Chinese Stories in English
Small Town Fighter
It was quite foggy that morning. A frog’s croaking came in through the window, but I could tell it was Chirper Ma. Winter had come on us not long before, and spring was waiting far in the future, so how could it be a frog? I got up and put on my clothes, then pulled a machete from under the bed, rolled it up in newspaper and hid it up my sleeve. Carrying my shoes, I tiptoed through the living room. I didn’t dare put on my shoes until I got outside, for fear of waking my father.
Chirper was squatting beside the road with water droplets in his hair. It was cold, the kind of cold that cuts through to your bones, and gloomy, too, keeping everyone in the town sealed in their homes. The town was still, and only the wind was moving. Occasional gusts stirred the fog with a shooshing sound. Chirper stood up when he saw me coming. He stamped his feet, sending a stone flying off to the side.
“You ready?” he asked.
I nodded. "I'm ready. You?"
"Yeah," he said. "I've been ready a while." He patted his waist. A machete that he'd stuck down his pants poked up a corner of his shirt. His face was grave and stern.
"Then let's go." I said.
Chirper lit a cigarette and took a deep drag, the dim red light glowing through the morning fog. He stretched his back and shoulders, blew out the smoke and coughed lightly. I lit one, too, and dangled it from my lips as I hot-boxed it. We walked single file toward the river. Two or maybe three guys would be waiting for us there, or maybe more. Not knowing the number had me at sixes and sevens, and a feeling of uneasiness rose up and engulfed me, like another fog twisting around and spreading over my heart. To be honest, I was kind of scared.
"He's a prick,” Chirper said. “If he's alone, we'll beat him. If he brings someone, we'll beat them both."
"What if there's a bunch of them."
He made a gesture of slitting his throat. "However many, it’s all the same. We’ll wipe them all out."
He started to whistle briskly and seemed unafraid. He was wearing a pair of black riding boots that swallowed up half his legs, so in the dark it looked like someone was holding him up in the air with one hand. He wasn't as tall as me, but he rushed to the fore every time we fought. It was the same when we walked – he liked to go ahead and have me follow, because that way I looked like a bodyguard he’d hired. He enjoyed that feeling very much.
We were classmates, seniors in junior high that year. He was sixteen and I was fifteen. We didn't like school and planned to go out into the world after we got through junior high. I’d go to Shenzhen and he’d go to Beijing. Later he changed his mind. He decided Beijing was too cold and he'd go to Shenzhen, too. That’s how we thought we’d make our way in those days that still lay in our future.
I was happy he'd changed his mind. We were neighbors and had been playing together since we were kids. We were inseparable, like we were each other’s shadows. That year we were in the same section at school. We often skipped classes and hung out in an internet cafe in town. An online game called “Legends” had been popular there for a few years back then. Chirper and I played it, too. We beat the monsters in the game and advanced up the levels. We “PK-ed”, that is, killed other players’ avatars, which caused a lot of swearing back and forth and started all kinds of grudges.
Later the hatred spread from the game into the real world. Our opponents were players from another town. In the game, whether it was “PK-ing” or wrangling, none of them were a match for Chirper. They said they were going to come to our insignificant town to find Chirper and make him an invalid. When they asked him if he dared accept the challenge, he said: "If you don't come, you’re fucking babies." He set up a time with them to go to the battlefield like men.
There’s a small river in town. It flows out of the mountains, goes around a bend and pierces through the town like a sharp knife. The place where it bends is called Millstone Bay. People used to get whetstones there, but later a gold rush blew along and everyone in the town went crazy. They mutilated the area so much with their digging that the river changed course. Weeds took over and the area became a wasteland. That’s where the battle would take place.
The police station in town is built on high ground, and a policeman in the duty room watches all four directions with binoculars as though he were an army scout. The two cylinders with lenses can take in the whole town but can't see Millstone Bay. Chirper and I could drink, smoke and bring girls to make out there, out of the cops’ sight. Most importantly, of course, we often held fights there. Back then, if a problem couldn’t be resolved with words, the only way we knew to handle it was with our fists.
We walked over a bridge and down to the riverbank, then followed along the riverside. When the inverted reflection of the green hills on both sides of the river fell onto the water, we went around an inlet and arrived at Millstone Bay. We stood on the riverbank. The thick fog wrapped around the swooshing of the wind. From time to time, those birds active in the winter flew in and out of the fog. The river in that frigid winter season was as shallow as a cicada's wing is thin, and it made a crisp sound as it slipped over the pebbles. Chirper cupped his hand over his ear and listened through the fog. “They’re here,” he said.
