(Translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping)
As the sun was setting, a twelve-year-old waif died under the wheels of a streetcar. Those involved in the accident, as well as the bystanders, were all making a fuss. Now he was happily watching it all from this big city’s memorial tower. As he looked back on three years of roaming about in this city, he knew that his little heart held a world that other people had no way of knowing.
March 21 was an ordinary day, much like any other day here. Nothing new. Nothing fresh. The new mayor was still making his longwinded speeches on television, trying to communicate his plans to modernize this town more. The pedestrians were still hurrying on, walking along their life’s journey, as if they couldn’t wait to get to their graves. The derailed streetcar was stopped at the side of the road, the driver busying himself to get it back on the track. Several faces hung out of the streetcar windows. The Asia Commerce and Shopping Center, China Emporium, the China United Mall, the Shopping Center, and the Natural Fashions Mansion were also still vying for the business of naïve customers.
At 2-7 Plaza, surrounded by these four big enterprises, besides the black and purple noise, there were only the overwhelming shouts of policemen. Indeed it was a day just like all others. If you were dead set on finding something different, probably it was just that on the 2-7 memorial tower perched a dove that hadn’t moved for a long time. Pure white. Shining brilliantly under the setting sun, like a single white dandelion flower frozen in a village field—that’s all. But, in earlier days, too, doves or other birds had wearily dropped to the top of the tower to rest. Indeed, one could find nothing different between the March 21st city and the city of former days. Birdy had chosen sunset on this day to let the streetcar roll over him and kill him at 2-7 Plaza, merely because it was on this day that he had really wanted to die. Nothing more than that.
After dying, Birdy leapt up and dropped to the upturned eaves of the memorial tower. Watching the people exclaiming and making a fuss over his death, he couldn’t help feeling a dull delight. As it turned out, the city residents weren’t anything special at all. Like anyone else seeing blood, they turned pale, scurried around, and shouted in alarm.
So they were just ordinary people. Sitting on the eaves of the second story of the tower, his hands holding onto the upturned eaves, he felt it was just like riding a goat at home—his hands hanging onto the curved horns. As if viewing the country scenery back in his home village, he was looking down at the busy city and gloating over the people frightened by his little corpse. His cheerfulness was like a gurgling, meandering stream trickling in his heart. He noticed an employee of the Asia Commerce and Shopping Center—badge number 14407—wearing light green formal attire of wool. When she passed by, she shoved her way into the crowd and saw under the wheels my exploded head and my half-open mouth still twitching. Her smooth, rosy, tender face turned as white as glutinous dough. Her pretty and elegant countenance was contorted into a pitted potato. Birdy was so happy he forgot himself. He nearly fell from the eaves. When the streetcar drove over his tummy, Birdy felt as if someone were stepping it, and so he had achieved his goal.
As he sat on the eaves, he saw the driver pull the emergency brake. In a flash, the driver’s face turned waxy yellow, like axle oil—pasty and thick. He saw the passengers suddenly flung forward and bending over. Several people bumped and bruised their heads. At the doorway, the conductor spun around speedily once—like the streetcar’s wheel. When he clambered up, blackish-red blood was streaming down his face in several viscid rivulets. Birdy almost laughed out loud. When he first came to this city and didn’t have a ticket for riding the streetcar, this conductor had kicked his butt. The soles of his leather shoes were stiff and large. Now, three years later, Birdy’s butt still hurt. Now it was okay: he’d paid him back and the punishment fit the crime.
And then there was that employee with badge number 14407. When others had goaded Idiot Boy and Phoenix into making love, she had stood at one side and snickered. Birdy had also now paid her back: when she saw his broken corpse, she kept throwing up next to the crowd. Her face, which had driven men crazy, had finally been distorted into a half-white, half-red sweet potato. But none of this was what Birdy was happiest about. Not long after he jumped up to the eaves of the tower, he unexpectedly saw that a black car had rear-ended the streetcar, and its front windshield was shattered. The fragments of glass were glittering like the stars and moon, glistening in the rays reflected from the setting sun. The buildings around 2-7 Plaza—the malls of the Commerce Center, the Twin Towers Hotel, The Asia Restaurant, and even the memorial tower became a riot of color. Even more interesting: the driver of the car was actually in one piece, but a fat guy had been kicked like a ball from the front seat and thrown on top of the rear shell of the streetcar from which he had then rebounded. Because he was fat, he bled a lot. The blood flowed with a vast, loud sound, like a melody by a solo horn in the setting sun of a village. It reverberated with unbounded glee in the plaza. This was indeed good fun.
In order to get a better view, Birdy jumped from the second floor of the tower to the third floor. He steadied himself by gripping the black bricks of the tower wall, but—corroded into pieces by wind and rain—they were like sand. He lost his handhold. He scattered a handful of the sand onto the crowd in the plaza. When the sand finally fell into the eyes of several well-dressed persons, he couldn’t keep from laughing out loud. He watched his laughter—flimsy and light, one part black and purple, one part pink. The black and purple part was like the gore that remained on his back from being beaten. The pink was the blood like the profusion of peach blossoms all over the ground after the streetcar rolled him to death. There were also some other colors. Anyhow, he was astonished. He had never expected that, in death, his laughter could become like this season’s budding flowers, floating in the air over the country fields. It was too beautiful for words. He hadn’t thought that he—twelve-year-old Birdy—could add such a tint of nature to this mad and noisy city. All of a sudden, he felt the city didn’t deserve this favor of his. Flustered, he stopped laughing. Too bad. Birdy’s laughter was like cicada wings, floating in the air above the so-called accident. When people looked up, he seemed to have a guilty conscience: he sprang up again and jumped to the fourth floor and hid in the cracks between the twin towers.
The city people who’d been looking up wrested their heads back to look at Birdy’s little corpse. In the end, they didn’t take any warning from the handful of sand or the floral scented laughter. Birdy began resting on the eaves. Began quietly observing his death, which had brought uneasy trembling to this city. Began walking into the past. As if sifting through garbage, he searched for some of his own past in what could actually be called his life. He saw the years rewind, like a fallen willow tree on the bank of the Golden Water River. The green and flexible limbs drooped beneath the crown of the tree, avoiding the sun’s direct rays, but they were also the same green, enjoying the blossoming spring and living through all the seasons. Too bad that he and Phoenix had had only three lovely years like this before they were scattered hither and yon by Idiot Boy and by urban civilization. Finally, Phoenix had died because of this, Idiot Boy too had died because of this, and he himself had had no choice but to also die.
