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    《一地鸡毛》汉英双语在线阅读 作者:刘震云

    一地鸡毛

    Ground Covered with Chicken Feathers(一地鸡毛)

    1

    Young Lin's bean curd has spoiled.

    Half a kilo of bean curd contains five cubes, one hundred grammes each, the common kind on sale in state groceries. The bean curd cubes you buy from a privately owned shop or pedlar weigh half a kilo each. They are watery and thin, and disintegrate if stir-fried in a wok.

    He gets up at six each morning to queue for bean curd in front of a state grocery. In spite of this early morning effort, there is no guarantee he will get it. Sometimes there are too many people queuing and the bean curd is already sold out by the time it's his turn, and at other times, it is already seven o'clock and he has to leave the queue and hurry to catch the work unit bus. A certain Old Guan has recently been assigned to the office as the new head who pays close attention to late-comers and early-leavers —a new broom sweeps clean. It's most disheartening when your turn in the queue is just about to come and it's already time to go to work. After walking away, Young Lin always curses the long queue for bean curd: "Damn! It's really too bad there being so many poor people on earth!"

    This morning, however, he succeeded in getting the desired bean curd even though he queued till 7 : 15 thus missing the shuttle bus. It doesn't really matter today. Old Guan, the head of the office, is supposed to be attending a meeting at the ministry while the deputy head, Old He, has gone on a business trip, so a university graduate newly assigned to the office is temporarily in charge of the job of checking up on attendance. So Young Lin did not worry about queuing late for bean curd. Since he was in a rush to catch the public bus to work, he forgot to put the bean curd in the fridge. When he got home that evening, the bean curd was still wrapped in the plastic bag in the hall. In hot weather like today, there was no way the bean curd wouldn't turn sour.

    The bean curd has spoiled and Young Lin's wife has returned home before him, which makes the matter complicated. At first, his wife blames the childminder for not putting the bean curd into the fridge. But the nanny refuses to take any blame. She is unhappy with her pay, which she thinks is low, and with her employer's poor cooking. She has long threatened to go on strike or go somewhere else. She remains only because Young Lin and his wife have repeatedly persuaded her to stay. She doesn't feel at all sorry about the spoiled bean curd and unhesitatingly shifts the blame onto Young Lin arguing that he didn't tell her to put the bean curd away before going to work that morning. So his wife vents her anger on him as soon as he comes back from work, saying that it might have been all right if you hadn't bought the bean curd in the first place. But once you've bought it, how could you allow it to go off in the plastic bag? Why did you do it? Young Lin has had an unpleasant day in the office today. He didn't expect the newcomer to take things so seriously. Seeing that Young Lin was not there at 8 am, he marked him down as "late." Although Young Lin tartly changed it into "on time," the matter has been weighing on him the whole day long, not knowing whether or not the newly assigned university graduate will report on him tomorrow. Now back home, he is once again disheartened knowing that the bean curd has turned bad. On the one hand, he blames the childminder for being too petty. Couldn't you have just made the effort to put it in the fridge even though I didn't tell you to? Would it really have tired you out to just carry the few cubes of bean curd to the fridge? On the other hand, he blames his wife for making a fuss over a trifling matter like this. Half a kilo of bean curd, that's all there is to it. Nobody made it turn bad on purpose. Why nag about it endlessly? Both are very tired after a day's work and there is the child and the dinner to attend to. Is she deliberately trying to create a tiring atmosphere at home? So he responds: "Let it pass, will you? Say it's my fault. Just half a kilo of bean curd after all. If the worst comes to the worst, we'll have our dinner without it tonight. I'll be careful in future."

    If he says this much and no more, the matter will be dropped. It's a pity that he can't contain his resentment and adds: "Is half a kilo of bean curd worth raising to a higer plane of principle and going on and on? How much does bean curd cost? Last time you accidentally dropped and broke a thermos flask worth seven or eight yuan. Did anyone ever blame you for that?"

    Upon his mentioning the thermos flask, his wife becomes angry again: "At every turn you have to mention that thermos flask. But was I to blame? The thermos wasn't set down properly. Anyone could have broken it merely by touching it. Let's talk about the vase instead of the thermos. What happened to the vase last month? It was perfectly all right on top of the wardrobe. You had to break it while doing the cleaning. How come you reprove me?"

    The next moment, she is face to face with him, tears in her eyes, her chest heaving up and down and her face very pale. Judging by experience, her pale face indicates a disagreeable day at work. Her office, like Young Lin's, seldom makes people happy. But are we ever justified in bringing our unhappy feelings back from work and releasing them at home?

    He wants to continue remonstrating with her about the vase. But if it continues like this, they'll find themselves in a vicious circle with many plates and dishes and the like involved. In the end, his wife would throw the bag of bad bean curd at his head. The childminder, used to the couple's quarrel, is calmly trimming her nails as if nothing is happening. Her attitude further arouses the couple's anger. Young Lin has written the case off as hopeless and is ready to act recklessly. Fortunately, just at this moment someone knocks at the door and they both shut their mouths. The wife hurriedly dries the tears on her face while he manages to suppress his fury. The childminder opens the door and finds it is the old man who is in charge of reading the water meter.

    The elderly inspector is lame. He comes to do his job once a month. Because he walks with a limp, it's not easy for him to climb the stairs. He arrives at each household his face streaming with sweat and has to gasp for a while to regain his breath before reading the meter. The elderly man is enthusiastic about his work. Sometimes he pays extra visits to see, he explains, whether the meters are working properly. Today is the date for a regular check. Young Lin and his wife suppress their rage for the time being and ask the childminder to go with the elderly man to read the meter. After having done his job, the old man doesn't take his leave. Without being asked, he sits down on the edge of their bed. This makes Young Lin feel nervous, for whenever the old man sits down, he will invariably brag about his experiences when young. According to him, he once fed horses for a certain high-ranking leader, now dead. Young Lin was quite interested the first time he heard this and asked for more details. Could anybody imagine that this crippled man had any contact with a big leader in his youth? But after having heard the same story time and again, Young Lin becomes impatient. You're still a meter reader, despite your horse-feeding experience. What's the use of it all, bragging about the big leader when he's already dead? But you mustn't displease him just because he is a meter reader. If offended, he is capable of cutting off the running water for all the households on that stairway. The spanner to turn off the water supply is right in his hand. You have to listen to his horse-feeding experience because of this spanner in his hand. But today, he truly hates a repetition of the story. Why should you sit down without being invited when we are being mad at each other! Can't you feel the tension? So he keeps a straight face, stays where he is instead of going over to greet him as usual.

    The elderly meter reader, however, doesn't take the hint. He has taken a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. Right away the room is filled with the smell of tobacco. Young Lin is certain the meter reader is going to indulge in his talk about horses. But this time he has guessed wrong. Instead, the elderly man announces, with a serious expression on his face, that he is going to talk business. He proclaims that according to a report, certain residents in apartments on this stairway are stealing water by deliberately not turning the tap off properly at night so as to catch the drops in a bucket. The dripping cannot be metered and water collected this way is dishonest, isn't it? This practice can't go on. If everybody does the same, how can the waterworks handle it?

