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Fiction #307
(published December 7, 2006)
Friend or Enemy?
by Kit Kelen and Vivian Kuan
Two cockroaches were gossiping while they were eating rice from a lunchbox.

'Have you read the Cockroach Daily News today?' F621 asked.

'No, I haven't. What happened?' M629 responded.

'Fifty corpses discovered in the rubbish bin yesterday! It's on the front page.'

'It's not surprising, is it? Fifteen is quite normal.'

'No, it's fifty! Not fifteen!'

'What? Well, that's a serious matter.'

'The story says the victims had penetrated into human domestic space and that was how they got killed.'

'They deserve their fate. You know, I always say, humans are dangerous. It's one thing to eke out an existence from their garbage but to go where they live..? No cockroach can survive in close quarters with those monsters. You'd better stay in our Rubbish Kingdom, you know, that's our place. That's the moral of the story. You know, I'm really worried about M944. He has been risking his life,' M629 went on with his mouth so full that F621 had trouble making out what he was saying.


While M629 was still chewing on his last mouthful, Ah Ming was passing through the boarder gate from the human world and into Rubbish Kingdom Headquarters. Ah Ming saw F621 and M629 written on the back of the two cockroaches talking, so he walked over to his friends and greeted them. Only cockroaches could see these special numbers.

'Hey, buddies, I'm back,' he smiled at them.

'Hi, M944,' M629 and F621 chorused.

'Friends, I have told you a thousand times. I have a name. Don't call me by my identification number.' Ah Ming put on a proud expression as he corrected them.

'Come on, it's weird to call you "Ah Ming" when everybody here is named by numbers.' M629 was annoyed.

'Well, it's really weird to me if you call me M944. I am used to "Ah Ming" and I like my name. Anyway, what are you guys talking about?' Ah Ming asked.

'We are talking about how bad the humans are. And this news is especially important for you. Fifty dead! Fifty! You know, you stay with the humans all the time. It's too dangerous over there.' M629 spoke with great passion and sincerity.


The world at that time was dominated by our Cockroach Kingdom and of course there was the human world as well. We were where the rubbish was. The rubbish station was our headquarters. All of us believed that humans were our enemies because humans had been killing millions of our people. Not a day went by without the cockroach papers reporting at least twenty cockroaches deaths from the human terror. Although we could reproduce in great numbers and more cockroaches were born all the time, still it was scary to hear about the deaths happening every day. There was however one male cockroach (number M944) who also had a human name; 'Ah Ming' refused to hear his friends' advice. He liked to be with humans, and he treated them as friends.


'Don't worry, I am very safe on the other side. Mr Lou has been my best human friend ever since I was born in his kitchen. He is very kind to me, and I am sure that he would never hurt me.' Ah Ming was delighted whenever he talked about Mr Lou. But his friends were suspicious. They did not believe what he said about the human world.

'Come on, trust me. Let me show you. Come with me to Mr Lou's house. Now!' So it was Ah Ming took them to his human friend's place.

Ah Ming spent most of his life time with a human called Fishball Lou, who was a fishball seller. When M629, F621 and Ah Ming arrived at Mr Lou's ground floor house, Mr Lou was pulling down the door gate. He had a very sad face. The three cockroaches saw the gate coming down and rushed and rushed and just barely made it into Mr Lou's house.

Every day, Mr Lou would pull the fishball cart outside his house into the street in order to begin his business. On this particular day, Mr Lou did not notice the three cockroaches because he was busy cleaning his cart. This was very unusual for Mr Lou. While Mr Lou was cleaning, Ah Ming was showing M629 and F621 around the house.

'So messy! I love it! Just like the Rubbish Kingdom.' Ah Ming asked his friends. 'Don't you feel at home already?'

'Exactly the same,' replied F621, and really she was quite surprised.

'Not really the same. It's even messier than our Kingdom!' M629 added.

'I love this place, it is a paradise,' Ah Ming praised his home.

'Absolutely. A beautiful paradise!' his friends shouted in amazement.

'Look! I usually sleep on that pile of trash over there. It's huge and comfortable.' What Ah Ming was pointing out to them was actually the dirtiest corner of Mr Lou's dirty house.

