Author 006 Zhang Wei (张维)
He was able to use his hands, even though they were handcuffed, to move Captain Ma's leg off his body. He sat up slowly on the bench. Suddenly his eyes brightened — the keychain was hanging at Captain Ma's waist.
He took a key and, holding it in his mouth, was able with some difficulty to unlock his handcuffs. He kicked open the truck's door and climbed out.
The snow was still falling. Everything was covered with a layer of soft, white gauze.
He couldn't put a name on the excitement he felt. In his mind he kept repeating, "I'm free! I'm free! I want to soar, to fly far away. I want to hide in some place where they'll never find me!"
He turned around and stuck his hand into Captain Ma's pocket. He thought he'd get some money to take with him.
"The first snowfall of 2002…." He jumped at the sound of a man's plaintive voice singing the hit song. It was Captain Ma's cell phone ringtone!
He waited until the ringtone faded before he pulled out the phone and looked at it. There were two missed calls and several text messages. He opened one of the messages and a line of characters popped up: "It's snowing, Papa, watch yourself!"
He opened another one: "Hurry back, dear, we're waiting for you!"
Somehow he also began to think of his own wife and daughter. He knew they'd been waiting all these many years.
He stood there in a whirlpool of emotions, experiencing all sorts of feelings.
Suddenly he hit himself cruelly with his fist. "I'm so screwed up!"
He used Captain Ma's phone to call emergency services. "Hi, is this 110? There's been a car crash here. Two officers are injured and unconscious. The location is…."
When he was finished, he climbed back into the truck. He tore off part of his shirt and used it to wrap up Captain Ma's bleeding arm, and cushioned the captain's
head on his own thigh. Then he sat back and waited quietly for the EMTs to arrive.
Outside, the snow kept on falling….
2. The Offering
The prairie grass was green and the chrysanthemums were yellow. He knelt in front of a desolate burial mound, his back straight. He held a brown clay pot in his arms.
The wind swept lightly down from the mountains. Strands of hair that was white as silver were playing in front of his wrinkled forehead.
"Mother, your son just wanted to play around. He didn't listen to what you said. He went away to buy salt and didn't come home. Cricket fighting was all he thought about. He never figured on getting arrested and sent off to Taiwan. So many years gone, just like that." He mumbled his testament, his voice muffled and plaintive.
"Mother, your son was disobedient. He didn't pay you your last respects." He sobbed noiselessly, and tears ran down his cheeks.
"Mother, your son is useless. Forty years to buy a jar of salt, and not bringing it back until today." His lips trembled and his voice was further back in his throat, as though he couldn't get the words out.
He slowly lifted the clay pot above his head with both trembling hands. He let it go, and it dropped to the ground with a "whomp" in front of the grave, sprinkling white all over the dirt.
He knelt there like a stone carving. Huge teardrops flowed down his thin cheeks and trickled to the ground, turning the dirt around the broken potshards to mud, drip, drip, drip….
3. A Big Man's Help
"Hello, is this Commander Bai?"
"Yes, that's me."
"Oh, Commander Bai, my driver license has been confiscated by this guy, this police officer, and he's going to give me a ticket, too. Please tell me what I can do!"
"May I ask, who…."
"I'm Young Zhang. Don't you remember me, Commander Bai? We ate together a few days ago"
"Young Zhang? Which Young Zhang? Tee hee, I don't quite remember."
"Commander Bai, it's really like they say, 'An eminent person has too much on his mind.' You've forgotten this young girl already. Looks like I'll have to treat you to another meal one of these days, to refresh your memory."
"I'm sorry, I meet too many people every day, and some of them I don't remember clearly. How about this? Give my number to the policeman."
"Hello, this is Bai Zhigang. Who is this, please?"
"Oh, Commander Bai. I'm Young Li from the Second Detachment, Li Bin."
"Oh, Young Li, our young comrade didn't do anything serious, did she?"
"Nothing too serious. She just made a left turn in a place where left turns aren't allowed."
"Oh, it's like this. She's one of my friends. If it's convenient, can you cut her some slack?"
"Sure, sure, no problem. I'll give her her license back right away."
"Hi, it's Ling Ling. Thank you!"
"Oh, A-Lian! Thank me for what?"
"That card you let me have the other day. It really came in handy. I'd've been in big trouble today without it."
"Bai Zhigang's card, from the Traffic Brigade."
