Flee the Children

by Betty P

On any school day at 7.30am, you will find 番帝 crumpled under the weight of his Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles backpack being dragged to school by his grandma. Round the first corner, past the row of crammed stationary shops, past the zhenzhunaicha stalls, past the pimp your PSP shops, past the sellers plying stickers and hairbands and mobile phone charms from their blankets, past the coke stands and the ice cream freezers, round the next corner, and the next, street after Shanghai street panting with anticipation to accessorise the only-child masses. Hunched under his bag, he’s a latent italian renaissance comic book snail fighting China’s most serious disease.

Grandmother and grandson turn the last corner; he wriggles his hand free and sneaks past a glut of other kids, grabbing sticky fingers reaching for whatever they can get their hands on and rotten black teeth smiles dripping off their faces. He takes care not to bounce off the gauntlet of the 10 meals a day, pockets full of snacks, ‘why-don’t-you-just-have-another one’ bellies. He brushes a few, but it’s ok, they don’t notice. How would they? He dodges the karate belts, guitars, violin bows, ballet tutus, pianos, english books, taekwondo uniforms, Power Rangers figurines, ipods and bubugaos that the other grandparents are throwing into the playground from outside the railings. It’s a war zone, each apple of six sets of eyes springing forth, flailing T-Rex arms on bloated bodies, grabbing for the biggest and the best spoils falling out of the sky and ramming whatever they can find into the face of the nextdoor kid, “你看我的!” , “不!你看我的!” 13 hours later, when the final school bell goes, he’ll suffer it all over again in reverse.

On any weekend morning at 7.30am, you will find 番帝 resolute under the weight of an unmarked black backpack, striding out into the street,  “on his way to Disney English”. Mummy’s shout of “好好学习!” disappears into the noise of the traffic as rounds the first corner. He twists into action. Picking up stones, he hurls them at lightening speed into the first stationary shop he sees. Miffy and her pals go flying, bouncing all over the place, not knowing what the fuck hit them. Bunnies, aliens and bears panic, upsetting next door’s zhenzhunaicha stall – the air becomes heavy with toxic rainbow-coloured flavouring powder and glutinous pearls spill over the floor.

He moves on. There are no crowds for the tacky-crap merchants at the weekend, so it’s easy for him to whip the blankets from under their wares, throw them over their heads and shove them into the gutter. He zips on through the city. He has to strike somewhere he hasn’t struck before. Sugar shops that layer fat onto unsuspecting bodies and accessories stalls that encourage mind rot are well and good, but it’s the classes he’s really after. The classes that deprive the kids of that long-lost concept of a weekend lie-in. He glimpses a set of grinning ivory teeth flecked with black on a billboard and flies right towards it, busting in through the forth floor window into a room of two thousand tiny black heads plunking away at Greensleeves. Picking up a piano in each hand, he hurls them out of the window. The crash of wood, fake elephant bone plastic and the twang of strings is what he calls music. He does a few more and gets out of there. Then it’s on to Zhongshan Gongyuan – Saturday English class land. He powers on, First English, ESL or Cambridge English the only things on his mind. He spots one and is there in a flash. Getting up close past the bao’an, he picks out a couple of grenades, pulls the pins and rolls them in the door. The advert of the smiling Chinese and the smiling laowai holding hands rips apart satisfyingly in front of his eyes. As the debris fall to the ground, he finishes his work on the building, boarding up the remaining windows. Stepping back he does a quick calculation of how many he has saved from obesity, uselessness and sleep deprivation. It’s a mere few thousand, and the respite will be short, but he is satisfied and heads home. 

“英文课怎么样呢?” asks Mummy, as he trails in covered in coagulated milk tea and construction materials.

“Vely gud” he answers, sitting down to some of yesterday’s chaofan.