Word count: 1956
THE LEGEND OF MAO LOPEZ
His name suggested intrigue just listening to it-- Mao Tse Tung Lopez-- Chinese on his father’s side and Mexican American on his mother’s. Whether he used his mother’s maiden name last because of the Chinese tradition for placing surnames first, or for some other reason, only he knew. That suggested a loner’s complexity.
His long silky black hair braided in the back, framed deep water-gray, almond-Asian eyes that graced a smooth bronzed face featuring high cheek-bones, and a Mexican-Indian slightly, wide nose, over a slender almost delicate mouth.
Mao moved his sinewy body with the quiet assuredness of an athletic, bullfighter. His average height, tempered with effortless movement, drew admiring glances from both men and women around the streets and haunts of San Francisco’s Chinatown, where he’d lived his entire twenty-five years.
Mao’s survivability held no concern for those who knew him, legend convinced them he wasn’t a man to be trifled with. Some could recount how they’d seen him stare an assailant with a switch-blade into submission without saying a word; then, after the blade had been dropped, he simply turned and walked slowly away, exposing his back without worry, as if having forgotten the assailant existed.
Others could relate the time they observed Mao take down a man twice his size with only his thumb, somehow inserted between the man’s neck and collar bone.
He had no singularly special lady friend, but wasn’t known for attending and discarding women as might a Lothario. Those he spent time with weren’t inclined to comment about his abilities as a Casanova. Neither was he either a critic or a braggart of his possible liaisons.
Mao lived alone in a converted loft above an Oriental artifacts store on California Street in the heart of the district. He traveled among awninged, open-air, fresh-fish stands, antique shops, herbal and organic food stores, Asian- pharmaceuticals, Oriental rug, and furniture import-shops. The sounds and smells of which were as familiar and necessary to him as breath itself; his environment not only gave him his legacy but provided its essential stage.
A stranger to most of Chinatown’s citizens, but not without recognition, they acknowledged Mao neither critically nor familiarly, but with a studied, distant acceptance. He deliberately antagonized none and few would antagonize him.
If this tale has a believable meaning, Chinatown-San Francisco, is the only place it could happen.
As disciplined and as circumspect about seeking trouble as Mao may have been, it didn’t mean others might not feel differently about confronting him. To the contrary, his avoidance of certain people was a specific lure in the dark foreboding streets of certain Chinatown areas, enough to arouse within them the inclination to build a reputation at Mao’s expense.
The aura of Chinatown itself teemed with years of mystery and myth, perceived danger, and historical documentation of wrongs committed, lingering still for vengeance. Colorful history was augmented with the horror of unspeakable crimes and terrifying individuals with little or no scruples and a shortage of human compassion, archetypes of whom descended unto the present.
It was inevitable therefore that the legend of Mao Lopez would require not only the maintenance of his quiet strength, but additionally the episodic danger of confrontation, unwanted or not.
There dwelled within those very streets one man known only as ‘Mongoose.’ Not at all cautious about whom he might offend, as confident and assured of his ability to intimidate his enemies as Mao was loathe to offend or court trouble with his.
It could have been said the two men were destined to cross paths, if for no other reason than fate demanded it. Yet, a simple rationale precipitated their eventual encounter. Mao had the effrontery to exist in Chinatown at the same time during which Mongoose did; that, evidently, provided reason enough for Mongoose.
Physically, the man, Mongoose, appeared to have little to fear from the average size and build, though sinewy, of Mao. The former was taller by several inches and more muscular by virtue of years of weight training and skirmishing in gang wars, as well as a seven year stint served in Folsom prison for assaulting another gang leader who would have been killed had it not been for the early intervention of the police.
So then, there was something about Mao... his walk, his own confidence, or perhaps his apparent lack of fear in the presence of Mongoose on those few occasions they had been in the same place. Mao disturbed the former convict to his core.
Because Mao wouldn’t initiate any action on his own, it was left to the bigger man to force a confrontation. Mongoose’s method was as contemptible as were the foul slanders he liberally spread, about his intended target in the neighborhood.
When they met, not accidently, on the street, Mongoose said, "Mao Tse Tung Lopez, I have heard your mother was a Mexican whore and your father was a weakling who couldn’t sleep with a real woman so he had to pay for his fornication." He snarled at Mao to measure the affect of his defamation.
As Mongoose spewed his venom, Mao was recalling what almost everyone in Chinatown knew about how his father had been an early convert in the People’s Revolution which brought Mao Tse Tung to power in China. This was the beginning of the rebellion toward Communism, in the mid nineteen-twenties and thirties. Later, after becoming disheartened at the atrocities committed by the various factions of the Chinese Communists, including General Mao Tse Tung’s political bedfellows, he migrated to San Francisco. He married a beautiful Mexican dancer, Felicia Lopez. Perhaps from some nostalgic loyalty, he named his first born for the Great Mao.