'What's this?' M629 picked up a soft yellow ball of something that had to be food.

'Fishball. Food. That's my favourite. You know, Mr Lou's business is selling fishballs. Everyday he will place the fishball cart in front of his house. Many human kids like eating fishballs, because fishballs really taste good especially when they are dressed with curry sauce. Yummy! Do you want to eat some? I usually hide under the plate on the cart and come out to taste the curry sauce when the customers aren't watching.'

'I prefer the fishballs to the sauce, but they are so hot and we can't get them from the cart. Still I really want to have some.' F621 was getting hungrier and hungrier as the conversation went on.

'Fishballs. That's easy. Can you see there are two containers and a large plastic bag over near the television? Those are cold,' Ah Ming pointed with his front leg.

Ah Ming's friends followed him over to the bag of cold fishballs by the television. Ah Ming told them that inside the bag were thousands of uncooked fishballs. He also told them that the already-cooked curry fishballs were stored in the containers. The three of them climbed up to the lid of one of the containers and looked down. Inside the container was a deep pool of yellow liquid, and there were lots of yellow balls floating on it.

'I can't swim,' said F621.

'Neither can I. I am scared of water,' M629 chimed in.

'Let me do it. I was trained to be a good swimmer ever since I was young. Watch me carefully. I will jump into the pool, make a u-turn at the bottom and then come up as hard and as fast as I can. My aim will be to head the first ball I can out of the water for you to catch.'


'Don't tell me you can't swim and you can't catch either? You must try your best.'

F621 and M629 felt a little shy but they agreed to try their best. Before they could blink Ah Ming was diving into the pool — just like a dolphin in Ocean Park — and within seconds a fishball was flying at them like a canon ball. Neither had a chance of catching it but they watched where it went and quickly leaped after it. They wondered why Ah Ming hadn't caught up with them yet but they didn't wonder for long because before they could reach that first fish ball other 'canon balls' came flying at them. Ah Ming kept up his trick until his friends begged him to stop. By that time he'd already 'fired' five fishballs in their direction: enough to feed a family for a week!

Now the cockroaches were able to taste the curry fishballs. It was a party and the three friends enjoyed themselves with what they all now decided was their favourite food.

'You're right, M944,' M629 said, but it was hard to make out what he was saying because his mouth was so full at the time. 'Fishballs are good, spicy and soft. By the way, it's strange that you are the only cockroach in this human's house. Why didn't the others come and live here?' M629 looked curiously at Ah Ming.

'Well, there are quite a lot living here, but they always hide themselves. They don't care about Mr Lou, and he doesn't care about them either. I am his only friend. You see,' Ah Ming turned his back to show them, 'he has put a mark on my back.' Ah Ming's friends looked hard but they could not see the mark. 'But we can't see it,' they said.

Ah Ming turned his head and realised that he couldn't see what the others couldn't see. He did a little dance round in a circle in order to look at his back. But it was hopeless. He was about to give up when he saw his reflection in a mirror. Still, in the mirror he could only see his head and his antennae, he couldn't see his back. In the mirror though he could see the television set reflected and on the television screen he did have a view of himself from the back. And now he realized the reason neither he nor either of his friends could see the mark he wanted to see. 'Oh, what a shame!' Ah Ming cried, 'My whole body is covered with curry sauce from the diving. That's why you guys can't see the mark.' Ah Ming tried to shake and to dance off the sauce. They looked at him strangely, now they knew what they had always suspected: Ah Ming was completely mad. But it was true also that now his friends could see, but just barely, a blurred letter "M" was painted in white on Ah Ming's back. 'Mr Lou wrote that letter on my back because he really loves me and doesn't want to get me confused with any other cockroach.' Ah Ming looked very proud as he spoke.

'Where is the human's family?' F621 continued their conversation. She didn't know what to think of this idea that a human could love a cockroach. It just seemed . . . ridiculous to her.