I looked, but the thick fog filled the sky and covered most of Millstone Bay. Some shadows moved through the fog in front of us. Faint flashes of light glowed on and off – they were smoking. Wisps of their speech floated through the fog like threads of silk – I knew they were discussing their battle plan but I couldn't hear clearly. I guessed they’d brought blades, like me.
Chirper asked, "Are you really scared?"
I nodded. "A little."
I felt a chill as I spoke. That winter was dreary and dry, and a north wind had swept along the shallow riverbed and stirred up the dense fog around us. I tightened my coat to warm up the area around my chest, but I couldn't keep from shivering. I clenched my teeth and tried as hard as I could to stop them from chattering, but Chirper still heard it.
"Think of your birthright,” he said. “Your father trains fighters, doesn’t he?"
"Your father’s the one who’s a fighter,” I hissed. “Your whole family are fighters.”
Chirper rocked back and forth laughing and almost fell off the riverbank. While he was laughing at me, I rubbed the machete I had stuffed up my sleeve. The blade was suffused with a chill as cold as the forest, and since it was close to my skin, it made my whole body shiver and my heart tremble as well. I wasn’t sure I’d have the guts to walk over there in a few minutes and take this kind a weapon out of my sleeve to confront that gang. It would take a lot of courage. I wasn't as brave as Chirper and I had to admit that I was a weakling.
As we stood there in the fog, Chirper calmed down but I kept shaking. They were standing in the fog, too. The morning mist was everywhere, but even under its cover, I could smell the scent of murder coming from them. Neither side moved. Everyone one was unwilling to move forward with impunity and was waiting for the dense fog to lift.
Our little town is called Furnace View. Before China opened up to foreign countries, it was a place where martial spirit and skills were revered. My grandfather was a famous fighter. It was said that he could leap onto roofs and vault over walls, and could snatch weapons hurled at him out of the air. Aside from that, he also had magic skills and god-like knowledge of things like the acupuncture points, breathing exercises and medicines.
Regrettably, I never saw any of that, because he’d already passed away when I was born. People had diverse and confused opinions about how he died. Some said he was killed by a guy seeking revenge, while others said he died because of a relapse of old injuries. The most outrageous thing people said was that he was just practicing “Turtle Breathing”, a kind of slow, deep breathing intended to prolong life. He was hibernating underground to avoid being disturbed, they said, and would emerge again in the natural world after a hundred years.
These were all conjecture, I knew. I also knew that my real grandfather had been transmuted by going through so many mouths. The only certainty is that he was indeed a famous fighter. He’d taken on a lot of apprentices and, after his death, he was interred on a hill on the edge of town. Standing there, one can oversee an area a dozen or more miles around. Every year during the Ching Ming Festival, his apprentices come from all over to tidy up his grave. Even though he’s in a different world now, those apprentices of his still gather before his tombstone to perform the rites due to a teacher from his students. It’s a rather moving scene, as though my grandfather hadn’t died but just moved to a new residence in a grave.
My father, as the son of a fighter, was also a fighter. He studied martial arts from childhood. Our home had an ancestral cabin, a special hut for worshiping our ancestors, and there was a big tree behind it that had been planted in the year my father was born. At the age of seven, my father began to practice the Standing Exercises there, including the Horse Rider’s Stance where he’d squat with his legs apart over burning incense. Grandfather would watch him from the side to make sure his legs didn’t shake and his waist didn’t move. If he made the slightest mistake, grandfather would kick his behind. He could only straighten up when the incense finished burning, and then, after a short break, he’d do it all again.
He practiced the Horse Rider’s Stance until he was ten years old and learned to keep almost stable. By then the tree had grown to where its trunk was as big around as the mouth of a bowl, and my father began to practice using his fists. There is a saying in the Plum Mountain area: “The hands are the entryway, but kicking depends on the feet.” It means you have to learn to use your fists before you learn the main skill, using your feet. My father punched that tree again and again. That’s the hard part of the Plum Mountain School of martial arts. There’s no special style, no magic trick – your physical ability comes from hitting things like that day after day, month after month. People find it hard to believe, but it’s said that my father punched a hole through that tree by his arduous day and night training. I can’t say for certain whether that’s true or not.
