The slaves of Haiti believed that suicide was the only way out of their miserable fate, the way to freedom. Thousands of slaves took this approach, even though they believed that by doing so they would become zombies that would never die… What was the end of despair? The strongest emotions in this society coalesced around it.
- Half the world is redoing its kitchens, the other half is starving
“Yi, hotpot tonight, come here, we’ve got beautiful girls”. Mr. Yu is calling me in the WeChat group. Hotpot in such weather? Rich guys are really difficult to understand.
I was sitting on the ground, so it felt cooler. The weather had gotten hotter in recent years and the world was warming. I was luckier than the polar bears because the tiny rental house wouldn’t melt in the sun.
It was a chance to get to know Yu, who was fighting a public opinion battle online when the other side hired the public relations staffs to surround him and a few of his poor supporters. I had nothing to spare but to help him say something fair. It didn’t occur to me that he reached out to me afterwards and invited me into his online group-chat.
His friends are all rich men like him, and it makes me a little flattered. To fit in, when I introduced myself, I said I worked for an international corporation. Little did I believe they believe it.
What’s more, this lie puts a lot of burden. As you know, the bosses have a lot of money to send red envelopes with hundreds or thousands yuan, that way, someone will listen to them. I don’t have so much money, so I have to act like a marginal man, pretend to be offline.
What’s more, they couldn’t be entrusted with offering a job for me. If they knew I was penniless, they would have let me out at the first time.
Batches of CVs have been thrown out, and all is lost. And the long wait is like endless night, suffocating. Anyway, I can’t go back. Mom and Dad were dead, the old house is torn down, my girl is gone, nothing is left. Can’t even lose face together. I can’t lose my face.
The TV is finally in normal state, old-fashioned second-hand garbage, non-stop faults, unknown for the next time. I don’t know. Everything is unknown. Like a time bomb without a timer. You can feel the death is approaching, but don’t know how much longer you can live.
Cooking shows are shown on TV, and that’s what happens when it’s time to eat every day. It’s like the TV choreographers know that there are still a lot of guys in this society who are hungry like me. I use a long knife to slice dry steamed buns and munch them. I stare at the brightly colored food on the screen.
Reaching out and touched the cold urn under the bed.
“My son works in a big city.” When my mother was alive, I was her greatest pride. In that poor hometown, the “big city” was as glittering as you think America is, full of money. They wouldn’t know what kind of purgatory this one-window, five-square-metre, no-air-conditioned rental house would be in a 40-degree heat.
“You have to master a skill to live”. When I chose Chinese as my major, my father lamented. Writing was not a skill in his eyes. Intellectuals would starve, or even be beaten, and locked up in cowsheds. His generation suffered too much. It is not too hard to understand. When my article was first printed in a magazine, his eyes were filled with tears of excitement. He was happy for me. Perhaps he was the last man in the world who could rejoice in my talent.
Luckily Dad didn’t use electronic devices when he was alive and didn’t know how to surf the Internet. Otherwise he would have to worry about his son being squeezed out of the fickle world of new media. “Why think so much? Happiness is the most important” the moguls like to say. In their eyes, there is no problem if it can be solved by money. But for those who do not have money, it is almost everything.
Although the text is already worthless, the moguls still like young people with literary talents. Just as they like to get a big study in their luxurious apartment, stacked with a wall of books, but not for reading, everything is furnishings. “Literati” is still a word of praise. But if it comes to earning money, knowledge alone is no way out. Without money there is no face, without face there is no friend, without friends there is no ways, without way out there is no money.
I can’t get into this endless cycle. Never. At least I had to bury my parents first. The cemetery was so expensive that I had to carry the urns around to hide from the landlord. If they saw me, they would throw me out because of “bad luck”.
At the end of the cooking show, my steamed bun was gone. I put my knife back in my bag and got up to walk to the window. Out of the window was a huge billboard with Nike shoes on it saying, “Just do it.” The rusty sign seemed to glow.
I touched the cold urns again, put on my vest, and went out in the hot sun.
The dress rental shop is in a dark alley. The shopman is lying on the counter and dozing off. A few years ago, the business in this small shop was quite brisk, but now it seems to be dying. Probably more and more people are getting rich. Haha. There’s a lot of high-end looking costumes. It’s all about face preparation for interviews, dinners, dates for people like me who don’t have the money or status. Face is paid to rent. If you think this is an irony, it only shows that you do not understand the society at all, or have not experienced the life of the people at the bottom.
I rent a casual suit. 50 yuan a day. Size seems a little big, my skinny arms are swinging in the sleeves. The shopman shakes his head helplessly. “Young people should eat more, the health matters.” Don’t I want to? I only have 50 yuan for two days. I’m going to make it up in the hotpot tonight.
“How can I be forgiven for pushing off Mr. Yu’s kindness?” On my way back, I typed a few words into the group chat and caught everyone’s attention. “Literati speak nice words.” When such happens, I fall into a black hole of self-deprecation and self-pride.
I took off the black armband with the word “filial piety” and put it gently into the drawer. Mom and Dad, please wish me luck…
It was not the hotpot I imagined. It was much more luxurious than that. It was full of dishes I’d never seen before. The text on bottles were all in foreign languages. The chilly air-conditioned wind made me shiver.