Ah Ming explained Lou's story. 'He told me that his wife had gone away and his son, Ah Ming, had died when he was five years old. Mr Lou feels lonely. That's why he named me 'Ah Ming' — because he misses his son very much. I always cheer him up when he looks sad. Like this!' Ah Ming turned himself around so his back was on the floor and he moved his legs very fast, then he turned over again and turned back again. He had repeated this mad action several times. His friends couldn't help but laugh. Then Ah Ming stopped and continued, 'Then Mr Lou will be happy and award me a fishball, or at least half of one.'

M629 had a puzzled expression on his face. 'Ah Ming, you never told us about your family, do you live with them?'

'I don't know them. I have never seen them since I was born. I was brought up here, in Mr Lou's flat. Until I met you, M629, near the trash bin at the end of this street, until you asked my ID number . . . well, I didn't know I needed a number. I didn't know that I had to register myself in the Rubbish Kingdom. I got registered and I got my number but I still like living here. Mr Lou is a good man. I want to stay with him for . . . all my life. He's my family.' And now Ah Ming was choking back the tears, he was so emotional. M629 thought this was very funny, F621 was trying not to laugh.


The three cockroaches did not pay any attention to Mr Lou, who was at the other end of the tiny flat, washing his cart much more carefully than usual, and doing something very odd indeed: he was throwing away hot fishballs, the ones he'd normally be selling to customers. In fact Mr Lou shouldn't have been home at this time at all, he should have been out selling. Now, he was sweeping the floor, again very carefully. Ah Ming was surprised that Mr Lou was cleaning his house. Mr Lou had never done this much before. Ah Ming looked at the clean cart and the clean floor and he felt very uncomfortable.

Ah Ming was still puzzling over Mr Lou's strange behaviour when a female cockroach, who had hidden herself behind a cupboard for a long time, came to join them. Ah Ming did not recognise her, but he could see from her face that she looked very frightened.

'Ah Ming!! Why . . . are . . . you . . . still . . . here?' she panted.

'Why not? It's my home. Why shouldn't I be here? But what's happening? What's making Mr Lou doing the cleaning?' Ah Ming was confused.

'He . . . he . . . he . . . ,' she was still panting.

'Speak faster!' he requested.

'He . . . he . . . wants . . . to . . . kill . . . kill . . . AHHH . . . ' she screamed and ran away. Ah Ming thought she was mad.

What a strange day it was!

Then he saw a big slipper coming down from above. There was a tremendous banging sound and the slipper was hitting her hard. Ah Ming rushed to help her but she was already gone, murdered. What was happening? Ah Ming couldn't remember who she was but he couldn't bear to see her killed. The sight made him feel ill. Ah Ming didn't have too much time to think about the situation though because now from the other end of the room he could here — bang, bang — that slipper coming down again and again. And Ah Ming saw who was wielding the slipper. It was Mr Lou!

Ah Ming was now totally lost. None of this made sense. How could his friend and protector be killing his kind? 'What's going on?' he asked, 'Can anybody tell me?' His friends only stepped backward to get out of the way. They were afraid that they would be killed as well. Each had selected some item of rubbish under which to hide.

But it was too late to escape. Mr Lou was now clearing the trash that Ah Ming used to sleep on and play with. Mr Lou was sweeping the rubbish into a large black plastic bag.

'Run!' Ah Ming shouted as loud as he could. The three of them ran now, out from under their hiding places. They ran across the moving rubbish.

'Watch out! The broom!' The three of them narrowly escaped and they kept on running. Ah Ming was in the lead. Now Mr Lou could see three cockroaches tearing away. He put aside the broom and quickly removed a slipper, ready to hit them.

The three cockroaches knew from his looming shadow that Mr Lou was chasing after them. Ah Ming's cockroach friends were so afraid that they kept on calling for help. Ah Ming still did not believe what was happening but he knew he must run. 'Hold on! There is a hole, can you see?' He encouraged his friends to run faster. But just at the last moment, Ah Ming shouted, 'Oh, my God! Stop! Stop! STOP!'

Bomm . . . But since the three cockroaches were running so fast, they failed to stop and they crashed into the wall. They'd seen the hole and they'd run towards it but they hadn't been looking while they were running. That was why they'd now crashed into the lemon tea paper box Mr Lou had used to block the hole which had been in front of them.