These are all things that other people told me. My father himself never mentioned them, and it was difficult to tell what was true and what wasn't. I never even saw that tree. After my grandfather died, an agricultural machinery factory was built in the town. Several county cadres sitting in an office drew a circle on a map with a red pen, and half of our little town was inside the circle. Our ancestral cabin was razed to the ground by a bulldozer, and the tree went with it.
Not long thereafter, my father was introduced to my mother through an intermediary and they got married. I was born after building on the factory started, and the resettlement program came to this small town at the same time. They were very humanistic about it – one had two choices: either go to work in the factory or sign on to pay a placement fee.
My father chose employment at the factory so as not to rock the boat and was assigned to a position in the guard room. Thus he became a worker with an iron rice bowl, that is, a guaranteed job for life. His jobs were to open the gate every morning and lock it every night, to organize the newspapers, distribute the mail and nod politely to every employee as they entered and left the factory. He maintained a humble smile on his face and an attitude of unflinching loyalty and professional responsibility. He didn’t retain even half the mannerisms of a fighter.
After work, he’d get on a bicycle to come home. When he came through the door, he’d take off his gloves and put on an apron he kept hanging on a hook, then move around in front of the stove cooking a meal for the family. After dinner he’d putz around with the flowers on the balcony, or go for a walk or watch TV, or sometimes he’d read a book. He led a simple life, mired in mediocrity, with no battles to wage.
To be honest, I hoped my father could show something as a fighter to stand out from the crowd. Regrettably, though, I'd never seen him do any such thing. His life was even more nondescript than my mother’s. He buried his aura as a fighter in these daily trivialities.
I fell in love with Kungfu novels when I was in the fifth grade, and Chirper followed me into the worlds of authors Jin Yong and Gu Long. At the time we were always talking about the many valiant warriors in these books, and we shared memories of them afterwards. I’ve had an interest in the study of martial arts since then, but my father refused to teach me. He said: "Study fighting in times of chaos, but study the arts in times of peace. If you study hard, you’ll be stronger than anything."
But I didn't like studying. I just wanted to learn the martial arts. Chirper was smarter than me. I learned about a romantic world from reading Kungfu novels, a world of happiness and the joy of vengeance, but he was inspired by miraculous skills and decided to learn them. His plan encouraged me. Didn’t I want to learn martial arts? If my father refused to teach me, I’d learn on my own. Of all those valiant warriors in the books, which among them were not self-taught?
Chirper and I decided to work on our own to develop the skills. We decided to practice acrobatic leaps first because, as we saw it at the time, there was nothing more blissful than flying from here to there and back again. But Chirper said he should practice first, and when he was trained, he would teach me. I didn’t like that idea, but I had to accept his plan. I didn't know a thing about acrobatic leaps, and he seemed so well-informed that I thought he already had a firm grasp of all the ins and outs.
Chirper sewed up two sandbags weighing as much as nineteen pounds, and ran around the school athletic field every morning with them tied to his legs. He huffed and puffed, but ordinarily kept them on anyway. After doing that for a while, he began to walk in an obviously strange manner, staggering like someone was hugging his legs. Within half a month, whenever he took the sandbags off he felt like his whole body was floating. Full of confidence, he told me he had no doubt that he was successfully trained. He couldn't wait to demonstrate.
We walked to the area behind the school in high spirits. There was a perimeter wall there, and weeds grew all over the place. If you went there at night, you’d find students in puppy love grabbing and hugging each other in the weeds. At six feet in height, the wall was quite suitable for acrobatic leaping. I crouched down by it and Chirper stepped on my shoulders to climb up. First he took a few deep breaths to stoke up the chi in his abdomen, and when he was ready, he jumped. He spread out his arms, looking very confident and at ease in midair. But he didn’t fly. He fell like a stone and dropped heavily to the ground with a bang. This was accompanied by a "snap", and before he could say anything, he fainted. He’d broken his legs.
He spent over two months laid up in the hospital. He dropped back a grade in school, and that’s how he got in the same section as me. He never got discouraged, though. He was still limping when he got out of the hospital and came to my place looking for me. He was all excited and told me that, while he was in the hospital, he’d figured out why he’d failed. His training method was wrong because he’d only practiced running, not leaping.
