1. Chief Li and the Unknown Old Man and Woman (李科长和不知姓名的大爷大妈)
Pomegranate An (安石榴)
Old Li is the Chief of the Personal Section in a state-owned enterprise, and he's the most unique apple in the box. When he was twenty he looked forty, and now that he's forty people wonder "What load of worries is he carrying in his heart?" The neighbors spend a lot of energy on this question, but the fact is, because of his older appearance, he’d had a great success when he was young. He’d found himself a beautiful wife who was five years younger than him but looked almost twenty years younger.
He lives on the fourth floor of his building. Next door lives an older woman who has practiced qi gong breathing exercises faithfully for ten years. She's reached a very high level. She receives messages about Old Li whenever she goes into a fa gong trance, then spends the whole next day spreading the contents of the messages around the neighborhood. No one doubts her psychic abilities.
An old man stays at her side almost every minute of the day. He’s quite reticent on the surface, but harbors a little universe in the depths of his heart. The old lady excites him to the point where he’s about to explode. He hopes to touch off something gorgeous and resplendent to brighten up his lonely life, so he stays by the old lady’s side looking for a chance to reveal his true self.
"She's using a glass."
Right after the old man mumbled this to himself, the hand that had long been resting on the flab at his hip gave him a merciless pinch. The old lady had her martial arts act together and none of the neighbors beside her noticed. So that was it – Old Li and his family were living in transparent glass. Through the old lady's practiced eyes, everyone could watch Section Chief Li being cuckolded blow by blow.
Then, for a short while, the old lady was quite depressed. She told her audience: "It's really strange, really strange!" She turned right around in a circle on the ground. Her qi gong had become ineffective. It wasn't that she couldn't receive messages – Old Li's family wasn't sending any. His wife had run away, and Old Li wasn't saying anything. He was as quiet as a thousand-year-old turtle.
"Look, I told you, she was using a glass."
The old man wanted to set off an explosion in his little universe by revealing that the old lady had been using a glass on the wall to eavesdrop. Once again he ended up failing. The old lady's thumb and index finger had enveloped the flab at his waist and pinched off the meteor that was about to go live.
From then on the neighbors noticed that Old Li came and went every day with his daughter, who was growing up to look just like him. The girl was only eight years old but the neighbors could tell at a glance that, ten years from now, the neighborhood would have a female version of Old Li.
The beautiful woman came back a year later. In addition to being beautiful, though, she had also acquired a shudderingly enchanted air about her. And Old Li? The forty-year-old Old Li and the twenty-year-old Old Li were like yesterday and today.
Their daughter had grown taller and she loved to laugh more than the previous year. Now when school was out, sometimes her father would bring her home and sometimes she'd come home holding hands with her mother.
The old lady was rather disturbed. She told the neighbors, "That woman, she's really something! She rented a place with a young man and spent a year with him. Now she comes home and Old Li still wants her." Her qi gong is going strong again, making up for an entire year of no messages from Old Li's family, and the neighbors are all abuzz. The old lady laughs out loud, contented that the pressure on her has been relaxed.
This time the old man finally saw his chance. He set off a bomb that in one second's time burned the neighbors' ears raw. "Heck with it," he said, "it's no big deal. It's like a bike that gets stolen but you end up getting it back after a while."
Chinese Mini-Fiction 2016, Page 42, Compiled by Ren Xiaoyan, Qin Yong, Zhao Jianyu
Translated from 随便看看吧 at http://www.sbkk88.com/xiaoxiaoshuo/2016/1111/452216.html
2. Police Reports (举报)
Dai Xi (戴希)
We received phone call at the police station reporting that a household in the Southern Excellence community was using and manufacturing drugs.... “This is an outrage!” The Precinct Commander had me take two Public Security officers there immediately to investigate.
The investigation found that a young couple lived at that location. They were both civil servants and performed well at work. Bottom line, they hadn’t been using or making drugs.
We went to question the person who’d made the report, All-Fish Liao, about the circumstances which prompted him to call it in. When we got to his home, we found that he was a snowy-haired empty-nester living alone.
"Is that true?" the old man asked, frowning, after listing to our briefing.
"Sure is!" I looked at the old man and nodded.
"You checked them out thoroughly?"
