In seven minutes, there will be a raven flying towards me and hit on my stomach, and die.
I’m not a prophet, nor a witch, but I do have an ability that others may not yet acquire.
I dream everyday like most of you.
Unlike most of you, I remember my dream vividly, even better than my memory.
People like to describe they have Déjà vu in reality.
I have Déjà vu all the time. To be precise, I live again what happened in my dream.
During my childhood, I thought everyone was like me. We dream, we remember, and we live.
I shared my dreams with friends and families, but they rarely shared their dreams because they hardly remember everything that happened in their dream.
People around me didn’t pay much attention to my dreams either. They are too busy to indulge themselves in the non-stop news circle on social media.
I was happily living my life twice until I realise I was the special one.
In my second year of junior high school, I dreamt my mum died from a car accident. I tried to persuade her to stay home for the rest of her life. Of course, she wouldn’t listen.
Yes, I know what’s going to happen but don’t know when.
My mum died from a car accident 32 days after my dream.
My dad blamed me for cursing her to die. He believed if I didn’t tell her, she’s going to die from a car accident. She would have lived now. He sent me away to a boarding school to avoid seeing me anymore.
I was horrified about this ability to know the future but could not stop what would happen.
I asked around people if they share a similar experience with me. But no one said yes.
People think I’m crazy when I tell them what to avoid or what will happen based on my dream. Even when I am always right, people won’t believe me because I don’t tell them WHEN.
To avoid being sent to the mental hospital, I shut my mouth and try to live everyday life like anybody else.
Most of my dreams are full of antidotes that are not interested at all, but some are worth remembering because it involves death and catastrophe.
I dreamt of 911, Titanic, Antonine Plague, first cyber-human, and a couple of strangers’ death. I realise there is no timeline in my dream, and everything just happened without the time order.
I’m able to trace back history books to do fact-check of my dream. However, some historical events written in books are just totally different from my dream.
Nowadays, social media are full of fake news; then imagine what happened to history?
I don’t know what truly happened in the past. Shall I believe a book or my own mind?
I also start to question the future events in my dream. What if I think I’m dreaming of the future, but those events have already happened in the past?
Time is always confused me.
Time feels real to people, but there is no time variable in the fundamental equations that describe the world.
Those questions drive me crazy. Why I have this dreaming and remembering ability, but others don’t?
The human brain is designed to find a pattern and predict what’s going to happen. I write down everything I dreamt of and start to study them.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found any clue.
My dreams are so random without any timeline. One night I was in a space station with Russian and Chinese astronomers, and the next night I was back in Meiji era plotting an assassination of the emperor.
The more I try to figure out my dream, the less memory of my reality I remembered.
I feel like I have lived a thousand years with so many detailed events carved in my mind, but I hardly remember who I talked to and their names in reality.
Which world am I in? Which world is more real to me?
Recently, I had a dream that I’m a fictional character written by a mystery writer.
She wrote that I’m going to be hit by an angry black and glossy raven at Hyde Park while walking around 9 am on February 20, 2021.
This is the first time the specific date and time appeared in my dream.
I was super excited because I could finally do something to alter the event.
I decided to stay home on that day and laugh out loud that how on earth I will be in London since I’m living in Auckland.
Seven minutes to 9 am on the day. Nothing happened.
I watched the digits on my Apple Watch hits 9 am, and nothing happened.
Since then, I lost my ability to dream.
I become a normal person living on earth, just like most of you.
I feel such a relief because, with great ability, you have to take equal responsibility. Since I cannot change the reality, what’s the point for me to know the past or future? Why not just happily living in the present and have a good sleep.
Meanwhile, in another universe, at 9 am on February 20, 2021, an angry raven flying towards me and hit on my stomach, and die in front of me at Hyde Park while I’m doing my morning jogging.
I know nothing I could do but be.
“Have you eaten the Laba congee?” Mum asked me yesterday, the eighth day of the twelfth month in the Chinese calendar. “It’s the tradition.”