"Oh, I picked that one up off the floor. I can get all kinds of cards all the time here at the café, A-Lian. Customers leave them strewn around on the floor and the tables. If you can use them, I'll get some more for you."
"Great! Just the cards from ranking officials, get some more of them…."
4. A Hard Lock to Open
"Auntie Ma, let's unlock the door. We'll let those two witches have a look and see that the first wife is the true match!" Grandmother picked up her key and looked around proudly at the crowd.
Auntie Ma, the kitchen lady, limped toward the exquisite rosewood box.
Everyone in the crowd new that all the gold and other valuables that Grandfather had collected in his life were in that box.
And they all knew the last words that Grandfather had left as he was about to die: "Whosoever's key can open this lock, the box shall belong to them."
Second Wife's heart was dripping blood. Third Wife's were open so wide they were round.
Auntie Ma's face suddenly turned deathly pale. Grandmother instantly dropped down onto a chair with hateful profanity on her lips: "A thousand curses on that bastard! From beginning to end, he was always thinking of other women."
Second Wife and Third Wife got up at the same time. They each had a key in hand.
Second Wife looked askance at Third Wife. "End of the line, my dear sister, it's not your turn yet! The white rice goes before the scrapings at the bottom of the pot."
A moment later, when she saw that the key in Second Wife's hand didn't open the lock, Third Wife jumped forward. She nudged Second Wife aside, saying, "Dear sister, this key of mine is the one." Looking at Grandmother, she added "The only true match."
But Third Wife's key wouldn't even fit into the keyhole.
They all looked at each other.
All of a sudden a fifteen or sixteen-year-old child holding a key in his hand said to Auntie Ma, the Kitchen lady:
"Mom, I brought this key with me, the one that was under your pillow. Didn't you say it was one grandfather gave to you, too?"
"Don't!" Auntie Ma yelled to stop him.
But before she'd even finished saying the word, the lock in the youngster's hand answered with a "ka-lunk" and opened.
Auntie Ma pulled her son to her and tore the key from his hand. "Come on, let's go home. I have no desire to see this!"
The room was deathly silent….
5. Shorty Li
Shorty Li, the leader of the Melon Snatch Squad, made a specialty of stealing other people's melons.
He didn't steal winter melons, watermelons or pumpkins. He stole the melons on people's shoulders.
He didn't steal from good people or poor people. He stole from evil tyrant landlords and retired military commanders.
Evil tyrant landlord Feng the Exploiter cheated men and forced women. He hounded the cowherd Zhang Laoliu to death and violated the cowherd's woman. On the morning of the next day, when the rooster was crowing for the first time, Feng the Exploiter's mistress screamed like a stuck pig as soon as she opened her eyes: It seemed that Feng the Exploiter's "melon" had been stolen by someone. Puddles of blood covered the bed and the floor.
Retired military commander Scabby Zhao had ordered his subordinates to bury a dozen or more dependents of Red Army soldiers alive. In the afternoon three days later, Scabby Zhao, who had just taken a few nips, fell onto his paramour's bed, never to rise again – his "melon" had also been stolen.
From then on, whenever these sorts of people would mention the Commie Bandit Shorty Li, they'd gasp and wheeze and their hearts would thump like little drums.
Shorty Li was audacious and skilled at his art. While his outstanding deeds piled up, throughout it all he never joined the Communist Party. It was because he couldn't control that place three inches below his belly button.
The Party's Special Committee sent someone to talk to him about it. They wanted him to keep an eye on his lifestyle behavioral problems.
Shorty Li giggled. "Hee, hee, it's nothing at all."
The guy sent by the Special Committee immediately pulled a long face: "We've heard you're secretly locking thighs with Feng the Exploiter's mistress."
"Ha, ha! It's consensual. Besides, she was born into an exploited class." Shorty Li was still laughing.
In the end, something bad happened to Shorty Li.
One dark, windy night, he once again snuck into that woman's courtyard and got into her bed. As he lay there recuperating in the aftermath, completely spent, he was suddenly slammed into by a bunch of armed men swarming into the room. The whole place was lit up by their torches and lamps. Shorty Li turned to face the woman and, through clenched teeth, asked her, "Why?"
"You killed my man, and made me poor again. I spit on you!" The woman turned hostile and she really did spit on him.
Shorty Li sighed. "I've spent my life snatching melons, but I never figured I'd get my melon snatched by the likes of you."