    This makes Young Lin and his wife blush and then turn pale. They feel ashamed that last week they stole water that way. His wife heard about this method from a casual chat in her office and asked the childminder to try it out. Then Young Lin frowned upon it thinking it was too petty. A ton of water costs only several cents. It wasn't worth it. Besides, the noise of dripping water made sleeping with an easy conscience impossible. Two days later they stopped. But how did the old man get to know about it? Who reported them? Young Lin and his wife immediately suspect their neighbours opposite, a fat couple. The woman claims to look like an Indian and often puts a red dot between her eyebrows. The couple have a child about the same age as the Lins. The two children often play together and fight, too. Young Lin's wife and the "Indian" woman are polite to each other on the surface but actually they don't get along very well. Nevertheless, the childminders of the respective families are on very good terms even though they are not from the same province. They often put their heads together to discuss how to deal with their employers. The two must have gossiped about them so the "Indian" woman learnt that the Lins had collected dripping water twice and reported them to the old man. What he says must have come from this source. How can one bear such a matter being talked about openly? How can the Lins show their faces in public if they admit to having done such a shameful thing? So Young Lin hastens over and declares with a stern countenance that he has no idea whether any resident on their stairway is stealing water or not. His family, anyway, has not done such a thing. Poor as they are, they are people of moral integrity. His wife also comes up and remarks that whoever reported it must be the person who does it, for otherwise how would they know such a trick. It's a case of a thief crying "stop thief," isn't it? The old man flicks the ash off his cigarette and says:

    "OK. That's all this time. Whether it's true or not, let the matter rest. We should make sure it'll not happen again."

    Then he stands up, assumes a generous posture and limps away, leaving Young Lin and his wife feeling embarrassed. The intervention of this case makes the sour bean curd incident appear less important. Young Lin feels his wife is to blame. How could a university graduate become so vulgar? For two buckets of water which hardly costs anything, she has been disgraced by a sharp reproof. His wife feels quite ashamed herself and finds it difficult to go on complaining about the bean curd incident. Glancing at him angrily, she goes to the kitchen to prepare dinner. The incident has brought peace to his family just when it was on the brink of war. Young Lin is somewhat grateful to the old man for this.

    Dinner tonight includes stir-fried string beans, stir-fried bean-shoots, a small plate of sausage and a bowl of mixed stew leftover from yesterday. The sausage is mainly for the child, the other three for Young Lin, his wife and the childminder. But the childminder does not eat leftovers which, she once said, gave her diarrhoea. Young Lin's wife had a quarrel with her over this. It seems you are an aristocrat. I eat leftovers myself yet I'm the employer. How come that you can't for fear of diarrhoea? What fine food did you eat in the countryside before? Upon this, the childminder made a tearful scene. She threatened to go on strike or leave. Only after Young Lin had mediated between the two was the childminder persuaded to stay. Using this to her advantage, the childminder will not even touch leftovers. The couple finish off the leftovers before they start on the newly cooked dishes. The child is very naughty during the meal, trying to get hold of things. His wife suspects that she is catching a cold for she seems to have a runny nose. At last, at nearly 8:30, the dinner is finished. As a routine, the childminder now has to wash up, Young Lin to bath the child and his wife to go to bed. Her unit is farther away than his, she has to get up earlier. So of course she should go to bed earlier. But tonight she doesn't go to bed early or wash her feet either. She just sits on the bed, deep in thought. Whenever his wife has something on her mind like this, Young Lin feels scared, not knowing what new topic she will bring up. She is not too bad this time. After a while, she carelessly washes her feet and goes to bed without saying anything. Although usually she nags nonstop, fortunately once in bed she stops nagging and is asleep and snoring in three minutes, faster than a child. Young Lin was very unhappy with this when they were newly married a few years ago. How could she do this? He once asked her: "How come that you fall asleep in almost no time? If you go on like this, I won't be able to bear it!" His wife explained with embarrassment:

    "After a day's work I'm tired as a pig. How can I stay awake for long?"

    Later they had a child. Life became more and more complicated. They were busy moving again and again; busy going to and from work; busy with food and drinks; busy caring for both the child and adults in the family. They were tired with all the work and Young Lin's wife gradually became garrulous. It was then that he found his wife's sleeping habits an advantage, something he could look forward to when they were at odds with each other. The internal war would stop when her head touched a pillow. Young Lin realizes that there aren't absolute merits or demerits in the world. They can transform themselves into their opposites.

    His wife is asleep, so are the child and the childminder. All three of them are lightly snoring. Young Lin checks the electrical and water devices and then he too goes to bed. In the past he had the habit of reading a book or a newspaper before going to sleep. More often than not, he would even get up and take some notes. But now, being through with all his chores, he is already fighting to keep his eyes open. So the idea of reading and note-taking is dropped. He'd better go to bed as early as possible for he will need to get up and queue for bean curd early. This reminds him of that half a kilo of spoiled bean curd. He suddenly remembers it's still in the hall, untouched. That's something that might spark off a major incident. If his wife sees it tomorrow morning, a new quarrel might start. So he gets out of bed, makes for the hall, turns on the light and disposes of the spoiled bean curd.

    一地鸡毛



    小林家一斤豆腐变馊了。

    一斤豆腐有五块,二两一块,这是公家副食店卖的。个体户的豆腐一斤一块,水分大,发稀,锅里炒不成团。小林每天清早六点起床,到公家副食店门口排队买豆腐。排队也不一定每天都能买到豆腐,要么排队的人多,赶排到了,豆腐也卖完了;要么还没排到,已经七点了,小林得离开豆腐队去赶单位的班车。最近单位办公室新到一个处长老关,新官上任三把火,对迟到早退抓得挺紧。最使人感到丧气的是,队眼看排到了,上班的时间也到了。离开豆腐队,小林就要对长长的豆腐队咒骂一声:

    “妈拉个×,天底下穷人家多了真不是好事!”

    但今天小林把豆腐买到了。不过他今天排队排到七点十五,把单位的班车给误了。不过今天误了也就误了,办公室处长老关今天到部里听会,副处长老何到外地出差去了,办公室管考勤的临时变成了一个新来的大学生,这就不怕了,于是放心排队买豆腐。豆腐拿回家,因急着赶公共汽车上班,忘记把豆腐放到了冰箱里,晚上回来,豆腐仍在门厅塑料兜里藏着,大热的天,哪有不馊的道理?

    豆腐变馊了,老婆又先于他下班回家,这就使问题复杂化了。老婆一开始是责备看孩子的保姆,怪她不打开塑料袋,把豆腐放到冰箱里。谁知保姆一点不买账。保姆因嫌小林家工资低,家里饭菜差,早就闹着罢工,要换人家,还是小林和小林老婆好哄歹哄,才把人家留下;现在保姆看着馊豆腐,一点不心疼,还一股脑把责任都推给了小林,说小林早上上班走时,根本没有交代要放豆腐。小林下班回来,老婆就把怒气对准了小林,说你不买豆腐也就罢了,买回来怎么还让它在塑料袋里变馊?你这存的是什么心?小林今天在单位很不愉快,他以为今天买豆腐晚点上班没什么,谁知道新来的大学生很认真,看他八点没到,就自作主张给他划了一个“迟到”。虽然小林气鼓鼓上去自己又改成“准时”,但一天心里很不愉快,还不知明天大学生会不会汇报他。现在下班回家,见豆腐馊了,他也很丧气,一方面怪保姆太斤斤计较,走时没给你交代,就不能往冰箱里放一放了?放几块豆腐能把你累死?一方面怪老婆小题大做,一斤豆腐,馊了也就馊了,谁也不是故意的,何必说个没完,大家一天上班都很累,接着还要做饭弄孩子,这不是有意制造疲劳空气?于是说:

    “算了算了,怪我不对,一斤豆腐,大不了今天晚上不吃,以后买东西注意放就是了!”

    如果话到此为止,事情也就过去了,可惜小林憋不住气,又补了一句:

    “一斤豆腐就上纲上线个没完了,一斤豆腐才值几个钱?上次你失手打碎一个暖水壶,七八块钱,谁又责备你了?”

