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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Before the Dawn


"I'm sorry," I whispered to Jim standing next to me.

The night sky glowed red, as if re-broadcasting the fires that burned downtown during the riot a few weeks ago. But tonight it was just the city lights, or so I hoped.

He let out a disappointed grunt, his face twisted with misery.

"I'm feeling as bad as you are," I said. "But I can't stay any longer."

Across the shaded residential street, I could see televisions flickering in the living room of nearly every house. The Dobsons, particularly, had turned their TV's volume way up, blasting crowd's cheers from Dayton, Tennessee, as if sending a message to the whole neighborhood, or perhaps only to Jim and me, the only nonwhite couple living on this street. A booming male voice drifted into the night, stirring the bare branches around us ---

"As the President, I will fulfill every promise I have made to the people of this great nation. I will not let the Godless, Socialist, slant-eyed monkeys threaten our way of life ..."

The first Tuesday of November. The acceptance speech of the Nationalist Party's candidate.

I turned around and walked into my house --- mine for a few more hours --- and continued to pack the suitcase. It was a small black one that would hold, at most, a week's clothes. I would need to live on more, a lot more, but I couldn't worry about that now. The most important things, my birth certificate, passport, and bank cards, had already been tucked away in the hidden chamber behind Ricky's battery slot in his chest.

In a corner of the room, Ricky stood quietly, his rechargeable battery plugged into the wall socket. His eyes were green, suggesting that he had been fully charged but not turned on. I unplugged him and pressed a button in his left palm.

"Hello, Mistress." His mechanical voice greeted me. He smiled and gazed my face with his large round eyes.

"Please go to the car and wait for me," I said with a strained voice. Ricky could discern sarcasms and puns in human speech, but not emotions in the voice. He walked toward the door obediently, as he always did. I patted his rubber skin on the back.

A pair of arms gently wrapped me from behind. "You're finally dumping me," Jim sighed. "I have been waiting for this for almost twenty years."

"That's not fair," I wanted to get out of his hold but could find no strength to do so. His warmth, for just a few more moment. I closed my eyes and said bitterly, "It's your own choice."

He released me and stomped around the room. "I told you I cannot leave. They promised to protect me." He paused a moment and said, "Besides, I'm not really Chinese."

Anger rose within me. I pointed at the wall, where "Go home Chinks!" was spray-painted on the outside days ago, and yelled at Jim, "Tell it to the motherfuckers when they come for you, and see if they give a flying fuck that you are just a fake Chinese!"

Jim looked stricken. He shook his head: "They have promised to protect us. How much safer can you get?"

"Fuck your Agency," I cursed under my breath. "They can't find a balloon up their own ass." I took a deep breath and added, "Ricky will protect me. He's no chopped liver."

He knew and I knew that his employer would never let him go. He knew too much. This was the legal mafia, after all. When the Nationalist Party won the majority seats in the Congress two years ago, they correctly foresaw today's election outcome and took away Jim's passport, as well as the passports of all employees who were ethnically Asian. No exceptions. They even wanted to take mine, but I gave them my old, expired passport and claimed that I had lost the new one.

I went up to Jim and put my arms around his paunch, and laid my face in the crook of his shoulder. I held on to him like a drowning person desperately clinging to a piece of driftwood. I had done that countless times in the past two decades. For a moment I was paralyzed. He held me tightly. Finally, I pulled myself out of the trap.

"Come and find me in Vancouver," I said. Snapping shut the suitcase, I moved toward the door. "Come before they start the war."

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