The old man was silent. We sighed and hurried back to the precinct.
We didn’t expect that the old man would call the station again after only a few days. Once more, he reported that the people in that household were taking and manufacturing drugs. He spoke with calm self-assurance, even more so than before.
The precinct wasn’t inclined to pay much attention to his little game, given that the report had already been found to be totally false. But when we ignored him, the old man wouldn’t let up. He called in dozens of times during the next half-month.
The Precinct Commander pondered the problem. "Either our investigation was wrong, or there’s been some new developments, or the old guy’s not right in the head."
The Commander called me over. "We’ve got to check everything out, even if there’s only a chance in a million that he’s right. It’ll be a hassle for you guys, but go investigate that household more completely, more deeply, with greater attention to detail. If the reported situation is in fact the case, arrest the suspects immediately and bring them to justice. If it isn’t true and the old guy doesn’t have mental problems, then lecture him on the error of his ways or even give him an official warning.”
"OK!" We took the assignment and dove back in, opening another investigation of that household. Like the last time, we thought of everything that could be thought of, took every step that could be taken, and made use of every strategy that could be made use of. But the result was the same – there was nothing questionable about the young husband and wife.
Obviously, the young couple had been wronged! But why had All-Fish Liao felt compelled to make up rumors about them?
We took this question to the old man’s place and interviewed him. This time, we did more than just inform him of the results of the investigation. We suggested subtly that he should come in to the precinct.
Based on our observations, we figured that the old man wasn’t mentally deficient. His family’s financial situation wasn’t bad. He had two children, a son who was a scientist and a daughter who was the backbone of a state-owned enterprise. People spoke highly of them. But the old man.... I wanted to crack this riddle.
I got straight to the heart of the matter after exchanging formal greetings with the old fellow. "Reporting criminals helps us do our job and we’re certainly happy that people do it. But filing false reports about good people is a crime. We need to have a sense of responsibility, you know!"
"False reports about good people?" he said nervously.
"That’s right, assuming you can’t give me a convincing explanation for your repeated false reports," I said sternly.
"Then what’ll you guys do?" He began to tremble.
"Detain you, if the problem’s serious...." I spoke conditionally on purpose.
"All right, Officer." The old man got anxious and only then carefully explained. "Forgive me for not understanding the law. I really didn’t have any intention to frame them for a crime. I just wanted them to leave, to not live here anymore!
"They can live where they want. It’s a human right. Why is that a problem for you?" I felt I couldn’t reason with the old man.
"But they have an effect on me,” he lamented. “They make me suffer!"
I was startled. "What do you mean by that?" I asked.
"You guys don’t know –"
After calming himself down, the old man said, "It’s OK during the day, when the pair of them's at work and their home is quiet. But in the evening they bring their kids home. I can hear the sound of them laughing and playing with the kids and my heart – it’s feels as bad as being stabbed in the heart!
"Stabbed in the heart?" I was getting more puzzled. "When someone else's family is happy, why is that as bad as being stabbed in the heart?"
"Because...." The old man’s eyes glistened with tears. "Whenever I see or hear their happiness, I can’t stop thinking of the old days when my son and daughter were little like their two kids. My wife and I would both drop whatever else we were doing to play with them. Their innocent laughter, we’d be completely intoxicated with it, completely happy! But now...."
"But what now?"
A tear rolled down from a corner of the old man's eye. "My wife died a long time ago, and the kids both have their own families and careers. They're always so busy and tired, I really don't have the heart to go over to their places and disturb them, and I can't tell them to come and visit me. I'm even afraid I'll get in their way if I call them on the phone! But I can't stop thinking of them. I'm lonely and I feel terrible!"
"You're a good father and you're having a tough time! But.... that young husband and wife," I pressed him, "how can you see and hear so much of their lives?"
The old man acted helpless. "They live right across from my place, Officer" he said. "So close I can almost reach out and touch them!"
"So that's how it is!" I sighed. "How'd I miss that?"
When I took the old fellow home, I stepped out on his balcony. Looking at the red building across the way, my heart filled with warmth.
I thought it over back at the precinct and decided to give each of his children a call.
Since then, the old man hasn't filed any more reports about the young couple.