    老婆一听暖水壶,马上又来了火,说:“动不动你提暖水壶,上次暖水壶怪我吗?本来那暖水壶就没放好,谁碰到都会碎!咱们别说暖水壶,说花瓶吧!上个月花瓶是怎么回事?花瓶可是好端端地在大立柜上边放着,你抹灰尘给抹碎了,你倒有资格说我了!”

    接着就戗到了小林跟前,眼里噙着泪,胸部一挺一挺的,脸变得没有血色。根据小林的经验,老婆的脸一无血色,就证明她今天在单位也很不顺。老婆所在的单位,和小林的单位差不多,让人愉快的时候不多。可你在单位不愉快,把这不愉快带回来发泄就道德了?小林就又气鼓鼓地想跟她理论花瓶。照此理论下去,一定又会盘盘碟碟牵扯个没完,陷入恶性循环,最后老婆会把那包馊豆腐摔到小林头上。保姆看到小林和小林老婆吵架,已经习惯了,就像没看见一样,在旁边若无其事地剪指甲。这更激起了两个人的愤怒。小林已做好破碗破摔的准备,幸好这时有人敲门,大家便都不吱声了。老婆赶紧去抹脸上的眼泪,小林也压抑住自己的怒气,保姆把门打开,原来是查水表的老头来了。

    查水表的老头是个瘸子,每月来查一次水表。老头子腿瘸,爬楼很不方便,到每一个人家都累得满头大汗,先喘一阵气,再查水表。但老头工作积极性很高,有时不该查水表也来,说来看看水表是否运转正常。但今天是该查水表的日子,小林和小林老婆都暂时收住气,让保姆领他去查水表。老头查完水表,并没有走的意思,而是自作主张在小林家床上坐下了。老头一坐下,小林心里就发凉,因为老头一在谁家坐下,就要高谈阔论一番,说说他年轻时候的事。他说他年轻时曾给某位死去的大领导喂过马。小林初次听他讲,还有些兴趣,问了他一些细节,看他一副瘸样,年轻时竟还和大领导接触过;但后来听得多了,心里就不耐烦,你年轻时喂过马,现在不照样是个查水表的?大领导已经死了,还说他干什么?但因为他是查水表的,你还不能得罪他。他一不高兴,就敢给你整个门洞停水。老头子手里就提着管水闸的扳手。看着他手里的扳手,你就得听他讲喂马。不过今天小林实在不欢迎他讲马,人家家里正闹着气,你也不看一看家庭气氛,就擅自坐下,于是就板着脸没过去,没像过去一样跟他打招呼。

    但查水表的老头不管这个,自己从口袋里已经掏出了烟。划火点着烟,屋里就飘起了老头鼻腔的味道。小林知道老头接着就要讲马,但小林猜错了,这次老头没有讲马,而是一脸严肃地说,他要谈些正事。他说,据群众反映,这个门洞有人偷水,晚上不把水管龙头关死,故意让水往下滴,下边放个水桶接着;滴水水表不转,桶里的水不成偷的了?这样下去是不行的,大家都偷水,自来水厂如何受得了?

    听了老头的话,小林与小林老婆脸都一赤一白的。说来惭愧,因为上个礼拜小林家就偷过几次水,是小林老婆在单位闲聊中听到的办法,回来指使保姆试验。后来小林看不上,觉得这事太委琐,一吨水才几分钱,何必干这个?一夜水管嘀嘀嗒嗒个没完,大家也难心安理得睡觉。于是在第三天就停止了。但这事老头子怎么会知道?是谁汇报的?小林和小林老婆都不约而同想到了对门。对门住着一对胖子,女主人自称长得像印度人,眉心常点着一个红豆。他们家也有一个孩子,大小与小林家孩子差不多,两家孩子常在一起玩,也常打架;为了孩子,小林老婆与印度女人有些面和心不和。两家主人不和,两家保姆却很要好,虽然不是一个省来的,却常在一起共同商讨对付主人的办法。准是两家保姆乱串,印度女人得知小林家滴过两回水,就汇报了老头子,现在有了老头子一番话。但这种事如何上得了台面,如何说得出口?说出口以后在人前怎么站?小林赶紧到老头子跟前,正色声明,这门洞有没有人偷水他不知道,但他家是决不干这种事,他家虽然穷,但穷有穷的骨气!小林老婆也上去说,谁反映的这事,就证明谁偷水,不然他怎么会知道偷水的方法,这不是贼喊捉贼是什么?老头子听了他们的话,弹了一下烟灰:

    “行了,这事就到这里为止了。以前大家偷没有偷,就既往不咎了,以后注意不偷就行了!”

    说完,站起来,作出宽怀大量的样子,一瘸一瘸走了,留下小林和小林老婆在那里发尴。

    由于有偷水这件事的介入,使豆腐发馊事件变得不那么重要了。小林心里还责备老婆,一个大学生,什么时候学得这么市民气,偷了两桶水,值不了几分钱,丢人现眼让人数落了一顿。小林老婆也自感惭愧,就不好意思再追究馊豆腐一事,只是瞪了小林一眼,自己就下厨房做饭了。因为这件事的介入,使本来要爆发战争的家庭平静下来,小林又有些感激老头子。

    晚饭一个炒豆角,一个炒豆芽,一碟子小泥肠,一碗昨天剩下的杂烩菜。小泥肠主要是让孩子吃的,其他三个菜是让小林、小林老婆和保姆吃的。但保姆不吃剩菜,说她一吃剩菜就闹肚子。为此小林老婆还和保姆吵过一架,说你倒成贵族了,我还吃剩菜,你倒闹肚子,过去你在农村吃什么来着?保姆便又哭又闹,闹罢工,要换人家。最后还是小林从中斡旋,才又把她留下。把人留下人家就有了资本,从此更不吃剩菜。小林老婆也没办法,吃饭时只好和小林先吃剩菜,剩菜吃完再吃新的。吃饭时孩子很闹,抓东抓西的,看样子有些想流鼻涕,小林老婆怀疑她是否要感冒。好歹把饭吃完,已经快八点半了。按照惯例,这时保姆洗碗,小林给孩子洗澡,老婆应该上床睡觉。因老婆上班比小林远,清早上班要早起,早点上床睡觉理所当然。但今天老婆没有早睡,脚也没洗,坐在床前想心思。老婆一想心思,小林心里就有些发毛,不知老婆心思想过以后,会不会又提出什么新的话题。不过今天老婆不错,心思想过以后,没有说什么,草草洗完脚就上床睡觉了。老婆睡觉有这点好处,平时嘴唠叨,一上床就不唠叨了,三分钟就能入睡,响起轻微的鼾声,比孩子入睡还快。前几年刚结婚,小林对这点很不满意,哪能上床就入睡?问:

    “你怎么躺倒就着,长此以往,可让人受不了!”

    老婆不好意思地解释:

    “累了一天,跟猪似的,哪有不躺倒就着的道理!”

