1. Guarding Garbage (保卫垃圾)
Liu Qingbang (刘庆邦)
It’s a high-rise residential building. When the residents moved in, they saw it had a built-in down-shaft for garbage. There was an opening on each floor where they could dump their garbage, so they didn’t have to go downstairs to throw it away. All they had to do was lift the opening’s iron cover and toss the garbage right down the shaft.
When they threw garbage wrapped in plastic bags down the shaft, they heard only a whooshing sound for a few seconds. It was a long moment before they heard the plop of the bag hitting the bottom. If they dumped garbage directly from a dustbin down the shaft, the ventilation function of the down-shaft would pull the lighter particles back up. They couldn’t dodge it and they'd end up with a snoot-full.
There was a garbage bin with a not insignificant capacity on the bottom floor of the building. Maintenance people would open it every morning and evening to remove the garbage and take it away.
Later, an epidemic called "SARS" broke out in Beijing. In high-rise residential buildings, ventilated garbage down-shafts were closed off to strengthen public hygiene and safety and to block the channels for transmitting the disease. From then on, to take out their garbage, the residents had to put it in whatever size plastic bags, carry the bags downstairs in the elevator, and throw them into a trash can by the doorway. All the strange stuff from their lives, no matter what it was, had to be put in bags.
Garbage is the leftovers of people's lives, and it includes a complicated abundance of things. Some of the stuff can still be used and is valuable. Those things can be picked out and sold, so a subculture of people willing to sort through the trash cans has sprung up to take advantage of the opportunity.
People, mostly women from outside town, come through residential areas to collect garbage. Often they carry a plastic sack in their left hand and a metal hook in the right. When they see a trash can, they walk over and use the hook to push things aside for a better look. The advantage of the hooks as a tool for this purpose is that trash cans are fairly deep, and the women don’t have to put their sacks down while they’re sorting through the stuff. Nor do they have to dive into dumpsters. Instead, they just pluck out the trash that’s salable.
There are three colors of garbage cans by the door of Entrance One to this building: green, blue and black. This is meant to remind residents to sort their garbage into separate containers, with each type of rubbish disposed of in a different color bin. But why would the residents care about this? They just wrap all the different kinds of trash together on one bag and throw it into any one of the garbage cans.
The interesting thing is, there’s an old man who sits on a concrete bench next to the trash cans. He’s past seventy, and he sits there all day keeping watch over the trash. It’s like he’s standing guard over the stuff the various families have brought down.
The bench he sits on is near the entrance to this section of the building and the exit from the basement. It's on the basement side. It surrounds a small planter box with just soil in it – no flowers have been planted. The old man sitting there obviously isn’t a flower, nor is he part of the soil. Flowers would look better than he does, and soil would be relatively taciturn. The old man is neither good-looking nor taciturn. His eyes have a fierce look in them, like he’s an eagle or a vulture that’s just spotted some prey and is getting ready to attack.
A woman scavenger comes over. The old man tells her, “Go away! Go collect your garbage somewhere else!”
“There’s no why. Scavenging isn’t allowed here, and that’s all there is to it!”
The woman cranes her neck to look in a trash can.
“What’re you looking at?”
“What, is looking prohibited, too?”
“I'm afraid you’ll see something you want but can’t take.”
“You’re really something!” All the woman can do is leave.
The reason the old man won’t allow anyone else to go through the trash is that he’s monopolizing it for himself. He has a lot of experience searching through trash and he’s relatively picky. He doesn't appear to have a plastic junk bag, or at least he won't open one. He doesn’t want things like old shoes, worn out clothes, broken mattresses, electrical appliances that don’t work or food products. He only collects things like cardboard, old newspapers and books, easy-open cans and mineral water bottles.
He gathers such waste up and piles it temporarily in the planter box behind him. In the evening, he either bundles the stuff up or puts it in an old-fashioned bamboo baby carriage to take to a nearby waste collection point to sell.
One day at noon the old man was leaving for a while to go home for lunch. He looked back and saw a woman rummaging through one of the trash cans. She pulled out a shoebox and the old man yelled, “What’re you doing?” The woman put the shoebox down.
She was so frightened she couldn’t speak.
