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  • Babel Did Not Leave Heavenly Garden
  • Yi Zhou (bio)
    Translated by Chen Zeping (bio) and Karen Gernant (bio)

When I was twelve years old, one of my mother's friends—a famous female photographer—took advantage of the government's affordable housing program and bought an apartment in Heavenly Garden through her connections. She encouraged Mother to do the same. The price was very reasonable: 2,680 yuan per square meter. Facing such a huge decision without knowing the consequences, Mother hesitated. She didn't plan to ask anyone for advice; she seldom had, ever since my father walked out on her. Instead, she would ask the air for advice. For example, every day before starting to cook, she would ask the air what she should make. Though no answer came, she cooked anyway. But the question of buying an apartment was obviously bigger than whether to have porridge or noodles for supper. It was almost as serious as "To be or not to be." Trying to help her a little, I said offhandedly, "You should buy it. It's a big apartment, more than one hundred and seventy square meters, and it costs only about four hundred thousand. It's a bargain."

Today, Heavenly Garden is the largest residential complex in Asia, with dozens of bus stops and three subway stations.

Property prices have soared in Beijing, so my casual advice turned out to be the wisest thing I've ever said. Meanwhile, my feelings for the woman photographer, who prompted my mother to buy in the first place, have always been complicated. She was like a godmother to me—almost my personal angel on Earth. This apartment is mine because of her, and I love it and I love Heavenly Garden. This love was like a religious thing, and I had it because God had given me special treatment, which I didn't deserve. I was a fortunate person.

But now, I was actually about to leave this place of happiness, all because Xiao Shao, my girlfriend, had stolen a cat.

One morning I was walking her to the subway. It began raining, so I wrapped my thin hoodie around her. When she returned that evening after work, she was carrying the hoodie and I saw a little cat's face peeking out of it.

"Is this something you picked up?" I asked her.

"Don't you think its face looks so much like yours that it could be your son? Get a picture of yourself as a baby and compare it. You looked exactly the same. Weren't your irises yellow, too?" she asked, pushing the cat into my arms. [End Page 109]

Partly covered by the hoodie, the cat's face looked only slightly bigger than my fist. It wore a disdainful frown. And the yellow eyes—a human infant with eyes like that would be considered jaundiced. But the cat was as clean as the nails of people who get a manicure every day. Clearly, it was not a stray cat.

I refused to hold it and gave it back to Xiao Shao. "Don't be pushy," I told her.

"Wayward, eh?" Xiao Shao said to the cat, scratching its head. "Its name is Rushdie. Isn't Midnight's Children one of your favorite books?"

I did love Rushdie, the author of Midnight's Children, but I didn't want to have anything to do with the midnight child in Xiao Shao's arms.

"Stop it," I said. "My surname is Wang, not Rushdie, and it's definitely not my son. You'd better take it back to where you found it."

"Don't even think about it. I'm not going to do that. We need it. It's a gift from Heaven," Xiao Shao murmured into the air—just as my mother used to.

Back in our apartment, Xiao Shao put the cat on the floor and took it out of the hoodie. Around its neck was a leather collar, which confirmed my judgment that it wasn't a stray, or at least I had never seen a stray cat with a leather collar. I wasn't sure how old it was, but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-943x
Print ISSN
1045-7909
Pages
pp. 109-125
Launched on MUSE
2021-11-11
Open Access
No
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