Just as he was about to get off work, he called his girlfriend and arranged to meet her later in front of the People’s Theatre, thinking they could go get a bite to eat together. Even just a McDonald’s meal would be fine, but they could decide once they met up. Oftentimes, while walking the streets, they wouldn’t know what they felt like eating. Sometimes they would even argue about it, only for them to eventually give up and disappointedly return to their rental and end up making two bowls of noodles to get dinner over and done with.
“We could go to a show afterwards? Guo Feng gave me two tickets, but I don’t even know what kind of show it’ll be.”
Not even two minutes after hanging up the phone, his girlfriend called back saying she’s afraid that she can’t come to watch the show anymore. A colleague at work was celebrating their birthday and invited her to go out to eat with them. She told him he could come too if he wanted. He was a bit annoyed, but tried to stop himself from flying off the handle.
“Are you crazy? What would I even do if I went? I don’t even know any of your colleagues.”
“Yeesh, come on. It’ll all be people our age. Let’s just go have fun with everyone, okay?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. I could hang out with anyone. Why on earth would I hang out with your colleagues?”
His girlfriend begged him not to be mad; she just thought it would be rude if she didn’t show up to her colleague’s birthday. He told her, “Just go by yourself. It’s not like I’m stopping you. I’ll just give your ticket to someone else and find someone else to hang out with.” Under normal circumstances, his girlfriend would always ask him who he was going to hang out with. But this time, she knew she didn’t have a leg to stand on and didn’t even bother to interrogate him.
In all honesty, he didn’t even know who to hang out with. Last night, he invited his colleague Zhao Ziying out for a meal. Zhao Ziying asked him why. He said that his girlfriend and her classmates went out for dinner and karaoke, so he didn’t have anywhere to go. She said to him, “Oh, so you only thought to ask me when you had nowhere to go? Forget it.”
So asking Zhao Ziying was out of the question—he’d just get turned down again. There was always Li Min, but he was almost certain that she would be with her husband. In fact, since it was the weekend, most of the girls he knew would be somewhere with their husbands. Wen Liping was single, but she was also pretty crazy spending all day networking in those business circles, convincing herself she’s too busy to even have time to think about finding a boyfriend. Forget a boyfriend, she doesn’t even have the time to find a guy for a fuck. Where’s the fun in asking her to hang out if she doesn’t even have time for that? A Wei, Du Meina, and Liu Qian would all be free for sure. But they’re just a bunch of little girls, they don’t have any class. They’re just like those fresh out of university girls—which is really just what they are, girls fresh out of university. Being around them would annoy me to no end. As far as guys go, He Zhiwei was busy planning his wedding, and I just saw Guo Feng this afternoon—in fact, I only just got these two tickets off him then.
Xie Dongmin, that motherfucker. Been calling his pager for days and he still hasn’t replied, plus his phone is off. An Hongwei and Da Er said they’re really busy. If they’re that busy, then what’s the point of asking them to hang out? He started flipping through the telephone book and flipped past a whole bunch of people. Even Chen Zhaoyuan, who’d gotten run over by a car last year, was in there. Even in death, Chen Zhaoyuan’s phone and pager contact numbers were still in the address book. He shook his head, picked up a pen, and half-heartedly crossed out Chen Zhaoyuan’s name.
As night fell that winter’s evening, every cold-fearing creature buried its face and hid away. The curtain of darkness that had fallen showed him the endless depths of loneliness. He left work and zipped his jacket all the way up until it was right under his mouth. That way, he could, more or less, keep the chilly air out. He didn’t know where to go, and it would be too depressing to head straight back to his place—he would have to turn on the gas and make himself something to eat. Recently, he had started to hate cooking. He was fed up with the sound of kitchen pots and pans, running water, the spatter of stir-fry, and the fizzling flames from the gas stove. The kitchen itself was basically like a deep fryer. He couldn’t bear the reality of having to stick his head back in there. That would be too moronic. That is why he didn’t intend on going home. Even though he’d find some sort of fulfillment from being on his own, he just wasn’t up to it right now (what is fulfillment anyway? It’s beyond me). All expression was paused on the cusp of meaninglessness, and he set off along this cusp. He instinctively started pedaling his bike faster, speeding toward the echoing depths of loneliness. An echo that felt so familiar yet so strange, the type that sends one’s heart into a flurried panic. Under normal circumstances, he would never speed. But right now, it was as if he had been taken hostage by his panic. Like a slave girl to a bloodsucking vampire master, he too had been woken. Well, he’d woken up a little (but, really, he was waking into a deep sleep), having to then fulfill the master’s every wish and desire. He headed north along Taiping Road. The shadows of human figures and whizzing cars zipped past incessantly as if they were all trying to be the first to reach the abyss.
