My name is Tigress

tigerstripes1

Girls should be at home this late. Especially little Asian chicks like me. Never running, alone, in the dark streets of Oakland. Except that when dudes see you so comfortable and confident by yourself, they think you are either crazy or are hiding something.I am both. Crazy and hiding.

From a fence ahead, I hear a scream. The mouth of an unsecured construction site. I go check. Behind a huge stack of lumber, a hooded figure holds a scantily clad woman by the wrist. She tries to shake him off, but he doesn’t seem into her plan.

The thing with Oakland is: it’s predictable. Shit always happen in the same places. There’s where the junkies get fucked up. Where cops get gifts. Where blacks get shot. Where dumb fights break. Where girls get roughed. If you want to avoid trouble, you stay away. Otherwise…

“Hey, Sir? This aint how you treat a lady,” I yell from outside.

“Fuck off!” He responds and laughs his drunken laughter. To my ears that’s an invite.
I pass the fence. He pauses. More intrigued than wary. With the sleeve of his jacket, a stained, too short jean one, he wipes the messy bush growing around his mouth and opens a wide grin. Yes, it was an invite.

Then I see a flash. Bright, blinding. When the light fades, I am somewhere else.

It’s been happening since the event on the lab. The flashes. Memories so vivid, everything seems like the present. A hiccup of conscience of sorts. They never come at a good time though. Now it’s dark. Night. A tunnel… The subway locals call Bart. Such a funny name. Perhaps the cabs should be Lisa and the buses Homer? The cable cars should be Margies! I am only 19, freshly arrived in America and life still feels like I’m inside a TV show. The train stops, I get in. The wagon is almost empty, just me and a man wearing a grass-stained khaki overall and a bright orange helmet full of partially ripped stickers. He looks at me weird, but I want no trouble, keep walking to the other end of the car. Sit as far away as possible.

The Bart moves and once out of the station and it’s dark, I hear steps lurking behind me. Remember to breathe, Yinyin.

Flash! Back to Oakland. Good. I march toward the asshole in the alley. “Leave her alone, sir!” The drunk cackles and lets go of her hand. “Huh, looks like the little Chink wants to join us, babe. Isn’t she cute?” He takes a pocket knife. Pathetic. I keep moving forward–same speed, same determination.

Another flash. The man in the subway. I look back, wondering what would possibly sound so similar to a zipper, just to see the eye of his dick staring right into mine. He grabs my hand. Bad move.

“Eat tofu,” I say, immediately knowing that didn’t come out right. In Mandarin, it would have worked much better. Whatever. “Fucking depraved,” I correct. Now he understands. I turn his wrist in one direction, twist his elbow the opposite way. So fast and far, I feel his tendon snap. He screams. I pull it the other way and stand, pushing my hip against his and up he goes. I sense his feet unroot, fly over my shoulder. Almost in slow motion. His helmet first and alone, ricocheting on the chromed bars and away from the skull it was supposed to protect. I think I hear the music. Shifu’s flute, playing calm long notes like the ones he used to pace my tai chi. Then BAM! The rest of him smashes the metal floor. Head first. He stays there. The lights from the windows blink on and off, he shows no sign of life. Shit! Did I kill the man?

The flash drags me back again.

The woman has giant legs and even bigger boobs. Both as exposed as she could without technically being naked. She looks at me and screams for the fence. “Somebody fucking help!” Thanks for the confidence. I gaze at the knife, crack my knuckles, then pounce. Watch that, bitch.

Real fights aren’t like those in the movies. They are messy and unforgiving. You have to deal with your dumb opponent, make sure you don’t kill the fucker, that he doesn’t kill you, and that you don’t step on a nail or trip on a ladder. I manage to avoid all that just to get hit by another flash.

The Bart stops. The creep still lays there like a rag doll and a memory of Shifu washes me in shame. He wasn’t a violent man himself. Would rather spend his time training people on the comprehension of the Dao and the healing aspects of Qigong. So, when he allowed me, and even pushed me to let my beast out, no one understood. “You will get it, someday, Tigress,” he told me. Daoists are fond of their paradoxes, like accepting of the wrong as a path to the right. “All the philosophy is packed into the moves. The yin hiding inside the yang. One day, you will see. But you must promise to avoid death. Daoists do not hit to kill.” A solemn oath I may have just broken. Above us, the dragons roared on Shifu’s behalf. Maybe he roared with them too. Then, as announcing an undeserved blessing, I feel a sting burn in my arm.

Back to the alley. In that moment of confusion, the blade nicks the side of my shoulder, right over the tattoo of my home town! Why did you have to do that?

Wudang, its mountains and fog, its mighty tigress and the swarm of bees Shifu cursed me with, are now all covered in blood. You’re so fucked, jackass. I grab his forearm and get my body against his, hit him with the back of my head. Not a pretty move, but it works. The blade is mine. One more kick on the chest and the fucker is on his butt, still trying to understand what happened to him. Yes, buddy. You’ve been owned by a woman.
I turn to the girl: “Go.”

But instead, she starts striking me with her tiny handbag. A dozen times. “Are you crazy?” A single little distraction is all it takes. The man comes back in our direction. I thrust her with my shoulder, right between her giant breasts and the blond flies three feet to safety. The guy now has his head and arms wrapped around my waist, the woman has her chest covered in blood. She shrieks. This time real loud, louder than Oakland. Police will come. “That’s my blood!” I point at my bleeding tattoo. “See?” She breathes relieved. Waves the handbag again: “Leave him alone!”

