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Manoa 15.2 (2003) 74-82



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The Black Road

Ma Yuan


Mirrors and sex are unsanitary. Both increase the population.
Borges

Old Dwarf Sengye

There's nobody more prone to fantasy than an eyewitness to a murder. That's why a person with the luck I've had usually gives inconsistent testimony, until at last he turns his whole statement inside out. It's not from cowardice or lack of nerve. The facts are never real. From firm belief to wavering belief, then on to delirium and groundless fabrication. First you disbelieve your eyes, then you start to disbelieve yourself. I can tell you from my own experience.

I don't have to appear in court as a witness because as far as the police are concerned, this murder case is an unknown quantity. Why fling myself into a murder case there's no hope of solving? My whole life long, I aim to avoid anything to do with courts...

I can't say why I try so hard to forget. There have even been times I've succeeded, but never for more than two dreamless nights in a row. In that drowsy time just before dusk on the third evening, I start getting edgy, and then I'm sure to start going over the whole bloody scene that night. The strange thing is that this scene repeats itself until I'm filled with terror. Every detail is always the same. In fact, I can't say how many times it has repeated itself.

This affair happened long ago—a year or two, maybe more. At first, the path I was following was pure inspiration. Autumn. The grasslands were an endless expanse of dry yellow, and so poetic. I'd rented a skinny, but strong, chestnut horse. After setting out from Samten Temple in the morning, I crossed the Samten grasslands and took a mountain track that rose gradually, leaving behind the yellow earth and the black herds of yaks. The lama handyman told me I'd make it to the pass before dark if I didn't stop along the way.

"You can see the holy lake from the top of the pass. So big you can't see the other side; bluer than heaven. But you'll have to travel a long way from there before you find a place to stay. This horse knows the way. Give him [End Page 74] the reins, and you'll be all right. He'll take you where there are people." He added that there could be snow in the mountains.

After crossing the snow line, I went through all kinds of twists and turns before I made it to the pass. By then it was dark. Really cold! It was dawn before I arrived where, the lama said, there were people. As I came down the pass, a large, whitewashed wall faced me. It was covered with three black words: HEAVEN LAKE INN. You could see them a long, long way off. Two mud buildings, the kind you see in the grasslands, sat solid and squat with about twenty paces between them.

The little path by which I had come and was to leave passed right in front. Further along stretched the shore of the lake—the sea, they call it here. The vast shore was already blanketed in new snow. Behind the buildings, a low wall enclosed a big snow-covered pasture—not a stalk of grass or a bit of earth visible. The first building contained the kitchen and guest house. The innkeeper and his livestock lived in the other one.

Old and swarthy, the innkeeper was a little man, so short he was almost a midget. His warmth and overly attentive manner made you uncomfortable. I couldn't make out if he was Tibetan or Chinese. He spoke good Chinese, but so do lots of Tibetans. The sign of his inn was written in Chinese.

The innkeeper showed me to a room in the larger building. I slept that whole day. While I was sleeping, another man arrived—the main character...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-943x
Print ISSN
1045-7909
Pages
pp. 74-82
Launched on MUSE
2003-10-23
Open Access
No
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