3. The Prison.
Lucky had shared a cell with The Chinaman.
The Chinaman had taught him to clap out the sounds to make the poems. Five. Se-Ven. Five. Lucky hit the pattern first time, without thought.
Loss without limit.
Anger without direction.
Sadness without end.
He chanted it and chanted it and gave up on ever writing no more.
When the Chinaman had told him about the poems, it got Lucky within a breath of walloping him, before he realized he was saying hai-ku.
- You just tell me ‘hi coon’?
Every so often, The Chinaman reminded him he was from Japan. But Jap didn’t sound much better to Lucky than Chink did. For Lucky, Negro don’t sound no better than nothing else he got called.
They are together for a year, Lucky and the Chinaman, held together by something stronger than four walls. The Chinaman teaches him things, but he don’t call them by name. Lucky will learn to reign in the chaos that comes with him, but he will not control it, not quite.
The Chinaman gets him to lie in the yard, his arms raised in the air and to concentrate on his fingers. The only feature on Lucky’s body that he truly loved were his hands, big and rough and smooth like driftwood. Lucky focuses on the dirt beneath him and how the air that he expels is warmer than that which he inhales.
His warmth, his warm breath is visible in the cold stone yard.
The Chinaman tells him to spread his fingers and concentrate on the ends of each of his fingers. All ten tips. All individual.
Lucky pauses for a moment and then sneers.
- I can’t. Not each one.
- What about the edge of your vision?
- I can’t see it.
- What about the edge of your mind? Can you see what thought you are going to think next?
Lucky learns not to answer these questions.
When he used to answer, the Chinaman wouldn’t stop preaching until dark blankets the yard.
- If you ain’t know the edges, how do you know within?
They lie there in silence.
Lucky wonders how long he will have to stay in the mud for.
The other prisoners keep distance.
When one of them had stabbed Lucky with a broke broom handle, two hours later a piece of concrete fell on him. No one was around.
When one of them punched the Chinaman, later that week that man was attacked by birds in the yard and sent to the infirmary in straight madness.
Lucky apologized to the Chinaman on bended knee and bowed head. The Chinaman saw it as mere coincidence. Or at least he said as much.
Back home, the Chinaman has a collection of terracotta bowls. Only one of them was worth anything to him. It has thin splinters of gold where it had been cracked and fixed. He tells Lucky that the Japanese believe that when something has been damaged, its history makes it more beautiful.
Lucky thinks about Ely and his perfect skin and slick hair and pressed clothes.
He thinks about Miah and his body a text of scar tissue, tattoos, sallow cheeks, visible ribs and venereal disease. When the time comes for Jeremiah to slither to his grave, his body will be used up, torn apart and carved with a history of excess.
Ely’s could easily be returned to the company store with the label still embossed.
Lying in the dirt, Lucky turns to the Chinaman.
- How do you do it?
- What do you mean?
- How do you not give up?
The Chinaman thinks for a moment.
- I have given up. I can’t control so much of this, not the outside world, not in here, not even my own thoughts.
- So what do you do?
- When you have given up, you can submit to anything.
- Even being here?
- Especially being here.
The Chinaman stares, lost in the empty sky that roofs the prisonyard.
- The trial was horrific. But what my body felt; dread, terror, humiliation... You don’t get to experience often. You get bored of even despair.
- And why you here?
The Chinaman ain’t so much breathe, as sucks and swallows air through his grey teeth and then shuffles away.
Lucky flips a coin. Tails, heads, heads, tails, heads.
Lucky looks at the ground where they lay for a moment and then trails after the Chinaman back into the shadows.