He remembered that it had been autumn three years ago when he had come to this city. In autumn, the French tung tree’s red and yellow leaves covered the city streets. And fog already occasionally hung over the Golden Water River. In the cool early morning air, the river water gave off white vapor. He certainly didn’t intend to stay here very long. From his year’s experience as an urchin in Luoyang, he knew it wouldn’t be easy to live in this city in the winter, mainly because of the cold. As for food, small restaurants in cities always prepared plenty of food. Worst case—he could always wash dishes for the owner. That’s how he’d lived in Luoyang: in the daytime, he’d done odd chores for a restaurant and at night he’d slept next to the stove there. But later on, the owner lost something: not only did he kick Birdy out of his spot by the stove, but he also gave him a harsh dressing down. Hurt by this, he jostled his way onto a train. When he alit in this city, the person manning the exit kicked him in the back. He hadn’t realized that this was the train’s last stop. He had seen the itinerary clearly: Xi’an—Zhengzhou—Guangzhou. How was anyone to know that the train would simply stop mid-way?
He took a look at this city—the provincial capital. Birdy thought he was born in this land, yet he’d never seen his own capital. That’s too bad. He thought he’d see something of the city, and then wait for a chance to hop a train for Guangzhou. His dream was to go to Guangzhou. It was said that panhandlers in Guangzhou were called beggars. Beggars there were all unbelievably rich. Even the winter was enjoyable, for one tattered jacket was enough protection from the elements. It was just summertime that was a little difficult. But he’d heard that Harbin far to the north wasn’t hot in the summertime. Birdy fancied that he’d spend the winter in Guangzhou and the summer in Harbin. He could manage just fine anywhere in the spring and autumn, so when the train stopped, he temporarily changed his plans and joined the people streaming into this city.
He hadn’t expected to stay for three years: in the twinkling of an eye he’d gone from a nine-year-old to a twelve-year-old, from child to adult. On the eaves of the tower, Birdy mused: had he stayed in this city because the train had stopped or because he had happened to meet Phoenix? Full of melancholy, he was seeing the silently falling leaves from three years ago, the whole land’s withered yellow covering the highway, and he was walking alone on those yellow leaves. He hadn’t expected that the provincial capital was after all the provincial capital—and, at the entrances to restaurants and hotels, uniformed young people guarded the doors and made quick work of preventing him from taking even half a step inside. Unexpectedly, even the little alley cafes wouldn’t let him in, for fear that he’d hurt their business. They’d rather dump the leftover food into a garbage pail and flush it down the toilet than let him touch it. As for the stations—never mind if it was the train station, the taxi stand, or the bus station—much less would they let him spend the night. The Asia Commerce and Shopping Center’s entrances were easy enough to slip through, but maids were on duty in all the elevators. If eighty-year-olds couldn’t get into the elevator, the maid just stood there lazily, but if he got into the elevator, the maid firmly dragged him out, and drove him out of the building. Of course, they couldn’t ward off his curiosity about elevators, or his interest in malls. He’d never even thought of stealing something in crowded places. Yet by chance, when a woman buying clothes dropped her money and ration cards in front of the counter, he glided over, picked them up, and walked away. Things like this did happen from time to time in these three years.
Too bad—ration stamps were no longer circulating in the city.
Thinking of the ration stamps, Birdy was as pathetic as a sick man. In the noodle shop in Luoyang, bit by bit he’d saved up ration stamps worth six and a half kilos. Among them were one and a half kilos good anywhere in the country. He had planned to start a new life in Guangzhou with them. Later, Phoenix stowed them all away. As if they were collector’s items, she stuffed them all into a bamboo tube. He never guessed that three years later, they would be nothing but pieces of filthy paper.
Perhaps everything had happened because of those ration stamps. Birdy thought, if it weren’t for those six and a half kilos worth of ration stamps, maybe today there wouldn’t have been this bleak outcome. Back then, he’d gone hungry for three days in this city. Trying to find a little something to eat, he had gone against the current along the Golden Water River—the city’s biggest river for sewage. Garbage thrown out by city residents was stacked on the banks of the river. Out of every ten pop bottles, there was always one which someone hadn’t finished drinking. But food—for example, moldy cakes, biscuits that had gone bad, dried out bread, a half-eaten fried stick, unsold rotten fruit—there was none at all. He hadn’t expected that on the banks of the rich Golden Water River, the pickings would be so slim. Bright sunlight was reflecting on the garbage and on the black water of the river. A foul odor threaded the surface of the water. Naturally, there were no fish, frogs, dragonflies, or anything else. But there were mosquitoes.
The mosquitoes were big and stocky: they flew like airplanes taking off from the city’s airport with important men on board. Dark red-colored insects flashed radiantly as they climbed onto the garbage near the river. They got along happily in life, if also somewhat on edge. When they climbed up, they always leapt and frolicked with abandon. They smelled like fish and made loud music. A bamboo pole in his hand, Birdy was walking slowly along the river. Whenever he ran into newly dumped garbage, he stopped and looked through it carefully, scaring off the red insects. The sun was indeed beautiful—just like a large biscuit baked yellow and crisp at the entrance of a restaurant.
Whenever Birdy saw the sun, the aroma of baked biscuits swept past his nose. And so it was that, looking up at the sun and taking in the yellow, crisp aroma of the big biscuit, he walked slowly, indolently, ahead. Underfoot, the Golden Water River flowed sluggishly. Now and then floating on the water were bras that city girls had worn, condoms that men had used, and pop bottles that kids had chucked away. But nothing to eat. He was disappointed and surprised. He even felt a nameless hatred for this city. He walked on slowly. By the time the sun was setting, without realizing it, he had left the city and reached the western suburbs. Leaves were turning yellow and brown. Trees were becoming bare—like the city’s discarded stovepipes. In distant fields, farmers were harvesting vegetables. The land and the riverbank blended into a withered, desolate scene. Birdy couldn’t help but halt his steps, look up, and think, you’d still better grab the chance to go to Guangzhou. But just then, on the bank of the Golden Water River he saw a low thatched hut that seemed about to collapse. In front of the thatched hut stood a thirty-something woman, or maybe forty-something. Or even more likely twenty-something. Her filthy, worn-out red sweater and messy, uncombed long hair blurred the boundaries of her age. She was looking at Birdy with narrowed eyes, so Birdy had no choice but to also look her in the eye. Indistinctly, he glimpsed the quiet, happy life he and this woman would share.
“What are you looking for?”
“Something to eat.”
“I already picked over this area.”
The woman smiled. Her teeth weren’t white, but they weren’t corn-yellow, either. When she smiled, you couldn’t say she was pretty nor could you say she was ugly. Dirt covered up anything feminine about her. She walked over to him, glanced at the garbage he was fumbling through, and said, if you want something to eat, I have food, but what do you have in exchange?
“A little over six and a half kilos’ worth.”