“I want you to put that thing back. You hear me?”
Once the women had got her hands on the shoebox, she was reluctant to put it back in the trash can. “This isn’t yours,” she said, “so why don’t you want me to take it.”
“Who says it’s not mine? It’s my family’s. When I say you can’t take something, you can’t take it. Are you going to put it back or not? If you don’t, I’ll sic my dogs on you!”
Before the old man had finished speaking, the two dogs he keeps ran up to the women like they’d understood him and started barking at her. They’re both fox terriers, tiny little things, but their bark is pretty loud and “scratchy”. They look rather vicious, too.
Some residents who’d just come downstairs saw the old man and the woman rag-picker quarreling and stood off to the side to watch. They knew that this residential community used to be a village in the northern suburbs of Beijing and that the old man was one of the villagers. Later, as Beijing continued to expand, the village was demolished and several high-rise residential buildings took its place. The old man was relocated here as a city resident rather than a villager.
He doesn't have a job. He depends on the government's Minimum Living Guarantee for his livelihood and receives the lowest-level payment. Despite that, he's able to keep those two dogs. The two fox terriers are like his bodyguards, helping him keep watch over the garbage every day.
The women rag-picker obviously also came from a rural village. She wasn't too afraid of dogs, but she was afraid that when a bully uses the threat of dog bites, the dogs really might bite. A nip or two on the leg from a rabid dog would be a real downer, so she slammed the shoebox back into the trash can and left.
The old man had won a victory.
2016 中国年度小小说第一页, Chinese Mini-Fiction 2016, Page 11
任晓燕，秦俑，赵建宇 选编 Compiled by Ren Xiaoyan, Qin Yong, Zhao Jianyu
Translated from 传送门 at http://chuansong.me/n/706198552339, second story
2. Steadfast Liu (柳坚强)
An Shiliu (安石榴)
One winter just after the government turned on the heating, Steadfast Liu’s downstairs neighbor, Two Strengths, came running upstairs and pounded on his door. “There’s a leak” he said. “Water's seeping downstairs. We’ve got to find it and fix it.”
Steadfast opened the door and stood aside to let him in. Two Strengths was dumbfounded when he came in and saw that the whole apartment looked like a recycling station where business was booming. Untidy stacks of debris were piled up to the ceiling all over the place. A dusty path wide enough for one person forked off into another room, but there was nowhere else to put a foot down.
While looking for the leak, they had to move the debris out from under the large double bed in the bedroom to check on the condition of the steam heating supply line. Steadfast was cooperative and didn’t resent making the effort. He squatted down like a frog in the only large open space by the bed, pulled out various treasures one by one and put them on the bed. Two Strengths couldn’t get involved in this. He stood behind his neighbor’s rear end and watched the sweat pour off him. Afterwards he told people, “Ha, ha! The sweat was dripping down his whole face!"
Two Strengths also said, “There really wasn’t any room, but wherever there was a space I knelt down to help, too. It was frightening!” He explained that the things Steadfast put on the bed were divided into different categories. Everything a person could want was there, but it was all trash. “One glance'd tell you it had all been collected from a garbage dump.”
He also said that the most shocking thing was a double mattress with flowers on it propped up against the wall at the foot of his and his wife's bed. He was sure it was one he'd stopped using two years before. He said it was so bulky, he'd had a devil of a time getting it in the garbage bin under the gable of the north-facing building by the community's south gate. And it was kitsch, too. He tried over and over but didn't have the nerve to let go of it because he knew it was so unsightly and he was afraid it would disgust the residents. He and his wife were of one mind. They ended up carrying it out in dark in the middle of the night and leaning it against the garbage bin.
Two Strengths was still young but he had a fragile and sensitive nature. Steadfast shocked him. After he got home, he moaned and groaned and didn't go to sleep all night. He couldn't understand what was going on with Steadfast.
Steadfast slept well that night, like he used to. Maybe moving stuff out from under the bed had tired him out. He slept soundly and didn't dream all night.
He didn't always sleep so well. A few years previously he'd almost collapsed from sleep deficiency. At that time his daughter, his only child, was in Texas in the United States. She'd originally said she'd return to China after getting her doctorate, but then she'd settled down there. Steadfast and his wife, though, had never considered turning their backs on their homeland as an alternative.
