By Lu Ling 路翎
Translated by Kirk A. Denton [*]
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March 2023)
A winter’s night, and although it had only just turned nine o’clock, the village on the bank of the river was dead silent. Not a single light could be seen in the village, or along the riverbank, or in the surrounding fields. Under thick, formless gray clouds, the dark shadows of houses clustered on the slope and those of the wooden boats clustered by the shore lay heavy, forlorn, desolate. In the gray dark, giving off a faint light, the river sounded a wild cry and flowed on. A cold wind began to blow in the rain.
The streets had long been deserted. The sound of the wind and rain made the small village appear yet darker and more desolate. Off the main street, from a small lane cluttered with run-down shacks, came a clear, sharp, and emotion-filled voice, now angry, now anxious, now admonishing, now consoling; accompanying the voice was the crisp cracking sound of a bamboo stick and the coarse high-pitched squeal of a pig. In the deep still night and cold rain these sounds were so clear and anxious they could be heard far into the distance.
The storm intensified, and the sounds seemed to give chase.
She was a solitary, sixty-year-old woman who lived in a run-down shack held together with tiny bamboo sticks and corn stalks. Her neighbors, who were just as destitute, called her Old Lady Wang. Her children had all either died or left. Her life was a hard one, though her needs were few. Several days earlier when she went to market, with Police Chief Duan acting as guarantor, she borrowed a hundred in cash at twenty per cent interest and bought a piglet. At first the Police Chief was unwilling to risk acting as her guarantor, but she cried and made a fuss for a long time and, with everyone watching, the Police Chief pitied her. “Poor old lady! Don’t you worry now, I’ll take care of the money,” said Police Chief Duan, in front of everyone and in the direction of the money-lending salt merchant. With a piglet, Old Lady Wang envisioned future happiness. With no relatives, she longed only for eternal repose and hoped that the pig would make it happen, hoped the pig would enable her to buy a set of burial clothes and a few pieces of paper money to be burned at her funeral. Last month, Old Lady Feng from the other side of the mountain had died so tragically, so miserably! The pig gave her prestige; from now on her life would be completely different from the past. She even plucked up her courage to join in her neighbors’ discussion about the pig: she was like a mother who had just given birth to her first child and could no longer feel the brunt of her neighbors’ gossip and cursing.
And yet all along she also suspected that no one really approved of her piglet.
The pig was scrawny and terribly unruly, though to Old Lady Wang it was plump and precious. Next to the rotting board that served as her bed—she’d had this rotting board for several decades now—she set up a little place for the pig; but the pig was always darting wildly about, sometimes under the bed, sometimes over to the pile of moist grass, or into the muddy pit by the wall. On this cold and stormy night, the pig was more restless than usual. Half of the shack’s decaying roof had already been lifted away by the wind, and rain had soaked everything, ash and mud were everywhere. Her body drenched, Old Lady Wang shrank next to the pile of straw, gripping a bamboo pole, looking at the pig with the help of the dim light from the sky above. The pig snorted and began to dart around wildly. Old Lady Wang chased after it with her bamboo pole in hand.
“Bedtime, time for a nice little sleep!” cried Old Lady Wang in her sharp worried voice, tapping the ground with the bamboo pole.
The pig had hoped to find a quiet spot. Old Lady Wang’s screaming and the tapping of the bamboo pole had made him very agitated; he darted to the door, stood still, hesitated a moment, and then pissed. So Old Lady Wang tapped the wall with the bamboo pole.
“No pissing. Time for sleep, you little bastard.”
The pig watched her. It didn’t have a clue what to do, but it felt this much: cold, agitated, and confused; it blamed everything on Old Lady Wang, whose yelling and hitting were the source of all its woes. It became angry. The cold wind blew open the broken door and the pig, filled with anger and a desire for vengeance, dashed outside.
Old Lady Wang gave chase. The pig stood under a hedge by the side of the road, watching her, as if to say: “I never wanted to come out in the first place. Well, now what are you going to do!”