C’mon, she turned around and walked toward the thatched hut, let’s say you give me two and a half kilos’ worth of ration stamps, and I’ll see to it that you have enough to eat. As if tagging along behind his mother, he went and stood at the door of the hut. The open door was facing the water. In front of the door was an area of flat land, layered thickly with the foul smell from the river water. Standing there, Birdy stole a glance inside. He was amazed to see a palace. In the inner part was a brick-footed bed. On the walls hung a pot and ladle. Although they were in disrepair, they fascinated Birdy. Even better, next to the pot and ladle hung several bags full of dried bits of cakes, pieces of biscuits, dry fried dough sticks, and dried bread. Holes were torn in some of these transparent plastic bags, and the fried dough sticks protruding from them were like red fingers scratching at his throat. The woman took down a bag at random, and Birdy kept swallowing back saliva, and then handed her a wad of ration stamps.
Birdy sat on the ground to eat. But the chilly autumn ground penetrated his bony butt and circulated all through his body. He wanted to eat the fried dough stick, but he knew it would be tough and brittle after being dried so he picked up a piece of red cake to eat. He knew that the red color on top was dried roasting oil. He’d bought this meal with ration stamps, and he knew from experience that when you’re terribly hungry you can’t eat fast. If you do, you’ll get a terrible stomachache, and even worse, you won’t be able to eat much. Not smart. He had to nibble and swallow slowly, so that his tummy would expand only slowly. It was like taking one’s time blowing up a ball; you had to let it expand slowly to its limit so it wouldn’t suddenly burst. Needless to say, this food was what she had collected every day from the garbage heap. Inwardly, Birdy was a little suspicious that it was too dirty, but he couldn’t be choosy: this city, after all, wasn’t Luoyang where he could eat hot food at a small eatery, or sometimes even a whole fish or a plate of pork. Anyway, you have to put up with it. Didn’t you walk along the river especially to find this sort of thing? And she had a house, with a bed and quilt. Who knows? She might even let him spend the night.
The woman was squatting down facing him, and earnestly counting his ration stamps. A louse was climbing in the wad of stamps—glistening transparently in the reflected sunlight and giving anyone who saw it an impression of exhilaration, sudden vitality, and an abundant autumn harvest. But, after all, she was a woman. And she was handling things in such a way that Birdy was a little ashamed of himself. Just as he was thinking of eating the cake, she squished the louse with a phhht sound, a sound like the sudden report of a gun from the land across the way. Birdy was a little terrified: he felt a raindrop fall from his lips and knew it was blood splashed from the louse. Of course, it was also his own blood merely being returned to its owner. Licking his lips, he tasted the slightly salty flavor, and a rush of red heat surged up from below his neck and in the twinkling of an eye flowed up to the top of his head. He heard the sound his hair made on his head—like the wind blowing across the grass. Gazing at the cake, he fervently wished the woman would get up and go away, and leave him alone here. But when he reflected that this was her home, he yearned for her to fling the ration stamps to the ground, and go to the river and wash her nails that had crushed the louse. But nothing happened. Licking one of her fingers, she went on counting his ration stamps one by one.
She said, “Go ahead and eat. I just want two and a half kilos.”
He took a bite of cake. He’d been drooling with hunger. All because she was a woman, he had to pretend that he didn’t hanker after something delicious. But after the dry cake spurted into his mouth, it was like a sponge soaked in water, swelling up in an instant. His tongue quivered a little under its pressure. A sweet aroma permeated his body. Even the autumn chill from the ground was banished from his veins by this sweet fragrance and contented feeling. He didn’t dare gulp the cake down in one bite for fear that the next bite wouldn’t be as flavorful. Holding the bite of cake in his mouth, he was gazing at the tooth marks on the cake still in his hand. His lips were firmly closed, as if he was afraid the flavor in his mouth would float away. Birdy’s mouth was like death row. He shut the flavorful, now moist piece of cake into his mouth until he felt the flavor dissipate. Only then did he swallow it in two bites. The first bite was the pure sweet flavor of the cake—like a person walking into an orchard in autumn, not hurrying to eat the fruit, but first downing a few swallows of orchard fragrance. Then he let the fragrance of the cake melt into the marrow of his bones and packed it away in a place deep in his heart. Only after that did Birdy swallow the bits of still flavorful cake.
The woman took out two and a half kilos worth of stamps, and folded up the rest of them.
“I’ll swap them for a wooden comb.”
Birdy was looking at her hair.
“Are two and a half kilos enough?”
She handed back the rest of the ration stamps.
Birdy didn’t take the ration stamps.
“I’ll give you all of them. Let me spend the night here—okay?”
The woman’s hand stiffened in mid-air. Looking quietly at Birdy’s lean half-black, half-yellow face, she asked, “How old are you?” When he said nine, the woman’s hand quivered in the air for a moment and her face, which had been a little ruddy, suddenly turned waxy yellow—just like today three years later, when Birdy let the streetcar run over him, the driver was so scared that his face turned waxy yellow. The woman drew her hand back and put the ration stamps in the palm of her hand. She stood up sluggishly, still looking at Birdy’s emaciated face, and said, “After staying one night, where will you go? People say Guangzhou is a good place for beggars.” Birdy said, “Guangzhou is too far from home. I want to stay with you—it’s a little closer to home.” Taking the ration stamps, the woman went into the house and started cooking.
Here at 2-7 Plaza, no one was as busy as the policemen.
Birdy sat on the eaves of the fourth floor, delighting in the leisure. In the blink of an eye, he saw the patrons of the Asia Commerce and Shopping Center and all the other malls stream out like an ebb tide and surround 2-7 Plaza. The watertight wall of people was much like ancient fortified city walls. Furthermore, the city’s prosperity and its city’s political and cultural center were also most visible here. In addition to the commercial center and the 2-7 memorial tower that was rich with political connotations, it was also the city’s traffic hub. It wasn’t just an intersection; it was a cloverleaf. It was easy to lose any sense of direction here. The first time Birdy lost his way here, the policeman didn’t give him good directions but kicked him in the butt. . . .
Now, watching the fuss the policemen were making, he heard a cop’s voice hoarse from shouting because of Birdy’s death. The satisfaction surging up like a spring tide from the depths of his being caused Birdy to whistle like a willow flute. In order to protect the scene of the accident, the policeman had to remove his snow-white gloves and move some bricks and boards to encircle Birdy’s body. Just then Birdy soaked the cop’s sacred hand—soaked it with his black blood that had thickened until it was like dirt. Three years ago, the cop had said you fucking get out of this city. At first, he’d intended to tweak Birdy’s ears under his messy hair, but then suddenly he changed his mind and kicked him in the butt. And so Birdy finally understood that because of their unparalleled civility and their incomparable sanctity, all the city people who wanted to drive him out of the world would always kick his butt, instead of slapping him in the face. They were afraid Birdy would get their sacred hands dirty. This incident left Birdy with a lingering despair about his so-called life. He hadn't realized that, although he was part of the same species, he wasn't even qualified to be slapped by others.