What?!

I let my stance sink so he can’t raise me off the ground, and over his back, I extend my hand. Stick my finger into his ass. Now he shrieks too, like a cartoon. Hooked in his rear end, I flip him on the air, he crashes hard on his back. He wheezes, searching for air, and I grab his scalp. By the hair, I force him onto his knees. He’s mine now. Him, the fight, the battleground. Everything. Sun Tzu would be proud. Peace at last. Suddenly, nowhere in the world is quieter than Oakland. I can hear the sounds of the tv from a neighbor somewhere. Enjoy the colors of the sign from the titties bar beyond the gate reflecting on a large trash bin. Blue, red, blue, red. From the wall, a cat quietly scans the place for rodents. From another, an owl stares too, probably looking for the same unlikely dinner. I think it’s funny. In China, owls are called cat-faced eagles. So it sounds like the beginning of a joke: a cat, a cat-faced bird and a girl nicknamed Tigress walk into a dark alley… The Dao can be funny sometimes.

The stink of booze, cigarettes, and lack of showering awake me from the wandering. The stench makes me want to throw up. Instead, I take a deep breath and stick the knife into his thigh. Right next to the crotch, full blade in.

He screams, and I scream back at him. Louder, crazier, inches from his nose. So deranged, his voice dries out and he stays there, bugged eyes and open mouth. I throw the bloodied knife away and say, “How about that, honey? You’re a hermaphrodite! Your own slit and all. Good, huh? Now go fuck yourself and get out of my sight.” He limps for his life, bouncing on walls, falling over himself, and disappears beyond the corner.

“Good job, Tigress,” I tell myself, then brush away some of the concrete powder and sawdust on my running clothes. A glimpse of a smile creeps in. Behind, the blonde continues to yell, “Stupid bitch! You are one person. He is every fucking man on the planet. Will you beat them all?”

Yes, I will, sister.

Hi. My name is Tigress. I am an immortal and I can help. But before you open the package I sent, you will have to listen to a story. My story.

 


This post is part of a book currently being written by author PJ Pereira.
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The butterfly and the black eye

butterfly

A long time ago, in the province of Meng, in China, there was an honorable philosopher called Zhuang Zhou. He once wrote about his dream of being a butterfly. As such, he flew through the woods, enjoyed the perfume of the flowers and the sound of the rivers. All was wonderful with his colorful flying-self, as he knew nothing about his times and desires of men, only the wants of the most beautiful of the insects. In his ignorance, he didn’t miss human life. Happy as he has ever been, he glided among the trees.

Suddenly, he wakes up. His pale skin and pointy fingers are horrendous. His shadow has no wings. Desperate, Master Zhuang runs to the lake to check his reflection. Who is that creature devoid of colors? So confused he became, for a while he couldn’t tell if he was a butterfly dreaming of being a man or a man taken from a dream of butterfly. Zhuangzi was a wise man though, and through dedicated meditation, he finally understood.

“I am both!”

Yes, he was. The man and the butterfly. “But I shouldn’t have been awaken that abruptly, for the walls between the dreams and life should have no windows to peek.”

I hear the story, wondering why Sifu chose that particular one among so many others. After a full day training of intense Tai Chi forms, the connection wasn’t the clearest. Then he calls me to spar.

My legs can barely hold; my arms are heavy as if they had carried a pig for a mile. “Be light like a butterfly” – I think. That’s what he meant! He’s always scolding me for my hard moves, after all.

We fight. Soft and gentle, I watch myself floating around him. As if I had wings made of rice paper, painted with colors of all kinds. My Tai Chi shines. So precise, so beautiful. I enjoy in pride, until I get hit. A punch, right on the kidney, makes my chi leak, rapid. Inside, a coiling pain slithers up my body and hooks onto one of my eyes, the one on the opposite side of the blow. It twitches, rolls into my head then gets dragged towards the injured organ below the ribs. I fold. One knee first, then another. My hand touches the floor, hoping for a landing more gripping than sand. I feel everything. See everything. I think, what is going on? Is this what the allegory was about? Do I need suffering to… transform? To wake up? Is this the only path to enlightenment? I turn to Sifu, begging for relief and an answer.

Behind a chuckle, he gives one: “The wall. Never lose the wall.”

Is that the best he can do?!

He extends a hand to help me stand. The problem with kidney shots is they don’t cause the sharp pain of a broken bone or the dizzying effect of a head hit. It’s so deep it makes you feel dark in the chest, praying the world leaves you alone. That is me. I hold the hand.

Leg limps. Chest refuses to open. Guts are loose, like watery noodles soup. In a protective Tai Chi stance, I wait for his move. He launches, faster than a man his age should. And his fist is inside my stomach. Not a full punch though. Just strong enough to knock me down.

Despite the agony, I can still think. What I can’t is breathe. He seats me up, hits me three times with an empty palm on the heights of my back. Clock, clock, clock. Darkness fades.

“The wall”—he repeats, with a grin. Sifu knows my beast. So I hold it. Not allowing him the pleasure of a double lesson. Instead, I wait, quiet, until he says whatever he wants to say. Hurts less this way.

“Life and death; forms and fight; man and butterfly. The different sides of life must not recognize the other. Or they will never be full on what they ought to be.”