3. Prediction (预言)
Shang Jianli (尚建立)
Crazy Li, who is probably about fifty years old, sports long hair draped over his shoulders. Every day he goes around knocking on things, bang, bang, with a small wooden stick. He can stare at a utility pole or an overpass all day long. If he’s not doing that, he’ll just stand around talking nonsense, a lunatic with nothing to do.
Recently he seems to have taken an interest in the overpass. He’s often seen pacing back and forth in the area with his head hunkered down between his shoulders, doing God knows what.
I’d heard his neighbor say that he used to be a masonry worker. One day he was driving across a bridge with his family just as, tragically, the bridge broke apart. The entire car fell off the bridge. His wife and their son and daughter were killed, and he was the only one fortunate enough to be rescued and survive. But after that, he became the benighted fellow he is today.
Usually when a person is a survivor, he knows enough to go home and take some time to regain his sanity. Thus his community won’t commit him to a mental hospital. In this way Crazy Li came to be under the overpass, swaying back and forth to pass the days.
After a few days, his neighbor came in to report that Crazy Li was out on the road making trouble and had now already climbed up on the overpass. The police got the report and rushed over to bring him back to the precinct. They restrained him to wait for the mental hospital to send someone to get him.
Uncharacteristically, he implored the police to block off the overpass right away or a lot of people would die. This just annoyed the police. They tried to calm him down by telling him how strong the overpass was, and that he should have confidence in the quality of our engineers. He wouldn’t listen to a word of it. He just said this was something that the overpass itself had told him, so it absolutely could not be wrong.
The police and the people who had crowded into the precinct to watch the excitement couldn’t help laughing when they heard that. Everyone was talking at once, saying that Crazy Li had really gone off the deep end. Last time they’d seen him talking to a utility pole, and now he’d gotten to know the overpass in such a short time. Next he might recognize the highway as one of his relatives. Ha, ha! What a madman! Really!
Crazy Li frowned deeply and tears seemed to form in his eyes. He looked like he'd woken from a dream and suddenly changed back into a normal person. His face became solemnly stiff and, in a low voice, he whispered that he'd made a determination based on his thirty years of experience, and that he absolutely was not wrong. He said that corners had been cut and cheap materials had been used in building the overpass, and he was certain of that because it had cracks. Also, he could hear strange sounds whenever the wind blew, from which he knew that the overpass was in bad shape. The wind told him that it would collapse around five-thirty that afternoon. The police and the others just laughed and shook their heads at what he was saying.
Crazy Li started to roll his eyes again. His face was twisting like a lump of dough that someone was kneading. Waves of strange laughter echoed through the precinct hallway. He seemed to be using his laughter to frighten the people there.
His neighbor, an old lady in her seventies, squeezed through the crowd to help him wipe away his tears. But as she wiped away his tears, the old lady also started to sob herself. She said that Crazy Li was really piteous and not funny at all! That broken bridge that had killed his family was certainly caused by cut corners and cheap materials. Otherwise he wouldn't spend all day every day at the overpass checking every which way so he could say where corners had been cut and cheap materials used. Crazy Li was really pitiable!
When Crazy Li heard the words "cut corners" and "cheap materials", his madness seemed to flare up again. He suddenly jumped up in a frenzy and clamored to go to the overpass. The police had to lock him inside a small room. They could still hear him wailing that they'd pay with their own lives if anyone was killed, that they should get going to save people, and that the overpass would collapse at five-thirty....
Crazy Li was escorted into an ambulance at three-fifteen and taken to the mental hospital. His words were of course the ramblings of a madman and no one believed his prediction. At four-thirty-five, Crazy Li bashed in his head and died in the ward. At five-forty-five, a heavy truck loaded with gravel drove onto the overpass in violation of the traffic regulations. The overpass broke apart instantly at the cracks between the body of overpass and the support pillars, and the entire overpass collapsed like a landslide....
China's Best Micro-Fiction 2015, p. 115; Yangtze Arts Publishing; Liu Bifang, Sun Xiaoxue Eds.
Translated from 故事中国网at http://www.chuanblog.com/arc/77c6772955.html
4. My Cousin's Fish Jerky (表弟的咸鱼干)
Jiang Xianping (蒋先平)
I was at home one Sunday morning, relaxing, playing games on my computer, when the doorbell rang. My wife, who was in the living room knitting a sweater, got up right away and opened the door.