He regretted that in his whole life he’d never been slapped by city people. It was just like his never having gone south to Guangzhou. Never in his whole life had he eaten the lichees and mangoes so abundant in the south. He was dead, and he had never known the difference in flavor between the south’s lichees and mangoes and the north’s apples and pears. He would also never taste the difference in pain between city people kicking his butt and slapping his face. It was the cops who had most often kicked his butt, but they hadn’t slapped his face even once. Wasn’t my face worth even one slap? Was I really so much dirtier than others? Watching the traffic jam caused by his body, and the cop so busy he was dripping with sweat, watching those cops whose hands he’d stained with his black blood, he finally felt a kind of relief. This was great: now your hands are just as dirty as mine. When you go home and stroke your wife’s powdered face, your home will be suffused with the foul smell of a little corpse, just like the air above the Golden Water River under the scorching midsummer sun.
Birdy felt a kind of calm comfort.
But Birdy was still a little peeved. The sun had already set a long time ago. It was time for workers’ shifts to change. It was time for the rush hour traffic jam. But Birdy still saw an orderly stream of people on bicycles, rather than the congestion he’d imagined earlier. From the tower, he wanted to watch the lively scene of a traffic jam, and he also had to find Phoenix and Idiot Boy, both of whom had died before him. He had to let them know that I, twelve-year-old Birdy, have avenged you against the city. And furthermore, the bloody place of revenge is in the exact plaza where, last summer, the two of you were forced—just like pigs and dogs—to do what men and women do.
As he recalled last summer, Birdy was filled with lifelong hatred for that summer season. If it hadn’t been for the white sun’s brutal heat and the callous bites of mosquitoes, would his relationship with Phoenix—like the trite remark city couples dropped at the roadside—last until the ocean dried up? After he was a few years older, Phoenix would have his child. This was possible.
Looking back on it, the life he’d had with Phoenix in the city was indeed beautiful and peaceful. Perfect. The first reason it was damaged was that it was very hot weather. Because Phoenix was a woman, because Phoenix’s son had died, and he had happened to be the same age as Birdy, Phoenix let Birdy stay on in the thatched hut. A few bundles of moldy, withered straw couldn’t conceal their sweet equilibrium, namely the extraordinary life they lived between the city and the country. Every night, she let him hold her legs in bed, as they slept head to toe, and she didn’t mind that for no reason his little wee-wee would sometimes grow hard—like a little hot pepper poking at her soft calves. Sometimes—mostly in the winter—she would also let him burrow into her bosom, and let him—like a child—fondle her breasts and nipples. They were kind of getting used to sharing the bed this way, not as mother and son, not as sister and brother, not as husband and wife.
When—through the openings of the thatch—the sun shone onto the bed, the clear early morning air departed from the Golden Water River, made its way along the dewy ground, climbed onto the bed, climbed onto Birdy’s face. Then, as usual, Birdy stretched, got dressed, got out of bed, left the thatched hut, cautiously went down to the side of the polluted Golden Water River, scooped up some filthy water with his hands, and washed his little face. You didn’t have to be scared of the foul odor of the water. A few minutes after you washed your face with it, the morning breeze would blow the odor away. When Birdy clambered up the bank again, Phoenix was already lighting firewood under a tree. She cooked rice in a pot over the fire. In the sunlight, she was spreading out a sheet of plastic film, and putting the things that Birdy had picked up his first few days here—cakes, bread, oil sticks, and other discarded things—onto the plastic film, so that they could be wind and sun dried and thus provide stores for the winter. Birdy felt that his standard of living had definitely slipped. Needless to say, he couldn’t eat a whole fish or any pork, and only seldom could he drink one mouthful of the soup left over from making mutton noodles. But he was happy to be spending these poor, quiet days with Phoenix.
He always thought, this will finally result one day in marrying Phoenix. After suffering through one winter with Phoenix, he felt even more strongly about this—as if one morning when fog filled the sky, a round sun had suddenly kindled Birdy’s endless pipe dreams about the years to come. Phoenix could actually use the broken tiles from under the scaffolding to pulverize the wind-dried cakes into golden yellow flour, and boil a flour soup that was not too watery and not too thick. The flour soup shone golden yellow, as if it were a pot of bubbling gold soup. It was a little aromatic and a little sweet. With their wind-dried provisions and some pickles, they enjoyed days better than those of ordinary people. Sometimes, they sold wastepaper that they picked up from the garbage heap, and then she would buy a few kilos of fine dried noodles, go to a vegetable plot and take advantage of people being off guard and pick a few vegetable leaves, and then make a pretty good noodle dish.
Of course, he had to take some of this talk back, for Phoenix certainly didn’t always satisfy Birdy in everything. For example, in wind and rain or a sudden change in the weather, Phoenix would fall sick for no reason at all: she’d foam and froth at the mouth, as if she were going to die. At such times, Birdy was at something of a loss. He had to stand guard beside her until she—also for no apparent reason—regained consciousness. After coming to, Phoenix would hold Birdy’s head, and now and then glance at the white sky, and splash Birdy’s face with her tears. Another example: after Birdy started living in her hut, she no longer spent the mornings picking up the stuff that the garbage men had left along the river at night—things like food, wastepaper, old books, pop bottles, and small wooden boxes. It was Birdy who now did this alone. He had no idea what she did in and out of the hut as she went to and fro. Birdy felt it was unfair. Birdy had thought it over: suppose Phoenix were not a woman, suppose she didn’t let him sleep holding her legs every night, he definitely would not do these things for her. Also, she never let him go into the city, just as if not letting her child play next to a pond.
“Is your butt hankering for kicks again?”
Cutting him off like this with one sentence was much like the affectionate bellowing and nagging a mother dished out to a son. He’d better get the idea of roaming the city streets out of his head. Finally, even when the world-class Shaolin Martial Arts troupe performed in this city, Birdy hadn’t even heard about it. But anyhow, Phoenix was good to Birdy—right up until she and Idiot Boy did that thing in public.
Let’s look back to last summer.
Last summer was really extremely hot. The gangs of mosquitoes flew up from the Golden Water River, their wings blocking the sun into darkness. When they lit on the aquatic grasses at the side of the river, it was like a layer of thick, inky black blood. At Phoenix’s thatched hut, it was as though the mosquitoes had found a home of their own: they flew happily, they alit happily. They obviously didn’t consider Birdy and Phoenix live creatures. Most of the time, they forced them out of the hut, and even pursued them.
The side of the Golden Water River was hot with a rotten fermenting smell. All over the surface of the water were thick, white little bubbles. If it weren’t that the water was still flowing sluggishly, the city people could take the Golden Water River as a source of methane gas, and process it for profit. It was said that last summer two city residents died of the heat. Birdy thought that if he and Phoenix were city residents living in a high building, the two who had died of the heat would have been he and Phoenix. Luckily, though, they lived where a cool breeze sometimes took pity on them. Too bad this broiling heat lasted only three days. If it had lasted four days, that incident would have ended differently.
“Tonight, a lot of night markets will be running air-conditioning constantly.”
“How do you know?”
“I went in the daytime, and also picked up fifty cents and bought some pop.”