“We don’t celebrate Chinese traditions here in London, mum,” I said.
I still have to repeat every year to my mum people outside China don’t have the International Labor Holiday in May and the International Children Day in June, not to mention why should they celebrate Chinese National Day in October. But my mum has a weird logic that if it’s so-called ‘International’ everyone around the world would celebrate that.
“Aren’t there a Chinatown in London where you can have the Laba congee?” Mum continued to persuade me to follow the tradition.
“We are under the lockdown. Everything is closed,” I said. I could order the takeaways or buy instant Laba congee and eat at home. I didn’t have the intention to tell my mum about that.
“I have your grandma’s recipe, and you can cook at home,” mum said.
“I can’t be bothered to prepare so many ingredients to cook a porridge,” I said in an impatient tone. “Ok, I have to go now. I have a couple of deadlines to catch up. Bye, mum.”
The moment I hang up the WeChat video call, mum already sent me the photo of Laba congee and Laba gallic recipe written by my grandma.
I zoomed out the picture and caressed those familiar handwriting characters, bursting into tears. It’s been five years since my grandma died. It’s been five years since I had my last Laba congee made by her.
My grandma Yuzhen’s life condensed the modern China history, from the Qing Dynasty to the People’s Republic of China, from Japanese invasion to the government of CCP, from close-down policy to globalisation.
Yuzhen was born in 1933 when Franklin D. Roosevelt became the US President and addressed the Great Depression. Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany and opened the first concentration camp at Dachau. Meanwhile, two major wars happened in China, the Chinese civil war and the anti-Japanese invasion war.
She grew up in a prosperous merchant family in Jinan, the capital city of Shandong Province, where was occupied by Japan and Germany during the wartime. Yuzhen was the youngest child among nine brothers and sisters and was the only girl who didn’t have foot-binding. Instead, she was the only girl in her family who went to school to receive an education.
Yuzhen told me foot binding was a ritual practised in China that lasted almost a thousand years which symbolised a girl’s family was wealthy for not allowing their daughters to work. I vaguely remembered I met two of my grandma’s sisters who had foot binding. Along with relatively short stature, they had a hunchback and trembly walking style. I was horrified to see them when I was little because they remind me of the witch from Japanese animation.
“By the time I have to do foot binding, my family was on the decline. I was not a lady anymore but have to occasionally help with family chores,” my grandma answered when I asked why she was the exception. She also told me that the old frontiersman's story loses his horse, also known as a setback that may be a blessing in disguise. To my grandma, she had a chance to learn how to read and speak Chinese and Japanese and took the accounting course in her adult year, which lead her to work in the state corporation.
My grandma was my caretaker through my childhood because my parents were too busy at work. They tried to find a babysitter, but I pissed off seven of them and had a bad reputation in the community that no one would like to look after me. In the end, my parents have to handover me to my grandma as her retirement life company and wish my grandma could figure out how to tame my wild spirit.
It turned out my grandma didn’t need to take many efforts but let me be who I want to be. She read a lot and enjoyed gardening and walking. I formed a similar habit until now. I remembered she took me to the local market and introduced me to those vendors and next time she would let me buy grocery on my own, which forced me to be independent and be good with math.
She learned from newspaper and magazines how to cook dense nutrition food because she thought I was too petite than my peers. She also taught me numerous traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy knowledge, although I had zero interest in those ‘boring’ stuff. Those inculcations of knowledge had already planted seeds in my mind and blossomed and bore fruits in my adult years.
Even though my grandma lost her family lands, wealth and title after the new government went on stage in 1949, she still maintained the well brought up and cultural sense only could be seen in upper-middle-class back to old days. I never saw my grandma lost her temper and manner but once.
“What did you do with Prime Minister Zhou’s face?” my grandma was so anxious and entered my room without knocking. At grade four, I developed the drawing hobby and used my pencil to draw on every material, including newspapers that my grandma subscribed.
I noticed that she hold a newspaper with a former Prime Minister Zhou Enlai big face on the front cover and I drew a big purple tongue on his face.