    后来有了孩子,生活越来越复杂,几次折腾搬家,上班下班,弄吃喝拉撒,弄大人小孩,大家都很疲劳,老婆也变得爱唠叨了,这时小林倒觉得老婆上床就入睡是个优点,大家闹矛盾有个盼头,只要头一挨枕头,战争就停止了。所以小林觉得世界上没有绝对的优点缺点,优点缺点是可以转化的。

    老婆入睡,孩子入睡,保姆入睡,三个人都响起鼾声,小林检查了一下屋里的灯火水电,也上床睡觉。过去临睡觉之前,小林有看书看报的习惯,动不动还爬起来记笔记。现在一天家务处理完,两个眼皮早在打架,于是这一切过程都省略了。能早睡就早睡,第二天清早还要起床排队买豆腐。想起买豆腐,小林突然又想起今天那一斤变馊的豆腐,现在仍在门厅里扔着,没有处理。这是导火索。明天清早老婆起来再看到它,说不定又会节外生枝。于是又从床上爬起来,到门厅打开灯,去处理那包馊豆腐。

    2

    Young Lin's wife is called Little Li. Before she got married she was a quiet girl with delicate features. Although short, she appeared tiny and exquisite, arousing tenderness and affection. She didn't talk much then and although she didn't dress fashionably she was very clean and had very long hair. She was introduced to Young Lin by a classmate and they fell in love. She was rather shy when she met people. One felt relaxed and peaceful in her presence. There was even an aura of poetry about her. It was then that Young Lin started to pay attention to the way he talked and his personal hygiene. It was quite beyond his imagination that several years later, this quiet girl with the poetic quality would become a nagging housewife who did not do her hair and had learnt how to steal drips of water at night. They were both university students devoted to their work. They had both exerted themselves, worked by lamplight, had noble ambitions then. They never thought about their bosses at work, nor about social institutions and organizations of whatever size. It was beyond their imagination that several years later, they would so quickly drown in stereotyped crowds just like everybody else. All you can do is to buy bean curd, go to work and back, eat, sleep, do the washing, see to the childminder and attend to your child. In the evening you don't want even to touch a book. All those grand plans and great aspirations! Those careers and ideals! What a load of rubbish! That's only for the young and naive to dream about. Isn't everybody else drifting along aimlessly too? And yet, they get through their days all the same? Even if you cherish great expectations and lofty ideals, so what? "Where are the historical figures with great accomplishments? In deserted graves hidden under the sand!" By the end of one's life, who will still be alive to know you and appraise you? So Young Lin is perfectly content sometimes. He'd suffered physically and mentally at work, but it had made him mature. Now he can handle different situations with ease. So long as you are patient enough to wait without behaving rashly or perversely, you'll sooner or later get what others have got. Take housing, for example. His family once shared a flat with others, then moved to the slum in Ox Street. Because the place was due to be demolished they moved again to temporary accommodation. Now they have got a one-room flat. At first the Lins did not have a refrigerator or a colour TV while other families did, which made him feel ashamed. They saved up and now they have also bought those things. They do not have wall units or a sound system, not yet. But is there an end to material desires? Be patient and you'll find yourself in a communist society. What makes you impatient are trifles like spoiled bean curd. In the past, a happy life with a good wife and children and a cosy home was considered a peasant ideal. But what else should you strive for if not for a happy family with a wife and children? And that's not easy to achieve either. Your wife has changed. Your child is still too young and you're always carrying the burden of work on your shoulders. Can you guarantee a cosy home for every single day? People often complain about their work being too complicated and difficult, as if a cosy home with a wife and child is any easier! Your great aspirations of the past can be excused on the grounds of immaturity, for you didn't understand the development of social patterns in today's world. A thousand-li journey starts with the first step. Young Lin, you should start your journey by seeing to the spoiled bean curd! As usual, he gets up at six the next morning and queues for bean curd in front of the state grocery. His wife has also woken up, staring at the ceiling with wide-open eyes. Going to sleep quickly restores her clear-thinking. Unlike Young Lin, whose head remains dull for half an hour after waking up, she needs only five minutes to be wide awake and to pick up her train of thought from before going to sleep. This is both good and bad. If they are at odds with each other, she will immediately carry on with the quarrel from the day before. He feels a little anxious when he sees his wife staring as she did before going to sleep last night. He can't think what his wife is brewing up. She doesn't speak to him when he gets up, which makes him feel better. He hurriedly brushes his teeth, washes his face and tries to steal quietly out of the room taking a plastic bag with him. Just as he puts out his hand to open the door, his wife says from the bed,

    "Don't buy bean curd today!" So his wife won't let go. She wants to carry on with yesterday's bean curd incident. He feels a fury rising in his heart. The spoiled bean curd has been thrown away and a night has passed. Why go on quibbling about it? He protests:

    "How can half a kilo of spoiled bean curd make you want never to buy any more again? I'll put it in the fridge today, won't that do? How many years do you need to keep on about it?"

    With a shake of her hand, his wife says, "I'm not thinking about the spoiled bean curd. I've been thinking all night, I can't stay in my work unit any longer. I must change my job. Talk to me about it! You can't be so indifferent to my problems!"

    So she is not referring to the spoiled bean curd. He feels relieved. But a job transfer is no less vexing and even more complicated than the bean curd incident. To be honest, her place of work is not so bad. As a university graduate, she sits in an office, sorting documents and writing reports. In her spare time she drinks tea and reads the newspaper. But she used to be so straightforward. Just like Young Lin when he was first assigned to his job, she wasn't experienced in handling the various relationships at work and the consequences lingered on. Although she realized her mistakes and corrected them later, the effects still revealed themselves from time to time and small clashes seemed inevitable. Unhappy at work, back home she would nag Young Lin about her transfer. He had tried to persuade her using himself as an example. He told her that once she overcame her weaknesses of being too naive and insensitive, she'd get used to working there; there was really no need to transfer because everywhere you worked was the same; and besides, it was not at all easy to achieve her wish. Who would employ you, he said, we are both powerless and don't have the necessary information or connections? But his wife said he was ineffective, unable to do anything to save his wife from the depths of despair. I couldn't help you outside, he argued, but have tried to from the inside. Can't explanation be counted as help? His wife was convinced. Having aired her grievances by nagging at him, she went on working at the same place without raising the idea of a transfer. If things had continued like this, she would have got used to it and the annoying problem of changing her job would have disappeared. But the Lins have moved several times, farther and farther away from her place of work. She was very pleased at each of the moves as their living conditions became better. At last, she said, we have our own place in Beijing too. She spent most of her spare time decorating it: she decided how to hang the curtains; how to arrange the furniture; where to put the fridge and the TV set; and what else they needed to buy. Most of her worries then were about things like that. When the room was nearly finished, she became dissatisfied once again. She was unhappy that they lived too far from her workplace. Her office didn't run a shuttle bus on this route, so she had to catch the crowded public buses to and from work. A round trip would take her three to four hours. She got up at six in the morning and came back at eight in the evening, accompanied by stars and the moon at both ends, day after day, and the buses were always jam-packed. She felt she couldn't stand it any longer and simply must get a transfer. Seeing his wife utterly exhausted after work each day, Young Lin also realized this was something different from just being unhappy at work. Such unhappiness could be endured and overcome but it was not possible to shorten the distance. She must be transferred to somewhere nearer home. But having made up their minds to do it, the couple found themselves facing insurmountable difficulties, for it was not up to them to decide whether to make the transfer or not.Like a blind cat groping for mice, they tried several places which, without exception, and with no room for discussion, refused to consider them. They were most disheartened. He said,

    "Enough. No more running around. It's just wasted effort. Put up with it. Some other people in Beijing live even farther away from where they work! Don't just count the kilometres you travel, think of the women weavers! They stand working the whole day long while you work over tea and newspapers. Are you still dissatisfied?"

