“Tsan-ah, your phone,” the squad leader of the supplemental
draftees said. “It’s from home.”
“Did they say anything?” He asked, putting down the piece
of chess in his hand. “Don’t try to cheat behind my back!”
“Don’t worry!” Kun-ah replied. “Fuck!”
“Nothing,” said the squad leader. “Only that she is your little
Tsan-ah followed the squad leader out of the socializing
Chung-shan Hall and went to the security officer’s desk in front
of the company commander’s office, where there was a black,
solid and heavy telephone handset with a green cord silently
attached to it. He put both hands on the handset, and hesitated.
“What’s the matter? Can’t talk. . . . Stammering again?
Weren’t you treated for it?” The squad leader sat down, his left hand on the desk, squinting at Tsan-ah from head to feet. “What
are you waiting for? Announcement of lottery prizes?”
He held the phone tightly in his hands, but it looked as if
the handset were glued to the desk, and couldn’t be picked up
and held to his ear.
“Tsan-ah!” the squad leader was alarmed and bolted to his
feet. “Fuck! What are you crying about!”
His hands shook, and the handset clanked rapidly and confusedly
on the desk, as if raindrops were falling on a drum.
“What are you crying about? Tsan-ah! Don’t cry now.
Why don’t you pick up the phone! Take the call first!”
The squad leader reached for Tsan-ah’s hands and the handset,
jerking them away from the desk. He did not resist at all,
but let the squad leader put his hands and the receiver to his ear.
“Talk! Tsan-ah, talk first,” the squad leader leaned over to
the receiver and spoke into it. “Are you Tsan-ah’s little sis?
Talk to your brother, quick.”
His hands and the handset were pressed tightly against his
protruding jaw, mouth open, tongue tightly tucked in, uttering
hollow noises, hands and mouth full of tears, saliva and mucus.
“Tsan-ah! Stop crying first, you have to talk. . . . You can
talk even if you stammer, just do it slowly!” The squad leader
was afraid to let go of his hands, because if he did the handset
might drop down, and then he didn’t want to get all this tacky
mucus on his hands either. So the squad leader spread wide the
ten fingers of his two hands and, like two blooming lotus flowers,
prop up Tsan-ah’s hands and the handset. “Talk to your little sis.
If you don’t talk, how would she know what to do? Talk. . . .”
“Go get your dad back for supper,” Mom said.
“Ok.” He nodded, and went out to get his bike to go to Tung-shan Alley.
It takes about 20 minutes to get to Chung-chou by bike
from home, but if you relax a bit it would take about 30 minutes.
The bike was adult male type 28, big and heavy, and the
handle bar almost reached his shoulders. There was a crosspiece
in the middle that made it impossible for him to mount the bike.
So he had to put his left foot on the pedal for a run-up—Step
one-ka! Step two-ka! Step three-ka! and on to the seat he
jumped. Once he got on the bike, his feet could no longer reach
the ground, and they barely touched the pedals, so when he
stepped on one pedal, he had to shift his weight toward that side
too, and this alternate shifting made him look like a twisting,
It was almost dark, but still very hot. When he rode past
the Tien-hou Temple, he saw his friends and Yig-ah playing portrait
cards in the front alley, and jumped off the bike.
“Tsan-ah, where are you going on your bike?” Yig-ah
“I . . . I . . . I am going to get my . . . my . . . my . . . dad
home for supper.”
“That’s right, today is Friday, it’s time for your dad to be
back for supper,” Yig-ah said. “What about going swimming
when you get back?”
“O . . . KKK.” He jumped onto the bike, trying to pedal as
hard as he could, hoping to squeeze out time for swimming
before his father came home for supper.
As soon as you passed the post office, you were in the Tsuai
Neighborhood. And across from the boat maintenance station
there was a small alley paved in flagtone, and a few steps further
there was a square-shaped playground where they played portrait-
card games. At the end of this flagstone alley was the Sheng Yuan Temple, which had tap water for you to wash up
your feet after you had dug up beach crabs—“the sand horses”—
so that you could go back up to the alley.
Members of Little Mom’s branch all lived in a wooden
building in the alley. Little Sis and all the younger brothers
lived here as well. Only on Fridays when Daddy came back for
supper would Little Sis return to the main house to help prepare
dinner and to clean up the house.
Now he turned into Chung-chou 3rd Road, a very wide
street, rode past the vocational fishery school and the navy boot
camp next to it. The two big navy blue gates of the camp were
shut tight and only a small opening the size of a postcard cut on
it enabled one to look inside.
The navy camp had ample walls around, and outside the
walls there was a big vacant lot. There was nothing on the vast
ground but dirt and withered grass here and there, and several
large cement pipes which formed into triangles, so and that’s
why, with nothing to block the view, you could see towboats
towing merchant ships into Kaohsiung harbor.
There were ox carts by the boat basin where only a few
motor sampans were anchored.
Further down you came to the Pukou market of North
Shanwei. Sometimes when he visited little Mom, he and Little
Sis would go there to buy grocery for her. This market was a lot
smaller than the public market at Chi-hou, and there wasn’t
much one could buy; only a few fish and vegetable peddlers
came periodically, and it was also much farther away from
home. He knew that Little Mom dared not go shopping at the
Chi-hou market. After all,....