It is said that some people who are endowed with special
gifts can see ghosts. I’m one of those fated from birth to conceal
secrets. Perhaps I’m just like those unlucky guys who can see
dead souls, living on the border between this and the nether
world and who are doomed to be diverted, disturbed and cursed
by life and death, light and darkness, the divine and the devil. Or
perhaps it’s on account of the interplay of the lurking darkness
and the kindness and quiet in my character that Heaven endowed
me with the ability to see things unknown to others and become
a witness to this absurd and bleak world of men.
The Lunar New Year had just passed. I remember there
were candy wrappers and peanut shells and several firecrackers
left in my bag, but my mother had relieved me of the red
envelopes containing crisp new bills of New Year money. She
told me, “I’ll save it for you until you go to college.” I never
believed any of the nonsense adults said to bamboozle kids.
Another year passed, and all the money I made—not to mention
my New Year money—disappeared, and I never went to college
either. The money was used for the benefit of my two brothers
who had promising futures. I lost my temper and argued with
them, but my father glared at me and said, “You spent years in
cram schools, wasn’t the tuition provided by the family? And
you still haven’t been able to get into even the worst college.
What are you complaining about?”
He didn’t mention all the money I had earned for the family.
Our family had an income that we couldn’t talk about openly,
though whenever we argued about money, that amount was
clearly factored in.
Although it was the beginning of spring, it rained continuously.
After nightfall, the wind howled through our tile-roofed
house of three rooms, through the cracks in the windows and the
spaces between the door planks. It was so cold that we shivered
all the time and never felt we had enough clothes. I never took
off my new jacket, a New Year gift, which was now spotted with
grease, even when I went to bed.
I was always an early sleeper—that was before I went to
kindergarten. As soon as the radio broadcasted, “It’s eight
o’clock central standard time,” I was dozing off. On account of
the New Year holiday, we stayed up all night. I put off going to
bed every night, and dillydallied with my brothers. We hung
around and refused to go to bed.
At this time my father suddenly threw aside the warm quilt
and got up from the plank bed, and quietly put on a sweater,
long pants and rubber boots. My mother hastily fetched a
strange, tight-fitting vest from a secret place behind the old, ceiling-
high wardrobe for him. The many large and small pockets
of the vest were filled with all kinds of tools, plastic bags, rope,
a mini-flashlight, a small knife, pliers, screwdriver, rubber
gloves, matches, a rag, iron club, and scissors. The sight of all
this paraphernalia left me perplexed. I was just about to ask
where he was going and what he was going to do, when my second
elder brother covered my mouth from behind.
Before leaving, my father put on a dark raincoat and a hat
after shaking it. His face, though possessed of shape and form,
was without color. His brows were knit and, under the forty-watt
bulb, his baggy eyes and his cheeks seemed to sag even more.
Nobody said a word. Under the silent gaze of his wife and children,
he sadly and magnificently pushed his bicycle out and left
like a warrior going into battle after closing the door. I was suddenly
seized by an unknown fear. The rain pelted the roof, one
burst followed by another. After father left, mother put out all
the lights in the house. I became more alarmed as the fear gathered
with the howling wind in the long and silent darkness.
After that, my father went out to work at midnight once or
twice a month. I seemed to have premonition every time and always woke up in alarm before he got up. Then I listened carefully
as they fumbled to get up and get ready in the darkness.
Based on my memory of that night, I’d visualize every move
they made as my heart beat frantically. If they had not been preoccupied
with getting ready, I’m sure they would have heard my
heart, which was pounding like a drum. My brothers and I desperately
pretended to be asleep. I don’t know what they felt, because we never broached the subject. But to me, although I
shivered with fear, I actually found it all very stimulating. As a
result of all the excitement, I would fall asleep shortly after my
father left, and sleep soundly all night long without so much as a
dream. Waking up the next morning, we all pretended that nothing
Our family had another strange, unspoken agreement. We
never brought up our father’s midnight moonlighting; even we
brothers did not discuss it among ourselves. I tried many times
to ask about it, and every time I was rebuffed by my brothers’
silence and their admonishing looks. And my mother never
uttered a peep, despite the fact that she was usually very loud,
shouting about everything. She sat up late at night waiting for
father to return and to open door for him. Her eyes were red but
shone with excitement and her hair was disheveled. Before I
could open my mouth I was cowed by her lioness’ stare.
But gradually I uncovered clues. I saw the first-class suits,
fabric, watches and jewelry, ginseng,....