“Haunted” — an excerpt from a full-length play COMRADES, by Edward Gunawan9 min read

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Illustration by Anderson Lee

SETTING

Beijing, China.

TIME

2018

CHARACTERS

DON (35)

Male. A hip-hop-loving Chinese American from Texas, who now teaches at an international school.

LC (35)

Male. A closeted Chinese Mainlander who works as a top government officer in China

 


 

LIGHTS UP on DON’s room. It’s a teacher’s dorm — small and sparse in furniture, yet overflowing with clutters of books and mounds of clothes.

It’s night. But even in the blue-purple shadows, we can make out LC sitting up in the twin size bed, staring in the direction of the bedroom’s closed door on S.R. intently.

Next to him, under the covers is DON. We are not aware of his presence until he suddenly turns in his sleep and swings his arms around to embrace LC.

This startles LC, and DON awakes.

 

DON

 

(groggy)

 

What— What’s wrong, babe?

LC

Shhh…

DON

Did you have a bad dream?

 

LC continues his watch of the door.

 

LC

Is she? Still there?

DON

There’s someone here?

 

DON bolts up to switch a side lamp on.

The room is empty, save for the two men in bed.

 

DON

There’s no one.

LC

You can’t— You don’t see her?

DON

Where? What?

LC

Over there. In the corner. By the door. An old Chinese woman.

DON

An old Chinese woman?

LC

Yes. With a grey flower print silk dress. Like from the ’50s or something.

DON

A grey silk dress?

LC

Yes. I woke up when I heard something. I thought it was just the wind. Then, there was this milky-white mist. Floating in the air. Coming from that corner of the room. It was blurry at first, before slowly taking shape. More clear. More solid. Into this figure… This person…

DON

And? What did she do?

LC

Nothing. She just stood there. Watching.

DON

Is she still there?

 

LC shakes his head, as he turns to face DON.

Don caresses LC’s hair.

 

DON

It’s ok. Whatever it is, she’s gone now.

 

LC lets out a heavy exhale.

 

LC

It’s the weirdest thing.

DON

Was she scary-looking?

LC

No, that’s what’s weird. She looked kind actually. But stern. Like a school teacher. Monitoring an exam.

 

DON lets out a giggle.

 

LC

It’s not funny.

DON

I think you just saw my amah.

 

LC shoots DON an incredulous look.

 

LC

But she’s dead!

DON

For 30 years or so now.

LC

How could she—

DON

It’s nothing. Let’s go back to bed. The sun’s not even up yet.

LC

I just saw the ghost of your grandmother. How can you be so calm about this?

DON

She’s harmless.

LC

I thought you Americans don’t believe in such things.

DON

And isn’t it common here? To see them? Spirits and such?

LC

Not in China. Don’t you know, our Comrade Chairman has banned all supernatural films. There are no such things as ghosts here.

DON

Right. Like there is no religion.

LC

Only the Party.

DON

Come on, let’s sleep. All I know is that she appears from time to time. But nothing ever really happens. Nothing bad.

LC

You’ve seen her before? Like, she just appears regularly to you?

DON

I’ve never seen her. But some of my boyfriends did.

LC

Some?

DON

Yes, the ones who I’m serious with, I guess. The first time she appeared, I didn’t know what to make of it. Scared the shit out of Jerry. But I think she comes around to check things out. Make sure all is well.

LC

So. She’s checking me out, you mean?

DON

I am her favorite grandson, after all. I can’t help that she looks out for me. You should be flattered. This means she thinks we’re getting serious.

LC

Are we?

DON

You have nothing to worry about. You. Are the cutest and the most adorable-est. I’m sure she will approve.

 

DON leans in to kiss LC’s forehead.

 

DON

Just don’t fuck me over and you’ll be all right!

LC

You think this is so funny, don’t you?

DON

Not at all. I wish I could see her myself. And talk to her. You know, when she was still alive, I would find little treats from her all around the house. Like, every day, after school, I would run to the fridge to find this bowl of cut oranges waiting for me.

She would slice them into tiny quarters, take all the seeds out, and chill them in there. I remember when I sank my teeth into them, the ice-cold sweet juicy pulps would burst in my mouth. It’s the most refreshing thing. Now that my parents are both gone, I miss her even more. She is the one who has ever made me feel at home.

LC

You know I’m here for you now, right. That you have a home here. With me.

DON

I do. And you will always have me.

 

The two men embrace.

 

DON

Now, can we go back to sleep? Please. Don’t you have that big Party meeting in the morning?

I don’t think I can now.

LC

 

DON turns to his side of the bed and switches the lamp off.

