In this novel main hero is Magda, a treasure hunter. In the 9th chapter she ends up in Japan. The land of rising sun provides her with all the treasures she dreamed of, just to find out how frail and temporary it all is. Through working as a hostess in a karaoke lounge, many of her wishes come true, but it turns out they were not the ultimate ones. None of them could help when she finds herself behind the bars. There she gets further enlightened, by insights into true privileges in life and by mastering the use of weapons such us modesty, humility and understanding of karmic law. And there in prison she finds freedom. It just goes to show that every cloud has a silver lining.
Regardless of the universal laws backfiring on her, she could see certain benefits of her detention, such as the recognition of her true privileges and of the supremacy of God’s laws. She realized that being in detention was not so bad after all. It was not bad for Nelson Mandela either, since it propelled him to stardom. Mind you, he deserved his celebrity status owing to his virtues, especially to courage and forgiveness. Not all that is perceived as negative must be bad, because we have the power to transform it into opportunities to strengthen our virtues and into positive lessons, with the tool of understanding. The worst prison is actually the one we build for ourselves, while having freedom. We limit ourselves with our fears, prejudices, narrow-mindedness, doubts, compromises, discriminations, attachments and other goblins of our minds. This insight gave Magda an idea that one day she should write a book about how she found freedom behind the bars.
As the story goes, something stronger than love captured her and prevented a fairy-tale ending, something horrific. A state-sponsored clean-up operation took the love by the wings; that’s what happened. In other words, she got deported.
One minute she was sitting back in the club, thinking blissfully about David, while waiting for customers to come, and the next she found herself in the midst of a shocking raid of undercover cops. All of a sudden, there was a strange noise and shouts and strange people grabbing her and pushing her out of the club to go to the next police station, from all the places. Together with all the other foreigner staff members from the club. A bartender made a run, and some cops scurried to catch him. High-heeled and all, some ten of them were brought to a huge bright hall to sit on the floor. Many others joined them during the course of the night. They were told at some point what was going on.
Apparently, they were going to open the new spectacular Kansai airport around that time, so the local authorities wanted to clear the area of any illegal activities for the ceremonial opening. She was working without a permit and therefore was considered as an offender. That’s what happens when you sail too close to wind, you have a big chance of getting whacked and that was just what happened to her.
She was allowed to make calls, called David, but his flat mate was the only one there, so she then called Takayama-san, the yakuza friend, hoping he could get her out of this mess. The hope turned out to be just that. The police officers gave her ten minutes to pack up, when they escorted her to her soon-to-be ex-home the same night. Filling six suitcases in ten minutes should tell you how it went. Pure hectic.
The Osaka jail was full of illegal immigrants and criminals, so she ended up being transported to the far-off Tokyo’s detention center instead. The premises were actually not as bad as she expected, nothing like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. She shared a cell with other 15 girls or so, most of them Thai and Philippine prostitutes. During daytimes, the guards would open the cells and allow them to go to a common area where they could meet the girls from other cells. There they had also access to washing machines, table tennis and showers, but not to fresh air. Oddly, they were not allowed to go out to get fresh air and there were no windows.
All in all, she ended up spending full 18 days there, being one of the last from her company to be processed, because she was the only one who didn’t have a direct flight connection to home. According to their laws, they had to send each person straight to their home countries. Magda’s ticket was to Vienna in Austria, and from there she was going to take a bus to Zagreb. For them this was an administrative complication that kept her imprisoned longer than anybody else for that matter. And it wasn’t of any consolation to her to hear from some of her inmates that they had been waiting to be released for few years up till then and expected to last it much more years to come, because they didn’t have their passports and Japanese couldn’t find the means of finding out their identity. For some of the Asian girls, the detention center seemed like paradise comparing to the places they lived in and the jobs they had to do to survive. That was beyond Magda, and she didn’t even bother to think much about it. All she could think of was how to get herself out of that place as soon as possible. She called her embassy, but they couldn’t be even bothered to visit her, let alone make efforts to speed the process up, unlike the Australians and New Zealanders, who came to help their fellow-citizens in no time, bringing them snacks and magazines, along with the accelerated release. Magda wasn’t allowed to make any phone calls and even if she was, there was no one to call for help since all of her friends were far back in Osaka.
After all her colleagues were released, she felt left behind like the last Mohican. She was so desperate to get out that she even faked an epileptic attack, hoping that would make them send her home sooner, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t that the place, food or people were horrible, no; it wasn’t that at all which was killing her there. The hardest part was getting through the boredom. In all fairness, that was part of the deal. After all, she did break the law, working without a permit. She didn’t know what to do with herself all day long, because she had no books to read, no diary to write, none of her stuff to keep her occupied, plus her cell-mates didn’t speak English. They even had a television in their cell, but all the channels were local. By then she could somewhat communicate in Japanese, but it was not considerable enough as to make much use of it in there. All in all, she felt like she was in hell, although the place itself was nothing like it. The guards were unusually well-mannered and the place was surprisingly decent with detainee-girls keeping it spick and span. By the looks of it, hell was rather on her mental plane than anywhere else.
