Monday 7 November 2016

Dreams of Utopia

Dreams of Utopia

as anthologised in...

SCMP Book Review

Cupid Wong is the epitome of success in his own opinion. He’s handsome and athletic; his law practice is lucrative, and his wife an anorexic beauty a good inch and a half taller than himself, making up for his vertical shortfall. He’s even a living miracle in his congregation. With the exception of his dysfunctional sex life, the voids in his life have been filled with jubilant denial, or delegated to God. This ultra-private mortification finally ended when Mei appeared. Unexpectedly, their obsessively erotic affair ignited his political passion, leading him down a path of revolution.

(Warning: Adult content. Children might find it unsuitable in any case.)

Cupid shifts his weight before the wall mirror, trying to find a better angle of himself. The military fatigues bunch up stiffly above his sneakers. The sales girl had convinced him it’d be extremely uncool to wear them on the short side, the way he normally prefers with dress pants, mainly to enhance the visual proportion projected by his five-foot-three-and-one-quarter-inch statue. But they don’t look quite right. Shouldn’t have trusted the opinion of a young girl who looked like an unused key-pouch, with half a dozen nose-rings jangling emptily on her face. He turns sideways, and sees a moulting person in the mirror. He pouts. Fatigues are for young thugs like Ah Bew, not middle-aged lawyers like him. Still, he’s handsome, athletic, and well-dressed, albeit a bit shorter than average. He sighs, then takes one of the surgical masks out from the package to try on.


A few months ago, Cupid had secretly worried about his own mental health because of Mei, his dream lover. She’s too good to be true, but unsettling if not. His foolish attempt to question her presence devastated him. It nearly drove him to suicide. He eventually decided that real lunatics never doubt their own sanity. His worry was therefore objective indication that nothing was wrong.
In any event, he didn’t discuss his anxiety with anyone. He never divulges personal problems to others, including Maggie, his beautiful wife. To the world, and especially to himself, Cupid’s confident, successful, and happy, always happy, 24/7. His life is awesome, simply awesome.
“Know what? I honestly can’t ask for more. God’s been extra good to me.” He loves to pronounce his felicities to friends and acquaintances, subconsciously expecting God to dispense bonus rewards for his  modesty and gratitude. His tiny practice is not only profitable, but “hugely exciting” according to him. “The legal profession has never been more exciting and critical in Hong Kong,” he tells his church friends. “Without the Rule of Law, the communists will ruin this place before you can count to three. Say goodbye to freedom. Tell you the truth, I often feel the burden of defending not just the law, but also Hong Kong’s core values.”
At a more mundane level, his job comprises mainly conveyancing chores. It’s easy money in this real estate haven where everyone is looking for a relatively cheap lawyer to handle the paperwork of buying and selling and buying and selling. A junior overworked clerk — nominal intelligence preferable but not essential — handles 99.99% of the work, which are 99.99% identical for all the cases. He then respectfully guides Cupid to squiggle ceremonially next to penciled crosses on the template documents, in front of a client whom he usually hasn’t met until that climatic moment. After recapping his golden Mont Blanc, he’d stand up, hand outstretched, a big grin on his face: “Congratulations! Very good buy. Awesome.” 
Cupid never admits, least of all to himself, that his job is excruciatingly boring. It delights him when strangers at cocktail parties enquire his profession.
“I’m a lawyer,” he’d inform with enthusiasm and visible pride. 
The most common response is a desultory “Is that right? Interesting.” 
But Cupid’s ebullience is irrepressible. “You’ve said it! I love law, to be honest. Every job’s a new challenge. Every client’s different. It also pays the rent you know, and for my boat at Marina’s Club, haha.”

