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  • Zhima
  • Zhang Kangkang (bio)
    Translated by Karen Gernant (bio) and Chen Zeping (bio)

When Guo Zhima dashed into the building next to the Big Bell Temple, the lobby was already filled with women. She was scolding herself, Too late, too late—late again! She had had to take three buses to get there, and so had been on the road for more than an hour. She was dismayed at the sight of so many people ahead of her. They were supposed to stand in line, but where the hell was the line? Everyone was simply crowded together in a sticky clump outside the door. A young nurse in a pointed white cap called out a woman's name in a long, drawn-out voice. A woman came out of the door blushing, and another woman squeezed in right away. A man shoved through the crowd as if he meant to go in with her, but the young nurse had closed the door as someone shouted from within, "Hey, you! Look at the sign on the door! Keep out!"

Zhima thought to herself, When you're here away from your village, every city person wants to teach you a lesson.

The blue words on the door were as big as straw hats: PREGNANCY TESTS.

What was the big deal? You had the test, the form was punched, and it went from the Women's Association to your hometown to prove that you weren't breaking the population-control laws while working in the city. PREGNANCY TESTS: Zhima had seen this sign every three months since she'd arrived in Beijing five years ago. Even if the words were written upside down, she'd know them. She didn't care for these pregnancy tests at all. Each time, she had to pay fifty yuan—three days' wages—all for nothing. Nevertheless, she looked forward to going to the place where the tests were conducted. From the fourth to the tenth of each month, by orders of the Women's Association, it was as though a party was being held especially for the women of Henan Province who were working in Beijing. Everyone in the room was from Henan, and their chattering filled your ears. Zhima was familiar with that lively sound—the voices crisp and light and high, as if the women were actors in a play. Between tests, she didn't hear it and she missed the sound. Aside from the doctor's soft-spoken manner and the shiny, bright machine in the room, pregnancy tests done in Beijing were no [End Page 59] [Begin Page 61] different from the ones managed by population control in the countryside. The appearance of the women was the same, too, except here their clothes were a little neater and maybe they permed their hair. Still, as soon as they opened their mouths, it was as if she were back in Henan.

Zhima paid the fee and joined the mass of women, each pressing against the woman in front of her and taking a step every once in a while. Tightly grasping her identity card, her temporary residence card, and the card allowing her to work away from home, her hands began sweating. She didn't dare lose these credentials, for without them she couldn't be tested, and if she couldn't have the pregnancy test, the village would fine her several hundred yuan—way too much! Just thinking of the fine made Zhima angry. Because the local government had too many personnel on its payroll, it looked for any reason to fine someone to make up the budget shortfall. What was the pregnancy test for? She'd worked in Beijing all these years, always sleeping alone. Could any seedling grow in an empty belly?

The sleeping situation for her man at home, Xishu, wasn't any better. Besides farming the land, he raised a brood of piglets that he slept with night after night, instead of cuddling up with his wife. He could sleep only with the piglets. The nine piglets were Xishu's whole life and that's why he had to watch over them, especially at night. When a pig grew...