This is a serial novel. To view Chapter Three visit: https://abdallahalalfy.medium.com/phonecall-from-heaven-chapter-three-4d872f6b0d8a
Looking around him he could see that Chinatown was changing. It wasn’t the place he remembered 20 years ago as a kid. It hit him that at some point of most people’s lives, they swear they’ll never forget certain things. But in the end, people remember what they remember, and forget what they don’t. This went for everyone, Joshua most of all. But he still remembered better than most. And those who remember better than most are doomed to take longer to truly move on. All that aside, in his heart of hearts, Josh acknowledged that for all the radical change in this part of town, there was still a myriad of remnants from the heyday of his childhood standing unchanged and unchallenged. As he turned into a familiar alleyway not so many of these relics of the past were present however. Only two places that he remembered from his childhood, and those were probably there when his grandparents were in their own childhood. One was a shop that sold everything from oriental medicine to oriental antiques. The other was a noodle and dumplings place that had only recently started making spring rolls.
Joshua hesitates, then remembers the Hagakure. The book of the Samurai. Decide in the space of seven breaths. Within three, he’s rolling up to the door of the oriental goods store. Within two more he’s at the counter. A young Asian man looks up to his face and says “What can I do for you sir?” in perfect English. Joshua was about to answer him when a much older man came out from the back of the shop. He smiled at Lake, looked at the young retail man and said something in Mandarin which sent him scurrying to the back of the store. He turned back to Joshua and smiled again, saying in a thick but pleasant accent “Mr. Lake. What a pleasure.”
“The pleasure’s all mine Mr. Fei.”
“How can I help you today?”
“I’m looking for a high quality set of acupuncture needles. Brand new.”
“Oh. You want to start the therapy? I know a good man. Real professional. None of those two bit frauds that lure in tourists with fancy signs on main street.”
“No it’s a gift, for a friend.”
“I see. Is there anything else?” The elderly shop keeper asks as he reaches for a shelf and pulls down a wooden rectangular case identical in size and formation to some of the larger,
flatter foldable chess sets available in most hobby shops.
Joshua pauses for a couple of seconds. He takes another deep breath. And then he decides. Re-decides.
“Yes. Something for me. I don’t know if you have it here.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I want something to keep me calm. I know you’ve got some herbs and oriental medicines here and I’ve been wondering if any of them can help me.”
“That depends Mr. Lake. What seems to be your problem?”
“I haven’t put my finger on it quite yet it’s just…”
“Yes?” Mr. Fei encouraged him.
“I’ve been feeling kinda surreal lately. Sublime? I need something to ground me.”
“Ground you? Like my son does with my granddaughter when she’s lazy with the homework?”
Joshua laughed. “No, not that kind of grounding Mr. Fei. Ground me as in makes me feel like I’m standing on the ground. Makes me feel real. Not so lost.”
“Mr. Lake. You are as old as my youngest son. If you do not mind, I would like to give you some advice.”
“Certainly Mr. Fei. Go ahead.”
“You complain of feeling surreal, sublime, and lost, but you are forgetting. Life is one big, surreal experience. You have been used to dealing with everything in a material and mundane way. Suddenly you have a change of perspective and it scares you. You don’t know what to do with it. You have not learned to look beyond that desk you sit on or that doughnut you eat or that coffee you drink or that subway you ride. And now that you find that your mind is forcing you to see beyond that you are feeling confused. You do not know what to do with yourself. Do not misunderstand me. Being present is a wonderful state of mind. Those who appreciate and live their ‘now’ are very lucky people, and have already found a significant spiritual plane. But there is no harm in leaving that plane every once in a while.”
“I don’t know Mr. Fei. You’re a Taoist aren’t you? Isn’t The Tao all about the present moment?”
“The Tao is about nothing and everything. It’s a never ending journey, a cycle that does not break no matter what. The Tao is eternal. It defies concepts of the past, the present, or the future. They are all one.”
“Funny. There’s a physics theory about parallel universes and alternate dimensions that says the same thing. I heard it on TV last night. Some guy was going on about how everything that ever happened is still happening somewhere, and is going to happen somewhere else, and everything that will ever happen is also still happening somewhere, and has already happened somewhere else And everything happening right now is going to happen somewhere else and has already happened somewhere else.”
“I’m sorry. I seem to have lost you.”
“Now you know how I feel when you talk about The Tao Mr. Fei.” Josh grinned, “What about Zen Buddhism? Zen stresses the present enormously doesn’t it?”
“If you are resolved on feeling present again instead of letting this phase take its course then what you want is not medicine or herbs.”
“What you want is this” The older man said, reaching under the counter and bringing out a much smaller, thicker case.
“What’s this?” Joshua asked staring at it in perplexity.
