Monday, May 31, 2010


How long had it been? She couldn't remember. Her eyes were blurry and her throat was dry. Slowly she picked herself up from the floor, holding on to the wall that once was a door.

She tried to clear her throat, but the only sound it made was a scratchy echo rippled in the vast room. She looked around with a cold smile.

The walls were painted with deities to guide and welcome the pharaoh's arrival. The scripts next to them depicted what a great king he was. All the figurings, jewelries, furniture and everything else they thought the pharaoh would need in his afterlife was provided, richly decorated with glittering gold and priceless gems. The garnet ring whispered to her under the torch light with its crimson curse.

She grabbed the ring and threw it against the door with a desparate roar.

Her parents were more than relieved when she was picked by the pharaoh's court. They could barely feed the family of seven. Now she could take care of the family for a change.

And she did. The pharaoh was charmed by her gift of singing and dancing. She was showered with jewelries, presents and servants, and most of all, the pharaoh's frequent visit to her chamber. She sent most of the favors home.

"Papa, put these away for me please." She said. Her papa understood the unspoken words, and kept the small stash for her. The family was well fed now, but she was afraid of her position in the pharaoh's court. She couldn't give him a son, a tragedy saddened them both, but his love for her never wavered. It was his wife's jealous look that worried her the most.

Being the pharaoh's favorite woman, she imagined a quiet and secluded life after his passing. After all, he was quite a bit older than her. Although he promised to take care of her, she knew her fate would be uncertain once her protector was gone. Still, she had prayed to the gods that she would be sent home by the queen to live out the rest of her life.

She laughed. A tear slid down her cheek and she didn't wipe it away. She didn't suspect a thing when the queen told her to dress up for the funeral. We need to look our best for the pharaoh's journey, she said.

She was in the middle of the prayers when she suddenly realized her voice sounded hollow in the room. She looked up and saw the last of sunlight before the stone door slowly closed out the world behind it. She ran to it screaming, "No! Have mercy, My Lady!"

The queen's voice coldly replied, "Thank you for volunteering your companion, Amarna. We are grateful for your sacrifice." With that, the door was sealed forever.

The air felt cool and heavy in her chest. There wasn’t much time left. She found a hairpin in the jewelry chest and started carving on the wall. She and her family would be long gone when someone saw this—if it would be seen at all. Her only hope was her story would be told, and her name would be remembered.

Her malachite-green eye shadows were smeared with black eyeliners by tears, but nobody would witness it. She would leave the gold and turquoise necklace, bracelets and headdress on her, so one day people will have a clue as who she was from her remains.

I may not have an afterlife for the lack of a proper burial, but my name will live forever--she promised herself.

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(A trip to the Egyptian museum inspired my wild imagination.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Veil of the Night

I adjust the paper bag in my hand before opening the door to the living room. Not because I have anything to hide. I hope for her sake she knows how to behave by now. It's easier if she doesn't see the wine right away.

She comes over with a smile and says 'hi honey.' I peck her cheek just light enough to keep her on her toes. It tells her to watch out and leave me alone. Sure enough, her smile becomes somewhat uncertain. A subtle cloud arises between us just the way I wanted.

I suppress a chuckle with pursed lips. It's the oldest trick on earth--the best defense is an early offense. She is weak as usual to counter my game plan.

The kids stand half way on the stairs and say hi to me before quietly going back to their homework. I stop and listen for a while--it is quiet upstairs as usual. They know the rule: no TV before finishing their homework. I will not have a noisy house when I come home, and this assures it stay that way.

They are good kids--if you think getting good grades at school and not rowdy like other teenagers are good. I make sure they understand where they are in my eyes. When she showed me the daughter's report card with all As, I reminded her that she was not in the special program for gifted kids. She got quiet.

Don't even try to imply I am stupid because I didn't finish college. I easily proved to the three of them I was smarter than any of them. Now they tip-toe around me just as I expected.

It is even easier with the boy. He is a happy little guy with short memory span. There is no lacking of words or opportunities to put him in his place. "Dumb-ass" seems to quiet him down fast enough.

I provide this home for them, and I make sure they appreciate it and worship me properly. I need them to show that nobody is more superior to me.

She is cooking something in the kitchen. I walk in there and take a silent look into the pan. I walk out with a glass and a bottle opener. This will no doubt make her doubt her own cooking and leave me further alone.

I listen to the soft chatters between her and the kids in the kitchen while quietly nursing my White Zin in the living room. I know she glanced at my direction a few times, wondering what was wrong. Just the way I wanted her to feel.

I might open a second bottle if the moods fit me. This should teach her a lasting lesson.