Master twists his beard and raises to a beautiful Tai Chi pose. Head tall, weight on a single limb, arms pointing forward and back. From below, his indigo robe, deeper than the indigo flower itself, looks like an armor of dusk. He presses with a hand as the opposite leg takes a gentle step backwards. “Repulse the Monkey”—I say,  the name of the position. Perhaps it can unravel the mystery he taunts at me. Nothing. Damn, he is so light when he does Tai Chi! Maybe that’s it? He is telling I’ll never be weightless?

He says: “forms.” Then shakes into another pose. Elbows down, legs rooted like a tree, chin tucked, face hiding behind the fists. He jabs, crosses, hooks, dodges, kicks, leaps. “Fight”—he finishes. “They must not know of each other.”

After hours training forms and a devastating sparring session, that’s something really fucked up to say.

Took me a lot to let the anger pass, even more to comprehend. Not just time, new ideas and methods too. I mentioned I love Bruce Lee, right? How I even moved to Oakland because of him? Influenced by his writings, I started to cross-train. A sponge, absorbing everything I touch. That helped.

One day, I am in a judo class, learning to unbalance people by breaking their steps mid-move. Oh, and throwing them on the floor too. Next, Muay Thai, BJJ, Eskrima… Fighting styles for the entire world. My Boxing instructor adjusts my stance: sideways, right arm horizontal and low, covering the entire waist; shoulder forward, a glove to protect the chin. “Philly Shell”, he explains. The punches come from all angles, and I try to stay calm, but I’m getting close to the wall. His flurry continues: up, down, side. My elbow covers a kidney shot without too much effort. The shell is an interesting guard indeed! I have a vision: Sifu and his Repulse the Monkey. Not the full move, more like a flash, and do a Boxing version of it. Leg back, spinning the body, connecting to a cross from the other side. It shoots fast, sharp, precise onto my instructor’s face. I touch the wall behind me, give him a black eye.

Intriguing, the wall thing. The butterfly one. You teach your body to operate with flowery forms, hold them on the other side while you fight. Then one day, a flash of a form crosses time and space and possesses your swing. All of a sudden, your instructor learns he can’t mess too much with you.

Hexagram 55. Fullness

hex55-a

My birthday breakfast, at 8pm. Since George started his medical residency, we’ve been in the Chinese time zone. He serves me eggs with a candle and sings a happy birthday that could use an auto tune. Our anniversary too, but I have nothing prepared. After our first time together, we never had a night apart. Unless he’s traveling. He does voluntary work for Doctors Without Borders, sometimes. His boss promised to give him a few days if he had to go again. Nice being surrounded by good people.

Not bad, the eggs. Still, I put the tray aside. He protests. “Wait,” I say, “I have my rituals.” Then I grab my i-Ching.

Sifu used to do it for me. A tradition of ours I carried with me, now I’m on my own. I toss the coin and make mark on a piece of paper. Then again, one, two, three, four, five more times. I look on the book. Hexagram 55. I open it on the right page and ask him to read.

Feng, fullness.
Thunder and lightning culminate as one.
A noble one decides legal proceedings and brings about punishment.
Do not mourn. A fitting sacrifice at noon.
What decisions must you take now?

“Kind of somber, no?” he says. “You really believe that?”

Americans. They can buy into their own witchcraft so quickly, but make it foreign and it’s silly. I nod and explain. At the very least, it’s a good philosophical ritual to perform, sometimes. If you don’t trust the divination part, the results still get you thinking. In my case, the Dao says I am approaching zenith, with all its glory and triumph, and need to think abandonment, cause decline comes next. I glance around and it doesn’t seem like zenith or triumph. Except for George. He makes me happy, despite having to live in his bizarre schedule. He’s worth it.

I tell him, “Master taught me resisting reality is a waste of chi. So the Book of Transmutations is reminding me things may change. But I’ll be fine.”

“Will you stop resisting me, then?”

I may be spoiling my boyfriend. Was about to protest but as I open my mouth, he shoves a fork full of a cold runny egg. “Don’t resist”, he says.

Don’t resist.

He walks out the door. I stay in bed. Been thinking about it for a while. The urges. The need. Don’t resist. I catch a gym bag and throw a few items in, dress my one-number-too-large sweat pants over the lycra shorts, and an old t-shirt over a sports top. A last peek outside the window, he is gone.

So I leave.

9:30pm and the Uber drops me at a dark street in Oakland, right in front of an abandoned school. Driver looks worried. “You sure, lady?” It always happens.

I jump out and give him five stars before I stroll towards the little metal entrance covered in the ugliest graffiti you’ve ever seen. I don’t bother knocking. There is a security camera, I know they are watching.

The gate moves and with the harsh music comes a giant jumping my way. I drop the bag but it all happened too fast. A bear hug. I wheeze, begging for air ultil he drops me.

“Hey there, kitty cat!”, says the man they call Buffalo.

“Little cow!?”

The large man with muscles up his cauliflower ears opens a wide proud grin and points at the t-shirt with the symbol we can’t see from the outside. The Fight School, an old abandoned high school turned into a secret joint only the meanest fighters and the true knuckleheads know. He says the Boss gave him a job. “Pretty cool huh?” I fought this beast before. Kind heart, murderous hands. Poor troublemakers.

A screechy voice with a thick Italian accent comes from the inside. The man himself, the owner, the one everyone calls Boss, has both arms open so wide he can almost fly. “So I hear the Tigress is back?”

“It’s my birthday. Want to fight.”

