​​         Chinese Stories in English   

Escorting Orchid's Cart
Liu Yudong

            The sky is always a pale, pale blue in the countryside in winter. The sun shines on the land and always seems especially brisk. Thick ice has long sealed over the ponds and it’s skating time for the children. They shout loudly as their skates speed along. Occasionally one will fall down on the ice, drawing laughter from the others.
            The adults are much less energetic than the children. They keep their hands in their pockets and gently stamp their feet while steam they’ve puffed out like cannon smoke hangs around their mouths. Not everyone is so lethargic, though. These are the times when weddings are most frequent in the villages. Any family putting on this kind of affair is kept busy with more things than they can possibly get done.
            It was just such a time when Red Warrior heard the news – his father’s little sister, Aunt Orchid Ma, was going to get married.
            At the time, Red Warrior and his little brother Red Star were at the pond skating with Rocky, Pine Tree and several other friends. Red Star and Pine Tree had bumped into each other, and Pine Tree punched Red Star. Red Warrior wouldn’t sit still for that, so he went over and kicked Pine Tree's skates. They’d been born in the same year – they were both nine – but Red Warrior was half a head taller than Pine Tree and the smaller boy was a little afraid of him.
             Red Warrior was about to kick Pine Tree’s skates again, to knock him down on the ice, when all of a sudden he heard Rocky and the others burst out laughing. He looked over and saw Second Granny Ma getting up from the ground. It seems she’d slipped and fallen. She cursed at the boys as she brushed the dirt off herself, then smiled and kept going toward South Street like she had something important to do.
            Second Granny had bound feet and was fat, and she was wearing a thick black cotton jacket. She looked like a leather ball rolling slowly along the ground. She was in a hurry and walked fast, so her body twisted and turned and her arms swung back and forth. It was hilarious. The children laughed uproariously once again.
            Rocky looked back at Red Warrior and said, somewhat mysteriously, "Her beautiful niece is going away, so why wouldn’t she be excited?"
            "Going away? Where’s she going?"
            "That Orchid. She’s going to be someone’s daughter-in-law."
            Red Warrior only then got it. Aunt Orchid was going to get married. He swayed and his heart began beating faster. He felt like he was having difficulty breathing.
            He stood stupidly on the ice for a moment, no longer in the mood to skate. He shouted to Red Star that they ought to be getting home, then picked up his skates and walked toward the edge of the pond. Red Star obviously hadn't had enough skating. He didn't seem to hear Red Warrior calling him. He crouched down on his skates, pushed off against an iron pole he had in his hand, and skated away into the distance.
            When Red Warrior returned home alone, he saw Grandma hanging laundry out on the line to dry. Water droplets shone brightly in the light as they dripped down like a string of crystalized sugar beads. Grandma was traipsing around the wet spot on the ground. She saw Red Warrior walk through the gate alone and asked, "Red Star? Isn’t Red Star coming home?"
            "Aunt Orchid’s getting married," Red Warrior said. He stared at his grandmother as though he wanted to rake some information from her face.
            Sure enough, the wrinkles on her face stretched out into a smile.
            "Really? Jeez, I’ll have to hurry and get that fabric with the fancy pattern for you to give to her."
            As she spoke, Grandma hobbled inside on her bound feet. Red Warrior threw his skates down at the bottom of the wall. He saw two sparrows fly over and land on the bare branches of their jujube tree. He raised his arms and waved them powerfully, and the sparrows flew away twittering.
            Grandma came back out with a piece of patterned fabric in her hand. It was a floral print with bright red flowers on a dark background. "Come here and help your Grandma, Red Warrior," she said.
            When he walked over, Grandma had him hold two corners of the cloth and shake it gently until it unfolded. The pattern dazzled his eyes, and then he caught a nose-full of the mothball smell. Grandma stroked the fabric and said: "Look at this cloth. It’s so vivid. It was a wedding gift when your father married your mother.”
