Sunday, 9 June 2013
The train arrives during the night. One can hear vague noise, the bustle of the station. The doors of the carriage stay closed. Cao Yu is cold. She wakes up slowly. She feels completely stiff. Her whole body hurts. The other girls have taken care of her. They hoped to arrive more quickly. But the train began to slow down and sometimes stopped. Shouts are heard outside. Cao Yu was able to eat a little. Weina tenderly watches over her. The other girls are doing their best, knowing there are probably some ribs fractured, if not broken. She has trouble breathing. If she does not move too much, it’s just as well. They hear voices getting closer to the train. Engine sounds, like trucks.
Suddenly, they realize that someone is unlocking the outer panels of the wagon. A ray of light enters, and then everything is open. Everyone in the car gets up. There are soldiers outside, guns with fixed bayonets. Some are carrying assault rifles. Outside the sun is shining. Cao Yu is half asleep. Weina helps her to get up; she does her coat up properly. An order comes from outside:
"Get out! Line up in two rows in front of the carriage!"
The occupants obey immediately. They jump down. When it’s Cao Yu’s turn, she realizes that the ground is so far. A guard sees that she has difficulty and approaches to help. Not a good idea. The officer commanding the detachment yells:
"Stop helping the counter-revolutionary vermin. She gets down by herself."
Weina helps Cao Yu but cannot prevent her from falling, which makes a few soldiers laugh. Eventually, all the occupants are out and they stay in front of the wagons. They see that the train has many carriages but that apart from theirs only one other wagon is filled with deportees. Weina is watching the occupants of the other car closely. They are mostly older people, fifty or so of them. All are women. One can recognize Tibetan nuns in their robes but for the others it is difficult to know who they are and why they’ve been deported. Some appear to have a hard time standing as if they had been beaten. One of them is in particularly bad shape. She must be at least eighty years old. Weina realizes that Cao Yu is watching them. She pulls her by the arm and whispers:
"Do not care too much about these people. They are certainly political or religious prisoners, maybe both!"
"But why are they here?"
"Hush, Weina says, I'll tell you later. Now it is better not to talk!"
A guard sees them talking and shouts:
"Hey, the two whores, it’s forbidden to speak. What are you up to? Answer!"
"Excuse me Comrades, my friend is cold and I told her to close her coat properly. That's all!"
"Well, it's ok this time. Until we arrive at the Centre, do not say a word. You're going to ride in trucks. ACTION!"
He shows them two covered trucks that have just arrived. The guards surround them and push them roughly to the rear of the truck. Close to the truck, they still have to climb up. Wei Na and another girl push Cao Yu into the truck and then get up themselves. The truck has two side panels and a rear one that is raised when all the girls are up. There are no benches and everyone has to sit on the floor. It's terribly uncomfortable especially as everything is so cold.
When the soldiers have finished with the first car, they take care of the second group. Boarding them is also quick. However, many people fail to get up. The soldiers push them brutally on to the truck bed and close the side panel from the bottom. Then they lower the tarpaulins on both trucks and the occupants are immersed in semi-darkness. At least it protects them from the wind. Once this is done, the two train carriages used to transport the deportees are closed again. A guard waves to the train driver who gets under way, enters the station of Lanzhou and then continues his way south.
Two soldiers raise the cover of each truck, get up and settle next to the prisoners. Those who are in the truck with Cao Yu and the group of prostitutes are young, very young even. One girl tries to strike up a conversation but she is immediately rebuffed. They close the back tarpaulin of the truck again and beckon the girls to squeeze together a little more so they can make themselves comfortable. The trucks do not start. There are about twenty soldiers outside. The commanding officer gets in at the front of the first truck.
Another does the same in the second truck. Suddenly the sound of a third vehicle can be heard which stops nearby.
The driver keeps the engine running. The girls hear screams, orders and the remaining soldiers climb into the truck that have just arrived. Once this is done, the three vehicles set off. None of the prisoners knows exactly where they are.