More hugs, a few kisses. I wonder if he pulled me that close to feel my boobs against his body or if that’s just an Italian thing. He tells Buffalo to bring me to the locker room while he arranges the details. No need, I say. I can find my way to the sad and molded place with lockers that barely shut, which is ok cause no one messes with the fighters’ stuff.

Ten minutes pass and Buffalo sticks in his cuddly giant head. “It’s time, kitty cat.” He could be made into one of those anime characters in Asia. Cute and deadly. I’d call him Niu Niu.

I follow him. There is no big song or harsh light acts like the fancy fights on TV I loathe. There aren’t so many rules either. No rounds, no gloves, no forbidden moves other than no eye gauging or hitting the spine. I miss it so much.

The ring is an old-school cage in the center of an old basketball court. A big square, surrounded by chicken wire 10 feet up, so nobody can escape other than in a stretcher. The announcer is new. Gross – his gummed back hair looks like everything I hate in a man. Not that the folks outside the wire are much better. And I don’t like the dude they got to fight me either. Manolo, the Boss, always picked the big and slow, for contrast, like Niu Niu. This time, he chose a skinny dude with a blond mullet and psychopath eyes. Whatever. The choice to come back was mine.

Now, the consequences.

Sweeeeeeeenk! The mic feedback screams loud and silences the mob. Sleazy MC raises his hand, “Gentlemen and Gentlemen, tonight we have a surprise fight for you! On my right, the man who sent his last three rivals to the ER, the invictus champion of the house and meanest fighter on the planet, make some noise to The… Crusher!”

I choke in disdain. We aren’t allowed to use our real names because the whole thing there is illegal. Still, they could have done much better than a WWE villain wannabe.

“And on my left, our long time no see sexy sensation and crowd favorite, the one and only, also undefeated in this cage, Tigress Lee!”

No idea where this “Lee” came from. But no time to whine. The bell would ring anytime and we jump at each other’s necks. Except…

“But before we start”—says slimy—“I understand it’s babe’s birthday today. So why don’t we all sing…”

Oh, no, he didn’t.

“Happy birthday to her?”

They do. In complete scorn, like a mock Irish pub from a B movie, they raise their hands, hug each other and chant and laugh at the same time. I cringe till the end, ready to kill the man, or Manolo, whoever I see first after the fight.

The bell rings.

The Crusher and I move around, flipping legs and poking the air to gauge each other. He shoots me a kiss I ignore. He pounces. Fake jab high, take down low. I get out ok, but damn… so rusty!

We trade punches. Both hit some, dodge some. It hurts a fucking lot. This guy is dangerous. Now I know why the Boss chose him. Punishment. For disappearing for a year.

A high kick close to my head. I bend back to escape and he uses the other leg to hit me hard above the knee. Noise, pain, then a flash.

Dark alley. A woman shouts while I move around a drunk with a stupid pocket knife. He charges at me and tries to stab me. The blade ends four inches into his thigh. In agonizing pain, he screams. And I scream back, so close to his face we can feel the wind beneath our shouts. “Aaaaaaaaaargh!!” The lady behind me hits me with her purse, one of those strikes should make people embarrassed of breathing. “Shut up, bitch!” If it wasn’t for me that prick would be sticking his dirty flaccid dick into her. Thankfully I gave him his own slit so now he can fuck himself. I’ll call him hermaphrodite. The girl smaks me again. Enough. I turn at her, my back hand fully loaded but something strikes my cheek. Slap!

I’m back. Did the Crusher just slap me? In my friggin’ face? He holds his groin and does an asshole giggle. Now I remember why I hate men so much.

The fight is messy and ugly. No fancy moves, no style. I can’t afford that today. He attempts another double leg take down right when a flash blinds me again.

I’m in China. Sixteen. Fench was a little rich brat Sifu agreed to train. We are sparring in the woods and he tries to take me down from the legs. A few attempts in, and he gets one. Now we are on the floor. His body over mine, between my legs. That’s when he tries to kiss me. I push him out and stand up again. Next time, he tries again. And as he comes for my legs, I go for his face.

Flash. I jump, throw my knee forward and enjoy the crunchy feel of his nose being smashed. My landing on the other side isn’t very elegant, but his was worse. The crowd exploded so loud, I got a little aroused.

Nice birthday. Everyone screaming. Except for two men. I notice them with the corner of my eyes. Their shape, collor, enthusiasm… everything is different. I let myself get thrown their way. Want to take a better look. Those collar shirts, clean glasses and impeccable hair… not fans of illegal fights.

Mother fucker has a broken nose and blood pouring everywhere. He still smiles. In China we say red makes us happy. Maybe he is Chinese.

Here comes another swing, not taking risks here. I cover my head with a full arm and pull his face straight into my elbow.

The man is being pummeled, but doesn’t seem to care.

“Fuck her in the ass, Crusher”– someone screams from behind the outsiders. Not them. Nerds can’t scream shit like that. I wish I had seen who though.

I give him this: the Crusher has a heart, for after all that, he still stands tough. His fists return in a combo: jab, cross. Does anyone get hit by that dumb setup still? I dodge, switch angle and chain-punch his ill-fated face all the way to the fence. Bam bam bam bam bam! The wire throws him back at me, his chin straight into my uppercut. A mouth guard flies through the ring. His knees fail.

Just finish this and go home, Tigress.

Flash. The world is flat and everything has sharp corners. Like a video game, except it was all quiet and peaceful. The Crusher is nowhere. There are mountains and water, nothing else. What is going on? That’s when I noticed the fence. Got close.

