A Queen whose machinations shape the fate of a powerful empire. Another, a Princess whose words would change the history of that empire forever. That woman whose grace, prowess, intelligence and beauty made the prospective Emperor bow before her. Yet another, a fierce warrior. A Goddess of unparalleled skill, chosen for the most elite of missions. One woman who is driven by duty and family, the very family that goes on to betray her. Another, driven by love. A Queen she remains, even in captivity. Living without lament for the loss of her love, his life most cruelly snatched away well before his time. The other is driven by duty and sacrifice, inspiring the Saviour to take up arms and thus, changing the trajectory of his destiny forever. Setting in motion, a chain of events that inexplicably intertwined the tales of all three women as they powerfully come together to defeat The Man.
This was the second exercise we undertook in the writing workshop I have mentioned in my previous blog post titled “Free Writing – piece 1”. The rules remained the same for this exercise, however the interesting part this time around was that Rohini pulled out a slender, wooden box which contained a few decks of tarot cards. We were each asked to select a card, focus on a card and write a story based on that image. The one I drew was the Death card from the Rider Waite deck.
Since I have dabbled in tarot, I felt the need to inform her that I knew what the symbols meant and that an element of bias might possibly creep in. Having said that, off we wrote. The timer was set for ten minutes. Here is what I wrote:
The buildings were burning. A heavy layer of soot and smog engulfed the place. He felt a distinct sense of unease. Death had definitely visited his village, and taken many with Him. If he listened carefully, he could hear the heart breaking wails of many people trapped beneath the ruins. His heart clenched painfully, his eyes teared up but he resolutely moved forward. He ran like he never had. His boots made a dramatic crunching sound, when juxtaposed with the eerie silence all around. He stumbled over bodies of friends and people he knew, but never paused.
There, House no. 43! He had finally reached his destination. All the memories of his childhood came back to him, flooding his senses with nostalgia as he walked through the house. He looked at the charred bodies. Father. Mother. Sister. Wife. Every single one of them was lost to him. He heard a faint wail. Could it be? He headed straight for the crib where lay his boy. His boy looked at him and began crying loudly. Bless the boy, what a pair of lungs he had on him! His boy, as if symbolic of the journey that lay ahead had his face darkened by ash and soot, but remained unharmed. He picked up the child carefully and walked out, feeling a bit more lighter and hopeful than when he first set foot in the village.
The rays of the Sun had began to break out in the distance, enveloping he village in a sort of unearthly brightness that seemed to him, more sinister than optimistic. He reassuringly pressed his son to his chest, and kissed the top of his head.
This story is inspired by the touching and utterly brilliantly executed Metlife advertisement that can be found here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bdm4NBYxII. The video and all corresponding rights belong to them, the story subsequently inspired, and the manner in which it has been brought forth is purely my own.
That letter from my baby girl moved me. She knew about my job. Or so she thought. I felt a strange emotion welling in my chest. Love. I made up my mind. I called up the D.A.’s office and I said I would turn approver. I carefully took all meeting memos, evidence I would need to bring down Cat’s Eye, the group that I had been working for years since my dark teenage years led me down a path that suddenly seemed no longer rewarding. Boxes of documents, letters, photos, account books, recordings all of which I was the keeper of. I was betraying their trust. They wouldn’t be happy. But I had to do this. We could start a new life. A new life where I really could be her superhero. A friend of mine had me set up in his father’s office as secretary, the pay wasn’t great compared to the amounts we made on certain transactions but we would be safe. We could live like normal citizens, just complaining about the Government and worrying about taxes, enjoying a movie or two, fretting over her when she grew up, using my former skills to keep the boys away if need be. I smiled at that. My pretty girl.
Having thus decided, I found myself in an abandoned warehouse where I met with the regional head of police, someone from the D.A.’s office and a woman in a pin striped grey suit with crinkly eyes and a thin smile. I strode up to them confidently and stated “I want full protection. I want to undergo a surgery and look different, the works. Nobody should be able to find us. Only then do you get these” I held up the stash of important correspondence. Mr. Xi, the D.A. stepped forward and shook my hand, warmly said “Please take a seat. We will discuss business shortly afterwards.” And the world went black.
When I came to, everything in my possession was missing. My limbs ached painfully and I could feel a shiner come on in the corner of my eye. I was distraught and confused. Why had they done this?
