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Manoa 12.2 (2000) 125-133

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Room 218, Hurrah!



The night breeze scattered yellow leaves across the long, silent path, wafting the scent of autumn foliage over the campus. From the goose-necked streetlamp poured an inexhaustible milk-white glow. In its radiance, Sanga was immersing himself in the study of Human Anatomy. His eyes were hooded with fatigue. For two years he had sat there every night, the streetlamp his only companion. Isn't that enough now? The question echoed in his mind. So tired . . . No! Remember your vow! His ardor rekindled, all these distractions were swept from his mind.

Finally he reached into the pocket of his cotton trousers and pulled out a wristwatch with a broken strap: 1 A.M. He raised his head and looked up at the sky, crowded with silent, tranquil stars winking at him. In praise? Admiration? Mockery? Envy? He shook his head. The enigmatic expression of the stars baffled him. He shook his head and slowly began to gather the notebooks and mimeographed handouts spread on the ground before him. How many fifteen-hour days of intense study and heavy physical training had ended this way? Did he regret them? No, he must not! On the day he'd gotten back his first test, he'd made a vow to catch up to Zhang Cheng in two years . . .

"How much did you get, Gaga?" Zhang Cheng asked Sanga, using his nickname. He displayed his own test paper, marked "93," across his chest.

"Thirty," Sanga replied in an almost inaudible voice, his head bowed as if he was meekly apologizing.

"Thirty! Not so bad--after all, you can't compare with the rest of us. You're from Tibet."

"Can't compare with you . . . ?" He looked up in surprise at Zhang Cheng.

"Hmm . . . What I mean is: Tibet has leaped from a primitive slaveholding society to a socialist one. But what's in here"--he crooked his forefinger and tapped his forehead--"can't change as fast as social conditions. I was . . . Now Sanga, don't get mad . . . I went to the southwest for my job, [End Page 125] and I saw Tibetans. Your faces and bodies are all covered with hair, right? So you haven't completely evolved into modern humans."

Sanga had not heard the last of Zhang Cheng's goading. Ready to explode, he could feel rage rising in his throat. He stared balefully at Zhang Cheng, but held his anger. Instead he sublimated it, poring over the notebooks and handouts lying on the ground before him . . .

Sanga slowly walked down the empty, pitch-black dormitory corridor, trying to muffle his steps. The metal cleats on the soles of his shoes rang against the cement floor.

He stopped in front of room 218, quietly pushed open the door, and heard the familiar sound of even breathing and snoring. These sounds always gave him a warm feeling, and he couldn't help a smile, knowing his roommates were off in dreamland.

Crash! Sanga banged his foot against someone's tin washbasin. Immediately the four beds creaked. "Doesn't sleep himself," Zhang Cheng muttered through his teeth, "doesn't let anybody else sleep."

Zhang Cheng enjoyed his status as dorm-room monitor. He liked calling out in a commanding voice, "Gaga, go get some more boiled water," "Gaga, mop the floor." But he wasn't as good at discharging his responsibility as a study-group leader and assisting Sanga with his studies. When Sanga came to him with Human Anatomy in hand, Zhang Cheng would explain that the sympathetic nerve system regulates the skeletal muscle system, but not bother to explain that it also regulates the function of the inner organs.

Sanga forgave him for this. What he couldn't forgive Zhang Cheng for was killing animals--a sacrilege to Buddhists. Whenever he had a chance, Zhang Cheng enjoyed catching and killing birds, frogs, little turtles. That one time . . . Suddenly Sanga remembered that he hadn't fed the birds. He took a few grains of rice from the bowl on the table and scattered them...