The officer and her assistant regarded Malmquist with placid expressions. “Keoi zoekdou houci go gudoijan,” said the former.
“Oh boy, here we go again.”
“Bei ngodei gimcaa jathaa keoi.”
They gestured to him to remove his clothes.
The assistant went up to him. She lightly bit his earlobe, blew into his ear and whispered, “Zoeng neidi saam ceoiloklei.”
“I don’t understand.”
They gestured again. He understood and obeyed. The assistant produced an exotic-looking spoon, latex gloves and a tube of jelly. She inserted two lubricated fingers into his rectum, while stimulating him with her other hand. Instantly he was erect and non-orgasmic semen rolled out.
“What are you doing to me?”
She scooped a glob of semen on the spoon and smelled it. “Keoidi yesik nghou honzing. Zoeng tong tung minfan taityun.” She noted the digitalized reading on the spoon’s handle. “Ngo go tin aa! Keoi houci zungduklei. Ni hinsi jau houdo jauduk gaa matzi.”
“Jau gei sansin gwanjitlaat?”
“Keoi muijat jikzing.”
“Nei hai bindou loigot?” they asked him again.
“I’m sorry but I have no idea who you are, where I am, what you’re talking about, or what language you’re speaking.”
“Houlaa. 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,” the cop said to the assistant as she rummaged through Malmquist’s clothes. “Ngodei bou gun di gin saam. Dangdang, ni di hai me?”
“That’s my wallet. Don’t take my wallet!” Malmquist yelled.
The assistant wiped the remaining semen off his penis with a towel. She continued stroking him, as if she were holding his hand. This seemed to pacify him.
“Please don’t lose my wallet. I need it back.”
The officer smiled and left the room. The assistant then fetched him a tunic. It was multicolored and patched together from different materials 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 badge on it. 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.”
“Ng gan jiu. Bei ngodei wan di sige. Nei tou ngo aa?” she asked, tapping her mouth. She led him out onto the street and pointed 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.”
“Are we really in China? It seems pretty authentic for a fake Chicago. The buildings are so old and crumbling. This bike must be a hundred years old. But there are too many trees. And why aren’t there any cars on the street? Everyone’s riding bicycles.”
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. After they sat down, the assistant got back up and led Malmquist over to the customer sink to show him how to wash his hands. It was a simple, functional restaurant, with a counter and stools and booths. At the side of each table were jars of black liquids and a chopstick dispenser. Malmquist found himself among Caucasians, Africans, Hispanics, Asians and blends thereof, the customers dressed in motley and the staff in plain yellow tunics.
“Can I get some beer?” he asked. “Hey, do any of you guys speak English? What’s the word for ‘beer’ in Chinese?”
“Nei gong me?” said one.
“I guess not.”
The assistant was looking at him with a quizzical expression, as was everyone else, fat wontons poised mid-air between chopsticks or positioned on flat Chinese spoons.
“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 black flame of hair sprouting from her shoulder. “You have beautiful underarm hair. It exactly matches the texture of 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 said to her. “Heoi gauging hai bindok lai?”
“Ngodei ngzi. Ngodei hoji heoi buingoi nungcoeng tai. Bindou jau jan wui gong yingman.”
“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 squeeze.
“Ngodei moungming keoi.”
They got back on their bikes and road for miles. He knew the territory. North Sheridan Road. Lake Michigan. 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.”
It had the same airy hushed interior, the same sublime silence of yore despite the presence of people in intense discussion. The seats for the congregation, however, were gone, futons lining the entire floor in their place. Groups of people formed circles and were all sitting in lotus position. After washing their hands in a marble basin by the entrance, the assistant turned Malmquist over to an elderly Caucasian female leading one of the groups. The two women spoke for a bit, and the assistant got up to leave.
“Don’t leave me, Ingmon.”
“Don’t worry, you’re in good hands with me,” said the leader.
“Oh, finally someone who can speak English! You really need to help me. I have no idea how I got here or what the hell is going on. I was just 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 tunic. In fact I have the oddest feeling I am still 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 indeed real Chicago. The Windy City. And that girl is a cop too. She’s casually dressed today. You’ll be more convinced when she’s in uniform—or if she has reason to arrest you. She’s also fully loaded under that tunic.