She had the nerve to challenge me to stop drinking. For a whole month! I told her I could stop any time I wanted, and I took up her challenge successfully for two weeks. That should be more than enough to prove that I didn't have a problem. I saw no point in continuing it. So what if I drink a bottle or two after work? It's not a big deal, and it irks me that she thinks it is. It's the reward I deserve after a day in the office.

The best way to make her stop challenging me is to turn the table on her. I did it for years, on many people. I knew it would work, and it did not disappoint. I took over control on everything within a month.

The old man's face slowly surfaces as I start the first glass. The anger I felt when he raised his fist to my mother, the shame I felt when he called me names, and the worst of all: the fear and powerlessness he made me feel every time he had a drunken rage. I take a big gulp from the glass to dampen the nameless anger rising inside.

I swore I would never feel that way again--by anyone. I make sure she knows I have no problem raising my fist to her--the way I did to the one before her. I am, after-all, three times her weight. I could break her with two fingers. She knows very well that I am a real man. Too bad the old man isn't here, but she and the kids are.

It is getting late. The house is quiet. They know I don't like laughter or noise. The old man's face starts to fade as the White Zin goes down in the bottle. I think I will open another one just to make sure he vanishes completely.

When I go up there she has better be ready. The king of the night will take whatever he pleases.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

E. O. E.

“Guess what I found out?”

Sharla and I became friends after working several months together, and we talked once in a while after I left.

“What?” Her tone of voice piqued my curiosity; although I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to find out. I braced myself for the suspense.

“Judy, one of the new hires, is the sister of the other team lead – Pam.”

The forgotten rage flooded back with a vengeance. So many questions were suddenly answered.

QHF was one of the major energy companies in this state. The interview for the contract job had gone well with two supervisors, and I didn’t mind the long commute too much. It was a nice change to trade driving with reading on the train.

However, the job itself left much to be desired. Of each and every step in the project management process, an approval was required. Project assistants spent most of their days sending out, chasing after, and archiving these approvals. Whoever designed this process must have lived in the 19th century and stayed there. I watched with dread each time I glanced at their enormous spreadsheet used just to keep track of the status of all the approvals.

Thank heavens I didn’t have to do that. The manager whose work I was supporting decided not to manage her program, which was entirely different from other projects, with this cumbersome process. I did have to spend a lot of time converting spreadsheet data into a project plan in the beginning, and run intricate reports weekly, but I would do anything not to chase the approval papers daily.

The same manager also fought with two other groups to have me on her projects full-time. I was working on her projects on a part-time basis, and she was quite happy with my work. She looked intimidating, and most people shied away from working with her. I was able to look past her serious exterior and got along with her amicably -- much to my co-workers’ amazement.

I had dealt with HR department of both large and small companies long enough to ignore the first two emails encouraging us to apply for the new position. Besides, some contract jobs I had lasted longer than some of my “real" jobs, and I had become accustomed to certain degree of freedom that came with  contract josb. The second email was forwarded by my reporting supervisor with blind copies to anonymous recipients.

One morning my reporting supervisor came to my desk asking me to apply. I thought about it for a long time, then decided not to let her feel snubbed. It was a public company. Surely they would follow the laws, right?

I went through two rounds of interview. They went well. One day a man from HR called and asked for my pay rate. He indicated that he was working on an offer for me and needed that information. I was excited and started to plan my near future in the following few weeks. The job wasn’t ideal, but it provided a starting point, not to mention some sense of security that would be nice to have.

Instead of an offer letter, I received a “Thanks but no thanks” email from HR two weeks later. They had decided on a “more qualified candidate.” I saw the subsequent announcement email with the new hires’ qualifications listed. Four out of five new hires didn't have either the degree or the related work experiences required. At least two out of five didn’t have better qualifications than I did - Judy was one of them. The HR was working on my offer when they called. What happened between then and now?

I had no ways or means to fight with a team of corporate lawyers, who were paid for the sole purpose of defending the company’s interests. I talked to the sympathetic but powerless manager who I worked with, and did the only thing I could -- I left and never went back. I felt bad for leaving, but not as bad as the indication that I was unfit for the job, regardless how well it was working out for all parties involved, so they had to hire those less qualified people to fill the positions.

After I left, I was told the contractor who replaced me was so underqualified that her co-worker refused to train her. The comment I heard was "I don't have all day to train her on the basic skills she should have." She got the job because her half-sister worked there. That was not as bad, though, as the news I just heard from Sharla now.

I wonder what kind of connections the other four had.

For a few weeks I had really thought an enormous company with state-wide offices and employees would follow the laws and practice fair hiring. I was so pathetically wrong.

Next time I see the fine print on a company’s job site that says “We Are an Equal Opportunity Employer” I will be laughing so hard that my sides will split open. I will probably need medical attention, but it will be completely worth it.

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