Pigs. Thousands. Millions of them, trapped behind the little brown wall. Stuck to each other, they oink and try to move, but there isn’t enough space. Filling the land, up the hills and beyond the horizon. Who would do that? I open the gate and the stampede throws me on the ground. Their hooves hit my chest, limbs and face with way more weight than I expected.

Flash. Back in the cage. The Savage is over me, half-guard in, my arms pinned against my body. How did I end up there? He raises an elbow. Fuck, this is gonna hurt. “Happy birthday, baby”, he says. Then the elbow drops. One, two, multiple times. Vicious, bloody, unstopable. The world, now distant, sounds like inside of a womb. Everything was slow and nice. The pain was a vague memory. Crusher was still there, among the ballet of flying red droplets. His teeth are so much whiter than I thought. A shadow grows from behind my eyes. No, please, no! Lights dim up again. His jaw, clinched in anger. A giant fist falls fast. Closer and closer. Until it eclipses his head. Then dark.

I wake up in silence. The locker room. A doctor checks my pupils. “They shouldn’t allow this ground and pound shit against the girls, you know?”

I grunt. No special treatment. Is there a mirror somewhere?

“You don’t want to see it.”—he says.

I get my phone and turn the camera at myself. Fuck! Never seen my eye so swollen in my entire life. I call an Uber.

I walk outside, my brain grappling with a single thought: how I’ll explain this to George. This face.

“Tigress?”—someone calls from my back.

The two dorks.

I say, “I don’t give autographs.”

They wave their soft hands, meaning “no.”

“Are you cops?”

The older man, who is enormous in person and avoids eye contact at any cost, somehow falls for that. “No, we are not cops. We just want to…”

“You are nerds.”

“Professional nerds.”—says the younger of the two. “We would like to offer you a job.”

Pause. Is that really happening? I point at my mushroom face. “Shouldn’t you go after… the Crusher?”

The old weirdo responds: “No, Mrs…”

“Yang. I mean, Claudia.”

“I like Tigress better.”—says the young nerd. He’s kind of cocky.

“Mrs. Yang, we want to hire you to teach us to fight.”

Are Internet trolls materializing now? Except those two… they don’t seem to be joking. Not even sure they’re capable of humor. I bet they don’t even get sarcasm.

Phone beeps. My ride is close. “I don’t teach men”, I finish.

“Please, just consider. We can pay well, Mrs. Yang.”

The big old dork hands me a card, which I shove it in my handbag without even looking.

“Fifty grand.”—says the young one. He’s so certain I would accept, I don’t bother to answer.

My Uber arrives. “Mrs. Yang?” I nod and try to get in, when the stupid dude grabs my arm. Dumb asshole. I twist his hand and throw him on the ground, pinning his face against the concrete. The weirdo laughs: “Awesome!”

“Fuck off!” I say and get in the car. It’s one am. Oakland is dark and empty. Maybe if I put ice and a big steak over the swell, it will be better in the morning when George… Damn. His car! He’s already there? This cannot be good.

I walk in, head down. He’s sitting on a bench in the kitchen, which sounds way further than it actually is. Through my hair I can see his betrayed boyfriend’s look.

“Where were you!? Are you…”

I raise my head and in one beat he flips to doctor mode.

“What was that? Are you ok?”

He makes me lay on my back. Puts ice on my face and goes grab a few pain killers, a glass of water. “I am ok, don’t worry.”

Then he remembers. “Don’t worry!?” He came home early, the day he got hired, just to spend my birthday with me and I not only wasn’t there but I come back like that! What happened?

Nothing, I say. He picks up his phone. “Calling the police.”

I beg him to wait. And tell him everything. The fight, this one and the ones before we met. Everything but the flashes. That’s too crazy. I explain the eye is not that bad, I was just knocked out.

“Why don’t you let a doctor decide what is bad?” he argues.

The kitchen counter. Candles and flowers. “Did you make dinner?” George waves his hands and straddles in circles through the living room. He’s not hungry anymore.

“This is not acceptable, Claudia.”

What does he mean by not acceptable? I seat up so fast he knows what I am thinking.

“You heard it. I see patients with life changing concussions every day.  Can’t let you do it to yourself. Besides, I’m sworn to taking care of people, not watch them destroy… their face.”

“George, this is my life. I am a fighter since way before you.”

“That was in China”, he says. Now I am in America and bla bla bla. He screams at me and I try to stay calm. He won’t bulge. And finally, it came: the ultimatum. “If you want us to be together, you have to…”

I didn’t let him finish the sentence. No man will tell me what to do. I never said that, just faced him, in silence. My skin pounded again, but I held my stance. Like a melancholic statue, I watched him pack all he could fit into his two gym bags and a backpack.

One hour later, he was out.  That’s when I broke everything I could grab. Fucking zenith was nowhere to be found.

The Wooden Man

wooden dummy

In my mind, it’s always present. One flash inside the other, never past, never future, forever happening. Right “now,” I am twelve. A sound: water nearby. The scent of leaves, bamboo, China. Among the woods, a broad, clear circle on the floor invites me in. The sacred ground where we train. Although this time, there’s more.

He watches us. Two arms point out; a third, a foot lower, aims at me; a single leg bends forward, like a cat stance. I return the look, in respect. The wooden man, icon of all Kung Fu, from the North of Shaolin to the South of Wudang, is ready for battle. Mine, at last.