“You’ve got to be kidding. What year is it now?”
“Holy shit. Why is everybody speaking—”
“Because the Cantonese are 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.”
“Okay, fine. Amsar, Shamsar, whatever you want to call it. Now, how do I get out of here?”
“You’re adorable,” 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, perhaps you could 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 really 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 our seedling group for a little seeding?”
“This is not what I recall the Baha’i faith to be about.”
“This is the Baha’i Temple.”
“No, you’re mistaken, this is the Temple of Love.”
“No, this is the Baha’i Temple.
“It’s always been the Temple of Love, darling.”
“Fuck me. 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 about the only English speaker you’ll find around here anymore.”
“What’s a seedling group?”
“We grow you. We make you lovable, a 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 and have a very successful harvest rate.”
“Okay, then what happens if I am successfully grown into a ‘lovable’?”
“Then you find a home. A home with a master. A best match. We’ll match you with 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 are not 72.”
“I am 72.”
“That’s impossible. You can’t be more than 52.”
“I really am 72. Born in 2043 and in excellent health.”
“That’s shocking. I have to say you are still 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 72-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 72 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—and language learning—to do before you can fantasize about your future.”
“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 these 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 discovered to be great in bed but unable to truly love. They are super friendly and courteous and loyal, but they can’t love, with passion, obsession, mystery. They cannot fall in love. An android cannot select you; it can only be selected. An android cannot be seduced. 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 become a loving person?”
“By making you a good communicator.”
“What does communication have to do with love?”
“Oh, boy!” She looked around and whispered, “Don’t let anyone hear you say that—oh, I forgot, we’re the only two who can speak English.”
“I’m not following you.”
“You’ve just committed sacrilege. Our universal motto is ‘Love is communication. Communication is love.’ They are one and the same.”
“Well, I happen to be a semiotician. I seriously take issue with these propositions. If love and communication are identical, why are they two different words? Why are they wholly distinct concepts?”
“That’s merely a problem of language.”
“I see we’re going to have a very interesting discussion here.”
“Your prejudice is not something I may be able to divest you of right now, considering they’re waiting for us over there, but with time I will convince you. You need to be convinced, since without this basic understanding, you will fail to become lovable. Consider it your goal to grasp the truth which is unclear to you now. And you will grasp it. Because you don’t want to go to Canton, and because the truth is always more beautiful than untruth. Now, let’s go meet the group.”
“Wait. Just clear something up for the moment. This all sounds extremely Orwellian—you know, doublethink. Groupthink. Thought control. You’re telling me I must convince myself that the illogical is logical and the logical is illogical? 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 fired up about the place.”
“I’m not trying to convince you to believe in the illogical. I’m merely trying to show you how these two basic ideas are one and the same, because they realize each other. Try to convince me otherwise. Show me how it’s possible to separate love and communication.”
“It’s very simple. Communication is the larger concept. It controls everything. Love is just a type of communication. It’s a subclass of a type. It’s a type of affective communication, in particular.”
“Yes, it’s a very effective type of communication.”
“No, affective, not effective. Affective communication is communication that people use to express solidarity, to bond with one another for emotional or social purposes. The other kind of communication is to transmit information. These two kinds of communication are very distinct and have nothing to do with each other, although they may co-occur.”
“Give me an example.”
“‘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. Even trying to say something as dryly as possible displays emotion—coldness and apathy. But there’s a great deal of communication transmitted by other means 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. C’mon, let’s get started.”
“Fair enough. We can carry on this debate 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.”
“Hou hoisam jingsik nei, Jeff. Funjing lei ngodei zou!” they replied and all stood up.
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, and stood there waiting for him to reciprocate. Ray showed him how to give her pubic hair a friendly tug where the tuft was at its thickest, and say “Nice to meet you” in Cantonese. Hou hoisam jingsik nei. One by one he went around to the other men and women in the group.
When introductions were finished, they all sat back down and got back to work. And he had learned some Cantonese.
* * *
Forthcoming (summer 2017): The Kitchens of Canton