So now the cockroaches had no way to escape. Ah Ming shouted 'Move! Run through his legs!' He was thinking on his many feet.

'Move!' they all shouted together and started running at the same time. Mr Lou saw what they were doing. He raised his slipper to hit one of them. It was F621. She was sacrificed to the eternal struggle between humans and cockroaches. Ah Ming saw that now. It was as if something had snapped inside Ah Ming.

'No!!!' shouted M629. He looked back and hesitated a little.

Ah Ming shouted back at him, 'Don't stop! Keep running! We have no time.' M629 didn't want to leave F621, even though she was gone. They weren't just friends! M629 turned and he ran back towards F621's corpse.

'No! Go back! Don't be so stupid! There's nothing . . . ' Ah Ming shouted, but it was already too late.

'Ahrrrrghhh!' M629 was also hit by Mr Lou's slipper. He lay beside F621, and he held her foremost leg tightly. A last twitch of his antennae, he was gone.

Ah Ming was now alone facing Mr Lou. He was so exhausted that he had to slow down. Ah Ming really wished his old friend would recognise him from his mark, but he knew that it was blurred from the sauce. His cockroach friends could only see the mark when they came very near to him. Ah Ming could not run anymore, he had used up his energy. What could he do to make Mr Lou remember him? All Ah Ming could think at this point was that Mr Lou was temporarily insane but that if he could make him remember who he was then everything might be back to normal. Now Ah Ming knew what to do and knowing gave him strength. He had to show Mr Lou some happy memory from their past together.

What happy times they'd always had when Ah Ming had jumped in and out of the fish ball container. So now Ah Ming was climbing up to the fishball container again, just to remind Mr Lou. Mr Lou had stopped trying to hit him. There was a strange look of concentration on the man's face. Ah Ming was glad that Mr Lou had remembered him. Now any sensible cockroach would have seen that Mr Lou didn't care about Ah Ming. Mr Lou was only afraid that he would spill his precious curry sauce on the floor. Mr Lou waited till the cockroach was inside the box. He put the lid on the box, he carried the container out and then, taking the lid off again, he emptied its contents into the bin at the end of the street. Even Ah Ming — blinded as he was by his 'friendship' with this human — could see what was happening now. The dream had vanished. Ah Ming was being — had been — thrown away.


But why had Mr Lou done what he'd done? Ah Ming couldn't answer this question but actually it was easy to understand why Mr Lou did what he did. It was because, some humans felt sick after eating Mr Lou's fishballs. One day, two unfamiliar humans had come, dressed in uniforms, and talked to Mr Lou. After showing their work I.D.s to him, they requested to inspect Mr Lou's business environment: where he prepared food, how he cleaned up and so on. After the inspection, Mr Lou's fishball seller's license was cancelled.

Mr Lou had to throw away all the contaminated fishballs. That was the reason why Ah Ming was thrown away as well. Mr Lou's fishball license was cancelled but Mr Lou had not given up the idea of running his own business. That was why he was cleaning his working and living place, and that was why he was killing every cockroach he could. Mr Lou hoped to get a new license. Mr Lou had lost one son, Ah Ming, and now he had disowned another: the cockroach he'd named after his own flesh and blood.

Poor Ah Ming! How could he have understood the change of heart his human friend had undergone? Ah Ming was lying inside the rubbish bin. His heart had never felt such pain. To make things worse, it was raining heavily. The big drops of rain fell down on his exhausted body. Each was like a deluge dent to drown him but the flood he faced was nothing compared with the pain of the swords that were tearing him inside, in his heart and head.

Ah Ming cried louder and louder but neither humans nor cockroaches heard his cry. Ah Ming felt hopeless now. He was cheated by his one human friend and his cockroach companions were dead. He did not want to live anymore. When more and more rubbish was thrown into the bin, Ah Ming made no effort to escape but just lay there hoping the end would come. Soon the world became darker and darker and soon he fainted away.

It was already early afternoon. The sun was shining brightly in the sky and a shaft of sunlight penetrated all the rubbish that was lying on top of Ah Ming. That shaft of sun shone straight into his jet black head. Ah Ming opened one eye and then another. He had survived and he was a new cockroach now. It was close contact with the essence of rubbish that had brought Ah Ming to recognize his mission on earth. Rubbish, you must understand, is what purifies and sanctifies we cockroaches.