 

DON

Suit yourself. But I’ll try to get a few more in.

 

DON covers himself with the blanket.

LC continues sitting up, on his side of the bed, looking out the windows on S.L.

A few seconds of silence pass by.

 

DON

(suddenly)

This better not be a ploy!

LC

What ploy?

DON

To get out from spending nights here.

LC

Well, I do have a bigger place. With a nice comfy king bed. Not this cardboard twin. In this cramped dorm room. That is haunted! We’re not in college anymore, Don.

DON

It may be cramped and crappy, but it’s mine. You can find everything so much easier this way.

 

More silence fills the room.

 

LC

I never told you this. But small spaces scare me.

DON

You think you’re too big for your britches now?

LC

No. It’s just. Small spaces make me… small.

DON

Shh, shh… can we continue in the morning, please? It seems like a coffee kind of conversation.

LC

Sure yeah, go sleep.

 

LC gets out of bed and heads towards the window.

He looks out into the city below.

 

LC

After I graduated, I didn’t want to come back here. But I had to work for the government as part of my scholarship agreement.

DON

Uh-huh.

LC

My parents were still in our village. In the countryside. I barely knew anyone in the city, other than my colleagues. So I threw myself to work. What else is there any way? So I worked my way up to gain the trust of Winnie’s Dad. I was stationed in his department. I became his right-hand man in five years.

I didn’t know why I risked it all that night, but I went to a house party. That a guy from the gym invited me to. I had never been to one of these. Not here in the city. I was too scared being in these places, that I would be recognized. But I really like the guy. So I went.

 

DON grunts, as though interjecting LC’s thoughts. But he is only SNORING.

 

LC

There were drugs of every alphabet. K, E, G. Pills in bowls around the house.

Sitting on kitchen countertops. Open vials in bathrooms. Small mounds of powder on coffee tables. I can’t believe what I saw. Are we even in China, I thought.

I should have left when I saw all of these. But being around these guys, and there were so many of them, so many of us. All topless and dancing in the living room, under the makeshift disco lights, holding hands and kissing and loving up on one another. With no cares in the world. So free. How could anything go wrong? When it felt so right.

I stayed and I must have passed out from whatever my date had given me. It was my first time doing something like that. Because when I woke up, I found myself in a tiny jail cell with grey concrete walls. No windows. Just a metal door and a small pot to piss in. I could lay my body down on the ground, and take only five steps when I stood.

I waited and waited. For I don’t know how long. Sweating the drugs off. I didn’t even know how long I’d been in there. And how long more ‘til I get out. Maybe I was still coming down, but the more I thought about it, the more trouble I knew I was in.

 

In the dark, LC slowly changes from sleeping attire into his work uniform.

 

Even if the police allowed me to talk to somebody, who could I call? My parents in Henan? They were poor farmers. With neither money nor connection. My date? For all I knew, he and the other guys were all in a cell, like me too. My colleagues? I could never work for the government again. I was finished, I thought. Whether I got out or not. Even the best lawyer won’t be able to beat the charges I was up against. I was caught red-handed. And drug possession and consumption are punishable by death.

I drifted in and out of sleep. For what seemed like days. I was so bored out of my mind, that I had no choice but stare at the four walls for hours on end. At first, I thought I imagined it, or that I was hallucinating. But that faint red started to peek through the light coat of cheap paint. Especially as I brushed my body and hands over it, walking past it. A chill sneaked down my bones when I realized that the four characters, the size of my two fists, were written in blood. His blood. The cell’s previous occupant. Who was he? A drug addict? Another sexual deviant? Or a political prisoner?

Whatever he did, he didn’t give up. Right up to the end. Maybe he should. He might’ve survived.

 

LIGHTS SHIFT as the red morning sun rises behind the curtains.

 

When that door finally swung open, and Winnie’s father stood on the other side, I gratefully said yes to whatever he offered.

For we all live in prisons. Whether we admit it or not. We go from one to the next.   Over and over again. Might as well put ourselves in one that’s of our own making.

 

Now dressed in the full regalia of his uniform, LC heads for the door.

Waking, DON calls out for LC.

 

DON

Hey, what time is it?

LC

About time for me to get going. Might as well start my day early now.

DON

OK. Later.

LC

Later.

 

LC exits.

LIGHTS DOWN.

 

 

 


Edward Gunawan is an interdisciplinary writer and filmmaker whose work has been published in TriQuarterly, Aquifer, and The Ana, and screened in Berlin, Locarno, and Cadence. A queer immigrant from Indonesia and of Chinese heritage, he now resides in Oakland on unceded Ohlone land. For more, visit addword.com.

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