After the third day of brutal heat had passed, a lot of cool air blew in from the suburbs. Birdy and Phoenix sat outside the hut for a while. They were bored stiff, so they decided to walk around in the city. In their vocabulary, the city meant the 2-7 Plaza, the commercial center. Its greatest enticement was that if they were careful and focused enough, and took a little time, they could always pick up some money or ration stamps. They never got a lot. The time they got the most was when Birdy picked up a woman’s purse. It was unusually delicate and pretty, but it had only thirteen yuan in it. This amount of money didn’t fit the looks of the purse, but it still made Birdy and Phoenix happy for one night. Phoenix wanted the purse: she stuffed it with a lot of buttons and pins and thread. With the money, Phoenix went to a residential area and bought Birdy a suit of second-hand clothes, and a second-hand blouse for herself.
Full of hope, they headed to 2-7 Plaza. It was eight o’clock in the evening when they arrived, and there weren’t any intimidating policemen in the plaza. There weren’t any nosy women at the shop entrances, either. All in all, everything was great. Birdy and Phoenix separated to do their work. Phoenix worked the counters at the Asia Commerce and Shopping Center, while Birdy scoped out the counters at the China Emporium. Today, under the setting sun, Birdy sat calmly on the 2-7 tower, bathing in the splendid sunlight and looking at his no longer twitching body that had made people so unhappy. Blood no longer flowed through that body. He was watching the city dwellers and government workers who had been so astonished by his jaunty death. All of a sudden, broadening his heart, Birdy decided to forgive the vices of the city.
He thought of things that should happen, such as the train pulling into the station on time. It was unlikely that you’d be unappreciative and gripe about the train’s punctuality. Thinking back, as soon as Birdy reached the home electronics counter at the China Emporium, he saw a couple: the woman was using scare tactics to buy a portable air-conditioner. And the man, needless to say, was an upstart moneybags. Taking money from a bag, he threw it at the clerk, just as if taking out a few rocks to smash the glass of the counter in front of him. At the same time, he took out a wad of ration stamps tied together with a rubber band. He dropped them on the counter, as though dropping an extra button from his shirt. He picked up the pile of ration stamps, glanced at them, and threw them down behind him. Birdy was scandalized. All the while, Birdy was standing next to a glass-inlaid pillar. He thought anyone who would throw away a pile of ration stamps like this must be trying to entrap him. Otherwise, who would deliberately throw ration stamps on the floor? Birdy would not lightly board someone else’s pirate ship. He’d been independent since the age of eight, and at nine, he’d gone to the city to beg. His accumulated life experience was enough for him to cope with the lure of everyday pitfalls.
But, when all is said and done, Birdy was poor, and after all, he’d come out for the chance of picking up something. He couldn’t be too eager for instant gratification, but he couldn’t afford to miss any chance, either. Deploying his street smarts, Birdy sneakily kicked the bundle of ration stamps to a corner that wouldn’t attract anyone’s attention. Then he squatted down at the glass pillar, and his eyes divided up the work—one looking at the ration stamps to the east, the other looking at the couple shopping to the west. How would Birdy know that, a week ago, the local newspaper had announced that the nationwide food ration cards would be null and void in this city? To this day, Birdy remembered, that night his eyes made the skin between his eyebrows stiff and painful: who would have thought that someone wouldn’t want those ration cards? Right up until they walked off with the air-conditioner, they didn’t cast even one glance at the discarded ration cards.
Whatever will be, will be. Birdy picked up the ration cards in a flurry and headed toward the triumphal arch. He ran straight out of the mall. The joy he felt over his good luck was like a rapidly flowing river hurdling the forests and the open fields, making straight for the city, flowing straight into his innermost being. It didn’t rush out again, but surged back and forth, on and on, inside his tiny chest.
It wasn’t until he was standing outside, seeing the colorful sparkling lights hanging at each large market—keeping the darkness of night thousands of miles away and forming a new world of the city—that he suddenly thought: Phoenix couldn’t yet have left the Asia Commerce and Shopping Center. They had divided up the work so that they could carefully search the counters everywhere in these two malls. He’d already found a stack of ration cards, so he no longer had to glide around the mall with furtive, shifty eyes. You can go wherever you want. Just wait until the clock on the memorial tower strikes twelve, and then meet Phoenix there and leave with her.
But still he didn’t know where he should go.
On the road between the two malls, the sky was resplendent with colorful twinkling lights. City men and women surrounded the center of the road, as though looking at something. Furtive whispers and women’s giggles were like a gale—like the sound of raindrops falling. The uproar and laughter of men shouting “Come on!” and “Climb up!” were much like a gale drowning out the sound of rain and purposely whirling around the treetops. Birdy had experienced standing under the trees and listening to the wind and rain in the summer—the howling windstorm and the sound of a downpour made people cower.
Birdy decided to find out what on earth was going on. He made his way through the iron barrier at the side of the road, and detoured around a number of cold drink carts selling ice cream. When he reached the edge of the crowd, the first thing he saw was the employee wearing badge number 14407, one hand covering half of her merry, pretty, rosy face, the other hand pointing at the middle of the crowd. She was talking and laughing about something with a man.
Birdy had the twin advantages of being small and filthy: wherever he went, people wanted to get as far away from him as possible. He made neat, quick work of pushing through layers and layers of the surrounding crowd and reached the very inside of the crowd. Finally, he saw that Phoenix had once again fallen sick. She was lying facing up without moving, the froth from her mouth spurting up like a fountain of pearls—it kept gurgling up until it covered one side of her brown face with exquisite white foam. It reflected all the colors of the neon lights. A big moronic man was sitting next to Phoenix. He had unbuttoned her shirt, and was looking at her part-brown, part-rosy full breasts. Laughing, he fiddled every now and then with Phoenix’s blackish red nipples that looked like ripe grapes.
Birdy watched this incident take place in the city’s public square that added a lot of colorful delight to the life of the city. Indeed, Phoenix’s body was worth the time it took the busy city people to look at her. The city had supported her with garbage for so many years, and now the residents were getting some pleasure in return. Now, as Birdy sat on the tower replaying this scene, he saw Idiot Boy’s finger fiddling with Phoenix’s nipples. It was rough and strong, as if it were a dirty stick washed up from the Golden Water River. He heard Idiot Boy’s laughter. The scene gave him no time to think. He suddenly realized that Phoenix had been his: no way could he let an idiot disgrace her. Birdy didn’t say anything. He didn’t curse, either. Like a soft bullet, Birdy flew from between the legs of the crowd, and in an instant landed on Idiot Boy’s shoulders. But the one who fell onto the ground wasn’t Idiot Boy: he had dodged away. Birdy rebounded and fell next to the feet of the crowd. Birdy felt hot pain all over. This rebound made Birdy realize you’re just eleven, and you’re small and skinny. Compared with city children of the same age, you’re as small as a withered date—no flesh, no pit. Birdy sat up. Spots flickered before his eyes. When Idiot Boy, stunned by Birdy’s attack, and the onlookers saw that Birdy was only a dried-up date, they realized they could ignore this minor interruption.
