The officer and her assistant regarded Malmquist with placid expressions. “Keoi zoekdou houci go gudoijan,” said the former.
“Bei ngodei gimcaa jathaa keoi.”
“Oh boy, here we go again.”
They were fluttering their hands, telling him to do something.
The assistant went up to him, blew into his ear and whispered, “Zoeng neidi saam ceoiloklei.”
“I don’t understand.”
They gestured at his clothes. He understood and removed them.
The assistant produced an exotic-looking spoon with a digital display on the handle, latex gloves and a tube of clear jelly. She inserted two lubricated fingers into his anus, while stimulating him with her other hand. Instantly he was erect and non-orgasmic semen rolled out. She caught some on the spoon, smelled it and noted the reading, whose results she relayed to the boss. “Keoidi yesik nghou honzing. Zoeng tong tung minfan taityun. Ngo go tin aa! Keoi houci zungduklei. Ni hinsi jau houdo jauduk gaa matzi.”
“Jau gei sansin gwanjitlaat?”
“Keoi muijat jikzing.”
Again they queried him, “Nei hai bindou loigot?”
“I’m sorry but I have no idea who you are, what you’re talking about, or where I am.”
They seemed just as perplexed by him as he was of them.
“Houlaa,” said the older cop. She then rattled off an incomprehensible stream of speech as she rummaged through Malmquist’s clothes. “Zoeng keoi sai gon zing. Gicaa jat haa. Bei keoi zoek soeng coeng pou. Zoeng keoi daaidou bui ngoi nung coeng. Keoidei jau jat go tinzan go jyusanfu. Ngodei bou gun di gin saam. Dangdang, ni di hai me?”
“That’s my wallet. Don’t take my wallet!” Malmquist yelled as the assistant wiped the excess semen off his penis with a towel. That seemed to pacify him. “Please don’t lose my wallet. I need it back.”
The officer smiled and left the room. From a cabinet the assistant fetched him a tunic. It was patched together from a variety of colored fabrics like a quilt.
“No underwear for me?” he asked her. He pulled up his tunic and gestured to his groin. She was also dressed in a tunic, hers of plain blue with a brass badge pinned to it, a five-pointed star. Not understanding, she did the same.
“Jesus, you’re not wearing underwear either. Nobody wears underwear here? Anyway, what’s your name?”
“Ngo ng gong yingman.”
“I just want to know your name.”
“Ngo gong gwo ngo ng gong yingman.”
“Ingmon? Hi, I’m Jeff.”
“Ngodeng heoi zoeng nei sai honzing,” she said, pulling at the chest hair sticking out of his new tunic and sniffing it.
They left the station, and she led him to an outdoor public shower nearby where elderly attendants could be seen washing people of the opposite sex. An octogenarian Hispanic woman in a ponytail and the same patchwork style tunic as he had on soaped him up naked from his hair down to his feet, as the assistant cop watched from the sidewalk. The attendant pushed him under an exposed row of showers. Nobody seemed to notice or care about the erection her fingers had produced.
“So they use old people as helpers because things would quickly become chaotic if they were young?” Malmquist asked the cop as they left.
“Ng gan jiu. Bei ngodei wan di sige. Nei tou ngo aa?” she said, tapping her mouth.
They walked over to a group of bicycles lined up by the sidewalk. “Lo gaa daance.”
“Are these for anyone to use? They’re not locked.”
“Gan ngo lai.”
“This place seems familiar. Hey, this is my city! This is Clark Street. This is Chicago.”
“It seems pretty authentic for a fake Chicago. Except for all those banners on the buildings with Chinese characters on them this would certainly pass for Chicago. Are we really in China? But the buildings are dilapidated and crumbling. There are too many trees. And why aren’t there any cars on the street? Everyone’s riding bikes.”
They stopped at a restaurant a few blocks away.
“Funjing gwonglam,” the staff greeted them.
“Loengwai?” said a waitress who led them to a table. Ingmon pulled Malmquist over to the customer sink to wash his hands before eating. It was a simple, functional restaurant, with a counter and stools and booths. On each table, instead of the usual Heinz ketchup were jars of black liquids and a chopstick dispenser. Malmquist found himself among Caucasian, African, Hispanic, and Asian customers dressed in motley and the staff in plain yellow tunics.
“Can I get some beer?” he asked. “Hey, does anyone here speak English? What’s the word for ‘beer’ in Chinese?”
“Nei gong me?” said one.
“I guess not.”
Fat wontons poised mid-air between chopsticks or positioned on flat Chinese spoons, everyone was looking at him curiously.
“Well, aren’t we going to order anything?”
At that moment they were served. The same bowls of wonton soup and plates of steamed romaine lettuce smothered in oyster sauce that all the customers were eating.
“That’s it? This place only serves one thing?”
She ate in silence. Malmquist reached over to caress the shock of black hair sticking out from under shoulder. “You have beautiful underarm hair. It matches your eyebrows. What kind of meat is this in these wontons? I’ve never tasted meat like this before.”
