Go Home Episode 1 by Farriz Mashudi

The put-on smile he flashes is radiant. In his head, he hears the sound of heels standing at attention clicking smartly. ‘How was the flight? Good to have you back.’ The timbre of his voice is warm, full of heart, unlike the metal bots on wheels that could do this frontline job better than a human in all other respects.

Xie-xie, Thank you.’

Shee-shee, the woman says. The way a foreigner new to Romanised Mandarin, the Hanyu Pinyin he’s mastered, would. The sound of taking a piss. Or when talking to kids. She must be missing hers. Would have been studying on the plane, hadn’t slept, then queued for hours with the rest of this shuffling throng. He takes it all in with a single glance and notes her timid gestures, barely audible voice, the gummy eyes. Remember your training, David tells himself, only he’s not David anymore.

Brushing off imaginary dust from the epaulettes on his shoulders, his hand lingers on the single strip, a promotion he hadn’t expected. The thirty-three-year-old formerly known as ‘David’ straightens the name tag that’s already pinned on straighter than the razor-sharp creases of his uniform. WANG MIN, is printed on the tag.

‘Visualise!’ the bot had repeated without pause that morning as he brushed: WANG MIN. Seeing the name spelled out in block capitals in his head would help him grow accustomed to it and all that being returned entailed. ‘Visualise!’ the female-sounding voice urged. Honestly, how was he supposed to take her seriously with a name like Gi-Gi?

‘No, no . . . We should be thanking you,’ David replies, his plastic smile ablaze.

‘Welcome home. China appreciates you.’ He points to the indented hands on the counter, smiling broader still. ‘If you don’t mind, we’ll start with the finger-printing. Your right first, please.’ He holds the smile while the woman’s details are harvested. Minor vitamin D deficiency. No biggie for the time of year. Enjoys gardening. Holidays in Italy. Reads. A teetotaller. ‘And left.’ He emanates more sunshine as the woman changes hands. Keep it beaming, bud!

As he waits, a facial muscle twitches in his cheek. Does he have the bot’s setting on too high? Ten months of positive affirmations thrown in his face with sobering cold water first thing every a.m. was probably too much for most people.

Bold breaths in! Expand that strong chest! Live large Wang Min!It was his proper name, Gi-Gi said. The one he would have been birthed with had his ancestors not left. His original name . . . ‘Wait. Hang on there a sec, Jose! (Which would be Gi-Gi’s name, if there’d been any choice in the matter.) David had pressed PAUSE on the bot just then, careful to paint a blank expression awhile—in case—before lowering his eyes for a private laugh. It barely left his belly. Was still a good laugh, he thought, thinking back on it.

How was he meant to believe MADE IN CHINA means original? The stuff they produced was astounding— This was the world’s factory. But top-quality fakes made buying genuine seem naïve and anything dubbed ‘original’ highly sus. Okay, David, stop. You’ve had your chuckle. Quit kidding around, you schmuck! Just keep up the smiles.

Puffs of sweet-smelling air mask his thoughts as David gives Gi-Gi, parked to his right, a gentle pat. Spherical and smooth, like the top of a wastebasket, he thinks. Or a bald head. He imagines the clown’s wig he’ll crown her with later.

Uh, is it working?’

‘Press down. Harder.’ Drumming his fingers, David double-checks that the bot, the height of a vintage fire hydrant, is on PLAY for only him.

‘Be assuring! Smile! You can do this, tongzhi!’

Tongcherk? How do ‘z’ and ‘h’ combined make ‘ch’? What about ‘i’ makes it an ‘erk’? Not that he was actually a ‘tongzee’ or ‘tongcherk’—a comrade—no matter how the word was pronounced. Never mind. He gives Gi-Gi another pat. A year ago, he’d never have thought the bot’s upbeat hounding would be a lifesaver. At a light beep he scans the screen before addressing the woman. Not to disappoint the bot, he radiates his most sparkling smile yet. David’s heart may not be in it, but Wang Min could be all teeth.

‘Margaret Gold, your previous passports, please.’