    His wife flared up:

    "You are incapable of solving the problem, so you just ask me to put up with it. Of course you can put up with riding in the shuttle bus every day. Can't you understand what it means spending four hours in a crowded bus every day? I must be transferred. Otherwise I won't go to work tomorrow. You go and earn enough money to support the family! "

    Just as she threatened, she didn't go to work the next day. Young Lin was truly worried. The worries forced him to make good use of his brains and finally he came up with a solution. He discovered that the head of personnel at an office in Qiansanmen was a former classmate of Old Zhang, the deputy bureau director of Young Lin's office. Young Lin had once helped Old Zhang to move house, sparing no effort. So Old Zhang thought well of him. After being caught in flagrante delicto with Mrs Qiao, Old Zhang had tucked his tail between his legs, so to speak, and showed special concern for his subordinates and would spare no effort to help them whenever it was needed. So Young Lin felt Old Zhang would not refuse if he asked for help. If Old Zhang would provide a recommendation, the Qiansanmen office might be a solution. It was also a long way from the Lins' residence—a single trip by public bus took two hours. But there was an underground railway connecting the two places. Forty minutes on a fast underground train was sufficient. Besides, it is not as crowded as a public bus. Sometimes seats are available. He told his wife about his idea. She was pleased. She agreed and urged him to talk to Old Zhang. He went to Old Zhang, told him about his wife's difficulties and about the place in Qiansanmen. Knowing that his old leader had some good connections there, he said, he'd come to ask him for help. As expected, Old Zhang readily agreed:

    "Very well, her office is very far away. She should transfer!" He added: "I don't know the Qiansanmen unit personally. But the comrade in charge of personnel affairs there is an old classmate of mine. I'll write to him. Go and see whether he can arrange the transfer. "

    Plucking up his courage, Young Lin said,

    "It might be better if you called him as well."

    Stroking his big head, Old Zhang laughed and then rapped Young Lin on the head:

    "The youth now are much shrewder than we were when young! All right. I'll make a phone call for you. "

    Old Zhang made the call and wrote the letter. Lin was as overjoyed as if it were an imperial edict. So was his wife when she saw the letter. He took it to the head at the Qiansanmen unit and it really worked. Having gone through the letter the head said,

    "Old Zhang is my old classmate. Both of us were very keen athletes in our university days. "

    Leaning over the head's desk, Young Lin anxiously continued the theme:

    "Old Zhang loves physical exercise even now. "

    The head glanced at him and suddenly mentioned the recent incident concerning Old Zhang. He asked for details. Young Lin found himself in an awkward situation. It was not proper for him to say anything, nor was it proper not to. He just selected the main details and said that Old Zhang had just sat talking with Mrs Qiao in his office. It hadn't got further than that. Everything else was pure rumour. Laughing, the head remarked:

    "Old Zhang, he's still a bit of a Romeo!"

    Finally, the subject of the transfer came up. Put in an excellent mood, the head said:

    "OK. OK. Old Zhang's affairs are as good as my own. Let me find out which office is short of staff. "

    Wasn't that as good as a promise? Young Lin returned home and told his wife. She instantly embraced him and covered his face with kisses. They had an enjoyable evening. If they had simply waited, the transfer would have been assured. Young Lin's wife could go to work on the underground every day. But they overreached themselves and became victims of their own cleverness. While the head of personnel affairs was making efforts to help them, the couple continued to feel anxious. The wife discovered that the husband of an acquaintance also worked in the same unit and was an office head as well. She discussed this with Young Lin and suggested that they ask him for help, too. The efforts of one person in charge of personnel affairs might not be sufficient. Young Lin didn't think carefully about the suggestion. Yes, one more person meant more effort. He felt there was no harm in it at all. So they went ahead. Who would have thought the head of personnel affairs would stop making further efforts as soon as he learnt about this? The next time Young Lin went to see him, he said coldly,

    "Haven't you also asked so-and-so? Let him try!"

    Now Young Lin was really anxious. He realized that a fundamental strategic mistake had been made. Just the same as getting ahead in a work unit, you've got to rely on only one head when asking people for help. Only then will this person make a genuine effort to assist. No one will if you seek help from more than one, for it shows you have many connections and you are too clever. They might think: Why ask me for help since you've already asked somebody else? It could actually arouse the resentment of the people involved. Instead of assisting you, they might become more of a hindrance than a help. "Let's see whether you can succeed by relying on others rather than me!" When Young Lin and his wife realized the truth, it was already too late. At first they blamed each other. Then they both tried to work out a remedy. What could they do now? All Young Lin could do was to ask Old Zhang to call his old classmate again. But Old Zhang is not Young Lin's blood brother. It is not appropriate for him to keep on troubling the deputy head of the bureau. So, the transfer problem remains in the air. As time goes by, Young Lin lets the matter drop temporarily, busy as he is with other matters. But his wife doesn't. She sits there brooding over it alone. The day after the spoiled bean curd incident, she sat by the bed thinking without washing her feet. It was just this matter that she had been thinking about. Getting up early in the morning, she raises the issue again. At first Young Lin suspects his wife wants him to go and see Old Zhang. He doesn't feel like going again. So he says:

    "We made a mess of things. What is the use of me going to Old Zhang all the time?"

    His wife responds: "I'm not asking you to see Old Zhang this time but to go to the head of personnel affairs at Qiansanmen."

    Young Lin is even less inclined to see the head than to see Old Zhang. He replies:

    "He was pretty cool towards me after we asked your friend's husband for help. How can I have the face to ask him again. It wouldn't be much use even if I did!"

    "Why wouldn't it? I've thought about it. Don't just blame my friend's husband. That's not the problem—it's the fact that we haven't tried hard enough. In order to get something done just talking won't do. I think we should give him something. Flies like blood nowadays. Will he really try to help without our giving him anything? We have to bleed a little!"

    Young Lin says: "I've only seen him a few times, I scarcely know him. I don't even know where he lives. How can we give him things?"

    His wife flares up: "From the way you talk about my problem I can tell you are indifferent! What did you give Mrs Qiao when you tried to join the Party? You know how hard up we were at the time. We didn't even have enough money for the child's milk. But still I agreed to your giving her something. Now when it is for my sake, you try to find all sorts of excuses to refuse. Why?"

    Her face turns pale. Seeing how serious and angry she's becoming, Young Lin hastens to say:

    "Well, well. We'll do it! We'll see what use it'll be!"

    That's the end of the conversation. The couple go to work as usual. After coming back from work in the evening, they hurry through their dinner, tell the childminder to take good care of the child and then go to the home of the head of the Qiansanmen unit to give him something. Once they've decided on this, they find it hard to decide what to give. After half an hour strolling around a store, they still can't make up their minds. A small gift is not suitable, while a big one is too expensive. Finally Young Lin's wife sees a piece of handicraft. It's a glass case with several flowers, birds and fish inside, artistic and tasteful at a price of a little over forty yuan. It suits their purpose. But upon further discussion, they decide against it. Would a head of personnel affairs appreciate flowers and birds? It would be bad if he assumed the handicraft was a cheap article worth just ten or so yuan. So they continue with their search. Young Lin's eyes light up when they reach the food and cold drinks counter. He declares:

    "I've got it!"

    His wife asks,

    "What?"

    He shows her the piled-up boxes of Coca Cola with a sign which reads: "Big sale: 1.9 yuan per can." The normal price is 3.5 yuan per can. Coca Cola would make a good gift. At the present price, a case of twenty-four cans will cost just over forty yuan. It looks bulky, and is generous and practical as well. The head will love it. But why have they been reduced? His wife says,

    "Can it be they are past their sell-by date? If so, they're no good."

    They ask the shop assistant. They are not out of date. Strange. It seems that the cans of Coke are waiting there to be presented as a gift. Young Lin says,

    "It looks as if we are in luck today, and the matter will be settled successfully. "

    His wife perks up and pays for a box right away.

    Carrying the box on his shoulder, they catch a bus to deliver the gift. It's 8:30 in the evening when they arrive at the building where the head lives. The timing is perfect. No sooner have they started to climb the stairs than someone is coming down. It's none other than the head. Young Lin hastens to greet him. The head is startled at first. Seeing that it is Young Lin, he smiles at them and says,

    "It's you." He is more polite now at the door of his home than in his office.

