One Day
Source:Artintern Author:Chen Ke Date: 2008-05-14 Size:
Early morning, Little K felt her mother lifting off her quilt in the haziness of sleep, “Time to get up…” despite her unwilling reluctance, Little K shut her eyes and stretched out her long, thin arms.

Early morning, Little K felt her mother lifting off her quilt in the haziness of sleep, “Time to get up…” despite her unwilling reluctance, Little K shut her eyes and stretched out her long, thin arms. Mother shook out her clothes and put them in her hands, next came the series of “regular movements ”: sit up straight––head goes through the collar, sitting sideways on the bed, lift up her two legs, the skirt goes on over the two legs––at last the whole body comes off the bed, and stands up straight. These movements are a blur, Mother moves her arms about, moves her legs about, and she’s like a little machine.

 

Mother is wringing out a hot towel, and she puts it on Little K’s face, she kneads it around like dough and Little K has completely woken up, as she comes to she realizes gloomily: today is Sunday.

The first thing after rousing is brushing her teeth. She squeezes a line of toothpaste on her toothbrush, puts it in her mouth and starts making bubble magic, she scrubs until her entire mouth is filled with the foamy white flowers. Little K takes a drink of water, throws her head back, gargles and then spits into the terrazzo sink. After brushing, Little K pulls a stool onto the balcony, sits down and opens her textbook to begin her morning reading. She’s not aware of when Mother began standing behind her and untangling the messy knots in her long hair, combing it straight. Little K’s head frequently springs back with the movements, but she spends her energy only on holding up the book and reading the characters inside. Mother often shows her magic powers through her brushing work, her eyes glancing past Little K’s shoulders and onto the book in her hands. Mother reads along to see if she has misunderstood anything. It’s no easy task to turn the head of tangles into a smooth ponytail. And then morning reading is over; the smell of fragrant rice is already wafting throughout their building, the neighbors appear in the long corridors of the apartment to chat and pass the time.

Breakfast is a big bowl of milk, one egg, and a bowl of watery rice with some pickled vegetables. By the time it sinks into her stomach Little K’s tummy has a little bulge. Mothers says that eating a lot is the only way to grow big and tall, how is it that she eats so much and she’s still the smallest girl in the class? Little K doesn’t understand.

But there’s no time to think about that, she’s anxious to grab her book bag and head off to school. As soon as she’s out the door, mother runs up from behind, she’s holding a little red scarf in her hand: “You nearly forgot!” Mother is panting as she nimbly ties it on Little K’s neck.

Out the door, the morning light is already shining through the gaps in the cotonnier trees and scatters on the ground making a million tiny specks on the ground. The wind blows and the trees flutter, the spots of light become a million golden butterflies, flying and dancing about. Little K watches them as she walks along at an imperceptibly slow pace; she finally stops for a moment, blankly staring at the butterflies dance.

“Ding––ding––ding…” the faraway sound of an electric bell tears through the morning air and wakes her from her dream, spoils it, and Little K rushes off to school in a puff of smoke.

When she arrives at the school huffing and panting, two decorated members of the Young Pioneers are standing there inspecting the students coming into the school to see whether or not they are wearing their red neck scarves. There are already a few students with pouting faces standing beside them; they will have to wait 30 minutes before they can go inside. Little K instinctively feels for her red scarf, in her heart she is secretly glad, “My Mother is the best.”

It is only when Little K’s bottom is sitting at last in its stool and the official school bell sounds that she can let out a sigh of relief. She hurriedly takes her books out of her bag and puts her pencil box on the table. The first period is literature and language, this is Little K’s favorite class, she happily listens till it is over and even enthusiastically raises her hand to correctly answer a few of the teacher’s questions, Little K’s heart is brimming with joy. The second period is mathematics, and sleep crawls thick in her head, her eyelids feel like lead, and she can’t stop her head from drooping. So, she uses her hands to support her head, pretending that she is lost in concentration, and tries to avoid being discovered by the teacher; she spends 45 minutes like this. Third period class is art and it is so much fun, she follows the teacher in clipping various shapes from green and red iridescent paper, then glues them onto brilliant white paper to make various little stories. Now the heaviness of sleep is cast to the wind. But Little K wants to make her favorite story of the little mermaid, and no matter how she does it she can’t get it right, she’s so nervous that her whole head is sweating. In the end teacher comes over to help.