As they did not enter the station, they could not hear any announcement or perhaps read a sign. Some try to communicate again with the two young guards, but they make the girls quickly aware that it is better not to insist. The truck rolls over a field filled with potholes and sloughs. Everyone is shaken. As there is nothing to cling to, except the rails for those in the bottom or sides, it is very difficult. At one point, they feel the truck driving onto a paved road. One of the girls near the soldiers manages to read the time on one of their watches. She passes the information through the truck discreetly. It is ten o'clock in the morning. The three trucks cross a city, Lanzhou probably because Weina got some information the day before, but without being certain.
However, one of the girls tells her that she has already been to Gansu and it seems like it, including the bitter cold. They hear noises of the city, the din of the streets. Then the truck travels faster and they know they are out of town. Some time elapses. The two soldiers are drowsy. One girl looks back at the time. It is now 11:00. Suddenly, the truck slows and then stops. They hear a metallic door open; the truck enters the enclosure of a building. It drives a little and then enters what seems like a courtyard. The truck stops. They hear the other trucks doing the same and then all the engines are stopped.
The two guards are startled. They lower the tailgate, raise the back cover which they attach with straps and then jump from the truck. They beckon the prisoners to do the same and to line up in two rows in the yard.
Somehow, the girls manage to get down. It’s high, particularly for Cao Yu with her multiple wounds and bruises that are far from being healed. With the help of Weina and two other girls, she finds herself on the floor and gets into position. The second truck is emptied. From the third, the soldiers fall out quickly and in good order in the courtyard in front of both groups of prisoners.
They are actually inside a sort of roughly rectangular fortress. Everything is surrounded by thick, high walls; about five or six meters. Barbed wire adorns the walls. There are small watchtowers every fifty yards; kinds of viewpoints that are not all in concrete. Inside the towers, armed guards keep watch. Some towers are equipped with floodlights. The prison is big. It contains several sets of buildings.
Xiao Cao tries to estimate the scale of the buildings. It's hard, but at a rough guess, probably four or five hundred meters long and two or three hundred meters wide. There is no inner enclosure as in many prisons. The officers in charge seem to be waiting for something or someone. A small platform is installed. Fortunately, there is no wind. A pale sun appears and warms the prisoners. Cao Yu hopes it will not last too long because she begins to feel all the pain of her body once more. She wonders again where she is. She feels things are going too fast. What will become of her? What will they do to her? She watches the people around them. All seem resigned to their fate.
How could it be otherwise? They must also be cold but some try to seem cheerful.
She looks around her again. Their group includes twenty people, all quite young. Maybe some are a little older. The other group is smaller. She tries to count them, but she fails to focus enough. Probably a dozen. Three Buddhist nuns, easily recognizable, but for others she does not know. All are old ladies. The one that had so much difficulty getting off the train and to get up in the truck is more or less helped by another woman. All these women exude suffering, but beyond that first impression a certain inner strength seems to emanate from them.
Cao Yu suddenly feels completely useless. What has she got to do with all these people? She isn’t political. She participated in several demonstrations in June, but so many people did. She resents Cosmos. He was always reckless. He was everywhere. And the name Cosmos with which he calls himself, as if that could mislead an experienced police officer. Through what he said, she guessed he was working at the Beijing Review. During the protests he influenced Wang Jun. She begins to feel ill again. She would like to sit down.
Time does not pass quickly. The soldiers have grounded arms. They are not well organized. Their clothes not very clean either. They are nothing like those seen on guard around Zhongnanhai in Beijing or other buildings.
Some have a wild look, however. When leaving the train, she was frightened by their appearance. They are not very well dressed, but certainly not operetta soldiers. Their bayonets make her shiver. She suddenly imagines herself on the ground with a soldier on her. No, she tells herself, it is not possible. The soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army do not behave like that. They are respectful and only use revolutionary violence against the enemies of the people.