He didn’t really have any particular destination in mind, apart from the fact that he’d decided to first follow the road and ride up along the street for a bit. He figured going for a ride would clear his mind and drive away his cares, plus he’d get to have a look at the town’s early winter evening scenery. There were way too many people riding their bikes. All the people in front of him and behind him were trying to take advantage of the uninhibited late-night rush home. A guy that was working at one of the shops was only just pulling down the roller shutter doors. It came down with a crash and, with that, the man’s whole day came to an end, but his own evening had just begun. But what could he even get up to this evening on a weekend like this? He continued to stare ahead aimlessly. He couldn’t be more familiar with this street if he tried. It was winter five years ago when he used to pass through this street almost every evening on the way to Southeastern University to see his then girlfriend, before going back to his dorm via the same street in the dead of night. Back then he’d be filled with excitement, speedily making a beeline for Southeastern University. As soon as he finished class, he bought a bunch of fresh flowers at the campus gates, and then ate some dinner. Just as he walked out of the dormitory holding the fresh bunch of flowers, snow began to fall. “How perfect, it’s almost as if the snow and the way these flowers look against it are my Christmas gifts to you.” He held the flowers over his head to shield himself from the wind and snow as he cycled in a rush toward Southeastern University. As soon as he laid eyes on his girlfriend, he couldn’t help but express his deepest feelings for her. His girlfriend was so moved that her face blushed rosy red in absolute bliss. She didn’t even care that his entire head and face were getting covered in snow. That winter’s night, they shared a warm kiss as they embraced amid the field of snow. For the entirety of the following winter’s day, he reveled in the fiery love and romance he shared with that girl. Not once did he feel as though their paths had crossed for nothing, or that it had been meaningless. As winter passed, their love story came to an end. But at the very least, he had not once felt lonely that winter’s evening. At least he had a little bit of love in his life at that time, a little bit of fantasy. Wintertime five years later saw him with nothing left to his name, a love that had died out long ago, and with a fantasy that had already been dissipated by the vulgarity of life. Right now, he was akin to the wind on a winter’s night, sweeping through the city’s main roads and small laneways.
As he approached the intersection of Taiping Road and Beijing East Road on his bike, his legs began to give out. Only when he strained to glance down did he realize that the back tire of his bike had gone flat. He had no choice but to get off his bike and start searching the streets. Attempting to find a bike-repair stall at this time of night was no easy feat. He eventually found a stall at the intersection. He stood by the bike-repair stall and lit up a cigarette. The light from the streetlamps seemed dim against the winter night sky, weakly casting light upon the cars and crowds of people that were passing by at lightning speed. Everyone was frantically rushing about in all directions, trying to go somewhere. It seemed as if every single person in the world had something to do that evening. Either they all had some warm place to be, or some exciting performance to go to, all except for him. A young man wearing a Western sort of leather outfit swiftly led a tall, well-proportioned girl right past his face. The girl glanced at him under the dim street lighting, before turning to her boyfriend to say something. The guy also turned his head around and took a quick glance back at him. But neither of them took any more notice of him after that. Just as quickly as they’d turned around, they’d already forgotten about him. He stood on the side of the street and kept gazing after their dimming silhouettes. He only stopped looking when they were no longer in sight. He got a piece of cloth from the bike-repair stall and wiped his bike down as it lay wheels up. He told the bike-repair stall owner not to forget to oil the wheels. They hadn’t been oiled in ages and were almost unusable.
As he passed Jiming Temple, his gaze was drawn toward the glistening red lights that were flashing from the Pacific Internet café. He hesitated for a moment. Should he go in or not? He decided not to go in; he was a bit fed up with surfing the web. He often used to go there before he was married. After getting married, he went there a few times on evenings like this, but eventually stopped going altogether. The media made a big fuss of it all, saying something about how the arrival of the internet age would completely transform the way people live. The cyber age would captivate the whole world and give its citizens a whole new meaning to life. The flamboyance, the excitement, the sincerity, and the fanaticism of their rhetoric— well, it all made him restless. The fact that he still wasn’t a netizen made him feel a bit ashamed of himself. He forced himself to enter the internet café after all. He remembered his first time coming to the Pacific Internet café. He saw the back of a young guy who appeared to be a student. The student didn’t know how to type, with a forehead completely covered in sweat by the time he managed to type out the sentence: “I want to kiss you.”