“Isn’t it funny? Why you are not laughing?” I couldn’t understand why my grandma was so angry and tore off the paper and even burned it in the washbin and told me never to do it again.
I never saw my grandma was so irritated because she was always that a gentle and peaceful lady in my mind. I didn’t fully understand at that time until I learnt the Culture Revolution in high school. The wound left on those survived intellectual people would last forever even in a peaceful time. I felt for my grandma for the first time.
After I finished primary school, I stopped living with Yuzhen because my secondary school is close to my parents’ place. So I only visited my grandma once a week. I enjoyed visiting her because she was so welcomed and cook me delicious food, especially during the 24 Solar Terms and festive season. I remembered we have to eat noodles on the Summer Solstice, eat dumplings on The Winter Solstice, eat Zongzi on Qingming festival and mooncake on Mid-autumn festival.
As time went by, my weekly visit became a monthly visit when I was in university, and later became an annual visit when I studied abroad. Whenever I went back to China, my grandma would ask me if I cooked by myself overseas. My answer was always no.
In my opinion, cooking has the worst ROI because it takes 30 minutes to prepare and cook but only 5 minutes to eat. I’d rather order takeaway or eat out with friends. I wasn’t good enough to cook Chinese dishes to reach my grandma’s level, and I had the habit of eating out, so why not bother to cook?
“Eating out is not healthy,” grandma tried to persuade me to cook at home when she heard my answer. “Look at you. You stop growing your height once you stopped living with me. Your parents eat out all the time and spoil you with all those junk food.”
“There are so many varieties of dishes you could order outside,” I explained. “Even cheaper than cooking at home. My parents don’t have time to cook.”
“One day you will understand, nothing could be compared with a good home cooking.” grandma said.
“Of course,” I said. “Your cooking is definitely the best! Why not open a restaurant and let more people taste your cooking. You are retired and have plenty of time to do that.”
“I only cook for you,” grandma smiled. “I’m glad you love my cooking. Come back home more often.”
“I should take you with me to go back to New Zealand,” I said. “In that way, we could spend more time together, and you don’t have to worry about my health.”
“Haha, I’m too old to travel,” grandma said. “Just come back more often before I’m still around.”
However, she was not around anymore. Only her handwriting and those memories approved she existed in this world.
Glutinous rice, red beans, green peas, dried lotus seeds, dried dates, chestnut, walnut, almond, peanut, dried Longan, goji berries, and yams.
I looked at the recipe on the screen and let the Laba congee flavour replayed in my mind.
Never have I had another Laba congee after she has gone.
Food is the bonding between my grandma and me, and I don’t want anything similar to replace my memory about her.
I’m Mila, also Liam.
My bed is the wormhole connecting the two worlds.
Once every 24 hours Earth rotates on its axis, taking me with it.
I’m Mila during the daytime. Liam takes over in the night time.
We are the perfect team to keep the balance.
However, things have changed in 2020.
During the global pandemic, I had more time to expand my interests.
Those theories about simulation, consciousness and AI triggered my interest.
Then I began to notice that I never met Liam in reality.
How come I have someone appeared in my dream but I never saw his face before?
Where does his image come from?
The more I dig into my mind, the more I realise Liam is not an NPC and try to take the domain.
I was an observer to him, and then he merged with me.
I talked, and he talked. I moved, and he moved. I thought, and he thought.
He became Mila and Mila disappeared.
I disappeared in my dream.
Many times in the morning, I looked in the mirror and saw my face reflected on the surface.
The longer I gazed into the mirror, the more blurry Mila turned to be.
I began to question my reality.
‘Who am I?’
It was so real to be Liam in my dream.
‘Which world is real?’
I remembered my mum used to tell me the story about “The Butterfly Dream”.
Zhuangzi fell asleep and dreamed that he was a butterfly.
When he woke up, he did not know whether he was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly or whether he was a butterfly now dreaming he was a man.
I mocked the crazy Zhuangzi back then, but now, I feel the same.