I thought about it and it made sense. Since it was athletic leaping, of course you’d have to leap. We rejoiced in this new insight and were encouraged by it to get back into our obsession with martial arts.
Chirper's legs and feet were problematic, so the training was up to me. He generously loaned his sandbags to me, so I started jumping and leaping around the school athletic field with them tied on. It felt really good, and I believed if I kept at it, it wouldn't be long before I could fly. But I hadn’t been jumping for more than a few days when my father suddenly appeared. He stopped me on the athletic field, grabbed my arm and dragged me home.
When we got home, he closed the door and asked me in a solemn tone, "Do you really want to learn martial arts?"
"Yes, of course,” I said.
"Then follow me."
I followed him into the bedroom, where he took out a calendar and hung it on the wall. I was ecstatic, thinking he was going to pass his knowledge of martial arts on to me, but what actually happened made me very disappointed. He didn't teach me anything about martial arts. He just told me to hit the calendar until one page was torn to pieces, then tear that page off. He said that the day I’d gone through the whole calendar he’d start teaching me.
I stood facing the calendar, hitting it, for a long time. The joints of my fingers swelled up quickly but the calendar wasn’t damaged. I told my father about my two red and swollen fists and expressed my unhappiness that he’d deliberately put obstacles in my path. He started punching the calendar without saying anything. Nothing happened at first, just like when I did it, but after a while a few pages floated down. I took the calendar down and saw that a section of the paint on the wall behind it had fallen off. I stood there for a long time, trying to figure out what had happened, before I finally realized that the phrase “power flows through the paper” doesn’t refer only to calligraphy. I asked my father, "What kind of Kungfu is this?"
"It’s called the Achievement of a Thousand Days. As the name suggests, if you want to learn well, you must practice like this continuously for three years. This is only a small achievement. For bigger achievements, you’ll have to practice a lifetime. How is the term ‘achievement’ written in Chinese characters? It’s the character for ‘work’ combined with the character for ‘strength’. Together they mean you must do the work with all your strength. Practicing martial arts is a kind of devotion, dedicating yourself to developing the skills. Like any other dedication in this world, there are no shortcuts." While he was explaining, he brought out a bottle of homebrewed medicinal liquor and rubbed some on my red, swollen hands with a cotton swab. My joints felt a trace of coolness and the pain immediately went away.
"Does it still hurt?" he asked.
"Then keep hitting the calendar."
I lowered my head. "I’d better just stick to my schoolwork."
I never again brought up the idea of studying martial arts. As before, though, I was still greatly interested in my father’s status as a fighter. Sometimes I’d ask him if my grandfather’s martial arts skills were as magical as people said. He always avoided the question, either remaining silent or changing the subject. He became reticent and uncommunicative whenever grandfather was mentioned. I was only faintly aware at the time that there seemed to be some sort of secret hidden in my father's mind, something about grandfather and himself. It was like a tumor entrenched inside him that he wouldn’t allow himself to mention to anyone.
Chirper's view was that my father was likely to be a top expert, because people with ultimate martial arts skills are always enigmatic types, so we talked about finding a way to test him. We found one quickly, of course, and it was Chirper who came up with it. Like I said, he was smarter than me. He said that a master like my father could tell what was going on around him by listening to the wind. We could find out how good his martial arts skills were just by trying to sneak up behind him. I thought that made sense. The things he said always did.
I went out that evening carrying a big stick. Chirper and I scouted the terrain and decided to lie in wait behind a pile of grass by the side of the road my father had to take home from work. He traveled that road every day except Sunday, exactly like clockwork.
The wind was blowing strong when we saw my father, still far away, peddling his bicycle toward us. The wind intermittently blew his hair over his eyes, and he had to hold the handlebars with one hand while he brushed it away with the other. His bicycle bell rang as he got to where we were. I flashed out from behind the haystack, raised my stick and hit him right smack on the back of his head. I used so much force that the stick bounced out of my hands when it hit his head and landed in a field by the side of the road.
The bicycle swayed and screeched to a halt. My father put his feet on the ground and turned to look blankly at me. He stood there without moving a muscle. I was delighted because I thought he must have used some impenetrable defense, like a Gold Bell Covering, to protect himself from the power of my blow. Chirper also walked out from behind the haystack, clapping his hands, and said admiringly, "Since you could stay on your feet like that, looks like you really are a master."