Not long after, a reply popped up on the screen. “I like it when you’re horny.”
The student looked back at him and proudly smiled. “That little slut, only a few lines and she already wants to go all the way with me.”
He eagerly let out a little laugh and hastily found an empty seat to plop himself into. His general impression of the internet was comparable to a mountain of rubbish. The few good things to be found there were just as readily available in books and magazines. The better things online felt just like those one-off times when you find something in a household rubbish bag that wasn’t meant to be discarded in the first place but somehow got accidentally thrown out anyway. He met the criteria of being a garbage man through and through, having to endure the foul stench of sifting through useless rubbish. That wasn’t even the worst of it. When he couldn’t find anything worthwhile online, he felt like a dung beetle shoving himself head-first into a heap of rubbish. Every time, he’d come out feeling dizzy with a face full of dust. After surfing the web for over a year, he still hadn’t made a single internet friend. The ones he had were just some offline friends that he already knew very well in real life. The internet was tens of thousands of times worse than all the senseless information that this city’s media shamelessly and repeatedly issued. He submissively gave in to it all. Whether it was online or offline, his life was still rubbish. No matter where he went, he was still a dung beetle. He looked down on those kinds of people that would post just about anything and everything online. They were nothing but internet trolls. Whether they were insulting each other or scheming against each other, it was all comparable to how a dung beetle rolls feces into a ball.
He couldn’t help but laugh when he thought about it. He started thinking about something related to a news story he saw on the internet, something about how a so-and-so university student excessively spent so much time online that they ended up developing a nervous disorder, and also something else about how some six- year-old child set up their own website. At that moment, his pager beeped. The beep brought a little glimmer to his night, thrilling the part of himself that had curled away into the far corners of his body. Luckily, there was a public telephone on the street. He hastily rode his bike over to it and hopped off, dialing the number more than ten times in a row, unable to get through. By then, the old man in charge of the telephone stand wasn’t putting up with it anymore. He was quite strange and violently grabbed the phone back from behind the counter.
“You broke it with all that dialing! Dialing it over and over again, and for what?”
He was dumbfounded and suppressed his rage. “It’s engaged, it’s always engaged.”
The old man was almost shouting. “If it’s engaged, then you wait a bit before dialing again. Go, go, go. Go and find somewhere else to call. This is a private telephone.”
He felt the utmost humiliation. He wanted to yell but he knew straight away that that wouldn’t be appropriate. Was it even worth getting into an argument with a crazy old duffer? He hung his head and walked away. Mounting his bike, he continued along the street in search. The anger he felt from being inexplicably forced to leave still hadn’t disappeared from the pit of his stomach. He ferociously cursed and swore while he searched on with determination.
Not bad, a card-operated phone.
“Hey, Weng Xiaomai. Where are you, are you free?”
“I’m on Zhanyuan Street. I don’t have anything to do, either. I was about to see if you wanted to hang out.”
“Hehe, that’s great. I’m not far from the Drum Tower. Where do you think we should meet up?”
“How about the Nanjing University gates on Guangzhou Road?
Wait for me there. It’ll take me about twenty minutes.”
“Okay, okay, bye.” He hung up and immediately felt revitalized. The him that had been curled up in the far corners of his body stood up, straightened, and kicked his legs out, and, with a few simple movements, it was as if his body had been completely restored.
He had only just hopped onto his bicycle when he suddenly thought of something and hopped down from it again. He wheeled his bicycle along the street as he searched under the dim evening light. He quickly picked up a brick and circled the block once, returning to the street he had just passed through. When he was about a hundred meters from where he saw the old man at the public telephone, he pedaled like crazy, zooming past on his bike. Once he passed the street-lit telephone stand, he shouted to the old man, “Hey!” and threw the brick in that direction.
That must’ve been the sound of the glass counter shattering. He didn’t even bother to go and check. There wasn’t a soul in sight, and the cold winter’s night wind blew through the darkness just the same.
