My cuboid room makes me feel perfectly calm. I like to sit in silence in the centre of the rectangular floor where my eyes can roam freely over the green walls of my room. The walls are green, which is because green is the color of mathematics, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep with walls of any other color. Looking at green always makes me feel incredibly comfortable. The centre of the room is also where I put together my puzzle of Tiananmen Square in Beijing every morning. As soon as I finish I take my brass ring of old unused keys which I keep under my pillow at night and go downstairs.
This morning I came down and sat down on our white leather sofa. I quietly observed my step-dad's six volume collection of “The History of Christianity” on a bookshelf directly opposite me. The books were arranged in a perfect straight line and it made me feel perfectly calm.
My mother Lina, who had been in the kitchen, came and sat down next to me. And then for a brief moment she sat there motionlessly, blankly gazing into nowhere, so I kept observing my step-dad's six books on the Christian history. After a while, maybe a minute but probably less, she whispered: “Come here”. She wanted to cuddle. I snuggled up to her and then comfortably lied down on her soft slender thigh. She started stroking my hair and then gently rubbing my cheek. The entire time she kept looking directly into my eyes, somewhat questioningly with a gentle smile on her face. Her black eyes were becoming rheumy, almost tear-filled.
After perhaps two minutes, my mother Lina very quietly said, “Listen Ming.”
And I said, “Yes.”
And she said, “Are you listening to me, Ming?”
And I replied, “Yes.”
She awkwardly paused, perhaps for a breath or a thought, and then she said again, “Ming, I want to talk with you about your step-father.”
I nodded but remained silent.
She drew in a long deep breath and said, “Don't you ever wonder why your father doesn't ever let you leave the house?"
I replied, “No.”
“Ming, don't you ever wonder why you have to stay inside the house all the time?”
Again I answered, “No.”
She remained completely quiet, perhaps because she had been thinking, or perhaps she wanted me to think so I started thinking.
One of my favorite sayings in Chinese Mandarin is “Shizheyang”, which simply means “it is just this way”, which means it is the plain unvarnished truth, which is why I said, “No”, which means it is true that I have never wondered why my father doesn't let me leave the house.
First of all I don't like the outside, which is why I always stay inside. I do look out of the window sometimes when no one is at home and my father forgets to shut the blinds, which happens very rarely, and I get a glimpse of what the outside is like. Although I can only see as far as the row of houses in our street runs, I find it terribly confusing. This is because I don't know where the end is and the boundaries of everything seem infinite. Shizheyang. There are so many objects that are not in straight lines and it does make me feel extremely uneasy. Also there are a lot of irregular shapes I don't know how to name because they are not mentioned in my “Mathematica”, which is a mathematics textbook I keep on a bookshelf above my bed in my cuboid room. And sometimes I see strangers walking by and I have to hide because my step-father says no strangers are allowed to see me.
“Ming,” my Mother Lina said, “I have to tell you something about your step-father, just listen carefully, please.”
She paused and took a deep breath.
“Ming, do you know who the Righteous are?”
And I said, “Yes” because I read it in my step-dad's six-volume collection of “The History of Christianity”.
And she said, “Ming, do you know your step-father is a devoted follower of the teaching of the Righteous?”
And I said, “No.”
And she said, “Listen Ming, your step-father lives in his small dreamed up virtual spiritual world which adheres to the traditional rules of the Righteous. He firmly believes the teachings of the Righteous can create an ideal and peaceful world and believes any imperfections must be ruled out.”
And then I thought she would continue with something long again but she only said, “Do you follow me this far, Ming?”
And I said, “Yes” because I did.
“Among the Righteous community, any imperfections are universally regarded as vile deviations from the perfect, the unspoiled, the pristine and the faultless. Do you still follow me?”
And even now I did say, “Yes”, although I wasn’t quite sure where she was heading.
“Ming,” she paused, “do you know what is meant by imperfections?” And she said the last sentence significantly slower and she paused twice after “know” and “meant”, which were the two words she put extra emphasis on, which confused me.
I said, “No” because the word imperfections is too abstract for me and it could have so many different meanings.
She took a long shuddering breath and she said again, “Ming, one of the things the word imperfections refers to is a child born before marriage. The Righteous community regards children born before marriage as deviations from the perfect. She paused, “And you, Ming,” she paused again, “you were born before marriage.” And then there was a long complete silence.
So I continued thinking.
My thoughts slowly wandered back to our house and my contemplation about the “inside” and the “outside”. One thing I gradually realized about the “outside” is that I wouldn’t be able to find its center because I wouldn’t know where to start measuring. I managed to pinpoint the mathematical center of the “inside” with utmost precision as soon as I had learnt it in my “Mathematica”. And that had eventually lead to my conclusion that the house had to be a perfect cuboid. My mother Lina attempted to argue the house appears altogether different from the outside, not like a cuboid, but I don't like the outside, and from the inside it is a cuboid. Our cuboid house is divided into two smaller cuboids, top and bottom, or just floors, and there are four even smaller cuboids in the top cuboid, or just rooms, and two cuboids in the bottom cuboid, a kitchen and a living room. Shizheyang.
“Ming, this is the reason why your father doesn’t let you leave the house. Do you understand?”
And I didn’t say anything, partly because I really didn’t understand and partly because I really wanted to continue thinking about our house.
“Ming, you present an imperfection in the eyes of your step-father. You present the vile deviation from what he portrays as the perfect. Your step-father wants the first born son of this family to be perfect and he is determined to hide you from the outside world. Do you understand?”
A single tear frantically ran down my mother Lina's pale cheek.
“Ming, our lives are being helplessly dragged into the spiritual world of your step-father. When I married him four years ago I hoped his extreme religious views would change but we just can't live with him anymore!”
Sudden tears brimmed in her eyes. She stared helplessly into space as they uncontrollably spilled and trickled down her cheek.
“Our lives here are bound to stay the same, Ming,” she moaned softly in floods of tears, “we have to run away.”
I didn't say anything again because I found this terribly confusing.
“Ming, our only hope is to escape from your step-father,” she suddenly broke off and hastily wiped away the tears from her eyes, “and move away to the Chinese cities in the east.”
“We cannot live under all the restrictions imposed by the community of the Righteous. You cannot live forever being forbidden to come outside and be hidden from the outside world. Ming, we have to leave.”
For a moment I stopped thinking about the house. It made me feel extremely uneasy. Because this would mean I would have to leave my cuboid room with green walls in our cuboid house. I would have to find a new centre of our new place and I would feel extremely uneasy without having a centre for too long. Also I would have to go outside and I don't like the outside.
And I said “I don't want to leave.”
And then there was a long complete silence.
So I continued thinking.