Just as Chirper and I were about to prostrate ourselves in admiration before my father, he trembled once, then both he and the bike fell over on the ground. Something wet trickled from the back of his head. When Chirper walked over and touched it, his hand turned red and his face turned pale. He made some excuse and ran away in a panic. I stood there dumb as a stump, but it wasn’t from fear. In truth my father had disappointed me, and that was far worse than fear. For me, it wasn’t my father who’d fallen at that moment – it was all the hopes that I’d placed on him that collapsed like a castle wall hit with a battering ram.
Later my mother called a couple of guys, and they propped my father up between them and took him to the small clinic in town. He got six stitches without anesthetic. He was on an IV for half a day before he woke up.
There are natural consequences when a son beats his old man. My mother was incensed. She dragged me home, closed the door and beat me fiercely with a stick to within an inch of my life. Even after my flesh was raw and bleeding, she still wasn’t over her anger. She found a rope and trussed me up with my hands behind my back and the rope around my neck. Then she tied me to the door beam like lotus leaves hung out to dry to make dumplings.
As long as I live, I’ll never forget what that was like. I’d never realized how helpless and terrified a person feels when their feet are off the ground. The more I pulled on the rope, the tighter it got. My mother stood there watching while, bit by bit, I became unable to breathe.
Just when I feared I was about to die hanging like that, my father came home from the clinic. A bandage was wrapped around his head and he was still a bit unsteady on his feet. It had gotten dark, but when he switched the lamp on, the expression on his face was revealed by the light. He didn't look angry at all, just a little surprised. His impression was that my mother had never acted so cruelly before. Right away he pleaded on my behalf and rescued me from the door beam.
My mother said okay, she wouldn’t hang me, but I’d have to get down on my knees and beg for my father’s forgiveness.
I finally stopped worrying. I felt like I’d got my life back. Kneeling wouldn’t be a problem and was certainly better than hanging on the door beam. When I bent my knees to kneel, though, my father stretched out his hand to stop me. He smiled. "Like the old saying,” he said, “’A man shouldn’t get on his knees at the drop of a hat, unless there’s gold under them.’ Everyone makes mistakes."
From where my father stood, this matter was over and done with. That was always the case with him. He was like a container that could hold anything. He’d casually accept anything life threw his way, whether it was good luck or bad. In my heart, though, I knew this thing would never be done with, not because of the shame or remorse, but because my father’s status as a fighter, and my status as well, had become a preposterous joke for Chirper. It made me so ashamed. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, you know, so if my father was a joke, I was, too.
I’ve never been brave. When the people in town told me I didn't have any balls, I looked down at my crotch to see if they were still there and intact. I knew they were joking, but what they said was like a shadow over me, all the way through my long childhood and juvenile years.
I took Physiology and Hygiene my senior year in junior high. Once I learned that I had a complete set of testicles, I realized that what they’d meant when they said I didn’t have any balls – they meant I wasn’t a man. I was overcome by shame and hurried to find a way to counter it, that is, a way to make myself valiant. I turned into a teenaged rebel and followed Chirper’s lead cutting classes, hanging out in Internet cafes, fighting and causing all kinds of trouble.
It was during that period that I discovered how tightly my father’s fate was tied to me. My teachers were keeping him informed of my skipping classes and fighting, and he had to keep running over to the school for teacher conferences. He didn't ask me to explain myself after these conferences, just read me the riot act. It seemed like reason was an image in the mirror, always standing there opposite me. When he was finished yelling at me, my father would go on bended knee to apologize to the teachers and the students I’d fought with. Then any students who needed to see a doctor would go to clinic and my father would pay any necessary compensation. After everything was taken care of, he’d get on his bicycle and come home.
For some reason, though, my father never lifted a finger to beat me. This made me think that that he was only opposed on the surface to my fighting in school, but inside he actually accepted it. He was a fighter after all. That’s why I became less and less concerned about the consequences of my behavior. The strange thing was, the more I fought, the more cowardly I got. Every time I hurt or was hurt by someone, it would make me feel terrified for a while. I certainly didn’t get any braver. The word “weak” hung over me like a curse that I couldn’t dispel. I was having a tough time becoming a man. Chirper told me, "You’ll be a man when you’re not afraid to use a blade." I didn’t say anything and bought myself a machete. For me, being a man was too important.