“Ngo ng ming.”
“Ngo soeng heoi waa wantan jau mantai,” a customer next to them remarked. “Heoi gauging hai bindok lai?”
“Ngodei ngzi. Ngodei hoji heoi buingoi nungcoeng tai. Bindou jau jan wui gong yingman,” responded Ingmon.
“O, keoi hai lingjatgo au feiceotlai ge?” asked the waitress. She came up to Malmquist, slipped her hand under his tunic and gave his penis a friendly squeeze.
“Ngodei moungming keoi,” Ingmon told her.
“Jesus! What was that all about?”
They got back on their bikes and road north along the Lake Michigan shoreline for several miles. He knew the territory. Calvary Cemetery. Evanston. Northwestern University. Wilmette and the Baha’i House of Worship. It was there that they stopped.
“What are we doing at the Baha’i Temple?”
“Ngoi zi miu.”
The round cathedral had the same hushed interior of yore, despite the presence of people in intense discussion. But the seats were gone, and lining the floor in their place was an expanse of immaculate beige futons. The congregants were sitting in groups in lotus position. After washing their hands in a marble basin by the entrance, Ingmon turned Malmquist over to an elderly Caucasian female leading one of the groups. The two women spoke briefly before parting.
“Don’t leave me, Ingmon.”
“Don’t worry, you’re in good hands with me,” said the woman.
“Oh, finally someone who can speak English. I have no idea how I got here or what the hell is going on. I was in China in the future in a fake Ancient Rome. I had just entered a neighborhood bathhouse and found myself staring at two Chinese women, a cop and her assistant, that girl there in the blue outfit. In fact I have the oddest feeling I still am in that bathhouse right now. A fake Rome, and now a fake Chicago! Please clear up my confusion for me.”
“This isn’t a fake Chicago, dear. This is real Chicago. The Windy City. And that girl is also a cop and not one you want to mess with, given her ability in gungfu.”
“She’s casually dressed today. You’ll be more convinced when she’s in full uniform—or if she has reason to arrest you. She’s fully loaded under that tunic.”
“What year is it now?”
“Holy fuck. Why is everybody speaking—”
“Because they’re in charge.”
“The Chinese control the USA?”
“Oh, no, the USA is history. This is AMSAR.”
“American Special Administrative Region.”
“They changed the name of the country?”
“You don’t understand. This is China now. You’re in a special administrative region of China.”
“What about the rest of the world?”
“Well, there’s AFSAR, African Special Administrative Region; ESAR, European Special Administrative Region; and ASAR, Asian Special Administrative Region, China excepted, of course.”
“Next question. How do I get out of here?”
“You’re darling,” she laughed. “AMSAR extends from Alaska all the way down to Cape Horn. You’re not going to find it very easy to get out of here.”
“The entire western hemisphere?”
“We’re divided into subregions, of course. This is AMSAR East—all of former USA east of the Mississippi and Canada east of Manitoba. I’m Ray, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you. Jeff Malmquist. You don’t look like a Ray.”
“As in a ray of the sun.”
“Oh, I see. Ray what?”
“Just call me Ray.”
“Well, Ray, perhaps you can tell me how to get back to 2015? Or if you could just get me back to 2060, I’ll find a way to get back to 2015 from there.”
“You’re from 2015? Wow, that’s interesting. You must have tapped into the ether to make it all the way here. I happen to know something about astral projection myself. But for now why don’t you join my garden?” she said, pointing to her group, who were looking expectantly at the two of them.
“This is not what I recall the Baha’i faith to be about.”
“This is the Baha’i Temple.”
“No, this is the Temple of Love.”
“No, this is the Baha’i Temple.”
“You’re mistaken. It’s always been the Temple of Love, darling.”
“If you kicked the Baha’i out, what’s happened to all my favorite cafés and restaurants? Is Intelligentsia still there? It used to be on Broadway just south of Belmont. Can I at least go and see what’s happened to my apartment?”
“You’ll have all the time in the world to do that. Dimhaai nei ng lei tung daaigaa wuihap?”
“I don’t speak Cantonese.”
“Jat gau waa dou nggong?”
“I really don’t understand.”
“I can see you don’t. Later you’ll have to fill me in on how you managed to pick up English with native-like fluency. It’s a dead language now. The sooner you get your Cantonese back, the better. I’m one of the few English speakers left.”
“What do you mean your ‘garden’?”
“We grow you. We make you into a lovable. We make you lovable.”
“What if I’m not lovable?”
“You get sent to Canton.”
“What happens in Canton?”
“Nobody knows. But you don’t come back. My job is to keep you here. We are dedicated to growing lovables.”
“Okay, then what happens after I am successfully grown into a lovable?”
“You find a home. With a master. A best match. We’ll find you an older Chinese lady. After a successful period of service, you can be officially released and gain freelancing rights.”
“Probably around my age.”
“How old are you?”
“No. You’re not seventy-two.”
“I am seventy-two.”
“That’s impossible. You can’t be more than fifty-two.”
