Lindon – Glass rooms

Ground which can be abandoned but is hard to re-occupy is called ‘entangling’. From a position of this sort, if the enemy is unprepared, you may sally forth and defeat him. But if the enemy is prepared for your coming, and you fail to defeat him, then, return being impossible, disaster will ensue.”

(Sun Zi, Chpt. 10, 4 and 5)

I’m hung over from the third formal welcome dinner for me in the last several days. My throat is dry and my clothes smell of a hotpot meal and bijoe, a potent head-splitting white spirit. I squeeze out of the taxi into a bloom of humanity and as soon as I am upright and ready to walk away from the curb someone has jumped into the taxi and it is away again. I thread through people and pass between two bicycles with fruit laid out for sale on a tray behind the bicycle seats, my head pounding with each footstep like there is a direct line from my feet to my brain. I side step a beggar in blue jeans and Nike shoes who smells of mold and pushes a small dented plastic disposable cup full of old coins at me. I need all my coins and so I ignore him, pretend I haven’t see him.

A glass cube stuck to the side of the building hauls me away from the mess below. I notice a couple holding hands in the throng and I watch them as the lift ascends, wondering if I will ever be able to forget the scars Julie has left and be able to do that again with someone.

The American CEO is standing waiting for me as the lift doors ease open, an age-scarred version of the young man in the image with Zhang Zimin. He shakes my hand so hard the bones in my fingers creak under the strain and I wonder if he shook Zhang Ziminn’s hand like that, wonder if he dared.

We go up to the boardroom, a space almost completely devoid of concrete walls- it’s just curtains of glass on never ending city. The carpet has probably just been rolled out in here because it hasn’t even been attached to the floor, I can see it rolls up at the corners and sides.

I have borrowed all I can, stretched the goodwill of my family and friends to the limit just to get here- I’m anxious to get my signature down on the contract so I can start paying people back. But I forget all that for a moment and allow myself to be distracted by the view; it’s overwhelming, engulfing. The CEO notices and he says, “It’s quite a city isn’t it?” and I nod, trying to obscure my hunger. An old grey landscape is being swept away by glass steel and concrete stacked up by hundreds of cranes. It’s mesmerizing and my heart starts to pound when I think of the money to be made here, the staggering numbers that must lie beneath me.

His secretary comes in, she looks perfect, newly minted, like she has just come out of a box on a shelf. She tilts her head and smiles at me but doesn’t stop to talk- I’m part of a task she must perform, nothing more.

A large model of the apartment complex sits in the middle of a new office in a corner, the completed foam replica of the apartments we will build twenty stories into the sky. It looks small after my last job, like a toy. The CEO sees me looking over at the model and he waves me over toward it. From a distance it looks like a miniature of the real thing, but as we get closer I see plastic edges, sloppy paint and it looks fragile and cheap.

He begins to talk me through some figures on the number of apartments and their expectations but he is interrupted. Some locals in suits come to the door, ask to speak to him. He speaks for a while in Chinese that, to my untrained ear, sounds as good as the locals he is talking to, then excuses himself from me and turns to go.

I put out my hand, touch his sleeve, my anxiety spilling out, “The contract, is it ready to sign?”

He smiles, glances down at my hand, “It’s been finalized now, but if you have some settling in tasks to do, you can come back this afternoon or tomorrow morning.”

I try to curb my impatience, keep a smile on my face, slow my voice down, “I may as well sign it now, I can wait here.”

He nods and points in the direction of a meeting room he says my contract will be delivered to in a little while. He says there is a pile of magazines in there and then he strides away from me engrossed in his next conversation.

I take a wrong turn, end up at the doorway to another office. A lady in a black suit sits opposite a shorter woman who is crying- tears roll down her cheeks and drip off her chin. I stand shocked for a second, I don’t know what to say. The woman in black points in the other direction and pushes the door shut on me. I don’t understand what I have just seen, I’m trying to survive each day blindfolded and I’m stumbling ahead one step at a time.

His secretary is in the meeting room, she has a thick wad of paper wedged in her hands. I stare at it, hoping it’s my contract and she looks up at me and says, “Mr Lin, we are ready.”

“It’s Lindon.” I correct her, my eyes on the paper in her hands.

She laughs but her eyes are on something over my shoulder, “Mr Lin, please step inside so we can deal with the documents.” She motions for me to enter the meeting room and I step toward her and settle into a seat, lean forward in her direction opposite me. She lays the document down between us, the tips of her fingers resting on it. Her nails are painted a thick glossy red. She looks at me, the smile gone. I reach forward to pull the document toward me but her fingers press down and the document is stuck between us.

She says quietly, “There are certain formalities that we must discuss first.”

“Of course.”

“This is China so one of the documents you will sign here requires you to be aware that your contract will be terminated if you violate the laws and morals of the People’s Republic of China.” I pull a little harder on the document but she doesn’t release it, she asks, “Are you aware of what this means?”

I’m not but I don’t care. I say, to dodge more lengthy unnecessary talk, “Yes, of course.”

She lifts her fingers and I pull the document toward me, start flicking through the pages. She anticipates me and as I look up to ask for it, she slides across a black pen. She makes no eye contact, she is already lost in her mobile phone, onto a new person, a new task.

I scribble in signatures where required, ignoring all the fine print, ignoring all the conditions. The only figure I check is the monthly salary and bonus. I smile as I finish and slide the documents eagerly across the table. I sit back, relieved. I have not disguised how much I need the job with my eagerness.

The numbers in the contract have so many zeros I forget my hang over, the jackhammers in my head. As I rise to leave, smiling stupidly, she says she has to tell me something else. She slides the meeting room door closed, and shuffles her chair next to mine as I sit back down. I can smell her perfume, it’s strong and flowery. She leans toward me and begins to tell me about nail houses.

The lift seems to take an age to get to the ground floor. I stare at the floor working through what I have just learned, feel the weight of it bearing down on me. I find myself, naively, looking for the couple holding hands but I see instead people alone, their hands in pockets, their eyes far away.