    Young Lin says,

    "Uncle Wang, this is my wife. Old Zhang said it was all right for us to trouble you once more about her transfer. "

    The head answers,

    "I know. As for the transfer, it's OK. with me. The question is whether an office in the unit is willing to accept new staff or not. If you can find an office, just ask them to come to me. Then the matter will be settled. I have something to attend to tonight and the car is waiting outside. Excuse me for not being able to receive you at home."

    Their hearts sink at these words. Isn't this as bad as being refused? Only when the head has already left the building does Young Lin remember the box of Coca Cola weighing down on his shoulder. He hastily calls out towards the gate:

    "Uncle Wang, I've brought a box of drinks for you."

    Laughing the head responds from outside:

    "I've got enough drinks. Take them home for yourselves. "

    With these words, the car starts up and races away, leaving the couple in the corridor feeling terribly awkward. It's a long time before they feel better. Young Lin throws the box onto the steps:

    "Damn it! Even gifts are not accepted!"

    He turns to blame his wife:

    "I said no and you insisted. Just see how bad it makes us look. "

    His wife murmurs repeatedly:

    "How could he be so awful! How could he be so mean!"

    The two of them make their way home with the box of drinks. The gift has been rejected and their hearts ache over the money spent on it. Wasn't it crazy to pay over forty yuan for a box of Coca Cola to take home! What should they do with it? Send it back to the store? Edible goods are non-refundable after purchase. Drink it? How can they shut themselves up and drink Coke? The wife is clever. Two days later, she opens up the box and after that she often gives the child a can to drink outside. Before this, they didn't buy any drinks, or good-quality hairtail fish. Their child is poorly dressed and they are well-known in the neighbourhood for being hard-up. They did buy hairtail fish once. It was cheap because it was a bit off. The smell seeped into the corridor and the "Indian" woman gossiped about it. Their little girl drinking a can of Coke will be good publicity. It's consoling to think that the box of Coke has some use. But the transfer issue remains a problem which still weighs heavily in their hearts.



    小林的老婆叫小李,没结婚之前,是一个文静的、眉目清秀的姑娘。别看个头小,个小显得小巧玲珑,眼小显得聚光,让人见了从心里怜爱。那时她言语不多。打扮不时髦,却很干净。头发长长的。通过同学介绍,小林与她恋爱。她见人有些腼腆。与她在一起,让人感到轻松、安静,甚至还有一点淡淡的诗意。那时连小林都开始注意言语、注意身体卫生了。哪里想到几年之后,这位安静的富有诗意的姑娘,会变成一个爱唠叨、不梳头、还学会夜里滴水偷水的家庭妇女呢?两人都是大学生,谁也不是没有事业心,大家都奋斗过,发愤过,挑灯夜读过,有过一番宏伟的理想,单位的处长局长,社会上的大大小小机关,都不在眼里,哪里会想到几年之后,他们也跟大家一样,很快淹没到黑压压的千篇一律千人一面的人群之中呢?你也无非是买豆腐、上班下班、吃饭睡觉洗衣服、对付保姆弄孩子,到了晚上你一页书也不想翻,什么宏图大志,什么事业理想,狗屁,那是年轻时候的事,大家都这么混,不也活了一辈子?有宏图大志怎么了?有事业理想怎么了?“古今将相在何方,荒冢一堆草没了!”一辈子下来谁还知道谁!有时小林想想又感到心满意足,虽然在单位经过几番折腾,但折腾之后就是成熟,现在不就对各种事情应付自如了?只要有耐心,能等,不急躁,不反常,别人能得到的东西,你最终也能得到。譬如房子,几年下来,通过与人合居,搬到牛街贫民窟;贫民窟要拆迁,搬到周转房;几经折腾,现在不也终于混上了一个一居室的单元?别人家一开始有冰箱彩电,小林家没有,让小林感到惭愧,后来省着攒着,现在不也买了?当然现在还没组合家具和音响,但物质追求哪里有个完。一切不要着急,耐心就能等到共产主义。倒是使人不耐心的,是些馊豆腐之类的日常生活琐事。过去总说,老婆孩子热炕头,是农民意识,但你不弄老婆孩子弄什么?你把老婆孩子热炕头弄好是容易的?老婆变了样,孩子不懂事,工作量经常持久,谁能保证炕头天天是热的?过去老说单位如何复杂不好弄,老婆孩子炕头就是好弄的?过去你有过宏伟理想,可以原谅,但那是幼稚不成熟,不懂得事物的发展规律。千里之行,始于足下,小林,一切还是从馊豆腐开始吧。第二天早上六点,小林照例爬起来,去公家副食店前排队买豆腐。这时老婆已经睡醒,大睁着两眼在看天花板。老婆入睡快,醒来脑子清醒得也快,不像小林,睡觉起来头半天是木的,得半个小时才能缓过劲儿来,老婆只要五分钟就可以清醒,续上入睡前的思路。这是优点,也是缺点,如果两个人正闹矛盾,老婆早晨醒来,又会迅速续上昨天的事情,继续补课。看今天老婆发呆的样子,又回到了昨天入睡前坐在床沿上想心思的模样,小林心里就有些打鼓,不知老婆又要搞什么名堂。但老婆见他起床,并没有搭理他。小林就有些放心,赶忙刷牙洗脸,拿上塑料袋悄悄出门。但等小林刚要去拉门,老婆在床上发了言:

    “我说你,今天的豆腐就别买了!”

    原来老婆并没有放过他,仍要续昨天的豆腐事件。小林心里就“嘟嘟”地冒火,一斤馊豆腐,已经扔了,又过了一夜,还真纠缠个没完了?于是说:

    “馊了一斤豆腐,还至于今后不买了?今天买回放到冰箱里不就结了!你还要纠缠多少年!”

    老婆向他摆摆手:

    “我不是跟你说豆腐,昨天我想了一夜,我再也不能在这个单位呆了,我一定得调,你得跟我来商量商量这事!你不能对我的事漠不关心!”

    原来并不是豆腐事件,小林有些放心。但老婆说的是调工作,调工作也是让人窝心烦躁的事,比馊豆腐事件还复杂。本来老婆的工作单位不错,大学毕业坐办公室,每天也就是摘摘文件,写写工作总结,余下的时间是喝茶看报纸。但老婆性格很直,像小林初到单位一样,各方面关系一开始没处理好,留下后遗症。后来觉悟了,改正了,但以前总留下伤疤,免不了有磕磕碰碰的时候。在单位不愉快,回来就向小林唠叨,说要换个单位。小林就拿自己现身说法,说只要将幼稚不懂事的毛病改掉,时间长了自然会适应,换什么单位,天下单位都一样。再说换个单位是容易的?我们都无权无势,两眼一抹黑,哪个单位会要你?老婆就说小林没本领,看着老婆在水深火热之中,一点帮不上忙。小林说,外边帮不上忙,内里不也帮了?不也向你解释了?解释不也是帮忙?就把老婆劝下了。老婆唠叨一顿,怨气出了,第二天就不说了,仍照常上班。如果这样下去,老婆慢慢也会适应,没有单位非换不可的烦恼。但小林家搬了几次家,搬来搬去,住的离小林老婆单位越来越远。当初搬家时,因房子越搬越好,老婆很高兴,说咱们终于也在北京有个房子了,把主要精力花在布置房子上,怎么装窗帘,怎么布局,怎么摆冰箱和电视,还差什么东西,苦恼主要在这个方面。等家收拾得差不多了,老婆就又不满意了,怪这个地方离她单位太远,因她的单位在这条线上没有班车,她得挤公共汽车上班,往返一趟,得三四个小时。清早六点起床,晚上八点回来,顶着星星出去,戴着月亮回来,天天如此,车又挤,老婆就受不了,觉得是非换单位不可了。小林看着老婆每天下班疲惫不堪的样子,也觉得这和在单位不愉快不同,在单位不愉快可以忍耐、改正,离单位太远无法人为缩短距离,是得换个离家近一点的单位。真要决定换单位,两人才感到面前的困难像山一样,因为换不换单位,并不是小林和小林老婆能决定的。瞎猫撞老鼠,小林和小林老婆找了几个单位,人家都是一口回绝,连个商量的余地都不留,弄得小林和小林老婆挺丧气。小林说:

    “算了算了,别跑了,再跑也是瞎跑,你凑合着吧,北京还有比你上班更远的呢!别光想路程,想想纺织女工,人家上一天班,站着干一天活,你上班是喝茶看报纸,还不知足吗?”