“Go! Go! Climb up, climb up on top of her belly!” The shouts of the crowd were like black-shelled walnuts ripped apart by the wind and falling on Birdy’s head and face. At that time, Birdy still didn’t exactly understand what the crowd wanted Idiot Boy to do when he climbed onto Phoenix. He just regretted that they’d left the little hut tonight. Inwardly, he blamed Phoenix: you get sick in the wind and rain. Why do you also have to fall sick in such good weather? He was hoping Phoenix would get back to normal in no time, as usual. We’d immediately leave this crowd hand in hand. Sitting amidst the noisy crowd, he felt the buzzing of flies and mosquitoes filling his head. Idiot Boy didn’t laugh again, nor did he fiddle with Phoenix’s nipples. Idiot Boy turned around, facing Birdy, his eyes wide open—big and round and glittering. Needless to say, Idiot Boy had also come to the city as a guest begging for a living. He was a big guy with muscles bulging on his broad face. Birdy recalled that he had dreamed of hurrying to grow up to become a big guy capable of scaring people.
Back then, the image of an adult man was a little blurry in his mind—like white fog collecting in the village on an early winter morning. Now, Birdy saw the white fog peeled away: the big guy of his illusions was the muscle-bulging face of Idiot Boy. He felt a little afraid: he thought if Idiot Boy stepped lightly on his body, his body would be smashed to pieces like corn under a roller. He was on edge as he hoped Phoenix would suddenly come to, ward off Idiot Boy, and run away from the crowd. He really hated Phoenix: how could you not wake up immediately? Why haven’t you regained consciousness yet? You didn’t even wake up when Idiot Boy fiddled with your nipples. How come you just kept gurgling foam? In the bright lamplight, bits of thick blood were reflected on the froth that Phoenix had spit up. The crowd was rather impatient. City people were too busy to wait here too long. They shouted again for Idiot Boy to hurry up and climb up. Finally, to avenge Birdy’s shove, Idiot Boy scratched Birdy in the eye, and then set off to unfasten Phoenix’s trousers.
Phoenix didn’t move at all as he did that.
When Idiot Boy forcibly took Phoenix’s trousers off, the crowd turned silent. People pinned their eyes on the lower half of Phoenix’s body. All eyes—like withered, yellow straw—were sucking the water from Phoenix’s body, as if they were going to turn Phoenix into a stick of dry straw. Indeed, the scene was very quiet. The shifting and flickering sound of the lamplight came from far away. After Idiot Boy took Phoenix’s trousers off, without even glancing once at her naked body, he faced the crowd and took off his own trousers. As soon as he unfastened his trousers, naturally they slid down to his ankles. Idiot Boy hadn’t been wearing shoes. When Idiot Boy faced the crowd nakedly, the city people thought he was defiling their city. Their outraged curses showed the city people’s cultured righteousness. But let’s be fair. City people were after all civilized and solemn. For example, women didn’t let the city down and squeeze to the very front of the crowd. They just hid in cracks in the crowd and laughed furtively. They were reserved, pretty, solemn, and quiet. When the men urged Idiot Boy to get on with it, the women were scared. They didn’t say a word. They commiserated and sympathized with Phoenix. Finally, Idiot Boy gave the city people what they wanted: he took off his trousers, stuck his hard penis out, and—dazed—climbed up on Phoenix’s body.
At that moment, Birdy understood at last: when he and Phoenix slept together, and he had uneasily burrowed in at her breast, he had thought all along of doing something else without knowing exactly what he wanted to do. Now, he knew: he wanted to do what Idiot Boy was doing. He sat, dazed, in the middle of the crowd, watching Idiot Boy’s movements on Phoenix’s body. His own date-like body was as hot as if someone had thrown him into a fire. By then, he didn’t know what he should do. The Asia Commerce and Shopping Center and the malls of the China Emporium, the 2-7 Hotel, the 2-7 Memorial Tower—the colorful lights hanging from these imposing tall buildings shone on Birdy until he had spots before his eyes. And the weather was extremely hot.
It was hot, and the breeze naturally bypassed the watertight crowd of people. The breathing of thousands upon thousands of city people—like thick white steam—covered Birdy’s head. Birdy was terribly hot, sweat all over him: he itched all over. Nonetheless, the crowd remained quiet. Someone cursed, “Fuck, big deal.” Then Birdy heard people’s footsteps as they squeezed out of the crowd. Birdy didn’t know what he should do in order to get some hint from Phoenix. He could see Phoenix’s face under Idiot Boy’s neck. Turned on its side, it was like a piece of dirty paper. But suddenly Phoenix stopped spitting up froth. And in her eyes some not-bright, not-dark light suggested she might be coming to. The look in Phoenix’s eyes made Birdy quickly realize what he should do: pull Idiot Boy off her.
Recklessly, Birdy dashed up and yanked at Idiot Boy’s left arm that was propped up on the ground.
Twisting around, Idiot Boy kicked Birdy in the stomach with his left foot. With only a little force, he kicked Birdy more than ten feet away. Half-flying, half-retreating, Birdy heard people moving to avoid him, and then he bumped into a man’s stomach. Like a piece of fruit dropping from a tree, he fell onto the hard, slippery road. Someone began laughing. With this laughter, the city people’s quiet irritation vanished, and everyone joined in the choppy laughter. Birdy saw the sound of laughter—pale pink and faint, tinting the colorful lights of the city—wave after wave of it shoving away from the crowd and quickly covering the plaza, overflowing the buildings, overflowing the chimneys, submerging the city. From the nearby train station came ear-splitting whistles. As the train leaving the station speeded up, the sound grew louder. Finally, the sound grew weaker, and at last it left this city without a sound.
After Idiot Boy kicked him, Birdy’s guts tingled as though they would break free of him. He couldn’t stand the pain. In the instant that he fell to the ground, the city people who had dodged away from him once more surrounded Idiot Boy and Phoenix like a flood. He heard the man he had bumped into beat the dust off his clothes. Like a forest, the legs of the surging people blocked his line of vision. He couldn’t see Idiot Boy’s madness, nor could he see Phoenix’s look of already regaining consciousness. He wanted to stand up, make his way out of the forest of legs, and rescue Phoenix from beneath Idiot Boy’s body. But when he tried to get up, the pain in his stomach flared up with a vengeance. He believed that Idiot Boy had really broken his guts. Phoenix and I definitely shouldn’t have come out tonight. Birdy thought, after what happened tonight, I bet Phoenix won’t let me go on living in her hut.
But, after coming to, Phoenix didn’t have one quarrelsome word for Birdy.
