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(2008-02-22 11:13:41)




Ordinary World
By Lu Yao;
Volume I: Chapter One

An ordinary and common day at the end of February and beginning of March of the Year 1975, the misty drizzle with sporadic snow flakes was drifting incessantly. As the season was close to the third solar term of “the Waking of Insects”, there was no reason for snow flakes to accumulate, and they disappeared without a slight trace even before touching the ground. It seemed that the biting cold and lengthy winter of loess plateau was coming to an end. However, the actual warm spring was still a far cry on the horizon.
In such a weather of sleet, people would rather stay indoors for a whole day than going out if there was nothing urgent and imperative. So, the high streets and back lanes of county town had less noise than normal days. In the shadow of streets and lanes, the snow cover and ice were eroding under the pounding of raindrops, and the filthy sewage was flowing everywhere on the streets paved with flagstones. The wind was freezing as the same. The deserted street could only occasionally see a countryman torpidly peddling along, with a worn-out felt cap on his head and a basket of potatoes or turnips on his arm. Alas, the town had lost its animation completely in such a day, and turned into a place without any loveliness.
Only in the embanked courtyard of county senior high school which was located in halfway up the mountain, there was a scene of jollification at the moment. Right after the ringing of lunch bell, groups and crowds of lads and lasses ran out of the stone cave-houses which scattered randomly over the mountain. They were beating bowls with chopsticks loudly, treading over mud and water, and scouring southward across the courtyard to the foot of one row cave-houses which served as the Office of General Services. Such a large courtyard was suddenly tramped into a muddy land. In the same time, the day-students had thronged out of the East gate of school. Umbrellas in hands, they talked and laughed down the long path fenced since early years with horizontal stone plates, and soon disappeared in the high streets and back lanes.
The grade A dish of each class was only a small quantity filled in a small basin, which illustrated that only the few students could afford a meat dish. The grade C dish was also only a small quantity filled in a small basin, which showed that there were not many students eating such an inferior mess. Only the grade B dish of each class was filled to repletion in a huge enamel basin, so it was obvious that most of the people were eating this neither extravagant nor over-frugal dish. The staple food also consisted of three castes: steamed bun of wheat flour, steamed bun of maize flour and steamed bun of broomcorn flour. The white, yellow and black colors of these three types of steamed buns had told the differences, and the students jokingly dubbed them respectively as Europe, Asia and Africa.
Obviously most of the serried people were from the countryside, as there were more or less marks of physical labor on their faces and bodies. These people who had been regarded by their fathers as “Mister” attired fairly decent, except that some individuals were in the rustic clothing as that of their parents. Although the farmers in poor and difficult mountain areas were deficient of food and clothing, when the children went to a big place for education, their parents would acquire a couple of social clothes for them even if that meant more stringent budget on the already frugal families. Certainly there were some from better off farmer families, who had apparel similar to that of children from urban officeholder families, and wore openly on their arms a wristwatch. Some of such “foreigners” were standing among the multitude, just liked a Triton of the minnows, and with no intention to cover up their sense of superiority. They lined up noticeably behind the basin of grade A dish despite the very small number.
On the entire desolate and arid loess plateau, a county senior high school, even though it was the tiptop institution of higher learning of the county, could in no way build a refectory for the students. Everybody was dining outdoors no matter the weather was good or bad. Fortunately these young people were from remote mountainous countryside, and all of them had the experience of eating in the wildness, so that nobody cared about it, and usually in good weather, those close fellow students might squat in circles and finish the meal in jolly chatting.
But today is not workable. All who had got their meals covered the bowls with straw hat or arms while stumbling across the muddy courtyard to the dormitories. In a short while, there were only several people standing sparsely on the food course, and most of students on duty had left one after another.
Now, only the student on duty from tenth grade class one remained on the empty food course. It was a chunky schoolgirl who lamed a little, which might be the sequela of poliomyelitis from childhood. The three basins in front of her were out of dishes, and the basket of steamed buns has only four charcoal black steamed buns of broomcorn flour left inside. It seemed that these black guys did not belong to the student on duty, because she was holding two steamed buns of wheat flour and maize flour, the dish in the bowl was grade B as well, which explained that the lame girl was from a middle-income family. With the food and dish in hand, she stood sullenly under the eaves, apparently waiting for the last slow arriver – we could assume that must be an impoverished fellow, who was not only eating the staple food of lowest caste, but also could not afford a portion of five-cent grade C dish.