He pulled Weng Xiaomai from where she stood under the street light into a dark, discreet spot and, with no explanation, he gave her a hug and kissed her. From the moment he had gotten off work until now, he had felt as though he’d been empty for a very long time. He didn’t know what it was that he wanted when he felt that emptiness. Was it food? Women? Or was it alcohol or coffee? All he knew as he firmly hugged Weng Xiaomai was that he’d finally found something substantial to grasp onto. Weng Xiaomai struggled free, looking disgusted.
“We haven’t seen each other for two years, and as soon as we see each other this is how you act?”
He assumed an air of composure, as if nothing had happened. “Oh, sorry. You didn’t like that? Don’t worry, just forget about it.”
Weng Xiaomai didn’t say anything. After a while she let out a sigh. “Ah, this is so boring.”
He grabbed Weng Xiaomai by the shoulders and pulled her in closer. “This isn’t boring, you have me here to keep you company tonight. I was feeling bored too, but as soon as I saw you I stopped feeling that way. Look, now that we two boring people have found each other, it’s not going to be boring anymore. Go on, just tell me what you want to do and I will do my best to satisfy you.”
“How did you get to be such a bore? You’re so sleazy when you talk to me now.” Weng Xiaomai seemed insulted.
“Oh, you’ve got me all wrong. What I meant to say was if you want to watch a movie, drink tea, or just keep walking the streets like we are now, I’d be happy to keep you company.”
Weng Xiaomai pressed her lips together with a little satisfied smile. “Well, in that case, let’s go for a little walk and just keep going down this road. Where’s your girlfriend? How come she isn’t with you on a weekend evening?”
“Well, how come your boyfriend isn’t with you, either?”
“Don’t even mention him. Just the mention of him pisses me off. He’s out all day and all night, and then comes home really late. First he’s out with classmates at a reunion banquet, next he’s out having dinner with colleagues, then he’s showing clients around. I’m sick to death of it.” He quickly comforted her. “Since you’re sick of it, we won’t talk about it. We should talk about some happy things, some wonderful things, am I right?”
Weng Xiaomai let out another sigh. “Ah, what’s there to be happy about? Everything is so ordinary and banal now, and so quiet, too.”
“So you want it rough and tumble? That’s easy to do. I’m right here, aren’t I?”
“There you go again. One more time and I’m going.”
“Don’t, don’t.” He pulled her in tighter. “Do you remember when we were still together, how we always used to walk up and down this street?”
“Yeah, how many years has it been?”
“Ah, now I remember. I guess it was wintertime when we were together, too!”
“Not ‘I guess.’ It definitely was wintertime six years ago. We used to spend all day every day together. Now that I think about it, it was a really happy time.”
“Back then we were like two country bumpkins, such simpletons. In the winter evenings, we would walk from this end to the other, then from that end back to this end. Even if it was snowing, we didn’t have the smarts to head home.”
“And we never even felt tired. We were just like two marmots woken up from hibernation by love, scurrying up and down the street. Most of the time there wasn’t a soul in sight, just the two of us. It was as if everyone on earth had died and we were the only two people remaining.”
“I still remember how you looked everywhere to try and buy me some baked sweet potato, but you just couldn’t find any. Now that I think back, you really were silly. It was the middle of the night, everyone was at home in bed. ”
“That’s the kind of energy love gives you. It was fine for you. You were cozy, with both hands in the pockets of your quilted jacket. You weren’t even cold at all, but I was miserable. I could only stick one hand in my pocket at a time. The other hand was completely exposed to the cold, just like how it is now with my arm around you. All I could do was switch positions to try and let both hands take turns at freezing in the cold.” As he said that, he dropped his numb and aching hand and moved to her other side to wrap his other hand around her shoulder.
Weng Xiaomai laughed. “That’s your job, no? I let you stick your hand into my sweater to keep it warm. Do you think that was nice for me? Your hand was as cold as ice, you made my insides freeze up.”
“Ah, is that why your heart went cold on me too? I still haven’t figured that out to this day. We were completely fine together, we never once argued. Then when you said let’s break up, we did. You weren’t sad about it at all, you had no attachment to me at all.”
“What was there to be sad about or attached to? I woke up one morning, and it seemed like there was a voice calling out from the darkness telling me that our destiny had run its course. So I decided to break up with you. I really trust in fate. I think everything is predestined.”
“Then how about our situation right now? Is that predestined too?”
