Slowly escorted by two police officers into the room, I immediately recognize the background music: Back In Black by AC/DC, one of Iron Man’s favourite songs.
Exactly as I requested. I think in my head, with a satisfied smile on my face.
I stop in front of a Futura Height Adjustable Drafting Table and a Brno Flat Bar Chair and look around. There is a tiny window enclosed by a grid on the wall, and an Achille Castiglioni arco lamp sitting at the corner of this narrow and airtight room.
“Sit down and write, as you wished,” said a policeman with a cold and impatient tone.
The other policeman unlocks my handcuffs gently and pulls out the chair for me to sit.
I give him a subtle smile to say thanks and notice his eyes full of pity.
I hate this fake compassion.
I’m a hero, not a loser.
“Ge Yunliang, as you requested, here are a set of furniture, a pack of cigarettes, a cheeseburger combo, a Lego Minifigure, a ballpoint pen and five pieces of papers. The Party follows the spirit of humanitarianism and grants your last wish of writing a story before your death penalty. You have one hour to use this room, and please adhere to the rules as below…” The cold policeman begins to read the official paper, which to me, is full of bullshit.
What could I do rather than follow the rule? Could it be possible to escape this room from that tiny and high window? Could it be possible to attack these two policemen with a pen? Nevertheless, my final wish is to write my own story. How could I waste the last chance to achieve this goal?
I occasionally nod to showcase I am listening. However, my mind has already out of the space to travel through my short but heroic life. I can not wait but writing down the story haunted me day and night since I surrender myself to the police.
“Can you confirm you understand the agreement and sign your name here, Ge Yunliang!” The cold police officer shouts at me and thumps the table in front of me.
“Yes, Sir!” I reply back and sign my signature, feeling ridiculous to go through this nonsense paperwork.
“You may start to write now, Mr Ge,” the friendly policeman reminds me and pushes the start button on the timer.
I pick up the pen and write down the story of a taxi driver.
I was a taxi driver.
I have been working at the largest taxi company in this city for two years before the autopilot cars took over the market.
Throughout my childhood, I only enjoyed one sport (if you could call it a sport), trampoline jumping. Only in this activity could I imagine I was a superhero from Marvels and DC, flying without wings and jumping out from the crowd.
I enjoyed flipping, bouncing and performing air tricks on the trampoline until one day I fell off onto the ground.
I lost consciousness immediately.
When I woke up from severe chest contusion, I found out I was surrounded by many people with masks in white suits. They told me I would be alright, so I felt safe to go back to the infinite darkness.
In dreams, I saw Pepper implanted a device in my chest, and I became the second generation of Iron Man.
‘I am Iron Man’ was the first sentence I spoke when I came back to reality.
My parents ignored my words and told me that I was in a coma for seven days. Doctors asked me to stay in the hospital for another ten days, which means I would celebrate my ten years old birthday here.
As a Chinese saying goes, those who have survived a severest crisis can expect blessings in the days to come. Yes, it was right. I got my longtime longing birthday gifts from my parents, a Giant Iron Man Garage Kit and an Iron Man Minifigure.
I did feel blessed.
Ever since I was released from the hospital, I carried the Minifigure with me all the time. It served as a reminder of my dream and a mascot of my life.
When my classmates shared their future plan to be a scientist, an online influencer, a doctor or a president, I told them I would like to be Iron Man. They laughed at my dream, the same way as I mocked their boring choices.
I knew I was special because I shared the same experience as Tony Stark.
My parents and teachers considered me as an intelligent and disciplined student. I thought they were too naive. It was easy for me to get social credibility by achieving good academic scores. Only in this way would they never mind other business I had been doing in life, for example, watching comics and movies of Iron Man.
When I was seventeen years old, I got accepted by a tier-one university in my city, majored in Mechanical Engineering and Automation. I felt like I was one more step closer to be an Iron Man. However, life was full of surprises and would not turn into the direction as you planned.
I was rejected by numerous companies after I graduated from the university. Although I had excellent grades, the majority of companies thought I lacked experience as an engineer.
How could I get experience if no one provided me with the opportunity as a graduate?
Even if I got an interview opportunity, I usually screwed it up. Well, in their words, I was not a team player.
Have you ever seen Iron Man as a team player? The last time he worked in the team, he got killed.
I stayed at my parent’s place as an unemployed adult under tremendous social and peer pressures. Sometimes, I felt like I didn’t belong to this universe but the Marvel’s universe where I could unleash my potential to save this world.
