey suit, his wavy big crazy hair whipped by a breeze that scuttled through the alley, stirring the cloudy white steam that billowed from the cooking pots. He coaxed the cruel pig man with his singsong Chinese. The pig man whined. Phang Jin Yu’s words were soft as he paid him money and the pig man handed over the sack without looking at the girl.

After they sat together in the back seat of his Mercedes. Mandy held the puppies in her arms like sleeping babies. Phang Jin Yu was watching her face. The driver was looking at them through the mirror.

Phang Jin Yu was jealous of the puppies, he told her, ‘You shouldn’t hold them against you. They’ve probably got skin diseases.’

‘No they haven’t, they’re only puppies.’ She narrowed her eyes, ‘So what are we going to do with them?’

He thought of Bin Azahar. He’d bung him some money, and they could live on the factory compound. He said, ‘My manager in Ipoh, I think he might take them.’

‘Think? Don’t you know? Does he like dogs? Has he got a garden? I want them to be well looked after.’

‘They will be.’

She sighed, ‘I wish I could keep them myself. Look, look at them!’

She squeezed the puppies against her small breasts. He swallowed hard, his penis hard. He wanted to reach out and touch her, but first swipe away the puppies.

So that was how they met, she was nineteen years old and just out of school and he, Phang Jin Yu, old enough to know better. Later that night they arrived in Ipoh; he wanted to take her home but knew it was too soon, so he took her to a new five star hotel. She sat in the back of the car, gazing up at the concrete and glass building. The puppies were lying between them. Jin Yu watched her out of the corner of his eye, seeing her puckered lips, her hesitation.

He told her, ‘They have a spa and swimming pool.’

She said, ‘I don’t want to stay here, it’s ugly. I could be in Manchester or Birmingham.’

‘It’s the best hotel.’

‘I don’t like it! I want to stay somewhere old with four-poster beds and verandas. Somewhere colonial.’

‘Colonial?’

She went on, ‘I want a room with ceiling fans and a bathroom with a huge iron bathtub and lion claw feet.’

He thought of the Majestic station hotel, with its peeling paint and shady columned verandas with armies of ants marching along the walls, the rust in the bath tubs, and white stained tablecloths crawled by flies, and cracked leather armchairs, seeped in the smell of boiled cabbage and mutton. No one he knew would ever stay there.

That first night when he made love to her she didn’t want to lie down on the bed. Instead she laughed at him and ordered Malibu and ice. She drank glassfuls, turned the radio up and started dancing. She sat in an ugly fake leather swivel chair and began to spin herself, round and round, faster and faster, so fast he thought she might levitate.

He sat on the edge of the bed bedazzled. He could see her face then the back of the chair, then her face, then the chair back, face, chair back, face. Then she began pulling off her clothes and chucking them at him. Breasts, chair, breasts, chair, arse, chair, arse, chair, breasts, chair, arse, chair, breasts. He sat on the edge of the bed bewildered.

She yanked him over and pushed him down in the seat. She opened his flies, pulled out his hard hot penis and straddled him. He felt his cock slipping into her as she came down. She rode him like a horse.

‘I want to spin’ she shouted.

He was too heavy and the old chair creaked and slowed down. He had to keep it turning by pushing his feet against the floor and his calves burned. He kept them spinning, on and on until the end.

Later watching her sleep, he marvelled at how he’d found such a girl. She had appeared before him in the market as a vision, sinful and corrupt, standing almost naked in her flimsy dress while brawling with the street hawker. He sensed she would be insolent and unruly and he believed he could teach her slowly. Lying in the dark dusty hotel room, his gaze swept over her pearl white body lit by the glow from the streetlights. He lifted strands of her yellow hair, watching it blown through his fingertips by the wind from the ceiling fan; he knew this was what he’d always wanted.

Mosquito coils burn red tips, the air is thick with smoke and she’s asleep. He wants to unwrap her from the tangled sheets, make her hold him, but he knows not to touch her now. He won’t push his luck; he’s already had her once tonight. Wait, and he knows he’ll have her again.

Jin Yu trod lightly on the creaking staircase, he’d left a note for the girl and was sneaking his way out of the hotel at dawn. While creeping through the hallway he heard a growling rasping sound that gave way to spasms of choking and gasping, it was coming from behind the reception desk. He drew closer, looking over the top he saw a thin Chinese man with thick black brows snoring on a camp bed. His erection was holding up the bed sheet like a tent pole. Jin Yu turned away and cut through the bar to take the side door out of the hotel. A grey light seeped in through the shutters and in the murky darkness he saw a long thin figure curled up in a scuffed leather armchair, an apparition of a mythical Hsigo monkey, with a broad apelike forehead and deep glowing eyes watching from under its heavy brow.

Jin Yu wove between the tables to avoid passing in front of him. He knew who it was; this monkey creature, with his arms folded around his body like bird’s wings.

‘Jin Yu wait!’

Jin Yu stood still, as though an invisible fishhook had caught him. He hesitated for a moment then turned round to face Hoi Fat.

‘So it’s you! What do you want?’

‘That’s very unfriendly. How about long time no see and all that? Or at least say welcome back.’

Jin Yu shrugged, ‘You’ve been back years now.’

‘I know my friend but you’ve never welcomed me home. Do you realise this is the first time we’ve met since you left for the UK? Then you came back and I went away, then I came back and years have gone by. Water under the bridge and still you wont return my calls.’

‘You’re drunk! It’s five in the morning.’

‘So what! Five in the morning, five at night, what’s the difference?’

‘Look, I have to go and of course welcome home!’ Jin Yu turned to leave.

‘Wait, wait, wait, have a drink with me, just one.’

Hoi Fat poured whisky into his empty glass and slid it across the table towards Jin Yu then he took a swig from the bottle. Jin Yu sat down slowly and pushed the drink away.

Hoi Fat sniggered, ‘Look at me still here drinking from a bottle. I came here tonight with my leader to plan strategy. He left hours ago and now I find myself in reverie looking back at the past.’

‘It seems to me you’re drowning your self-pity in a bottle.’

‘My hardships might seem of no importance to you,’ he waved his hand, ‘just being called Ching Chonger and Fly Lice boy for three long years in London was hardly penury. Eating instant pot noodles was a joy. My return to Malaysia was a failure, my old man was right I should have studied medicine.’

‘I remember you always landed on your feet in the end.’

‘Indeed, I’ve finally turned my life around. Only last night my leader and I dined on braised suckling pig, drowned first in water until it turned dark red,’ he sniffed the air, ‘and it had a unique fragrance and was nicely presented with a shiny red apple in its mouth and cherries in its eye sockets.’ He smiled knowingly, ‘You see? Ipoh cuisine embraces western influences as I now embrace the western ideals of freedom and democracy.’

In the grey light Jin Yu noticed the sinful expression on his face, like a wayward schoolboy. Fat was sitting just a few feet away, staring straight at him, so close he could smell his whisky breath.

With a wry laugh Jin Yu asked him, ‘So is it pigs and politics now?’

‘Why not?’ Hoi Fat scoffed, ‘I’m the new Malaysian Justice Party candidate for Tipah. Age unclear and a good head of hair. Hate the rich and hate the fat. Love babies and love the poor. Intelligence beyond the scope of mere mortals, an IQ into the thousands and liquor is the lubricant.’

‘Well I’m sure you’ll get all the votes then. Congratulations you’ve come along way. You’re now a prince among thieves.’

‘You fat thicko, cut the clichés damn you! I’m not going to talk to you about these things. You’re too stupid to understand.’

Hoi Fat brandished the whiskey bottle, bringing the last dregs of liquor to his lips and drank.

He accused Jin Yu, ‘All you know is how to make money from tin and barely that. Stand to attention and listen to this! I Chung Hoi Fat, PhD in political science and man of the world will show you. You’re a donkey, a fat provincial fool. Look at these! I’ve had every one of them.’

He pulled a pack of Polaroid photos from his pocket, his fingers were long and brown, his nails yellowed by nicotine. He flicked his thin wrist spreading the photographs into a gaudy fan filled with pretty girls.

‘You’ve been across the border to Betong,’ Jin Yu sighed, ‘nice Thai girls.’

‘Maybe I have, but did I pay for them?’

Jin Yu suddenly felt tired and weary. He didn’t care why Hoi Fat carried a bunch of prostitute’s photos around in his pocket. He thought of the girl upstairs still asleep.

He told Hoi Fat, ‘You’re drunk and I’ve got to go.’

‘You can’t hide from me. I’ll win in Tipah, you’ll see,’ Hoi Fat sneered, ‘then I’ll show you what’s what.’

They had made an unlikely pairing right from the start. Jin Yu, so fat and rich his pores oozed honey; so tantalising his classmates had stuck close like a cloud of flies. Instead the tall and lanky half ape boy, Hoi Fat, marinated in salty brine had exuded a sour stench of dejection and though he was the youngest he’d always been the bossy one at playtime.

‘I’ll tell you who it is that wants to drink our blood!’ Hoi Fat had glared at the boys huddled around him, ‘Pontianaks! These are ugly women, with sharp fingernails and gold capped teeth.’

The other kids had giggled, everybody knew the ghosts of stillborn females turned into vampires.

‘Shut up laughing and listen!’ he’d spat on the ground, ‘They attack men at night on the roadsides, and we’re all in danger.’

‘My granny says you can kill them by cutting off their fingernails and stuffing them into the hole at the back of their necks.’ a tubby boy had interrupted.

‘Shut it Bastard!’ Hoi Fat barked, ‘Don’t ever butt in when I speak.’ And he’d given the little fatty a slap.

Then Jin Yu, defender of the weak, had slapped Hoi Fat back twice as hard.

Like love and hate they had fitted together. Such opposites were destined to unite and then fall apart, a quarrel between them blossoming as they grew older, like a flower in the deep fate line on Jin Yu’s plump palm. And at the end they had their final battle; school days were over forever, the time had arrived to be men.

In 1969 Jin Yu was nineteen years old; he had a bumfluff moustache and a leather jacket that was too hot to wear. Since leaving school, he’d taken to driving his scooter around Ipoh with his mates. He was wasting time, waiting to be sent away to study economics and law. Then one morning his father ordered him to go to the barber for a short back and sides and he realised the day had come. He sat in his father’s study watching him read from a brochure.

‘All accommodation is offered on a self-catering basis and residents have access to well equipped kitchens with ample cooking and storage facilities.’ His father paused.

‘I can’t cook.’ Jin Yu told him.

‘Obviously.’ He carried on reading, ‘Whilst all university accommodation is offered on a self-catering basis, the university’s catering department offers superb value dining options with excellent menus.’

‘Maybe I could look for somewhere to rent close by.’

His father scoffed:

‘Don’t talk rubbish! It’ll be an experience. The British system, the student life, I want you to throw yourself into it.’

Jin Yu was already wondering how long it would take him to find a house and a cleaning woman. He was certain there would be some Chinese restaurants in town.

‘Sure Father.’

He observed his father who was still reading. His hair had turned grey and he appeared shrunken inside his suit. The wall behind him was crowded with old faded black and white portrait photos of his family. He stared up at his uncles, grandfather, great grandfather right back to the eldest, Chung Keng Quee who was the first ancestor to leave China.

“Chung Keng Quee stood aboard a creaking groaning rotting junk. Faded porpora sails snapped and whipped against the wind as the hull heaved and crashed into the foaming greeny yellow sea. The men’s faces were cracked in parched black lines etched with sharp metal quills that would never soften, their rotten teeth fell from their bloody mouths as their stomachs swelled tight against the skin of their yellow bellies.

Chung Keng Quee stood among them, his fire filled black eyes saw into his own future as he flew away and above the junk into the skies, his robes of tattered silk flapping around him like bat wings. He flew onwards and downwards to the emerald green and saffron brown earth of the promised land.

He swooped and skimmed over the acres of opium fields, the purple poppies heavy and oozing with black dreams, nodding in the soft wind as junks and sampans sailed back across the China Sea laden with opium.

And thin white weasel men with watery blue eyes struck the deals as they unloaded the dreamy death and the Chinese men lay sweating in their own filth, their skeletons still wrapped in waxy skin. Their hands like claws clutched the opium pipes while the white weasel men reloaded their ships with silks and brocade and fine porcelain and precious tea, without the giving of silver nor gold, just black smoky dreams in exchange for all China’s treasure.

And Chung Keng Quee would grow the heavy nodding poppies for the weasels and he would mine the tin and the silver from the land, and the white weasels would know him as Capitan China.”

His father slammed the brochure shut and announced:

‘That’s it then. Han Yu will go with you; he has business in the UK next month. You’ll need to buy warm clothes, it snows in Scotland.’

Jin Yu asked:

‘Should I start to get ready to leave?’

‘No time like the present.’

Jin Yu felt the snowflakes settling upon him, chilling his skin, giving him goose bumps. He’d only been to England twice in the winter and never further north. He remembered being bundled up in a heavy duffle coat and taken by his father’s driver to see London in the mist under a drizzling rain. Another time he’d gone with his elder brother, Han Yu, during the Christmas holidays to visit Han Yu’s first wife. She had gone to live in London with their two daughters after the divorce, but now the girls were older Han Yu had stopped bothering. He had a new wife and a son and instead he took his daughters out to dinner whenever he was in London on business.

That evening Jin Yu lay on his bed and looked around his room, the truth of his departure pressed down on him. He knew he was about to leave behind the last traces of his childhood, yet he wasn’t sure he was ready. Goodbye to the fat schoolboy in elastic knee socks, sitting in the back row of an old picture house. Dreaming under a beam of thick silver dust spinning in the projector light, dreaming he was a hero in a Wuxia film, fighting for honour and skilled in martial arts.

He had been Jin Yu the Bearded Warrior hero, his face as ruddy as jujubes, with crimson lips and brows like streaks of smeared paint, his eyes bright as stars. He’d suffered tragedy and betrayal in early life and had lost his loved ones at the hands of evil villains. Luckily he’d been aided by the immortals and they’d taught him the secrets of Kung Fu. And in the end there was always a final dramatic showdown where he would exact a terrible vengeance upon his nemesis, a clashing of swords on a western bridge, hacked limbs flying south, heads to the north. And bloated corpses, their eyes pecked out by three legged crows, would float in the heaving current of the red river.

The hero Jin Yu had a beautiful maiden to accompany him on his adventures. She was a lovely fairy of royal blood, smiling radiantly and bowing before him causing him to fall in love. He’d returned her smile out of respect for her noble birth and dazzling teeth. Later she would be kidnapped and forced to marry the villain’s ugly son, but would be saved in the nick of time by Jin Yu and his helpers.

That night, facing his departure for a remote Scottish University he sagged inside. He knew he would never project streams of energy at his opponents from far away, nor send them hurtling to the skies to explode into ten thousand pieces. He had to leave the boy behind. Jin Yu was too ashamed to daydream any longer, yet the thought of going to live on the other side of the world in the cold Northern light alone seemed like a great hardship to bear. He wished he could have a beautiful maiden to accompany him on his adventures. He possessed no martial arts, just algebra and geometry, and still he hoped he would be heroic.

Two full moons had passed since he’d first met Mandy in that back street market, and since then he’d taken her out each day to see the sights in Perak. He’d courted her beneath mountain waterfalls, deep inside limestone cave temples and before mosques with golden minarets. They’d gone by boat through the mangrove forests to the beaches at Lumut and to see the fishing villages on Pangkor Island and he’d taken her into the heart of the jungle where she’d glistened with sweat.

They sat together on the veranda of the station hotel. She was lying on a planter chair, her legs splayed wide open resting on the long warped arm rests. There were two Malay boys squatting in the forecourt watching her. An Indian man, dressed in a grubby white jacket and sarong was hanging around at the end of the veranda watering the burnt palms. He bent down low, the better to see between her legs, as the water from his rusty can trickled on the floor creating a puddle.

‘Why Scotland?’ she asked him. ‘Crap weather, alcoholics and bloody sheep… and dead boring.’

‘Mandy close your legs, don’t sit like that, everyone is looking at you.’

‘So what, I don’t care. This is how you’re supposed to sit on these chairs. Tell them to bugger off if you want. So why Scotland?’

‘My father wanted me to go,’ he sighed, ‘it’s a good university.’

‘So what? You should have put your foot down.’

He felt a sadness welling up inside, so many painful memories were in his heart. He was hungry for her sympathy.

‘I was really sad. I never knew you could feel so lonely. There were people around me all day long but I was always alone.’

He picked open his old scabbed memories and rubbed salt in. He waited for her, searching for some compassion. She didn’t listen or see, only heard his singsong voice wheedling like a sad old bagpipe.

She yawned, ‘Why didn’t you leave or make some friends?’

‘I did make friends, but no one special, not till I met Alison and she broke my heart.’

She burst out laughing. She wanted him to laugh too; at the pathetic picture he’d painted of himself, of the lonely fatty Chinese student, haunting the corridors, bearing a midriff of doom.

‘How can you be so cruel?’

She looked at him and laughed harder.

‘Stop laughing.’

‘Tell me about her. I want to know everything. Have you got any photos?’

‘At home.’

‘Then go and fetch them, it’ll only take you a minute.’

He went to all the university parties. First the Michaelmas disco where he didn’t dance but watched. Then the New Year ball; he tried to join in the fun with student games and balanced a beer bottle on his head. Later there was the Three Legged Dance where he finally got tied to a girl, his left leg joined to her right.

When Alison bestowed a smile on him, his heart took flight. She smelt of butterscotch and fresh laundry. She whispered:

‘Just follow me.’

Her fragrant breath tickled his ear and her voice sounded like the sweet chirping of a baby bird. She loved being kind and was studying Sociology. Jin Yu gripped her shoulders in a boozed trance wanting to perform a mating dance. Her face burned dark red and she told him:

‘Stop the others will laugh at us.’

After that he’d follow her around, just to say hello to her whenever she passed by. At night he lay stiffly in bed dreaming of her. Lust burned in his heart. One day, dressed in a tweed jacket and floppy bow tie, his face like a stuffed dumpling; he asked her to the cinema. Without a good reason she had to go out with a Chinese boy. He behaved like a gentleman and afterwards he took her to a restaurant where they talked of their future ambitions.

He was too choked up to say, ‘make money and get power’, so he said:

‘I want to make a difference.’

Then he asked her what her dreams were.

‘To be a social worker.’ she replied and blushed, ‘I come from a poor family.’

He smiled and told her:

‘Your parents must be very proud of you.’

After that she got into the habit of saying ‘yes’ whenever he asked her out. She had been worried in case he tried to kiss her or touch her hand, but he only stared longingly at her. She watched his fingers tracing tiny circles on the tablecloths in restaurants, as though he were touching her nipples through her blouse. She could feel his eyes upon her and see his hand gently squeezing the velvet armrest between them in the dark cinemas, and she began to wonder if she might want him too. She was going home for the summer and he played his hangdog card. He said he’d be all alone over the long holiday, it was too far to go home to Malaysia; as though he would be travelling by steamboat, the paddles churning slowly across the ocean, he could almost smell the sooty smoke from the funnel. He thought he’d go to Greece and Cyprus instead.

Then he asked her:

‘Will you come with me?’

She said:

‘I don’t have any money.’

‘No problem, I’ll pay, you’re my best friend.’

‘Just as friends?’

‘Of course.’

So she let him buy her a ticket and book their separate hotel rooms and told Mum and Dad:

‘I’m going with a girl, I saved the money waitressing in the students café.’

Once there amidst the ruins her heart melted. They stood under a sky the colour of red wine, the crumbling columns around them like silent sentries. Jin Yu paid with American express and she felt wistful. On the seventh day they took a small ferryboat to Chrysi in the Libyan sea and wandered through the ancient Lebanon cedar forest. They marvelled at the parched twisted branches strung with brittle green leaves, reaching up to the sun with clawed hands. They breathed in the sweet intoxicating aroma of cedar. The tree barks had split open, their roots were like dried squid tentacles sucking deep into the white sand. They visited the Minoan ruins and after they drank ouzo in a taverna by the port. Inside it was dark and cool and the ouzo burned a fire in Alison.

He told her:

‘I want us to spend the night together.’

She blushed and whispered:

‘I don’t know.’

Her face was burning up. He slid the cold glass bottleneck into his hot mouth, the ouzo slid down his throat, firing up his guts. The old waiter brought plates of Meze to their table and told them the Greek name for each dish:

‘Gavros marinatos, Saganaki, Revithia keftdes, Prassokeftdes, Kotokeftedes, Kavourikeftdes.’