"Come see who's here," she shouted into the bedroom where I was on the computer.
I hurried into the living room. Turned out it was a cousin I hadn't seen years.
He lived in the country and was a year younger than me. He used to come to my place every autumn for a visit and he usually brought some of the salt-cured fish jerky that my wife and I like so much.
My wife would make a good meal when he came, and let me hoist a few with him. After we finished eating and drinking, he'd take some of our old clothes that my wife got out for him and head back happily to the countryside.
All of a sudden he stopped coming and we didn't see him for several years. We heard that he was off somewhere on a job as a migrant worker.
Happy to see him, I asked him how things had been going the last few years. He rubbed his hands together and, with a funny look, said, "Me and the wife went to work in the big city for a few years. Made us some money, then moved back home last year. We set up a farm to raise animals."
"How's that working out for you?" I asked with concern.
He straightened up and cracked a smile. "Pretty good," he said, "same as you guys make at your jobs."
We chatted for a while about this and that, and then he got ready to leave. I asked him to stay for lunch, but he said his daughter-in-law had come with him and was shopping in the mall.
I told him to go get her and bring her here for lunch, but he said no. He was embarrassed and said that the young woman wanted to eat at KFC, and after a while he was going there with her. After that they would be going home.
As he was leaving he handed me a large bag of stuff he'd brought with him. He said it was sun-dried fish he'd gotten especially from East Big River. "I know you and your wife like it, so I brought it along today to give to you."
My wife said we didn't need anything, that we had everything we needed at home. "Take it home with you, Cousin. You can snack on it when you're drinking."
He wouldn't take it back no matter what we said. He blushed and said, "It's no big deal, but I dried it in the sun just to give you guys."
I hurriedly gestured for my wife to accept this bagful of fish jerky by which my cousin was expressing his good will. My wife then went and got a big bag of clothes we hadn't worn in years. She told my cousin to take the clothes home with him.
He said they had a lot of clothes at home and he wouldn't take them. My wife laughed and asked, "You think they're no good?"
"No," he said, "that's not it."
"So take them," my wife ordered. His face got red but he threw the bag over his back and headed downstairs.
Once the building door was closed, I asked my wife, "What was that all about? He's family, and that fish jerky is really good, so why didn't you want it?"
"If I hadn't been afraid of hurting his feelings, I really would have had him take the jerky back with him. Think about it. When it rains in the countryside the runoff all goes into East Big River. Don't the pesticides go into the river, too? Should people eat fish that've been polluted by pesticides? Besides, you haven't seen where your cousin lays the fish out to dry in the sun, but there's flies everywhere. Can eating that jerky be healthy?"
"You're too picky, doctor," I smirked. "What makes you think there's any pesticide residue in East Big River? You've forgotten that you used to work up a sweat eating fish jerky."
She blushed and said, "Back then we were so poor we couldn't afford to buy meat, weren't we?"
She made me throw the jerky into the garbage can. I know how stubborn she can be, so I secretly kept a little bit and hid it.
When we went for a stroll in the mall that evening, I took the jerky along. Downstairs I said to her, "Throwing such great jerky in the garbage is really a waste. It'd be better to give it to the old guy who guards the gate to our community."
We went in the guard shack and gave a large bag of fish jerky to the guard, Old Li. As I was turning to go out, my wife exclaimed, "Isn't this the bundle I gave your cousin this morning? What's it doing here?"
Old Li was embarrassed. "This morning someone about your age was driving out of the community," he said. "He stopped and came in the shack. Said his relatives had insisted on giving him these old clothes. Didn't his family have their own clothes to wear? he said. He was afraid he'd hurt their feelings if he didn't take them, but they didn't have any place to put them at home, so he gave them to me."
My wife and I just stood there. Before we knew it, our faces had turned red.