            For some reason Red Warrior blushed when he heard that. He’d always thought that Grandma talked too much. He gave the fabric a firm shake and it almost came out of Grandma’s hands. “Take it easy, damn it,” she said, startled.
            She re-folded the fabric and held it tightly under her arm. "I’ll take it to your Aunt Orchid for you."
            "I’ll go too," he said.
            "What for? You’re not a two- or three-year old kid."
            She adamantly refused to let him go. All he could do was follow her out the gate with his eyes.
            He sat in the cold yard feeling somewhat at loose ends. He ground his teeth, pouted, and stared at an old hen that was clucking angrily at something. Was it that Second Granny wanted some other kid to go? He shook his head. “No way,” he thought. Second Granny herself had told him and Grandma that she’d want him to escort Aunt Orchid’s cart. He remembered it clearly.
            Grandma would “collect the souls” rite for children. That’s when a child in some family had gotten so scared that one of his seven souls had fled his body. He’d cry all night and have no energy during the day, so the family would ask Grandma to come over and collect his soul. Usually she’d wait until the child was sound asleep at night. In the pitch black night, she’d need a companion to go with her, and she always took Red Warrior. He’d lead the way with a flashlight and Grandma would follow.
            Second Granny’s youngest grandson got scared a lot, and Grandma would go collect his soul with Red Warrior in tow. When Second Granny saw Red Warrior tagging along, she thought it was a rare sight indeed. She’d rub his head and say, “Look at this fat little guy. He’s grown up so spirited. When my little Orchid gets married, I’ll have this chubby Red Warrior escort the cart.” When he heard Second Granny say that, it felt as sweet as eating honey.
            Red Warrior had grown big now, but he’d still never escorted the cart for anyone. Last year he’d seen how Rocky looked when he came back after escorting a cart, and he was very envious. He was wearing all new clothes and smiling ear to ear when he crawled out of the covered cart. He was carrying different sized bags in his hands, which Red Warrior knew contained candy and snacks.
            Red Warrior ran over and said, "Give me a piece of the wedding candy, Rocky." Rocky seemed like he hadn’t seen him and ran off. His body was leaning forward and he was humming a tune as he went.
            Ever since Second Granny had said what she did, Red Warrior had been waiting to hear news of Aunt Orchid getting married. Today he finally had, but he’d heard it from Rocky. From his tone of voice, Second Granny really didn’t intend to have Rocky escort the cart. If she was going to have him do it, he would’ve said something long ago. Rocky’s dad was the village accountant, though, and when he thought of that, Red Warrior got incredibly anxious.
            At this point, I should talk about exactly what “escort the cart” means. A young maiden getting married is a very ceremonious event in our village. Her family must escort her to the groom’s home, usually in three two-horse carts. There were no cars in our village back then, of course, or even tractors. The way it worked was, the three carts would line up in a row. They’d have new reed tatamis or screens tied on in arches as coverings. It was quite a sight to see the six horses draped in red, walking on the flat country road at first light with the stars still blinking and their bells tinkling melodiously.
            Two or three male guests were seated in the first cart, usually the village party secretary and the eldest member of the bride's family. Riding in the second cart were the bride and two female guests, typically an aunt (the younger sister of the bride’s father) and a sister-in-law (wife of the bride’s brother). The last cart carried the “eight covers” of the bride's dowry, that is, smaller items for daily use. Any larger items would've already been sent separately. The “eight covers” would be packed in two large wooden chests, one in the front of the cart and one in the back. The middle of the cart would hold teapots, cups, saucers, thermoses and the like. If the family’s situation permitted, there might also be a radio or a sewing machine.
            A little boy also had to ride in the third cart. He’d sit among the dowry items and guard them on the way to the home of the bride’s mother-in-law. That was “escorting the cart.” It meant watching over the dowry so that nothing got lost. Of course, the dowry items were secured by ropes and nothing could fall out of the cart even if you wanted it to. Later, I realized that having a little boy in the cart was really just intended as a good omen for a fertile marriage.