Until their lips were greasy and their faces flushed, and that night she went to bed with him and let him make love to her. There in that land on the edge of Asia she became Jin Yu’s lover, she felt so sophisticated and he bought her a pair of French sunglasses.

Back at university she started to hide from him, too much to study, and she dashed to her dormitory and read about class systems and traditional Chinese family structures. Not giving up, he rented a white house in St Monans on the east coast of Fife overlooking the silver grey North Sea. From the windows she could see the fishing boats anchored in the harbour. She loved this house much more than her student’s room or even the council flat where she had grown up. Jin Yu asked her to move in.

They had a house warming dinner party. The beer got spilt, the carpets got burned with crushed fag butts and John Mcluskey was sick on the stairs. They had a buffet of Chinese delicacies and after everyone had left they found a used condom in the bed.

On St. Martin’s Day, he took her to Edinburgh, and they walked in the rain down cobbled streets that glistened in the wet like shiny mirrors. In and out of shops, the drizzle wrapped them in a soft web, and he stood and watched in wonder as she opened a red umbrella like a blossoming flower, enclosing them in a warm vermilion light. Their faces became blushing and bittersweet, and they walked on for miles under a ruby glow while she told him the story of St. Martin.

She said:

‘In ancient times, a Roman soldier retired from the army to lead a pure and simple life, and eventually he became a monk. One winter’s day he cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar in a snowstorm. But guess what? The beggar was really Jesus, and Jesus told the Angels how kind the soldier had been and that’s how he became a Saint.’

‘That’s a beautiful story Alison.’

He was happy to have somebody to love, and he marvelled at her goodness. He bought her a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes and she tried to change him with flared denim jeans and bright coloured track suits instead of his dreary tailored jackets. She wished he’d fit in better. Jin Yu looked hopeful in his gaudy student’s guise, anything to have her.

He wanted to meet her parents, and she suddenly felt doubtful. When she was due to go home for the Christmas holiday he suggested they go together. She told him they were too poor, they had no guest room and she shared a bedroom with her sisters. If he liked he could come and fetch her with the car on the last day, have lunch, and they’d return to Fife together. He was happy as hell and asked her for the millionth time to tell him all about her family. How old were her sisters? And what her cat’s name was? And how Gina broke her leg?

At home she told them:

‘My friend, Jin Yu, is coming for lunch.’

Her father asked:

‘Is he your Laddie?’

‘Yes.’

‘Where’s he from?’

‘Malaysia.’

The day he arrived, she felt ashamed. She told her parents:

‘He’s just a boyfriend, we’re not serious or anything.’

Jin Yu had bought gifts, hand made chocolates for Mum and old malt whiskey for Dad. Her sisters didn’t like him because he had no muscles and reminded them of the boy at the Chinese takeaway. Dad taunted him and Alison’s mother was disappointed. Jin Yu stroked the cat, the cat licked its arse and the sisters laughed behind his back.

They sat down to eat in the kitchen. Dad said:

‘Hope ye enjoy what we have to offer.’ He was chewing black pudding with his mouth open.

Alison explained:

‘Dad thought you’d enjoy a taste of traditional Scottish food.’

Dad’s teeth were full of gristle and he said:

‘I’m wanting a drink.’

Mum passed him the bottle of whisky and he drank a glassful then asked Jin Yu:

‘You’ll be coming from China?’

Alison interrupted:

‘Dad, I told you he’s from Malaysia!’

‘Shut up lass, my tongue isn’t under your belt.’ He glared at Alison then turned back to Jin Yu:

‘Ye are taking her to the pictures, eh no?’

‘Yes we sometimes go to see films.’ Jin Yu answered carefully. He put his knife and fork together; he couldn’t eat anymore, he felt sick.

‘Are ye through?’ Dad asked him, and he filled Jin Yu’s glass to the brim with whisky and bellowed:

‘Cock the wee finger!’

Mum put a restraining hand on Dad’s arm:

‘Don’t Angus, the lass is made up with him.’

Dad shrugged and announced:

‘He’s neither eechie nor ochie.’

Alison stared at her plate and Dad pointed his fork at her:

‘Now lass don’t put on a sour face, there’s no harm if I take a rise out of your laddie.’

Mum felt sorry. She told Dad:

‘He’s not getting a word you say.’

Dad laughed:

‘Aye right!’ He turned to Jin Yu in earnest, ‘Ye have too much money, there were once a man an a wife down the street that didn’t have any bairns so long as they was rich, but when they became poor, thay had a wee lad.’

In the bedroom while she packed her sisters said:

‘Play the field, and get out more. You’re too young, you’re wasting your chances.’

The following summer Jin Yu left early for his father’s birthday and she was to join him in Malaysia for the last three weeks. Jin Yu waited in Ipoh for time to pass, while Alison drank beer from dark brown bottles and forged ahead from one rock festival to the next. The first time she approached the stage treading with bare feet in wet green grass, journeying through the littered silver cans underfoot, she realised the stage was her temple alter. This was exciting and real, and this was the life and she didn’t want to be Jin Yu’s girl anymore.

Her friends warned her of Malaysia and foreign men and Muslim countries and told her she should take time to reflect. They knew that Jin Yu meant business; this was no passing romance for him.

They told her:

‘He’s more serious. You know, he’s from a different culture.’

She went anyway but with lots of misgivings. Jin Yu was there at the airport. She walked towards him with small mincing steps and giggled:

‘Hi Babe.’

But it felt wrong now. She felt bad and Mum had said don’t lead him on. Unnerved by dark faces and miles of ghetto she stood on the roadsides like a lonely tree while the hot wind blew her hair. Every time they stepped out of their air-conditioned hotel she found herself in heat and squalor. The underlying hint of rotting rubbish and spices tickled her nostrils and seeped into the fibres of her clothes.

So he took her to the mountains, where they sat on a veranda watching a gentle rainfall under a golden light shed by an oil lantern. He put his arm around her thin back as she shivered in the chilled air. Then after he took her to Ipoh to meet his family. His mother was dead and his father and elder brother were polite but unimpressed by this shy girl. They secretly wondered why she wished to become a social worker, and murmured:

‘Sociology, Ahh very interesting!’

Then they asked her:

‘And your parents?’

Her parents were poor and her job aspirations equitable with a nurse, they too hoped this was a passing phase.

He had the whole itinerary organised, so they did the rounds of beautiful locations but she just saw the children’s scabs and the flies around the food stalls. She hated the spicy food and was glad not to eat theirs. Instead she ate western the whole time. She couldn’t live with a rich man and see kids without shoes living in leaky huts, and legless beggars on their trolleys at the train station. She saw hypocrisy and greed in his smiling pale yellow face.

‘I’m going into social work.’ she announced.

‘There’s lots of opportunity here in charity, I’ll supply the bucks.’

‘No! I want to get my hands dirty.’

‘If you must, our family has an orphanage founded by my great grandfather. Will that do?’

‘No I don’t want to play Lady Bountiful.’

She couldn’t live without losers and pubs and bus stops, and here they were too awful. She’d be shut up in five star, dependent on Jin Yu for everything.

When they got back to Fife she began staying at the library in the evening. She told him:

‘I’ve so much to read and reference, finals coming up next year. Too many books to lug home, I need to study in the group.’

She ended up in the Student Union bar.

One night he went looking for her, and he stood watching her through the doorway like he had a pebble in his shoe. She was singing, he saw her lips twist and smile, he saw she was making up someone to be. Her bright red cheeks were painted on, like in a charade, her hands never stopped moving, fluttering like a hundred swallows.

Afterwards she told him:

‘I had some time to kill, I just came in to join the crowd.’

Jin Yu knew he was losing her, so bought her a diamond ring and asked her to marry him on New Years Eve. She would rather have been at the pub, drunk and singing Auld Lang Syne. He put all his cards on the table and lost. She shook her head, her wispy hair glittering like a halo in the neon light while her face burned red. She whispered:

‘I can’t, I have my future career.’

‘What about us?’

‘I’m just starting out in life, it’s too soon.’

‘But I need you.’

‘Sorry.’

‘How can I go on without you?’

She couldn’t bare it and needed to consol him, she told him:

‘Look, I still love you, but no big commitments.’

In the months before he left, he cried in front of her and was ashamed, but he couldn’t stop himself from driving her away. She called it time out for reflection and she wished he’d leave right away, but they had to reach the end of the semester. As summer drew closer and he knew he’d be returning home without her, he became mad with grief and she felt guilty.

In the end she said:

‘Mum thinks we are too young.’ She watched his eyes fill up. ‘And what can I do? Our relationships are shifting as we mature. Who knows? No promises mind, but I’ll come for Christmas.’

Jin Yu arrived home to a ghostly house and a sober welcome from his brother and father. He had no time to wallow; there were business plans and projects to shift. He spent his nights writing to her, striking each day off the calendar, watching the days that stretched between him and her diminish. He wrote how much he loved her and how he hoped their time apart would make her realise. She wrote back occasionally and each letter began with, ‘Sorry I’ve not written earlier, been so busy’ and they ended with, ‘Love from Alison’.

Jin Yu tried to feel the words ‘love from’ were the same as ‘I love you’ but he knew they were not. He called on the phone but she was never there. She was working at a school and loved the staff room that stank of stale smoke and coffee, and having her salary and the pub. She took up smoking Players and met a man with blue eyes and long wavy hair. She wrote Jin Yu a letter; she told him it was over and she’d met some one else.

Then years went by until one day she wrote again, by then she was married to a poet and they were living on a farm growing their own food. She was terribly broke and expecting a baby and please could he help. Phang Jin Yu sent her a cheque.

Mandy held the photo in her hand and peered into the scene. There were two figures standing slightly apart on a steep hillside of monotonous muddy green under a heavy grey sky. They were both wearing matching tracksuits, his and hers. The girl was slight and thin with pale lips. Her hair as dull as dust; a lank fringe framed her sweet face, which was full of goodness and honesty. Jin Yu stood next to her, a fat boy that stumbled around in fields; stripped of his pale grey linen he’d become a nylon clad humpty dumpty embracing the great outdoors.

‘Where were you?’

‘In the highlands. Alison loved walking and she loved nature. We used to go hiking at weekends, just take a rucksack and follow the footpaths and at night we’d find a small guesthouse to stay in.’

Mandy frowned, she knew Jin Yu hated walking, he was dead lazy. She could see him plonking along behind his shy waif, with blisters, and a rumbling tummy, maybe not moaning, but waiting for dusk, waiting to reach the guesthouse.

‘How boring, Mary and Joseph searching for the inn.’

‘Don’t say that! Alison was a really nice girl, she had a good heart and she was very kind. Her family were poor and she was at university on a student’s grant. She was studying Sociology. I took her to Greece and Cyprus, look…’

He handed her another photo that was faded and bleached. Alison was standing on the steps of the Parthenon; she was wearing knee length khaki shorts and Jesus sandals. Squinting under the glaring sun, she was the colour of the stones behind her.

‘Did you bring her here to Malaysia?’

‘She came here in the summer holidays, but it was too hot for her. She was upset by the poverty and I took her to the Cameron highlands to get away from it all.’

‘The poverty? You said she was poor!’

‘You know it’s not the same. I took her outstation, to visit the jungle kampongs near our tin mines and she felt so sorry for the villagers she cried.’

‘Wet Cow.’

‘Mandy don’t be bitchy, she was training to be a social worker and she loved children.’

‘So I suppose she would have preferred seeing them packed into concrete boxes piled on top of each other. Hold on while I have a little boohoo. It’s so sad, seeing these poor beggars living in thatched houses surrounded by beautiful scenery. Poor devils with no electricity, no shoes and shock horror no social workers. Oh my God! I wish I could gather them up and re-house them in a block of council flats.’

‘Shut up!’

‘She should have saved her tears for when she got back to bloody Glasgow or wherever she came from. Your little miss goody two shoes was full of shit.’

He was secretly pleased, he loved her, to listen to her and hear her ripping Alison into shreds. She excited him, laying there with her legs open for all the men to look between, waving her cigarette around, blowing smoke in his face. He forgot how sorry he felt, forgot the Scottish girl.

‘Let’s go up to our room.’ He wanted her so badly.

Later she lay on the bed wrapped in a shiny red sari embroidered with gold medallions and she told him:

‘I want a gin and tonic, lots of ice and lemon, and a mango.’

‘Let’s go down to the bar, and why don’t you wear your new black dress?’ He shyly passed her the dress, still wrapped in tissue paper, still in its box. ‘It’s really nice.’ he coaxed her.

She frowned:

‘No, I want to wear this sari. I love it.’

He thought of Padma, the Hindu maid that crept around his house. Her presence was like a pungent aroma that hung in the shadows, reminding him of someone he’d known many years before, someone who still gave him nightmares. Padma greased her hair and wove it into thick black plaits that stank of coconut oil, and on her days off she’d wear a nylon sari and thin brass bangles click-clacking on her hairy arms. And before walking out the iron gates and down the dusty road towards the Hindu temple, she’d draw a scarlet red tilak symbol over her third eye.

He told her:

‘Mandy you look silly, you remind me of one of my servants. You should be ashamed, dressing like a Hindu.’

‘This is not a cleaning woman’s sari. This could belong to a Maharani. It’s beautiful. Touch it! You know nothing. I bought this in Benares; it’s hand woven silk and gold. What’s wrong with dressing like a Hindu anyhow?’

‘You’re not in London now; you can’t go around like that. You’ll offend people.’

‘Who? The Malays or the Chinese? I bet the Hindus couldn’t give a damn. I’m going down to the restaurant, I’m having my gin and tonic and my mango and then I want rice and curry for dinner.’

His heart beat hard. He couldn’t bear to walk down into the restaurant with her dressed in a gaudy red and gold sari. He needed to invent something. He lied:

‘They may not let you in the dining room. There’s a dress code, Western style or Malaysian national costume.’

‘Then I don’t want to stay here anymore! I want to leave right now. No one’s going to tell me what I can or can’t wear.’

Her sassy retort gave him hope, he’d already asked her so many times, now he might hit his mark.

‘Then come to my home and you can do everything you want.’ He whispered, ‘I want you to live with me. Mandy, you know how much I love you.’

She heard him like a tired and corny song and she barely glanced at him, when all he wanted was to see something sacred in her eyes.

She asked him:

‘Don’t you live with your older brother and his wife?’

‘I have a separate annexe. You wont have to see them.’

‘I’m not changing though, I’m walking right out of here in this sari or they’ll have to rip it off me.’

He had lost the sari battle but won the first war and his heart soared, she would be living under his roof. He told her:

‘I’ll buy you an antique opium bed tomorrow and you can lie upon it and I will tell you stories.’

‘What stories?’

‘The story of the Jade Emperor and the immortals, and Chinese fairy tales.’

‘Tell me one now.’

‘Then lie down.’

She lies down on the bed and he undresses her, unwrapping her from the red silk sari. She lays still and naked while he strokes her pink nipples, he trails his hand down between her legs touching her shiny red clitoris, and then he gently covers her with a white sheet and he tells her to shut her eyes and he’ll tell her a story.

“Once upon a time there was a snow-white jade dragon who lived in a rock cave on the east bank of the celestial river. Across the river in a great forest lived a beautiful golden phoenix. One day, while the jade dragon was swimming in the celestial river he saw the phoenix flying in the sky above him, and he followed her. He swam below her through the water until they both came to an enchanted island.

The phoenix landed by the shore and the dragon watched her as she metamorphosed. The phoenix had the head of a golden pheasant, which transformed into the golden haired head of a beautiful girl. Her mandarin duck’s body changed into the soft curves of a young maiden with velvet smooth skin. Her peacock’s tail became long silken tresses cascading down her back. She had the legs of a crane, which grew into long supple legs and her parrot’s beak turned into a smiling cherry red mouth. Her swallow’s wings fluttered around her becoming graceful arms with delicate tiny hands, tipped with pearly pink nails.

After her metamorphosis the phoenix walked into the celestial river and floated on her back. Her long golden hair fanned out behind her and her breasts like two ripe pomegranates bobbed on the water’s surface as the tiny waves licked over them. The dragon felt the fires of passion burn within and he began to metamorphose too.

He had the head of a proud camel that transformed into the head of a young man. His golden brown stag horns sprouted into thick curling locks of hair. He blinked his red demon’s eyes shut, and when he opened them they were as black as coals. He had the belly of a clam that slowly turned soft on the surface and rippled with hard muscles. He shed his carp’s scales and they floated away like diamonds revealing a smooth skin fragrant of moss. His eagle’s claws transformed into forceful hands and his rugged tiger’s soles turned sinewy and fleet footed. His cow’s ears became human, and lo and behold the dragon had become a handsome dark eyed man.

He swam behind the phoenix and tugged her long hair.

She flipped over in the water and said, ‘You’ve been following me.’

‘I was hypnotised by your beauty and magnificence and now I have seen you, I can not live without knowing you.’

She smiled and asked, ‘Do you wish to know me carnally?’

‘Indeed I do.’ he answered, watching her breasts ripen in the jade green water.

They swam side by side in the deep river and she told him, ‘I must return to my golden phoenix form before the moon rises.’

And so he took her to the island shore and laid her upon the golden sand, and there, under the setting sun, he possessed her and told her he’d never let her go. Later they stood together on the river shore as the moon rose and they returned to their true forms.

She whispered, ‘I promise you we’ll meet here each day when the sun has passed its zenith, and then until the moon rises we can be together as man and girl.’

Then the golden phoenix flew back to the forest and the jade dragon swam to his dark cave. After that they met every afternoon and turned themselves into the young girl and the dark eyed man and made love in the red light of the sunset. Each night they transformed back to being the phoenix and the dragon. Only on the black night of the new moon were they able to remain in their human bodies, and he would hold her in his arms while she rested her head upon his chest. They would listen to the river lapping on the shore till just before sunrise.

On the night of the seventh new moon as they sat in darkness, they saw a gigantic shining pebble laying on the sand as though lit by the rays of a full moon. They were so fascinated by its beauty that the phoenix and the dragon decided to carve it into a pearl. Every day while many more moons passed they worked on carving the pebble. The jade dragon used his claws and the golden phoenix used her beak until at last it was a perfect round ball. Then the phoenix flew to the sacred mountain to gather drops of dew and the jade dragon carried water from the celestial river, they bathed the ball with dew and water until it turned into a dazzling pearl. They fell in love with this iridescent ball, and so too they fell in love with each other. They settled down to live together on the enchanted island guarding their magical pearl. Wherever the pearl shone, flowers of all seasons bloomed together and the land yielded richer harvests.

Now one night, it so happened that the queen mother of the western heavens left her jade palace in the Kun Lun Mountains to go for a stroll around the stars. She was an ugly, spiteful, celestial immortal and suffered from a burning bile that rose from her guts. This bile was caused by the hate and envy she nursed in her heart. The queen mother had discovered that walking briskly aided her to burp, thus releasing the poisonous foul gasses straight out of her mouth.

As she marched around the stars like a soldier swinging her arms and emitting puffs of smelly green smoke, she saw the brilliant rays shed by the pearl far away down on the earth. She was overwhelmed by the sight and let out the biggest burp ever. Her husband the jade emperor, who lived on the ninth storey of the jade palace, was blown across his chamber by the evil green wind. The queen mother flew back over the palace wall, which was built of pure gold, and was over one thousand miles long. She flew to the lake of jewels and saw that she possessed nothing comparable to the shining pearl.

Alas, that night, unable to sleep she became bad tempered. She slapped more than one hundred serving maids as they tried to lull her into slumber. In vain they sang her sweet songs and applied cool perfumed presses to her furrowed brow, but she could not rest till she possessed the pearl for herself. One hundred jade maidens ran crying from the queen mother’s chambers, tears running down their lily-white faces, their cheeks bearing her handprint and cuts from her spiky rings. One by one the queen mother’s guards ran away behind the jade maidens, and the last one to remain cowered by the door waiting for his chance to escape.

‘You! Come closer. You must go and steal that gigantic pearl for me. At once!’ the queen mother ordered him.

The guard cringed at her knees and whispered, ‘I dare not your majesty. It belongs to the jade dragon and the golden phoenix.’

The queen mother boxed his ears and shouted, ‘Buffoon! Worm! How dare you contradict me? I am the queen mother of the western heavens, and everything belongs to me. Why should they posses the largest pearl ever seen? It is more beautiful than the moon and it never waxes nor wanes, I will have it!’

The guard, grovelling and bowing, began to walk backwards towards the door. He said slyly, ‘Remember what your husband said your majesty? The jade emperor doesn’t want any more trouble right now.’