The trio on the counter in blue, burgundy, and green would have allowed visa-free access anywhere in the world. Most arrived with one, dual wasn’t uncommon, he’d seen as many as four. Three meant: high-flyer. He flicks deftly to the data page of the topmost, taking in its British hallmark. These were once burgundy, too. But that was long before he visited London only to find the country less united even than the States.

The date of issue of the red Polska passport tells him she married late. Briefly, he studies her face. Still a stunner. He imagines the slim silhouette she would have cut walking down the aisle of a country church in—he turns the document over— Poland. (David pushes thoughts of Sumitra and their never-to-be temple wedding to the far reaches of his mind. What was the point?)

Of course, it would be the last one. A quick look inside Margaret Gold’s Taiwanese passport provides the details he needs.

‘I see your maiden name was Chen.’ Surnames were so revealing. This one points to Fujian, where she’d do well to learn the dialect, then re-blend. This wasn’t a repeat of Liberia, nor how former slaves were randomly settled in Freetown. Same as with the latest returnees to Africa, home means one’s origins as determined by—not in—blood. 


The shaky voice tells him she’s completely lost. The defiant chinned David makes a note of under OBSERVATIONS and recommends EXTRA CARE. The euphemism was a kindness. He types the Hanyu Pinyin for ‘Chen’ and allows a nano-moment for the symbols representing the name’s radical and character for ‘ancient’ and ‘east’ to appear, then clicks ENTER. ‘The bot will pick your other name.’


‘You’ll be fine.’ He adjusts the jaws of the shredder to accommodate all three passports in its willing mouth. The woman’s tri-colour identity lands noisily in the wastebasket. ‘Next!’


A grinning hyena; what a heartless, heartless man. Smiling! While she watched her life—like her passports, chomped to tatters. Margaret shifted her weight in front of the counter, weary and unsteady. She had the urge to spit, to lash out, but remained still. She thought of the twins. Yes, there were spotted vermin in The Lion King, too. Her children, Saul and Luna loathed the Disney classic. Only six, they had a point: If the animals could speak, truly, as her darling boy said, wouldn’t it be in an African tongue? And the accent in that patch of savannah, little Luna argued, surely wasn’t American. Monsters they may be, they were also right.

Oh, they are, definitely! Complete rascals. Monsters of her own making. But hers. This, no one could take away. Margaret looked down at the hands that had betrayed her. Memories were all she had to hold now. When she saw the children again—the school holidays, Margaret, not long to go now, she told herself, not long! She would tell them it didn’t matter if Hollywood’s take on the world was homogenous. Simba proudly doing his duty resonated with all. Just not her. Margaret rubbed her temples as she wondered for the thousandth time what had brought her here. Besides, not having a choice.

‘Embrace the move, Meg,’ was all Charlie said when the Home Office notice came. Her husband had expected the worst; being a pessimist, was better prepared. He also had their little sun and moon. She’d be more accepting, too, if they were with her. What was ‘welcome home’ in Polish?

Saul, blond like Charlie, and at a glance the more Caucasian, would blend in better there.

But his love of noodles and the dogged practicality, to her, made him all Asian. Their mad for mac and cheese Luna, hardly. An ‘inside-out-banana’, she called her brother. The girl’s own white sensibilities, on the other hand, and belying skin tone, made Luna like the fruit. Yes, a banana. And here she was, Margaret, their Mummy, going bananas for being forced apart from both!

An insistent bot ushered her forwards.

‘This way to the next processing station.’

Margaret felt a tingling in her bladder. ‘Is there a loo, I might use? Spend a penny? A WC? Uh, toilet, please?’

‘Later. Toilet after.’

Margaret chided herself. What did a machine care about etiquette? Bustled into another expansive hall, streaming banners blared with blatant suggestion:




There were no loudspeakers as far as she could see. Only cameras. Cameras everywhere.

‘Papers!’ the officer barked with no trace of a smile.

Grim. Already she missed the hyena.

‘Port of departure?’

Her head was spinning. Was it a migraine? And was it her, or did Grim Face appear European? The man behind the booth was about as tall as Charlie. She didn’t think expats were allowed here still. Anywhere, for that matter.

‘WHERE . . . HAVE . . . YOU . . . ARRIVED . . . FROM?’ With every forced syllable the grim mouth stretched wide, magnifying Goliath-ly in her face.