I gradually realized that I probably never going to achieve the dream of being Iron Man, nor get a job as an engineer. I fell into depression.
My parents told me there was always a way out. Yes, they were right. I got a job as a taxi driver, the job I could never imagine Iron Man would do.
It all started with my uncle’s reductant during the global digital revolution. He lost his job as a cashier at a bank and got hired by the largest private taxi company in my city.
Seeing that an influenza pandemic outbroke several years ago, people tended to commute in a taxi rather than the public transport. So many taxi companies bloomed in the market like a bubble and then burst out. In the end, there was one company monopolized the market, the one secretly owned by the current mayor’s relatives.
Don’t ask me why I knew that. Everybody knew it, but nobody questioned that. As long as they paid less money to get to wherever they wanted to go, nothing else mattered.
My uncle introduced me to the taxi company with a bribe of money. ‘Luckily’ enough, I got the job, the first-ever job after of unemployment.
I got used to this lifestyle as a taxi driver after a few months of driving people around. I had flexible working hours and occasionally worked from home (without pay). Sometimes, I went out with my colleagues and gossiped about the passengers we met.
Although my colleagues and I worked alone most of the time, we had a chat group with people who lived in the same neighbour to exchange information.
I was satisfied with my current life, easy and straightforward, transferring human beings from one spot to another, and repeating.
There was a passenger from overseas with a strange accent and tipped me with hundreds of dollars. There was a passenger who was homeless asked me to drop him wherever allowed him to sleep on the street. The oldest passenger was a guy in his nineties who was unwell and had to go to hospital by himself because his partner and children all died. The youngest passenger was a baby girl who needed to be transferred weekly between their divorced parents because they didn’t want to see each other.
Everyone living in this city had an interesting story to tell. I was an exception. My life was just in between a tiny small taxi car and a tiny small studio flat.
I was expecting to live in this way for the rest of my life. And life gave me another big surprise.
The new mayor replaced the current mayor at the biennial election. The first mission was to introduce the new public transport model of autopilot cars to replace the old taxi. Of course, the new mayor was the secret shareholder behind this driverless car company.
At the beginning, people did not trust the unpiloted cars. However, with the lower price incentive and safety campaign conducted by the city council, more and more people changed their preferences to this new form of transportation.
I took the ride with this self-driving car and fell in love with it at first sight. I enjoyed the amazingly immersive and cinematic feel thanks to the comfy seats and surround sound audio which was exactly as the advertisement said.
How could this not be popular?
The annual taxi drivers meeting was held at the largest stadium in my city. It used to be packed with cheerful people, drinking, dancing and getting awards from the former mayor to honour our contribution to the development of this city.
However, there were only hundreds of people attending the meeting this year. Most of the drivers had already been laid off, including my uncle.
I sat with people from my chat group and noticed Song in her absent-mind.
“What’s up, sister Song,” I asked. She was a single mum in my parent’s age and had a son a few years younger than me.
“I’m afraid I will be fired soon,” said Song, wearing a distressed look. “I’m in my fifties and know nothing about technology. How can I survive if I lose this job.”
I felt sorry for her. My uncle was precisely the same. He wasn’t able to catch up with the rapid development of technology. Most people from his generation had been considered as the “leftover generation”.
No job. No skill. No money.
How could they live in this world?
“My son is the breath of my life,” Song continued and began to lose control of her emotion. “If I lost this job, how can I support him to study overseas?”
While watching Song weeping in front of me, I was out of my wits. I thought about her, about my uncle, about people who lost their jobs. Suddenly, there was a spark rekindled in my heart. You Know, It’s Moments Like These When I Realize What A Superhero I Am.
I left the annual meeting with a couple of awards at hand, which meant nothing to me. Flashing back to the time when I first started, I thought it would be effortless to be a taxi driver.
What’s so hard about driving, especially with GPS at hand? However, I got into trouble on all sides.
I remembered I made a detour to avoid traffic and saved time my passenger, but the passenger complained about my behaviour of taking the long route and gave me one star. I remembered I once helped a drunker get off the car because she could hardly walk, but accused by her with sexual harassment. Most of the time, I finished my meals in between rides and had to hold back urines while driving, which led to stomach ulcer and urethritis.
Thanks to people like my uncle and Song from the chat group sharing their learnings and solutions and even looking after me, I overcame the difficulties and became a qualified driver.
Now, it’s time for me to give it back. I need to figure out a detailed plan.
In a few weeks, I called Song to meet in private and told her my whole plan. She was in shock, shaking her head in refusal.