The queen mother clapped her hands thrice and a silver sword flew through the air pinning the guard to the door by his robes.

‘Silence!’ she screamed, ‘You’ll do as I say, or I shall transform myself into the skin of a tiger and wrap myself around a diseased wanderer and bring the plague to your home.’

The celestial guard had no choice and departed on the queen mother’s orders. Before sunrise he returned with the pearl and handed it over to her. She hid it in the innermost room of her palace behind one thousand locked doors.

The following morning when the dragon and the phoenix woke they saw their pearl was gone. They desperately searched high and low for it. The jade dragon looked in every nook and cranny of the celestial river while the golden phoenix combed every inch of the sacred mountain, but alas it had vanished.

The following full moon, the birthday of the queen mother came around and she invited all the immortals in heaven. It was well known that in her garden at the jade palace she cultivated the peaches of immortality. The magical peach tree only grew peaches every three thousand years, and then they took a further three thousand years to ripen. This year was very special, as on the night of her birthday the peaches would be ready. They were so fragrant, so ripe and she would hold the feast of peaches.

The immortals arrived at the jade palace to celebrate. They sat at the banquet table devouring the soft peaches, ripping through the delicate skins with their sharp teeth, the sweet juices running down their chins. The queen mother wore a tiger’s head mounted on a crown upon her head, and she sat on a leopard skin throne with a jade maiden by her side. She was facing east, clothed in seven layers of blue clouds.

She still had three peaches on a silver platter and she shouted out loud over the slurping and sucking. ‘Tonight we will bestow these peaches on three new pretenders!’

There was a hushed silence and then they all began to cry out their favourite’s name.

‘There’s Zhong Li-quan.’

‘You mean that fat bare bellied Taoist?’

‘He’s a nifty geezer.’

‘He can wave his feathered fan and bring the dead back to life?’

‘Big deal! I can do that without a fan.’

‘He materialises silver coins and gives them to the poor.’

‘All right! Send a celestial cloud to fetch him.’

‘Who else?’

‘Lan Caihe!’

‘Are you mad? That drunken fool, slopping around with one shoe on and one shoe off.’

‘He can transform snow into hot steam!’

‘No, No, No! He’s a shifty feller and a cross dressing lady boy!’

‘Lu Dong Bin then?’

‘No, No, No! He’s a glutton for wine!’

‘Wait your majesty! Did you know he can travel hundreds of miles in the blink of an eye?’

‘Really? Well I never! Send for him too and now who?’

‘Han Xian Zi.’

‘You mean Lu Dong Bin’s mate?’

‘Yes that’s him! He has the skills of prophesy.’

‘No, No and No! He’s been very rude to the monks and writes bad poetry, maybe next time.’

‘There’s still one peach left!’

‘Zhang Guo Lao!’

‘The death faker?’

‘That’s him. He travels thousands of miles a day, riding backwards on a white donkey. And at night when he rests, he folds the donkey up like a piece of paper and puts it in his pocket.’

‘Really? And then how does he revive it?’

‘Easy! In the morning, he just sprinkles the paper with water, and ta-da, the donkey is ready to trot.’

‘And is it true he can turn into a bat?’

‘For sure!’

‘Well, we’ll have him then as our third guest. But wait my friends! I haven’t finished with my lovely surprises. I will stun you now with a vision of the most wonderful treasure.’

The queen mother wanted to show off the pearl, and when she brought it out from its hiding place all nine floors of the jade palace were lit up by its radiance.

‘See my dears! See what mummy of the west has?’

And the dragon and the phoenix saw the light too from their enchanted island. Losing no time they flew straight to the heavens, over the thousand mile golden wall, over the lake of precious jewels and into the banquet hall, and they demanded the queen mother give back their pearl.

The queen mother was enraged. ‘Clean the wax from your ear holes and listen to this! I am the wife of the jade emperor, mother of the western heavens; all heavenly treasures belong to me!’

The jade dragon replied, ‘Heaven did not give birth to this pearl, nor was it grown on earth. It was carved and polished by us, it took many years of hard work to create the pearl and it is ours!’

The queen mother turned scarlet and great clouds of purple vapours billowed from her nostrils. Her nails grew into long horny claws, she opened her black mouth baring her tiger’s fangs and screamed, ‘I’ll be damned before I let you have this pearl back!’

‘Then don’t let us have it back.’ replied the golden phoenix. ‘We will take it from you as you stole it from us. You conniving vixen!’

The queen mother flew at them hissing and growling and all three began to fight. During the battle the pearl slipped from the queen mother’s grasp and landed on the floor. It rolled across the hall and down the staircase and fell into the sky. In a flash the dragon and the phoenix flew after the pearl. They desperately tried to catch hold of it, but it was too late, and as the pearl landed on earth it turned into a clear jade green lake.

In the end, the dragon and the phoenix could not bring themselves to leave their pearl behind, so they decided to turn themselves into two mountains with the lake between them. Ever since then, the jade dragon mountain and the golden phoenix mountain have stood beside the west lake, and each new moon, a dark eyed man and a young girl make love upon the sands of the western shore.”

Jin Yu was furious. His eyes darted as wildly as the Jade Emperor’s eyes when he’d discovered the Queen Mother had turned his favourite concubine into a donkey. He’d just received a phone call from his construction manager telling him that the group of squatter’s shacks they were supposed to demolish had a large crowd gathered out front.

The squatters were carrying placards. Journalists from the local newspapers were there, but what made the bile rise in his throat and swamp his vocal chords was the presence of Chung Hoi Fat. He began tapping on the intercom:

‘Amir, Amir come here, Amir!’

The office manager Amir came panting through the doorway, his face glowing like a treacle glazed pot. He nodded and told Jin Yu:

‘Yes, Yes I know. It’s the Hoi Fat chap. No worries lah! What is he? Who is he? Nothing! Just a hero of lost causes.’

‘He won the constituency in Tipah.’

‘I know, I know.’ Amir shook his head from side to side in disgust, ‘Did you see his campaign poster? My God lah! How we laughed, how we cried.’ He took a handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow, ‘My wife told me his hairstyle is known as a lacquered bouffant ending in a duck’s arse, and did you see he was carrying two Chinese babies?’ He nodded in admiration, ‘Very clever! I wonder who he borrowed them from?’

Jin Yu grumbled:

‘I bought that building land with valid permits on the understanding that the squatters had accepted compensation.’

‘Ah so! Yes, twenty-three squatter families all moved on.’ Amir shrugged, ‘but you know how it is? There is always one who won’t get out the way! Like a nasty boil, face as red as a chicken’s arse. Lee Cheng Hu, number twenty-four, the last squatter family and not going.’

‘Why not? What’s the problem?’

‘Well they don’t actually live in this shack but have a house elsewhere. Father’s a very cheeky rascal, he uses the shack to raise pigs.’ Amir threw up his hands, his eyes stretched wide with visions, ‘My god! You should see the garden, full of concrete pens, blood, squeals and stinking shit. And can you believe he owns a BMW? So I offered him fifteen-hundred bucks to sling his hook.’

Jin Yu told him:

‘That’s far less than the other families got.’

‘Is that wrong?’

‘No you did the right thing.’

Angered by Cheng Hu’s ingratitude and knowing the law back to front, Jin Yu considered withdrawing any offer of compensation. He huffed:

‘Cheng Hu doesn’t have a leg to stand on, I need time to think.’

The whole situation had blown up and if he backed down now he’d lose face. He’d never intervene, but stay out of reach and send someone else to confront the squatters. He knew the building work would be held up unless he acted fast.

‘Send the lawyer,’ he ordered, ‘and tell him to hear out the squatter’s demands but offer no agreements, and tell him to get the names of the journalists.’

Amir would take care of the local Malay papers, though he had no idea how to deal with Chung Hoi Fat.

That night he dreams he is walking down a darkened street that seems to go on forever, there is no moon to show the way, just a dim light glowing from a cafe on the roadside. Large oily drops of rain start to splash around him, and he runs for shelter under the cafe awnings. Through the doorway he sees Hoi Fat inside, no longer a man but a mythical Hsigo, with the body of a monkey, the tail of a dog and the wings of a bird.

Hoi Fat is making a papier-mâché dummy head; he spins it around on his gluey fingertips, a kaleidoscope of shiny tinfoil and rice paper. He decorates his creation with dull beer bottle cap eyes stuck too close together and greasy string hair matted like a bird’s nest.

Jin Yu sees this mock-up head is an effigy of himself, with “Greed” stamped on its forehead in red letters and plastic Halloween vampire teeth for its mouth. Hoi Fat stuffs one of his father’s old suits with newspapers making a lumpy Guy Fawkes fit for a bonfire. He joins the body to the head and ra ta-da! He presents Jin Yu, the rich Chinese businessman to the downtrodden poor. By now the house shop is filled with villagers, who grin and nudge each other. They whisper as Hoi Fat cuts out silhouettes of skinny kids from old magazines and screws them up and places them under the rich man’s feet. It looks like a gaudy nativity scene. The villagers gather around this effigy, shoving and daring each other to get closer, showing they are not afraid of it. They smile with glee as Hoi Fat strikes the match.

Mandy had been living with Jin Yu for several months, and she sometimes wondered how long it could go on for. At other times she believed she was fond of her fat lover, but asked herself if she would ever fall in love with him.

On the night she’d arrived they’d driven up to the gates of the compound, and from the back seat she’d watched as a thin dark man came out of a wooden sentry box dressed like a guard with gold epaulets on his shoulders. He’d carried a shining black shotgun, and had opened the gate for them. As they’d driven past she’d seen him slowly lift his gun up to the sky, pointing the barrel at the low moon. The old guard had stood in the glaring headlights; his ancient shoes too large, his heart glowing like liquor in his eyes. She’d wondered if he’d ever shot anyone.

The house wasn’t what she had hoped for, there were no stone Foo dogs guarding the gates, no painted vermillion door, and no spirit screen carved with dragons to protect the home from evil ghosts. It was just a modern split-level building with marble floors and large panoramic windows.

She spent hours in Jin Yu’s study; the shelves were crammed with books and there were maps on the walls. She was disappointed though, because the books were about economics and law, and the maps were of his tin mines around Perak.

She searched through his library looking for things to read and at last found a shelf stuffed with old colonial books. While Jin Yu was away at the office, she’d sit upon the opium bed, reading about a land she’d always dreamed of, seeing the Malaysia she wanted to see. The books were filled with faded sepia photographs and as she turned the yellowed pages she peered into scenes that made her heart quiver. She saw a fat jowled Sultan with a wild tiger lying shot at his feet; he was surrounded by white men in topee hats, they held their hunting rifles aloft as they squinted in the sunlight. She peered at a Chinese Mandarin smoking on his opium couch, wearing a silk robe embroidered with chrysanthemums; his white head was shaved and he had a long black pigtail. And in another book, a man from the Orang Asli tribe stood on the edge of the jungle wrapped in faded cloth, upon his head, a crown woven from leaf fronds that curled and grew through his wild bushy hair. These men with their faraway eyes had a strange effect upon her, casting a spell of desire and adventure in her heart.

Mandy spent hours reading through books that smelt of mildew, turning the brown spotted pages as the glue came unstuck and the cotton thread rotted and the spines fell apart.

“Seafarers refer to ethnic groups living by the sea in Southeast Asia, sometimes known as Sea Gypsies in the South China Sea area, Sulawesi sea and Sabah. The ethnic group name is known as Bajau laut and Orang laut, which literally means “the sea people” in Malay.

These Malay people of Southeast Asia trace their forbears to Yunnan some 5000–10000 years ago. They were seafarers that migrated along rivers such as Mekong and Irrawady to the Andaman Sea, South China Sea and various locations in the Malay Archipelago. In the 15th century, large numbers of Malay Seafarers converted to Islam.

Their knowledge of the sea enables them to live off its organisms by using simple tools such as nets and spears to forage for food. What is not consumed is dried atop their boats then used for trade at local markets for other necessities.

During the monsoon season, they build additional boats while occupying temporary huts. Many of the Orang Laut are still nomadic people who roam the sea most of their lives in small hand-crafted wooden boats, which serve not just as transportation, but also as their home with a kitchen, bedroom and living area.

Much of their traditional life, built on the premise of life as outsiders, is under threat and appears to be diminishing. The Sea Gypsies are a minority group that number only a few tens of thousands. They maintain a nomadic sea-based culture and live almost entirely on boats and practice shamanic rites” Nomadic Tribes In South East Asia- Arthur Wang- MBE

She told Jin Yu:

‘I want to go and see the Orang Laut and sail with them on their boats.’

And he told her:

‘You wouldn’t like it, they’re gypsies and dangerous. You can’t just turn up and stay with them; they are not hotels. They’re bad people and you could get killed.’

‘I don’t believe you. Why don’t we go for a few weeks to Sabah?’

He paused, an incredulous expression on his face; then he said:

‘If you like I’ll take you to a wildlife park there. You can visit the orang-utans orphanage.’

She said:

‘I don’t want to see the bloody orang-utans. I want to see the orang laut.’

The rich Chinese man fears for his pale skin, soft as a dumpling, afraid of the poor and their envy he hides away, afraid to sit in a rotting boat on a hard seat feeling seasick. The Malay sea gypsies squatting on the deck watching him, rolling tobacco into newspaper cigars, the red smouldering ends blazing as they puff, they watch him through smoke and sea mist, and they see he is no man. Sugar daddy with his mermaid, and the water is filling his shoes. They’ll lash her to the mast with her fat millionaire. Make him walk the plank and watch him sink, his pockets full of gold. And after, the skinny white girl with long yellow hair will live in the crow’s nest on the main mast. At night, she’ll slide down the mast like butter on hot toast, and they’ll roll dice to see who will have her and they wont let her go.

Jin Yu lived on the West side of the compound and his brother on the North. In the centre there was a courtyard pool and a large reception room that no one seemed to use. Mandy had wandered through this room; browsing among the Jade Buddhas in glass wall units, poking about in the cupboards filled with antique ginger jars and snuff bottles. She’d glanced over the shiny leather sofas, the bare dining room table and the empty cocktail cabinet, and wondered if she were in a waiting room, marking time until something would happen.

They never ate at home as Jin Yu would take her out to dinner every night, and while he was away during the day, there was a driver and car parked under the porch in case she wanted to go somewhere.

‘What if I want a cup of tea or a snack?’

‘Ask the maid!’

She’d tried the next day, with a hangover she’d wandered through Jin Yu’s kitchen and tapped on the door to the maid’s room.

Padma had stood in the doorway doused in coconut oil. She was dressed in a button down housemaid’s tunic cut like a maternity dress. She didn’t look Mandy in the eye or smile, but waited, her hooded eyes fixed on a spot somewhere down on the floor, an aura of stubbornness hanging like a curtain between them.

Mandy smiled at the top of her head.

‘Hiya, could you make me a coffee and toast with jam? You know Jam?’

Padma didn’t answer her. Instead, with her head down, she shuffled over to the small bathroom off the kitchen, and opened the door pointing to the toilet.

‘Not jamban! Forget it, just coffee. Coffee? Kopi? Christ it’s like a dolls house with a waxwork maid’

That evening, Jin Yu sat in a daze, his mind on business. Mandy had met an American couple at the botanical gardens earlier in the day, and she’d brought them back to the house for dinner.

‘House needs cheering up,’ she told him, ‘we never have any friends round.’

‘Are they your friends?’ he asked, ‘It seems you’ve just picked them up off the street.’

‘Maybe not,’ she sighed, ‘but they’re better than nothing!’

‘I don’t think we have any food in the house.’

‘Send Osman out for Chinese.’

Mandy had settled them on sun loungers around the pool. Marylou was six feet tall in hot pants and high heels. Spiros her Greek American boyfriend was short, dark and fat and wore a stomach girdle and no shirt. They were on a world cruise and had been left behind in Phuket, now they were hurrying through Malaysia to rejoin their ship in Singapore.

Spiros stood behind Marylou’s sun bed massaging her shoulders, Marylou smiled, ‘I told Spiros, we were gonna miss the ship.’

‘She’s right! But we were in Thailand and wanted see the hill tribes. OK, so we missed the boat. No problem babe!’

Later, Padma set the table by the pool and put the Chinese food into dishes.

‘What’s this?’ Marylou asked, pointing at her plate.

‘Sea cucumber.’ Jin Yu told her.

‘Are you sure? Because it looks like something we had in Hong Kong and I can tell ya I never want to eat it again.’ She tossed her fork down on the table, ‘Tell’em Spiros, tell’em what I ate. It was called rising tiger meets flying phoenix or something.’

Spiros nodded, ‘Yeah! Donkey dick and Donkey vagina.’

Spiros was grinning, his teeth were as white as snow and Jin Yu wondered if they were false. His eyes glinted as he watched Mandy and Jin Yu, like a hungry buzzard, like a card shark, like an old gangster.

‘I ride with the flow! I’m easy going.’ he told them, ‘I get up in the morning and I say, Marylou lets have some fun!’

Marylou giggled and Spiros said, ’Who knows what we’ll do? Or where we’ll go? Now listen, no one could guess my real age, ever, because my mind is young!

‘Sure honey!’ Marylou quipped, ‘No one would guess you’re ninety seven.’

‘Ha-ha, you see she’s so funny! She keeps me young.’ Spiros grabbed Marylou’s hand, waving it across the table. ‘See all these jewels on her? Make her happy that’s what I say. See the blue sapphire? Got that just last week in Ceylon, best sapphires in the world.’

‘And the Rolex in Switzerland!’ Marylou added.

She let Spiros wave her wrist around, while she smiled and blew a kiss to him. Later Spiros followed Jin Yu into the house to call for a taxi to take them back to their hotel.

‘You and me we understand each other, right?’ Spiros asked Jin Yu. ‘Let me give you a word of advice. You like em young? So do I!’ He shook his head, ’But yours is a real sour puss! Now my Marylou she’s a party. Understand? And remember never put a ring on their finger. Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, OK, but no wedding ring!

After they’d left, Mandy went into the bedroom and saw Jin Yu’s jacket and tie thrown on the bed. She found him in the dining room drinking whisky.

‘Why?’

‘Why what?’

She shrugged, ‘You hardly ever drink and you never sit in here.’

‘I’m waiting for Han Yu to get home.’

‘What’s wrong?’

He threw her a newspaper. ‘Read page three.’

She read it quickly. ‘So what?’ she asked, ‘Just offer him the money he wants and shut him up. It’s peanuts to you! Why do you care? No one even reads Kejujuran, it’s a stupid paper full of propaganda and who is Chung Hoi Fat?’

‘A local politician.’ he replied, his brow furrowing into deep lines. ‘It bothers me because I’m a private person. I’ve acted fairly, so why drag me in? You didn’t read the page with his letter to the readers.’

She turned over the page and read out loud, ‘Who is this Phang Jin Yu? Cousin to George Chok, chairman of the planning commission, that’s who! And we must ask ourselves; how come this sly, yes my comrades let us say sly, let us call a spade a spade. How come this sly mover now owns the land your homes stand upon? Yes indeed, beware of this creeping crawling snake! Because right now, he could be opening his fat wallet, right in this very second he could be buying more Government land! It is my duty as your elected representative to assist you. A squatter should have rights to the land he has ploughed and toiled, and rights over the home where he has raised his children. We the MJP, propose to introduce a new bill for squatters at the next legislative assembly blah blah blah.’

‘I’ll have to suspend the demolition until we can reach an agreement with the Pig Man.’ He moaned and took a sip of whiskey.

‘Don’t give in to the Bastard!’

‘What? I’d have thought you’d have been number one champion for the poor blighter. You love underdogs!’

‘I hate him! Don’t you care what he’s doing?’ She tossed the paper on the table. ‘He is raising poor baby pigs for the slaughter! And little pigs are so sweet; they feel love and fear just like us… Did you know pigs are as clever as dogs?’

Jin Yu shook his head; he had no idea and wondered if it were true.

She went on, ‘Well they are. A famous pig saved a woman’s life once, and you can keep them as pets.’ She smiled sweetly at Jin Yu, ‘I might keep pigs one day, when I have an apple orchard, and they’ll be free to wander about.’ Her eyes narrowed, ‘I hope he gets sent to prison, he’s a bloody butcher!’

Jin Yu told her, ‘They don’t send people to prison for raising and butchering pigs.’

‘Well they should.’

Mandy left him alone to go to bed and soon after his brother came home. While Jin Yu waited for Han Yu to read the article, he saw a servant passing by under the window in the dark, with a spade over his shoulder; he appeared sinister, like a bad omen, as though on his way to dig a grave, his face carved like a cracked wooden mask.