Chasing after it, Old Lady Wang screamed with her sharp voice. Sixty years of pure misery had charged her voice with raw emotion. Through misfortune and old age, she had never learned composure, nor did she know subtlety. She yelled without any regard whatsoever for her sleeping neighbors nearby. And yet she had plenty of concern for this stubborn pig—her pole never once fell on its body; her yelling, no matter how angry, contained in it a note of patient affection; she treated the pig as her own child.
Her yelling expressed her loneliness and the love and hate she had felt—was now feeling—for her good-for-nothing children who had all grown up and left her. When she yelled, it was as if the piglet understood all of this and as if it had already answered her.
The wind and rain continued. Old Lady Wang and her pig shivered in the cold and damp. Back and forth Old Lady Wang gave chase, shouting and striking the ground, hedges, and walls with her bamboo stick.
The pig would hide for a while, hoping not to be discovered, then it would rush out madly, screaming its piercing savage cry. It was both terrified and incensed. Gradually it became confused, no longer aware of what was happening.
Old Lady Wang struggled across a ditch and blocked its way, calling out to it. It was hiding in a dark place and raised its head to look at her as if to say: “Why all the ruckus? How did I end up here, anyway? How could this turn into such a mess? Why are you stirring up so much trouble?”
Whack! Whack! Whack! The sound of the bamboo hitting the ground. “Listen up you little rascal, go on back and get some sleep,” said Old Lady Wang excitedly, looking at the pig. “Fine, catch your death of cold,” she yelled. “We’ve both committed sins, never had good eats, or sound sleep. You, little rascal, are just as low as me!” Whack! Whack! Whack! “So much wind, so much rain, everyone else has gone to sleep,” she shouted out, continuing to run ahead and hit the ground with the bamboo stick. The pig hesitated; it felt that no matter what it did Old Lady Wang would never give in. It darted to one side, gave out a slight wheezing sound, then raised its head and looked at her in silence.
“What do you want me to do?” its eyes seemed to say.
Carefully, Old Lady Wang slid over next to the fence and as she raised the bamboo stick to strike the fence the pig screamed and darted out on to the road. Old Lady Wang moaned in pain.
“Fine, you’ve done me in.” Angrily she shouted: “I never mistreated you, I’ve never mistreated anyone my whole life. My sons and their wives didn’t treat me as they should, they just abandoned me! I’ve lived sixty years without any prospects. You’re killing me, do you hear!” she shouted angrily. Again, the sound of the bamboo stick knocking the ground.
“You mark my word, little rascal. Go back and get a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow bright and early I’ll feed you,” implored Old Lady Wang in pain, standing in the rain, tightly squeezing the bamboo stick. She didn’t quite realize that the piglet failed to understand a word she was saying. “Just think for a minute, what’s the good in running all about, do you actually like the cold?” she said, looking affectionately at the pig. She felt that the pig must be cold in the rain without any clothes. She pitied the pig, because when it got big, it would be killed without knowing what was happening. She began to feel dejected: “How pitiful you are, little one! You can’t know human emotions, you can’t even speak about the pain you’re feeling inside,” she said movingly to the pig, standing in the rain, her hand tightly squeezing the bamboo stick.
Raising its head calmly, the piglet stood by the side of the road looking at her. It could understand nothing. Wouldn’t it be better just to go to sleep and drop the whole thing instead of waiting out this dead end? So it fell asleep, tucking its head in and feeling that everything was just fine, at peace.
“Get up, you little rascal!” shouted Old Lady Wang, tapping the stick by its side; but it didn’t move, nor even make a sound, which it felt was a good strategy.
At this point came the sound of footsteps tramping in the mud. A lantern in his hand, a drunken Police Chief Duan was swaggering home from a fight, which had been followed by a reconciliation of drinking. He raised his lantern, revealing his suspicious and angry expression, casting light on Old Lady Wang and the piglet. In his district, no one should behave so foolishly or improperly.
“Do you know who I am!” said the Police Chief scornfully, his lantern swaying in the wind.