Maggie is further proof of Cupid’s awesome life, a mystery which neither of them registers. Appearing anorexic, she’s fashionably boney, with inquisitive features encased in silky smooth skin. Cupid’s more proud than resentful of the fact that she’s one-and-a-half inches taller. He even encourages her to wear high heels when she occasionally accompanies him to real estate functions. Besides looking perfect for his purpose, she’s also a known photographer and popular columnist, with more than ten thousand Facebook followers. Photos of her average meal get about three hundred likes.
Maggie and Cupid get along remarkably well despite having almost nothing in common. Perhaps non-interfering mutual exclusiveness has given them a spacious relationship. Perhaps keeping the classical taboos of religion, sex and politics off the dining table and beyond — due to disinterest rather than tactful considerations — has helped to maintain dispassionate harmony.
Anyways, they don’t discuss religion — never — even though Cupid’s a devout Christian.
Cupid’s relationship with God bypasses the Bible. The first time he heard of Jesus, the name struck him like lightning. He needed no other proof of what Christ embodies. Reading the Bible would be superfluous. His pastor Rev. Lee has been most impressed: “There are two types of believers,” he points Cupid out to the congregation every now and then. Everyone turns to look. “The first kind study the scriptures, and come to realise God’s greatness. That’s wonderful. The second type, like Cupid, hear the name of the Lord and — wham! — they fall to their knees. They don’t need the Bible, or to have witnessed a miracle, or been lifted out of distress by God. They’re especially blessed. Their faith is all the more precious because they never subject God’s words to human interpretation, to all kinds of silly questions stemming from human arrogance and a lack of faith. They don’t have that dark shadow of doubt which clouds many of our hearts. They have no doubts at all!”
“Ah Lay Lo Ah! Ah Lay Lo Ah!” The flock hallelujah in Cantonese. Even those who have heard the story multiple times are shocked and awed once again. The first time it happened, Cupid blushed. These days he has a speech ready - a well-oiled testimony which enhances his reputation as a living miracle of faith. He’s a hero, particularly to the women, it seems to him. That pleases him.
Maggie, on the other hand, is an impassive atheistic. Unlike most infidels, she’s not gung-ho about God’s non-existence, and does not mind her husband’s religiosity, since he’s smart enough to keep quiet about it at home. “True. They don’t make sense. But who does these days? Religionists are more simplistic and predictable than most in their nonsense, that’s all,” she once justified her tolerance of Cupid’s faith to a friend, a fundamentalist atheist.

They also never — nearly never — talk politics. The one time that they did, they realised without surprise that they were from different universes.
Occupy Central was occupying the TV screen round the clock, inciting Cupid to become an instant hardcore democrat. Recurrent images of geographically mistaken protesters occupying Central in Wanchai galvanised him the way Jesus’ name once did. He could see a sequel to his personal miracle about to happen.
“Just give us Democracy!” His sudden outburst at the television astonished Maggie.
“What do they mean by democracy though?” she asked gently, mildly disoriented by the unfamiliar situation. They rarely engage in a conversation involving a serious topic. “The US, UK, Japan, India, Iraq, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines are all democracies with fundamentally different politics.”
“Well, true democracy means voting. Voting by everyone. Everyone! Without any screening!” Cupid underscored his newly acquainted keywords with a finger pointing to the ceiling.
“Everyone? Even babies?” Maggie smiled, large dark eyes widened briefly, then quickly added: “Just kidding. I suppose you’ve got a point there. Though there’s always some form of screening anytime anywhere. Oh well…” She was ready to change topic. The brief exchange already felt exhausting and mildly irritating. 
But Cupid’s political passion had been ignited, still sizzling. “What could be wrong with people voting for their leaders?” he asked rhetorically, then added venomously: “Communist fascists!”
Maggie wasn’t sure if  “communist fascists” was oxymoron, irony, or ignorance, but did not clarify. “Don’t they all say they listen to the people, and promise to deliver absolutely whatever if voted in? Doesn’t that make them followers rather than leaders?” She teased lightly instead. “Or a liar.”
“Would you prefer a dictator then?”
“Leaders not chosen by voting are not necessarily dictators. And many elected politicos are worse than dictators, certainly more corrupt.”
“Now,” Cupid exclaimed wisely, then offered his quote. “Winson Churchill said democracy may be terrible, but it’s the least worse system we’ve tried.” 
“Never mind. Anyways, he borrowed that soundbite from an unacknowledged professor.”
“What do you mean?”
“Never mind.”
Again, Maggie wanted to drop the topic, but couldn’t help herself adding one last remark due to a vague interest in feminism, something that she had researched and written about. “If I remember correctly, women were granted suffrage in the UK in 1928. Churchill had only a decade or two to observe true democracy when he made that un-English overstatement. Also, according to this logic, we would still be staying in the least worse cave our ancestors had discovered, grinding the least worse stone axe they had found.”
“You’ve lost me,” Cupid said, sincerely. He then caught a glimpse of Maggie’s intimidating beauty, irradiated by the TV screen, and felt intimidated, deflated. He shifted closer to her on the sofa, grinning expansively. “My gorgeous wife is always right!” he baby-talked.
Maggie stared at the tiresome images on TV, and smiled absentmindedly without spreading wrinkles. She patted Cupid’s head gently, the way she does after they have had sex.

