Chinese Stories in English
Old Ma, The Bull
Author / Zhang Aiguo
I was eating in a small restaurant with some old friends from school. Dazhi said that Old Ma had gotten divorced, and I couldn't help but sigh over his misfortune: forty years old, a clerk in a cold government office, and so proper you couldn't pound a fart out of him with three blows from a hammer. He was in poor health, too, and had been relying on his wife to take care of everything for him, but now he was single. How was he going to get along?
That evening, we decided to ask Old Ma out to eat, to console him. He showed up in a tizzy a long time after we'd called him. As soon as he came in the door he pulled out a pack of expensive Great China cigarettes and passed them around, saying, "Sorry I kept you guys waiting. I've been busy, really busy...." We just stood there gaping at him. He was wearing a Western suit and leather shoes, and was in really high spirits. He took a look around the restaurant and knitted his brow. "C'mon," he said, leading us toward the door, "Let's find another place!"
"I heard you and Li Miao...." I said when we had arrived at a big restaurant and were seated. "That isn't true, is it?"
"We split! Last month," Old Ma said, as if it were no big deal.
"Why the heck did you do that?"
"We weren't right for each other, you know. The way things are in the world these days, we're short of everything except women. You guys tell me, what's the standard for judging a successful man nowadays?
"It's really simple," he said with disdain when he saw us all shaking our heads. "Has he been divorced? And how many times?"
"Were you the one who filed?"
"Fuck! You thought your buddy got kicked around, huh?" He was a little annoyed. "At first she cried and sobbed and wouldn't agree to it, until I gave her the 'Parisian Courtyard'. I got a house...."
Bottom line, Old Ma was mingling in official circles and had certainly borrowed some of their style. We really had to hand it to him: The guy was a bull, a real bull!
Just a few days later, I was camped out on the sofa after work watching a Korean drama when I got a phone call from Old Ma: "Dude, I been sued."
"Wha'd'ya mean, sued?" I was shocked.
He laughed: "Damned if she didn't charge this old man with sexual assault!"
"Don't use that nasty word. I can't explain over the phone," he said impatiently. "I'll meet you guys at the same place."
We got to the restaurant before he did and started talking about it. Some of us believed it and some didn't, but we all agreed that Old Ma was really up the creek this time: When you're a civil servant and something like this gets out, there's no way you can keep your job. So, I was once again sighing over Old Ma's misfortune: The flower of officialdom had just opened and it was already withering.
When Old Ma got there, the first thing he did was give each of us a smile and a carton of Great Chinas. Then he stopped smiling: "Damn, she was good to this old man for a year. At first she said we'd just be lovers, no marriage, but now she's nagging me to tie the knot."
"Well, there's nothing wrong with getting married. You happen to be single at the moment."
"Am I a dumb c_t? I just jumped out of the frying pan, you know?" Old Ma sneered. "I told her I'd compensate her, but she up and asked for two million Yuan. Two million isn't so much, but I can't pay it." When he saw we were both surprised and puzzled, he lowered his voice. "There's no harm in telling you guys. If I gave her the two million, I'd be a goner if the people on the Internet found out, wouldn't I? So she accuses me of sexual abuse. Damn, what kind of times these are, suing people for such a piddling thing. Brother Bill (Clinton) in America, Grandpa Silvio (Berlusconi) in Italy, and that fellow (Strauss-Kahn) at the International Monetary Fund. Well, I did it, didn't I, so why not go ahead and sue me?"
"What's happening now?"
"She made the first move and sent a complaint to the court, but one of my buddies made the second move. He redirected [the complaint] to me." Old Ma's legs were twitching rhythmically. "Just now I threw the complaint back at her and asked if she wasn't risking her own life. She knelt down in front of me and admitted she was wrong...."
After we'd drunk half the booze, Old Ma said, "Guys, I've got something to do, really, I can't stick around. You guys knock yourselves out, it's on my tab." And then he rushed off.
After he was gone, we really did "knock ourselves out", drinking and cussing at ourselves. Compared to Old Ma, were we really men? Old Ma was the only real man!
Half a month later, Old Ma surprised me once again. He gave me a call one day and said he was downstairs in the building where I live. I ran down there right away and found him looking a bit tired, with his hair a mess. I asked him where he'd been.
"I was invited to appear before the Party Discipline Committee. I drank coffee for days before I got back." When he saw I didn't understand, he patted me on the shoulder and said, "You, OUT! When the Discipline Committee invites you in for a cup of coffee – it's the 'Dual Track*.'"
"What? You did something wrong?" I'd always felt that Lao Ma would come to this sooner or later, but I hadn't expected it to be so soon.
"It's too long a story to explain in two or three sentences. Tell the guys, same place."
When I got to the restaurant, I asked Old Ma if he was OK. "I had a problem, of course. Otherwise, why would the Discipline Committee call me in?" He chuckled. "But it turned out OK for me. You must have heard, when people get pulled off the government trough, they're sure as shit done for. At best one in ten has been wrongly accused. So what was the big deal, that little problem of mine? Besides, even though so many people hate me, when I actually went in there, they still had to help me out [because otherwise they'd implicate themselves]. No, I went in the day before yesterday, and that very evening the Mayor himself fished me out."
It was another false alarm. But we still reminded Old Ma to watch his step, especially with that "Dual Track" stuff, because after all it's disgraceful. Old Ma was scornful. "Shit, these times we're living in, who wouldn't laugh? Only you bums think about getting 'Dual Tracked'. Who's gunna 'Dual Track' you, huh?"
None of us could drink anything that night. He was right. Compared to him, we didn't even have the prerequisites to get "Dual Tracked". The differences between him and the rest of us were just so great!
Old Ma called me several times after that. If he wasn't telling me he was depressed about being lectured by His Nibs the mayor, then he'd been tangling with a Big Boss businessman or was fed up fighting with some women, that kind of thing. Each time, just when I was panicking, he laughed out loud and told me to call up our buddies. I turned him down every time, because being with Old Ma was just too hard on the ego!
Then one day I ran into Li Miao. She was so thin she didn't look like her old self, and I couldn't help thinking it was Old Ma's fault. Then I asked her, "Are you doing OK, being alone?"
"Who's alone?" She looked at me, puzzled, and said, "How would I be, after Old Ma got sick! Oh, man, it's a long story...."
"What? Old Ma, sick? When? What's wrong with him? Where is he?"
"Who knows what's wrong with him? He just talks big, and flits around aimlessly, and shows off about nothing. He rips off the little bit of money I make as a street vendor and spends it all." She broke into tears as she said this. "It's been half a year. He got sick when he came back from that business trip with those big kahunas. Yesterday I took him to a mental hospital...."
* [The Dual Track or Shuanggui is an extra-judicial system for investigating and punishing transgressions by Communist Party members -- Fannyi]
2012 Annual Humorous Writings of China, from Comedy World Magazine, Ding Si, Ed., p. 202
Also Published at http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_48c9017f01011gm1.html
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