Old Lady Wang felt she had been insulted, so she angrily hit the ground with the stick and started yelling at the piglet.
Police Chief Duan frowned at her scornfully.
“Goodness, didn’t I tell you that someone your age should just muddle along without worrying about things? Why would you want to raise a pig. But day and night all you could think of was that pig, more desperate than someone looking for a daughter-in-law,” the Police Chief stretched out his words in a sing-song voice, shaking his head. “Hand it over!” said the Police Chief. He grabbed the bamboo stick, rolled up his sleeves, and angrily beat the piglet.
The pig snorted, but didn’t want to budge. Finally, it realized things were not going well, so it jumped up and took off to the side of the road, looking at the Police Chief in astonishment. The Police Chief chased after it.
“Why you little pest,” said the Police Chief, beating the pig with all his heart.
Old Lady Wang started to worry; it was as if the Police Chief’s stick were striking her.
“Police Chief Duan, give it to me, give it to me,” she yelled out angrily, chasing after him.
The piglet hesitated; all it could think of was rest, and as a result was hit even more savagely. The Police Chief continued to beat it in a rage until his lantern fell into the mud and went out. The piglet started to wail shrilly and once again rushed out to the road.
“Hey, little rascal, got yourself a nice beating, feeling pretty cozy now, I bet,” said the Police Chief, handing over the stick.
“Wha d’ya beat him like that for! He’s not yours. Have you got no conscience!” Old Lady Wang said angrily, grabbing the stick.
“Okay, you do it, nice and gently,” said the Police Chief coldly, walking away. “Damn, my lantern’s out. . . I warned you, Old Lady Wang,” he stopped and said aloud, “How could someone like you raise a pig. A sick pig, to boot! What about the money? We agreed you’d pay back four months’ interest. Don’t come again looking for me to go to court for you,” said the Police Chief from the darkness. He then walked away, splashing through the muddy water.
Old Lady Wang was so angry she shook, unable to utter a word. Everything around her had become still, the rain had stopped but the wind continued to whistle fiercely in the sky above. Old Lady Wang was very upset and felt at the same time a kind of terror. She looked at the piglet by the roadside quietly raising its head in her direction; a mad rage began to stir in her—all because of the piglet, or so she felt.
The pig looked at her sympathetically. “What was that all about?” its gaze seemed to ask.
“Little rascal!” she yelled angrily. She surged forward, madly beating the pig. “Hey, you rascal, don’t I have a right to beat you too . . .”
Dejected and angry, the pig began to wail. It rushed past her legs. Apart from the sound of the wind, there was no other noise. She suddenly became terrified, thinking she had hurt the pig. She called to the pig in a tender and pitying voice, but the wind was blowing and again the piglet did not answer her . . . She felt an even more intense terror and loneliness, she felt as if something were about to happen. . . A cold wind hit her, her vision darkened, her limbs lightened—she called out weakly and fell into the mud.
She realized that she had fallen. Suddenly, she felt at peace and her feelings softened. “I’m going to die. Mercy on me!” she thought. She could only vaguely hear the sharp sound of the wind. She felt that her life had been without sin, and a kind of joy kindled in her heart. She sensed another world opening up before her, and a benevolent brightness shone on the level road. Multicolored clouds floated in the sky above, and in the distance a sliver of golden light could be seen. Emerging from this golden light, a pretty and vivacious girl ran toward her. From her neck, shoulders, and waist fluttered strips of radiant white silk; in her hands, she held a large, glossy melon. It was her granddaughter.
“Granny, I’m back, they’re all coming,” whispered the girl tenderly in her ear. She heard the clear, harmonious sound of children singing: “For toufu, only Auntie will do . . .”
When she was a child, she used to sing like this with the other children. After she got married, her children used to sing like this. All through her long life, her neighbors’ children also used to sing like this . . .
Her piglet ran up to her, trembling in the cold wind, looking at her with a quizzical gaze. It could understand nothing of this—it sidled up next to her body and fell asleep in the mud.
[*] The story was first published in Hope 希望 1, no. 2 (1945): 190-92. 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.