Sifu’s robes make him seem made of wind. He floats towards my new training partner and stands before it. Clat! He tests the stems with an upward slap and we exchange looks of excitement. Sight back to the enemy, he drops on his knees down and inwards, bring his wrists against the ribs, and begins. Double tan sau between the sturdy fists. Clat clat! A head-grab and a wing hand rolling underneath the arm. Clat! Master’s legs move swiftly around the opponent; their hands never disconnect. Sifu recoils around his back leg. On one side, elbows heavy and wrists soft; the other, a waiting hand near his chest. Then explodes. Bang! His whole body hits the dummy, through the small area of his palm.

It was splendid! The attack pierces through the dummy’s centerline and the trunk shakes in delight. The wood cackles. With the noise, birds fly in fear. Critters peek. Even the  bamboo seems to bow. And right there, I learn to love those sounds more than anything. More than George, I think. Clat clat clat! Baaaang!

I check the data. In my trips to present and past, no other memory has been visited more times. I guess that makes it an all-time favorite. In my case, a title so full of irony.

It was also among the trees I met George. In a park, ten years later. Berkeley.

Butt on the grass, I recover from a fall. My students run around like squirrels. “Water! Give her some water!”, one says. “I have green tea, she must like it?” says another one. I am fine. Got distracted with the flashes, lost balance, just that.

Can’t reveal the flashes, though. They must believe I can stay focused myself.

Across from us, a little gathering. There always are. People eyeing the exotic young ladies performing geriatric slow moves. Nothing too bothersome. Sometimes they laugh and point and a single stare sends them away. Americans can’t handle a good, cold look back. There are four of them today. All men, nerds. They laugh and elbow each other and I am about to stand up to send them off, when they spit one of them in our direction.

The dude stumbles and looks back in protest, but the friends point at us. Too late, I have noticed. George, I would learn his name later, wears a scarf but his face still sports teenage acne. He carries a big thick book he uses to distract his eyes from me. A few steps, a reassurance look back and forward again, the chopped stride followed pathetic for a miserable eternity. After a long wait, he’s in front of me. Mrs. Lee drops a “hoooo” and pushes the girls to the side. Is all that a setup?

“Is… is it possible to… can I… are you still taking students?”, he stutters.

I say, “I don’t teach men.

Why I am always so angry?

My words strike him so hard, he falters. Almost falls on the green. Such a snowflake. It wasn’t my intention, but they were out, the words. Couldn’t take back. His eyebrows get closer together and he shakes his shoulders. I’ve seen that before. Same thing fighters do when get hit on the face, and have to decide if they will continue or tap out. A look of heart. It’s cute.

Grey’s Anatomy, the book he carries.

“She almost fainted. I think she needs a doctor”, says Miranda, the one who I should never trust with men. Her last boyfriend was a bully. He and I had to have “a talk.”

George doesn’t fall for Miranda’s cue. Too easy, I respect that. We have a stare down instead. A few seconds. Then he turns around and leaves. I win. Americans…

Mrs. Lee, my oldest and naughtiest student, pokes me with her bare toe and makes a “what the fuck?” face. She’s right.

Not so fast, sir. I run after him, now I am the pathetic one, rushing through the uneven lawn while watched by both my students and his friends. I grab him by the arm and he turns back with a victorious grin. Well played, nerd.

“Hey, sorry. It’s not about you. I don’t teach guys. One of my rules.”

He stretches the neck and checks my students again, all ladies indeed. They wave. He asks why.

“Not sure. It just is.”

He squints, raises one cheek up to the left eye, then smiles. Suddenly, it’s like if the light has shifted around us. Despite the red face and the neck curtain, the stuttering, the pathetic initial stride, that little facial twist somehow got me melted. Who would have guessed?

George doesn’t look strong. More of a nerdy meets hipster dude. We go for coffee and I can hear the girls behind making sounds. We order some iced drinks, grab a seat and we talk. And talk. And talk. Then we get up. My hot twin students work at the shop, and they are already back, all bathed and everything. We must have been there forever. They giggle and wink. We leave, but first I make him ditch the muffler there.

Night falls, as we are entering my building. Three minutes and two floors later, we pass the door amidst a sloppy hard kiss, and I take his shirt off. Hang it over the hand of the old dummy on the wall. “My boyfriend,” I say, tapping the wood man’s third arm, which sticks out a few inches higher than my belly button, like a giant Kung Fu erection. It reacts with a whisper: “Clat!”

So wide are George’s eyes, they may drop. Should I say it’s a joke? Up to the end, he was still unsure if that was serious. No, let him wonder.

We kiss again. I mean, I kiss him and push him through the open loft, where I sleep, study and train. On the other side, a thin mattress laid straight on the floor pretends to be a bed. Never learned to sleep in a real one, too far from the ground, messes up with my chi. We stumble towards it and as soon as we get there, I swipe his leg. He falls on his back, mute.

My turn to undress.

Then, I finish the job. Still not sure I know what I do in the bed department, and nerds don’t get too much action. But his mouth hanging to the side as he fell asleep is still quite flattering. 

I wake up later. It’s pass midnight, my birthday. Everything’s quiet, and the apartment smells like sex. Plus flowers and my fighting gloves. Couldn’t have had a better start for the new year. He’s asleep and the only light comes from the neon sign from the restaurant across the street, which is enough. I roll towards the edge of the bed and reach to the drawer of the side table. Grab the little book, and a square-holed coin I flip in the air.