Han Yu folded the paper and chucked it in the bin by the cocktail cabinet; he poured him self a large whisky and smiled kindly at Jin Yu he told him, ‘You must reach a settlement and fast.’

‘So is it true? Did George Chok grant the planning?’

‘Of course not! That land was already in the urban planning program years ago, they couldn’t find anyone to invest.’

‘Thing is, they haven’t actually accused us of corruption, just implied the possibility.’ Jin Yu scowled, ‘Anyway legally I don’t have any obligations to pay off the squatters, I wish I hadn’t bothered now.’

‘Look, twenty-three or twenty-four, what’s the difference? You’ll have to pay him to shut him up.’ He patted Jin Yu’s shoulder, ‘George will sort out Chung Hoi Fat; it’s nothing to do with us. It’s just bloody politics and that Hoi Fat is heading for trouble… didn’t you know him at school? Weren’t you good friends?’

Jin Yu told his brother, ‘Hardly, he’s younger than me. He was in a lower form.’

Mandy stood outside Padma’s room peering in through the doorway. She was intrigued by this sullen maid who crept around the house like a ghost, and she wondered if Jin Yu were afraid of her. She’d noticed he avoided Padma and would rather drive miles to a restaurant than ask her to cook.

A few nights before, she’d read an article from a woman’s magazine to Jin Yu.

‘Black magic is dangerous and can destroy your health. It can also kill or make the individual commit suicide in extreme cases.’

‘That’s rubbish! I don’t believe in black magic.’

‘Many people are victims of black magic, suffering from prolonged and even fatal illnesses but they have no idea that black magic is the cause. If you think you’ve become a victim of black magic answer these questions.’

She’d narrowed her eyes and tilted her head, leaning so close to his face that he could feel her breath on his cheek.

‘Is your sleep disturbed? Is your mouth dry at night? Do you feel fatigued and lacking in energy? Do you get angry for no reason? Do you suffer from obesity?’

He’d stopped her, ‘Don’t Mandy, I can answer yes to them all, it doesn’t signify, and who’d want to do black magic on me anyway?’

‘Padma! Maybe she has a black magic doll, a Chinaman, stuck with pins hidden in her room, or maybe she has your baby.’

‘Shut up!’

‘Have you ever had sex with her?’

‘What? Are you mad?’

He had pinned her arms down on the bed, glaring at her before kissing her. He’d told her to forget Padma.

And yet the next morning there she was, stepping through the doorway, peering into Padma’s bedroom to satisfy her curiosity. The room was just big enough for the single camp bed. It had a rough concrete floor and iron bars instead of glass in the window. And right outside, shutting out the view and light was a massive air conditioning unit droning away like a lawn mower. Her clothes were hung from nails on the wall, and on the windowsill stood a plaster statuette of Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth, and a packet of mosquito coils.

Later that day, Jin Yu arrived home; his head ached and his neck hurt. He wanted to put on his surgical collar and rest but she wouldn’t let him wear it. She’d told him it was revolting, and made him look like an old cripple. He’d told her he had cervicalgia, so she’d made him do yoga. He hadn’t been able to do it right, and she’d sat on his back pressing his chest to his knees, twisting his arms behind his shoulders. He believed she’d nearly broken his back and he’d been in excruciating pain for days afterwards. From then on he’d kept quiet, afraid of being made to do yoga again.

‘Why don’t we stay in tonight?’ he asked, ‘I’ll send Osman to pick up a dinner.’

‘Fine.’

She waited and watched him take his jacket and tie off. Then she launched on him, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself! I looked inside Padma’s room today, and it’s worse than a prison cell. Are you sure it’s meant to be a bedroom and not the broom cupboard?’

‘She’s a servant.’

’What? Are you afraid she might get above herself? What about the huge room where you keep the Hoover and the bloody mop? Why can’t she have that?

He reddened, ‘I have no idea. It’s not something I organised my self.’

Mandy pointed at him as though it were all his fault, ‘And she doesn’t even have a wardrobe! Her clothes are hung on nails. And you couldn’t even fit a wardrobe in the room anyway. If I were you, I’d be ashamed to keep a servant in such a condition.’

‘I’ll have to talk to my brother about it.’

Jin Yu knew he would have to tread carefully or Mandy would start a row; like when she’d first arrived and had caused trouble over Sinbad the dog.

Years before, Han Yu had bought Sinbad from a breeder in Singapore.

‘We need a guard dog.’ He’d told Jin Yu, ‘Alsatians are ideal because of their strength, intelligence and obedience training.’

Yet when anyone returned home, Sinbad would jump on them from excitement, covering their clothes and the car door in mud and dust. He had no malice in him and Han Yu said he’d never take chunk out of a burglar. He was kept chained to his kennel in the day and let lose at night.

‘He’ll ruin my suit lah.’

Over the years everyone had forgotten him; he spent his days laying in the yard and his back legs had become riddled with arthritis.

A few days after her arrival, Mandy had come across Sinbad while wandering through the gardens; hunched up in the shade, his long snout resting on his paws, watching her while his tail thumped, spinning a cloud of dust around him. She’d knelt down on her knees and lowered her head to peer into his eyes. Sighing deeply, feeling his dejection seeping into her, she rubbed at the dirt on his neck, revealing the bright orange and ginger tips of his dark fur.

Jin Yu had found Sinbad in the house just a few hours later. The dog was lying on the leather sofa and he’d noticed she was using his hairbrush to groom Sinbad. He’d stood there watching Mandy, confused by the sweet look of love in her eyes; a love that rose around her like damp earth and dog sweat, a love he longed to be wrapped in, a love she withheld from him. He knew if he ordered Sinbad back outside Mandy would leave. She might be living under his roof but was more like a bird that had flown in through an open window by chance, and would fly off again unless he could shut the window first.

He had lied to her, ‘I had no idea he was chained up. It’s the servants, stupid duffers! They’re ignorant, they’ve no idea how to treat a dog.’

Thinking of what Han Yu would say when he came home and found the dog on the sofa, he added, ‘I think Sinbad would be happier if he stayed on our side of the house.’

After that he’d come home every day to find the dog in his rooms, on his bed, or lying on the carpet in his study. Sinbad seemed to have taken to the life of relaxing, only going into the garden for a crap, and Mandy had no thought of exercising him with long walks. She’d tried to get him in the pool but he’d been too afraid.

At the office his brother had noted dryly that Jin Yu’s household was expanding.

‘What is she? Amoi or Bohsia?’ girlfriend or slut?

Jin Yu had said nothing. How could he answer, he didn’t know himself. He wished he could say Wife, Pu-ngiong.

He’d taken Mandy away to Hong Kong for a few days. They went shopping for books and he’d bought her a new camera. While they were there, he’d telephoned Han Yu to ask a favour. Han Yu didn’t want the dog in the house, she wouldn’t leave him in the garden and Jin Yu didn’t want him in the bed.

‘Can’t you send the dog back?’

‘Don’t be an idiot Lah!’

‘Then take it to Auntie’s!’

‘Cannot Meh!’

In the end Han Yu had said he wouldn’t object to Sinbad being taken away, but refused to have anything to do with it. So Jin Yu had made a phone call to his driver and he’d sent the dog to a bungalow on one of their rubber estates.

Back in Ipoh, he’d told Mandy, ‘Sinbad died from a heart attack while we were in Hong Kong. I didn’t tell you straight away, because I didn’t want you to be sad.’

Now with Sinbad gone she was taking up with Padma. He felt a forewarning. He couldn’t move Padma to a larger room, it would be wrong. His brother’s wife, Sue Chin, was in charge of domestic arrangements. The younger brother’s girlfriend or slut shouldn’t interfere. Jin Yu knew he couldn’t say any of this to Mandy; she wouldn’t understand or even try to comprehend. She’d put them on trial for being feudal and backward.

‘Why let your brother organise everything?’ she complained, ‘It’s your house too! It’s time you stood up for Padma, poor cow, and double her wages or triple them, so she can buy some decent clothes.’

‘I can’t interfere.’ he told her, ‘It’s not my place. He’s my older brother.’

‘Older brother? He looks old enough to be your father.’

He felt deeply ashamed by what she said, and wanted her to shut her beautiful gob.

‘I’ll see what I can do.’ he said.

“ Chinese endeavour to preserve face and avoid shame in public and private. Face is a notion that includes a good name, good character, and being held in high regard. Face is considered an asset that can be earned or lost.

Face is lost when openly criticizing or confronting someone in authority; also by refusing a request, not keeping a promise, or disagreeing with someone in public. On the other hand, face can be saved by remaining courteous, and discussing transgressions in private without blaming anyone.

Chinese will never refuse a request by saying ‘No’ Instead they will say ‘I will try’ or ‘I’ll see what I can do’ This allows the person, whose request is turned down, to save face and withdraw with their pride intact.”

Chinese Customs - Harold Kim 1905

Jin Yu stood alone in his study; he had no intention of talking to Han Yu about Padma. He disliked Padma, he wanted nothing to do with her and neither did any one else, except Mandy.

‘Leave Padma alone, let her do her job!’ he could see himself telling her.

Then she would say, ‘No, I want to take her shopping, and I’m going to buy her a pair of shoes.’

He’d take hold of her hair, caressing it at first, ‘No you wont!’ pulling a little tighter.

‘Yes’ she would say, ‘and I’m going to give her my red and gold sari.’

‘No you are not!’ He’d rip open her blouse, the pearl buttons scattering on the floor.

‘You’ll do as I say.’ He would stroke her bare breasts, her nipples growing hard.

‘I’m going to punish you, until you learn to obey me.’

She’d whisper, ‘I wont.’

And then he would pull up her skirt and pull down her knickers.

‘Say you’re sorry.’

‘I’m not sorry, never!’ She would laugh at him, and he’d bend her over the desk.

‘Then I’ll cane you. I’ll teach you. You’ll learn who is your master.’

Then he would take the silver topped rattan cane from the shelf and whip her bare bottom.

He raced back to the bedroom his heart thudding in his chest. Mandy was there reading a book, lying upon the opium bed, oblivious to the tempest she was causing in his head.

She looked up and asked him, ‘So have you spoken with your brother?’

She just wouldn’t shut up. He snatched the book from her and flung it across the room, it crashed against the wall. Her eyes widened in shock, then she noticed his hard penis pressing against his trousers. She slowly crawled across the pillows. He knelt behind her, pushing up her skirt; her hair fell forwards covering her face and he bit the back of her neck.

Later, lying next to her, he marvelled at how much he loved her. She made him angry and he loved her even more. She leant on one elbow looking down on him.

She asked him, ‘What about Padma?’

Her mouth had become petulant. Jin Yu didn’t have the energy to imagine caning her anymore; he just wanted to appease her.

He told her, ‘I must find the right moment, he was with Sue Chin and the baby.’

‘So?’ she demanded.

‘I can’t make a criticism in front of his wife.’

The following day Jin Yu left the house before dawn. He had to visit several tin mines before a business meeting. He was tired and worried about Mandy, she’d told him she wanted to come with him to photograph the mineworkers, so he’d sneaked away.

He didn’t want her with him. He had no time to keep stopping at every other hawker stall, nor to hang around while she took photographs of everything. He would feel ashamed going to the mines with a woman. He was there to sort out some disputes and her presence would be a mockery. The mineworkers would judge her from the corners of their eyes and they would not be proud to be photographed; their bodies stiffened, frozen to the spot, humiliated to be standing in their grimy work clothes.

He stumbled out of the car and into the early morning air, yellow stars shimmered still in the purple sky and a bluish mist hung in the air; the miner’s lamp like eyes shone in the darkness, hovering around him. He hated being there that day, when he knew the price of tin would slump by half the following year. He listened to their stuttered phrases, like mules’ lips and dogs’ teeth, harsh with meaning. All smiles, he walked around shaking hands and nodding. Many of them would be sacked sooner or later. Seeing their knotted faces that day saddened him so that he felt physically ill.

‘Keep silent for now.’ Han Yu had told him. ‘Set the wheels in motion and diversify lah!’

‘Taken care of liao.’

There under the rising sun Phang Jin Yu felt vicious and unheroic. The sun’s red rays flew like arrows out of the black jungle, burning a searing vision of himself as a soft white larva feeding on the tiny ant miners; a myrmecophagous caterpillar secreting a pheromone that made the ants believe he was one of their own. They carried him into their nests where he fed on their children, their tiny bodies crunchy and tasting bitter. He bit into their poison sacks turning his spit red hot.

He stood there in the middle of the jungle hills imprisoned by tall barbed wire fences, bewildered by the vision that stung in his eyes. He struggled to drive away these dream ants and to see again the miners he knew; he spat on the ground. He squeezed his eyes against the glaring sun, and saw their bodies worn and hard as rock, dry skin like old mottled leather, their legs nothing but bone and knotted veins; still carrying their life blood, still hauling tin from the ground while they shrivelled in the hot sun. He believed he’d be glad when the end came; once the mines were abandoned, the gigantic machines would blossom into furry rust as orange as a low sun, and the jungle would weave a beautiful dappled canopy over their tired iron carcasses, entwining with the barbed wire fences, reclaiming its land.

Formation of Wasteland- Ing. Khom Pang Seong.

“An overview of reclamation and rehabilitation of tin mining land.

The environmental damage caused by mining and creation of barren wastelands is due in part to the stripping of large areas of vegetation to allow access to tin mining machineries. Subsequently soil erosion occurs and the formation of mining pools. These contain large amounts of tailings left behind by alluvial mining, which have been completely leached of most plant nutrients and therefore unable to support any life forms. Areas like these become polluted wasteland. Crops cultivated on tin tailings have been found to contain Toxic elements (appendix A)

Tailings washed into rivers cause high toxicity levels rendering the water unsuitable for drinking and irrigation purposes (appendix B)

Restoration work: Mining holes can be filled with non-poisonous waste or large mining pools which have already formed may be converted into lakes or ponds for recreational use . . .”

In the back of his car returning to Ipoh, he read the file for the golf resort to be built on one of their disused mines in East Perak. It was badly written and made him feel doomed. He pushed the report back into his folder, glad that Mandy wasn’t there to read about environmental damage, and instead he unfolded the construction plans for an emerald green golf course dotted with turquoise lakes.

He arrived in Ipoh, and went to a hotel restaurant to have lunch with a politician from the United Moslems National Organisation. The politician beamed at Jin Yu, his teeth blazing white and his fish eyes dead cold, he talked with his mouth full:

‘Grease my palms yeah? Give us kick back. Nice percentage lah.’

Jin Yu slid an envelope across the table, he murmured:

‘As we agreed.’

The UMNO man shoved the envelope in his pocket fast, and snorted:

‘Thanks lah! Government contract’s yours. Done and dusted.’

Jin Yu felt sick, he hardly touched his food while the man stuffed his mouth with fried pork washed down with champagne. He asked Jin Yu:

‘You’re paying right? What about the suite? And where’s the girl?’

Jin Yu had it all laid on. He said:

‘I told her to wait for you in the room, and not to come down here.’

‘Nah,’ the man shrugged, ‘no worry about the waiters chitter chatting, they know to keep their traps shut in these high-class hotels.’

Jin Yu shook hands and said goodbye to the man, whose oily lips told him it was always a pleasure, and then he left him there.

Later back at the office, he wondered whether he should say something about Padma’s room. ‘Mandy thinks it’s a rabbit’s hutch’ but when Han Yu came by in the afternoon he kept quiet.

Han Yu asked:

‘All sorted with the contract?’

‘Yes.’ Jin Yu told him.

At the end of the day his driver arrived, and on their way home Osman reminded him:

‘Lady Madam, she say you bring steam dumpling for dinner.’

They stopped outside a restaurant and Jin Yu waited in the car. He just wanted to rest when he got home, but he was afraid he might find Padma in his bedroom. An awful picture came to his mind of Padma wearing one of Mandy’s dresses. Mandy would have cut off Padma’s long oily plaits and restyled her hair using his brush, which would stink forever more of dog and coconut oil. She would have painted Padma’s face and lectured her on feminism, she’d then want Jin Yu to enrol Padma in a secretarial college and pay for her typing course, which he’d have to get out of because Padma couldn’t even read or write.

The written word for Padma was just scribble, but if Mandy knew that, then she’d want to spend every night teaching Padma the alphabet, naturally in Roman letters. Mandy would probably improve Padma’s Pidgin English by recording a tape with repeat phrases like, ‘I am a dog. You are a dog. He is a dog.’ And she’d give it to Padma to listen to, using his Walkman so Padma could shove the earphones in her waxy ear holes.

Osman came back with a bag full of steaming hot food and drove Jin Yu back home.

Mandy sat at the dressing table mirror snapping stalks off a pile of freshly cut flowers. The broken stems exuded a sharp fragrance that wafted across the room, and as the sticky sap ran down her fingers she wiped her hands on her hot thighs. Jin Yu sat on the end of the bed reading a newspaper.

KL Times May 3rd

“Kuala Lumpur- The Home Ministry has issued a communication stating that it will not renew Kejujuran’s publishing permit, which expires on Thursday as it was not satisfied with the paper’s explanation for allegedly printing inaccurate reports.

Kejujuran, the main opposition party’s English language newspaper, run by opposition MJP leader Ahmed Hussein, was closed today after the authorities said it violated publishing laws by printing several reports last month that claimed embezzlement and corruption by certain key government ministers.

Chung Hoi Fat, Kejujuran deputy editor and Malaysian Justice Party MP for Tipah told the KL times ‘I am shocked. This is not an isolated incident, the government is cracking down on dissent and freedom of the press.’ He also cited the recent decision to ban a popular political TV show, and added ‘With or without our newspaper, we will spread the truth.’ ”

Remembering Hoi Fat’s rude article about him, Jin Yu gloated at first but then he felt bad and bemoaned instead the loss of free speech.

‘Censor us, gag us and make us wear blinkers.’ He sighed, watching Mandy gather her long hair up in her hands, twisting it into a golden beehive like a crown upon her head.

She frowned at him in the mirror, ‘What are you going on about?’

‘They’re shutting down the opposition’s newspaper.’

‘So what? Who cares?’

She shrugged and began to pin sweet white jasmine flowers into her yellow hair, weaving a diadem of such loveliness, that in his eyes she no longer seemed earthly but had become as beautiful as the moon. Jin Yu threw the paper down on the bed, and strode over to her; he gripped her shoulders, intoxicated by the scents.

‘Don’t!’ she said, ‘you may mess my hair up later. First let me finish, and then I want you to take a photo of me naked, with just these flowers in my hair.’

Blood pounded in his ears and he sat back down to wait. He began to sort through his mail, saving a large cream coloured envelope until last; it was an invitation to his old school’s annual theatre event. He sighed again because Han Yu was away in Canada and he knew he’d have to go in his place.

Jin Yu’s great uncle Foo Chock had started the tradition, and each year his family gave a scholarship to the most promising thespian. As a young boy Foo Chock had run away to Hong Kong to join the stage; claiming he’d found inspiration playing the lead role in a school play. He’d passed years acting bit parts in silent movies and spending nights on stage waiting behind mildewed velvet curtains until they creaked open, and then the crowds had roared and jeered as he’d sweated under the lights. In the end he’d given up and come home to work in the family business, yet somehow he’d remained undefeated. He’d told everyone he was a resting actor, and in all the old family photographs he was recognisable as Rudolph Valentino. He’d even had his hair styled in the same manner and drawn his eyebrows like Valentino in the Sheik.

Jin Yu wanted to take Mandy with him to the school play; he wanted to show her off to the old boys and their wives. He told her she could choose the winner of the Phang Foo Chock award but she wouldn’t go.

She told him, ‘I hate boring old plays acted by school kids!’

The following Saturday evening Jin Yu drove across Ipoh to his old school. He chose a seat furthest from the stage and sat alone feeling hacked off and weary until the play was finished. After, he handed over the Thespians cup and cheque and then headed for the garden buffet. School plays always took place at dinnertime. Amidst the plates piled high with delicious food, stood a beautiful solid silver punch bowl; it had been donated to the school in 1910 by the Sultan of Perak and was now filled with a potent golden punch.

Phang Jin Yu was soon dead drunk.

‘How can we win the bloody elections when we no longer have a goddamn newspaper of our own?’

Jin Yu turned round to see who’d spoken and saw Chung Hoi Fat.

He smirked at Jin Yu:

‘Sorry mate, I mean, old boy. Must keep the old stiff upper lip, what?’