    小林老婆发了火:

    “你没有本事,就让我凑合了。你天天有班车坐,我挤四个小时车的滋味你哪里有体验?我非换单位不可,要不换单位,我明天就不上班,你挣钱养活我们娘俩!”

    第二天就真不去上班,把小林急坏了。急了一次真管用,小林开动脑筋,真想出一个办法,前三门有一个单位,听有人说,那单位管人事的头头,和小林单位的副局长老张是同学。小林帮老张搬过家,十分卖力,老张对小林看法不错。老张自与女老乔犯过作风问题以后,夹着尾巴做人,对下边同志特别关心,肯帮助人,只要有事去求他,他都认真帮忙。小林觉得这事如去找老张,老张不至于一口回绝。通过老张介绍,说不定前三门那个单位倒有些希望。前三门那个单位虽离小林家也很远,如坐公共汽车,也得两个小时,但前三门那里和小林家连地铁,地铁跑得快,四十分钟就够了,况且地铁不像公共汽车那么挤,有时上车还有座位。小林将这想法向老婆说了,老婆也很高兴,同意去那个单位,让小林去找老张。小林找到老张,将老婆的困难摆出来,又提出前三门那个单位,听说老领导在那里有熟人,想请老领导帮帮忙。老张果然痛快,说:

    “可以,可以,单位那么远,是应该换一换!”

    又说:

    “前三门那个单位,我也不熟,但管人事的同志,是我的同学,我给他写一封信,你找他,看他能不能给办!”

    小林又大着胆子说:

    “最好老领导再给他打一个电话!”

    老张摸着胖脑袋“哈哈”笑了,照小林头上打了一巴掌:

    “现在的年轻人,比我们那时候精明多了!好,好,我给你打一个电话!”

    老张打了一个电话,又给小林写了一封信。小林捧到这封信,如同捧到圣旨一样高兴。小林老婆看到信,也很高兴。小林拿着这信到前三门的单位去,果然管用。管人事的头头接见了他,看了那封信说:

    “老张是我的老同学,当年在大学,我们两个都爱搞田径!”

    小林斜欠着身子坐在头头办公桌前,忙接上去说:

    “现在老张也爱锻炼!”

    头头看他一眼,突然又问起老张前一段出事的事,让小林也讲一讲细节。小林感到有些为难,讲不好,不讲也不好,于是只拣些重要的讲了讲,说老张也只是和女老乔在办公室坐了一坐,并没有真正在一起,其他一切都是谣传。那头头听后“哈哈”笑了,说:

    “这个老张,还是那么可爱!”

    最后才谈起小林老婆调动的事。那头头情绪正好,说:

    “行,行,老张托的事,就是我的事,我看看下边哪个单位缺人!”

    这不等于答应了?小林回来向老婆一汇报,老婆马上抱着他在脸上乱亲。两人度过了一个愉快的夜晚。如果就这样等着,小林老婆一定能调成,能每天坐着地铁到前三门那个单位上班,但这时小林和小林老婆聪明反被聪明误,自己把事情办坏了。本来人家管人事的头头正在努力,小林和小林老婆仍不放心,小林老婆打听出一个熟人的丈夫,也在前三门那个单位工作,而且是一个处长,就同小林商量,单是一个管人事的头头是否太单薄,是否也找一找这个处长?当时小林也没犯考虑,觉得多一个人就多一份力量,找一找总没什么坏处。于是就又找了这个处长。谁知这一找不要紧,让人家管人事的头头知道了,管人事的头头马上停止了努力。小林再去找他,他比以前冷淡了,说:

    “你不是也找某某了,让他给办办看吧!”

    小林这才着了急,知道自己犯了路线性错误。找人办事,如同在单位混事,只能投靠一个主子,人家才能死力给你办;找的人多了,大家都不会出力;何况你找多了,证明你认识的人多,显得你很高明,既然你高明能再找人,何必再找我?这时除了不帮忙不说,还容易产生抵触心理,说不定背后再给你帮点倒忙,看你不依靠我依靠别人这事能办成!小林和小林老婆认识到这个道理,明白过来,事情已经晚了。两人一开始是互相埋怨,埋怨以后,又共同想补救的办法。但这时能想出什么补救办法?小林只好再找老张,让他给同学再打电话。但老张又不是你的亲兄弟,人家是单位的副局长,老找人家也不好。于是小林老婆调工作的事,就这样不上不下地放着。时间一长,小林事情一忙就暂时把这件事给忘记了,但小林老婆忘不了,时常一个人坐在那里想心思。昨天发生了馊豆腐事件,馊豆腐事件过去以后,她没洗脚坐在床边想的,就是这件事,今天早上起来,她将这话题又重新向小林提出。小林一开始以为老婆又让他找老张,但再找老张小林已很怵头,于是说:

    “事情已经让咱们办坏了,光让我找老张有什么用?”

    小林老婆说:

    “这次不让你找老张,还让你找前三门单位那个管人事的头头。”

    再找管人事的头头,比让他找老张还怵头,小林说:

    “因为找你那个熟人的丈夫,人家态度都冷淡了,如何有脸面再找人家?再找作用也不大!”

    小林老婆说:

    “为什么作用不大,这事我想了,你也别光怪我那个熟人的丈夫,这不是问题的关键,关键还是功夫下得不够。现在社会上办事,光动嘴皮子如何行?我考虑,咱得给他上个供。现在苍蝇没有不见血的,你不出血,他能给你来真的?还是得出血!”

    小林说:

    “只和人家见过几次面,熟都不熟,连人家在哪里住都不知道,这供如何上?”

    小林老婆发了火:

    “看你说话的口气,就是对我的事情漠不关心!上次你要入党,给女老乔送了什么?那时咱家那么困难,孩子吃奶都没有钱,我不照样让你送了?轮到我的事,你怎么就这么推三挡四的,你这存的是什么心!”

    说着说着脸就变白了。小林见她越说话越多,真生气了,忙说:

    “好,好,咱送,咱送,看送了能起什么作用?”

    话说到这里就算完了。白天两人照常上班,等晚上回来,两人匆匆吃完饭,交代保姆看好孩子,就一起到前三门单位管人事头头家里去上供。但真到上供,供上些什么,两人都犯了难。两人来到商店,逛了半个小时,拿不定主意。礼太小了送不出去,礼太大了又心疼钱。最后小林老婆相中了一个工艺品,一个玻璃匣子里镶嵌了几个花鸟和小鱼,美观大方,四十多元,可以买。但两人商量半天,觉得这个礼品也不合适,管人事的头头能会喜欢花鸟?别以为是随便十几块钱买的贱价货搪塞他,那样作用更不好。最后又转,转到食品冷饮柜,小林突然眼睛一亮,说:

    “有了!”

