I had a fright the other night,
by David Lewis Paget
I dreamt that I was ill,
The Angels fluttered round my bed,
They said: 'Now you be still! '
My heart beat like a pounding drum,
The pain was like a sword,
I had one thought, and only one:
'Don’t let me die in China, Lord! '
The vision would not let me be,
I saw the future clear,
The landlord breaking down the door
To find me lying there.
'The Lao Wai’s gone, not paid the rent! '
He’d say in pu tong hua,
'We’d better call the embassy
They’ll send around a car.'
The embassy refused the car,
They didn’t want to show,
'He must belong to someone else,
He isn’t ours, you know! '
The neighbours filed in through the door
To look the last on me,
And clear the flat of anything
Not quite nailed down, you see.
'He looks all right, now that he’s dead, '
One mother told her son,
'Perhaps we should have talked to him.'
'- a little late now, Mum!
They say he studied pu tong hua
But never got it sussed,
We’ll have to make the funeral
As if he’s one of us.'
So later on that day they brought
The baskets full of flowers,
The big round silvery disks that shone
While they drew straws for hours,
For who would wail and cry for me
As I had no-one near,
So two wai po’s in old black clothes
Said: 'Fifty kwai an hour! '
For fifty kwai they set their chant
And woke the neighborhood,
And no one said to keep it down,
The Chinese understood.
A funeral is a sacred thing
For Han or old Yang Wei,
They kept their vigil for three days,
Then said: 'Today’s the day! '
At four o’clock that morning
In the stilly dark, forlorn,
They set up all their crackers
To erupt before the dawn,
They woke up all the neighbours
Who came down to see who wept,
While other Lao Wai’s turned in bed,
Rolled over, cursed, and slept.
And then the band, it started up,
An old Han marching song,
The big bass drum beat out of time,
A little late for some;
A little early for all those
Who just had got to sleep,
I wasn’t quite the flavour of
The neighborhood that week.
At six o’clock they marched away
All following the hearse,
A wooden cart pulled by four men,
I thought: 'Could things be worse? '
They marched along the highway
Disregarding life and limb,
The band it played along the way
A revolution hymn.
Then I awoke, (the pain had gone) ,
A-tremble, in a sweat,
I wasn’t ready then, I knew,
For Buddha’s belly yet!
And so I raised my eyes on high
To plead, entreat, implore:
'If you would grant me just one wish:
Don’t let me die in China, Lord! '
21 May 2006