- Purchase/rental options available:
Manoa 15.2 (2003) 57-66
[Access article in PDF]
Death without a Burial Place
Seen from a distance, the house is gray, its roof covered with red-brick tiles. A stovepipe juts up from the roof like the barrel of a rifle. If it were now six or seven o'clock in the morning, the wonderful smell of burning hay rising from the chimney would turn into a cloud of smoke. That would be the smoke from the kitchen stove. The bamboo fence surrounding the house began to come alive. Autumn dewdrops were falling from the leaves of the luxuriant bean vines, and suddenly a small tasseled purple flower opened atop the bamboo fence. The neighbors' spotted dog arrived before the village postman did. It pushed the gate open and ambled around the courtyard. Then it lay down to sleep on the purslane leaves, taking in the sun. And then the autumn sun leapt from the little spotted dog's pupils—one light, one dark—and into the sky above the gray house with the red-brick tiles. The autumn sun has come to your home, has come to that bamboo fence.
A young man opened the windows. He stood behind the dimly lit window and gargled. He held a rough bowl clumsily. As he gargled, he liked to grin. The sound he made was clear and bright. His teeth flashed. When he gargled, it was as though he was smiling at the little spotted dog.
That man was a lot like me.
It was late at night when I wrote the first part of this story. From the six-story building at No. 10 Hunan Road, I listened intently to the night sounds of the city. Day and night, the number 3 bus made its way stridently along the rim road. On Hunan Road, it always passed below my window. Every night since the beginning of winter, someone had been riding a bicycle on Hunan Road while singing popular songs and passing below my window. One day, I noticed that singing bicycle: three skinny boys wearing red sports clothes and crowded together on one bicycle. They were singing as they rode toward Xuanwu Lake. You don't know how tired I was of writing.
At most, my room is ten square meters. The shabby old writing table [End Page 57] against the window smelled of musty wood. Under the right corner of the writing table was my air mattress. My hat, scarf, gloves, paper, pens, bread, and Zhenjiang pickles were all piled on my table and bed. Hanging on the north wall was a cheap guitar with a dreary timbre. As I slept, I dreamed beneath the gourdlike shadow of the guitar. I dreamed of my days of innocence, when I was eighteen and playing John Denver's country music on a circular stage. I thought that in this season, the guitar was no longer important to me. Every day my train of thought wound around the red water tower in the large yard at No. 7 Hunan Road. When I opened my window, I saw that red water tower, enclosed by a wall. The top of the water tower was shaped like an ancient fortress and was roughly even with my line of vision. A chain ladder hung from the top of the tower. In the north wind, it struck the water tower's ice-cold brick wall. I was often awakened in the middle of the night by its tinkling music. The sound came from the red water tower, it came as well from the hiding place of my soul.
You don't know how strange my thoughts were. I wanted to tie myself to a fine thread and hang in midair from the top of the water tower. I'd be like a brown pine nut swinging carefree in the strong wintry winds. My hair swirling around, my face ruddy, I'd be suspended on the red water tower and look down on narrow Hunan Road, filled with phoenix trees. I'd see that...