It was already late. The chiming clock on the 2-7 tower was as quiet as before. After it struck twelve, everything grew silent again. Some time before, the crowd had already dispersed. Everyone was busy. They had just come to the city center during the brutal heat to dispel the day’s irritations, that’s all. Idiot Boy finished what he was doing with Phoenix, then rested a while on top of her body, then got up lazily, and unhurriedly got dressed. He heehawed a few times, then walked into the crowd. People knew that Idiot Boy must be very tired from his exertion, so they considerately opened up a path for him, and watched him go off to sleep in the underground passageway. Many city guests like Birdy were lodged in the long passageway under the railway. The roaring trains went back and forth overhead. After Idiot Boy slowly took his leave, the city people felt a little disappointed, as if it wasn’t time for the play to end when the curtain call came early. Even the actor—heedless of the audience’s high spirits—withdrew from the stage and left without consulting anyone. The people must have been a little disconsolate. Luckily, the city spectators were all reasonable and considerate of the actor, so they didn’t complain much but just silently dispersed.
Their dissatisfaction, though, drenched the city streets like rainwater. The city people were busy. They had to go to work the next morning. They had to make their living. They had to get to bed. The weather also gradually cooled off, and a breeze blew across from the direction of 2-7 Road. The night markets on all sides had a lot of cheap clothing and jewelry, and all kinds of snacks. In the city, time is gold and people pinch pennies. They wouldn’t waste all of their hard-earned free time here.
After Idiot Boy left, Phoenix seemed to completely regain consciousness. Her face was like a sheet of waxed paper dredged out of filthy water; it reflected a lot of bright colors under the city’s lights. Maybe she realized what had just happened. Or maybe she didn’t understand what Idiot Boy had done to her. When people scattered, she sat up, her body twitching and her legs tight together. She shrank under the fence next to the road.
Birdy went over, picked up her light blue trousers, and silently handed them to her. She took them just as silently and put them on. Birdy straightened a twisted trouser leg for her, so she could pull it on more easily. After putting on the trousers, she held her waist tightly and drew back, unmoving, as if afraid someone would take them off again. Birdy knelt on the ground, as though caring for a sick person. He fastened her belt for her. During all of this, she never once looked at Birdy, but was absorbed in staring at the lights in the city sky. The lights were indeed beautiful. The sky was one streak of blue, one of yellow, one of red. With the belts of light reflecting alternately, you couldn’t see either the stars or the moon. The city sky of this new world was sitting right on top of these buildings—low enough that you could almost reach it with your hands.
After fastening her pants, she clasped Birdy to her breast as though snatching up a child. She sat on the ground, leaning against the iron rail. Birdy saw that she was holding several ration cards: she had pawed at them until they were dirty and worn. Birdy thought, when that thing occurred, she had actually hung on to the ration cards that she’d picked up, yet he had lost the pile he’d accumulated. He didn’t know where. He began glancing around for them. Without much trouble, he found them—in the middle of the road, just where Idiot Boy had sent him flying with a kick. He handed her the ration cards. She glanced at the pile of cards, then clutched Birdy to her chest again and held him even tighter than before. It was hard for Birdy to breathe. Birdy felt that her hot, wet chest was like two balls of cotton fished out of boiling water.
Birdy silently let her hold him tight.
The city people didn’t pay any more attention to them. At most, there were some middle-aged couples strolling along on their way home. When they passed by, they stared for a moment, said a few words to each other, and went on. When young people hurrying along on their bikes passed by, they were too lazy to cast even one glance in this direction. Either in a great rush or at a leisurely pace, they shuttled through here.
The city people were busy.
Now Birdy was generous and optimistic, and was good at making allowances for other people. As though it were a play, he was watching the city residents making a fuss over his corpse. Some were bemoaning his death, sighing, and saying a lot of fine things. Others were looking at his death as an earthshaking event—protecting the scene of the accident, looking for eyewitnesses, and calling the authorities: they were really awfully busy. The sun was almost down to the horizon. If Birdy hadn’t been standing on the fourth floor of the 2-7 tower, probably the sun would have already set. A white-colored pigeon dropping fell from the top of the tower, brushed by Birdy’s shoulder, and landed right on top of a policeman’s cap. It was a stiff substance that seemed like a bullet being inlaid on the policeman’s head for decoration. When Birdy looked up at the white pigeon overhead, he was seeing the dark night of the previous summer. It was quiet in the city: the main streets and the alleys were all sound asleep.
Most of the streetlights and the lampposts at the store entrances had followed their controllers and owners into sleep. Only the trains were still running at night, rushing over the bosom of the city. Birdy and Phoenix went home in silence. Underfoot, the Golden Water River was trickling quietly, and the fishy odor seemed fresh. The night wind blowing from the river’s surface was playing with their clothing, fingering their faces, making them doubly clear-headed. Phoenix was in front. Birdy was trailing quietly along behind. The weak, melting moonlight wrote their long, thin shadows onto the bright surface of the river. Birdy figured Phoenix knew what had happened: otherwise, she wouldn’t keep quiet the whole way home. On the way, she covered the button of her belt tightly with one hand—right up until they reached the small hut that was silently awaiting them.
Birdy would never forget that night. He thought Phoenix had just suffered the most terrible humiliation of her life, and this was connected with his having urged her to walk around in the city at night. It was also linked to his inability to protect her. At bedtime, he took off his clothes, and by a few weak moonbeams coming in from the cracks in the hut, he quietly burrowed into the quilt. Actually, what was covering him was a sheet that Phoenix had made by sewing rags together—red, green, white, and yellow. It was beautiful fabric. Because she’d been so terribly defiled by Idiot Boy, Phoenix was still in shock right up until they reached the hut. When she went to bed, she didn’t take off her clothes or even loosen her belt. She just got into bed with her clothes on. This showed her extreme terror over what had happened. So, when Birdy lay down, he shrank into a ball of flesh, not daring to behave as he had in the past when he’d held her legs or touched her breasts. He made every effort to push himself from the middle of the bed; he wouldn’t let himself touch Phoenix. This would be his penance for Phoenix losing her chastity. If he inadvertently bumped into her legs or feet, he couldn’t stand the agony: he was afraid Phoenix would wake up suddenly and slap and scold him in order to dispel the torment of her humiliation.
His cautious attitude toward Phoenix suggests that the early morning quiet of Birdy’s life had been wrecked in one stroke, and that his free and joyful spirit had already taken leave of the soil of his childhood. He would no longer be able to recapture his innocent dream. His impotent penance and cowardice foreshadowed his awareness of an imminent violent storm. He was way too tense as he lay there, mulling things over with wide-open eyes. When he recalled Idiot Boy’s crude, hard penis confronting Phoenix in the lamplight, he felt it was ugly and disgusting. Suddenly, he felt that his fantasy of hurrying up and growing a few years older, his notion of becoming an adult man was repugnant and extremely shameful.