            When the cart stopped at the door of the groom's house, people would swarm around. Some would untie the ropes and some would carry the dowry inside. That’s when the little boy's power was at its greatest. He’d lie across the eight covers so the ropes couldn’t be untied, or hold onto the chests with both hands and not let go. What could the people do? They’d bring out candy, snacks and money.
            If there wasn’t enough money, the boy still wouldn’t say OK. Eventually, though, with his candy, snacks and money in hand, he’d let go and look the other way. Further, he’d then sit at the banquet table like a little adult and partake in a delicious meal. He might even occasionally win the praises of people in the groom’s village, giving him a lot of glory and making him proud. For a child, escorting a bride’s cart was the fattest of jobs.
            The little boy Red Warrior certainly didn't want to miss out on such a good deal. He sat there in the courtyard waiting for Grandma to come home from taking the fabric over to Aunt Orchid. He thought when she got home, she just might have some good news for him.
            The sparrows were flying around the bare branches of the jujube tree. Not a drop of water had dripped from the clothes hanging on the line in quite some time. The sun was getting brighter and brighter and had climbed almost to the middle of the sky. Red Warrior couldn’t sit still. He stood up and left the courtyard.
            He walked toward Second Granny’s with long, quick strides. He thought about stopping but found that he couldn’t. When he got to Second Granny’s he saw that the gate was open. Aunt Orchid, wearing a red cotton quilted jacket, was feeding sorghum by hand to a gaggle of chickens and ducks around her. The birds were clucking and quacking and flapping their wings and jumping up and down. Aunt Orchid’s big long pigtails whipped around when she kicked out every once in a while at one that wasn’t behaving.
            She saw Red Warrior standing at the gate and ran over happily. She took his hand and walked into the house with him.
            "You came over here in less time than it takes to fart,” Grandma scolded. You couldn't stay at home a while."
            "Hey, Sis, what're you saying? Kids will be kids, and you can’t control ‘em all the time." Second Granny took Grandma's hand. They looked very affectionate.
            Red Warrior leaned against the door frame, both eyes staring at the new quilts piled on the brick bed. They were certainly new covers for Aunt Orchid’s dowry. Some were red, some green, some patterned, and all quite vivid. He wanted so badly to go up and touch them, and he wanted so much to hear Second Granny say once again what she’d said before. But she didn’t.
            Aunt Orchid took a large handful of peanuts and stuffed them into Red Warrior’s pocket. He put a finger on his lips and cringed bashfully, saying, “No, please, I don’t want any.” Aunt Orchid said “Take them, take them.” Of course she didn't know what it was the boy really wanted. Her hair swept across his face and he smelled its fragrant scent.
            Then Grandma straightened up and said, "It's time to go, time to go. I’ve got to get home and cook."
            Second Granny held Grandma’s hand while they muttered some polite phrases. Red Warrior cocked his ears and stared at Second Granny’s mouth, but he didn’t hear anything about escorting the cart on the way out the gate. He kept looking back as he walked forward. He watched the two women smiling broadly and his eyes turned red.
            Red Warrior felt listless all that afternoon. He stayed in the courtyard making a wooden sword. Rocky and the others came over to ask him to come and play marbles in front of the supply store, but he wouldn’t go. Red Star did, but after a while he came running home crying. It seemed that Pine Tree had thrown one of his marbles into a pile of kindling hay and he couldn’t find it. He said, "You’ve got to get back at him, Red Warrior. Come on, let’s go beat him up.”
            He pulled on his brother’s arm, but Red Warrior shook him off impatiently and wouldn’t listen to him. He was indifferent to all of them. He was using a pencil sharpener to whittle a point on a stick. The pile of shavings under his feet were white as snowflakes and dazzled the eyes.


