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Wang Jiqing: The Chauffeur

From After the Finale, by Zhou Daxin, translated by Wu Jiamei.

Read in Chinese here.

Wang Jiqing

The chauffeur

I was the chauffeur of Governor Ouyang Wantong. I began to work for him when he was the mayor of the provincial capital. You know, I’ve never had an accident in these years. My acquaintance with him was somewhat legendary. One year, he came to visit military drills in my field troop division, together with some other provincial and municipal leaders. On the trip to the military drill base, they had to transfer to our military off-road vehicles, and it happened that he was in my jeep. On that day, the road was in a bad state caused by tanks and the other armoured vehicles during the military drill. The other jeeps encountered some problems, while my jeep was the first and the only one to arrive at the drill base smoothly. I remember he was very happy about that and said: “Young man, you drive quite well. If you want to transfer to civilian work after military service, come to me.”

I kept his words in my mind, and I did go to see him when I was about to transfer. When he saw me, he said very directly: “Good, come and drive for me then.”

After I became his chauffeur, I never let him and his secretary worry about transport. Any time, any season, no matter whether it was windy, snowy, rainy or foggy, or wherever we went, cities or rural areas, I would be there waiting for them on time – not even a minute late. After he became the governor, the regulations required that a police car should accompany him in case something should happen, but he liked to keep a low profile and preferred going out with just a few attendants, refusing to let a police car follow behind. So, I had to prepare to deal with accidents myself. Fortunately, I have had full-scale combat training in the field army, and I can handle the bad guys if I meet them. But to ensure his safety, I prepared pepper sprays, an electric baton and a dagger with the permission of his secretary. To tell the truth, when I was preparing these things, I never thought I would actually use them. Anyway, who would dare to pick on the governor’s car and ask for trouble?

It seemed I had been wrong. These things unexpectedly came in handy one night. It was a drizzling night. After the governor listened to the report of the county secretary and the county magistrate of Gong county and had supper with them, we needed to go back to the provincial capital. The county leaders insisted on driving us to the national highway, but the governor refused, so I started the car and drove the governor and his secretary away. Before we got very far from the county, probably about ten kilometres, in the middle of the road ahead of us stood a woman and a man waving to us. It looked like the woman was holding a child in her arms.

I said to the secretary: “It’s very late now – we don’t need to stop the car, do we?”

The governor spoke up: “Stop the car! It looks like the child is ill and needs to be taken to the provincial capital. Let’s give them a ride.”

I slowed down and pulled over beside them. Rolling down the window, I asked: “What happened?”

The man came over and said: “My child is sick and my wife has just broken her leg. I was wondering whether you could give us a ride?”

“No problem,” I said.

Then the man added: “Could you do me another favour and help me get my wife and child into the car?”

I unbuckled the seat belt, opened the door, got out of the car and walked up to the woman. Just as I reached her side, she suddenly pulled out something from inside her arms and slammed into me. I realised it was actually a man dressed up as a woman, and there was no child in her arms at all. Luckily, I had some skills and dodged aside immediately. The man standing beside me charged at me with a knife in his hand. I failed to jump aside in time and got stabbed on the arm. At that moment, I pulled out the dagger on my belt and, with several slashes of it in the air, the two guys fell to the ground. Then another man with a long stick dashed out from the dark roadside and jumped on me. With one tumble, I rolled over to his side and stabbed him on the leg. With a painful scream, he fell to the ground as well. The whole fight lasted two minutes. When Secretary Zheng and the governor came out of the car, the three scoundrels were all rolling on the ground, screaming in agony.

Later, the Public Security Department found out the three guys were regular car thieves who had offended several times before.

Am I blowing my own trumpet a little bit? Okay, thank you, let’s continue.

I should say the governor treated me quite well. You know, he seldom showed his feelings and spoke very little. He was more likely to let you feel his love by his actions. He asked his wife to introduce my wife to me. We got along well from the first time we met. When my son was born, he and his wife came to the hospital to see my wife and the baby.

After that incident, Secretary Zheng and I both proposed a police car should accompany us whenever we go out, but Governor Wantong said it was only an accident and there was no need to be afraid of one’s own shadow, still refusing to let a police car follow behind. He said: “Think about it – if whenever I go out I’m surrounded by people and followed by a police car, would any ordinary person dare to approach me? Would I still have the chance to listen to true voices?”

The security office, however, arranged for a police car to go along with him, following at a distance with no police licence plate or siren, so that the governor wouldn’t notice it.

It was probably on the fifth day after his retirement was announced that a big accident happened. It was very dangerous. On that morning before daybreak, following Secretary Zheng’s instruction the previous night, I came to pick up Secretary Zheng first and then went to pick up the governor in his house to attend a seminar on economic development held in Shanyang city. It was the first time for the governor to participate in an event since he retired. Secretary Zheng warned me to be particularly careful that day because the security level for a retired governor was reduced. The police car that used to follow us had been cancelled. I nodded understandingly, but inwardly I thought a retired governor was still a governor, and there would be no problem now that it was broad daylight. Unexpectedly, something did happen. When I drove past the governor’s house and turned to the street, a big truck suddenly appeared and rushed right at us. Usually, trucks were not allowed on this street, so I pressed the horn forcefully as I tried to escape from it, but there were many street vendors on the roadside, and there was no chance for me to dodge aside and no time for me to reverse the car either. I desperately pressed the brake and knew an accident was inevitable. Just as we were about to crash head-on, the truck driver suddenly wrenched the wheel to the right and moved aside.

I broke out in a sudden cold sweat.

Secretary Zheng turned pale with terror as well. He was so angry and swore at the truck driver: “That bastard!”

Governor Wantong sat in the back seat, silently.

The truck had already driven away. Secretary Zheng called the chief of the Municipal Public Security Bureau, asking him to immediately find the truck owner and the driver in order to confiscate the driver’s licence and punish him with a fine.

More than an hour later, the police chief called back saying they had checked the street surveillance video and the truck belonged to the Imperial Court Real Estate Company. The driver was called Hui San, and he had quite a lot of violations in his driving record. Jian Qianyan, the president of the Imperial Court Real Estate Company, made an immediate apology and condolence to Governor Wantong and then promised to severely punish Hui San. The Public Security Bureau prepared to confiscate Hui San’s driving licence under the charge of violating traffic restrictions and speeding.

Governor Wantong spoke up calmly after he heard this: “It’s a warning for me that they could take my life any time they want.”

Both Secretary Zheng and I were shocked.

That is all I think worthwhile to tell you. What else do you want to know?