From then on, Steadfast couldn't get a good night's sleep. He'd lie in bed all night, every night, without going to sleep. Eventually his head turned to mush. It was like there were thousands of bees buzzing around him. He had a strange feeling that their two-room apartment was getting fuzzier and fuzzier, but more and more spacious, too, like a wilderness covered by a dense fog.
Walking from one room to the other in flip-flops, the "clop, clop" of his feet on the floor made his brain tremble to the point of dizziness. Looking back at his wife, no matter how hard he looked, she appeared to be a frail sapling alone in a wasteland under the blue dome of the heavens. She was watching him, too, and in that instant he could see through her eyes into the bottom of her heart. She was just like him.
Steadfast has already forgotten how the divine light had flashed, but he clearly remembers one midnight two years before when he and his wife were wandering around in the community courtyard like ghosts. They were beside the garbage bin and saw a gorgeous field of peonies in the limpid moonlight. They both reached for it at the same time, like they'd received a directive. They took it home and set it at the foot of their bed. That wasteland immediately became a field of lush green grass, filled with birdsong and the scent of flowers.
That's how it started, and it hasn't stopped yet.
http://www.sbkk88.com/xiaoxiaoshuo/2016/1111/452216.html, story 4
3. Goodbye (再见)
Zhou Jieru (周洁茹)
“Tell me how you can only listen to that Taiwanese singer, Cheer Chen,” he said.
“Because each of her songs goes its own way,” she said.
“Why did you go see the animated movie, "Spirited Away", ten times?” he asked.
“It looks different every time,” she answered.
He doesn’t ask stupid questions like that anymore. And she doesn’t have to answer stupid questions.
That’s history, now. She'd come to Taipei three years before, and he became an ex-boyfriend. There really are things called “ex-boyfriends” in this world.
She doesn’t remember hardly anything about the coffee shop, or the coastline, or the bed and breakfast in Mountain View. She just remembers the stairway, that interminable stairway. And she couldn't really find the streets where Chihiro, the young girl from "Spirited Away", had walked, even though she’d watched the movie ten times, and then watched it ten more times. Lots of faceless people stopped at Mid-Mountain to take photos, a seemingly uncountable number of faceless people making frightening gestures. She just felt stupid.
Those lanterns, the ones that get redder at night, and the corner teahouse – it was just a lousy city after all, and didn’t have anything to do with Chihiro. You can't really go back there, even if you’ve been able to watch the movie twenty times. The story about finding her own name is nothing less than the story of an era – the story of one person, and the story of an era.
She’d let loose a sky lantern, one of those miniature hot-air balloons. Then she’d thrown up on her way back to Taipei. The road was too rough.
She thought she was over that “can’t go back” idea. It hadn’t been three years yet.
She’d thought about coming back. She’d never felt that she’d stay in Taipei forever, with the crowds on Zhongxiao East Road and the boiling hot sun. Taipei wasn’t her home.
She was back, now. She'd thought she’d ask him, when they met again, “Did you love me?” And he’d ask her, “Well, did you love me?” She didn’t ask, though, so he didn’t, either. Just a hug, a soft and affectionate hug.
“You look good,” she said. “Still here.”
He smiled. “I’ll be leaving next month,” he said. “Getting married.”
She looked at him and said, “Oh.”
She’d never told him they were breaking up, but they had broken up, after all. She’d once mentioned him to some new friends and used the term “ex-boyfriend”.
“Oh,” she said.
“What about your parents,” she asked.
“I won’t be going that far,” he said. “Not like you did. I can still drive back on the weekends.” His eyes were smiling, too. He said, “You, you were too far away.”
Suddenly she felt that, when they’d hugged just now, he’d gotten fat. Suddenly she felt that, when he left, it would be forever.
She said, “I thought you’d always be here.” She said, “I never thought you’d leave.”
She said, “I don't know what to say.” He looked at her.
“I was afraid my parents would be alone,” he said, “so I gave them a dog. I wanted to give your parents one, too, but they said no.”