            Red Warrior, Red Star and Grandma were sitting on the heated bed shucking corn when Second Granny came over carrying a lantern. The corn was sweet corn, what the people there called “jade kernels”. Shucking included scraping the kernels from the dried cobs. The stove in the room was lit and it was quite warm. Second Granny brought a gust of cold wind with her when she came in.
            "I’m freezing."
            Second Grandma stamped her feet as she blew out the lantern in her hand. Grandma had already stopped shucking and was reaching for a pair of boots by the bed.
            "Damn! Hurry up and get on the bed and get warm," Grandma said.
            Second Granny didn’t worry about being polite. She put the lantern on a shelf and hefted her butt to coil her legs up on the bed. She reached out and patted Red Warrior and Red Star on the backs of their heads. "Look at these two baldies,” she said. “What a sight.”
            Red Star shook his head like a spinner drum, obviously not liking the feel of her cold, dry hand. Not Red Warrior, though. He’d been on pins and needles since Second Granny had come through the door. He’d caught on to something immediately. Because of it, while he'd never liked being “Second Granny’s Red Warrior”, this time he turned his head and called out “Grandma” with a laugh, which made her break out in an old lady’s smile.
            Grandma said, "Is your little grandson scared again?"
            “I didn’t come over to see you this time, Sis,” Second Granny said. “I came to see this fellow Red Warrior.”
            It was like a splash of cool water in Red Warrior’s face, a sweet feeling like a mountain spring flowing over his entire body.
             “I forgot to say this at noon,” Second Granny continued.
            "What is it that’s got you so flustered?" Grandma asked.
             “Let Red Warrior escort the cart for his Aunt Orchid.”
            Grandma snorted.
            Red Star, sitting to one side, perked his neck up. He stared at Second Granny for a moment before he seemed to understand what was going on.
            "Grandma, why don't you let me do it?"
            Second Granny hadn’t expected Red Star to say that. She was momentarily stumped by the question, not knowing how to answer, and her face turned deep red.
            It was left to Grandma to answer. "Red Star, Red Warrior is your big brother. He’s first in line for it."
            "Yes, that’s right," Second Granny smiled. “Your brother goes first.”
            Her tone of voice suggested she was promising the job to Red Star if she had another daughter get married. The thing was, Aunt Orchid was her only daughter.
            Red Star made a sad face and kept it that way for a long time. The corn cobs squeaked as he cleaned them off.


            So Red Warrior finally got his wish, but waiting for Aunt Orchid’s wedding day wasn’t easy. His heart felt like it was tied in tight knots. At school, he’d be listening to his teacher's lecture but then his soul would fly off somewhere. On two occasions, he was looking sideways out the window and the teacher walked up to him. He didn’t come out of his reverie even when the blows were about to land on his head.
            Those kinds of days really were hard going. Every morning Red Warrior would ask, "Grandma, how many more days?"
            Grandma would just laugh. Once when she was doing some close work, she peeked out from behind her reading glasses and squinted at Red Warrior from time to time. Then, stifling a laugh, she said, "I heard your Second Granny say they aren’t going to have you be the escort. They’re going to get Blackhead from Liu Seven’s family."
            Red Warrior smiled at the mention of Blackhead. He knew Grandma was toying with him because Blackhead was an idiot.
            One morning Red Warrior saw three carts parked outside the gate at Second Granny’s house. Two men, whose names were Nine Tenths and Three Gets, were bending bamboo slats and tying them to the carts. Reed mats were piled under their feet. Red Warrior thought that Aunt Orchid’s wedding day must have arrived.
            He scampered home.
            Grandma was bent over a basket in the courtyard, poking and pulling at jujubes in a basket, picking out the ones that had already turned black. The sunlight on the fire-red jujubes hurt his eyes.
            "Grandma, I saw Nine Tenths and Three Gets making coverings for the carts."