The Best of Chinese Humorous Writings, 2015, Guan Heyue, Anthologist, p. 116
Translated from http://j.news.163.com/docs/10/2014102111/A92V1EFD90011EFE.html?101
5. No Guardian Angel (没准他是保护神)
Compiled and Translated by Four Virtues (四维俱张 编译)
A long-distance bus full of passengers was moving along the road when the weather suddenly changed. In the blink of an eye, lightning flashed, thunder roared, and a heavy rain poured down. The thunder rumbled incessantly above the bus and the lightning wrought havoc all around it. Several times a blinding flash headed straight for the bus and came dangerously close to hitting it!
After a bit the driver couldn't take it any longer and parked about fifty feet away from a tree up ahead. He told the passengers as they were recovering from their freight, "I'm not usually superstitious, but today I believe, because this lightning seems to have been sent here on a mission. It's been chasing after our bus and the shadows it casts have surrounded us. I think we certainly have someone on the bus who's committed a great evil and the lightening wants to strike him dead, to split him in two! If this person doesn't get off the bus, he'll bring us all to ruin.
"Everyone knows that the spot most likely to be hit by lightning in a thunderstorm is under a tree. I've parked the bus near that tree up ahead and we can all keep an eye on each other. Each of us should get off the bus and walk under that tree, one after the other, and reach out and touch the tree. I guarantee that as soon as that bastard evil-doer touches the tree, he'll be split in two by the lightening and the rest of us will be saved."
Everyone was reluctant, but at the moment they had no choice. Everyone was required, after a fierce debate, to get off in the order of their seats on the bus. It was decided unanimously that the passenger in the first row would get off first and go touch the tree. If he did so without incident, he would return to the bus and the second person would get off.
Having no alternative, the first traveler nervously got off the bus and walked with difficulty toward the tree. There was no pause in the thunder and lightning at the time. The closer he got to the tree, the more powerfully his legs shook, and his heart seemed to want to jump out from his throat. When he stretched out his hand to touch the tree, he closed his eyes and held his breath. But then he jumped for joy because nothing had happened. He was still alive! He rushed happily back to the bus shouting loudly, "It's not me! It's not me! I'm not the one who did evil!"
The other passengers got off in order and went to touch the tree one by one. Everyone felt kind of like they'd gone from hell to heaven – scarred crazy when they went, and mad with joy when they returned.
The whole bus got quiet when the last traveler's turn came. No one said a word. The lightning was particularly blinding just then, and the thunder even more deafening. Everyone gave the passenger a strange look.
The passenger was afraid, too, but he murmured to himself, "I haven't done anything evil...." With a look of despair, he got off and walked with difficulty up to the tree. His hand trembled as he reached out – just then a dazzling bolt of lightning came straight down, followed by an earth-shaking peal of thunder. The lightning hit the bus parked fifty feet away from the tree!
The Best of Chinese Humorous Writings, 2015, Guan Heyue, Anthologist, p. 325
Translated from version at http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_62db798b0102vz1d.html
6. Barbers' Price Lists (理发店的价目表)
Zheng Yuhuang (郑毓煌)
I once went to a barber shop at the gate of Tsinghua University to get a haircut. An attendant came forward to greet me warmly as soon as I walked in the door. He asked me, "Has the gentleman come for a haircut? Do you have a regular stylist?"
It was my first time there, so I told him I didn't.
"What price haircut would you like?" He took out a price list and showed me. "We have haircuts for 38 yuan and for 68 yuan," [about $6.00 and $10.80].
"What's the difference between the 38 yuan and the 68?"
"The 38 yuan haircut is done by an ordinary stylist, while the 68 yuan haircut is by a supervisor. Which would the gentleman prefer?"
I felt 68 yuan was a lot more expensive than 38. I thought there shouldn't be a difference even if it was a supervisor doing it. Besides, I didn't need any special styling. So I said, "I'll take the one for 38 yuan!" I saw a trace of disappointment flash in the attendant's eyes and I chuckled about my "rational" decision.
Another time I'd gone to a barber shop near Tsinghua in the Wudaokou district. That shop also offered 38 and 68 yuan hairdressing services, but had 98 yuan and 128 yuan services as well. Like this time, I'd asked the attendant what the difference was in the four services.
The attendant explained, "The 38 yuan is for an ordinary barber to give you your haircut; the 68 yuan is for a supervisor; the 98 yuan is for a supervisor who has studied in South Korea; and the 128 yuan is for our manager to personally cut your hair!" When he got to the word "manager" he couldn't keep the excitement out of his voice.