Long story short, he shot himself in the head.
Author 008, Li Jiantong (厉剑童)
6. An Allocation Swished Away
From the moment the Section Chief sent the principal the list of names, including her and six other students suitable for the "Two-Free and One-Subsidy" tuition grants, her heart had been filled with fervent but deeply worried anticipation.
Three days later, those six other students were all approved for grants totaling 800 Yuan each per semester. That amount was about the same as a teacher's monthly salary.
All except her. She was denied, in the principal's words, because: "We use the best steel to make the blade. This sum will be given to a student from an even poorer family."
Watching her fellow students swishing around, conscientiously filling out the forms, she couldn't suppress the bitterness that filled her stomach. The tears poured down her cheeks like a river with the floodgates open, and she couldn't stop them.
She saw clearly a face glistening through the tears – a thin face twisted by the ravages of bone cancer.
It was her mother's face.
How could the students in her class have known?
That affable, white-haired principle, who loved the students like his own children, was her father.
7. Buying Veggies
Sunday morning Secretary Zhao, a government functionary, took a break from his busy schedule to do some shopping. As he was strolling around, he came upon a vegetable stand. The vendor, who was wearing a conical bamboo hat, had his head down and was concentrating on arranging the vegetables on his shelf.
The Secretary, who hadn't bought and veggies for several days, was struck by a sudden urge to learn something about the vegetable vending business. He casually asked the vendor, "How much for a pound of this vegetable?"
After he asked, his eyes popped out and he was left speechless. Believe it or not, the vegetable vendor was the County Commissioner!
"I'm sorry, Commissioner, I didn't see it was you! I'm sorry…." A blush spread over Secretary Zhao's face and he couldn't stop stammering out his apologies.
The Commissioner plucked off his hat. He gleamed as he fanned himself exaggeratedly and said with a chortle, "It belongs to a relative of mine from the countryside."
"Take a break for a while, Commissioner. I'll sell the veggies for you." Secretary Zhao took the scale from the Commissioner.
The Commissioner declined his offer. "No, that's OK. You go on with what you were doing."
Secretary Zhao walked away, a bit embarrassed.
Shortly after he left, a lot more people came to buy vegetables. Old men, old ladies, workers wearing helmets…. They were all eager to buy and didn't bargain over the price. Before long, the veggies that had been stacked so high had been swept clean.
A smile blossomed on the Commissioner's face.
A vegetable farmer in his seventies hobbled over from where he'd been standing off to the side. He took a thick wad of bills from the Commissioner and counted them one by one. As he counted, he said, "Thanks for your help. May I ask what your name is?"
The Commissioner smiled but only said one thing. "It's all sold, old fellow, so you can go home early." He turned and walked off toward the County offices.
In a little nook on the other side of the street, Secretary Zhao was sweating profusely. He was busy buying back all those high-priced vegetables.
8. Before and After Death
While he was alive, his children all begged off. None of them was willing to spend a cent.
When he died and was laying in the coffin, his children all did the traditional mourning rituals. They knelt there for a long time, grieved and inconsolable. "Dear Dad, how could you be so heartless? You said you were going and you went, just like that, without giving us a chance to do our duty and support you in your old age…."
He got excited when he heard that and sat up in his coffin with a start. "My dear children, don't cry," he said as he pulled himself out of the coffin, his lips trembling. "I'm not dead, OK?"
The children were dumbstruck, but in an instant they realized what had happened and immediately scattered.
He wiped away a tear, craned his neck, and swallowed the rat poison in one gulp.
9. A Clerk's Death
Young Wang was a clerk in an office. He'd noticed that for the last few days, when the Department Chief looked at him, he'd crook his neck and look out of the corners of his eyes.
"Does this mean I've done something wrong? No, I haven't made a mistake anywhere. But if I haven't made any mistakes, why is the Chief looking at me like that? No, it must be that I've done something wrong, but where was I wrong? Did I make a mistake? No, yes, no, no, yes…."
Young Wang was apprehensive. He had butterflies in his stomach. Every day he'd ask himself these questions over and over. He felt like he'd slipped and fallen into a honey bucket and choked to death.
Several years later, Young Wang and the Chief ran into each other in Heaven. Young Wang bowed deeply and stammered, "Chief, I… I have a question I'd like to ask you. I'm not sure if that's permitted."
"Sure, ask away," the Chief said straight out.