He said, “I downloaded a bunch of songs for your dad. I don't know whether he liked them or not.”
She said, “Thank you.”
He didn’t know whether doing that was quite a success or quite a failure for an ex-boyfriend. But he was going to leave.
Later she went to Hong Kong, too. Maybe it was three years this time, or maybe it was ten.
He got married. Sometimes he came home for a meal with his parents, or a meal with her parents, or a meal with both sets of parents. He sent her a picture of a dinner, and she sent him a smile in return.
She never saw his wife. His parents had never accepted her. He said there was nothing he could do about it, that there was nothing wrong with her.
She felt a weight on her shoulders when he said that. A very wearisome burden.
Some ex-husbands stay members of the family. Some ex-boyfriends can, too.
She dated several people. One of them impressed her. He said everyone has their own river, and every river has someone who remembers their name. Then he was gone.
Later she remembered that she’d been impressed by him. Or maybe she’d been impressed by what he said about a river where one's name is remembered.
In the movie, Chihiro had fallen into a river when she was a little girl, but the Spirit of the River, Nigihayami Kohakunushi, had saved her. Later he’d saved her again in the Hidden Place. And Chihiro had rewarded him for his help, of course, with her blood and her tears. They said it was love, but she didn't really think so, and it certainly wasn’t friendship. There are so many sentiments in this life that can’t be kept distinct.
Chihiro had asked, “Will we see each other again?” He’d said they definitely would.
One summer she went to Studio Ghibli’s manuscript exhibition in Hong Kong. She found out that the animations for characters and scenery are drawn separately. It’s like making a real movie.
There were so many people in line. That’s when she realized how important the filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and his favorite story, The Little Prince, were to the people of Hong Kong.
On a wall in one corner of the exhibition, many people had stuck up small pictures they’d drawn themselves. She drew a Coal Ghost, a lonely one with big eyes looking up at the sky. She stood on her tiptoes and stuck the Coal Ghost high up on the wall.
She went to see the exhibition a second time the day before it ended. She’d almost forgotten the little picture she’d drawn. When the summer had finally passed and her life hadn’t changed, she’d thought about leaving. Hong Kong wasn’t her home.
Several pictures had been stuck in dense layers on the wall. Her picture was still up there and could be seen clearly at the top, but a stranger’s picture had been added beside it. It was another Coal Ghost with even bigger eyes and fine fuzz. This Coal Ghost was leaning on hers, with an arm carefully wrapped around its shoulder. It was like a hug.
That’s when she thought of it. She owed him a formal goodbye.
2016 中国年度小小说第一页, Chinese Mini-Fiction 2016, Page 50
任晓燕，秦俑，赵建宇 选编 Compiled by Ren Xiaoyan, Qin Yong, Zhao Jianyu
Translated from 贵州都市报 at http://dsb.gzdsw.com/html/2015-01/05/content_42127.htm
4. Hello, Watercress (豆瓣，你好)
Dragon One (龙一)
In the river of people rolling along, a historic moment for Watercress was approaching.
Watercress was abandoned by her birth parents, who wanted to avoid the fine for having a second child. She grew up in the city with her adoptive parents and her sister, Bursting Spring Ye. After her parents had another kid and got fined anyway, they felt it wasn't right, so they were coming to the city to take back their abandoned daughter. The story starts with their return to the countryside.
They met at a railway station crowded with people going places, where cultural exchanges between the country and the city get more intimate day by day. Behind Watercress was her big sister's city, and in front was the country village of her parents and siblings. Admittedly she'd grown up in the city, with different cultural influences due to political and economic differences, but by blood she belonged to the village. She was linked through the blood of her mother, Fragrant Beauty, making her inextricably linked to the countryside forever.
The first conflict took place on the train. Watercress needed a tissue to wipe her nose, and her mother had her tear off a piece of writing paper to use. Watercress felt the barrier separating her from her new family directly.
Crying was the only way Watercress could express her pain at leaving the home she knew and her worries about an unknown fate. In the language of the original essay, “She cried all the way to Zhengzhou before she fell asleep.” Her mother had a clear preference for her son, Aviate, but the author didn't have Watercress get into any direct conflict with her new family, and only used this to describe what Watercress was experiencing.