“Well you spoke of Zen. This is what some people in Western culture call a set of Zen balls. Of course, it is more accurate to describe them as Chinese Medicine balls. Zen is the Japanese evolution of Buddhism. There is Buddhism in China, but it has very little to do with Zen.” Mr. Fei said as he opened the case to show him two identical spherical steel orbs, each smaller than a billiard ball yet larger than a ping pong one.
“Oh.” Joshua said again, looking doubtful. “Do I squeeze them to stay present?”
“This is not a western stress ball. Although that might help you too. This one doesn’t work that way though.”
“So what do I do?”
“Watch.” Said Mr. Fei, as he took both orbs out of the box and put them in one hand. He turned his palm upwards and started manipulating both of them with his old and yet surprisingly nimble fingers, to rotate to the right while touching each other. Slowly at first. And then quickly. While they were rotating he suddenly separated them and kept them rotating with absolutely no contact. Again he started slow. And again he speeded up. Then he stopped. Then he repeated the process while rotating them to the left. And then he repeated the entire experience with his other hand.
“When you first start out,” Mr. Fei said, “It’s very difficult. You have to keep them touching close to each other to make it easier on yourself. Your hand and finger muscles adapt, your nerves become stronger, and you can do it in both directions quickly with no contact between the orbs. With both hands. You will catch on fairly quickly.”
“And what are these supposed to do for me?”
“In the short term they force you to keep calm and focus on the present moment. In the long term they stimulate certain acupressure points in your hand to keep you generally more focused, they also benefit your breathing, long term memory, and blood pressure. But that’s after you’ve used them regularly for years.”
“Alright. I’ll take a pair of those too.”
“Alright. That will be 87.”
“What?! 87??! What for?”
“The orbs are for 7.50 but I’m giving them to you for 7. And for a high quality acupuncture kit like this one, believe me, 80 is a bargain. Some of them go for 300 nowadays! Or even up until 5! But my daughter brought a few of these through the airport without having to go through customs so I’m giving you a very special offer!”
“You drive a hard bargain Mr. Fei.”
“You know I would not take your money if you were not so damn stubborn!”
“And this is your way of punishing me for it! You want to charge me prices so high that I give up trying to pay you!”
“There is absoloutely no truth to what you are saying Mr. Lake!”
Joshua sighed resignedly and smiled. “Alright then. I’ll take them both.”
Outside the shop Joshua glanced at the clock on his phone. There was just enough time to pick up those burgers and head to the hospital. Public transit wouldn’t cut it. He knew he’d have to cab it.
“Oh well.” He thought, “It’s not THAT far away.”
Lake then made his way through a maze of alleyways that he knew pretty well having grown up in this city, with the intention of making his ride shorter. Turning a corner down a particularly sketchy one, between a strip club and a bar that both don’t open until much later, Joshua thought he was, quite literally, the only person around. That is, until a man in a grey hoodie stepped out from behind a dumpster where he was crouched.
He wasn’t a very big man. In fact, he was quite thin. Emaciated even. There were black circles under his gaunt, drawn out, bloodshot eyes and his cheek bones looked so fragile they could shatter. Joshua recognized the look of a strung out junkie straight away. His posture had that peculiar combination of steadiness and unbalance unique to drug addicts who had gone longer than they normally do without a fix. On the one hand they’re sober, so they’re able to stand straight. On the other hand they’re itching for another dose and can barely stand still from their cravings.
Standing fifteen metres across from each other, Joshua was fairly certain what the man was planning, but he waited silently until the unfortunate wretch drew a switchblade from his hoodie’s pocket and flicked it open, leaving no doubt as to his intentions. Joshua stood his ground. He knew how lucky he was. A mugger of sounder mind would have waited until he was much closer before coming out from behind that dumpster. He knew he could easily outrun this poor guy but he had no intention of doing so. If he left now this guy would only move on to some hapless victim another day. Or maybe this day. Today. Like most experienced fighters, Joshua hated fighting guys with knives, but unless his opponents were professionally trained in the use of short blades, he was generally good enough to handle the risk.
Joshua waited until the man stepped forward. Then, with a blank face and in a cold voice, devoid of all emotion Joshua spoke one sentence:
“I wouldn’t recommend it.”
The wispy junkie stopped dead in his tracks. Short of his poison of choice he was irritated, nervous, jumpy and aggressive, but he was still clear headed enough to notice that tone. It wasn’t the kind of tone you heard on the streets very often. Public conflicts in this city involved all sorts. Cops, criminals and victims, and they all swung with extremes. They had emotions, intonations. Some people shouted boastfully, bragged, swaggered. Others’ voices shook with fear. Some people pleaded. Some people’s voices were vibrant with amusement at recognizing they had the upper hand. Others were coercive. But this unflappable, mechanical lack of mortal concern was very rare on the streets, and the man in the grey hoodie was smart enough to find it very unnerving. Briefly, he considered backing out. But then his incurable itch got the better of him. He started closing the distance between them.