Faced with making a choice from among these four options, I knew that the 128 yuan and the 98 yuan services were obviously not on my list. I didn't need the manager or a supervisor who'd studied in South Korea to cut my hair. But while I was considering the choice between the 38 and 68 yuan cuts, my thinking wasn't quite the same. I really would have been embarrassed to choose the cheapest 38 yuan haircut. Not only would I have lost some face in front of the attendant, I also would have been shortchanging myself. I work so hard at my job, do I really have to always go for the cheapest thing?
So I chose the 68 yuan haircut, and that's when I saw laughter flash in the attendant's eyes. I was upset at my "irrational" decision because, in the classroom, I always teach people not to fall for the "split the difference" scam!
读者, 2015-9期 (5月上), p. 33, Readers Magazine, translated from this version, also at
http://www.meiyeedu.com/article/655 under name 99%的人都遇到过的理发店营销陷阱
7. Love in an Instant (爱在一瞬间)
Horizon Visitor (漄愙[涯客])
At the intersection, a large speeding truck came rushing at the bus from the side. The bus driver yanked the wheel to the right and popped the emergency brake.
The girl's eyes went black and a frightening idea filled her mind – This is how it ends! Powerful inertia overcame her and threw her into the arms of the boy at her left. He instantly clutched her right shoulder and soft bosom tightly; and at that instant she heard his body bang into something. All the passengers were knocked almost flat.
"What're you doing? Don't touch me!" Shocked, the girl hurried to sit upright and straighten her clothes. Had the guy really taken this as a chance to cop a feel? She could still feel a slight pain in her right shoulder and chest.
"Man, that was rough," the boy responded weakly. He immediately realized he shouldn't have grabbed the girl's chest. "Sorry."
"Stay away from me!" The girl was quite mad and turned to sit firmly with her back to the boy. The unhappiness showed on her face.
The driver's timely dodge and use of the emergency brake had left everyone scared, but luckily avoided the danger. The bus was stable.
After the girl had sat back up, she'd immediately noticed that her purse's shoulder strap was broken. She turned to look for her purse and caught a glimpse of the boy – he was bloody! The snow-white collar of his shirt was stained red.
He was holding the back of his head with one hand while he searched hurriedly for something in his pocket with the other. The girl realized instantly, what? She saw that an iron railing beside the boy's seat was pointed directly at her and understood completely.... "The guy stopped me from hitting it!"
She opened her purse right away, without hesitation, and took out a thick packet of tissues and handed it to the boy. He said "Thanks.". She girl couldn't keep from using some of the tissues to gently help the boy wipe the bloody stains from his shirt. Looking at his sadly beautiful smile, her hatred turned to pity. "I'm lucky the guy stopped me in time to keep me from hitting the railing. Otherwise I would've been the one that got hurt...."
"Hey, guy," she said, "it's OK you grabbed me. Really! You didn't do anything wrong...." That's the moment her hostility towards the boy vanished completely, within seconds.... Had she been moved? Was this human love?
Just then a middle-aged woman seated in the same row said with concern, "Young lady, take your boyfriend to the hospital right away and get him bandaged up!"
The girl was startled. "Good Lord, my boyfriend?" The boy forced a grin and the girl smiled shyly. The woman's inadvertent words had made the girl's heart flutter. Inexplicable warmth flowed through her body and she was momentarily engulfed by the emotion.
They got off the bus and the boy hailed a cab. He waved at the girl, got into the cab and disappeared into the distance, like a wisp of smoke....
The girl stood where she was, motionless, watching the traffic move this way and that in the distance. "Hey, guy," she murmured, "I wish you peace!"
"Girl, that's a pretty serious injury your boyfriend has. You didn't go with him to the hospital?" The woman looked at the girl and spoke with great concern.
"It's not like that, ma'am. We basically don't know each other.... No, you could say we know each other...." By the time the girl finished, she had tears in her eyes.
"Ah...." The woman watched in surprise as the girl gazed off in the direction the boy had gone.
The girl broke out of her reverie with a start. She immediately hailed a taxi and rode off in the direction of the hospital....
Translated from here, no longer available online.
