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"To die for fascism is a feather death."
—The Quotations of Chairman Mao


"I'm humble duck shit," said Bu Yu. "But you've been everywhere and seen everything. Advise me, Shifu."
      The Shifu said nothing.
      "The foreigner calls my brother Mosquito Lunch, right in front of the others. And they all laugh. That's not dialectical materialism. Am I wrong or right, Shifu?"
      The Shifu looked as though he were about to laugh also. The blackish bags under his eyes stiffened for a second. "Right," he said. "Has your brother actually asked you to come save him?"
      "Of course not. This is intended to be a farewell letter. He thinks he's about to perform his last act, though he doesn't say so outright. He has always been far too brave to ask help from anybody. Surely you remember that."
      "Surely." The Shifu was noncommittal. "Nevertheless you're determined to go?"
      The old man held up both hands as though trying to select from among hundreds of grandfatherly admonitions that flooded his head. "Do you remember the wu-shu moves the army man taught you last harvest?"
      "Remember them? I never learned them properly in the first place."
      "Doesn't matter," he said without a pause, as though he'd anticipated Bu Yu's response. "Wu-shu is useless against such a devil. Two meters? More than two meters?"
      "That's what Younger Brother says in the letter."
      "And more than 300 jin?"
      The dread in Bu Yu's eyes confirmed it. The weight of three normal men.
      The Shifu tuned his voice up to the pitch of a professional propagandist on a Sunday morning shortwave broadcast. "Why do they let such monsters in to make life hell for us?" he cried.
      "Have you ever seen a foreigner?"
      "When would I have seen one? In a bad dream?"
      Having received that answer, the Shifu assumed an authoritative air. He said, "I had a female American journalist in the caves up north just before we mobilized against the Japanese imperialist forces." He searched Bu Yu's face for incredulousness, found none, or very little, so continued. "Don't get too close. They smell worse than hog shit."
      He sat back against the wall with his good leg crossed in a half-lotus, his other leg stuck out straight. He closed one of his eyes, a semi-Buddha dismissing Bu Yu.
      Was that the parting advice the Shifu had to lend? Was that the sum of his wisdom? Hog shit? Bu Yu tried to keep his voice calm.
      "Shifu. The smell of the foreigner is my smallest worry. I can stop my nose with lard. But can't you hold out some hope for me?"
      The Shifu opened his eye and seemed to search his skull for some stale feudal maxim. "Um, heaven will not hinder the traveler."
      "Shit on that."
      "All right, then. Shit on the classics." He leaned forward.
      "Here's something the peasants right here say: don't leave your little thatched cottage. You understand? A placid death in bed is more hope than many have."
      Bu Yu tried not to sneer and failed. "But then," the Shifu added, "maybe one should reject the wisdom of the country people. After all, it takes the sweat of a dozen peasant families to support one wise college boy like your brother." The Shifu exhaled pungent smoke and whispered, "Do you boys intend to—"
      For one of the first times since they'd met, the old man's silver voice failed to finish a sentence. But it was unnecessary for him to say more.
      "If we must," said Bu Yu.
     "Then prepare the back of your neck for an army man's bullet." The Shifu stood up in anger. "If you don't die immediately," he seethed, "they dig out your heart and lungs with a conical bayonet. Sometimes the older bayonets break off between your ribs. Best of luck to you. Luck, not hope. I hold out no hope for you."
      The Shifu limped over and spoke directly into Bu Yu's face. His breath smelled like fried peppers.
      "Perhaps you should recruit four of our peasant brothers to trudge along behind you carrying your coffin, pallbearers before the fact, to symbolize your determination not to return alive without having completed your mission, like the feudal hero What's-his-name."
      "Shifu, I'll need recruit only one peasant."
      "What's this? You're skinny, but not that—"
      "You forget that cremation is the order of the day in the city. One peasant will be enough to carry my urn."