Rumor prevailed that Mao’s father became an assassin for the Tong for many years before he retired a very wealthy man. Supposedly only those who deserved their fate died at his hand. They called him ‘Sansoran’ which meant ‘man of illusions.’
He and Felicia lived in an elegant apartment building over looking the San Francisco Bay until a fire gutted the building killing them both. It was where Mao was born. If the fire was an accident or an act of revenge against Mao’s father, no one knew.
With no visible emotion, Mao quietly answered Mongoose’s rebuke. "Your words serve only to discredit your intelligence, Mongoose."
"And your words do nothing to delay the pleasure I will have when I decide to destroy the fabricated old wive’s tale that is Mao Lopez." Mongoose turned and spoke derisively with his companions. "Come, we will allow this son of a whore to contemplate his pain when next we meet."
"I am easy to find, anytime... even for you." Mao returned to his afternoon stroll through the streets crowded with tourists and cars moving slowly, horns blaring, drivers either frustrated with the inevitable obstacles of traffic in Chinatown, or fascinated at the vibrating contrast of an ancient Asian marketplace in the middle of a modern American city.
As he drifted with no apparent destination, Mao’s mind fixed on a puzzle. Why would Mongoose use such obvious lies for his insults? And why would he use the Old Language, instead of the street language he was obviously brought up with?
He meditated as his inner-self shut off the street noise and he maneuvered in a vacuum, avoiding others by sensory-recognition between his and their auras. In this state, an oft practiced habit, Mao separated his spirit from the physical matter shaping himself and communicated with those spirits existing on that plane to solve problems at the physical level.
In a span of suspended time, a story unfolded itself for Mao:
Years back, when his father first met his mother, a giant of a man constantly hovered around her. He was protective of her, especially during her performances when she danced. She appreciated the protection, because truly, some men lusted for her; she was strikingly evocative and beautiful, especially when she held the stage. The giant wouldn’t let anyone close enough to her who might cause her harm. For Felicia, he was like a big brother; she loved him specifically that way.
But, when Mao’s father came into her world, Felicia knew this was the man for whom she’d been born. As they began to discover each other, less and less need for the hovering giant existed. Felicia gently let him know she would be perfectly safe with the man she loved. Both, Felicia and Mao’s father let him know he would always be a trusted and welcome friend.
But the man blatantly interfered on the privacy they longed for. Until finally, Mao’s father took their friend aside and explained, there were places and situations in which he and Felicia needed to be alone to enjoy only each other.
Unexpectedly, this enraged their friend so greatly he put his huge hands around Mao’s father’s neck and proceeded to choke him. A tragic mistake. Mao’s father seized one of his fingers and bent it back so far it snapped. The giant, although in great pain, still attempted to re-grip his throat, but now, Sansoran focused, immersed into a state of mind permitting him to evade any physical harm while inundating his opponent with horrifying life-like illusions of warriors of death.
All the giant could see was the image of powerful armored warriors on horseback charging at him with glistening multi-pointed steel spears. He cried out, shrieking incoherently and fled to avoid what he felt was certain death.
Sansoran and Felicia never saw him again.
Shortly after this vision, Mao made a quiet visit to Mongoose’s lair. He sat across from the big man whose muscles were sculpted as from steel. His charcoal dyed t-shirt rippled over his bronzed arms as if it were a granite smooth skin. His black, coal-hard eyes conveyed the knowledge Mao had made an egregious error coming into his territory unaccompanied.
Mao, obviously unaware of the danger he placed himself in, calmly repeated the vision he had while he walked in the Chinatown streets.
Mongoose, entertained enough to delay, for a time, his pleasure at finally destroying this fool, listened contentedly. When Mao was through, he said, "Do you think I am unaware of the lie you have lived under, and took refuge behind, all these years? My father had been sick in his mind for years before then, because of your foolish mother, who couldn’t see him as the man who would have protected her."
Without waiting for a response Mongoose rose and, as the hard steel of the double-edged knife he carried flashed in Mao’s vision, Mongoose slashed at what he considered to be a defenseless dolt.
Mao’s understanding gaze never left the man they called Mongoose. It was as though Mongoose’s blade had hit concrete, it shattered like glass.
Mao stood slowly and sighed.
Mongoose stared, fixed in another universe, with the broken shank in his hand. His cold, black, vacant eyes, had given way to wide-open portals of fear. In time he would walk again among his neighbors. Known as ‘he who walks vacantly.’
When Mao was but a small boy his father would walk with him in the streets of Chinatown. They enjoyed, together, the wonder that surrounded them. Mao learned from his father that, no matter how long he lived, his father would always walk beside him, just as Mao would walk with his son when the time came. The ancient traditions involving the mystery of the spiritual were learned in this manner. It was the benefit for those who walked respectfully with their ancestors, they would never be without the light of perfect wonder. Those who walked without the truth, walked alone, in confusion.