He knocked back a glassful of punch and raised his thick eyebrows at Jin Yu. Feeling challenged Jin Yu followed suit, he tipped up his own glass and drank down the syrupy liquor. Hoi Fat started laughing at him but looked ready to cry, and Jin Yu became alarmed. He tried to turn his back on Hoi Fat and walk away, however he was stuck. Bending forwards he stared down at his short legs and shiny shoes, he felt as though his feet were glued to the ground and realised he was too pissed to run away.

He had to stay and face a crying man who jeered him:

‘Look at you! Phang Jin Yu, evil landlord and what else? Are you afraid to drink? Afraid you might give yourself up?’

Jin Yu opened his mouth and poured in more punch. Hoi Fat’s eyes glinted like they had caught the stars in the sky, and Jin Yu tried to defend himself with words, but his vocal chords were swamped in a sweet slime.

Hoi Fat stepped closer, wavering on his feet, and told him:

‘Old boy, do you want me to bloody apologise? Because I wont!’

He took another glass of punch and several deep swigs. Then he tilted forward, a heave came charging up from his guts and he vomited on Jin Yu.

Later inside the school’s toilets Jin Yu found himself clinging to a basin with his head stuck under the tap. His brains smouldered as cold water poured over his head. Feeling numb and senseless he tried to straighten up, searching for himself in the mirror. He could see nothing but thick mist. He rubbed his eyes, thinking himself blinded by the vomit. Then he opened them again to a florescent light that spread like the sun breaking through the clouds. There were bean size drops of sweat rolling down his forehead.

Jin Yu’s voice slurred and shushed as he spoke to himself in the mirror:

‘The school director Brother Francis apologised to me, he said it was unfortunate. He sang my family’s praises. He wanted me to know the school is grateful for the thespians scholarship.’

Jin Yu saw Hoi Fat behind him reflected in the mirror, he was sitting on a toilet seat with the cubicle door open.

Jin Yu carried on, his voice rising:

‘Whereas Brother Francis always felt you were a problematic child and has asked me to turn the other cheek.’

Jin Yu tried to focus on Hoi Fat but could only see a Hsigo monkey perched on the toilet wagging its tail, its huge agate eyes blinking at him. The aroma of sick wafted around Jin Yu as he struggled to pull his shirt off. He started to rinse it under the running water when Hoi Fat snatched it away and used it to wipe up the vomit he’d thrown up on the toilet floor.

‘I’ll buy you a new one, Turnball & Assar, not to fucking worry.’ He told Jin Yu while he mopped up.

Jin Yu whined:

‘But I can’t walk out of here like this!’ he’d left his jacket in the car.

Hoi Fat shrugged:

‘Neither can I, Brother Francis has not been so kind, he told me to shut my filthy mouth and rinse it out with pure water and perfumed tea or else he will break my teeth and poke out my eyes. I daren’t go back outside.’

Jin Yu accused:

‘You have ruined my evening and destroyed my shirt.’

‘Do you want to reduce me to tears again?’ Fat dabbed his dry eyes, ‘Better not start on recriminations.’

Jin Yu shook his head:

‘Thanks to you I’m half naked and stuck in a toilet.’

‘The wise man adapts himself to circumstances,’ Fat scoffed, ‘lets get out through the window.’

Jin Yu gazed in dismay as Hoi Fat transformed himself into a Hsigo monkey. Flapping his feathered wings, Hoi Fat rose into the air and flew away out into the night. Jin Yu heaved and scrambled after him, his bare stomach scratching on the window frame. Not to be seen, they crept low across the playing fields until they reached the boundary. The Hsigo hero then began to ascend the wall, he rose slowly above the ground, his feet paddling like a swimmer while his feathered wings beat gently.

Jin Yu struggled up behind Hoi Fat and from the top of the wall he watched him fly down to the other side. Hoi Fat landed silently, his wings arching, he looked up at Jin Yu:

‘Did you see that old boy? That’s nothing, my leader Ahmed Hussein can fly from Hong Kong to London without a stopover’

Jin Yu fell on the hard turf.

Hoi Fat sniggered:

’Well old boy, do you believe your own eyes? Or are you blind drunk?

It started raining as he followed Hoi Fat through the dark streets. Rain poured down his face like tears, the heavy oily drops trickled down his back cooling his sweaty skin. They walked on, crossing roads like rivers, and floating rubbish like paper boats sped on the current ending washed up in the drains.

Jin Yu complained:

‘You shouldn’t have dragged me in, it’s none of my business!’

They were standing under the rusty iron roof sheets at the deserted bus stand. Hoi Fat took off his rain soaked shirt, wringing it into a tight ball and Jin Yu saw he had a flying blue dragon tattooed on his chest

Hoi Fat scowled at him:

‘You are in. We’re all in, and you can’t get out. You’ll have to fight.’

Hoi Fat shook his shirt, flapping it like washing in the wind as he began to duck and weave, dancing around Jin Yu, whipping the shirt at him, light as a swallow, darting close to his cheeks, his ears, his bare chest, grazing him with sharp cool caresses.

He grinned at Jin Yu and told him:

‘I’m sure you’re dying to know how I’ve become a master of dexterity and prowess. But what’s the use of me telling you? To be truthful you seem content to live your life as a donkey, so there is nothing you can learn.’

Then Hoi Fat draped his shirt over his back like a cloak, and through the wet cloth his shoulder blades stuck out like severed wings. Jin Yu wondered how he came to be standing in the cold rain on a spring night with Hoi Fat. A neon sign hung above them, it kept changing colour, turning them orange then blue then orange, over and over, their skin flickering and changing hue as Fat’s dragon pulsated a fiery red and inky blue on his chest.

Stupefied, Jin Yu swallowed back the juices from his rumbling gut and he accused Hoi Fat:

‘First you are a wily politik, then you’re a Hsigo hero who flies like a shadow and now you’re a boxer clowning around a donkey. You’re a concoction of myth and deception!’

‘With me or against me! Make up your mind, wait too long and I might get killed!’

Hoi Fat lit a cigarette. He blew a long jet of smoke and then a great shimmering smoke ring that wavered in the wet air transforming into a large dirty grey question mark.

He declared:

‘Everything I wrote is the truth, I Chung Hoi Fat do not make stuff up! That’s your line, I believe you are the storyteller.’

They walked on again until they reached Hoi Fat’s house; at the gate he told Jin Yu:

‘I’ll give you a shirt which will be too tight to button, and an umbrella big enough to keep you dry. Follow me.’

Inside the hall a murky chandelier cast a greyish glow that was neither dark nor light. Jin Yu’s eyeballs were dull and heavy and his mouth full of sharp raspy fishes that swam in his saliva. A strangled cry escaped from Hoi Fat as another light flickered on revealing a ransacked room. Through the doorway Jin Yu saw an overturned desk, draws spewing torn papers and shelves emptied and their contents trashed on the floor. Jin Yu stepped into the room, crunching broken Ming porcelain under his shoes. He stood there stripped to the waist; his man breasts shining with sweat and rain water. He could hear a muffled cry from Hoi Fat back in the hallway.

‘Puss Puss Puss.’

Jin Yu followed the call to the bathroom and there he found Hoi Fat standing in front of the toilet bowl; above him, hung a furry black creature impaled to the wall by a keris dagger.

He whispered to Hoi Fat:

‘What’s happened? Is that a dead monkey or something?’

‘It’s not a monkey, you thicko, you stupid fat sea cow. It’s a black cat.’

Jin Yu struggled to see clearly in the throbbing light. Pierced through the neck was a furry pelt emptied of its flesh. He took a step closer, peering at the offal splattered round the bowl. Hoi Fat pulled the chain and the toilet flushed and gurgled.

He faced Jin Yu:

‘Do you know what my cat’s name was?’

Jin Yu shook his head and Hoi Fat told him:

‘Pinky, it was Pinky.’

Hoi Fat loosened the dagger while Jin Yu stood watching him; a sad man with ice fresh cheeks, his torso glowing as if moulded in goose fat and his flying dragon chest tattoo faded like watery ink as he held his dead cat Pinky suspended before them. Jin Yu looked away as Fat closed the seat and gently laid the cat down on the toilet lid. His hand trembled as he softly caressed Pinky’s glistening black fur, smearing his fingers with blood. He looked at Jin Yu, his eyes like shiny glass, and held out the dagger to him; there were lumps of catgut stuck to its wavy blade. Jin Yu was unable to move, he knew he couldn’t take it from him, couldn’t touch the sticky wet handle, and he watched as Hoi Fat threw the dagger in the washbasin.

‘What does it mean?’

‘It means, just give us the name of this muckraker and we’ll smash his house up!’

They stood there. Jin Yu could hear his heart thumping louder, till he realised it was a loud banging on the front door. Then he heard shouting.

‘Is everything OK Sir?’

‘Mr Chung Hoi Fat Sir?’

Hoi Fat went out into the hall. Jin Yu followed him to the bathroom doorway. He could see someone peering in through the letterbox.

‘My what has happened here?’ a cheery voice called from the other side of the front door, ‘Most unfortunate incident!’

Hoi Fat opened the door and two policemen stepped into the hall beaming. The short fat one held out his hand and announced:

‘We heard of a disturbance in the area, Sir. Let me introduce myself. I’m the Deputy Chief of Police and this is my Detective Inspector.’

He shook Hoi Fat’s hand while he stared at Jin Yu, his shark’s grin frozen on his greasy grey face.

Fearing that he looked as though he’d done the crime himself Jin Yu covered up with a towel.

‘He was sick on my shirt.’ he told them, pointing at Hoi Fat.

Neither answered Jin Yu, instead they walked straight into the sitting room and scanned the overturned furniture and broken china. The Deputy picked up a fragment from the carpet.

‘Ahh what have we here?’ he asked.

Hoi Fat glowered:

‘Ming, a Cheng Hua stem cup, or was.’

The Deputy turned to his Inspector:

‘You! You’ve had the training on assault and reconnoitre, terrorist infiltration and breaking codes, I’d like to benefit from your expertise. Give us your opinion.’

The Inspector poked the ripped books with the toe of his black boot.

‘Cant say just yet, perhaps mere vandals but more likely a band of serial thieves.’ he suggested.

Hoi Fat gasped suffocating like a fish:

‘How can? Thieves have smashed up everything of value!’

The Inspector flashed a set of glittering dentures and sneered:

‘Maybe they didn’t find what they were looking for? Maybe they got angry?’

The Deputy threw up his hands; his palms were red and shiny. He bellowed:

‘Really Inspector? Let me get this straight, are you saying this was done by thieves?’

‘Yes Sir! Most likely a band of serial robbers, they hate books and writings.’ He kicked the torn book pages across the carpet. ‘And they leave a signature, just like the gang of thieves in the Hang Tuah Bujang Lapok film.’

The Deputy clapped his hands together, he snorted loudly:

‘You mean the one where the thieves’ evil leader, Taming Sari, slaughtered a tiger after every robbery?’

‘Yes Sir! Remember? Hang Tuah caught him, and then Taming Sari disappeared in a puff of smoke.’ The inspector shook his head, ‘Nasty business. Of course these robbers are just a bunch of copycats! There’s never a tiger handy in the home so they use some small animal, a pig or dog or whatever.’ He pointed at them, ‘We must check the house for the signature to be absolutely sure.’

The Deputy silently pulled out his gun, gripping it with both hands he edged his way along the wall towards Hoi Fat.

He ordered:

‘Stop! Me first!’

He pushed Hoi Fat to one side, and charged into the hall and through the bathroom doorway, landing on his knees; he waved his gun around in slow arcs then he shot the shower curtain.

‘Quick!’ he hollered at the inspector, ‘See if anyone was hiding there.’

The Inspector tiptoed in and ripped back the smoking curtain, but the shower stall was empty save for the broken tiles blown off the wall. Then he crept closer to the toilet and picked up the dead cat by its tail, he tutted before throwing it on the floor. He extracted a magnifying glass from his pocket, his cold jade eye enlarged as he turned to examine the kiris in the washbasin.

He announced:

‘Definitely Taming Sari thieves! Remember the scene in the city toilets with the dead tiger? No doubt in my mind.’

The deputy pointed his gun straight at the Inspector and asked him:

‘And are they Mat Rockers, you know with leather jackets, long hair and all that?’

‘Cant say Sir, we have yet to capture them.’

The Deputy put his gun back in his holster, smirking at Hoi Fat, he said:

‘Well, Mr Chung Hoi Fat, that’s cleared that up. We’ll do our best to apprehend, not easy, very cunning rascals these Taming Sari thieves.’ He wiped his sweaty brow on his shirtsleeve, ‘Best leave you to clear up the mess and mourn in private. We’re sorry for your loss.’

He leapt over the dead cat skidding on the tiles and coming to a halt like a flapping fat turkey. He turned to Jin Yu:

‘Nice to have met you too. Do drop in for an unofficial chat any time.’

Then they slunk out, sniggering through the hallway, and were gone leaving Hoi Fat and Jin Yu alone in the bathroom.

Hoi Fat spat:

‘Do I look like a fool who believes in Hang Tuah and fairy stories?’

Jin Yu dropped his head clutching the towel tighter round his weary shoulders and whispered:

‘No of course you don’t.’

Jin Yu walked for miles to get home that night, bent low in the rain like a beggar in a soaked shawl. He struggled to leave behind the Kingdom of Sandbaggers, to reach reality and safety one-step after the other.

The air was hot and steamy; Mandy had turned off the air conditioning, and was standing in the kitchen in her bikini pants. She was peering into a glass bowl, slowly stirring its contents. The kitchen table was covered with broken eggshells and flour. Jin Yu looked around for Padma, she wasn’t there and her bedroom door was shut.

He asked:

‘What are you doing?’

‘Baking a chocolate cake.’ She carefully poured a paper cone of cocoa powder over the bowl waving it in circles.

He watched in amazement as she picked up a whisk, holding it with tenacity and grace, a twitch of her fine wrist testing its force, its whipping power. She had the airs of a married woman.

He smiled:

’Mandy leave that. I’ll send for a really good chocolate cake from the best bakers in Ipoh.

She looked mad and beautiful standing there in the half dark kitchen. Almost savagely she beat the eggs, flour and cocoa, sending them flying. He stood mesmerised by her little tits jiggling as she whisked faster and faster.

He said:

‘Please stop,’

’Why? Are you worried about the mess?

They looked at each other across the shadowy kitchen. She was glistening with sweat.

‘Padma can clean it up.’

‘OK…’

She let the bowl slide from her grasp, it landed upside down and the chocolate concoction trickled on the floor. She stepped over it and followed Jin Yu to the bedroom.

He whispered:

‘I’ll help you wash.’

Later Jin Yu returned to the kitchen, silently padding bare foot across the tiles. He called for Padma. She opened the door to her room and stepped outside. His jaw dropped, he was dismayed by the sight of her. She was a monstrosity, her eyes were swollen like red grapes, and her face was streaky with dirt and dried tear tracks. Jin Yu could not help but look beyond her into the cell, he saw that Mandy had told him the truth and he felt pained.

‘Clean the kitchen quickly leh.’

Jin Yu returned to the bedroom, he had decided to take action at last. He stood proud and made the announcement to Mandy while she painted her toenails.

‘You are right. I’ve decided to do something about Padma. We must help her, and I want to do what is honourable.’

He could smooth things over with Han Yu and his wife. Just tell them it was Mandy’s little project. You know, to stop her getting bored.

She frowned:

‘What’s wrong with bloody Padma?’

‘What? You said she needed help, she has been crying.’

‘Serves her right, sulky bitch.’

‘What happened?’

‘Nothing! I wanted to take her shopping for food and I was going to give her a cookery lesson.’ Mandy’s eyes narrowed, ‘She refused to get in the car so I went by myself. When I got back I wanted to bake a cake for you and she just stood there staring at me with her stupid ugly cow’s eyes. She didn’t even smile when I gave her some fruit, so I told her to fuck off to her room. End of!’

‘Did you lose your temper?’

‘Yes and so what?’

‘Is that why you made all the mess in the kitchen? To get your own back?’

‘I don’t care. I don’t want to talk about bloody Padma anymore. Shut up, it’s boring me.’

Jin Yu knew Padma had strict instructions not to leave the compound except on her day off. He could see Padma refusing to get in the car, she would have stood there like a stubborn mule, shaking her head and saying nothing. She wouldn’t have dared to take a ride in the car, not without being ordered to by his elder brother or by him the younger brother, but never by the concubine.

姬 Hi ki woman concubine, female entertainer, beautiful lady, charming girl or 嬬 mistress concubine weak.

Jin Yu stood watching her and felt exasperated. He saw her as a young girl, spoilt and capricious, clever and bad tempered. He would have to teach her slowly. Sometimes he thought she’d never understand him. He couldn’t see she didn’t love him yet, couldn’t see it was too soon. He only knew with certainty that he would be all she needed; he’d be someone sacred to her, a husband, and a father figure.

He told her:

‘Mandy, what you did was wrong. You have shamed yourself. Padma is not important but you must respect her. Your position is to be kind but not her friend.’ He leaned over her, ‘You stood in the kitchen cooking, that is her job, and without wearing your bikini top, she is a Hindu and you know that your behaviour for her is shocking. She will think you are very bad and now you have scolded her.’

She stood up and shrugged:

‘Who cares?’

‘I do.’ He told her.

‘Why? You don’t even like her!’

‘Listen, you cannot say fuck off to the servants! If anyone displeases you, you must talk to me first and then I will decide what’s to be done. You lost your temper like a child.’

She turned away from him and whispered:

‘I don’t give a damn.’

Her wounded pride stung, burning her face a deep red, but the truth in his words cut her the deepest; her eyes welled up with tears. Straight away he regretted what he’d just said.

‘Please Mandy, I’m sorry, don’t cry. I love you so much.’

Jin Yu put his arms around her and pulled her to him, she smelt of flowers and chocolate. As he breathed in the scent of her he felt afraid, this was the first time he’d ever made her cry. Until now, only the maimed dogs in the streets would make tears seep from under her lashes. Now her tears seemed to be for him at last.

He told her:

‘Mandy don’t be sad. I want to look after you, and take care of you forever. I’ll build a house for you.’

She rested on his shoulder. He wanted her to say yes, but must wait. Yet he couldn’t wait, he’d waited too long.

‘I want to marry you.’

‘OK.’

Jin Yu held her tight, she belonged to him now. She didn’t know the joy in his heart. She never realised in that moment how deep his feelings ran. She didn’t know why she’d said yes and she didn’t want to know why.

That night in bed, he lay bold and naked beside her. He believed he’d be her teacher, her daddy.

She said to him:

‘Tell me a story.’

Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a poor orphaned boy. When his parents died he’d been forced to live with his elder brother and his elder brother’s wife. His elder brother had inherited the house and all the farmland, and being cruel and selfish he only gave the younger brother a very ancient and decrepit ox.

Every day he was sent with his ox to toil for long hours ploughing the fields. In the evening when he returned to the farmhouse tired and hungry, he would wait for his brother’s wife to chuck the rancid stale scraps from their leftover dinner out into the yard for him to eat. His brother’s wife was a sour woman, as ugly as hell with gimlet eyes and evil smelling breath; she hated him and so he was banished from the house and had no choice but to sleep in the pigsty at night. This revolting food, and the piss soaked straw floor he slept upon, were his only payment for the long hours he passed ploughing his brother’s fields.

He was so lonely he got into the habit of talking to the gentle ox, sharing the secrets of his heart with his only friend. In the village everyone laughed at this poor wretch who spent his days chatting to an ox, and he became known across the valley as the cowherd.

In the meantime, far away, hidden above the clouds in the celestial sky, lived the emperor of heaven. He had been blessed with seven daughters and each one was extraordinarily talented and possessed the most marvellous beauty.

The first daughter was gifted with a wondrous voice. She sang the bird’s songs; she sang the whistling winds, the roar of the seas and the cries of babies. She had golden hair and wore robes of pure spun gold.

The second daughter had wavy silver hair and wore robes that shimmered with diamonds. She had the gift of food and cooked divine feasts, heavenly snacks, and sublime morsels. Each and every day she baked a thousand moon cakes and boiled ten thousand swallows’ nest soups. No man, woman or child, mortal or immortal, could behold her dishes without falling upon this food, unable to stop them selves from gorging. So from time to time, the emperor had to lock her in her chambers for a few weeks to give everyone the chance to slim down.