The question was hardly inappropriate. Countries that used to require landing cards to be completed on arrival would also ask this of foreigners. Yet it was different now. Now, it felt like she was saying ‘Goodbye’ to London forever. It would make everything final. Recalling Saul’s last look made her tear-up again. Luna had clung to her, screaming, while Charlie stood by, deathly silent.

‘I see you boarded in Heathrow?’ Grim Face read it off his screen. ‘Five-hour transit in Warsaw?’

She nodded dumbly. Where I lost my family, she wanted to add but Charlie’s reminder sounded a warning in her head: Keep your answers short. Don’t volunteer details. Saying nothing isn’t lying. Her husband wasn’t completely guileless, she’d give him that.

‘You lived in the UK?’ Grim Face’s tone turned the question into an accusation.

Again, Margaret nodded but this time looked away. Incessant wars, countries never not at loggerheads over immigration, unbridled resource jealousies domestic and foreign …. She shuddered at the memory of the implosion at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the building crashing in on itself under the weight of design defects, crumbling materials, and massive accumulations of orgone energy, the ongoing lawsuits on trial in the ICJ. That this arm of the International Court of Justice was still functioning was only due to its being situated in neutralised Holland. Unable to conclude whether it was a single factor or several in combination that led to the organisation’s collapse, underlying structural issues triggered its political end. Margaret and the entire world had watched the broadcast of the Global Returnees Revolution decreed by satellite to every city, nook, and cranny across the planet. To her sister in Paolo Alto, her brother in Boston. Their cousins in Perth, Melbourne, Dunedin. The world.

Her father, like the stone lions or fu dogs standing post at ancient temples and palaces, their family’s protector, would have been livid! He’d worked his socks off to give them the best education money could buy, and his children were back at square one? Never the gambler, never betting on his own New Year’s resolutions, if he hadn’t already been dead this curve ball would have done it for their patriarch. As for their ancestors, forget losing face, making the clan come back to a slaughterhouse (competition would be brutal), was like a tight slap—

‘Comrade Chen, stop! That is not true.’

‘Huh?’ She felt the blood rushing to her cheeks.

Grim Face pointed to a camera behind his shoulder. ‘The bots read your irises.’

But it was true! This was a disaster. Did she have to spell it out? World peace didn’t stand a chance with neighbours at each other’s throats.

‘Nations will account for the well-being of their people.’

Damn bots. She lowered her gaze.

‘China failed our ancestors. Global returnees like us ensure the wrongs are corrected.’

‘You’re a returnee?’

‘From Vancouver. Shanghai is my real home.’

‘You don’t look Chinese, at all.’

Grim Face visibly prickled.

Charlie would have rolled his eyes so violently they’d be bouncing off his nape. Like Luna, sobbing every time she called Saul that inside-out-banana, Margaret, too, wished she could take it back. ‘I didn’t mean to . . .’ she started.

‘23%. A grandmother was born here. Other ancestors came from poor houses in Scotland and England, sent over to Canada to work the farms.’

‘But who’s left now in North and South America?’ Beaten into her head ad nauseum on the flight, Margaret already knew the answer: Unlike Noah’s flood, the tide of migration would be reversed, not wiped out. The vacated lands would be returned to the first settlers; the First Nations; the indigenous; the too-long marginalised. Less populated, the forests and jungle could grow back even if countries like China and India grew overcrowded.

Oh, her head. It was spinning now for real, like the over-ripe melon Charlie injected with Pimms right after Finals.

Grim Face’s mouth rearranged itself into the sharp curve of a scythe. ‘Returnees are decolonising the world. In every country. We are all home.’

Home. That word again. There was a time when Margaret Gold née Chen, the American born Chinese who studied in Princeton, then Oxford and had worked for City firms in Taipei, Hong Kong, and London, believed home could be any place she chose to make it. If only this were true still. Home was not where the heart, even hearth, was anymore. Nor where one was born or living your best life. Home could only be where the Home Territory Matrix Locater dictated.