8. First Job (第一份工作)
Liu Lang (刘浪)
The next day was the deadline for graduates to leave the university. Right then six students, who had lived in the same dorm room for four years and become close as brothers, were somewhat sad and unwilling to part.
The Eldest said "In the whole world, there’s no such thing as a banquet that never ends. Come on, let’s go together for a meal. It’ll be our farewell dinner for each other."
Everyone agreed and they pooled their meal tickets together. Old Three then went to buy some prepared food, while Old Five and Old Six went for beer. The others got out the table and chairs and set the table.
Once the food and beer were on the table, the six of them sat down. The Eldest proposed a toast: "Come on, let’s drink to four years of brotherhood!" After they’d drained their glasses, The Eldest refilled them and proposed another toast: "To a beautiful future for us brothers! Bottoms up!”
While the echo of his voice was still in their ears, Old Four grumbled off to one side, "Fuck that beautiful future shit. Some of us haven't landed jobs, yet."
That got everyone thinking. Before graduation, they’d all gone crazy sending out resumes and going to all kinds of job fairs one after another. But, while The Eldest had signed a letter of intent with one company, Old Two and Old Three had only been called in for interviews, and the rest hadn’t heard anything yet.
When he heard what Old Four said, Old Five started to vent, too. "I studied my butt off all these years, and then when I graduate I can’t even find a job. I’m really ashamed to face my parents!"
Old Two said, "Even if you found one, so what? You can’t live the Life of Riley on a thousand yuan a month. That’s not even enough to pay the rent and buy food!”
That really was a problem. Old Two and Old Six didn’t have families, and when they left school, they’d have a tough time finding a place to live. Old Five had decided to live with his parents while he thought about what to do. Old Three was in the worst shape. He’d been a Big Man on Campus, but now, because he didn’t have any prospects for the future, his girlfriend of three years was about to blow him off.
While they were going back and forth like this, the empties piled up on the floor. The friends were getting tipsy and felt the urge to get things off their chests. Then from next door came the desolate sound of someone plucking on a guitar and singing the sentimental old song, "Who Sleeps My Bro". At that moment, the singing was like pouring a ladleful of gas on a fire.
Old Four stood up, tottering a bit, and rushed crazily to the bed. He pulled all the books off the shelf above the bed. While he was pulling them down he said, "I've read so many books, and what use are they to me now?"
It was infectious. They all got up and rummaged through their cabinets. Before long there was a mountain of books in the middle of the room.
Several guys throwing books down and ripping them up really made a ruckus. In the midst of it all, Old Five cried out in alarm. "Where's Little Sixie?" Old Six was the youngest of the bunch, so they sometimes called him "Little Sixie". Now they noticed that he was missing.
The short little guy had been running around non-stop these days, answering help-wanted ads, all to no avail. "He couldn't have been that down, could he?" The Eldest asked that. Everyone got anxious.
The group was about to go out looking for him when he came back to the room, out of breath. He stood in the doorway and asked, "You guys really don't want these books?"
"That's right, we don't," The Eldest answered. "If you want 'em, take 'em."
Old Five said, "Don't be stupid, Little Sixie. What's the use of reading more books?"
Once Little Sixie had confirmed that none of them wanted their books, he waved to someone outside the room, "Come on in!" A middle-aged man with a face-full of beard came in holding a rope, some woven bags and a scale.
Everyone was dumbfounded. Little Sixie said, "Since you guys don't want these books, I'll consider them gifts to me. At forty-five cents a pound, plus these beer bottles, I figure I'll get seventy, eighty yuan."
Little Sixie bent down and started to pack books into the bags, smiling all the while. "No Indian giving. Today I already got a bunch of books and other stuff from the dorm's trash downstairs. Took 'em and 'sold 'em, and did pretty well. Got over five hundred yuan. It's hard to find work this year, but I guess this counts as my first job...."
The guys stood there like they'd been knocked silly. If they'd thought about it, if they'd had any idea....
Translated from 浪不起来 Surf's Not Up, story 33.
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1. Chief Li
2. Police Reports
Mini-Stories: Gravitas (Page 6)
Chinese Stories in English
4. My Cousin's Fish Jerky
5. No Guardian Angel
6. Barbers' Price Lists
7. Love in an Instant
8. First Job