In the evenings, after the guards would lock the cells and the lights were switched off, the only entertainment they could get was the kind they would create themselves, and usually that was nothing else but singing or chatting. They would sit in a circle in the center of the cell, and try to find the songs they all knew, and sing them in a low tone to keep the guards off their necks. One time they got even Magda in the mood to sing, so she initiated a song that she would normally never consider, but in those strange circumstances, it seemed appropriate, because some gimmicks came with it, that made it all more amusing, and it was one of the songs which most countries have in their own language. It was the children’s song ‘When you happy and you know it’. Much to her surprise, it was actually an amazing experience, because she felt uplifted and delighted, after she heard the girls from other cells joining in. She had sung a line and then they repeated it across the halls, followed by clapping hands or snapping fingers, and so on.
Now, how can I tell you about the sensation she was experiencing while hearing all the others joining unexpectedly? There was more to it than I am able to put into words, as those kinds of exhilarating moments are generally beyond vocabulary. It was in times like those that she learned to appreciate the simplest little moments and turn them into something impressive and momentous. Those are the things you cannot tell by hearing about them. You had to be there.
At that moment, she felt the presence of a spirit, a holy spirit that brought them together in the joyous manifest. The song itself didn’t matter that much as it was a stupid song anyway, but what did matter was this shared togetherness. It certainly felt like they were having a communion, although there were no words of wisdom told and no prayers uttered. It was like that song of a bird, which she didn’t understand, but meant so much to her at the given moment. Right then it became clear to her why the caged birds sung. Reading about it from being nestled in a comfy armchair in your home, it might be hard for you to imagine what was going on there at those particular moments. Some things are just impossible to describe in words, as they can only be felt, not explained.
In such strange circumstances and even stranger venue, a person tends to change perspective and adopts a whole new outlook. After initial hellish anguish, very soon she became humble and modest. Once she put things in perspective, she came to realize how all the privileges she had been taking for granted were pretty frail and ephemeral; and, at the end of the day, very unreal. What was real and could be accounted for were the privileges that she had built within herself, the ones that didn’t depend on the context and were reliable under any circumstances. Before this incident, she thought she got it made, that she had it all together - great looks, pockets full of money, perfect health, sexy soul-mate, loving romance, countless friends, time for herself, fun job that she was going to come back to after her visa were renewed, but now all that went out the window. All that, however fabulous and desirable it seemed, none of it could comfort her while being locked up. She couldn’t rely on any of that. The only thing she could rely on was her inner sense of freedom.
Takayama-san found out where she was, having contacts among the police force, so he sent her a book that she actually already read before, but what earned it a spot in our story was that what he wrote inside as inscription: ‘Although the river may force you to change course, hold fast to what you believe. A lion remains to be a lion, even if they lock him in a cage’. Wow!
She thought about it for a while, as she had much time for reflection then, and came to an enlightening revelation. They took everything from her, her job, friends, love, freedom, income, even her lucky Buddha figurine, but what they couldn’t take from her, if she didn’t allow them, was who she was, and she was a lion queen, for all she cared. In any case, she was determined not to allow them to take away her dignity, her sense of worth and her own values.
She almost let it happen, but was luckily reminded of her true privileges that no man could take away from her without her permission. All the things that she thought she couldn’t live without, she learned them to be very replaceable and fickle. So much for the things she took for granted, she learned to appreciate them more. Things like sunrise and moonrise, rainbows, the smell of the rain, the sound of the wind, being surrounded by friends, having choices, no matter how insufficient they might seem at times, and little things like that.
There is always something to be learned from every situation, no matter how awful it is, and being in jail is no exception. What better place to regroup and repent! Unfortunately, rain has to fall before a rainbow appears. It often takes a tragedy to make us take another look at our lives, since we neglect the warning signs in times of pleasure. As with any major shake-up in life, you really have to ask yourself this question: How did I bring it onto myself? Or: is the universe trying to tell me something? As far as that goes, it struck her there that somewhere along the road she had become caught up in the superficialities of life once again and made a wrong turn, but where? It took some days of contemplation to see the connection and realize why she got into this mess. It was the understanding of the universal laws such as the one of the cause and effect, the law of retribution, which shed some light onto her misfortune.
During her stay in Japan, she did some things that were not right apart from working illegally, but she made me promise not to tell at this point, so there you go, I cannot tell you now what it was, but you’ll figure it out later. If I told you, it would be like telling ghost stories with the lights on. It’s better to keep you in the dark for a while. If Lena would take over the narration at this point, I’m sure she would give it to you. I give you this much though, if you read between the lines, you’ll figure it soon enough. But it does not matter that much anyway.
What really did matter was that Magda saw it clearly then how her past had shaped her present and recognized the link between her running a red light, so to speak, and the consequent retribution. Imprisonment itself was therefore only a natural consequence in the functioning of the nature’s laws, and not just bad luck, as she saw it at first. She got what was coming to her. It goes to show that one always ends up stewing in his or her own juice. The nature’s law says: what you sow is what you reap. You cannot plant weed and expect to harvest apples, can you?