Mandarin versus the local dialect, and the large gap between her former and current status, made Watercress slow to adapt. Later on there was a difference of opinion over her name. Bursting Spring had felt that "Watercress" sounded nice, but Pressman Wang thought it was strange and called her “My Beijing Sister”. "About that, is Pressman Wang the one raising her?" As far as Watercress was concerned, the countryside was a forbidden land she didn't care to return to, but for Pressman, Watercress was an outsider who had been away from the country for too long.
As a welcome for Beijing Sister, Watercress had to wash her own bedclothes and put away the clothing scented with sunlight and vanilla. This was undoubtedly the beginning of her integration into rural life.
Following the mouse incident, Watercress started to become familiar with Pressman, and Grandpa made his appearance. But the real sign that she was accepting the countryside was when Rain Angel said she was giving some of the family’s sesame seeds to the aunts in Beijing. While Watercress still missed Bursting Spring, she said “Our family's sesame seeds make the sweetest and most savory sesame butter.” Beijing and her sister there had already become memories for Watercress.
For Watercress, Bursting Spring was her Beijing Sister, and a sister in whom she entrusted her emotions. She'd taken Watercress to see Bird's Nest Stadium, but she wasn’t her real sister, after all. Fragrant Beauty was her real mother, and in the ancient Chinese language, as in Mo Yan's novel, mother, land, and village are all unified.
Although Watercress felt nostalgic for the city, following her birth mother back to the countryside was the real homecoming. What one sees in the person of Watercress is a free soul drifting on the boundary between city and countryside. In the end the village was in her blood, and she chose it.
Her mother, Fragrant Beauty, was not a woman bound by tradition. Although she'd abandoned her daughter, when she realized that what she'd done wasn't proper, she resolutely chose to take her back. There was no thought of, "I've given my daughter away, so now I'd be embarrassed to take her back." She took Watercress back straight away. Moreover, Watercress wasn't some babe in the woods who didn't understand anything. She'd seen the city and learned some things. When such a person returns to a rural family that has nothing, it's a "modern homecoming" in the truest sense.
Aside from the homecoming, what I see in this article is conflict. The conflict between city and country, between progress and backwardness. But nowadays, city and country cannot be placed in antithetical positions. They're traceable to the same stock. Cities originated as rural areas and cannot be completely separated from the countryside, and by the same token, rural villages shouldn't obstinately be considered dead. The true homecoming would be an amalgam, with the cities admitting the villages and the villages integrating into the cities. Homecoming is not only for Watercress, but also for society. It is the discovery of lodging for the heart and the soul.
5. The Old Lady (老太太)
An Shiliu (安石榴)
The old lady lived alone for twenty-three years. Twenty-three years ago she couldn't yet be considered an old lady. She'd just retired and appropriately wore old-style curls in her hair, a smile on her face and clothes that were clean and fit well.
She had a son and a daughter. The son always looked put-upon and angry every time came he came home for a visit. He sulked around looking bored like he was doing the old lady a big favor. The neighbors found out later that he only came over when his mother had a problem that needed solving.
One autumn, getting ready to pass the winter, the old lady put a bunch of shallots out to dry on the window sill in her corridor. Before winter arrived, someone passing by took them. She called her son home and he listened to her complain, then solved the problem. How? He bought her another bundle of scallions.
The old lady was retired from a bank. She had a fair income and not many problems, so her son only visited a few times a year. During the Chinese New Year, when families traditionally get together, everyone was too busy to notice whether the old lady's son came home for a visit.
The old lady's son and daughter didn't look like her at all. The old lady had small bones and thin eyebrows, and must have been delicately pretty when she was young. Her son and daughter were both tall and strong, with identical large, deep eyes. The son had dark, rough skin and a head of naturally curly hair. Her daughter's large, flat face wasn't bad looking, and its bushy black eyebrows would have added beauty to any face.
The daughter was always coming to visit, accompanied by a little girl with jet-black eyebrows. She never came empty-handed and brought large or small bags of delicious food and useful articles. She took large and small bags of stuff with her when she left, too. The love of a mother and daughter is like this the world over, tossing back and forth from one to the other.