The third daughter had the gift of loveliness. Her hair and robes would change colour to suit the desires of whoever was close by. Her face and her lips, her breasts and her arse would grow and change shape, depending on who was looking upon her. So, for her own comfort, she passed most of her time alone in her chambers, seated in front of a looking glass dressed in white.

The Fourth daughter had the gift of riches. She had long ruby red hair and her robes were woven together with emeralds and sapphires. She was able to see in her minds eye all that was of immense value in the heavens and upon earth, no matter how distant. She was a great help to her father, the emperor, when he wanted to know where to send his men to mine for precious gems and metals.

The Fifth daughter had the gift of dancing. Click clack tapping in her diamond-studded shoes she whirled like a dervish, as fast as a spinning top. Her black hair and rainbow robes would become a kaleidoscope of colours and then she’d levitate up in the air and out through the window into the skies. Whenever she danced, everyone became bewitched by her and found them selves dancing and spinning too. Unfortunately they soon became tired, and found it was impossible to stop their legs from skipping and their arms from waving. Whenever this happened, the emperor who was immune to his daughter’s magic, would have the windows and doors bolted. Then he’d order his musicians to play their fastest music. In a flash she’d begin to spin then levitate. But with no way out through the windows she’d whirl upwards, as fast as a shooting star, and hit the domed ceiling knocking herself out for a few days. After that everyone could then rest.

The Sixth daughter had the gift of flowers. In the early morning tiny buds would grow from the tips of her hair. Then they would bloom throughout the day into pink peonies and golden lotus blossoms. Her robes were soft as petals and she exuded the heady perfumes of love and joy and gave the emperor no trouble at all.

But he loved the seventh daughter best. She was so beautiful and sweet with shining gold hair and she wore red silk robes. She was gifted with the magic of weaving and the emperor loved to see the beautiful clouds and rainbows she wove to decorate the skies above the world. The seventh daughter was called the weaving maid.

Meanwhile, far away down on earth the cowherd continued to toil each day in the fields for his cruel elder brother. Only his faithful old ox gave him comfort, indeed the cowherd was very grateful to have such a noble friend, little did he know that his ox was really an immortal from heaven.

Once upon a time, the ox had been a brave and mighty warrior, and he’d fought many battles on the orders of the jade emperor. As a reward for his daring courage the emperor of heaven had always invited him to the jade palace for celestial celebrations. His great fortune had ended one night in the palace gardens, when by fate he’d chanced upon a beautiful jade maiden. She had been dressed in a robe of lavender silk and upon her head she’d worn a crown of golden fluttering butterflies. When she’d realised the mighty warrior was watching her, she’d tried to run away. But alas her feet were as tiny as lotus buds and she’d only been able to totter and sway.

Seeing her, the mighty warrior’s heart had exploded with passion, and unable to stop himself he’d picked her up and swung her over his broad shoulder and carried her to a darker garden. And there under a peach tree he’d made love to her while she’d swooned, both drunken on lust and the sweet perfume of soft ripe peaches.

Unluckily for the mighty warrior the Jade maiden had been the emperor’s favourite concubine, and after having committed this great offence against her master she’d been consumed with guilt. She had tottered and swayed her way back into the palace, and at last, finding the emperor she’d dropped down on the ground on all fours and confessed everything.

She had spared no detail of her crime as she revealed to the emperor her secrets. She had made a pitiful sight down on her knees, baring the nape of her snow-white neck. She had knocked her head over and over on the ground, her forehead becoming covered with dirt through which small drops of blood seeped. Her blood had run together with her tears, down her sweet pale face, trickling over her cherry red lips, while she cried:

‘He licked my snow white breasts with his hot wet tongue.’ Bang Bang Bang.

‘He possessed me over and over, deeply and completely.’ Bang Bang Bang.

‘He tied me to the peach tree by my arms. And the branches shook and trembled while he wrapped my legs around his thighs.’ Bang Bang Bang.

‘He bent me over a low branch with my creamy buttocks exposed to the moon’s rays and…’

‘Hold on!’ the mighty warrior had shouted, ‘She’s got carried away by her own confession. I never touched her butt. She’s making that part up.’

The mighty warrior had tried to defend himself. He’d looked into the concubine’s face, willing her to at least be truthful, but she could no longer see him. Her eyes had rolled back in head, her hair had become as matted as a birds nest and her face as red as a donkey’s arse. Who would have called this thing a women.

Oblivious to the mighty warriors pleading gaze, she had continued:

‘I’m begging you Sire, kill me. I’m on my knees, imploring you, please take your sword and slice through my unworthy neck.’

In the end the emperor had been moved to great compassion by the sight of her bloody tears and he’d ordered the guards to carry her away to his chamber. However his fury against the warrior was so immense that even his courtiers had trembled, as red-hot smoky words billowed from the emperor’s mouth:

‘To be honest, her behaviour has horrified me and after horror has abated the disgust will arrive and I shall send her to work in the kitchens.’

Then he’d pointed his long jade encrusted finger at the mighty warrior:

‘But you! What should I do with you? Kill you like a pig, and roast you on a spit, with a spike stuck down your throat and out through your arsehole? Would you make a delicious feast? I fear not, you would taste foul!’

He’d looked about his court, waiting for the immortals and jade maidens to applaud his wit; then he’d taken a step closer towards the mighty warrior, and said:

‘You have fought many great battles upon my orders and I have bestowed great honour upon you. Yet truly you’re an unworthy slithering worm! I will banish you to live upon earth as a mortal ox and a beast of burden. You will learn the disgrace of being whipped and the vile shame of being castrated. And when you die I will have you sent to Yen Lo Wang, God of death and ruler of the fifth court of Feng Du, a hell of wailing, gouging and boiling. Or perhaps to Tai Shan Wang, ruler of the seventh court where deceivers and traitors are fed into a mincing grinder.’

And so the mighty warrior had been banished to earth and all that the emperor had decreed became true. He suffered long years of humiliation and endless toil, living day by day with a fear of death and the hell to come.

However, in the twilight of his mortal life he had grown fond of the cowherd. He knew the boy had a pure and brave heart and he felt deeply sorry for his sad and lonely master. As time passed the cowherd grew into a handsome young man, and he began to long for a wife to love. Then one day the ox had an idea of how to get his revenge on the emperor of heaven and help his deserving master at the same time. The ox spoke to the cowherd for the first time, causing him to fall down on the ground in shock.

He told him:

‘Do not be surprised, for I have the gift of speech and there is something I must tell you. You are a kind and honourable man with a gentle heart, and you deserve a wife who will bring joy to your life. Tonight go to the west river and your wish will come true. Seven fairies will arrive on the shore at dusk to take their evening bath. They will undress and enter the celestial river and if you take the red set of robes, their owner will become your wife.’

The cowherd recovered from his astonishment and set off for the west river at sunset. He waited, hidden behind the reeds on the shore, and watched while the emperor’s seven beautiful daughters bathed in the river. Their bodies glowed like pearls as they floated on the surface. The cowherd became spellbound by the weaving maid who was the youngest and the most beautiful. He heard a roaring in his ears when she spread her legs open, letting the river water ebb and flow into her vagina. Then slowly red flowers began to blossom from between her snow-white lips, swelling like glistening tongue tips.

Remembering the ox’s words he crept closer to the shore and stole the red garments and hid them between the reeds. Then the cowherd waited, wondering which fairy the red clothes belonged to. Six of the fairy sisters dressed after their bath and flew away but the youngest tarried behind in the water, and when she stepped on to the shore she found her fairy clothes were gone.

She stood naked on the river shore, and the red sun was sinking behind her when the cowherd appeared. He shook with emotion and barely dared to look at her. His voice quivered when he told her he would not return her fairy clothes unless she promised to be his wife. She stood there burning with shame as no man had ever seen her naked body before. She did not know where to look and trembled in front of the cowherd’s passionate gaze. Yet her heart skipped a beat and her body stung with desire, her confusion melted away and she agreed to his request.

That evening the cowherd took the weaving maid back to the farm to meet his elder brother. Imagine his shock, his flabbergasted mouth hanging open like a stunned bullfrog, when he saw his elder brother and his ugly wife had become as tiny as two cockroaches. They were running up and down the kitchen table, their voices like squeaks, too afraid to jump down. The weaving maid caught them up in her hand in a twinkling, and she tossed them into the fire, where they sizzled then popped releasing a stream of fetid black smoke up the chimney.

So the cowherd and the weaving maid were married and after a year she gave birth to two beautiful children, a boy and a girl. As time passed the old ox grew weaker and he knew his time on earth was ending, so he spoke to the cowherd for the last time.

He told him:

‘I am dying and in seven days will be dead. Cure and dry my hide and keep it close by you, for it will save you in times of danger.’

The cowherd was sad to lose his faithful friend but when the time came he did as was requested, and after curing the ox’s hide he kept it rolled up in a pouch always with him.

Meanwhile the emperor of heaven had begun to miss his seventh daughter the weaving maid. The skies were no longer as beautiful without her woven clouds and rainbows, so he asked the queen mother of the western heavens to find her.

The queen mother sent for a palace guard and ordered him to search heaven and earth, she shouted:

‘Hunt high and low and poke into every nook and cranny. This is no wild goose chase, she must be found. And if you dare to fail, I will curse your daughter’s left foot to grow as large as an ape’s foot.’

Many moons passed before the guard discovered the whereabouts of the weaving maid, and when he returned to the palace he cowered at the queen mother’s feet knowing his news would infuriate her. He kept his face hidden in his hands, he was so afraid to deliver the news that he spoke through his fingers, his body at the ready to run for the chamber door.

He whispered:

‘Your Highness, I have found the seventh daughter. She has married a common cowherd and is living on a farm.’

The queen mother was furious. She beat her own dried up leathery breasts with her stumpy fists. The wattle on her neck flapped with rage. Her eyes turned red and she sprang into the air, her robe of blue clouds fell to the ground and her bare skin like a plucked chicken, sprouted scrawny greasy feathers.

She screamed:

‘What! The little slut how dare she?’

And so she sent the gods and soldiers to capture the girl. They flew at full throttle down to the farmhouse and seized the weaving maid by her long golden hair. As fast as a shooting star they carried her away into the sky, flying westwards towards the Kunlun Mountains.

The queen mother stood on a cloud awaiting the return of the weaving maid. Around her were gathered the celestial shamans and emissaries, the three-footed crow, the nine tailed fox, the dancing frog and spirits riding on white stags, all were waiting for the weaving maid’s return.

The cowherd seeing his wife disappearing through the clouds chased after her, carrying his two children with him in bamboo baskets. He wrapped the ox hide around his shoulders, which gave him the gift of flight and the strength of ten thousand oxen. He flew after his wife, faster than her captors could spirit her away, and he saw he would soon reach her.

The queen mother of the western heavens, realising the cowherd was about to catch up, pulled out a golden hairpin and drew a line between the cowherd and the weaving maid, creating the milky way that would separate them for eternity.

The seventh princess was sent to live on the star Vega and the cowherd and their two children were sent to Altair. They wept in despair and the weaving maid begged for clemency.

The emperor of heaven moved by their sadness granted them a meeting once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. On that day, each year all the magpies fly to the heavens and form a bridge across the Milky Way, from the Lyra to the Aquila constellations, so that they may meet for just one night.

KL Times May 29th

Kuala Lumpur- The Home Ministry has issued the list of ‘Shame’.

A list of Politicians who have amassed millions of Ringgit in Government company shares and privatisations. In particular, millions of shares allocated to the Bumiputra (poor rural ethnic Malays) are actually in the ownership of MJP opposition leader Ahmed Hussein and his family. Shares amounting to several million owned in three companies, Tex Corporation, Malaytech and Ping Communications.

Ahmed Hussein’s appropriation of Bumiputra allocated shares took place when he was a key minister and UMNO MP before being expelled from the leading government party.

Since then he has become the main government opposition leader citing his crusade to end UMNO corruption as his main objective.

UMNO Party spokesman told the KL Times “The man’s a hypocrite, we intend to investigate the entire business, these shares must return to the rightful recipients, how did Mr Hussein and his family get hold of them?’”

Jin Yu continued staring at the newspaper until the print blurred out of focus. He wondered if Hoi Fat was involved in Hussein’s fiasco, and he didn’t know if he cared one way or the other. It reminded him of the time when they were both still at school, and Hoi Fat had become friends with Chen Cheung, a crooked gambler and moneylender. Everyday Hoi Fat had hung about a seedy café on the banks of the Kinta River, just waiting for his hero to shuffle in and start a game. They’d sit together with the tin miners around a scarred table piled with dirty banknotes, and Chen Cheung would mock Hoi Fat in front of the miners, treating him like a wretched dog that would never leave its master, making the miners cackle and slap the table with their hard hands. And still Hoi Fat had kept going back to play again and again even though Chen Cheung always beat him. He’d known the dice was loaded and he’d lose, Chen Cheung was using him, but still he’d never given up.

Galled by his memories of Hoi fat, Jin Yu tossed the newspaper on his desk and left the office. He stood outside on the steaming street wondering if the café was still there, he felt an overpowering yearning to go back. He walked through the streets and found his way, as if he’d been there only yesterday. He loitered at the door, stuck between the past and the present and then he slunk inside and sat down, looking around the dark interior, it seemed the years had never gone by and nothing had changed. He drank Samsu from a cloudy glass, and swatted at the flies in the air. A skinny old man, seesawed about the café, slowly rubbing the rusting tabletops with a grey dishcloth; his eyes were milky blue, his thin shoulders, sharp like axe blades poking through his vest. Jin Yu remembered who it was, Babar Malik, he wanted to call out and say, ‘Remember me? Remember us schoolboys? Remember how we gambled?’ But he said nothing, not even when Babar turned his head and stared straight at him. He stood up and left a tip on the table, then lurched back out onto the street, drunk on Samsu and the past.

The following morning Jin Yu crept out of bed at dawn, he had an early business meeting. He stood awhile, staring at Mandy knotted up in the sheets gently snoring. Then he dressed quietly, took his briefcase and left. After he went back to sleep, stretched out on the rear seat of his car while Osman drove him to Kuala Lumpur.

Later that day Jin Yu stood in his office at Sai Kung Plaza. From the windows he could see the plaza’s leisure gardens and pastel painted Condos. This had been one of his best investments. The Condos all sold, the plaza’s restaurants and retail outlets all leased, he and his partners were planning another on the North side of Kuala Lumpur. Their meeting over, Jin Yu dreamily began to collect his papers together.

Mrs Drink Water, his brother’s secretary, popped her large breasts and lovely head round the door.

‘A Mr Frank Chu is on his way up to see you. Shall I show him through when he gets here?’

‘Sorry, tell him he’s just missed me.’

Jin Yu grabbed his briefcase, and sped towards the door. He knew he was under scrutiny. Mrs Drink Water’s exquisite eyes were fixed on him, while her smile exuded tenderness and commiseration. With a grave look frozen on his face, he slipped past her and left the office.

Once outside, he hurried along the corridor to the fire escape stairwell and made his way down twenty flights of stairs, fearing he would collapse before he reached the end.

Frank Chu, second cousin on his mother’s side, was bankrupt and looking for investors to bail him out. He had three ex wives and a dozen children, he was wanted in Singapore for alimony and in Hong Kong for fraud. Jin Yu reached the ground floor level, relieved to have escaped, he wondered if he should go and have a dish of noodles. He reckoned an hour would safely do it. As he stood undecided on the stairwell above the underground parking lot, he heard shouting. It was a voice he knew well.

His nose began to itch as petrol vapour flooded the air, transported by a gush of hot wind from the stairs above the car park. He sneezed a dozen times, tears welled up in his eyes, and taking several deep breaths he clung onto the stair rail as the fumes flooded his lungs. Feeling a sudden sense of euphoria and lightness, Jin Yu stumbled down the last flight of stairs. He pushed his way through the dark brown fire door, disorientated by the darkness, he squeezed his eyes shut and breathed deeply through his mouth.

When he re-opened his eyes, a red glow suffused the underground light and a sweet mouldy fragrance with undertones of exhaust gas like burnt logs or ash, filled the air.

And then he saw Hoi Fat standing alone by the Pay Phones like a vision. The last person on earth he wanted to see, Frank Chu would have been a pleasure. Hoi Fat was talking on the telephone and as he spun round to see who was there, Jin Yu saw his shirt was unbuttoned. His bare belly glowed white below the flying blue dragon tattooed on his chest, the hair on his head hung about in an uncombed tangle and in the dingy light his face appeared as shiny and round as a silver platter.

Hoi Fat smiled at him with gleaming white teeth and ruby red lips, reminding Jin Yu of the night of vomit and sandbaggers. He tried to turn and sneak back through the door, but was rooted to the spot as Hoi Fat shouted into the telephone receiver:

‘You! After all the men I’ve sent you! And we all know the KL Koran thumpers never wash their family jewels and God knows what filthy acts you carried out upon them. And me? Who has a shower twice a day and I’m clean-shaven everywhere, I mean everywhere and perfumed like a rose. You allow me nothing? All the dirty men I’ve passed your way. And I? Clean as a whistle and you wont give me any bum action!’

Jin Yu stood immobilised, his briefcase at his side, ears ringing and goose pimples all over his body. He watched as Hoi Fat searched his pockets.

Hoi Fat asked him:

‘Have you any change?’

Jin Yu shook his head.

‘Blast I’ve been cut off!’ Hoi Fat wailed, and tossed the receiver at the wall letting it bump and swing. He grabbed a bottle of Bells Whiskey that was balanced on top of the phone, and emptied what was left down his throat. Then he chucked the empty bottle on the ground and kicked it under a car.

Jin Yu gasped:

‘Who were you talking to?’

‘No one you know. Maybe, like your favourite hero Song Jiang, I too have finally received a revelation from the goddess Xuannu, and this time by telephone.’ He scratched the blue dragon on his chest, ‘She told me that my divine mission in life is to carry out good deeds on earth.’ He grinned at Jin Yu, ‘In fact, according to Goddess Xuannu, I used to be a god, but I’ve been sent by the Emperor of Heaven to earth as a punishment for my lingering demonic tendencies.’

Jin Yu snorted:

‘Hah, very funny! It sounded more like you’re working as a pimp on the side. Is that why you keep those Thai prostitute’s photos in your pocket?’

‘I carry them as a testimony to my unstoppable virility and the knowledge that they gave themselves for free.’

‘And what about the Bum Action?’

‘Code name for Bumiputra stocks and shares. And stop smirking; I’m still in mourning. While you look like the fat cat who got the cream, my cat Pinky lies dead and buried at the end of my garden.’

Jin Yu grunted:

‘Sorry about that, nothing to do with me, I keep telling you.’

Hoi Fat mocked him:

‘It has everything to do with you. Men like you who won’t fight are like women who sit gossiping all day!’

‘So I’m a gossiping old woman now? Anyway there’s nothing worth fighting for.’ He pointed at Hoi Fat, ’Look at your leader, Ahmed Hussein; he’s been caught with his hands in the till!

‘And where else will he find the cash to buy their votes? I must defend my leader’s pillaging.’ Hoi Fat chuckled, ‘We’re just like the heroes in The Water Margin. Remember Song Jiang and his one hundred and eight bandits? Remember when he led the peasant uprising? We’re just a bunch of tough guys getting into dire situations to help the common people. Like Song Jiang, I’m a sort of Robin Hood.’

He beckoned to Jin Yu to follow him, and raced off through the rows of parked cars. Panting hard, Jin Yu doggedly pursued Hoi Fat while a strong wind blew through the underground garage, whipping up a volatile concoction of dust and petrol vapour that swirled before his eyes and made Hoi Fat disappear. When the wind had passed, a roar thundered from behind a rusting van and out leapt Hoi Fat.

He bellowed:

‘Come on you fat bugger, you’re dying to know my secrets.’

At last they reached a black Range Rover with tinted windows, Hoi Fat opened the boot, and slowly lifted away the corner of a tartan blanket to reveal a set of battered suitcases. Before he had finished another gust of wind blasted them with fetid air. This time Jin Yu heard a loud hissing in his ears, and in a trance, he watched as a great yellow snake wriggled out from under the blanket. The snake twisted itself into coils, its eyes shooting fiery red sparks. It opened its huge mouth, flickering its tongue, as it breathed poisonous fumes into Jin Yu’s face.

‘I’m a dead man.’ Jin Yu whimpered.

‘Not to worry,’ Hoi Fat patted his shoulder, ‘it’s just a guard snake.’

Jin Yu watched as Hoi Fat drew a bamboo flute from his pocket, he placed it between his red lips and played a sharp tuneless melody. The snake rose up, wavering in the air before slithering away over the back seat, and then it was quickly lost to sight.