Sex is their third taboo, another of Cupid’s secret, one that he thinks he shares with Maggie. To Maggie, it’s in fact a main reason why the marriage is tolerably symbiotic. Having a husband is socially convenient for a beautiful woman like her. But she has never liked sex. She finds it revolting.
“Uh, maybe you like women better?” her best friend Winnie suggested gingerly after Maggie’s confession over a happy-hour beer at Marina Club.
“No I don’t! I find sex of whichever orientation disgusting. I’ve always been this way but didn’t want to admit it when younger. Not even to myself. Now I think it’s only biological. I told you before my monthly cycle is irregularly biannual. Maybe I was born asexual.”
“That’d be a pity.”
“Why, are you a lesbian? I thought you were a purebred heterosexual slut.”
“Fuck off!” Winnie frisbeed her coaster at Maggie. Maggie caught it and screamed: “Look! I caught it!” She then replaced it under Winnie’s beer.
“Have you seen a doctor for that?”
“Why? It doesn’t bother me. Not everyone has to find sex interesting if you ask me.”
“What about Cupid? Does it bother him?”
“Hmm. Probably not.” Maggie said in a hushed voice. “I'll tell you if you promise to keep it a secret forever and ever.”
“Sure sure sure. Of course of course.”

Cupid’s obsession with sex is something he doesn’t realise or manifest. 
Maggie had not allowed him the liberty of more than superficial kisses when they were kind of going out in secondary school. Then she went to university in New Zealand while he stayed in Hong Kong. They communicated regularly at low frequency, with stock tenderness, which kept their special relationship in unanimated suspension. After graduation, she returned to Hong Kong. They continued their love affair mostly through iPhone emojis and Friday night dinners. Similarly, a few kisses and desperate hugs from him were all he was allowed. Then they got married. 
Perhaps his uncontainable desire had been penned up too long, and was always destined to end badly in some form of clinical anxiety? Even after all these years, he still approaches Maggie like a Parkinson's patient trying to serve scalding hot soup in a paper bowl, filled to the rim. Nine out of ten times, he’d spill it before reaching the dining table. On the tenth, he’d be relatively more successful, and splash it on the table instead. Maybe his kidneys need tuning up with acupuncture needles, or strengthening with exotic tonics? God knows. He had thought of seeking medical advice. But discussing this with a doctor is out of the question. One never knows. The doctor might tell his wife who happens to be the sister of his legal clerk or a church friend. Mortifying possibilities abound.

After giving a sexual blitzkrieg everything he has, Cupid would bury his head between Maggie’s silky breasts, breathing heavily. She’d pat him on the head gently, nearly lovingly, before getting up to rinse off his spillage. On returning, she’d be fully dressed in pyjamas. She’d spread a dry towel over her side of the bed, then turn the light out. “Night night!” A sharp audio kiss follows, tweeting through dampened darkness.
“Night night!” Cupid smacks one back, then closes his eyes. He would then stare blankly inside for a long time, body stiff, fists clenched.
With time, somewhat prematurely for a middle-aged couple, their sex life dwindles to a contrived trickle. Naturally, they are childless.
By keeping religion, politics and sex out of their relationship, Maggie and Cupid looked poised to live on reasonably happily together ever after, if not for Mei.

