Johan’s head had pounded against the pillow as if dancing to the unpleasant rhythm of the deafening boom, boom, boom, rocking the four blue walls of his tiny apartment.
He tried to open his eyes but they felt like someone had stapled them shut with superglue. At his second attempt, they peeled open, as if in slow motion, showing him the bright ray of sunlight coming in through the window. The bitter taste in his mouth confirmed the fact that he had gotten drunk again the previous night, but it was the banging inside his head that had cut short his sleep.
Immediately he knew they were out there, doing it again!
His mind snapped.
I’ll show them.
He jumped out of bed and put on his clothes quickly. Without stopping to brush his teeth or wash his face, he lit a cigarette and then ran out.
At the door he stopped and ran back into his room. He headed straight for the closet which was open. Clothes hung in disorder while pants, socks and underwear slept on the floor. He reached into the pocket of his old, leather jacket and grabbed the handle of the old Swiss Army knife, the one that Charlie had given him before leaving for Vietnam. An electric thrill rushed through his body as he slashed the air with the knife a couple of times.
They’d better not give me any trouble.
Then Charlie’s face flashed in his mind…as white and dead as he had been the last time Johan had seen him. His heart gave a sudden lurch and Johan decided against carrying the knife. He put it back quickly into the jacket’s pocket and went out.
He stepped into the lift. His stomach ran upwards as the elevator took him down to the first floor. Then his legs seemed to move into his upper body as the machine stopped on the first floor.
When he came out, Chinese people in the vestibule stared at him, not because he was smoking in a public area but because the little hair left on his round head was blond and his beady eyes were sky- blue.
“Look! A foreigner!” He heard the sentence loud and clear more than once.
Some people even pointed. But others instantly made a public show of politeness, especially one fat woman who held the hand of a four-year old boy who was pointing a chubby finger at Johan with the same level of excitement children display when watching a circus. The woman quickly slapped the boy’s face and said, “Don’t point at the foreign uncle, its not polite! Don’t you know how to be polite?” The other people nodded their heads solemnly as if they thought the woman knew all there was to know about being polite.
“How lucky the little boy is to have such a polite mother!” They exclaimed, one after the other, in loud tones. The little boy simply stared blankly at the grownups as if he could see through their pretense.
Johan showed them his tongue and middle finger, without saying the words that go with the second gesture. The people laughed happily as if it was a game, and then, they showed Johan their own fingers. Some showed their thumbs, forefingers, little fingers and ring fingers, probably wondering why Johan wasn’t staying to continue this fun game. The little boy and his mother were still doing this new fun finger- game long after Johan left the building.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The bass loaded beat sounded so loud he couldn’t even hear the noisy traffic. The red stage was mounted in the same position, near the shops that sold tea.
Six Chinese belly- dancing girls, dressed like they were going swimming but were afraid that sharks would bite their stomachs, were writhing and twisting their bodies like snakes, with fixed identical smiles on their heavily powdered faces. The small crowd, which gathered to watch this free performance, was cheering wildly. Some of the gym’s workers dressed in matching black tee-shirts that bore the gym’s name on both sides were handing out flyers and leaflets to the spectators.
Johan did not hesitate. When you are fuming like a mad bull what’s there to stop and think about?
He marched straight to the area behind the stage where all the cables were connected. Some people pointed at him and shouted “laowai, laowai,” but because of his limited knowledge of Mandarin, he didn’t even understand thatlaowai meant foreigner in Chinese. He was looking for one thing.
His eyes scanned the thick cables that ran over each other until they picked out the main power supply switch. It was a white one, (made in China of course), to which the main cable supplying electricity to the speakers, turntable, microphones and all the other equipment was plugged.
A surge of energy visited his body. He jumped forward and grabbed the plug, screaming at the top of his voice.
The decorative lights went out, not one by one. The musical equipment’s blinkers stopped indicating. Someone tapped the microphone but it had made no sound. Everything became so still that no one could have missed the sound of the voice screaming senselessly in a foreign language.
It was coming from behind the stage.
The belly dancing girls huddled together, talking among themselves in loud voices. The gym’s workers stopped handing out leaflets and started talking as well. Everyone was moving to the back of the stage. The backstage was about to turn into the center of attention.
They stared, wide-eyes and speechless, when they saw him. He was holding the white three-headed plug in his right hand and his cigarette in his left hand, screaming, “Stop this noise! I can’t sleep when you make such loud noise!”
The spectators, thinking that this was part of the show the gym had prepared for them started clapping and shouting, “laowai, laowai!”
Johan’s face reddened with anger as he tried to climb on one of the speakers. First he stumbled and fell down. The onlookers giggled and clapped. Johan huffed and puffed as he tried again. The speaker danced dangerously. People held their breath. The speaker stopped shaking and Johan hoisted himself onto it.
Then he began to hop up and down, screaming, “Stop this noise! Stop this noise!”
The spectators roared louder and louder and louder.
They were still screaming out their lungs when the police car rolled to a stop.
That was how Johan ended up taking a ride in the police car with the bumpy-faced interpreter who was more skilled in the art of saving face than in the art of translating.
GO TO CHAPTER …