            Grandma straightened up but her mouth kept moving – she was eating the black jujubes. She patted her oversized black cloth robe and went straight inside without paying Red Warrior any attention. She flipped open the calendar hanging on the wall, turned around and said, "Yes, the day you’ve been waiting for has arrived. Tomorrow you’ll be attending a banquet."
            Red Warrior jumped for joy.
            Grandma snorted. "Don’t say anything to Red Star. Just leave quietly early in the morning.”
            Grandma opened the cabinet and took out new clothes for Red Warrior. In a moment, the brown corduroy robe and navy blue trousers were hanging out on the line. This was clothing that Red Warrior only wore during the New Year holiday. Now, as they radiated warmth in the sun, the smell of mothballs penetrated Red Warrior’s nose and made him sneeze hard.
            Sure enough, just after lunch Second Granny came padding over on her bound feet. She stuffed two pieces of candy in Red Warrior’s hand as soon as she came in the door. Then she took his round little face in both hands and said, "Get up early tomorrow." Her palms were cold and her teeth, or rather the remaining ones, were yellow. When she spoke the smell of shrimp paste hit Red Warrior in the face. Normally he would have broken free and run away, but today he stood there and smiled dumbly and didn’t move a muscle.
            "Orchid’s mother-in-law lives a long way away, Sis, and we’ll be getting up early. It’ll be a cold day, so you’d better have the boy wear a thick cotton coat. There’s padded jackets on the cart but they’re arraigned in pairs, and we can’t have the child getting frozen.”
            "You think he could he freeze?” Granny asked with a smile. “Look how his heart’s burning up. You see his heart is bursting with energy."
            "Oh, right!" Second Granny had thought of something. “Red Warrior,” she said, “when you get there tomorrow, we really need to hold on to the quilts. When someone wants to carry them off, don’t let him take one until he gives you some candy, and then only let him take one. Let him take another one after he gives you some snacks. Don't let go of the rest too early. Only after he gives you money."
            Second Granny gestured to emphasize her words like she was acting on a stage.
            But just after she left, Grandma told Red Warrior, "We can't be so blockheaded. If they give you ten yuan, we'll let them have the stuff."
            Everything his grandmothers said to the boy went in one ear and out the other. He just hoped it would get dark soon.
            It’s funny, but Red Warrior didn’t sleep at all that night. It might have been the first time in his life he’d ever had insomnia. He lay there and couldn't get to sleep for anything. First it was his grandfather snoring, then it was his grandma grinding her teeth. The light from the mouth of the furnace glowed fiery red on the wall, and the boy stared at it, feeling not the least bit sleepy. Later the “hiss” of the aluminum pot on the stove was like a never-ending song playing in his ear.
            Following a few isolated dog barks, some clear footsteps came walking through the alley. Grandma heaved a deep sigh and woke up from her dreams. The firelight reflected on her back when she sat up on the bed, and her pair of bag-like breasts swayed a couple of times in the shadows. She only relaxed after she glanced at the black hole outside the window, and started to dress without further ado.
            "Grandma," Red Warrior called softly, still nesting in his bedclothes.
            Grandma was startled. She looked over at him and said, "Red Warrior, you’re awake. You’re really something. You woke up without me calling you."
            He wanted to tell her he hadn't slept at all but was afraid she’d laugh at him and say he was useless, so he swallowed his words.
            Then Grandpa got up, too, and pulled the cord to turn on the light. "Hey, this light is really bright,” he said. It hurts to open your eyes." That was the first year the village had electric lights, so his grandparents were always going on about how “oh so bright” they were. Red Warrior didn’t even hear their prattling anymore, as if a cocoon was growing in his ears.
            Red Warrior had just put on his new clothes, but didn’t have his new boots on yet, when there was a knock at the door. Grandpa ran to the door carrying his belt, and came back shortly with Green Shu, Secretary of the Village’s Communist Party branch. Secretary Shu had a flashlight under his arm and was all decked out in a Mao suit. He said, "We’re in high spirits, today, Red Warrior. Look how pretty your new clothes are.”
