Take the Risk
by Bob Fu
It was midnight. I placed my fingers on the bottom of the window and gently, quietly tried to pull it open. It opened —but not as silently as I’d hoped. I prayed none of the police officers stationed by my building’s door had decided to take a cigarette walk around the block and none of my neighbors were awake. If I was going to do this—and survive—there could be no witnesses.
Heidi, my wife, had just left our apartment on the sixth floor, wearing a scarf and different clothing than usual. There were three exits to the gigantic building, but the government had shut down two when they began watching us. The only remaining exit was next to a room of security guards watching our every move.
If Heidi’s disguise failed, the agents would come up to the sixth floor to arrest me—but I wouldn’t be there. Heidi had purposely left on the light to mislead the spies into thinking we were milling around before bed, but I was already on the fifth floor, where I had entered the restroom. Everyone on the floor shared the same bath, and the doors to the restrooms were always unlocked. My chances of survival would increase with every floor I could safely descend without being detected. I quietly slipped out of the restroom and back into the stairwell, watching the numbers decrease. Fourth floor. Third floor. Second floor. That’s where I stopped. The agents were on the first floor, and at this point there was no turning back.
I gently opened the door of the stairwell and slowly walked down the corridor to the bathroom. I entered a toilet stall and climbed on the ledge of the window. The breeze sent a chill through me. I placed my feet as close to the edge as possible. The jump was close to twenty feet. Though I couldn’t see the ground, I knew there was vegetation there to help break my fall. As long as I didn’t die or break any major bones, I’d be all right.
After our experience of prison and house arrest, death wasn’t the worst option, but now Heidi and I had reason to fight for life. She was pregnant. In China, the government’s “one child” policy meant we would be forced to abort our baby because we didn’t have the proper permit. When I looked over the ledge, my glasses slipped down my nose and I pushed them back into place. Using my left hand, I held on to the windowsill, feeling woozy from the height. I took a deep breath, said a prayer, and stepped into the darkness.
As soon as I left the ledge, I forgot all of my ideas about how to fall strategically. The wind rushed over my face, my stomach shrunk, and I felt I’d left my heart back in the building. I flailed my arms and even though I was desperate to remain silent, a yell escaped from deep within me. My glasses flew off and I vaguely remember reaching up to touch my face before everything went black.