Her thoughts lead her back to what happened during her arrest. Where is Wang Jun? Perhaps they killed him? She will probably be questioned and she will say that this is a misunderstanding, a mistake; she is a student and has been arrested by mistake. She realizes that she is no longer living in the same world and tears start running down her cheeks. A soldier looks at her. He sees her tears. He nudges his neighbor and both stare at her. They laugh. Weina sees their game and gives them a furious glance. This makes them laugh even more. The officer is alerted. He moves toward them. All three exchange a few words. The officer looks at Cao Yu. He approaches:
"Why are you crying? You feel ashamed? What is your name?"
Wednesday, 29 May 2013
"I loved you Wang Jun. More than you can imagine. I wanted to spend my life with you. You were someone who could have accompanied me. You were the one. When I met you I couldn’t think about anything else. And then, life defeated our dearest wishes. Probably, I have a bad karma. What I learned this morning overwhelmed me. I know that you are deceiving me. No doubt I'm not good enough for you! Our little house, our love nest is probably not enough for you. I know you have cheated on me for some time with this woman I do not like. I met her at Beida. She is Sino-French and a doctoral student. As she is a native French speaker one of my teachers sometimes involved her in lectures. She is very beautiful, but a frozen beauty. She looks like a fox, a ghost ..."
Wang Jun stops and looks at Xiao Huang. She smiles.
"No, I'm neither a fox nor a ghost, but you would have thought it and your ex-girlfriend too! Continue to read, my dear fiancé. You need to drink the cup to the dregs!"
How hard and what arrogance in her voice! Wang Jun continues his reading.
"I will not tell you who informed me. I have known for two weeks, but I did not want to believe it. I followed you, I saw you with her this afternoon, like lovers. You kissed her tenderly. Then I understood. I thought you were working, but you were mostly in the service of another. Cosmos phoned me early evening telling me a preposterous story that you would be endangered in the police. I do not know what game he’s playing but I don’t think it's fair. I did not tell him anything. At this point, I had already emptied the little house in the hutong. I called a friend from my home city. He helped me pack my stuff. We didn’t have so much. The rest I gave to the owner. I went to buy a train ticket to return to my family. I will not stay a moment longer in this city which for me is evil. It was not easy to get tickets to Chongqing. This friend helped me and I got on the train without a reservation. My mother is not expecting me but it does not matter. We planned to visit her for the spring festival. I'm glad I have not given you her address. Do not try to find me. I don’t want to see you again. I loved you but I was not able to accept this situation."
The letter thus ends abruptly. It is in Cao Yu’s style but everything is false. And all those present know it.
Lao Huang speaks directly to Wang Jun.
"This letter will seem hard but in reality it is not addressed to you. Cao Yu wrote it yesterday after her detention. This was the condition of her release. We have nothing in particular against her. She was a little shaken but she is currently on the train to Chongqing. She left here last night. This letter is the official version that you must give to your mutual friends. This will allow you to give credibility to your new situation. As my niece has probably advised you, never try to see her again. It will bring her misery. And you too! We will not hesitate for one moment. Be aware of it!"
Wang Jun thinks they are really twisted. He has to work with them, hiding his true feelings, but he has a crush on Xiao Huang. She touches his cheek with her right hand. Her nails are long. Like a threat!
"We will do great things together Wang Jun. Being a spy is not easy. Sometimes we do not know what is true and what is false. Do you know the story of those two Taoists who are watching fish swimming in a pond?"
"No, says Wang Jun, I'm not too educated in these things!"
"Well, says Xiao Huang, the first says to the other that the fish are very happy in their pool and enjoy it. The second tells him he cannot know that fish are happy because he is not a fish and he cannot appreciate how they feel. And do you know what the first one answers?"
Wang Jun is silent. He has vaguely heard stories like this.
"Well it's easy. He simply replies: You're not me, how can you know that I do not know what it is like to be a fish?"