Mei first appeared to Cupid shortly after his political awakening. Protesters were still occupying Central in Wanchai.
Their first night was Cupid’s most unforgettable experience ever. They walked barefoot on the beach, skinny-dipped under a full moon, then made love on soft smooth sand. He felt peace, not nervousness or humiliation. Mei’s husky voice was sweet and sexy, and her breath warm and titillating, though he could not recall a word she said. Maybe his mind froze? Maybe she was speaking a different language? She looked Asian, European, African, Indian, Arabic, Latin, all at once. After Cupid climaxed, virile like never before, she purred into his ear, in Cantonese: “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Cupid murmured dreamily into the pillow. “Yes. Please. That’d be awesome.”
There was a big wet sticky spot on his pyjama pants. The disappointment nearly brought tears to his eyes. Once again, he felt humiliated by sex. Maggie had already left for morning yoga. He hurried to the bathroom, and shoved his soiled pyjamas to the bottom of the laundry basket for their maid to take care of, and took a long hot shower.

“You didn’t think you’d see me again did you? No faith.” She said, moist lips vibrating against his nipple.
Cupid shuddered, then giggled heartily.
They were now sharing a bottle of wine, and fancy looking dishes which Cupid didn’t sample. He knew nothing about wine. “I don’t know anything about wine,” he said, then felt strangely good to be so uncharacteristically frank. He had even stopped declaring himself to be honest in his speech. 
“This is good,” Cupid exclaimed. He never liked alcohol but what he had just swallowed tasted great.
“All my wine's great. Every single bottle. Every single drop.”
“I don’t normally drink alcohol.”
“You should. Even Jesus turned water into wine.”
“Seriously. Did he? Do you also believe in Jesus?”
“Of course. I love Jesus. He’s my light, my love, my lord, like you.”
“I’ll get drunk,” Cupid protested as she fed him another warm mouthful from her sweet oral cavity.
“No you won’t. Mmm. Never…” she moaned huskily, as Cupid struggled to swallow.

Night after night, while Maggie slept on the far side of their giant bed, under her own duvet, Cupid and Mei went shopping, snorkelling, skydiving, fox hunting in the jungle, playing with tiger cubs in safaris, literally behind her back. They were usually stark naked, like Adam and Eve before the apple scandal. Whenever and wherever he got horny, they’d make love. As they indulged, the rest of the world would discreetly fade away. To be better dressed for these nocturnal adventures, Cupid started wearing two pairs of briefs under his pyjama trousers.

They were on a park bench. He was lying down, resting his head on her lap. She stroked his hair with long smooth fingers, like women in old movies do.
“You have to be really smart to be a lawyer right?”
“Not quite, nearly anyone could get a law degree these days. Plus after years of not doing any real work, I can hardly spell my own name.”
“You should do more. You can do more.”
“What else should I do?”
“Join the revolution. Fight for democracy. Be a hero. Dream the impossible dream, fight the impossible fight. You can be Hong Kong’s Napoleon. They’ll put you on the cover of Time.”
“Cover of Time Magazine?”
“Aha. Cupid Wong — Conscience of Hong Kong!”
Cupid feels his penis hardening.
“Was Napoleon a democrat?”
“I don’t know, my hero. Google later, after I’m gone. I need you for something else now.” 
Her wet lips cruised all over him. He closed his eyes, which were already closed, moving rapidly under the lids.