            Grandpa took a carton of expensive cigarettes from the cupboard and handed one to Green Shu, and gave him a light.
            "Look at this kid’s high spirits. I didn't call him to get up. He woke up on his own." Then she continued, "I’m putting him in your charge, Green. Take good care of him for me.”
            “Rest assured, Sis. He’ll eat until the grease is glistening on his lips and gurgling in his stomach, or all the efforts of this Branch Party Secretary will have been wasted.”
            "Oh, right!" Secretary Shu seemed to have thought of something. "We’ve got to do a good job escorting this cart, Red Warrior. If he doesn't fork over five tenners, the bills with the ‘Great Unity’ picture on ‘em, we’re not letting loose of the stuff. Got it?”
            Secretary Shu gave Red Warrior a slap on the cheek that seemed to be entirely playful.
            There was still no trace of light in the east as Secretary Shu led the way with his flashlight. Grandma followed, holding Red Warrior’s hand. Their shadows grew and then shrunk back as they walked. A gust of wind stung their faces, which were still cold from being washed. When they were still quite a ways from Second Granny’s gate, they could see that lots of people were already there working busily. The three carts had been lined up earlier and, in the dim electric light, puffs of steam spurting from the people’s mouths when they talked.
            There was lots of steam in Second Granny’s courtyard. It seemed Aunt Orchid was about to eat some vegetable dumplings that Second Granny had made for her. Second Auntie Ma handed a pair of chopsticks to Aunt Orchid and said, "Eat, Orchid, eat so you can pass the day comfortably over there."
            Aunt Orchid picked up the chopsticks, but only bit off half a dumpling before she started crying. First one sob followed another, and then her whole body started to tremble. Women piled around her, some covering their mouths while they giggled, and some yawning with their mouths wide open. A few of the older ones said, "Look at this child. A day of great joy, what’s to cry about? It’ll be OK. Just eat a couple more."
            These people had all come to send Aunt Orchid off on the cart. But right then she was sobbing so hard she couldn’t even speak. She couldn’t say a word, let alone eat dumplings. Red Warrior couldn’t understand. Getting married was a time of joy, so why was Aunt Orchid crying so painfully?
            One of the older men shouted from outside. "OK, OK. Time to go. Get on the carts."
            The women inside “oohed” and broke out of their huddle. People gave way and two women in clean clothes escorted Aunt Orchid outside by her arms. She was crying even harder. She jerked her head and shrugged off the two women beside her and tried to run back into Second Granny’s embrace. The two women wrapped their arms around her and the women right behind her formed a wall separating her from Second Grandma.
            Her bright red, cotton-padded jacket shone especially vividly under the lamp-light when Aunt Orchid came out into the courtyard. Looking through the spaces between people, Red Warrior saw that only Second Granny remained in the house. She stood there alone, craning her neck. Her eyes were blank and her hands were raised halfway, as if she had no place to put them.
            Then the people all flocked to the street, a stretch of black shadows and clamoring voices. All the dogs in the village howled in unison like they were giving Aunt Orchid a real send-off.
            Secretary Shu picked up Red Warrior and pushed him onto the last cart. Grandma threw him a big cotton overcoat and told him to put it on. Three Gets was this cart’s driver, and he stood in front of the cart holding the horses’ reins in his hand. The first cart had already started moving by that time, so Three Gets raised his whip and flicked it through the air with a sharp crack. The cart swayed and moved forward. The coverings over the cases swayed once as well, and the copper bells on the horses’ necks jingled crisply. Three Gets had to run two steps and jump quickly up on the front of the cart, then slide his butt over to get settled in.
            The darkness still lay thick over the land. The stars in the sky clustered together, twinkling constantly. In the village behind them, the cocks were just starting to crow.