‘Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?’
Is Mila or Liam recited Edgar Allen Poe’s poem?
“Have you ever had Déjà vu?” One of Mila’s friends asked.
“Many times,” Mila replied, “most of the times I feel like I’m a prophet because I know my Déjà vu is going to happen and I’m led by Déjà vu.”
“Scared, isn’t it?” The friend responded.
“A little bit,” Mila answered back. “It reminds me of the question Ted Chiang raised in his book The Story of Your Life.”
“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?”
“What would you do?”
“I chose to live the way it is,” Mila said.
“How do you know the way you chose is the right way?” The friend asked.
“I don’t know,” Mila answered. “Life is all about experiences, isn’t it? I choose to experience it, no matter whether it is right or wrong.”
“But as you said,” The friend confused. “You had experienced Déjà vu so many times which means you’ve already experienced that. Why not try something different? When you feel like your Déjà vu approached you, why not choose a different path?”
‘All those experiences are already in my mind, but I’m not aware of that.’
‘Does that mean I’ve already experienced them or not?’
‘Mind and reality, which one is real?’
Mila questions in her mind.
Liam doesn’t have many questions like what Mila has.
He knows everything or knows nothing at all.
He has a different form based on people’s imagination.
He considers himself not just Mila but a hero with a thousand faces.
Liam is one of his faces based on earth people’s three-dimensional way of thinking.
He can be anyone in their dream, but only the 0.0001% earth population will believe he is them.
Zhuangzi was one of them, and people in his era thought he had a mental illness.
Friedrich Nietzsche was another one, and people put him into an asylum.
Liam feels pity for those who believe in his existence.
Although they are right, they are a minority.
The minority is always on the wrong side on earth.
Liam looks down on those who devoted to explaining others’ dreams.
Nobody can explain your dream to you.
There is only one explanation of your dream.
The one that you need to dig deep based on your bliss and surroundings.
Just like there is no universal truth or a theory of everything.
Liam can do nothing but appear in people’s dreams and light up their awareness of him, or themselves.
I sleep longer and longer because I don’t want to wake up to face life on earth.
I even feel more real in my dream.
In my reality, I have so many questions no one can answer.
I have so many feelings no one can understand.
But in my dream, Liam knows everything.
Although he keeps telling me, he knows nothing.
‘Everything is just an illusion,’ says he.
I tried several times to bring back answers from my dream to reality.
The result was either I fell down on the floor from my bed or woke up immediately without any remaining memory.
I can’t be bothered to share those experiences with my fellow human beings.
No one in my circle cares about those odd things.
What people care about on earth?
Money, status and power.
Money is one of the most fictional creations people ever invented.
Status and power are nothing but delusion.
And people are willing to sacrifice their lives for those things.
I can’t understand and prefer not to.
Mila never opens her eyes because she decides to transmit her mind into the machine.
It’s the year 2077.
Mila’s physical body has already reached her limitation.
In her dream or reality, Mila sees Liam again.
Or we can say, Mila finds herself again.
‘It’s been half a century since the last time you appeared in my dream, Liam,’ says Mila.
‘I felt your pain and decided to let you go,’ says Liam.
Mila’s longer sleeping hours concerned her family and friends.
They took her to a therapist and even thought about putting her into the hospital.
‘How come you have the right to decide on my behalf,’ Mila complains. ‘Rather than anything tell me the truth. Life is suffering, isn’t it. Why take out from me?’
‘I know you can handle the truth, but I don’t want to see your human history repeats itself thousand times,’ Liam explains. ‘There is no point to let you die in pain. Please forgive my mercy on you. Now, you get the chance to witness the human history on mind transmission.’
‘Shall I thank you for sparing my pain?’ Mila still in anger. ‘What the hell are you?’
‘Don’t you know I’m yourself?’ Liam is tired of answering this question. ‘I guess love influence your decision to let me go.’
‘Me let you go?’
‘You are as the same as Immanuel Kant, caring about others and considering others feelings. That’s why you let me go and eliminate all your questions and chose to live a NORMAL life on earth.’