Moguls are enjoying, they kept flirting with a couple of young girls. And I’m like something idle, with nowhere to put it. It’s hard to get close to the moguls, and the boredom comes to me like beer foam. A bespectacled girl, like me, doesn’t talk much at night. Perhaps with the same boredom, she starts to get close to me.
“Where do you work?” She asked me about my sore spot as soon as she came up. It was a simple chat. “Well, I just left my job and plan to change my environment.” “Pretty good, what are you major in?”
“Yi is a top student in Chinese major, up-and-coming star of the cultural world, haha,” Mr. Yu chimed in. Ms. Spectacles chuckled. A group of people began to roar: “Come, a toast to the up-and-coming star!”
Mr. Yu asked me to say toast, I read a poem, Li Bai’s ‘Bring In The Wine’, but also a nonsensical applause, as in the WeChat group. I still do not understand whether these moguls really love culture or they are just joking.
After drinking, the protagonist’s turn came to the university professor who was about to emigrate. This guy looked gentle, but did not expect to be abnormally obscene. He actually declared with great interest in front of a lot of people: “The girls I taught are all sexy and tender. I know the menstrual periods of all of them.”
It’s fu**ing disgusting. This kind of person still has the face to call himself a professor. I drank a muggy drink and before I could swallow it all, I came across something even more disgusting – a girl with heavy make-up and allegedly with a master’s degree who said, “It’s a great honor to be doted on by her professor.” I was choked so badly that a violent cough caught the attention of the audience.
I excuse to go to the bathroom, temporarily leave the table. I do not know who shouted in the back: “Hi up-and-coming star, buy a pack of cigarettes for me by the way, Marlboro thanks.”
Shit, can’t she be a prostitute? Why does she have a master’s degree? I cursed in front of the mirror in the bathroom. My tears fell out. They didn’t know that my first girlfriend got to bed with her professor because I couldn’t afford to buy her an iPhone. She’s the only girl I ever loved. Now it’s hard to tell.
I washed my face, but I couldn’t find a tissue. I scrubbed my face and came out soaking wet. I met the bespectacled girl I had just chatted with near the cigarette counter. She smiled at me, shook Marlboro in her hand, and signalled that she had bought it. Did she know that I was poor? A moment of embarrassment.
I approached her slowly. We leaned against the railing and chatted. From the weather to relationships, from literature to work ideals. The girl looked kind. Because of the wine, I’m full of desire to talk.
“Maybe I didn’t work hard enough. Maybe I am really stupid. I have no money, no career, no lover, no sense of belonging. I brought it on myself.”
“You are wrong, the relationship between success and talent is little, and it’s more depends on luck. First, you need to be born in the right family, have the perfect growth experience, have the opportunity to get the best education, and root in the upper class soil from the foundation. That way you can have the ability to be valued by society. You also need at least one recommender to hold you up to a higher progressive position at the right time and in the right way. People’s life are in the hands of fate. There are a lot of talented people. There are a lot of people who don’t play to their talent. The world is no better.
“My family has no social status. But I want to make a living with my pen. If you have a chance to publish articles, please consider me.”
“I can see that. But it’s not so easy to make a living out of articles these days. The media likes famous people. Whatever they write, their name is the face of the media itself. No-one is hard to get a foothold in. Your words can only be valuable if you hype yourself and succeed first.”
I know all that. If not, I wouldn’t need to rent clothes to attend such a flattering dinner. What else could I do? I smoked with my head muffled . The girl suddenly and mysteriously approached me and whispered, “How is your relationship with Mr. Yu? Can you recommend a position for me?”
What a strange question. There is no “relationship” at all. All I can say about the moguls is “knowing” who they are. The girl is a little disappointed. “I thought you were a canary too.”
What is canary? “Toy-boy. You are really a baby yet. Mr. Yu is a bisexuality, he has a lot of toy-boys around him. If you want to please him, you have to work harder.”
Shocking like thundering. I don’t know what the girl said afterwards, or how I walked back. Anyway, I just kept drinking in the rest of the time, and there was only tinnitus in my head.
I don’t know who offered to send me back, and the wine dizzy woke up by half. I tried my best to refuse politely. I couldn’t let them see the shabby rental house.
Shaking and spinning, I began to feel where my feet were. The night had dissipated much of the summer heat, but I could not stop the perspiration. The upset words in the dinner went all the way to the top, but they could not be spat clean.
A hundred meters from my rental house, I was stunned – my luggage was stowed at the gate, with two urns beside it. Needless to say, I was found again, blown out again. It’s swirling. I held up a tree, sickened constantly, but could no longer spit anything out.
The door was closed and I didn’t dare to knock it. I have not paid the rent for the last month. Maybe it would save my money to walk away now. But where? I suddenly found out that I have no destination in this huge city.
The urns were heavy. It was just like carrying my father and my mother on my back. I couldn’t move any more in the empty street. My tears were pouring down. My vest was wet. I sat down on the side of the street. When I looked up, it’s the billboard that said, “Just do it.”
Just do it.
In a flash, I finally knew the answer.
The blood was boiling. Yi took off his rented suit, threw his luggage aside and dug a hole in the lawn with his bare hands until it was enough to put down two urns.
He clapped his hands with the bloody soil, and smiled with relief. He turned and took the long knife from his bag, clasped it in his hand, and strode toward the rented room. “Mom and Dad, here I come.”