Fourth Period is physical education, as soon as they reach class her heart is already pounding, she fears the 800 meter most of all. Running around and around the long, long track is like a never-ending journey one can never reach the end of. There are a few seconds when Little K feels like she will stop breathing, her feet go limp like cotton and she can’t lift them up, it feels like she could drop down on the track any moment. At last, when she reaches her destination, her heart is pounding pa-dun pa-dun in her chest cavity as if it could come out of her throat, her whole body wants to collapse like its been hollowed out. Little K thinks that the beginning of each week greets her with an 800-meter mountain. It is no small feat to climb it, and once you do, the next one is coldly standing there waiting for you. Day after day…the never-ending 800-meter black mountain.

The morning classes pass quickly, and at noon lunch is in the cafeteria, Little K holds up her lunch box, and struggles to pry it open. Nervously and thoroughly she examines her clothes, its okay––she hasn’t splashed oil from hers or anyone else’s lunch box on her clothes, otherwise she she’d have to hear Mother grumble when she got home. Little K sees her good friends sitting not far away, and she hurries over to join their row. Maybe it was because she ran so many laps, or because so many students were sitting so close together, or in the least because her Mother’s cooking is so tasty, but she gobbled down lunch.

After lunch, Little K didn’t want to go back to the classroom to nap on the desk like usual, she was eager to go back to the playground, where her eager and expectant eyes swept the playground field. After some disappointment and a little suspicion, at last that familiar shadow bounced across her eyelids, Little K’s heart was immediately filled with an embarrassed and sweet feeling. She chose a shady tree to sit beside, and focused her gaze far away on that shadow running in the distance. Perhaps it was just because she was nervous, but her palms started to sweat a little. Little K opened her hands to let the breeze blow it dry, and she suddenly had a giddy feeling of bliss.

In the afternoon the glorious sun shone through the trees, the tiny black spot running back and forth gradually became an abstract pattern of a blurry spot mixing with the golden specks and Little K unwittingly fell asleep. In her dreams she came to an enormous field of flowers in bloom, a pleasant breeze blew open each purple flower, the light flood of colorful wildflowers blew in the breeze, the grass and flowers stretched out endless in all directions reaching all the way to the azure horizon. Little K gleefully and absentmindedly walked in the waist-high grass with the suffocating feeling that she had been swallowed whole. Suddenly in her grassland the shadow of a person was flickering, it seemed to be the skipping shadow of the person on the playground. Like a drowning person grasping at straws, or like someone shocked with a cardiac stimulant, Little K immediately began running in its direction, the surrounding grass became a million little hands grasping at her legs, her dress, her shoes, were lost in the chase. Little K couldn’t catch up and gave up the hunt, she was desperately running towards that little moving dot, and it was actually becoming farther and farther away. When it was almost entirely lost in the great blue curtain Little K got excited and nervous again, and suddenly her foot stepped into a hole, her whole body fell instantly down, she couldn’t help but cry out and startle awake. Before her the golden sun was still shining, the shadows on the playground hadn’t changed, and she sat staring into space for a long time, collecting herself. She wiped her forehead, sweat had already made her hair wet. Little K crawled up from the ground, cast off the trance-like state of her dream and began to walk back to the classroom. The little black shadow was still bouncing about behind her, but no longer held her fascination like an hour before.

The afternoon periods were as lengthy as before and sleep inducing, Little K tried her best not to let her head droop onto her books. After two class periods were finished and the teacher had finished the announcements they could go home, Little K felt this was the darkness before dawn; her heart was filling with excitement.

Teacher was holding a stack of papers and entered the classroom with a somber face. Little K instantly felt her heart in her throat. Teacher continued with her somber face to began in a slow cadence reading names and scores, as her classmate’s names were read they hurried up to take back their papers. The strange thing was, no matter if your scores were good or bad, everyone returned to their seat and lowered their heads, their eyes focusing immediately on their dancing tiptoes. They shuffled a few steps and returned to their seats, breathing slightly, always bringing the test paper back to their seat before unrolling it in a careful examination, sheepishly and undercover. Little K saw all of this and thought it was pretty funny, but she remembered to pay attention to the name Teacher called afraid that she might miss her turn. When the papers were reduced to a thin pile, Teacher finally called her name, “Little K, 95.” Little K let out a little sigh, and rushed to the front to grab her paper. Strange, watching other people it seemed funny, but when it came to her, she retrieved her “spoils” stealthily and like a thief. When all of the “spoils” had been distributed, Teacher used her Superman strength and zombie-like face to summarize the test results, more criticism than recognition: in the future everyone would have to work harder, etc. As for Little K’s 95, she didn’t think it was bad, but she didn’t think there was anything to be happy about. This was especially because Little A, her good friend whom she was always competing with, got a 96. Beaten by one point, this gave her a slight feeling of frustration, but it was nothing, she would work harder next time, she thought easily. Little K and A had been good friends since kindergarten, and they were considerable opponents; testing had already become their secret competition, the winner this time would surely be the loser next time. Sometimes Little K was truly annoyed at these kinds of meaningless comparisons, but each time she was encouraged by a little bit of vanity and honor. Perhaps after graduation Little A and I will be in different classes, then this will end, she thought happily.