‘Your HTML DNA ethnicity score quotes Fujian Chinese as the highest at 43%.’ Grim Face turned away from his screen and scrutinised her features. She could tell him the balance included French and Portuguese—no doubt due to seafaring ancestors. But she knew he was more interested in confirming her facial markers. Did she have the looks of a peasant from that province? The double eyelids she’d been born with, but would the nose-job done on a whim in Turkey be forgiven? What of the veneers that gave her instantly straightened teeth? Like high-grade knockoffs from the Grand Bazaar, would she be shunned if uncovered? Ostracised? Jailed? Already light shades of hair-colour like hers were banned in other parts of the Near and Far East. Returnees were required to conform or be shorn like sheep. BAA, BAA, she heard sounding another alarm in her head—

‘Comrade Chen? Comrade Chen!’

That’s you, Margaret, she reminded herself. ‘Yes?’ She focussed on the three bars on Grim Face’s shoulders.

‘Meet Mi-Mi.’

Then glared at the bot.

‘Chen Jin, Chen Jin. You are Chen Jin.’

Chin-chin? Good god, how was she to live this one down?

‘Chen Jin, be grateful. How lucky you are! If you are predominantly Lebanese there are multiple times the population returning. And what are Syrians returning to? The number of Overseas Pakistanis— You know how many there are?’

Margaret did not, but as the bot led her away and she inhaled the sweet-smelling air it exuded, she felt oddly calmer.

‘Better you not know. The number of returnees to India are even more.’

She didn’t suppose the partitioning of the South Asian subcontinent could be undone. But what of Singapore, Australia, New Zealand. Wasn’t Greenland mostly inhabited by Danes? Citizens of Earth unite! World disorder will be corrected.

Charlie was right, Overseas Peoples were doomed. ‘Get with the programme or perish, Meg,’ his voice had urged.

‘Fear not Chen Jin, you will adjust. Your forebearers did. So shall you.’

‘What if my children don’t recognise me?’ What if she didn’t recognise herself? Bananas aside—inside—who was she? Charlie, Charlie! Come get me!


From where she lies, Margaret hears the bot’s whirring stop. In the deep silence holographs beam above her head. Time falls away yet feels compressed. Discordant thoughts issue blindingly.

‘You are China’s child,’ Mi-Mi tells her. ‘Your return prevents war.’ This was the common yet singular goal, the bot explained. She repeats this. And again. Focussed, relentless, a maniac on solar cells, spinning out of the darkness Mi-Mi doesn’t stop. ‘The world salutes Citizen Gold! China welcomes home Chen Jin! Xie-xie!’

Si-yeh si-yeh? That’s Thank You?

That smell— Lavender, ginseng? The floral notes filling her nostrils are tinged with traces of— Could it be ammonia? It’s not entirely unpleasant, Margaret, she tells herself. It’s the smell of her Sunday morning run through Notting Hill, cutting through Bayswater through the gates in Queensway to Hyde Park, the puke of Saturday night drunks, the piss of the perpetually homeless, permeating the air. The smell of train stations—for work, for fun; on vacation with Charlie, days out with the kids. Life’s tracks had led her here, this last stop.

Margaret coughs as she scratches her nose. Non-prescription drugs she knows nothing about but has a vague recollection of opium wars. ‘A History of China 101’ had come in handy after all. The great wall built to keep out barbarians withstood time only to greet returnees. They’d cracked it! They were the foreigners! Humour escapes her, though she’d like to laugh. To share it with Charlie. ‘Xie-xie,’ she says, growing lightheaded. It’s better this way. Kinder to not feel. To be removed. She was exactly that: removed, returned. Same difference.

Margaret hoots aloud at this and the even better one from the bot—Chin-chin, was it?


‘Chen Jin, sleep.’

Her mind drifts, detached as the bot’s tubular form blurs.

Shee-shee . . . Si-yeh si-yeh . . . What did it matter?

Her world was done.


About the Author

Farriz Mashudi is a former lawyer, journalist, and blogger, turned writer of both CNF and fiction in short and long forms with a penchant for the speculative. Born in Malaysia, she has lived in Canada and the UK. She currently resides and works in the Middle and Far East amongst a plethora of local and expatriate cultures that both inform and colour her writing. Robots, she’s currently obsessed with.


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