In the sporadic autumn rain, Cai walked back and forth three times along the bluish-gray flagstone road.
Setbacks are unavoidable in life. Everyone knows that. But when a woman with an ashen face, an umbrella in her left hand and a black suitcase in her right paces back and forth along the same dreary road three times on a rainy November day, things might be more serious.
The rain, though intermittent, had never really stopped. The woman wore a light beige jacket with an upturned collar and black shoes caked with mud. This suggested that she had probably been walking more than just the three round trips on this road.
What kind of trouble had she encountered? It must have been serious. If this was the case, several deductions could be reasonably made. For example, the black suitcase she was carrying in her right hand wasn't bulky, and it rustled on the slate road. In its lining, there might well be solutions to her problems: sleeping pills, rat poison, insecticide, and perhaps a sharp knife that could easily open an artery. And there was a reservation for a trip to an island a week from now: a place with dense mountain forests and a black-sand beach with billowing waves—good places to settle things secretly, poetically, mysteriously, especially for such a young and dignified woman.
Though her decision had been made, the time between making it and carrying it out was dreary and sad. The dying swan dances with melancholy movements, the boatman on an ancient journey sings a sorrowful song, women in love shed tears when putting on their bridal gowns.
She felt that something had to be done. Anything.
Her eyes came to rest on a power pole to the west of the town's Food Square. Several poles like it lined the flagstone road, and she approached this one for no particular reason.
Notices had been tacked to the pole. Some were drenched by the rain, and only one was readable. She leaned forward for a closer look. It said:
seeking a temporary nanny for a four-year-old boy.
salary negotiable. contact: ms. lu dongdong. [End Page 97]
When she knocked, a pale woman opened the door; her lips were dry and cracked. Leaning against the doorframe, the woman looked blankly at the intruder.
"May I help you?"
"I'm looking for Ms. Lu Dongdong. Does she live here?"
"I am Lu Dongdong."
"Oh, sorry, I found this notice…" The young woman put her umbrella and suitcase to the side, and took a piece of paper out of her pocket—the notice that had been tacked on the power pole. As she presented the paper, she introduced herself. "My name is Cai."
"Oh … Come on in, please."
Lu Dongdong—hers was the name that had been on the notice, and now here she was in the flesh. She gestured for Cai to take a seat and closed the door behind her.
Cai saw two other people in the room. A man was sitting on the couch. Beside him lay medical instruments: stethoscope, tweezers, pliers, a machine with red and green lights, and a small silver mirror. Cai presumed he was a doctor.
It was obvious that Lu had been talking to the doctor and their conversation had been interrupted by Cai's knock on the door. So now they picked it up again.
"You mean to say… he is deaf?" Lu Dongdong asked.
"No, he isn't. But he can't hear," replied the doctor.
"He's mute then?"
"He's not mute either—" The doctor bit his lower lip and gave a dry cough.
The doctor was finding it difficult to get his point across. Continuing to search for a way to explain, he said, "Your son—his auditory system is fine, but he can't hear. He's not mute, but he can't speak either. It's like… like…"
When his eyes fell on Cai sitting in the corner, he suddenly seemed inspired.
"Let me put it this way. Suppose we are outdoors, and there...