Jerry woke up and realized that he’d made a huge mistake.
A glance at the clock confirmed that he was running late. He’d barely have time to make it to the airport to catch his flight.
Jerry was part of a student cultural exchange to China and his group was leaving this morning. He’d packed his bags very carefully several days before so he’d be prepared. Of course, since then he’d needed some things from the bags and so now everything lay around in disarray.
His friends had thrown him a Bon Voyage! celebration the night before and he’d stayed up late. He’d planned on getting up early to organize and prepare, but now that plan was out the window.
No time for even a shower, he pulled on jeans and a sweater, stuffed the remaining clothes into his duffel bag and put on his jacket. Stuffing a bagel in his mouth, he headed out the door for the airport.
At the airport, his group was herded onto an airplane of the official Chinese airline. While the American contingent seemed to be seated toward the front of the plane, Jerry was given the last row window seat next to a smiling Chinese woman. After a few halting attempts at communication, Jerry realized the woman spoke no English. Jerry closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
When Jerry awoke, the plane had landed and was already empty except for himself and a middle aged Chinese man. The man was neatly dressed in a dark suit, plain tie and an expressionless face. The man said in perfect English, “May I see your passport?”
Jerry reached into his jacket pocket, but his passport was not there. A search of all his pockets and the surrounding seat area also failed to turn up the passport.
The man said, “Please come with me.”
The man led Jerry out of the plane, through a short tunnel to a waiting car. It was nighttime. The air was damp and heavy fog obscured the stars. Jerry entered the back seat of the large black sedan and the Chinese man slid in next to him.
They rode silently. Jerry just barely caught glimpses of lights occasionally piercing through the fog or tree branches reaching out as the car glided along the road. Eventually the car turned onto a narrow gravel road, really more of a path. Jerry could hear the stones crunching under the tires as the headlights illuminated an isolated narrow building located in a small clearing amongst the trees.
They exited the car and walked up the gravel path to a door set into one end of the building. The Chinese man opened the door and Jerry followed him inside.
The room was long and narrow, with beds along one wall and a scattering of tables, chairs and couches. At the far end of the room was another door, painted blue on the inside. At a table under a hanging pendulum light, a group of four Chinese men playing dominoes glanced up briefly from their game before resuming.
“You will need to stay here until your situation is resolved.” said the Chinese man. “You may call me Mr. Lu.”
With that, Mr. Lu turned and exited. Jerry noticed that this door was painted red.
Jerry walked to the table where the men were playing dominoes. His inquiries were greeted with expressionless stares and then mirthless chuckles as the men returned to their game.
Jerry then noticed another man seated at a chair in the corner. He was a black man of indeterminate age, dressed in a pressed gray suit with a neatly trimmed mustache. Jerry could see the man reading through a well worn leather covered Bible.
“Greetings Brother!” said the black man.
Jerry was relieved. He began to form intelligible questions to direct to this new stranger but the man spoke first.
“I’m Richard,” the man said. “Mr. Lu brought me here and comes by to check on me most every day.”
Before Jerry could ask anything else, Richard said, “You can use any one of the beds.”
Jerry realized how tired he was, walked over and sank into the first bed that he saw.
When Jerry awoke, he once again saw the four Chinese men at their domino game and Richard in the corner reading his Bible. Jerry decided to take a look outside, so he walked over and opened the red door. The air was still damp and foggy, the sky darkening. He stepped out onto the gravel path shrouded in fog as it seemed to lead among the trees. It was hard to see, so he kept on the path, guiding himself by the sound of the stones under his feet. He had only gone a few steps when he looked back and noticed that he could barely see the building behind him. He kept walking and walking, not really keeping track of time or distance. Gradually he sensed a clearing among the trees and he approached a narrow building with a door set into the end. He opened it and walked into the building, closing the blue door behind him. The Chinese men looked up at Jerry then back toward each other and the domino game continued.
There was the sound of tires crunching on gravel and Jerry’s attention turned to the red door. Mr. Lu walked in, dressed identically from their previous meeting. He walked over to Richard and said something, to which Richard nodded. He moved on to say something in Chinese to the group of domino players. They listened impassively. He then stood in front of Jerry and said, “Your situation is not yet resolved.”
Mr. Lu then exited the red door, there was the sound of tires on gravel, and all returned to as it was before.
Mr. Lu returned several times and repeated the same routine. “Your situation is not yet resolved.”
Jerry spent his time watching the domino game, watching Richard read his Bible and sleeping.
Mr. Lu entered through the red door, walked over to Richard and said something inaudible. Richard began trembling and then put his face in his hands. After Mr. Lu finished his “Your situation is not yet resolved” routine and exited through the red door, Jerry walked over to Richard and suggested they go outside to get some air. Richard silently nodded and they stepped out onto the foggy gravel path.
When Jerry asked what was wrong, Richard said, “Mr. Lu told me that my wife has died.” Jerry asked how long Richard had been here, and Richard told him “Since 1987.”
Jerry looked at Richard again and noticed that he had the same clothing on, the same pressed suit, the same neatly trimmed mustache. It then hit him that all the Chinese men always were in the same chairs, the domino game never ended, no winners or losers. The furniture was always in the same place, the weather was always foggy.
Comprehension began to dawn on Jerry and he began to laugh. He now knew what the problem was! This was all just a crazy dream. He began to laugh and laugh. He knew how to resolve his situation. All he had to do was wake up.
Jerry woke up and realized that he’d made a huge mistake.
About the Author:
Rathbone is a true dreamer who, during waking hours, is a teacher. He can also be found on stage performing as the founding member of the band The Hominids.