He also began to dread growing up. He thought if you grow up or have such evil thoughts, Phoenix will drive you out: you’ll have to leave Phoenix. It’s only if you have the look of never growing up that Phoenix will let you sleep in the same bed with her forever. For all he knew, Phoenix was already asleep, for it was unusually quiet. The sound of the moonbeams moving was like the willow leaves swirling outside the hut, sliding past Birdy’s ears. He didn’t know since when it could be so quiet that the flowing of the Golden Water River sounded like an endless train roaring past his ears. Birdy thought, from now on, the warm and happy love he and Phoenix had shared was gone, never to return, because of what had happened tonight. And so, concern and calm alternating, he shrank back on the bed, thinking more and more of the quiet, happy life he and Phoenix had had for the past two years. He remembered the first time that he had slept holding Phoenix’s legs. His whole body had been hot and restless. This novel pleasure had seemed to burn his tummy like a raging fire. He had never imagined that Phoenix’s calves would be so soft and warm. There was also a light fragrance that was as pleasantly sweet as spring blossoms. Holding her calves, he had pasted his face on her feet. When his little feet unintentionally touched her thighs, he felt an indescribable glee and guilt. In confusion, he shifted his feet. But, as if reading his mind, Phoenix placed his feet back on her thighs. He didn’t know what color her thighs were, or what they looked like. He just felt the warmth and comfort—slipperiness—of her thighs enticing him toward an abyss, wanting to lure him to a frightening place. So he wouldn’t fall too far, he held onto her calves even tighter—trying to control the sudden, uneasy trembling that wracked his body.
From then on, he forgot his dream of going to Guangzhou. He didn’t want to even think of it. Phoenix had destroyed a certain something in his heart: as though flying, a faraway blue field, a strange and novel country opened up in front of him. He was afraid she would tell him to leave this field, afraid she wouldn’t let him step into this country. He wanted to coil himself up as much as possible and enjoy his life in this field and in this country. But he simply fell asleep. The next morning, when he woke up, she had already gone to the garbage dump next to the Golden Water River: she’d gone to glean food and things that she thought useful.
In order to please her, he went over and helped. He helped her carry the filthy, worn-out mesh bag. The bright clear sunlight was reflecting her shadow as it bent and straightened. And reflecting her messy hair that was like uncut weeds swaying in the breeze. She said, Don’t you want to leave? He said, I’m going. Although he said he was going, he kept doing things to please her. After the garbage had been picked over and the bag was full, he was just like her capable child: he carried the bag of stuff over to the thatched hut under the big willow tree. As she was drying the things she’d picked up next to the river, she turned and asked him,
“Do you want to leave?”
He stood alone in plain view and said nothing.
“If you don’t want to leave, you can stay with me.”
The pleasant surprise was so exciting that he couldn’t say anything. He just nodded his head emphatically. The sunlight on his stiff neck echoed. From that point on, he started a long-term warm, quiet love life with her. Her letting him sleep naked at her breast started with the cold winter days. The north wind was blowing, and little snowflakes were dancing. When he had just crawled under the quilt, she bumped into his chilliness. She said, Come to me. Like a baby impatiently crawling out of his mother’s womb, he crept under the quilt. At first, at her breast he just enjoyed the warmth and the scent of a woman. He didn’t cover his face with the quilt. His body was sweaty hot, but his face was as cold as ice. When she turned over and felt his cold face, she gently pressed it into the quilt and covered her breast with it. At last, at her breast, he tasted a new experience. When he touched her hot, soft breasts with his frightened lips, he tingled all over and wanted to draw back instantly. But what his mind wanted to do was draw back, while his lips were being pushed toward her nipples.
Just then, in this dark cold night, he suddenly felt a shiver run through Phoenix’s body. Then she was quiet for a while, but she held his head tightly with both hands and pressed his dirty face down firmly on her breast. Birdy felt a warm current racing wildly all through Phoenix’s body. He felt he was being enveloped in the breath of a woman.
After this sudden excitement passed, Phoenix was drained. She turned over on her back, aimlessly gazing at the chilly night in the hut. When Birdy stuck his head out of the quilt and saw that her gaze was as cold as the color of the moon that night, he imagined that her suffering was boundless, so deep that you couldn’t see the bottom of it: when she had pressed his lips to her nipples, Birdy had shut his mouth as tight as a firmly closed iron gate. Now, as he looked at her half-idiotic gaze, he suddenly felt guilty about his childish cruelty. He shouldn’t have reacted like that. Also, it was so warm and comfortable under the quilt. When the cold wind swept over his face, he wanted to cover his face with the quilt again. He just felt that he had wasted a great time, and now he was left only with regret. The little snowflakes outside the hut seemed to be getting bigger. As they landed on the thatched hut, it was as though someone were slapping the hut. Twisting around on the willow tree, the wind wasn’t giving up, either. The sound of its squeal was astonishing. All of this made him want all the more to burrow back into the quilt, and paste his face on her rising and falling, soft, slippery chest. He looked up to see if he could find any sign of consent on Phoenix’s face. What he saw were two streaks of wetness reflecting the snowlight on Phoenix’s downcast face.
She said, if my child had lived, he would be exactly your age. When she talked like this, talking to herself, once again she held Birdy’s head at her chest. In her words, Birdy sensed a good bit of sorrowful desolation. He began to stroke her breasts with his hands. She didn’t reject this, nor did she plead with him. A long while later, when Birdy searched again for a response from Phoenix’s face, he found that—under his nursing-like touch—she had fallen into a peaceful sleep. By the chilly light of the snow, he saw that Phoenix was sleeping contentedly—unaware of whether he was touching her or whether he had stopped. Birdy was disappointed by Phoenix’s lack of expression. He grew quiet for a while, rested his hand on her breasts, and thought, Okay then, I’ll go to sleep, too, and he summoned his drowsiness.
Days like this wouldn’t come again. With Birdy growing up day by day, sometimes when he fingered her nipples, his little wee-wee would start to get hard, and transparently pink. Like a hot red pepper, it would dally on her belly. Although this was infrequent, still it happened, and when it did, Phoenix took it. Accepted it. Sometimes, when she wasn’t very happy, she would slap his face lightly as a warning. Then, Birdy felt he’d offended her, and he’d obediently go to sleep. The next morning, he was still feeling an uneasy shame and guilt, but Phoenix had completely forgotten his craziness of the previous night.
But from the night that Phoenix lost her chastity to Idiot Boy, this sort of joy had never returned.
The sun was slowly sinking in the west: in the city—except for tall buildings and the main street—a dingy overcast color had already spread over everything else. Only the eastern half of 2-7 Plaza basked in the remaining glow of the setting sun. The western half had long since been a large area of chilly shade. It was lucky that Birdy had been rolled to death in the eastern half. His little body, glittering like safflower, was still like an unruly mid-spring blossom in the setting sun. The policeman in charge of traffic accidents had arrived, as had a small ambulance. An emergency technician had bandaged the fat guy who’d been a passenger in the black car, and siren screaming,