He feels uncomfortable, but so is his new life, full of dirty tricks in the service of the Party. He can only accept things as they are.
There is something else in the envelope, a picture, a photo of happy times. Cao Yu is with him at the Summer Palace. Cosmos had taken the picture, a little traditional, a cliché. He turns the picture in his fingers. He puts it back in the envelope with the letter.
“I am ready! I'm ready for this new life. I understand what you expect of me. I will do my best to meet the expectations of the Communist Party and for the development of our socialist fatherland."
The meeting is over. Lao Huang wishes them a safe return to the hotel. They leave. In the corridor they see a policeman. Wang Jun has the impression that this is the one who kept him in the cell in the basement. The policeman goes by without paying attention to him. He makes no effort either to talk to him or even to acknowledge him.
"I see that you are a professional now, Xiao Huang says, you learn quickly."
The driver is waiting outside. They both get in the back, her on the left side and him on the right. She takes his hand and presses his fingers strongly.
Their pact is sealed now.The Volkswagen starts. It's two o'clock in the afternoon.
Friday, 17 May 2013
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Read an excerpt of chapter I:
Friday morning, January 19, 1990
Wang Jun is awake now. It is daylight in the room. He stretches. He is alone in the room. He slept deeply and did not even notice Xiao Huang leaving. He checks the time on the clock on the bedside table. 10 am. He sits on the edge of the bed. His waking up is painful. A terrible headache is pounding in his head like a jackhammer. There is a note on the nightstand next to the clock.
"My darling, I left this morning for Beida. I have a very important errand to do; otherwise I would have preferred to stay in bed with you. For the floor staff, do not worry I put the “Do not disturb” sign on the door. I also prepared an aspirin on the table. I think you should have a nice hangover after all that Moutai you swallowed last night. If you're hungry, breakfast is normally until 8:30 on weekdays, but I warned the cook, ask for Lao Li!
He loves me and he will gladly give you some Baozi, rice porridge and also salted vegetables if you want. Do not forget we have an appointment this afternoon at 2pm in Lao Huang’s office to organize our future work.
I will pick you up at 1pm. I'll wait in the lobby of the hotel. If you want to go out, leave the key at reception. The room is reserved in my name but I have informed them of you. Tonight we will change and we will be accommodated in a suite. The rest I will tell you later. "She is always incredible. She has planned everything. He must discuss some points with her. She really behaves like a winner. This is an absolute victory on her part and a capitulation in the open field for him. How could he be fooled in this way? Suddenly, he thinks about Xiao Cao. What has become of her? Where is she? What does she think of him? He has behaved badly towards her. His lack of courage is shameful. He suddenly thinks of death. Perhaps it would be best for him to disappear forever. This loss of face is horrible. Xiao Huang has played with him. From the beginning she has known what she was doing. Well, he must accept that. He has no choice and if he can at least avoid the worst for Cao Yu, it is the only thing he can do. He hopes she really will be returned to her home province, Chongqing. He would have loved to go with her, but their story was too recent and they have not had time. Normally they had planned to go to during the Spring Festival, but this was canceled. He wants to return to his provincial homeland, Changchun. Leave Xiao Huang, go to the station, take a train ticket and go to his father. He will be caught immediately and it will be a violation of the collaboration agreement with the Beijing police. Decidedly, he is well stuck. The room is beautiful. He gets out of bed and goes to the desk opposite the bed. There are various tourist brochures, a description of the hotel, information in Chinese and English and writing paper. On a corner of the desk there is also a bottle of still water, two glasses, two cups of boiled water and jasmine tea bags. Aspirin is placed next to the glasses. A large mirror dominates everything there. For the first time that day he has the opportunity to look at himself. It is a shock. His eyes are completely red. He has deep marks on his skin, especially on the neck. The tigress has marked her prey. He pours himself a glass of water, takes two aspirins and swallows. He heads for the bathroom. He takes a shower. The headache persists. He feels nauseous, his stomach completely upset. After his shower he prepares to put on his clothes from the night before, but there is another note from Xiao Huang on the corner of the desk.