In the morning, he woke with a gratified grin. Dried saliva streaks radiated from his lips like glacial deposits. As he tug his pyjamas to lessen the familiar stickiness between his legs, a worrying thought struck him. “Oh God,” he murmured. “What if I’ve gone nuts?”
He was enjoying a steady, happy, and super sexy relationship. He had found someone to share everything with, honestly. For once, he was totally relaxed about his mind, heart, and penis. It felt freakishly liberating. But it was all a dream, not real. The only thing real was his spilled semen, night after night. He had been getting dizzy spells in the office. Was it due to too much sex and outdoor activities in his sleep? He day-dreamt about Mei, which gave him an erection even when signing title deeds. But he dared not nap in the office in case he saw Mei made an incontinent mess in his designer suits. He could not text or call her. Having no access to his dream lover was a torture. What about his soiled underwear? Had the maid or Maggie noticed but kept quiet? All of a sudden, he was troubled by all sorts of worries. “Do I have some kind of mental disorder?” he wondered. “Should I see a doctor?” But making bizarre confessions to a shrink seems an utterly crazy idea. More crucially, the thought of being cured of Mei was unthinkable.

“Are you real?” he asked Mei.
“Is this not real?” She closed his mouth with a big warm kiss. It lasted forever.
“But…you’re only a dream…” he said breathlessly, recovering from the kiss.
She turned away, sobbing silently. 
“Come on. I’m just becoming a little worried. I thought we shared everything.”
“I don’t want you to worry. I’ll stay away.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. Don’t!”

His daytime dizziness worsened, to a point he sometimes felt seasick when leaning back on his giant leather chair, feet dangling six inches from the floor. Evidently, sex had not been the cause, for he hadn’t had any for three weeks now. He had lost appetite, and hardly ate. He went to the bar alone for the first time ever. He ordered a glass of wine, followed by another, and another. They tasted awful in real life. The bar air was sour. He threw up in the toilet after three glasses. 
Some days, he loitered in the Occupy Central site to watch protesters sing, play mahjong, chant slogans or disappear inside the tents in pairs. He made the acquaintance of a young man called Ah Bew, who found Cupid impressive. “You’re a lawyer! We need people like you. You know our core values! We people thank you for your support!” When talking with protesters like Ah Bew, Cupid felt needed, respected, even admired. They made him forget his pain for an hour or two. 
“Got to go home now, Ah Bew. Whatsapp me if them fascist commie cops don’t behave.” 
“Yes Mr. Lawyer! They wouldn’t dare!”
As soon as he turned away from Ah Bew, reality was upon him, like a secret police who had been waiting closely for him to finish saying goodbye to a family member. Immediately, he’d be handcuffed and hooded, and taken away. 
He wished everything would disappear, like in Mei’s world, leaving him alone for a good cry. If reality wouldn’t let go, perhaps he could remove himself from it instead? Death suddenly seemed defiant and relieving rather than saddening. He wondered what God had intended for him. He tried praying for mitigation and a second chance with Mei, but did not have the energy or conviction to focus on a heartfelt solicitation.

“Excuse me. Have you seen Mei?” Cupid asked the man in a white shirt, pink tie, and blue silk housecoat. A huge rainbow-dyed mohawk waved like a horny peacock on his head. “Yup! Sure!” he pointed to the distance. “There she is.”
Cupid followed his finger and saw that it was dark outside. Then the floodlight came on, startling him. It illuminated an empty beach surrounded by tall chicken wire fences reaching into the clouds. Not a single soul in sight.
“Where? The beach?” he asked anxiously.
“There! Right there! You heard me! Are you stupid or what? Right there!” The man screamed, face all red. He was fuming. Cupid didn’t know why. He felt like crying. A squadron of Agent Smiths appeared behind the man, cracking knuckles, smirking.
“I told you! There! There! There! Fucking there! Why do you keep asking?” The man had completely lost it now. “Playing some cheeky game with me huh? Asshole. You ask too many stupid questions. Why why why all fucking day. You get on my nerves you know, little man.” His face was covered with slaver foam. Only his angry blue eyes showed. 
Agent Smiths broke into a synchronised guffaw. Louder and louder. Deafening. 
Cupid opened his eyes abruptly, not sure where he was for a second. His underwear was wet, this time from cold sweat.