In my recursive memories, the i-Ching is the only thing that changes.

I watch the golden disk spin up and down, then fall quiet on the white cotton of my bed. Five to go. Except at that point he had his fingers back on me. So soft it sent a cool wave down towards my ass and my entire skin bursts up in chills. He says, “What’s this mountain?”

“Wudang. Where I was born.”

He watched for a while, browsing the tip of his fingers through the blue lines of my tattoos. The mountain, the fog, the tigress standing fierce, ready to attack.

“Is it really this foggy?”

“Those are clouds. That’s where I picked my name from. Claudia.”

Anyone else would have asked about the Tigress, always the tigress. Not George. He has no hostility, no anger, no scars. He’s only curiosity are for his brain things, his medicine books and how to make people feel better. In our lives together, he never once tried to compete. To protect. To be the prince. Once a dude tried to fight us in traffic. George didn’t mind I stepped up to defend us. Not beyond his usual disdain for physicalities, at least.

A true man of yin, for a girl of yang. Interesting how the Dao is. You spend your entire life preparing, then out of nowhere, a messenger comes to remind you your training isn’t done yet.

He gives me a gentle, wet kiss. And we fuck again.

I don’t teach men

pigs.png

The weight shifts to my back leg and I follow with the arm. Slow. And I say: “Now front leg to the left, opening space… so you can… stretch… forward and back… at the same… time.”

There is a moan somewhere behind me. The erotic type. I get it, the single whip is one of my favorite moves in Tai chi too. I wait for it every time,  even though I shouldn’t. The form is meditation in motion, Sifu says. Where thoughts and feelings have no place. Let go, I tell myself, which is breaking the rule already.

The air in the park is crisp, the sun hits hard. A spring blessing, when pollen count is low. Summers can be colder than the winter in the Bay Area.

The class goes on. There is Miranda, the sad pretty girl with bad taste for men. Jen, an MBA student that I am still trying to figure out. Nancy and Viv, two hot baristas from a Starbucks nearby. I go there sometimes and can hear the mental fantasies the hipsters concoct while the girls serve their Iced Vanilla Mocha With Soy Milk No Whipped Cream Please, Grande. And there is Mrs. Lee. Tanisha Lee. She must be sixty or something. She holds her position a bit longer and has another mini theatrical orgasm. The whip is that good.

So many thoughts. Resisting never worked. I’ll keep pretending.

Mrs. Lee, so she says, is the best black acupuncturist in the Bay Area. Must try, someday. Her real job is teaching cognitive sciences, that’s how we met. I was her student, now she is mine. I believed I could understand the brain to shortcut my research on the shadow leap, so I ended up in her class. She walks into the auditorium, dressed in a manicuredly sloppy way. A respectable afro-hippie. She plugs her computer and points at the slide she projected. An iceberg. She says “Thoughts are like this: most of what happens is under water, away from our conscience” Sifu would agree, but frown nonetheless. Meditation better, he would say. But I can’t. Not with the anger, not with the flashes.

Swoosh. Here it comes. An arm swings above my head, making my hair move. I can smell the sweat and the rage. I hit him hard, three times. His skin spatters at me. A drop of his perspiration hits my mouth. So fucking gross.

Since my “enlightenment” (a label my master would most definitely dispute) the flashes have been stronger. More vivid. I don’t just see them anymore. Reliving would be a more suitable word. Replaying would work too. The flashes, they come and go. Sometimes one inside of the other.

Swoosh. I am always angry.

Now the alley. I am sticking a knife into the thug’s thigh. The bitch behind me screams and slaps me as if I wasn’t protecting her. Threats to call the police. I twist the blade anyway and pour a mad yell right at his face, then run before the cops show up.

Swoosh. Too much yang. It’s a curse. Runs in the family.

Back to the park. Snakes creeps down, push, recoil. They haven’t noticed my absence.

Swoosh. A baby cries, a mother covered in blood lies still, eyes lost pointing nowhere. Smells like China and decay. I know the place. The scene. Have seen it way too many times now. Can’t tell if it’s a real recollection or something I implanted in my own mind after all the stories I heard. Mrs. Lee says it was possible, forging a memory. That police likes to do that to confuse black people and make them confess.

Sifu holds the little me like I am a rock.

Mrs. Lee moans once more. It brings me back. “This is so sexy”, she says. Always a naughty comment. Others laugh and I shoosh them silent. Had they known  my mind is always screaming…

Another flash. This is worse than usual. Maybe I had too much coffee? No, that would’ve made me poop. I am at a large prairie now. A sharp edged fence stretches to infinity and there is a gate. The shadow monkey gently holds my hand. Everything moves like a bad video-game. MineCrack or something. They say this game gets people to lose their mind. End up believing that squared place is the real world. There are some that even adjust the lights in their houses to match the sun in the game. Nerds.

We march to the gate, me and the ape. There are pigs. Pink and square. Millions of them. Up the hills, through the horizon. I try to hold my breath, but there is no air in MineCrack. I open the wooden door and let them escape. “Go, little fellas. Enjoy your fake life!”

Fake life. Look who’s talking… I feel my hand squeezed. “Now you are free, too” I tell the monkey. No more raising pigs.

There are more apes around us. They get close and sit, staring like if we were a totem. Gods, even. I am not angry anymore. Maybe enlightenment is a good expression after all. Then, from afar, I look into my own eyes. Dive inside of them. Through the darkness of the pupil and deep into the brain. From above, I see Berkeley, the Park. Tiny pathetic creatures are practicing Tai Chi. Myself, my students. Down on the floor, I remember, I am trying to hide the flashes. But I tumble, instead.