After I bought the machete, I hid it under my bed and never used it. I never even had a chance to take it out. Chirper could hold his own in fights at school. He’d always rush to the fore and put his opponent down brutally. I’d follow him behind, in most cases just pretending to be like that. At most I’d just get a couple of kicks in, and there was basically no need for the blade. Of course, if a time had come to use it, I wouldn’t necessarily have dared to. I told you, I’ve always been a coward. On the day before Chirper was to fight at Millstone Bay, he warned me in all seriousness, “This time you’ve got to bring the blade,” and that’s the only reason I dug it out and hid it up my sleeve. It made me really apprehensive. I felt like what I was carrying wasn’t a blade, but a heart, and it was beating wildly.
Now it’s time to talk about that day. That morning the dense fog was dissipating slowly, and the rising sun painted Millstone Beach in gold. As Chirper and I walked down the riverbank, they stood there craning their necks to look at us. The beach was full of weeds growing high as our waists, dried out by the winter wind. They’d trampled down the grass where they stood until it was bent to one side. There were only two of them, one bald and one with long hair, a contrast made clear when they stood side by side. Baldy was very tall and had one hand in his pants pocket. Long Hair had a club in one hand, tapping it against the palm of his other hand. They hadn’t brought blades, which calmed me down a bit.
Chirper spit his cigarette out onto the ground and asked, "Just you two?"
"You think that’s not enough?" Baldy countered.
"Enough BS,” Chirper answered. “We going one on one, or a free for all?"
I shrunk my hand up into my sleeve and bumped the machete. It felt like I'd stuck my hand into a fire – my whole arm was uncomfortable and hot. While I was thinking about whether to take the machete out, Chirper had already rushed forward. Baldy was obviously practiced, and when Chirper got close, he jabbed him right in the face. Chirper was knocked back and fell to the ground like he’d been thrown there. He reached behind him for the machete he had at his waist, but it was in too tightly and he couldn't pull it out. Long Hair came over and stepped on his head with one foot so that Chirper couldn’t move. Chirper looked toward me and yelled anxiously: "What are you doing standing there? Get in here!"
I rushed forward but got a fist in the face that I didn't see coming. It was Baldy, and he was extremely quick. That was followed immediately by a kick in the stomach. I fell back and dropped to the ground, and the machete fell from my sleeve. Baldy said, "Fuck, he’s got a blade.” He picked it up the knife, shook off the newspaper, and a ray of cold light flashed on my face. I lost all my courage in an instant, like a balloon that had been pricked by a needle. Baldy flicked his wrist and stuck the machete in the ground.
Obviously, we’d been beaten. Baldy wanted us to kneel down and kowtow to him three times, and call him “grandfather”, before he’d let us go. I wasn’t sure what to do and turned to look at Chirper. Without a second thought, he bent his legs and got up on his knees. He said to me, "A good man knows better than to fight when the odds are against him." As he spoke, he started to kowtow.
All I could do was follow his lead and kneel down, but when my knees were about to touch the ground, a foot came out from behind me and held me up. My toes were lifted off the ground and my body rose before landing back on the ground. I looked behind me and it was my father. I don’t know how he’d followed us there, but he was standing with his hands up his sleeves and his back slightly stooped, as if he’d just come out for a walk. He took a look at my face and reached out to wipe a trickle of blood from the corner of my mouth. "Is there a problem?" he asked me.
"It’s nothing," I said.
"That’s good," he said. Then he raised his hand and slapped my face so hard I could see stars. I didn't feel any pain right then. I just thought it was weird that he’d hit me. Then I saw the huge disappointment in his eyes, as much disappointment as I’d felt towards him before.
"Let’s go home,” he said.
He started to lead me toward the riverbank.
Baldy stopped us. "I’ll have you stop right there, old man."
My father stopped and turned. “And how old are you, that you can’t speak to me without calling me ‘old man’?”
Baldy didn’t answer. He ran a few steps forward and raised his fist to strike my father’s face. As he jabbed out, my father got an awesome look on his face. He suddenly turned into another person. He leaned to the side so that Baldy’s fist passed by his ear. At the same time he grabbed with one hand and, right on target, grasped Baldy’s wrist. He held it so tightly that Baldy screamed and his face twisted in agony. My father pushed Baldy’s fist away and Baldy fell to the ground.