“Do you know how much I missed you? I nearly killed myself.”
“Do you still doubt me now?”
“Never again. It’s been worse than death.”
“All you get from the other life are miseries, and you call it reality. I offer you peace and pleasure, yet you think I’m not real.” Mei was losing her voice, starting to cry.
“I’m sorry. It’ll never happen again.” Cupid hugged her tighter, double closed his eyes.
“You know why the name of Christ struck you like lightning? You are blessed. Very special. Only rare individuals can see the other half of life. Most people see only one side of the coin, and call that reality. But a complete life has two sides. This is Heaven. When the sun comes up, you return to Hell. That’s why…”
“Shhhh…I don’t need more explanations. I just want to kiss you.”
“Mmm…” She wriggled like a snake performing a courtship dance with his tongue. 

“Are you really joining the revolution?”
“Should I?”
“Of course. It’s God’s will that you do something big over there. Democracy is a meaningful cause. The Bible is full of it. Do something about it, my hero. You’ll be on the cover of Time Magazine.”
“I’ll do it for you.”
Instead of replying, she mounted Cupid, and expertly slipped him inside herself. “Do it like this…”

Cupid had opted out of going to Singapore to spend Chinese New Year with Maggie’s sister, claiming too much work before year-end. Maggie did not insist. He had received a text message from Ah Bew a few days before: 

Mr. Lawyer. There’ll be action on New Year's day. We need you.
What action?
Will tell you over a drink.
OK. When? Where? I don’t drink alcohol though.

“Enough of only bullshit and no action.” Ah Bew said, after revealing cryptically that they were planning a milestone campaign on Chinese New Year's Day. “A real one this time. All action and no bullshit. Washington said political power comes from the gun barrel right? Are you with us or not, Mr. Lawyer. Ready for action?”
Cupid smiled, then took a sip of his lime soda. “But you need to organise properly. To get people together, equip them, and so on. Logistics, you know. Takes money and experience kiddo.”
“Leave that to us. We have top class sponsors,” Ah Bew leaned forward and whispered.
“Who are they?”
“I can’t tell you now.” Ah Bew winked smugly. His newfound confidence irritated Cupid.
“Well, Ah Bew, I’m doing this because of my idealistic character. I want to fight for democracy and social justice. I want to help you people build Utopia and, believe me, it takes vision and courage. I have both, plus knowledge of the law, and money. Bew, you’re a great guy, but if you want me in, I must be fully in, we have to be partners. To be honest, I’m too experienced to be a foot soldier. I’m a famous lawyer in this town. Think about it, huh?” Cupid sat back to let Ah Bew think about it. Meanwhile, he felt like Washington, much taller than Napoleon. He could tell Ah Bew’s over-confidence had crumbled as a result of his powerful speech. Ha, just like that. Isn’t that awesome?
“Well, I’ll see what I can arrange,” Ah Bew said after a minute, struggling to maintain his composure.
“Up to you. A lawyer comes in handy in civil disobedience you know.”
“A revolution,” Ah Bew corrected him.
“Yes, a revolution.” The image of Ah Bew on the cover of Time Magazine last year, brandishing a yellow umbrella, came to his mind. He felt a tinge of jealousy, verging on anger.
“I’ll see if M would agree to meet you,” said Bew in a final tone. “You speak English, right? You’re a lawyer.”
“Of course I do. Much better than you lah!” Cupid said, pretending perfunctorily to be only kidding. “Did you say M?”
Ah Bew did not reply. He smiled with exaggerated ambiguity, and raised his glass: “To the revolution!”

Cupid puts on the surgical mask and sees a different person in the mirror. 
“Hmm,” he gives an audible expression of approval as he presses the wired rim to fit his facial contour. This is the real me, he thinks. The small square of artificial fabric is even more psychologically transforming than the horsehair wigs judges and barristers wear in court. He now looks properly dressed for a revolution, ready to change the world incognito. He gives a sardonic grin, forcing a puff of warm breath through the gap around the nose bridge, steaming up his designer glasses. Maggie would be dumbfounded to see this. Mei would be proud. He feels blood rushing to his penis. 
“Happy New Year!” He toasts his rebellious reflection, raising an imaginary glass.

- End -

You can find plenty of other excellent short stories by Hong Kong writers in
an anthology to be launched by the 
15 December 2016

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