Hoi Fat huffed:

‘Well I never! What rudeness, playing tricks on us and frightening you so badly. I do apologise.’ He gestured towards the suitcases with a flourish, ‘Go on then, open them up. They’re not locked.’

‘No thanks! Your snake nearly scared me to death.’

‘Not to worry I’ll teach him a lesson.’

Hoi Fat dived head first into the back of the jeep, his legs flailing in the air. He struggled between the seats, then rolled back out of the boot and landed on the ground with the snake. He scrambled onto his knees gripping the snake’s neck in his fist, and began to swing it over his head in circles, faster and faster. Finally he let go as Jin Yu watched the yellow snake fly away over the car roofs and disappear into a cloud of petrol fumes.

He turned back to Jin Yu, panting heavily:

‘Go on you can look inside now.’

‘No thanks.’

Hoi Fat snapped open the cases revealing they were stuffed full of used bank notes.

He boasted:

’Even the foreign journalists know we hand out packets before parliamentary votes. How else can we change the law? But they write nothing because the end justifies the means. So are you with us?

‘With you! Are you mad?’

Hoi Fat ignored him and carried on:

‘Coffers of money, votes for the greater good. I can offer you two targets. One is pockmarked and always scowling, give him a few packets and make yourself scarce. His greed is matched only by his brutality; he’ll stop at nothing. The other is dark, short and fat.’ He jutted his chin at Jin Yu, ‘Which one works for you?’

‘Neither.’ Jin Yu announced, ‘I don’t care about politics. I’ve no time. I’m getting married soon, I’m in love.’

Hoi Fat stared; a smug grin curled his fat red lips:

’What, with a woman or a business? Is it Mary Wong, heiress to Sempat Oil? Or maybe a nice educated girl complete with PhD, ready to retire on your arm and begin breeding dugongs, or should I say sea cows?

‘Listen to you!’ Jin Yu retorted, ‘You consider yourself some crazy outlaw, some sort of character from The Water Margin, running a band of thugs! What do you know of love and marriage?’

Hoi Fat glared at him and whined:

‘Like Song Jiang, I also had a concubine named Yan Poxi. At first I had no desire for her, her mother managed to push her on me. But after, I fell in love with her and then she found another lover.’ He wiped invisible tears from his eyes, ‘I was heartbroken. Then one day Poxi discovered a private letter from my leader and a suitcase full of cash, and she threatened to spill the beans to the police unless I gave her the money.’ His voice had become hollow, ‘I couldn’t allow her to walk away with the bucks. But she kept nagging me, yanking at my clothes and then my penknife accidentally dropped from my pocket.’ He stooped and picked up the unseeable knife, ’She started screaming, accusing me of trying to kill her. And In a fit of rage, I, Song Jiang alias Hoi Fat, killed her with the knife. Remember my friend Chinese women are treacherous.

‘Liar!’ Jin Yu reprimanded him. ’You’ve nicked that story from The Water Margin. Anyway my fiancée is not Chinese she’s English.

‘Marrying English?’ Hoi Fat scoffed at him, ‘Ahh… Don’t! UK women are shit! I’ll tell you a true story this time.’

He glowered at Jin Yu, his face serious, ‘Now, you don’t know this, but while I was in London I married an English bitch. I loved her. She had white skin and gold hair, and little round blue piggy eyes with a tiny turned up nose, just like a baby pig’s snout. She was pure English and had a ginger minge.’

He shook his head, his face hardening, ‘When I switched my degree from medicine to political science, my father cut the purse strings. In the end I had twenty pounds in my pocket, a worn out Vauxhall Viva and a wife who wanted a divorce.’

He swallowed, ‘She didn’t even say she was leaving, just wrote Goodbye Jerk, in the dust on the car hood.’

By then the red glow had paled to a thick dusty blackness and Jin Yu shivered as a currents of chilly air whipped up around him, channelled through the rows of shining cars.

Hoi Fat expelled a deep breath concocted of whiskey and delusion:

‘I have no more time for women. Within the party I am known as Simple Purity… Ever since childhood I have loved playing with weapons. I can summon the rain, ride the mists and drive the clouds…’

Rolling fog swirled before Jin Yu, as Hoi Fat beamed from behind a glistening net of vapour droplets that hung in the air like dew on a spider’s web. He seemed to have grown short and swarthy, his eyes like those of a phoenix and his mouth big and squarish.

‘I have in mind a partner, and it could be you.’ His eyes gleamed, ’Are you a man who’d dare to go through fire and water? Would you stand beside me to live or die?

Jin Yu retorted glumly:

‘No. You live your life in a drunken stupor, where as my hallucinations are caused by hunger and poisonous petrol fumes.’

Jin Yu picked up his briefcase, straightened his clothes and turned his back on Hoi Fat. No longer sure if he were awake or dreaming, he made his way towards the fire door, leaving behind Hoi Fat’s subterranean world in search of fresh air and noodles. He thought he could hear the notes of a flute coming softly from behind the parked cars, just like another trick of the mind. Gradually, the melody drew nearer, and a red brown ox plodded out of the darkness. A boy was riding the ox, smiling as he played a silver flute.

Hoi Fat shouted at his back:

’Then I shall depart without you. I shall mount this beast, and together with this simple cowherd, I will ride the clouds that lead us ever onwards. There’s no point in your climbing any higher. The world is full of venomous snakes and wild beasts. They’re liable to kill you.

Jin Yu and Mandy sat together on the old opium bed. There was a lacquered camphor chest open in front of them, the sides decorated with carvings. Mandy slowly traced the pictures with her fingertips. There was a stream in the high mountains, dragons in the heavens, a river flowing through the land where a man fished from his sampan sailing by a bridge, and three women stood leaning over the water to pluck blossoms from a weeping cherry tree that grew on the shallow banks, while red-crowned cranes flew across the heavens with immortals riding on their backs. She wished to sail in a sampan, floating past weeping cherry trees blowing in the wind and raining petals upon her.

The Sampan dweller’s living quarters consist of a cockpit amidships which is covered with a small hut made of woven matting. In the aft compartment is the galley with a cooking-stove. If alone the oarsman will sit there so that he may cook a meal while he yulohs, and if his family live on board they also use this small space. In the fore compartment are provisions, clothing, bedding, food and fuel.

Ningpo men never take their wives and families afloat, instead the wives and even the children of the Soochow sampan-dwellers can take their turn at the yuloh. Soochow women have a fame for beauty and their men for a graceful gait. They scornfully claim that one reason why the women of Ningpo do not live afloat is that they suffer from seasickness.

Life on the Yangtze- George Huang.

Jin Yu and Mandy were sifting through piles of old photographs and letters. She wanted to see pictures of Jin Yu when he was a little boy. She held in her hand a black and white photo of him, where he would have been about two. It was a studio portrait photograph, and on the wall behind him were five flying geese. He was sitting alone, his chubby hands curled at his sides. He stared questioningly into the camera. There was another photograph of him being held between two women, one was Chinese the other Indian. All three had their eyes scrunched up against the sun. Jin Yu had his arms around the Chinese women.

‘Is that you mother?’

‘Yes.’

Mandy studied the Chinese woman’s face. She was smiling and holding her beautiful chubby second son, his plump soft arms around her neck like a talisman to protect her.

‘When did she die?’

‘When I was nineteen and my father died four years ago.’

‘So you’re all alone.’

‘I have my brother, and my uncles and aunties, my cousins and now I have you. You’ll be my wife.’

Mandy flicked through some more photographs of Jin Yu as a chubby toddler and then a chubby schoolboy. She doubted whether he’d ever played sports at school, he’d probably passed all his time reading and spending his generous pocket money on moon cakes and iced lollys. She could imagine him, popular because he was rich, in black plimsolls, white socks below his fat knees, and an elastic snake belt. The other kids hanging on to him, sticking close like flies, ready to accompany him to the Kopitiam, full of sweet, fishy, spicy novelties. Filling up on perasa durian, muruku and sugary fried florescent cakes, with Kickapoo Joy Juice to wash down all those snacks. He would have offered the others something too.

When she and Jin Yu were alone together, she never wondered what the hell she was doing. He fitted her like a pair of old fluffy slippers, his constant presence wrapping around her like a warm snug blanket. He’d do anything she wanted, or so it seemed. Sometimes she’d hug him tightly to her, feeling a love for him, fierce like a child’s. And whenever he watched her with a slow gaze, her desire transformed into a shiny sweat, as she galloped upon him, racing along on a wild horse.

Yet there were times when she saw him in a crowd and it felt wrong, it felt like they didn’t really belong together. Sometimes he’d stand waiting for her by the car, and when she saw him across the street, she couldn’t see him as her lover or even a man that she might care for. He would appear under the glaring sunlight, as too old and too fat, like a stranger, someone who didn’t belong to her even when he smiled. And whenever he became just a rich Chinese man, some businessman in a dark suit and shiny shoes, she would panic; she couldn’t bear to see him this way.

She put Jin Yu on a diet and told him to stop eating meat, just some fish for the brain. As he was out during the day, she started making him a packed lunch. She bought a pale blue Tupperware box and each morning before Jin Yu left she would fill it with cheese crackers, marmite sandwiches, and raw vegetable sticks. Jin Yu would take it and hurry to his car. He wasn’t offended by the lunchbox. He thought it flattering that she’d forgotten the dogs and Padma, and had taken him on instead. He’d kiss her in the kitchen, while she stood looking at him with narrowed eyes and then he’d leave.

The first day he opened his lunch box hoping to find some fried savouries and was disappointed.

‘What’s that?’ Amir asked him.

‘Oh my fiancée, she’s a vegetarian.’

‘Putting you on rabbit food, ehh?’

Jin Yu held out the lunch box to Amir, ‘Don’t want to hurt her feelings, can you chuck it?’

‘Also my wife has stopped my fried breakfast. I’ll have the sandwich if you don’t want it.’

Amir picked out the edible starchy bits and threw the rest. As usual they had a lunch of steamed dumplings, fried rice, savoury shrimp and roast duck. They never ordered pork because he and Amir were in the habit of sharing dishes and poking their chopsticks in each other’s plates.

After several days he told Mandy not to bother. He confessed he hadn’t eaten his packed lunch.

‘So what did you do with the food? Did you chuck it?’

‘Well Amir ate the sandwiches and I threw the salad stuff in the bin.’

‘At your office?’

‘Yes.’

She was angry and threw the lunch box at him. He started laughing.

‘Oh come on Mandy!’

‘Why did Amir eat the sandwiches?’

‘Because his wife wont let him have breakfast.’

‘Oh!’ Still she hit him again.

‘Mandy stop it!’

She was wild and he grabbed her arms and forced her backwards. He held her tightly to him so she couldn’t punch him. He could feel her heart thumping.

‘Why are you so angry?’

‘I don’t know.’

That night he told her he was sorry. She rolled over on the bed like a cat and put her arms around his podgy waist.

‘It doesn’t matter, you can stay fat, getting up early for the lunch box has worn me out.’

Jin Yu sat opposite his brother in their father’s old office. The dark framed photographs were still on the wall, and his father was there now along with all his ancestors. Together they stared gravely down upon him and he felt he was in a court being judged. Underneath the row of ancestors was a small shelf full of smouldering incense, cash and food. Jin Yu was embarrassed by this homespun alter, it felt obscene, as though they were heathens. He knew Han Yu never actually kept the shrine burning but he made sure it was done.

Ancestor worship is a ritual practice, based on the belief that deceased family members have a continued existence and possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living. Early forms of ancestor worship were deeply rooted and extensively developed by the Late Neolithic Period in China.

Rituals of ancestor worship consist of offerings to the deceased to provide for their welfare in the afterlife, Ancestor worship begins at the deceased kin’s funeral, at which necessities like a toothbrush, comb, towel, shoes and water are placed in the coffin or burned as a sacrifice. After the funeral, Chinese families set up an altar in the home or place of work for the purpose of ancestor worship, daily offerings are made to ensure the family member gets a good start in the afterlife. Favourite foods, wine, and small sums of money are placed on the altar in bowls or burned in front of the altar.

Statues representing servants or other necessities for the afterlife are also placed on or near the altar. The altar normally includes a portrait or photograph of the ancestor, an ancestral tablet inscribed with the names and dates of the deceased and cups for offerings. After a 49-day period when the deceased is believed to be undergoing judgement, the deceased is then worshipped along with all the other ancestors of the family.

The goal of ancestor worship is to ensure the ancestors’ continued well-being and positive disposition towards the living and sometimes to ask for special favours or assistance. The social function of ancestor worship is to cultivate kinship values like family loyalty and continuity of the family lineage.

A Guide To Chinese Mysticism- Herbert J Ferwend. 1949

He wanted to tell Han Yu he was going to get married, but he was worried what his brother would say.

When he’d first bought Mandy home, he’d asked Han Yu and his wife to meet her. They had gathered together in the reception room, shaking hands politely while Padma placed a tray of cocktails on the table. But when Sue Chin offered Mandy something to drink, she’d refused and had turned to look out the window. He’d asked them how their new baby was getting along, and they’d led him and Mandy into the baby’s room.

Mandy had peered into the cot, ‘He’s so sweet!’ she’d whispered.

He’d looked for a motherly expression, but her hair had covered her face as she’d lent over the baby and touched his fat little hand.

‘How old is he?’

‘One year.’

‘And what’s his name?’

‘Phang Soon Bao.’

A few more minutes had passed while they’d remarked how the baby had grown and what strong legs. ‘He’ll be a footballer!’ Jin Yu had said.

By then Mandy was already at the door. He’d excused himself and followed her but Han Yu had called him back. Sue Chin had gone to check on the baby and they were alone.

Han Yu had asked him, ‘Who is this girl you’ve bought to our house?’

Jin Yu had looked away and said, ‘I told you, she’s a friend.’

‘Are you sure? Just friends or maybe she’s your girlfriend?’

‘I don’t know yet.’

‘Where did you meet her?’

‘In Kuala Lumpur.’

‘How old is she?’

‘Nineteen.’

‘She’s too young for you.’

Jin Yu had looked down, what could he say.

Han Yu went on, ‘How long will she be here?’

‘I don’t know.’ He hoped forever.

Han Yu had sighed, ‘Be careful Jin Yu, take care.’

After that Han Yu had ignored her presence and Jin Yu had hidden his growing ardour.

Now sitting in his brother’s office he was ready. He looked at Han Yu, already on his second wife, and told him and all the ancestors on the wall what he’d come to say.

‘Mandy and I are getting married.’

Han Yu jolted forwards in his chair, ‘What? How so? She is too young and she’s wild. One day you will come home and find your nest is empty.’

‘I will tame her!’

‘No.’ Han Yu shook his head, ‘You can’t tame wild creatures. Some times when they are injured or sick you may take care of them for a while, but as soon as they become strong again they will leave.’ He spat, ‘She’s like a crazy horse, only years and life will break her.’

Jin Yu couldn’t wait. He wanted to put a fine golden chain around her neck and keep her close by. He was enticing her inside his world with offerings and would not be able to stop himself from shutting the door. He knew she lived in the present, and what she loved now she might forget later. She moved like fire, cremating everything in her path. She could marry him today and leave him tomorrow. He had to take the risk. Once she’d told him, if something were truly hers, she couldn’t lose it even if she threw it away.

Jin Yu confessed, ‘I need her.’

‘You can’t marry her.’ Han Yu announced. ‘Here in Malaysia, the legal age is twenty-one. You would need her parent’s consent. Do they know about you and their little girl?’

‘No.’

Later that day Jin Yu checked the requirements for a civil marriage ceremony with a foreign national in Malaysia. Amir had collected the information for him, smiling in complicity as he delivered the papers to Jin Yu’s office. Jin Yu wondered why Amir seemed the only one happy at what was to come.

That night he read the list to Mandy.

‘Legal age for marriage in Malaysia is twenty-one, otherwise consent of parents or guardians must be given. Under Sharia law the minimum age for Muslims to get married is eighteen for males and sixteen for females. Note B, Muslim girls who have reached puberty may marry with the permission of Malaysian Sharia courts.’

She laughed, ‘You’ll just have to wait till I’m older.’

‘What about your parents?’

‘Don’t drag them in, they’ll never agree.’

He didn’t insist, he knew parents could wreck dreams.

‘I can’t wait!’ he told her.

‘Why not? You have me anyway.’

‘I want you to be my wife.’

‘Then we’ll become Muslims!’

‘Don’t say that.’

They are speeding again through the Jungles, the road is dark and wet. Phang Jin Yu strokes her yellow hair, she is asleep, her head in his lap. He runs his fingers along the line of her cheek across her soft mouth. He slips his hand inside her shirt and cups one small breast in the palm of his hand. He rests his head and closes his eyes. They will stay on Penang Island for the weekend and then take a flight to Singapore where he will buy her an engagement ring.

Jin Yu sat alone on the veranda of the old beach house, the night was dark, the moon was low and he could see the shiny black sea through the trees. As a child he’d spent his school holidays in this house with his brother and cousins, but since then many years had gone by.

When their father had died, Han Yu and Jin Yu inherited everything between them including the two houses built by their great grandfather. Han Yu decided to sell them and divide the proceeds. First the old mansion in the heart of Ipoh.

He’d told Jin Yu:

‘Too big, valuable plot, good for development.’

‘What will happen to the bamboo forest and the Jade salon?’

‘Forest is a waste of space. Think car parks. And Jade salons belong in the past.’

Han Yu then wanted to sell the old Penang beach house, which had acres of garden.

‘New hotel development, investors keen and ready.’

Jin Yu could not agree, ‘Forget my share in the Ipoh mansion, I’ll keep the beach house.’

Han Yu had let him have his way, ‘Maybe not so foolish, you’re sitting on gold.’

Mandy fell in love with the old house the first time she set eyes on it. She had run through the rooms, opening doors and shuttered windows, bouncing on the four-poster beds and stroking the old dark Malacca furniture. That evening Jin Yu had promised her they’d live in the house when they returned from Singapore. He avoided telling her he had too much work in Ipoh, and it would only be for the weekends. Now she was in bed asleep, he smiled to himself; she was so sweet when she was pleased.

The phone began to ring, it was the middle of the night and very few people had the number.

He answered cautiously, his voice sounding hoarse:

‘Hello?’

‘Ahh good! Thought you might be sleeping.’ Hoi Fat’s voice crackled on the line, ‘Are you alone?’

Jin Yu sputtered:

‘You! How did you know I was here? And how did you get my number?’

‘I know because I follow you, and I have friends at Telecom Malaysia. I need your help.’

‘Leave me alone and don’t ever call me at home again.’ His voice cracked, ‘I want nothing to do with you.’

’Now don’t get on your high horse. I was just joking, I don’t really follow you. I’m not a stalker. Actually I saw your driver Osman in George Town and knew you had to be on the island. It was like divine providence, I’m in a jam and need a favour.

‘Ask your leader or ask your mother but don’t even dare to ask me.’

‘She’s eighty.’

‘Who?’

‘My mother.’ Hoi Fat retorted. ‘Listen, you’re the only one I can trust. I know you’ll keep your trap shut. My leader is in the jam with me.’

‘I want nothing to do with you and your suitcases. I’m going to put the phone down now.’

‘No wait! Please it’s not luggage, I promise. It’s something worse and has nothing to do with politics. It’s a private jam, very personal.’

Jin Yu sighed:

‘Just go away, you’re like a bad dream.’

‘You know I cant. Will you help me?’

‘What is it?’

‘Meet me in George Town, at seven Gelang Argyll, in half an hour.’

‘It’s the middle of the night!’

‘Exactly, it has to be done before dawn.’

Jin Yu had given Osman the night off to visit his family, and he’d have to drive the car himself. He thought of asking the security guard to go with him but couldn’t leave the house unprotected. So he found himself driving alone along Batu Feringhi and into the city, he knew the streets like the back of his hand. He took some short cuts and put his foot down on the gas, speeding along the deserted roads. Arriving in Gelang Argyll, he slowed to a stop along side the pavement, but before he could get out of the car, Hoi Fat climbed into the passenger seat clutching a bottle of whiskey. He offered it to Jin Yu, who shook his head, and then he took several long deep slugs while Jin Yu watched him in disgust.

He burped and asked:

‘Do you remember when we were at school together? We were once good friends.’

‘That was a long time ago.’

‘And we’re not friends now?’

‘No.’

‘And we’ll never be friends again?’

‘No, you cant put the clock back.’