In his new frame of mind, Ah Ming knew what his wings were for. Ah Ming realized that he too was a powerful creature. It was desire for vengeance that gave him power. Ah Ming was to be a cockroach avenger!

Ah Ming meditated briefly on his friends' death and on Mr Lou's betrayal. That human could not be allowed to go so easily. It was only now that Ah Ming understood the universal law: man is man and roach is roach and never the twain shall meet.

Ah Ming raised one of his arms towards heaven and swore aloud, 'To all the rubbish that ever was, to every rotting stinking fishball a human every threw out, I now swear. That filthy old man who has betrayed me is my enemy! I will fight him until I die.' Then — in the very formal cockroach language no human could ever understand — he shouted to his adversary, 'You Fishball Lou, I assure you that you will suffer. You deserve this. Your sufferings must match your crimes!'

Ah Ming was much more confident and much more powerful than before. He flew from the bin straight to the home of his former friend. Before he could enter the humble home, he noticed a big yellow card stuck on Lou's cart. On it was written 'Lou Gei Zha Mut'. Mr Lou's new business was selling deep fried food. Ah Ming heard a little boy ordering, 'Excuse me, I want three chicken wings and one bag of French fries, please.' A voice from far inside called loudly, 'Wait a minute, please.' And Mr Lou came out from the back of his house.

'We meet again, buddy.' The cockroach flew straight at the man's head. 'Ouch!' Mr Lou was packing the food for the boy. He could not see the flying creature but he felt a sudden blow to his forehead. Now Mr Lou was alert and looking around.

Ah Ming landed on the cart. Man and roach were staring at each other. Their war began. The cockroach flew in among the deep fried food and moved his wings rapidly, 'Virus attack!' he shouted. Immediately, Mr Lou raised the frying utensil which was to his right. He was confident of hitting his target.


But immediately there were many much louder noises. Ah Ming quickly jumped to the ground, out of the way, while all of Mr Lou's food trays — French fries, fried fishballs and fried eggplants — came tumbling down to the ground.

'Oh, my food!' the miserable human cried out. Then Mr Lou bent down to pick up what was left of his livelihood. It was only at that moment, he noticed the cockroach was still alive and was flying towards him again. Mr Lou grabbed the newspaper that he had been reading and began waving it in front of him to defend himself. Ah Ming then flew around him. Mr Lou was still waving his newspaper as he chased Ah Ming round in circles.

Lou felt dizzy after turning round and round for a while. His was vision was blurry now and all he could see of Ah Ming was a fuzzy dot moving in the air and that fuzzy dot was now landing on his tray. Oil, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard: everything was on that tray! If that cockroach put one foot in any of those sauces there would be cockroach germs everywhere. Lou couldn't afford his new snack selling license to be cancelled again like his previous fishball business. He would not let history repeat itself!

Although Ah Ming was merely a fuzzy dot in Mr Lou's blurry eyes, in the snack seller's mind there was nothing but the cockroach. Ah Ming, on the other hand, was waiting on the tray to trap the man. Lou hit the tray and those sauces and he thought at first that he had hit the cockroach as well. The oil fell. The soy sauce toppled over. The vinegar spilled, the mustard oozed down over the edge. All the while Lou was trying to save something from his tray, anything. In the end he not only failed to save a drop of sauce but he lost his own balance in his effort to juggle all those falling items. The last thing he grabbed at was the ketchup squeezer. It must all have taken less than three seconds, but there was Lou, face down in the oil and soy and vinegar and with ketchup all over his back. He appeared to his customers now as the bloody vanquished gladiator. What the customers might not so easily have noticed was the victorious Ah Ming standing proudly on top of Lou's head — his armour unscathed — as if triumphing in the arena over some wild beast.


That was the end of that particular battle but the fight has kept on to this day. You should know that Ah Ming and Mr Lou have remained till now under the same roof together, although their roles are far different now from what they were in the days of their friendship. Their hatred would never be diminished and the war between them would never end.

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