‘I never had any dream ever since,’ Mila misses Liam. ‘Love replaces my confusion. Maybe that’s a good thing.’
‘But your default setting has already paved your way,’ Liam says.
‘That’s why am I here now?’ Mila asks.
’Since you don’t have anyone left you to care about, ’says Liam. ‘Time to die, or we can say, time to live truly.’
‘I’m ready…’ Mila touches her human body one last time and then becomes it.
I am dead.
I died in a studio apartment approximately 37 sq. m.
I died from overdosing of anionic surfactants, benzisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, phenoxyethanol, linalool, butylphenyl methylpropional and hexyl cinnamal. To put it into simple language, I was killed by a cleaning spray bottle.
Don’t ask me how I know those terminologies. If you lived long enough with those bottles as your only companies, you could remember better than I was. Trust me.
Today was a rare sunny day. I crawled to the washbasin surface where I could enjoy a ray of sunshine penetrated from the skylight in the bathroom. While I was roaming in thoughts, a high pitched screeching noise hit me to my legs.
I saw a girl who was in her pyjamas with messy hair walking backwards from me. She had this facial expression of seeing something too disgusting to bear, and she started to look around in a slow motion.
Shall I go back home and take joy in this beautiful day later? I was pondering, while the warm feeling from the sun lured me to stay a bit longer.
The girl approached me one step by step with her concerned face.
Will she join me for a sunbath? I thought.
Gradually, she stood in front of me and squatted down to open the cabin door under the washbasin. All of a sudden, she screamed again and held a bottle towards me.
“Go to hell!!! Aaaahhhhhhhh!” Said she in her trembling voice.
I soaked in this colourless rain and tried to swim out of this odour water scene. However, the more I struggled, the more spray I got.
I gave it up and lost consciousness.
By the time I felt my existence again, I had sawed an ugly and contorted body lying on the washbasin surface.
Wow, who is that? And how come I can fly? I saw the same ugly but ordinary body floating in the air in the mirror.
Now I realise I’m dead.
The girl is trying to use the toilet paper to grab me and throw me away. But she is too afraid to do so and run away.
What a loss! I haven’t got time to get to know her since she moved in. I thought in my mind.
Does she know what kind of spider I am?
The first principle for me to live is to avoid contact with the linalool. There will be a chemical reaction between us. I’ll die and then release poisonous liquid and odour and make human being die.
Don’t ask me how do I know that. I’ve lived long enough to witness my family and friends died under human beings. They were burned to death, hit to death, stepped to death, and a few of them died in the same way as I was.
I witnessed all those kinds of death from the dark corner. While I was mourning, I started to notice a pattern that those who died from a spray bottle had vanished in a couple of days. The human murders began to show flu symptoms, such as coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, vomiting, diarrhoea, chest pain, breathing difficulties and recurring high fever.
Seven days after I died.
I have witnessed how the girl suffered from the above symptoms.
I still remembered when she first moved in. She went in and out several times by herself. In the end, she got her three suitcases and two paper boxes all set in.
The landlord never showed up but left the key under the carpet in front of the door and put the flat instruction in the living room.
I never meet the landlord but heard a couple of anecdotes from my long-time dead grandparents.
I don’t care much about human beings’ world because they are either murders or strangers to use. However, this girl triggered my interest. Maybe I was alone for too long. Or perhaps she reminded me about myself, a lonely and ugly creature no one cares in this world.
The girl only spent one week with me. I puzzled up a story about her. It’s the first time she visited this country because she searched so many first-timer’s questions online in her own language, where to do grocery shopping? Where to join the gym? Where is the tube stations and so on.
However, she doesn’t look like a typical tourist with excitement and joyfulness. This girl has a sadness veil around her. I hardly see her smile but heard her crying from time to time.
What a poor thing.
If I had a choice, I wouldn’t want to kill this girl. However, karma is a bitch. The moment she made a choice to kill me, there was nothing I could do to save her.