Weng Xiaomai hesitated for a while and slowly answered, “Maybe, I guess so.”
He laughed and stared at her for a good while under the evening light with a kind of sly, cunning look in his eyes. He stopped and held her face with both hands, kissing her lips warmly.
It was as if Weng Xiaomai hadn’t yet woken up from the remembrance and gently let him do as he pleased. Dazzling car lights shone upon them, casting their shadows onto the roadside buildings like a flash cut in a movie. A car whizzed past them and whirled up a gust of cold wind. They had both fallen into a denser, darker night as the cold wind surrounded them.
Weng Xiaomai struggled free. Wetting her lips, she said, “I’m a bit scared.”
He placed his arm around her shoulders once again as they walked. “What’s there to be scared of? Look, this is the street we walked up and down six years ago, and it’s also wintertime. This is our street, our night. What is there to be scared of?” He wanted to guide her back into that reminiscence and take himself back there, too. That would be a little better.
Weng Xiaomai lowered her head and didn’t speak, as if she was contemplating the reality of things.
“My hands are freezing. How about you warm them up for me again?”
“No, this isn’t winter six years ago. Don’t try to trick me.”
“Trick you? How have I tricked you?” He said this as he forcefully stuck both hands inside Weng Xiaomai’s clothes, groping his way upwards until he could feel Weng Xiaomai’s breasts. Weng Xiaomai leaned against a telegraph pole, looking up into the pitch-black night sky. He kissed her once again on the lips and on the base of her neck.
“Your breasts are just as small and soft, just as warm as they used to be.”
Weng Xiaomai felt a little at a loss and fed up with him—or maybe it was just her sleepiness. “I’m tired, I can’t walk any further.” He groped her breasts and held onto them the same way someone hanging off a cliff grips a boulder. “Then how about we find a place to sit for a while? All this walking has made me tired too. It’s strange, isn’t it? Back then, we walked back and forth along this street and didn’t feel a thing. How is it that now we’ve only walked for a bit and already feel tired?”
“I knew you were trying to trick me, even if you won’t admit it. After all, things aren’t the same as they were six years ago.” Weng Xiaomai spoke with the utmost calm as tears fell down her cheeks. He didn’t notice her tears. He pointed to a teahouse not very far from them and suggested they go there. Weng Xiaomai shook her head, saying how she didn’t want to go there because there were too many people. He thought about it for a bit and suggested they go sit at the movie theater, just to rest their feet.
“There’ll be even more people there, and it’s noisy,” Weng Xiaomai said.
“Okay, we’ll go wherever you say you want to go.”
“Let’s go to a hotel and get a room then.” Weng Xiaomai’s tone was still calm, frighteningly calm. He was ecstatic to hear her say that, even if it was a little unexpected. From the very start, he’d wanted to find a hotel and get a room, but he thought he’d wait for a bit before letting that suggestion slip. And here was Weng Xiaomai suggesting it first. He suppressed his excitement and just pretended to be glad and calm, saying, “How about the Western Suburbs Hotel?”
Weng Xiaomai leaned against the telegraph pole and thought about it for a bit, then suddenly burst into laughter. “Forget it, it’s better if I go home. You should head back too, your girlfriend might be home already.”
He was tongue-tied for a while, choking on his words. Like the feeling you get when you’ve taken too many big bites of a steamed bun in a hurry. He sneered, “What’s with you? Changing your mind just like that before giving a guy a chance to even catch his breath.”
Weng Xiaomai shouted: “All right, I’m done chatting with you. I really have to head home.” She looked exactly as she did almost six years ago, when she told him she wanted to break up with him. Weng Xiaomai hailed a cab and jumped in, vanishing like a puff of smoke as though she were making an escape.
He stood in the draught, staring blankly at the cab’s taillights in the distance. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it up with his lighter, /pa/. In that flickering flame, you could see his eyes were as red as the cab taillights. It was as if that flickering flame was his heart, small and weak, trembling feebly against the winter’s wind out on the main road, struggling to resist the darkness. But the flame had very quickly gone out.
When his brick phone rang, he was still standing out in the dark, exposed to the cold wind. Like a bird with no nest to return to, he felt lonely and terrified to the point of desperation. He angrily answered, “What do you want?”
His girlfriend sounded apologetic, asking gently, “Baby, where are you?”
“In a coffin.”
“What? What did you say? Where exactly are you?”