I heard some voices and raucous laughter coming from my left. I limped slowly and put my ear to a hole in the cracks. Xi, that bastard! The D.A. was going to run for office and he was discussing how taking down all of Cat’s Eye would be his greatest achievement and he would use it to further his campaign agenda, of keeping the streets safe and the community, drug free. Furthermore, he suggested that with a “raid” or a fake encounter, the State could easily skimp on having to put a low life in protection; and that the police top dog could retire comfortably with maybe a Medallion of Bravery and Honour, if he could wrangle it. The two men’s unctuously laughter punctured the air and my blood boiled. Then Xi said “That little girl, arrange for her papers, Miss Li. We can put her in a foster home, she shouldn’t have to grow up with a deadbeat like that. We will place her with one of our agent’s families and depending on how she grows up to be, we can use her in the Service too.” My blood froze to ice, I saw a white-hot rage flashing before my eyes. That woman was a social worker trying to take away my baby girl from me! I snuck in on the guards and snapped their neck, taking care that no noise was heard. As they floated out of the realm of consciousness, I picked up their guns and moved forward stealthily.
“Never underestimate a father” I said as I rained two rounds into both, and shot them in the eye, the feared M.O. of Cat’s Eye. The terrified woman took one look at me and wisely scampered. When I was done, I collapsed. The adrenaline had worn off and fear kicked in. My limbs hurt, I coughed and there was a spurt of red. I was not a killer. Just a low-level guy who handled accounts for the Cat’s Eye. I didn’t know what to do next. We had to go on the run. I picked up one of the phones and placed a call to an ex-girlfriend who now worked as a paediatric nurse. I thought long and hard about this. There was a stash from an old hidden off the coast, I could just go there and recover even a small portion of it, sell it, come back and we could live comfortably in total anonymity overseas. I had even asked my guy to arrange documents for Ming and me to move to the US. For now, though, I had to do it alone. Having my lovely Ming with me would only complicate matters and risk her life. I asked Cecilia to take care of her and to make sure she would grow up being the sweet, pure angelic person she was. She would bring light, kindness wherever she went. My past shouldn’t be the shadow that followed her.
I picked my girl up from school, dressed in my customary suit, she smiled. And for a moment, the weight of the world and the dark days that lay ahead for me fell away. I was simply Daddy. Not a gangster. Not a killer.
“I have to go away for a while, honey. Till then, you will stay with Aunty Cecilia. She will take very good care of you, now you be nice for her okay? Study well, keep your grades up and remember to keep smiling. Stay kind and loving the way you are. I will see you soon.” My heart shattered into a million smithereens as I delivered this final line with a smile. My daughter perceptive as ever must have known something was wrong because she broke down and hugged me, begging me repeatedly not to go. I firmly extricated myself from her hug, not willing to get emotional before my daughter and turned away from her, beaming. “I will see you soon, Daddy!” her voice rang out in all its childlike naivete and optimism. “I hope so” I thought, as I got into my beat down car and drove towards the docks.
*Twenty-five years later*…
The young woman strode forward purposefully, her languid grace catching the eye of the clerks who worked in the Office of Records. She had a sweet heart shaped face with a smile to match, hair that had been secured tightly in a bun, the light blue sweater hung loosely on her gangly frame. She introduced herself as Ming Han, a social worker from an organisation affixed to the D.A.’s office, her documents checked out and the clerk gave her an address. She bowed in gratitude and walked out into the sunshine, resolute as ever. She stepped into a cab and directed the cabbie to take her to the Hope Old Convicts’ Reformatory Home. An hour or so later, the cab dropped her off before a yellowing edifice. The paint had peeled off, it looked as desolate as it felt. What an irony, she thought as her lip curled slightly. Her heart hammering slightly, she stepped up to the front desk and showed all the records she had maintained and the ones she had received about the whereabouts of her father, Joseph Han. “Oh, Joe?” the old woman coloured slightly and cupped her cheeks firmly much to the surprise of Ming. “There has not been a day when he didn’t speak about you. He will be happy to see you. He is out, de-weeding the garden.” The two women rushed excitedly to the garden, the older of the two yelling “Joe! Look who has come to see you!”. An old man in his late fifties looked up. He looked frail, skin severely tanned and a decade or two older. He blinked unsurely. His eyes quickly adjusted to the lovely vision in blue walking towards him, sobbing. He started sobbing and laughing too, as they drew closer. He held her by the shoulder and whispered, “My daughter…”, examining her closely. The shining grey of her eyes, the cheeks suffused by colour in the biting wind, the lips breaking into a huge smile. They embraced and cried. “Kelly, I want you to meet my daughter Ming.” The old man walked slowly and brought forward the woman from the front desk, fingers laced with one another. He looked at his daughter, whose eyes widened as she took in the blushing woman and her smiling father. Ming hugged Kelly and reassured her she was happy that her father had been able to find someone, and thanked Kelly for taking care of her dad. Kelly wisely left after some time, giving the duo some much needed quality time together. “Tell me everything, Daddy.” Ming said, taking her father’s hand and leading them towards a bench. The duo sat down and talked for hours catching up till the Sun went down and they were just silhouettes clinging to each other tightly, promising never to let go ever again.