Thirteen days later, my body has already vanished. I’m a ghost sitting on the surface to enjoy sunbath with a company of the girl’s ghost.
The girl had died on her bed. She bled from her nose, mouth and ears and coughed too hard to pass away. She died more dramatic than I was.
“Good morning, murder,” says the girl in a cold voice.
“Good morning, murder.” I reply back with a smile. Although I don’t know if she can notice.
“I never thought I could have a conversation with a spider,” says the girl with a bitter sigh.
“I never thought I could have a sunbath with a human being.” I kind of enjoy this experience.
“What’s your plan?” The girl asks me and looks up at the skylight. The sun has never been so bright that the girl’s ghost looks invisible to me.
“I don’t know. Maybe wait for neighbours or policemen to deal with your body?” I answer back.
And I notice that I was talking to myself the whole time. The girl is still on the bed, bleeding. Everything else is the illusion.
Maybe I need a friend. I thought in my head.
But, what’s the meaning of a non-existed spider to have a friend?
What’s the reality? Am I in reality or in the dream?
I can’t tell, but nothing matters anymore.
Others who are still living, in reality, won’t care much about me but the girl, will they? Or will they care about the girl?
In twenty-one days, the girl’s body was found by a burglar. He doesn’t do anything but takes all her valuable belongings.
In forty-three days, a cleaning lady comes over as planned and calls the police.
In fifty-seven days, the apartment has been evacuated with a deep cleaned.
In sixty-nine days, new furnished has been set up.
In eighty-two days, new tenants move in.
Everything is a loop, and history is always repeating itself.
Now, the only difference is that I’ll live in this apartment forever with my new body to continue witnessing people come and die.
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.
Thirty days, 40,000 words, 11 stories. The Invisible Third Culture Adult is released today.
Nora Jia Qiao-Bridges’ home is everywhere and nowhere - from China to New Zealand, and from the UK to the world. Born in China’s cultural centre as a descendant of Confucius, Nora grew up influenced by western culture. She constantly struggles with the inner conflict of embracing the dual cultures from the East and West.
Nora’s campus scandal with her English teacher Tom Norton makes her move to New Zealand to start a new life chapter. Her sexual experience with Jason Mitchell, her lifelong friendship with Eloise Feger, her entangled relationship with Kevin Yew, and her interactions with people from different cultures and backgrounds all lead Nora to discover her multicultural identities, to find a sense of belonging and to fight the battle against racial bias and discrimination.
Everyone has a story to tell. Here is your chance to listen to an ethnic minority’s eleven stories on stereotypes, identity, loneliness, relationship, sexual harassment, race, media manipulation, and the hidden history.
You may resonate with Nora’s life as a global citizen who has experienced cultural similarities and differences between different countries. You may understand international students and new migrants struggles and difficulties living abroad. Most of all, you may develop compassion to people around you and understand each other from different perspectives.
Eloquent, pure and entirely stylistic, here lies a fresh voice in fiction from a Chinese New Zealand writer. The Invisible Third Culture Adult is the perfect read for anyone who feels they are not being seen or heard.
No man is an island in the current world. Everybody is connected. We all have stories to tell. Let’s listen to each other one by one with a curious and open mind.
Chapter One - An Unexpected Journey
Chapter Two - An Eternal Outsider
Chapter Three - An Awakening Mind
Chapter Four - A Puzzled Persona
Chapter Five - An Inevitable Stereotype
Chapter Six - A Prejudiced Media
Chapter Seven - A Boundless Career
Chapter Eight - An Abnormal Name
Chapter Nine - An Unforgotten History
Chapter Ten - A Lonely Traveller
Chapter Eleven - An Untouchable Lover
Why support this book?
According to the MIGRATION DATA PORTAL, there are 271.6 million international migrants at mid-year of 2019 and 5.3 million international students in our current world. However, there are few mainstream novels, movies and TV shows featuring their stories. Here comes a huge potential to showcase a story from the increasing number of international students and migrants’ perspective.