By Lu Ling 路翎
Translated by Kirk A. Denton [*]
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright February 2023)
On the side of a muddy street in dark and dreary Chongqing, people began to form a single-file line at a bus stop. One by one the newly-arrived joined in, and the line got longer and longer. Most in the line were functionaries impeccably dressed in uniforms and overcoats of grey, yellow, and black; amongst this drabness were the pretty silk scarves, hairpins, and brightly colored jackets worn by young girls. Standing among them were also a few rather unsightly workers, troubled youths, and drifters.
They had been waiting for the bus for a long time and were bored, restless, and annoyed. Some among them read newspapers, some repeatedly tightened their belts to make themselves appear yet more impeccable; others—the young girls—forever under the impression that it had come undone, played continuously with their hair.
Cars and trucks rushed along the street splattering mud . . .
A blind beggar groped his way along the crowded sidewalk, tapping the ground lightly with an old bamboo pole. The roadway was a clamoring racket, and yet the blind man walked on silently. He fumbled his way around and was preparing to cross the street when he bumped into the tail of the annoyed line.
“Move on a bit,” said a Western-dressed man reading a newspaper. He spoke it almost automatically for he did not expect him to move. And yet a part of the group in front of him turned their heads and gazed back at the blind man.
They looked with interest at the blind man, who groped his way along the side of the line to his left, turned the other way, and bumped into the wall.
“Move on a bit,” said a man dressed in a long gown and formal hat. His hands were folded together, and he let out a curious laugh.
Several people nearby laughed; a young girl’s laughter incited even more interest.
“Keep going a bit more, old sir,” a youth said contently. He wore a visored cap and was holding up the hem of his long gown.
More joined in the laughter, inciting still more interest that rolled through the annoyed line like waves. “How can it be so long?” mumbled the blind man to himself. With his bamboo pole, he tapped the ground and groped his way through the laughter.
“To the right a bit,” said a fat man in a big black overcoat, his eyes squinting with laughter, as he waited for the blind man to bump into the wall. Complying with his words, the blind man walked a little to the right. “Just a little more!” the fat man laughed with satisfaction. The blind man walked a little more to the right, bumping up against the wall. “It sure is long, isn’t it long?” the fat man said with pleasure as he looked about. Laughter burst out all around.
By now the blind man had already reached the middle of the line. He continued to fumble along calmly. “There’s always a way,” he thought. He turned around and with his pole lightly tapped the ground.
“Ladies, gentleman, please let me pass,” he said, groping. This time he bumped into a pretty girl.
“Out of my way,” said the young girl angrily, but then she began to laugh, covering her mouth with her handkerchief. Everyone watched the blind man and the girl, and the whole group roared with intense laughter. “It sure is long, isn’t it?” the girl said contently.
Everyone laughed contently and felt rather proud of themselves: to their surprise, by simply standing in line for a long time, they had caused a blind man to bump several times into a wall. Watching the blind man continue to bump into the wall, they roared with laughter—now the whole line had joined into this novel amusement with an intense fascination—and they wished the line were even longer than it was.
Several pedestrians on the sidewalk stopped and watched with their mouths agape.
“Watch out now, sir,” a skinny person carrying a cloth bag said to the blind man, who had again bumped into the wall.
“It really is long, isn’t it,” said the blind man in a whisper to himself. Lightly tapping the ground with his bamboo pole, he continued to grope his way along.
“Didn’t I tell you it was long.”
Everyone laughed, even the pedestrians laughed. They all felt that the length of the line was a source of pride: “We’ve stood for so long!” The pedestrians looking on from the side of the road shared in the enjoyment of their prestige.
“Hey, this way,” a young man wearing dirty old clothes, books under his arm, whispered to the blind man when he had walked up to him. At the same time, he gave up his place in line and led the blind man by the hand out of the line.
“Many thanks,” said the blind man, tapping the ground lightly with his bamboo pole.
Everyone became silent as they watched the youth. He frowned and his cheeks trembled, his eyes lowered to the ground. Everyone was disappointed, unsatisfied, and even more annoyed than before as they watched the youth let the blind man go.
“Damn, where’s the damn bus,” said an irritated girl.
November 14, 1944
[*] The story was first published in Hope 希望 1, no. 2 (1945): 193-94. It was then collected in In Search of Love and Other Stories 求愛和其他 (Shanghai: Haiyan, 1946). Lu Ling 路翎 (1923-94) was a member of the so-called “Hu Feng clique” (胡风集团), which was the target of a nationwide campaign in 1955. He was imprisoned for nearly twenty years.