"You… Why were you always looking askance at me back then?" Young Wang looked anxiously at the Chief's thick lips.
The Chief was stunned. Laughing, he said, "Oh, Young Wang, you don't know. I really hurt myself then. To tell you the truth, I slept wrong on my pillow back then and got a stiff neck. I tossed and turned for over a month. But right after you died, the problem got better…."
The boss caught a cold and went to the hospital for an injection. The Director of the hospital told an old nurse who had loads of experience to give him the shot. The boss declined and said he didn't want a shot.
The Director was perplexed. He asked another nurse, a trainee, to give the injection. The boss took one look at her and his eyes lit up.
He was all smiles after he got the shot. "That was easy," he exclaimed, "really easy." The Director smiled.
Shortly thereafter, the Hospital traded its entire nursing staff for beautiful, high-salaried girls. From then on, the boss and other bosses went there for cold shots.
Author 009, Jia Shuling (贾淑玲)
11. Outside the Window
I awoke from a dream. The moonlight was like water, flowing steadily through the window onto my bed.
All of a sudden I noticed a black shadow swaying right outside my window. It stooped down occasionally to listen attentively at the window.
I was so scared couldn't move. I snored loudly, pretending to be asleep.
The black shadow stood in front of the window for a while, then snuck away. There was no way I could get back to sleep….
I woke up again on another moonlit night. The black shadow that stooped to listen appeared once more outside by my window, looking very much like a sketch. I sat up, got out of bed, and tiptoed to the window. When I reached out my hand to touch the sketch, the black shadow stood straight up. As it was about to leave, a picture appeared before my eyes—
On a night five years previously, I was pulled back from the river's edge near our door by my mother. I was dripping wet.
"Mom, go back and get some sleep," I said softly to the black shadow. "I was cured of sleep walking a long time ago."
Flustered, the black shadow said, "So, I'll go, I'll go…."
He never mentions where he works to people outside the family.
He's an artist who specialized in portraits. His portraits are vibrant. When he introduces himself, he says he paints in his spare time.
He's set up his easel in a corner of a park on his day off.
A woman comes over and asks softly, "Can you paint my picture for me?"
"Please have a seat, and don't move." He gestures for her to sit. The woman before him is so delicate that it makes him think of Lin Daiyu [the famous fictional beauty], except only that her face is scarred.
"Can you paint me a little more beautiful?" She seems a bit embarrassed.
This is the first time he's heard such a request. Most people ask to be painted as lifelike as possible.
He has his own professional ethics, which won't allow his brush to diverge from reality.
He just smiles at the woman.
When he finishes the painting an hour later, the woman seems weary. The painting looks just like her.
The woman runs her fingers over the painting. "It looks like me," she says. "But can you paint me a little more beautiful?"
He shakes his head. "No, I can't."
The woman looks regretful, but he can see that she nevertheless admires his artistic skills. She pays for the painting and leaves.
One day a couple of months later, he comes to work the same as he always has. There are several people in the main hall and they're weeping. He can hear funeral music. He's so familiar with such things that he's indifferent and numb to them. The only thing he finds exceptional is that a portrait painted is hanging in the reception hall. And, unexpectedly, the person lying in the crystal coffin is the woman who had asked him to paint her a little more beautiful that day.
During the eulogy, he finds out that the woman was the one who'd been mentioned in the paper the other day, a cancer patient who'd saved a drowning boy.
He silently takes down the painting. "Yes, I can paint you a little more beautiful."
13. A Romantic Appointment
Hongmei is missing. I've been looking for her continuously.
Hongmei is my lover. We chased each other through the forest one day, and when we got tired, we lay down under the trees and watched the sky hanging above the branches. The sunlight was shining down through openings in the forest crown, a beam here and a beam there. It was glorious.
Hongmei was cuddling at my side. She looked at me intently and said, "Growing old slowly with you like this, how romantic! How great!" Happiness welled up inside me, a minute, ten minutes, twenty minutes… then we drifted into beautiful sleep.
When I opened my eyes, I found that Hongmei had woken up before me. She was looking at a lovely splash of red on a hillside in the distance. I thought it must be gorgeous flowers and decided I'd pick some to give to her.
I ran off toward the slope.
When I came back, holding a flower between my teeth like a gentleman on a dance floor, Hongmei was gone. I looked anxiously around the forest, but as yet I still haven't been able to find her.