“I heard you are on furlough with a 50% pay cut at the moment. I believe it’s the company’s strategy to force you to leave the work,” I tried to persuade Song to participate in my plan. “Think about your son, sister Song. If you’d like to send him overseas, my plan is the quickest way to get the money.”
Song burst into tears the minute she heard about her son, the spoiled one who was eager to escape the city and go overseas to study.
“Ge, your plan sounds so crazy,” Song said to me. “I’m not worried about myself, but… but you. Are you sure you want to do that? You are still young and have a bright future waiting for you. Are you 100% sure?”
“Take it easy, sister Song,” I comforted her with a calm voice. “I have calculated every consequence, and I’m willing to pay the full price.”
I reached out my hand into my pocket and touched Iron Man Minifigure. Yes, I’m a hero. Suffering and Sacrifice Are The Seeds Of An Extraordinary Life.
“All right, let’s do it.” Song looked at me with determination.
After meeting with Song, I went to see the former mayor face to face. I knew what he wanted, and I needed his resources as well. We hit it off instantly although I knew he had been investigating me behind my back for a long time since the first time I shared my plan with him.
I spent most of the time at my fifteen square meters studio apartment working on the plan. My only company was this guy my parents bought me when I turned to ten years old. He looked at me with his glowing eyes as if he could see through the bright future.
I didn’t need to execute multiple simultaneous intrusions, but one, only one is enough. At the right time. At the right place.
I indulged myself into working and skipped meals and sleep. I even forgot what day it was until I looked at it on my phone. It would seem that happiness is something to do with simplicity, and that it is the ability to extract pleasure from the simplest things.
It was the happiest time in my life, turning out my plan into reality. I eventually had a chance to practise my talent in technology and engineering.
I never watch or read the news because I felt they were full of clickbait headlines and politicians’ nonsense. On May 29th, I read almost all the local news. I was glad about how they covered my story, especially in this election year.
- WOMEN MURDERED BY A DRIVERLESS CAR, ROLLING OVER HER BODY AGAIN AND AGAIN
- SELF-DRIVING CARS ARE A SCAM AND NEED TO DIE
- FATAL AUTOPILOT CAR MURDER CASE PROMPTS CALL FOR TIGHTER OVERSIGHT
- CITY COUNCIL MUST PROCEED WITH CAUTION ON DRIVERLESS CARS BILL
- AUTONOMOUS CARS: THE CYBERSECURITY ISSUES FACING THE INDUSTRY
- ATTENTION! COULD A HACKER CRASH YOUR CAR? ARE YOU THE NEXT?
I turned myself in and confessed my deliberate murder because there was no reason to hide: I wanted my name on the news. And my dream came true.
In a few months, the former mayor won the election. There were rarely any driverless cars on the road. Song’s son claimed his mother’s life insurance. My uncle went back to drive the taxi again. I was sentenced to death.
I put down the pen, looking at the timer: 58'49'.
People will remember my name as the FIRST human being conducted driverless car murder.
I tear all my papers into pieces and throw them into the air, howling with laughter.
Two police officers push my head onto the table immediately and slap the cuffs on me.
In their mind, I am a heartless murderer. They are afraid of me.
I look at you with a smile.
As long as you know the truth, that’s enough.
30 days, 30,000 words, 11 stories. The Invisible Third Culture Adult is released today.
OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK
Nora Jia Qiao-Bridges' home is everywhere and nowhere - from China to New Zealand, and from the UK to the world.
Born in China as a descendent of Confucius, Nora grew up influenced by western culture. She constantly struggles with the inner conflict of embracing multiculturalism as a Chinese Kiwi living abroad. She lives and travels in different part of the world to discover her multicultural identity, find a sense of belonging and fight the battle against discrimination.
Eleven stories on stereotypes, identity, loneliness, relationship, sexual harassment, race, media manipulation, and the hidden history will resonate with ethnic minorities who may have experienced the cultural similarities and differences between East and West.
Everyone has a story to tell. It’s time for Chinese New Zealanders to be seen and heard. This book serves as a powerful tool, encouraging people to listen to each other with a curious and open mind. You will learn the difficulties and struggles facing Chinese international students in the western world. You will be encouraged and inspired to find solutions to deal with racial tensions in the current society.
Thanks, @Jaltucher for initiating this lockdown book writing challenge that encourages me to write my first book in English. Thanks my friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and online followers from all over the world for your love and encouragement. Most importantly, thanks to people who free themselves from stereotypes and treat others equally with kindness and compassion. We all have the power to change the world of one person, and as one person, together, we will change the world.