            Red Warrior was finally able to relax for the first time in several days. The cold wind blew into the cart through the coverings and drilled into the boy's neck. He hurried to scrunch up his neck and cover it with the quilt beside him. His stomach started gurgling, maybe because he hadn't slept. His mind was full of images of huge portions of steaming fish and pork. People said that a wedding banquet like this one had to have dozens of dishes.
            With these thoughts in mind, Red Warrior's mouth watered so much that it oozed out from between his teeth. He took a piece of candy from his pocket, peeled off the wrapper and stuffed it into his mouth. Gradually, he began to warm up, and soon, listening to the rhythm of the horses' hooves and the tinkling of the bells, he nodded off to sleep.
            He regretted that sleep for a long time. He woke up to the sound of firecrackers and, looking up, saw it was already light and a lot of people were crowded around the cart. Half-grown children oohed and aahed and squealed as they crowded together. He didn't know any of them. For the moment he'd forgotten all about Secretary Shu and the cart driver, Three Gets. What made him feel even worse was, he discovered that the coverings and the trunk in the front of the cart had been taken away at some time by someone.
            At that moment two people were propping open the chest at the back of the cart and the sight “whomped” in Red Warrior’s brain. He was so upset that he almost cried. A man with a small, split-chevron mustache climbed into the cart and put his arms around the boy. It looked like a Jap’s mustache and Red Warrior got so scared he could hardly breathe. When he emerged from the coverings in the man’s arms, he saw that the sun had already risen halfway up the sky. People were staring at him and laughing. He didn’t recognize any of their faces. The man with the mustache, still holding him, laughed out loud. He said to the others: "Look at our young relative. He was sleeping sound as a porcelain tile and still isn’t completely awake."
            Red Warrior finally saw Three Gets and Nine Tenths later. They were sitting in the house drinking tea like they belonged there. When they saw Red Warrior, they laughed unabashedly. There were strangers there, too, of course, but they didn’t laugh out loud.
            The man who'd carried him off the cart came in from the back. "Our little relative is really a sound sleeper. He still hadn’t woken up when I brought him down from the cart."
            Red Warrior’s head drooped in embarrassment when he saw the roomful of people laughing. He hadn’t gotten any candies or snacks at all, let alone money. He’d already counted them in his mind, but now he had nothing. He felt terrible.


            He never knew how he’d gotten through the banquet. All he remembered was everyone saying things and making fun of him on the way home.
            Three Gets said: "I looked back and this kid was still sleeping with his neck bent. I didn't have time to call to him before someone took the reins from me."
            Nine Tenths said: "Red Warrior, take out the candy you got and let everyone have a taste. And the money they gave you for escorting the cart, take it out so we can all see."
            Red Warrior could hardly stand it at first, with everyone cutting him down at once. He couldn’t keep the bitterness from welling up inside him. He started crying and had to wipe the tears away with his sleeve.
            Later Secretary Shu jumped into the cart and said, "You bunch of bastards, what’re you teasing the kid for?" He chewed then out, then turned to Red Warrior. "Those things you should’ve got, they couldn’t short us any of it." As he was speaking, he put candies and snacks into Red Warrior’s hands. Then he held up twenty yuan and said: "This money, I can't give it to you. I’ve got to give it to your grandmother when we get back. You little airhead, you’d lose a woman if I gave you one." Everyone chuckled, but Red Warrior didn’t feel even a little bit like laughing.
            Although Secretary Shu had stuffed candy and snacks into his hands, and he knew they hadn’t missed out on anything he was supposed to get, Red Warrior didn’t feel any happier. He felt vaguely that the things people hope for really don’t turn out to be the things that make people so happy. He seemed to understand why Aunt Orchid had lost it and cried bitterly on such a day. He sat there on the cart staring at the dark green wheat fields under the winter sun, and suddenly felt that he’d grown up a lot.

21st Century Chinese Literature Compendium; 2002 Short Stories, p. 102
Translated from version at

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