There's a resort down below the forest. All year round, lots of people drive their cars there for vacation. I miss my Hongmei intensely when I see the lovers there in couples.
Time has become so shredded in my thoughts that I couldn't bear it, right up until today, when I suddenly see a flash of Hongmei's profile through the brush. I rush over, crazy with happiness, closer, closer—
It turns out to be a petite woman. She's holding tightly to a man's arm and says to him coquettishly, "Everyone says this fur you got me is really pretty!"
I see my Hongmei on the back on this woman's shirt.
I damn well recognize that uniquely red hair.
The things she said, "Growing old slowly with you like this, how romantic! How great!" Her words make me howl in anguish.
The man turns around. He's agitated. There's a strange look in his eyes.
I lunge toward the woman with all my might, screaming in anguish. Only now do I see that I'm looking straight down the barrel of a pistol in the man's hand.
14. The Rain Keeps Falling
Sidewalk shade trees, pedestrian flow, crosswalks, these were the scenes she saw every day as she was leaving the company where she worked. Today, though, it was raining heavily.
There were puddles everywhere. She didn't dare walk straight through them.
She stood in the entryway of her company for a long time, but the rain had no intention of letting up. She sighed lightly and, as she stepped off into a puddle, she looked toward the residential community across the road. Her new home was standing there, waiting.
The rain kept on falling.
She saw a man walk out of the community. An umbrella with a fancy blue pattern covered his face. He was crossing the street in the crosswalk.
"That umbrella is so familiar." She stepped forward happily to greet him, but the man passed right by her side. She turned her head and watched him walking away, muttering, "It wasn't him…."
She was completely soaked, and her long hair was stuck to her face. She was ice-cold. The turned and continued walking forward when, all of a sudden, the sound of screeching brakes pierced her ears. She fell to the ground.
When she woke up, she found herself lying in a hospital. He was sitting in a chair beside her bed.
"You're awake," he said.
"Let's go back and live in our old place, OK?" She looked at him hopefully.
"We only bought this place because it's close to where you work. That way I don't have to go pick you up all the time." He scowled. "Don't be childish, all right?"
A tear rolled from her eye, but she didn't say anything. She thought back to other times when it was raining heavily. He'd be holding his fancy blue-pattern umbrella and would put an arm around her waist, bringing her lovingly under its protection. After they'd walked back to their old place, she'd be dry but his shoulder would be wet.
"You just cross the street and you're home." He bent over her and spoke softly.
"But that street…. It's a long way from home!"
He looked at her, not understanding. She didn't say any more, but turned her head to look out the window. Outside the window—
The rain kept falling.
15. It's Settled
I push open the wooden door, unable to wait any longer. I see him.
I leap towards him, my tears flowing, but he dodges swiftly away. He looks at me apathetically and my heart sinks. The woman in front of him, she's around forty but
looks ancient. She stares at me and in her eyes I see terror, and sadness, and also a plea.
I hurriedly turn my eyes to the wall behind her, to the picture on the wall. In it he's standing beside the woman, smiling in that splendid way of his. My heart aches.
I glance around at the people in the room. They all have gloomy looks on their faces. These people are all strangers to me, and what are they to him? I work hard to keep my voice calm as I say to the woman, "Can we talk, alone?"
The other people leave silently.
We two women are the only ones left in the room. She's looking at me, imploring. Then suddenly she falls to her knees in front of me. I hear my heart breaking completely into pieces. I pull her to her feet and we stand there like that, facing each other, the tears flowing uncontrollably.
After a long time, I say, "The police are outside. They didn't come in. I'd planned on taking him back by force today. Now I can hold off temporarily. Please, show him your love."
The woman was speechless for a moment. Then she hugged me tight and said, "Dear lady, it's been eight years. I shouldn't have bought him from that human trafficker back then. I'm so sorry. I'll do whatever you want. You can take him back whenever you want to."
"He has two mothers, now," I said through my tears. "That's what we've agreed."
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Jia Shuling (贾淑玲)
11. Outside the Window
13. A Romantic Appointment
14. The Rain Keeps Falling
15. It's Settled
Li Jiantong (厉剑童)
6. An Allocation Swished Away
7. Buying Veggies
8. Before and After Death
9. A Clerk's Death
Zhang Wei (张维)
2. The Offering
3. A Big Man's Help
4. A Hard Lock to Open
5. Shorty Li
Chinese Stories in English