"I have prepared other clothes. They are on the chair near the window. In the wardrobe, which is at the back, you will find another suit and everything you need to make you very presentable. This is necessary because the appointment with my uncle this afternoon is important. "
He looks at everything laid out. These are beautiful clothes; high quality clothes. Leather shoes are placed underneath the chair. He opens the closet. Yes everything you need for a perfect gentleman. There are also many dresses and all kinds of western style clothing. Xiao Huang clearly loves to dress. He checks the time. It is almost noon. He is not hungry. The jackhammer is still pounding stones in his head. He dresses in the clothes prepared by Xiao Huang. He looks in the wardrobe mirror. It's not bad. It’s in good taste and she has chosen the clothes that suit him well. He really looks like a young modern Chinaman, well dressed, dynamic, and open to modernity. If it were not for these red eyes and excruciating headache, it would be perfect! He takes a few steps into the room to try his new look and decides to leave to get some fresh air. He takes the black cloak that Xiao Huang bought him and wears it like a manager, over his shoulders. He takes the room key and goes out into the hallway. He really does not remember how the corridor looked. He really did drink too much the night before. The corridor is laid with a thick red carpet. He heads towards the elevator. The porter notices him and calls the elevator. He enters and presses 1, the reception floor. The elevator is silent and fast. It quickly falls three floors. The doors open quietly. There are people in the lobby; a lot of Overseas Chinese and some foreigners. He heads to the reception and gives the key to the receptionist. Then he heads outside. The porter opens the door. He pauses. It's cold. He wonders which way to go. He decides to stay in the hotel and discover his environment. He goes down the stairs and heads to the buildings on the right. A bus has just entered the hotel and stops a little further on. A lot of people get out. They are foreigners. He hears non-Chinese words. They are all wrapped in heavy winter coats. Without doubt, they are experts from the Foreign Languages Publishing House. A blonde woman catches his attention. There is something odd or strange. A man and three children come out of the residential blocks. They welcome a woman who has come out of the bus, probably a European. He seems to recognize some French words, but they speak too fast and he cannot make them out well. Two children run towards the woman. The third child stays in the arms of the man who goes towards the woman, probably his wife. The blond woman is watching them and waves to the man. He thinks he hears something like:
So far nothing very obvious but the reaction of the children's mother surprises him. She turns and throws a dark look at the blonde woman. She takes her children by the hand, kisses her husband and takes the infant. She rapidly walks into a courtyard. Her husband kisses the blonde and he sees them share two or three words. He can’t understand what they’re saying. The first woman with black hair is already looking ahead of her. She turns and yells something to her husband. He does not understand what she says but the voice doesn’t seem friendly at all. Then she turns to the blonde and says something as well. The man and the young blonde are touching fingertips and then separate. The man runs to join his wife and children. They disappear into the courtyard. He looks at the blonde again. She smiles but she also looks a little sad. She walks over to another block of buildings.
The scene did not last long; probably no more than one minute, but this intrigues him. He feels someone taking him by the arm and a warm voice speaking to him.
"Already at work, Xiao Wang! Observation is the most important part of what we do. You have to be more discreet, nobody should know that you’re watching!"
She looks at him and smiles.
"I arrived a little earlier! I thought maybe you were hungry. We will eat a bit before meeting with my uncle."
He is not really hungry but he realizes that it is better not to oppose Xiao Huang. They head toward the hotel entrance. They climb the stairs. The porter opens the door.
"You're very stylish, Xiao Wang, I chose your clothes, they fit you."
Wang Jun does not know how to behave. She is really pretty. She is wearing a black wool dress over red tights and leather boots with a fur edge. He wonders if she has a bottomless wardrobe. Anyway, she seems to enjoy luxury clothes. They head for the restaurant, and then she changes her mind...
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Monday, 6 May 2013