Finally school was out, the moment she put on her book bag Little K had the feeling that she had successfully finished one very lengthy Long March. Even though she had to go home and finish her homework, she thought about her Mother’s tasty dinner and her half hour of cartoons, luckily, her homework for that night wasn’t difficult. She walked home slowly, the road that she had walked on countless times was still bustling like in the morning, but the direction of traffic had changed 180 degrees. Everyone’s face wore an exhausted but satisfied smile, a hint of aimlessness urgently pressed people onward towards home. At this hour, the light filtering down through the leaves had already become a limpid yellowish gold, and everyone’s cheeks reflected a rosy red color and looked pleasant; the smell of food wafting from homes and mingling with neighbors’ cooking formed the unique odor of dusk. Little K thought this was the most pleasant time of day.

Stepping through the door her nose filled with the fragrant smell of dinner cooking. Little K anxiously opens her pencil box on the dinner table, her textbook, her notebooks and hurries to finish her homework before dinner so that after, she can have the blessing of watching cartoons. Little K leans on the table and writes furiously sha sha sha in her notebook, her task is finished in a just a short while.

Dinner is her favorite dish braised bean fish, her father’s specialty. Little K eats plenty––a braised bean fish day isn’t just any day. But even this isn’t enough to make Little K forget about her cartoon that begins at 6:30. As soon as its time, she doesn’t hesitate to push aside her bowl and sit down in front of the family’s black and white box. In that moment where she presses the on/off button the box transforms into an entirely new world of bewilderment, one completely opposite from textbooks, homework and other non-interesting things. Half an hour of mystical wanderings is an effective placebo and enough to say goodbye to a hard day of “work.” Its like a magical battery, and becomes Little K’s motivation to “usher in” a new day. When the closing music plays, Little K is reluctant to stand up and face the dinner mess, but its already been made sparkling clean by Mother. Now its time for the day’s last “homework”: Mother inspects her essay and dictations. When they finish, Little K obediently takes out the test paper she received today. Mother looks serious as she reads them without a sound. Expressionless, she asks about the other students, and finally says: “Next time work harder, don’t be careless.” Now Little K lifts her head that has been lowered this entire time and mumbles in understanding, the heart in her throat finally comes back to her chest.

In the flash of an eye, the sky has been quietly covered up by a deep umber curtain, a few bright stars are sparkling with diamond light, and the moon seems like a giant silver disc placed carelessly in the sky. It radiates a warm and peaceful light, like a Mother caressing each of the trees below, every rooftop, and the eyes of every child who is looking into sky from their bedroom windows. Little K sees a strange black shadow in the moon and she thinks of the enormous Osmanthus tree, the rabbit ceaselessly making medicine, the beautiful Goddess of the Moon, and Wu Gang ceaselessly chopping firewood; the Palace on the Moon is a mystical and strange place she thinks.

Tomorrow the weekend is over, she still needs to get up early, to do her morning reading, remember her red scarf, memorize her multiplication tables, run 800 meters, pick up her test paper, compete to be the champion… as Little K thinks about these things, she can’t help but think that life is a little bleak, but its okay. There’s still the golden sunlight of dawn, warm breezes, the shadow on the playground, cartoons after dinner, the moon before bedtime… thinking about these things, she starts to think that life is full of hope. As long as there is one hour outside of the day for her to indulge in her private world, the other 23 hours are bearable. Little K looks at the moon and thinks about all these things, she can’t help but sink into dreams.

Mother quietly enters the room to tuck in Little K. She stands besides her bed for a while then quietly exits, closing the door after her… the night is deep.

[Editor] Mark Lee

    Artintern