“Why do you care where I am? You should mind your own business.”
“Can’t you speak to me properly? Where are you exactly?”
Furious, he roared, “Are you crazy, asking me where I am over and over again? It’s annoying!”
His girlfriend grunted aggressively, “I bet you’re with some girl.” If he were in a hotel room with Weng Xiaomai right now, he could have easily deceived his girlfriend by gently and cleverly telling her that he was chatting with Guo Feng and watching TV. Just to relieve her of all her worries, so she’d be certain he’d never betray her. It was either the injustice or the humiliation of the situation that infuriated him. “What if I am? I’m fucking a prostitute right now. It cost me three hundred bucks.”
Somehow, that only set his girlfriend’s mind at ease. “All right, all right. I won’t argue with you. I’m heading home in a while. Come pick me up, okay? It’s late, I’m scared to head home by myself.”
If he were in a hotel room with Weng Xiaomai right now, he wouldn’t think it was late. He wished that his girlfriend and her colleagues would stay out all night until the break of dawn. He shouted, “Why don’t you keep track of the time? I’m not picking you up. You work with all those men. Let one of them have the pleasure of walking you home.”
His girlfriend giggled. “Can you hear yourself? We just had something to eat and did karaoke. I didn’t even want to go, they made me. Why don’t you come and join us? We can all hang out.”
“Pfft! You think I’m that fucking bored? Why would I want to hang out with your colleagues? You have your fun. I’m looking through a script with Guo Feng. It could take the whole night. You have fun.”
His girlfriend hesitated for a moment. She didn’t want to hurt her colleagues’ feelings and she felt awkward leaving by herself.
“Fine, then, I’ll stay out with them a little longer. Don’t stay out too late yourself.”
“Okay, okay. You’re such a pain.”
“Not as much as you are.”
Both of them were being pretty fake to each other by the time they had hung up the phone in a huff.
The cloth at the top of the flagpole in front of the China–Japan Friendship Hotel flapped in the cold wind, though not as cruelly as it did sixty years earlier. He looked up to where the sound was coming from but couldn’t see anything. The imperial courts some six hundred years ago, the deaths sixty years ago, the love he felt six years ago, they were all nowhere to be seen. These moments in history and these memories were equally as distant, and were only drifting further and further away. The cold evening wind felt as sharp as a razor. He found his bicycle where he had met up with Weng Xiaomai. The only thing he was going to mount and ride now was this rickety old bike.
He speedily rode his bicycle straight to the University of the Arts. His good friend Guo Feng lived there. He assumed Guo Feng would be the only one of his friends that he could still probably catch awake at this time. Guo Feng was a well-established night owl. Rarely would he ever get into bed before the break of dawn. He admired that kind of energy. He’d usually be in bed himself by 9:30 PM, cuddling his girlfriend. He and Guo Feng were good friends from back before they even had pubic hair. They both went to the same selective school, and they were both in the same year and same class. Guo Feng had been class captain, and he had been a study commissioner. For a while, Guo Feng had moved out of his uncle’s house to live on campus and into their shared dorm room. They spent even more time there together, often hiding away in their dorm room and learning how to smoke. During the cold winters, they’d huddle together under the same blanket. Most clearly, he remembered how they would always grab at the hair on each other’s temples. It was an extremely painful area, and they would tear at it like madmen. He suspected that might be the cause of his now thinning hair, and a result of them going overboard with ripping each other’s hair out. His hair growth had been stunted by it; just like a damaged tooth, its life span had naturally been shortened. As it turned out, Guo Feng ended up changing schools. They had very little contact for the next ten years. He considered how his friendship with Guo Feng was similar to that of two struggling little desiccated rivers, always evaporating from the wind and the sun, then getting absorbed into the depths of the earth and disappearing. When they met up again ten years later, they were now grown men that had pubic hair for many years. He realized then that the rivers of their friendship had not dried up. In fact, they had just formed two underground rivers, converging into a single stream of will and wisdom, with maturity that had faded in and out, growing ever more expansive. Their work units were at two ends of the same road; one was at the north end on the left side of the street, the other on the south end on the right side. This street was like an even larger river, like the Milky Way. Ten years later, the flowing underground river of their friendship had birthed an opening into this Milky Way, so unimaginably far from where it had first started.