The number of snow flakes carried in the rain has increased abruptly, and the view has become vaguer than ever. The town was silent. An instinct rooster crow from far away has added a slice of dreamlike gloom to the dusky world between the sky and ground.
At the very moment, a tall and skinny young man came along from the North end of empty embanked courtyard. A bowl under the arm, he staggered across the muddy land with a crouching head. The chap’s countenance was yellow and fleshless, and the dented cheeks had accented his nose to be as high and straight as that of a Greek. The childishness of juvenile had just faded from his face, and the adolescent luster of his age had not been coruscating due to apparent malnutrition.
He was swinging the two long and skinny legs and treading the muddy water with a clattering sound. Was he maybe the namely owner of those black steamed buns of broomcorn flour? His wretched clothing might have justified that he could only afford for such an inferior mess. Behold, although his clothes was tailored barely enough to be the school wear style, the material was obviously the home-woven countrified coarse cloth; moreover, the black was dyed very uneven which presented a feeling of dinginess. A pair of worn yellow rubber overshoes on his feet was lace-less and tied with two makeshift white strings; there was even a blue patch on the upper of one shoe. The trousers was sewed two years ago by all appearances, as the cloth shrank while people grew, the trousers had become short and narrow as to hang on the halfway up the calf; fortunately the long socks had prevented the skin from revealing. (However, nobody besides he knew that the cotton socks had lost their heels and only the shelter of shoes had camouflaged the socks as intact).
He came straight up to the food course. It was then certain that he came for these black steamed buns of broomcorn flour. Before he arrived at the basket of steamed buns, the lame girl could hardly wait for him, and dotted and went one away with her own bowl.
He came alone to the basket of steamed buns, hesitated for a second, and bent over to pick up two steamed buns of broomcorn flour. There were still two left in the basket, and why he did not take them all?
He strengthened up, glanced involuntarily over the three empty dish basins. What he saw was a little residual soup on the bottom of grade B dish basin, and the dripping water from the eaves was splattering soup on the basin bottom. He looked back and saw nobody on the embanked courtyard which had already been obscured by the sleet. Squatted in a hurry as nervous as stealing, he ladled the rainwater-mixed residual soup from the bottom of dish basin to his bowl. The scratching sound of iron ladle on the basin bottom was as terrifying as the explosion of bombs. The blood had gushed up to his yellow and fleshless face. A big drop of water from the eaves had spattered the soup all over his face. He closed the eyes, and in the next moment, two drops of tear had slid down the cheeks – Alas, let us just deem that spice soup has spattered into his eyes.
He stood up, mopped the face with a hand, took the half bowl of residual soup to the boiled water room at the Southwest corner, mixed some boiled water into the soup from a pipe hanging on the back wall of boiled water room, broke the steamed buns of broomcorn flour into pieces, soaked them in the bowl, squatted under the eaves and started devouring the food.
He suddenly stopped chewing, and then watched a schoolgirl came to the basket and took away the rest two black steamed buns of broomcorn flours. Yes, here she was. Watched the back view of her worn-out clothes going away, he dazed for a while.
It had almost become a routine. Since the school term began, they had been the last ones to arrive at meals, took away their two black steamed buns of broomcorn respectively in silence. This was not an agreement, and in fact they were not quite familiar with each other, and indeed they had not spoken to each other yet. They were both recommend for admission to the senior high school of county town after graduation from junior high schools of their own communities. It had not been many days since the new school semester, most of he students, except for those came from same villages or schools, were still as unacquainted as strangers.
While squatting and cramming himself under the eaves, he conjectured that: why she always came last for the meal was probably the same as that of him. Certainly, the destitution, inability to afford better meal, as well as the young and sensitive self-respect had made them to avoid public notice while taking away their two unseemly black steamed buns, so as to shun a lot of unspoken disdain.
But he had known nothing about her. What he knew by then was only her name of Hao Hongmei through day to day roll call in the class.
She probably only knew his name of Sun Shaoping as well.


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