Chapter Five – Passage Four
Kristen closes the lid of her MacBook and rubs her eyes. “Guys, let’s give it a break,” she says. “We’ve been going at it for three hours now. I need a breather.”
I look up at the clock and see that it’s indeed nearing noon. Somehow, the entire morning has whizzed by in a complete blur. Funny how time flies when one is nation-building and I hear my own stomach grumble. Nothing whets your appetite like playing God, after all.
Van nods. “Let’s take twenty, everyone. It’s Tuesday which means the chicken-rice cart ought be out on the main lawn if you want to get some air. I recommend it.”
I grab my jacket and head outside. Nothing stands between a man and good chicken-rice.
Outside the air’s crisp and cool. It’s September and autumn’s in full swing here in Jinshui. The grounds of the office park is built to emulate traditional Japanese koi ponds dating back to fifth century BC and I stop my amble a moment to admire the little red and golden fish swimming around. It’s an ocean of vibrant orange, white, and vermillion.
“They look pretty happy, don’t they?”
Shu walks up from behind me and kneels by the water’s edge. I see in her hand she has a small knit pouch of something and she flicks a handful into the pond. Ah, it’s fish food. The koi swarm in and it’s a complete feeding frenzy.
“I guess so,” I say, watching the koi fight over the flecks. “It must be pretty nice to just be able to laze around all day and get free food. Never having to worry about being hunted or needing to fight to survive.”
Shu laughs. It’s soft, proper laugh, the kind that is polite and trained. Back from a time when young women attended finishing schools and learned about manners from stern headmistresses and textbooks.
“These koi are domesticated. They’ve won the genetic lottery. Because of their beauty, they’ve come to mean prosperity and good luck.” She smiles. “It’s win-win for everyone.”
“It’s good if you can get it,” I say, shrugging. “But these fish wouldn’t last two seconds in the wild. Their bright colors would make them instant fodder. They only live such good lives because they’ve got sugar mommas and daddies fending off the wildebeests.”
“Is that such a crime to rely on others?” Shu asks. She stands and walks away, leaving me with a distinct feeling that I’ve somehow offended her. But my stomach resumes its growling and I have no more time to overthink the situation. It’s chicken-rice time.
Van was right. The chicken-rice is positively sublime. It comes in a litter-sized Styrofoam container that I’m confident undoubtedly contributes towards climate change once it’s discarded into some monstrous landfill that’s likely the size of Mount Fuji but that might as well be the story of mankind. Enjoy the moment today and kick the can down the road. Different day; someone else’s problem.
I have no idea where everyone’s wandered off to, but I take a beat to simply bask in this moment of being alone. There’s a bench by one of the footbridges that’s off the cobblestone path. It’s out of the way and secluded so I decide to eat lunch there. Everywhere, the trees and foliage have all turned red and orange and leaves rustle in the slight breeze. As a child growing up, China was always a distant land which may well have been a completely different planet. Growing up in the rustbelt Midwest of America, I’d never imagined in my days of youth that I’d one day be in China. Working for communists, nonetheless. I chuckle. Unbelievable. What would that Dexter of yesteryear think of the Dexter of now? Traitor to America? Betrayer of the red, white, and blue?