“Are you ok?”, Miranda asks.

I tell her I am. Just a little embarrassed. That hadn’t happened in a while. The twins help me stand up. Their hands are so soft…

I am ok, I promise.

“The sun is too hot, sifu.” “Have some water” offer the sisters.

I accept. That was enough for the day.

“Nice class”, says a skinny dude with a scarf and acne. “I mean, before you fell.”

I gaze and say nothing. I’m way more verbose inside of my mind. His eyes meet mine and suddenly he flinches.

“Is… is it possible to… can I… are you still taking students?”

“Don’t teach men”, I answer. And the conversation is over.

He leaves in such shock, he moves in a drunken, wiggly line. That’s how I met George.

The Hermaphrodite


I walk in. House smells like orchids. Beyond that, a mess. Lights on, the mirror, clothes off: ripped t-shirt, big red stain; sports bra. Sweatpants are a size bigger because I like it that way. Better for kicking, if you tie it tight.

George thinks I am sexy. I’m not so sure. I like the ink – meant for memory, not looks, but still pretty. Now they are cut. Sliced in the middle, like an interrupted steak.

From my triceps, the tigress stands fierce, unimpressed by the blood pouring between her and the severed limb on the other side. How meta.

Glad George is traveling. He would have been pissed. If he knew this wasn’t even a cage fight… He would leave for sure.

First-aid box is under the bed, where he left. I mean, a doctor first-aid, a medical treasure chest. I grab the alcohol.
One little pour – it hurts more than the wound, but he taught me it is important, so I do it. Discipline. Discipline. Discipline.

I stitch the tigress back together. She’s a badass now, big scar and everything. No way to hide it.

Have to think of an excuse.

Oakland has its spots, that’s what I like about it. Predictability. Things always happen on the same shitty places. There’s where the loonies get fucked up. Where cops get gifts. Where dumb fights happen. And there is where girls get roughed. A few alleys, around the nightclubs. I used to blame them for being drunk. Not anymore. I pick one of those alleys and wait. Today, the guy had a knife.

You should see his face. An ugly ball of dough. And his butchered thigh? Now he has his own slit, at least. Maybe he can twist his dick into himself, leave the girls alone. I’d pay to hear what he’ll tell the nurse when he gets to the ER. Thugs don’t deal well with being beat by one of us. That piece of shit.

I’ll remember him as the hermaphrodite.

I walk to the shower. Hot water carries the red away. One day someone will pick up a gun. This is Oakland, my mother would have said. Had I known her, I mean. Deep inside, though, she would’ve been proud.

Pretty Boy

Bruce_Lee_1973

I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area because of Bruce Lee. As a young girl isolated in mainland China, I fantasized with the vibrant fighting community he inspired, to this day ready to confront laws and canons, set to prove new combat ideas in the real world.

So I applied do Berkeley. Physics. This way I could witness that culture and also pick up some science to supplement my training.

The opening day, I was there. All suited up, the world so much smarter than what I knew… I couldn’t wait to meet the real fighters, the wild scientists. Then the classes commenced. Months in and there was still none of the juicy stuff. Just basics and more basics, no sign of getting better.

Tedius quickly turned annoying when the grades arrived and no one believed my D’s and E’s. Apparently, if you are an Asian in STEM, you have the duty to get A’s.

Stupid whites.

I had already made the decision to drop out when I walked in the classroom and the chick next to me tried to disappear behind her hair. She was sniffing, her face so red and swollen it appeared she head-butted a hornet’s nest. “Are you ok?” – that’s all I said. The story erupted from her lips: the party, the drinks, the hookup, the… “If you are not careful, it will happen to you too.” – she interrupted her account to warn me.

I may not be good with numbers and formulas. But I know a few things. Beating people. Breaking bones. Sending assholes to the hospital. She wouldn’t give me the name, though.

We made a deal: I would teach her to fight. The coming morning, I was showing her first moves at the park next to the Campus. Tai chi felt like the most suited for her hippie-ness. I was right. She loved it, both the slow and the fast. The ideas and actions. The applications. I chose to go easy but deep, making sure each motion she learned, she could truly use.

Her enthusiasm must have made an impression. For every class, an onlooker asked to join. I took them all. Young and old, students, professors, college officials and store clerks. Anyone, as long as they didn’t have balls.

The multiple ironies weren’t mute to my ears, of course. I had jumped from being the Asian in science to the Asian in Martial Arts. Moved from the People’s Republic of China to teach at the People’s Park of Berkeley. I was a walking, pushing and slow kicking cliché. I was having fun, though. Finally.

Until Miranda didn’t appear two classes in a row.

I searched for her. Called. Nothing. Days later, I noticed one of the Cal star swimmers limp his way through the corridors. I’ve seen him before. Good looking, hopeful Olympian, full of himself. He had a black eye too. You know, the pool may distress a hamstring, but no belly flop would cause a dark swollen socket.

From class to class I followed the guy. When he left the school grounds, I went behind toward the dorms, waiting for the right opportunity. A little alley, poorly lit. That was it. I reached out. “Miranda asked me to check if she hadn’t hurt you too much” – I bluffed. The jock never questioned who I was. Just begged for forgiveness.

Which of course I did. But I broke both his legs first.