As soon as he thought of this, he felt blissful. Loneliness and purposelessness meant nothing, absolutely fuck-all. Compared to the way in which a sunflower holds its head up high to the sun, these spineless vines of loneliness and purposelessness would hide in dark gloomy corners, withering away in the autumn wind before turning into ash on cold winter nights.
The light in Guo Feng’s room was on. He stood downstairs as the dust of meaninglessness settled in his heart. He shouted out with a heart full of content, “Guo Feng, Guo Feng!” A cold wind whistled past and swept his voice away. He shouted a few more times before a window was pushed open. Guo Feng wasn’t there; it was Guo Feng’s colleague. He’d met him before; they’d even had a bite to eat together. He asked him, “Well, where did he go?”
Guo Feng’s colleague said, “I don’t know. Maybe he went out.” He thanked him, and Guo Feng’s colleague shut the window. He stared blankly at the dormitory window, as if a big bundle of withered and jumbled vines had just dropped from it and fallen on him, covering him from head to toe. The pot full of sunflowers disappeared, leaving only the dead and withered sunflower stalks that were entangled among the jumbled vines.
Guo Feng, that son of a bitch. He must be out fooling around. He has so much energy, plus that thing he has down there is so big. It’s just like what that Hollywood actress Meg Ryan, America’s sweetheart, once said, “You know, Sam, French men are very small, but not this guy. It’s like Godzilla’s tail!”
Guo Feng had a Godzilla’s tail, so the girls who knew about it were wild for him.
He went back to his apartment from the University of the Arts and turned on the air conditioner. He plonked down onto the reclining chair and fell asleep almost immediately.
He had a dream. He dreamed of himself and a colleague, Zhao Ziying, sitting on a train; they were on a work trip. They were somewhere in Hunan. The sun shone magnificently, dazzling as it spread across the central plains. The train was travelling so fast, like a sprinter caught in a picture dashing for the finish line, making the illusion of flying above ground seem real. He was a bit anxious and worried that he really would fly away, never to return to solid land again. Just then, an unbelievable scene revealed itself. The train was travelling at a tremendous speed, and there was a lively, bustling market town beneath the train. Neither the plains nor the train-station platforms were there, just a town packed full of snack vendors. He followed Zhao Ziying, not knowing how he had left the speeding train. In the crowd’s bustle, he quickly became separated from Zhao Ziying. He was even more nervous now, standing on his tippy-toes and searching for her among the crowds. He was so hungry that his stomach was rumbling, but the whirlwind of smells and flavors kept wafting over from the snack stands. He soon found Zhao Ziying as she was buying something to eat. He panicked as his heart dropped at the sound of his stomach growling even louder. The nearest snack vendor to him was selling steamed buns wedged with meat. He handed over five bucks to the stall vendor. It was a worn-out paper towel. He waited for the stall vendor to give him his change, and the stall vendor gave him two white strips of paper.
Startled, he asked, “Whatis this? This isn’tmoney.” He then clearly saw that the stall vendor was a young fellow with a greasy, vicious expression: “This is money. It’s what we use in this marketplace.”
“What kind of money is this? You’d best give me change in Chinese money.”
The young fellow didn’t say a word. He watched as the fellow pulled out a knife from underneath the stall. It flashed blindingly in the sun, the silver surface of the knife reflecting piercing rays. He turned and ran away in fear. The young fellow jumped out from behind the stall, wielding the knife up in the air in pursuit as he shouted and chased after him. No one even took notice of the dangerous situation. Everyone was busy doing their own thing, shopping and straining their heads to look as they passed them by, or as they sat under the disheveled cloths of the shady stalls to enjoy the cool open air. He stuffed the steamed meat bun into his mouth, and saw Zhao Ziying sitting by the window on the train, eating her food as if nothing had happened. He was pleasantly surprised, and leaped to catch onto the handle of the train door.
“I’m safe now, I’m safe.” He grinned as he sat opposite Zhao Ziying, ferociously taking a bite of his steamed meat bun.
Soon after that, he woke up, feeling unbearably cold. He felt as if he was still flying in his dream and couldn’t find a place to land.
He felt that, as soon as he landed, someone wielding a knife would chase after him and hack him to death. He was still sitting in the reclining chair, paralyzed, without a single thought going through his mind. He hugged himself and curled up, once again falling asleep, even though he was a little cold. This time, he dreamed of someone gently coming up in front of him and covering him with a warm cotton blanket.
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