I got Mao’s text around 20:00. I was sitting in a dingy bar watching boxers spar on the TV. I’ll be late, don’t wait for me. So I ordered some more wasabi peas & massaged my stiff knees. It’s always like this: it’s always Mao who’s late. Something about make-up, a facelift, a mausoleum somewhere. I recalled what the old fortune teller told me about patience being the key to my future life, but I couldn’t help wondering what was keeping him this time: maybe rain, or a lost taxi? More beer, recharge my battery. I witnessed scuffles by the door as more peasants-turned-artists swarmed for stools & drink, until finally (finally!) there was a buzz by the window & his big moon face floating past. I shouted Mao! Mate! His head swivelled & I felt like the devil drinking Faust. I made way for the body of my hero, cold but shining in the wan electric ceiling light. What would you be drinking, then? I asked, without waiting for a reply—it’s always vodka for us, six shots each. Still, I was a little annoyed by his drunken silence, and I felt like stopping him from texting away on that big TV phone of his, a freebie from some company seeking advertising rights over him, or else the Madame. I asked how she was going. No reply. He was beginning to piss me off, not to mention the barman, who had once thought of Mao as an old friend. It seemed he had been keeping better company recently. Something about Lenin & Santa Claus. Mao finally spoke, going Ho, ho, Ho Chi Minh. This drew a laugh from the peanut gallery but I wouldn’t even look at him, preferring instead to pretend that the vodka bottle was a telescope & its contents a sea. Abruptly, having clearly had enough, the barman called last drinks but Mao didn’t even move. Dead drunk, I supposed, that great mug of his looking kind of fake in the bright light of dawn. Somehow we stumbled out into a hutong with no past, my arms around Mao’s slippery neck. We did a little dance together & tried to resurrect the name of the club we’d planned to visit, but to no avail. Thus, I was left with no choice but to pile him into a taxi & pay off the driver with a wink & ten yuan. I said, See this one gets home safely would you? Thanks. He’s a special mate of mine. Name’s Mao, Imaginary Mao. Bye, I said, bye. No reply.