"So the old guy knows his stuff," he said.
He climbed to his feet and pulled up the machete that was stuck in the ground. Long Hair also stepped forward to join in the fight. They sidled toward my father brandishing the club and the blade. My father ducked to the left and dodged to the right, avoiding them with ease. His moves looked very simple, nothing surprising, and perhaps even a bit awkward. At my father's hands, though, the two men looked as confused as if they were drunk. Baldy’s machete cut Long Hair on the shoulder and Long Hair’s club hit Baldy’s shining skull. My father knocked the weapons from their hands, grabbed their wrists and twisted them half around. It was like the two men had been tied together in a knot. Baldy at last threw in the towel. "You’re the man. We’re done."
My father let go of them. They fell back several steps back and dropped to the ground. Baldy crawled to his feet, rubbing his wrist. Chirper said, "You say you’re done and we’re supposed to stop fighting? Your father is Chairman of the United Nations? This isn’t over yet." He fumbled around for a rock and rushed forward to pound them. My father stopped him. "Forget it,” he said. “It’s better to forgive than get even." Chirper threw down the stone and clapped his hands to shake off the dust. "I’ll do as you say, sir."
Just then, I saw Baldy take something from his pants pocket. It was a steel bearing gun. I’d seen one before. I went to visit my aunt in another county one year, two hours by bus. The bus stopped at the side of the highway. Someone got on and, acting very secretively, peddled one of the things to the driver. I don’t know where Baldy got his.
He held the gun up, pointed it at my father and pulled the trigger, “pow!” startling me, Chirper and even Long Hair who was standing beside him. Chirper held his head in his hands and dropped to the ground. Only my father was not afraid. When the gun fired, he reached out and grabbed in the air, as if he’d caught something in his hand. He clenched his fist and stood there motionless. He seemed to be waiting for his opponent to shoot another bullet at him. Baldy stared blankly for a moment, then said: "Motherfucking knives and guns can’t get to him." He threw the gun down and ran off.
My father stood there and didn’t chase after him. At that moment, I felt he was very stalwart. Chirper climbed up from the ground, brushed the sand from his body and said, "That was awesome, sir, grabbing a bullet in your hand."
"So you believe it, too, huh?" my father answered.
He opened his hand to show us. His palm was completely empty, except it was drenched in sweat. Once I looked down, I noticed a hole in his trousers. There was blood around it, spreading out in all four directions, soaking the whole area. Chirper saw it, too. He exclaimed, "Sir, you were hit!"
I hurried to hold him up.
"It’s nothing, a flesh wound, didn’t hit bone."
He looked at me. "When I slapped you just now, didn't it hurt?"
"A little," I said.
"In the future, never kneel down to anyone."
We left Millstone Bay.
Back home, my father got out a pair of tweezers and a bottle of rotgut, Red Star Erguotou. He rolled up his pants leg, revealing that half his thigh was stained with blood. The steel ball hadn’t penetrated deeply and could be seen inside the wound. My father poured some of the booze on both the wound and the tweezers, then stuck the tweezers into his flesh without so much as wrinkling his brow. He pulled out the blood-stained bearing and threw it in the trash.
The blood was still flowing. My father sprinkled a yellow powder on the wound, some medicine he’d made himself for external trauma. He sprinkled it on and it was effective instantly – the blood stopped flowing immediately. He kicked his leg out with no difficulty. Then he took two cups from the cabinet and poured some erguotou in each.
"Okay,” I answered"
My father hadn’t had a drink for a long time, and this was the first time I’d had one with him. Erguotou is very strong and it hits the gut like a knife. After half a cup, I only dared sip at it, but my father drank cup after cup like he wanted to get drunk. Soon he was three sheets under and started talking a lot. He sounded like his tongue was tied in a knot. He’d pause after each drink, sometimes for a long time and sometimes briefly, and that’s how he talked, too. I put the sentence fragments together and made sense out of them.
I felt like flames were coming out of my father's heart, illuminating a world that I’d never seen before and that I’d never reach myself. I finally learned the secret that had been buried in his heart for so many years: my grandfather had died in a martial arts demonstration, and the one who’d slipped up and killed him was my father.
2017年中国短篇小说精选 Best of Chinese Short Stories 2017, p. 215
长江文艺出版社，责任编辑：刘程程，周阳; Translated from 广州男装批发联盟 at
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