Hoi Fat screwed the top back on the bottle and tossed it on the car floor, he turned in his seat to face Jin Yu and spoke softly, cajoling him:

‘Do you remember when we used to go hunting for war tunnels under the school?’

‘So what? We never found them.’

‘Maybe not.’ Hoi Fat admitted, ‘But I remember when we’d sneak out of school, to go and play Mah-jong in that cafe on the river bank. And remember Chen Cheung always beat everyone?’ He laughed at Jin Yu, ’He called you Po Sin ‘Grandfather Elephant’ because you were so serious and so fat.’

Jin Yu quipped:

’And he called you Wang ‘Hope’ because he knew you were in love with the prostitute who sat in the corner waiting for tin miners.’

‘OK OK. But remember the day you said you were going to defeat Chen Cheung? You bought a bag of cash stolen from your father’s desk, and you shared it with me and we played him for big bucks.’ He turned away and stared out the window onto the empty street, his voice quavered, ’You won and everyone said you’d be lucky with money, and they called you Shing ‘Victory’. Well remember this! I lost because I’m unlucky with money.’

‘Liar! You lost because you wanted to. I only remember you betrayed me.’

‘You still won though!’ Hoi Fat pleaded, ‘Didn’t you? I never caused any harm.’

Jin Yu accused him:

‘You discarded the Red dragons and the Winds on purpose. You knew they could help Chen Cheung win. You let him steal from you.’

He sits on the hard metal chair. Rivers of sweat cooling his back. A rusty fan blows smoky wind as flies spin round and dance on the tiles. He rolls the dice and passes them on. Chen Cheung wins the east wind. Stir the tiles loudly like the twittering of sparrows, and then build the great wall with no gaps allowed or bad spirits will enter the game.

Chen Cheung breaks the wall and the last game begins. Jin Yu is in the west wind. His heart thuds, life is marvellous on the edge of a razor. He has bamboo and wan and one green dragon. Reveal and conceal. Declare a rooster take another tile. One white dragon and turn the cat. Hoi Fat discards a red dragon and Chen Cheung swoops it up and reveals a Kong.

Liar Liar, your pants are on fire. White dragons hang from the flypapers. He tries to catch Hoi Fat’s eye and Hoi Fat is sweating and won’t look at him, and Chen Cheung smiles slyly. He plays on with the beggar man and the thief. His heart sinks, they’re neck and neck and this is the last game. If he loses this he’s lost it all. Hoi Fat has cost him the Thirteen Orphans.

Chen Cheung’s long yellow nails tap on the tiles. He can hear the clock ticking behind him and the birds singing in the street. He looks out through the doorway, there is a cherry tree across the road, and he can’t see the birds for the blossom. They play on, piles of money on the table now. When you’re so brave take a swig and pass the bottle, and a dog humps a bitch in the street and all the tin miners have gathered round. He needs a nine of bamboo then he’ll have the heavenly gates. The spiders crawl out the cracks in the wall telling him no, and still he gets it.

Mah-jong!

Hoi Fat argued:

‘You still won. Remember? The noblest game of skill, strategy, calculation and chance.’

Jin Yu scoffed at him:

‘If I did win it’s no thanks to you! I’m going home I’ve heard enough.’

‘Wait.’ Hoi Fat wheedled, ‘I need you to help me get a mattress out of an apartment.’

‘What? I’m not a removal man. Pay someone to do the job.’

‘I can’t, this has to be kept secret. It’s a long story my friend, full of twists and turns.’

Hoi Fat sniggered; he took the bottle from the floor and emptied the last of the whiskey down his throat.

Jin Yu told him:

‘You’re pissed, just shut up and get out my car. I don’t know why I bothered coming here, I must have been mad.’

Hoi Fat smiled sadly:

‘You came because old habits die hard, and you know there’s no one else I can ask for help. Don’t deny you’re still my friend, the only one I have. That’s the truth. Admit it, that’s why you came.’

Jin Yu wondered if it were true.

‘Maybe I just came tonight out of curiosity.’

‘Then my fat friend, follow me and satisfy your nosy nature.’

Jin Yu reasoned there was no point in going home. He was here now so he might as well see it through. He locked the car and followed Hoi Fat into the building. Inside the lift he avoided looking at him. They got out on the top floor and Hoi Fat stood outside the apartment, his ear pressed to the door. He took a bunch of keys from his pocket and let himself in.

He grabbed Jin Yu’s sleeve, pulled him through the doorway, and announced:

‘Welcome to the romance of the three kingdoms. Please take care not to tread on the serpent, don’t look it in the eye, it’s an evil omen.’

Jin Yu stepped over a long white snake, lying slaughtered in the hallway. There was a radio playing some old rock song and the wind blew the dust through the hall. They went through to the lounge where a thin white boy stood, dressed in leather and chains. He wore make up on his face, lipstick on his mouth and his toenails were painted dark red.

Hoi fat made a bow and said:

‘Jin Yu meet the rent boy.’

The rent boy asked:

‘When’s Mr Hussein coming? I went to the supermarket and picked up the KY jelly.’

‘He’s not.’ Hoi Fat told him, ‘We’ve come for the mattress.’

‘No! I need it.’

‘We’re taking it any way.’

The boy looked to Jin Yu:

‘Where am I gonna sleep?’

Jin Yu didn’t know.

‘On the sofa?’ Hoi Fat suggested.

‘It’s not fair.’ The boy whined, ‘They call me bum boy and Mr Hussein promised me I’d be a film star in his porno movies. But the video camera is not professional, and I know the difference.’ He pointed at them, ‘All you lot! You think you’re better than me! Mr Hussein says fetch my rent boy, but I’m not at his beck and call. And his driver says, Shut up bum boy and earn your money.’ He pouted, his eyes wide like windmills, ‘It’s not fair, and I want to go home!’

Hoi Fat hushed him:

‘You’ll be on a flight tomorrow. No worries, first flight in the morning!’

The boy shrugged, popped his gum, arched his back and lay down on the sofa. His bare feet hung over the armrest like two old dead fish and he smiled to himself, for what he didn’t know, and left them to get the mattress.

Hoi Fat whispered in Jin Yu’s ear:

‘My leader Hussein, alias Emperor Ling, has given too much confidence to the palace eunuchs, and now we see only bad omens everywhere. I believe our country is doomed to misrule and division, just like in the three kingdoms.’

They entered the bedroom, as a gust of wind swirled through the air forming a cloud of dust. Jin Yu jumped backwards as a big black snake, dropped down from the roof beams and coiled itself upon the bed. Hoi Fat leaned over and raised his fist, shaping his fingers into a golden lotus, from which puffs of billowing damp fog emerged. Snowy white mist filled the room, blinding Jin Yu till the wind blew the haze away, and then he saw the snake had gone and wondered if it had all been a trick of the light.

They struggled with the mattress, and from the room next door, the boy moaned he’d have to sleep on the sofa, he said he was a porno actor not a rent boy. The mattress was stained and stank of sweat, they rolled it up and Hoi Fat used his belt to tie it in the middle. They dragged it through to the sitting room while the rent boy giggled at them.

Hoi Fat glowered:

‘Don’t mind him, he’s a juvenile delinquent, never learned how to behave.’

A hot wind was blowing and the aircon was busted, and Jin Yu stood sweating, doubled over the mattress.

Hoi Fat spoke wearily:

‘Remember in the story, when hens developed male characteristics and became cocks? We are now witnessing young men turning into women. A miracle always caused by effeminate eunuchs meddling in affairs of the state.’

The full moon shot beams through the window, moon shadows splintered and flickered, twisting into a long wreath of black smoke. Jin Yu shrank backwards as Hoi Fat spat on the ground, and with a wave of his hand, the smoky tendrils sprouted leaves, twisting and coiling like a giant beanstalk stretching upwards, out through the window and arching dozens of feet into the sky. Hoi Fat’s complexion had become as clear as jade, and his lips were rich red. Jin Yu watched as Hoi Fat’s ears swelled, the lobes touching his shoulders, and his hands hung down below his knees.

He said to Jin Yu:

‘See me? I look just like Liu Bei, also I climbed trees as a child and told the village children I was the Son of Heaven. Don’t you understand? It’s the three kingdoms all over again.’

The smoky beanstalk turned to a sooty dust that fluttered in the air. He patted Jin Yu’s shoulder and said in a jolly voice:

‘Sorry I need to pee, back in a tick.’

Jin Yu sat down in a sagging armchair. The rent boy was still lying on the sofa. He rolled over on his side and said to Jin Yu:

‘Do you want the KY jelly? I wont need it if I’m leaving in the morning.’

Hoi Fat was in the toilet. Jin Yu shook his head and struggled out of the chair. He strode over to the open window and stood waiting, watching the cockroaches crawl down the curtains.

Eventually Hoi Fat returned; a peculiar floral fragrance emanated from him that stung Jin Yu’s nostrils. They dragged the mattress towards the entrance; the slaughtered serpent was still there, pouring blood across the floor. Blood streaked with coloured rays, forming a rainbow that streamed through the hallway.

Hoi Fat chuckled:

‘Remember the evil omen of the Jade chamber? Same rainbow, same story.’

The mattress wouldn’t fit into the cramped lift and they had to use the stairs. As they struggled down four flights heaving and pulling, Jin Yu remarked slyly:

‘I remember in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Emperor Ling was greatly moved by these bad omens. But the Eunuchs grew bolder and ten of them formed a political party, called the Regular Attendants. One of them, Chang Jang also known as Hoi Fat, became the emperors most trusted advisor or perhaps his pimp? And Emperor Ling aka Hussein, loved him so and called him Daddy.’

They put the mattress in Hoi Fat’s jeep and drove up Penang hill on a black snaky road full of potholes. Hoi Fat stopped the jeep on the side of the Ayer Itam dam.

‘Should we set fire to it first or just chuck it in?’

‘Safer just to throw it.’

They hauled it from the back, rolled it to the edge and watched it bounce down the concrete slope and into the water.

Jin Yu asked him:

‘Why?’

‘There’s no harm.’ Hoi fat bantered, ‘If we lived in a free society who would mind?’

‘Still, you’ve gone too far bringing a gay boy prostitute from London.’

‘No.’ Hoi Fat told him, ’I found him in Brighton. My leader wanted a Jewish boy with those long black hair ringlets but I couldn’t find one.

They looked on as the mattress sank.

‘Who were you shouting at that day in the Plaza car park?’

‘My leader, I can’t help it, maybe I love him.’

‘Take me back to my car.’ Jin Yu turned away from Hoi Fat. ‘I don’t want to know anymore.’

‘You have to know!’ He wheedled, ‘What if I want to tell you? Remember how it was? You always had everything! You were my friend and I wanted to fit in. But I had nothing till my father died.’ He cackled like he didn’t care, ‘He was filthy rich and a bloody miser. How do you think I paid for the cinema? The flash wristwatch? The girl in the noodle shop? The leather jacket? Yeah I was a rent boy, a pondan, call it what you like.’

‘Were you Chen Cheung’s boy?’ He’d always known.

’I borrowed money from him. Remember? Best mah-jong player and biggest moneylender! I paid it back to him, in a dirty old room in the back of his shop that stank of piss.

‘Shut up! I want to go.’

’I couldn’t bear to go back in that room again and again. I owed him and I had to lose. That money you gave me to play was enough to buy my freedom. I didn’t care if you lost too. You could have blamed one of your servants for nicking the cash. Who would have suspected you?

Jin Yu excused himself:

’You never told me, I would have helped.

’Tell you what? My father’s mean, I go to the best schools and have less money than a sweepers son. What about my face? I couldn’t lose face. Never criticise your parents. My mother was a drunk. Respect your elders. By the way I’m a bastard, my mother had a lover before I was born. I never knew who my real father was. It was a family secret. One day in London I realised I had no face of my own.

’Why are you telling me now?

‘I don’t know why.’

Inside the jeep, driving through the forest back to George Town, Jin Yu kept silent. When they reached his car he told Hoi Fat:

’Never ever call me again and if you see me pretend you haven’t.

The moon hangs low and thin black trees scratch at the sky, there’s an old empty room in the back of the shop. Don’t go in that room because he’s high on opium and drunk on whiskey. There’s a mattress in the corner stained with shit and blood. Your mother’s a lush and your daddy’s not your Pa.

Jin Yu sat with Mandy in the back of a shop in the Chinese quarter. Earlier, he had taken her to the best jewellers in Singapore, where she’d refused even to go inside and take a look. He should have known; she had stopped him wearing the gold Rolex his father had given him after he’d graduated.

‘Makes you look like a millionaire box wallah!’

He watched the old Chinese jeweller; he had long curved fingernails, and his face distended into a grin like yellowed parchment stretching over his skull. On the wooden table between them he pushed and prodded a pile of diamonds, lifting them to the light with a pair of long tweezers. Jin Yu had persuaded Mandy to have a ring made for her.

‘I don’t want a diamond.’ she said.

‘These are beautiful they’re south African.’

‘I don’t care where they come from I don’t like diamonds.’

He had bought Alison a diamond engagement ring; perhaps it was bad luck.

’Another stone then? Sapphires? Rubies?

‘No, I want an old ring, an antique one.’

‘New is better.’ he said.

She turned to the Jeweller and asked, ‘Qing gu jièzhi?’

The old Jeweller chuckled and Jin Yu felt almost proud of her muddled Mandarin. He remembered the first day he’d heard her, arguing in the market calling the Chinese man a pig in Malay, and all the times she’d carelessly tried to chat in Hakka with beggars and waiters at hawker stalls.

The old man shuffled off on his rubber Batas and returned with a cracked leather bag, inside it was full of old velvet ring boxes.

In the end she chose a rose gold ring, with an intricate filigree flower, set with seed pearls and rose sapphires. Jin Yu was disappointed. He wanted her ring to be a statement, a sign to everyone, a classic engagement ring. After he’s paid for the ring, they set off to buy a dress. He suggested Dior or Channel but they never made it. She fell in love with a dress in a Chinese shop, in the same mildewy road as the jewellers. It was a tight-fitting cheongsam embroidered with dragons, their fiery flames curling around her breasts. The slits in the skirt were so high he could see the ribbon ties from her slip. He was ashamed, in Singapore the prostitutes and nightclub hostesses wore the same dresses and would kneel down to serve drinks at the tables.

Later, back at the hotel, Jin Yu sat on the edge of the bed watching her as she twirled in front of the looking glass, lifting her arms high like wings. She was wearing his ring and she looked beautiful.

‘Mandy, don’t wear that dress tonight, I want to take you to the Mandarin.’ he told her.

‘So?’

‘The restaurant waitresses wear these Chinese dresses.’

She knew she embarrassed him.

‘Then lets go somewhere else! I don’t want to go to a stupid revolving restaurant on a hotel rooftop anyway.’

Some times she wiped him away with her words. He marvelled how she could be so rude, so fast. He didn’t care tonight.

‘Where would you like to go?’

That evening, they went to Bugis Street. Hand in hand they walked past the wooden stalls with rusting tin roofs, the stench of rotting rubbish and open drains filling the air. The food stalls were filled with tourists and locals, junkies in dirty sarongs and painted lady boys, while old Chinese men sat smoking in greying vests, under the neon lights.

They sat on rusty old chairs around a small table, eating noodles and drinking Maotai from greasy glasses. Jin Yu in his suit and Mandy in her turquoise shiny silk dress with her blazing yellow hair; she looked like a whore and he was the client. She didn’t care and he didn’t see. The food was delicious and Jin Yu was glad until Mandy stood up. She began waving across the street to a thin boy with a big head of curls.

Then Jin Yu found him self squashed round the table between her mate Norbert, and a hefty Danish girl with massive hands.

‘Friends of mine, haven’t seen them since Bombay.’ she told him.

Mandy sat on Jin Yu’s lap, she poured herself another glass of Maotai and giggled as her tits brushed up against his cheek and he felt abashed. As he turned away he saw an old toothless Chinese woman carrying a battered cardboard box full of cheap tat. She was making her way towards them; weaving between the crammed tables, nodding and dipping like a puppet. She stopped before them, dressed in pyjamas and black kung fu shoes, her toothless smile was shy as she let her gaze drop away, but her shrewd eyes glittered hard. Then she thrust her box at them, lifting it up and shaking the contents. Mandy rummaged through the plastic jade bangles and fake gold watches and bought a packet of cigarettes and the hefty Dane pulled out a vibrator and switched it on, their laughter like jackals.

The old toothless box woman joined in, and she tried to massage Jin Yu’s neck with a vibrating pink rubber penis. Everyone was grinning at him through the smoke.

‘Shit! Are they second hand?’ asked the hefty Dane.

The toothless woman pulled a matchbox out of her pyjamas. Her black ragged nails sliding it open, displaying the tinfoil packets of opium squashed inside. She smiled like a tiny child, her gums glistening in the neon.

Mandy kept rummaging. ‘Do you have any false teeth or just false cocks?’ She had become showy and vulgar. Jin Yu couldn’t stand seeing her behave like this.

‘Mandy I’m so tired why don’t we go back to our hotel?’

‘You go I’ll come later.’

He had to leave now or lose face. He walked away to take a cab and from the corner he turned back to wave, but she didn’t turn round. He stood there watching her shining in the dark alley.

Back at the hotel he tried to sleep. He felt betrayed and worried what she might get up to, and his only relief was tomorrow they’d be returning to Ipoh. He must have fallen asleep because when he next opened his eyes there was a grey dawn light seeping into the room. The bed was empty and she hadn’t returned. His heart thudded in his chest and he could barely breathe. As the hours passed he couldn’t decide what to do. He’d have to call the police. When he could not bear to wait any longer she came back. It was nine in the morning. He was so relieved to see her, his anger melted away.

She started undressing in a hurry.

‘Where have you been?’ He asked.

‘More friends turned up. Then a French guy invited everyone back to his place for a party.’ She wouldn’t look at him.

‘I’ve been so worried.’

‘Norbert’s leaving for Sabah and Sarawak, I’m going too and I want to visit Irian Jaya.’

‘What about you and me?’

‘I’ll be back.’

‘We could go together next month?’

‘You wont!’ she told him, ‘You’ll say it’s too dangerous, and full of snakes and diseases. You won’t want to sleep on mud floors and wash in the rivers.’ She glared. ‘I know you.’

He couldn’t say anything, he couldn’t believe she was packing and in a few minutes she’d be gone.

‘Please don’t go.’

‘Please don’t ask me not to.’

‘Please Mandy?’ He was begging now.

‘You’ll be all right. You have your office all day. I’ve been getting bored, I need a change.’

He stood by and watched her pack. She had changed her clothes from silk to faded jeans, no longer a night hoar queen. She was just a skinny girl with little tits, a hippy traveller who stayed in cheap guesthouses in the Chinese quarter. She was already taking her suitcase to the door.

‘Wait I’ll take that down.’

What else could he say?’

’Don’t bother Jin Yu. You look like shit. I’d get some more sleep if I were you.

She took off the ring, twisting it, and then she was holding it out to him.

‘Why?’

‘Look after it.’ She whispered.

‘But it’s yours.’

‘I might lose it.’

And she was gone and he couldn’t stop her. He wanted to run down the corridor after her, and hit her and slap her, and pull her back by her yellow hair, beat her and strike her till she bled, and take her back to Ipoh and lock her in chains, and yet he couldn’t stop her.

She was free to walk out, and now she was gone. He sat on the bed and rested his head in his hands

See the Mercedes speeding through the plantations, the black tar road snaking through the darkness. See the rich Chinese man sitting in the back alone. The driver is watching him through the mirror, he wonders what has happened. He knows the girl is missing.

Jin Yu came back from Singapore without his would-be bride, he stopped eating and stopped going into office and his brother said nothing though secretly he was pleased. He thought Jin Yu would snap out of it and he wondered how long he could go without food.

The morning she’d left him, Jin Yu had called him.

‘I need a favour.’

‘Where are you?’

‘Singapore. She’s left me.’

Han Yu had felt glad.

‘Forget her. Come home.’ He’d coaxed.

‘I need to know where she’s gone, can you check the airports?’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

Jin Yu had realised his brother didn’t want to help.

’Please I really need this favour” Another one.

When he’d returned home Han Yu had given him the news. Mandy had flown to Jakarta that same afternoon. They might have even seen each other at Changi airport.

‘She’s sure to pass back through,’ Han Yu told him, ‘they will let me know. I’ve called Kai Tak airport too.’

Han Yu had surprised himself by being so scrupulous, perhaps he felt guilty because he was thankful she’d disappeared.

Jin Yu could only wait.

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