“I truly am seventy-two. Born in 2043 and in excellent health.”
“That’s unbelievable. I have to say you still are attractive. Were you born here?”
“I was born in New Gary, actually, and came to Chicago after Liberation.”
“What was that?”
“You really are an astral projection out of nowhere. Our joining the Chinese motherland, of course.”
“Anyway. So it’s a bit awkward, isn’t it, with a seventy-two year old? What about me?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, action. What if I want some action?”
“Oh, yes, but why should that be a problem?”
“Can your typical seventy-two year-old woman have sex?”
“Aren’t you all dried up by then?”
“You sure are old-fashioned. Everyone knows a woman’s sexual ability gets better as she ages. I’ll show you later. For now, you’ve got a lot of blossoming to do.”
“What if I don’t want to work for a master?”
Ray laughed. “You have no choice, dear. You’re a slave.”
“A slave? No, please, not that again.”
“Each and every one of us is a slave. And slaves, you know, are good for only two things.”
“And those are?”
“Let’s just worry about the first, the only important thing. Love. Being a loving slave.”
“What’s the other?”
“Being sent to Canton.”
“I would think the other is sex.”
“Nah. Technology mastered sex a long time ago. Androids were great in bed but were found to have a serious drawback. They were unable to love. They were super-friendly and courteous and loyal, but they couldn’t genuinely love, with passion, obsession, mystery. They could not fall in love. An android could not select you; it could only be selected. An android could not be seduced. So they were all melted down and recycled into more useful products, like bicycles. The funny thing is, a lot of humans aren’t very good at loving either. That’s where we come in.”
“How can you make someone a loving person who is not already one?”
“By making you a good communicator.”
“What does communication have to do with love?”
“Oh, boy. Everything. They realize each other. Our universal motto is, ‘Love is communication.’ We often salute each other with this phrase, and respond with the reverse, ‘Communication is love.’ Ngoi hai gaaulau. Gaaulau hai ngoi. They are two aspects of the same thing, two sides of the same coin.”
“I can understand how love is a type of communication, but not the other way around. You could say that love is a type of affective communication, and that’s about it.”
“Yes, it’s a very effective type of communication.”
“No, affective, not effective. People always get these two words mixed up. My students do. It drives me crazy. Affective communication is communication that people use to express solidarity, to bond with one another for social purposes. Emotional communication. The other kind of communication is to transmit information. They are distinct and have nothing to do with each other. Although they may co-occur.”
“Ah, so you’re an intellectual.”
“I’m a teacher.”
“I’m a teacher, too.”
“Then you should be able to understand that I go after sloppy language the way you probably go after dirty futons in this temple.”
“Agreed. Still, show me how it’s possible to separate love and communication.”
“’This is Jeff’ transmits information—my name. ‘Nice to meet you’ is affective communication; it transmits emotion, not information.’
“But it all depends on how you say ‘Jeff’ and how you say ‘Nice to meet you,’ doesn’t it?”
“True, a bit of emotion seems to get stuck in almost every utterance.”
“That’s my point,” said Ray. “Even trying to say something as dryly as possible displays emotion—say, coldness or hostility—doesn’t it?”
“But there is a great deal of communication that is strictly informational—sheer data and nothing else.”
“The latest stock market updates.”
“Oh, I remember the stock market. It collapsed and sent millions of people into depression and suicide. That’s about as emotional as you can get.”
“How about if I ask you the time, or what year it is?”
“You asked me what year it was, and you were extremely emotional about it. As for the time—it’s one of the most effective pick-up lines.”
“Wait. Just clear something up for now. This all sounds extremely Orwellian—you know, doublethink, groupthink. Thought control. I rebel against all authoritarian gobbledygook and will happily go to Canton—and stick my middle finger up the city when I get there. Especially considering I’ve never been there before and you’ve gotten me all curious and fired up about the place.”
“I see we’re going to have some very interesting discussions. But all in due time. My little garden is waiting for us over there. I hope I can eventually convince you. Because the truth is sexy, as we like to say. You need to be convinced, since without a grasp of the basics, you will fail to become lovable. Consider it your goal to understand what is unclear to you now. And you don’t want to get sent to Canton. Now, let’s go meet the group.”
“Fair enough. We can carry on this discussion later.”
Ray led Malmquist over to her group and introduced him. “Gokwai, funjing Jeff gaa ngo dei. Keoi hai san lei ge. Goi deoi keoi hou jau noising di, keoi nggong gwongdungwaa.”
They all stood up. “Hou hoisam jingsik nei, Jeff. Funjing lei ngodei zou!”
Ray turned to the first woman. She lifted up her tunic and waited for Malmquist to do the same, whereupon she gently squeezed his penis. She stood waiting for him to reciprocate. Ray showed him how to give her pubic hair a friendly tug where the tuft was at its thickest. She then made him repeat “Nice to meet you” in Cantonese. Hou hoisam jingsik neidei. And so one by one with everyone in the group.
When introductions were finished, they all sat down and got back to work. And he had learned some Cantonese.
* * *