The old lady often escorted her daughter and granddaughter downstairs and watched them walk away. Sometimes she watched silently, but other times she'd call out busily for her daughter to wait, she'd just thought of something. The daughter would turn back and the old lady would go out to meet her. They'd chat for a while and then the daughter would finally leave. Or sometimes the daughter really couldn't get away, and would go back upstairs with her mother and her child, probably because she'd left something behind. After a while the three of them would come back downstairs. The old lady would stand where she had before and watch them walk away.
These scenes could have gone on for a hundred years without mother or daughter ever growing tired of one another. They did end, though. Many years later, the old lady would say, dry-eyed, "It was my fate."
Her daughter had died of breast cancer.
There's only one step down from the door of the building. It's a low one, maybe five centimeters, hardly a step at all. The old lady fell down it and landed on the ground. She very calmly asked a neighbor who was there to call her son for her. The son drove over to solve the problem and took her directly to the hospital.
A month later, the old lady could walk and go down stairs quite steadily. A bone in her leg had been replaced by an artificial one.
Now that the old lady is nearly eighty years old, she doesn't walk as well as she used to, so she doesn't walk often. She loves to sit downstairs on a long bench with a backrest. She doesn't talk much, just keeps looking toward the east. The community's main gate is less than thirty meters away in that direction.
The old lady went to sit there after dinner, to enjoy the cool breeze. After it was completely dark, some people coming home from their evening stroll noticed her still sitting there motionless. She was still sitting there in the morning just before sunrise, like she hadn't gone in all night, like she would sit there until the day was bright again….
http://www.sbkk88.com/xiaoxiaoshuo/2016/1111/452216.html, story 5
6. Old Mei, Craftsman Haircutter (剃头匠老梅)
Ink White [Sun Yu] (墨白 [孙郁])
I have such a meager impression of Old Mei, the craftsman haircutter. In my mind he has a carrying pole across his shoulders with something on each end: something hot on one end and something cold on the other. The hot end is a stove with an iron pot on it. When he picks up the pole to head out onto the street, the damper at the bottom of the stove is closed.
A bench is on the other end of the pole. It's only one and a half feet long and half a foot wide, and a three-level set of drawers has been built into the open space between its legs. Everything in the drawers is a barbering tool: clippers, a canister of oil to lubricate the clippers, a razor, things like that. A glossy black strop hangs from the bench.
Whenever a man sat down on the bench, Old Mei would reach out and open the stove damper. Before long bright blue flames would shoot up. While he waited to give the fellow a shave, Old Mei would fish a towel out of the hot water to warm up the man’s face. Then he’d pick up the razor, squat down beside the bench and reach out for the strop. Swoosh, swoosh, and soon the razor would be sharp as ever. As the blade moved over the man's cheeks, the rasp of stubble being cleaned off would sound like a farmer cutting leeks in his vegetable garden.
Old Mei was in the Kuomintang army before liberation, but he never fired a weapon as a soldier. What he carried was a barbering kit. Normally he gave his comrades haircuts, but more often he followed along behind the Regimental Commander. The commander had a face-full of thick, hard whiskers that grew like weeds, so he needed a shave every three days. Old Mei not only shaved him well, but did all the associated little jobs cleanly, too. He cleared the wax from the commander’s ears and the sleep from his eyes, and also massaged his neck and back. Before long the commander would fall asleep under his hands.
With this background, Old Mei became part of the “four elements” during the Cultural Revolution. He was sent to be criticized every day. One time when he was about to be criticized, he asked to go to the toilet first. His Brigade Captain, Turtle Yuan, said “I can manage Heaven and earth, but I can’t control when people need to shit or fart, so go ahead.”
But when he’d waited around for a while and still didn’t see hide nor hair of Old Mei, Turtle got anxious and went to the toilet to find him. He looked in and saw Old Mei standing by the shit pit, bowing and nodding. “Old Mei,” he asked, “are you pretending you’re getting chewed out?”
“I’m just practicing,” Old Mei answered.
“Up on the stage,” Turtle ordered.