Lake waited calmly as the addict quickly came closer. Then, when he was two metres away, with his right hand just about to bring the knife upward for an upper side lunge, Joshua stepped forward to his own left while bringing his own right hand forwards and upwards. His fist connected with the side of his opponent’s face, and he felt a sharp bone give way as he heard it break in the same instant. The junkie staggered backwards too fast to keep his balance and fell backwards. As his right hand slammed into the floor, the switchblade flew out of his hand, bounced against the wall, and then clattered to the floor, three metres behind him.
Without the drugs to dull his senses, the collective pain of his fall and his shattered cheekbone was enough to stun the junkie for a few seconds. When he came to, Joshua was standing right above him. Though his entire body was pulsing with sharp jabs of pain, the addict in the grey hoody tried to scramble up quickly, but before he could do that, he felt Joshua’s steel-toed safety boot on his windpipe. Joshua spoke again, in the same merciless, chilling tone that had stopped the poor slip of a man dead in his tracks less than 20 seconds ago;
“You can stay down…” He said, pausing to let his words sink in, “Or I can make you stay down. Choose.”
The man, who had been tense in anticipation of either getting a chance to get up or having his windpipe crushed, breathed out, and his body went limp with surrender. Joshua pulled his phone out of his pocket and pressed the police alarm app. 7 minutes later a patrol car pulled up to the other side of the alleyway and two uniformed men stepped out. They arrived to find Lake standing with one foot hovering on the throat of a man lying on the floor, and a knife lying 3 feet away from them. The younger of the two cops was just about to ask what happened but the older of the two was no fool. He took in the situation at a glance, told his partner to bag the knife, pulled his service weapon from its holster and lowered it at the downed junkie, then asked Joshua to step away from him. Joshua stepped away, content to watch for two minutes as the man was cuffed, hauled to his feet and the younger of the two cops led him away to the cruiser. The older of the two partners looked very hard at Joshua, as if surprised to find him so calm. Then, as if to make conversation he said:
“Most people still call us. Not a lot of people use that app.”
Joshua smiled and his face looked friendly again.
“I find it a lot faster for you to have my location and information with one click of a button. Who needs a long conversation with an operator during a potentially dangerous situation?”
“Didn’t look too dangerous. You seem to have handled it just fine. Besides, when you call, we know what we’re walking into. Maybe bring back up instead of waiting while we call for it.”
“Like you said, Officer. It wasn’t THAT dangerous. Besides. You had all the time you need to call for back up. The nearest police station’s 3 minutes away. Why’d it take you boys more than double the time to get here?”
The officer looked at Joshua resentfully. “We’re understaffed at the moment. You got something to say about that, take it up with the mayor.”
“Relax man. I wasn’t blaming you. Just asking. But you know what? I might do just that.”
“Oh yeah? Why would the mayor listen to you?”
“Well, I’m not as big as I’d like to be in this town, but if you run my name you’ll see that I work for a newspaper.”
“For real? Which one?”
“The Daily Radical.”
“Oh yeah! That’s the one that ran those articles everyone was talking about a while back right?”
“Yep. That’s us.”
“Yeah that guy at your paper who uncovered all that shit. I disremember his name but it was pretty ballsy of him to do it. You tell him that we’re all rootin’ for him on the force!”
Joshua smiled involuntarily
“You can be sure that I will, Officer.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, how come you’re so Zen about this whole thing? Most folks who make it through a mugging seem pretty shaken up in some way. Even if they came out on top.”
“My father worked for Defence. And although I never took a job with them myself he started teaching me since I was a kid. Taught me pretty good too. By the time I was 14 he signed me up for mercenary school.”
“Mercenary school? Is that like military school for kids?”
“Nah, that’s not what I mean. I went to school normally. I just spent all my free time learning at a private security contractor institution. Most days after school he’d take me. And every summer I’d live there, on site.”
“Tough life for a kid.”
“Not really. I had an edge over most of my classmates. Hand to hand, fire-arms, swimming, stealth, fitness. All covered by my dad by the time I was in. All the others were just getting started.”
“How’d they take someone so young though? Isn’t there an age limit?”
“For employee training contracts only. He wasn’t looking to make his son a merc. He payed for my training. As long as there was payment and parental consent, the only bar to getting in was the aptitude test. Merc school isn’t just for mercs.”
The officer shook his head
“Never heard about any of that before. We’re gonna need a statement Mr. Lake.”
“Does it have to be today or can it wait?”
“Well I can hold him for 24 hours without charging him but if you forget to come in tomorrow he walks. I’d rather we took care of this today. Fuckin’ junkie. Mugging people in broad daylight! What’s this city come to?”
“It doesn’t seem to be coming to much good but we’re still gonna need to make this quick. I have a few rather pressing appointments.”
“Well you don’t have to come down to the station. I just need the hood of my cruiser to write it all down.”
“Alright, Officer. Lead the way.”
Chapter Five now out at: https://abdallahalalfy.medium.com/phonecall-from-heaven-chapter-four-db7ef68d1745