So Old Mei picked up his carrying pole with the shaving stuff on it and went out into the field. The commune members were shouting slogans loud enough to shake the earth. They would struggle against him first, then get a haircut. Turtle pointed to the carrying pole and asked, "Which end of this barber's kit pole are you, Old Mei?"
Old Mei pointed to the hot end and said, "That end."
"That's crap," Turtle said. "You want to freeze us poverty-stricken, middle-class peasants to death?"
"Well, then, I'm this end," Old Mei said.
"That's crap," Turtle said. "You sit down but make us stand. You want us poverty-stricken, middle-class peasants to die from exhaustion?"
So Old Mei couldn't be either end and had to say, "Then I'm a dumb pole."
After the struggle session was over, Turtle sat down on the stool and said, "Come here and give me a shave." But Old Mei's hand trembled when he started to use the razor and he accidentally cut Turtle's face. Turtle was furious and said, "You want to kill us proletariats?" In anger he sentenced Old Mei to push the waterwheel in the vegetable garden as punishment.
Old Mei followed behind a blindfolded cow, around and around the waterwheel. Suddenly he felt that the structure of the waterwheel was extremely complicated. How could the geared disk bite into one link after another of the waterwheel chain? The rubber bowls attached to the chain, some red and some black, slid precisely down into the reservoir at the bottom of the well, and the cool, cool water flowed into them. A red bowl emerged with a splash as water dripped out. Then the water poured out with more splashing.
As long as the old brown cow didn't stop to shit or piss, Old Mei had to follow it around the waterwheel and the well water kept on flowing. Why was that? Old Mei couldn't figure it out, but his hands trembled when he touched the wooden pegs on the waterwheel.
He thought, "I'm done. It's the end of my craft as a barber. How come my hands shake whenever I touch something?" His life was unsettled and he was terrified.
When nobody was around, he picked a gourd that was shaped like a head from the vegetable field, and took a wooden stick to use as a razor. As soon as he put the gourd in front of him his hand trembled.
Old Mei went home crying that day. He was broken-hearted. His father came up beside him, leaning on a cane. He tapped Old Mei with the cane and asked, "Haven't you grown up? What are you crying about?"
Old Mei said, "Dad, I'm finished in the craft you taught me."
"Why is that?"
"My hand can't hold a razor steady. I tremble as soon as I pick one up."
His dad was silent as he took a cloth bag from his pocket and threw it down in front of his son. "Pick it up," he said.
Old Mei picked the bag up and opened it. It turned out to be a shiny razor. His dad took a seat on the stool next to him and said, "Your grandfather left it to me. Come on, try it out on my head."
But the hand Old Mei held the razor with kept on trembling. He looked at his dad and didn't dare start.
His dad got angry and said, "What are you standing there for?"
"It's my hand, dad."
"Don't waiver, shave!"
Old Mei had to go to his dad and hold out the razor in his hand. But he nicked his dad's scalp before he'd finished the second stroke. Blood flowed immediately. Old Mei looked at his dad and said, "I cut you."
His dad glanced at him. "All those years in the army were a waste. Shave!"
Old Mei shaved all the hair off his dad's head that day, and left behind a total of twenty-one cuts. His dad's head was covered with scar after scar and, in Old Mei's eyes, there seemed to be blood everywhere. Strange to say, though, when he'd finished, his hand no longer shook.
Many years later, Old Mei opened a barber shop on East Street in our town. He still uses old-fashioned clippers, although they're getting harder and harder to buy. He won't use electric clippers, so young people never go to his place for a haircut. He mostly gets old men who shave their heads, and those with full beards. Even Turtle Yuan often comes to his shop to have his hair cut. They often relax and chat during the haircut. One day Turtle abruptly asked Old Mei, "Hey, you still have that barber's kit pole?"
"No," Old Mei said, "I threw it out more than ten years ago."
That brought back a lot of emotions, for both of them. Talking about those things now, it seems like a long, long time ago.
2016 中国年度小小说第一页, Chinese Mini-Fiction 2016, Page 52
任晓燕，秦俑，赵建宇 选编 Compiled by Ren Xiaoyan, Qin Yong, Zhao Jianyu
Translated from 新浪博客 at http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_5f821b4b0100f8gb.html
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