    小林老婆问:

    “什么有了?”

    小林便向老婆指了指一箱一箱的“可口可乐”,上边挂着一块牌子:“大减价,一块九一听”,而“可口可乐”的正常价格,却是三块五。“可口可乐”拿得出手,一听一块九,一箱二十四听,也就四十多块,看着体积大,又是名牌饮料,拿出来实用大方,管人事的头头肯定喜欢。只是不知它为何减价。小林老婆说:

    “别是过期了吧,那样就不好了!”

    问了问售货员,也不过期,实在是奇怪,好像是单为今天他们送礼准备的。小林说:

    “看这样子,今天顺利,这事肯定能成!”

    老婆兴致也高了,马上掏钱买了一箱,由小林扛着,两人挤上公共汽车去送礼。兴高采烈到了管人事头头家的楼下,已是晚上八点半,时间也合适。但等两人进楼道刚要上楼,从楼上走下来一个人,正是前三门单位管人事的头头。小林忙向他打招呼,倒让正下楼的头头吃了一惊,等看清是小林,因在家门口,倒比在办公室客气,忙止住脚步笑着说:

    “你们来了?”

    小林说:

    “王叔叔,这是我爱人,为她工作的事,老张让我们再来找您一次!”

    头头说:

    “我知道了,那个工作的事,我这里没有问题,关键是下边接收单位不好办,你们如能找到哪个处室可以接收,让他们再来找我不就行了?今天晚上我出去还有点事,车子在下边等着,恕不能接待你们了!”

    小林和小林老婆心里都凉了半截。这不等于回绝了?等头头走到了楼外,小林才意识到自己肩上还扛着一箱“可口可乐”,忙向楼外喊:

    “王叔叔,我还给您带了一箱饮料!”

    头头在楼外笑着答:

    “我这里还缺几筒饮料?扛回去自己喝吧!”

    接着,车子发动开走了。把小林和小林老婆尴到了楼道里。尴了半天,两人才缓过劲儿来。小林将箱子摔到楼梯上:

    “×他妈的,送礼人家都不要!”

    又埋怨老婆:

    “我说不要送吧,你非要送,看这礼送的,丢人不丢人!”

    小林老婆也说:

    “这个人怎么这么恶劣,这个人怎么这么小心眼!”

    两人便重新扛着饮料回家。因为礼没有送出去,回家以后两人又为买礼心疼了半天,四十多块钱买一箱“可口可乐”放到家里,这不是吃饱撑的?一箱“可口可乐”怎么处理?退回商店,入口的东西人家一律不退,自己喝了吧,哪能关起门没事喝“可口可乐”?过了两天,还是老婆聪明,把“可口可乐”打开,时常拿出一筒让孩子到院子里去喝。过去从来没买过饮料,也没买过带鱼,孩子穿得破烂,在院子里穷出了名。一次倒是买了一回带鱼,是贱价处理的,有些发臭,臭味跑到了楼道里,让对门印度女人到处宣扬,现在让小女儿拿着“可口可乐”到处喝,也起一个正面宣传的作用,也算这箱“可口可乐”买得没有白费。只是工作的事仍没有着落,仍是小林和小林老婆继续窝心的问题。

    3

    The Lins have guests today. Young Lin knows it as soon as he walks down the corridor after work, for their door is wide open and the coughing of people from his hometown can be heard. Sure enough, as he steps through the door he sees two of them sitting on the bed in the inner room. They are burnt black from the sun and blue veins stand out on their foreheads. A few canvas bags with the late Chairman Mao's quotations printed on them lie at their feet. The two are smoking and coughing away. The floor is covered with ash and phlegm which they drop and spit about without hesitation. Irritated by the smoke, his little daughter is also coughing and running around in the smoke. Until now, Young Lin has been in a good mood. The newly assigned head of office, Old Guan, though usually very serious in appearance, is actually not a man of ill will. In the discussion about seasonal awards, he decided to give Young Lin a first-grade award. That means an extra fifty yuan. Fifty yuan isn't much, but it's better than nothing. Young Lin can give his wife some happy moments with it. As he hurried home he hadn't expected to see two folks from his hometown instead of his wife. His good mood disappears in an instant, like a fire put out by a bucket of cold water. He should have felt happy to see his own folks. It would be nice just to sit together talking about the old days after so many years of separation. But they come so often that he can't feel happy or want to talk about the past with them. On the contrary, these visits have become a burden. The guests should be entertained, shouldn't they? It would cost at least several dozens kuai each time. The family budget can't stand such frequent visits. Besides, these guests are different from old classmates and friends who will excuse you if they are not properly looked after. Although they are burned black with blue veins standing out on their foreheads, although they are from the countryside, the guests are very particular about courtesy.If not satisfactorily received, they'll be displeased and, say things against you when they go back home. According to them, if you live in Beijing, you are naturally obliged to entertain them. They don't understand that in Beijing Young Lin has the lowest economic status, one of those who have to queue for bean curd each morning. He cooks two more dishes for the meal just because guests have to be entertained. Seeing how they sometimes put on airs, Young Lin can't help feeling annoyed and amused simultaneously. What do you eat back home in the countryside? It would have been easier for him to handle if a meal is all that has to be provided. More often than not, the guests assign him different tasks to do after the meal, such as getting hold of goods and materials, securing chemical fertilizers, buying trucks, going to court and buying train tickets for their departure. Where is he to go to acquire the ability to fulfil all these tasks? He can't get his wife transferred to another work unit or even get his gift accepted. How can he possibly help others with a lawsuit or purchase of a truck? To get a train ticket, he has to queue at the Beijing railway station just like everybody does.

    Being concerned at first about saving face, he felt they would look down on him if he told them that he wasn't able to help them with any of those things, so he agreed to have a try. But more often than not, he tried to no avail. Although his former classmates had been assigned to work in different units, they were mere newcomers, far from a position in which they might exercise power. How could he possibly succeed? In the end losing face was unavoidable. Later he became wiser and learned to say "No, I can't do it!" It would make people look down upon him. It's true. But they would do so anyway, sooner or later. Allowing himself to be looked down upon sooner would save him a lot of trouble. Nevertheless, they keep on coming in a steady stream. A meal is the minimum he must provide.

    What makes the matter more complicated is that Young Lin's wife has an urban background. Relations in cities are much simpler than in the countryside and very few guests from her side visit them. By contrast, visitors from his side come all the time and they always stay for meals. What also makes Young Lin feel embarrassed is that being from the countryside, they don't pay attention to their manners. They flick cigarette ash and spit indiscriminately. To be fair, his wife can be counted as a liberal regarding these matters. In the beginning she kept silent. When the number of visitors grew and receiving them became more routine she felt she couldn't bear it. Later when they had guests again, she would assume an unhappy expression and wouldn't buy food or cook. He blamed his wife for not showing due respect for his feelings, but at the same time he also felt that his wife had good reason to be unhappy. He himself would have been the same if he was in his wife's shoes. So he blamed the guests for not bringing credit to his hometown, which consequently made people despise him, too. His hometown is like a big tail which the guests constantly raise to expose his shame and to serve as a reminder to people that he is from the countryside. The "Indian" woman, their neighbour opposite, once remarked: "Look at the countrified Lin family. It's full of rustics. " Young Lin's wife later got to hear the remark and was really upset by it. So he is in constant fear of more visitors from his hometown, especially when he leaves work for home each day. Sometimes he is at home, and he hears an accent other than a Beijing one which puts him on tenterhooks, and he rushes to the balcony to find out whether "the accent" is approaching his stairway. Only after he has confirmed that it isn't can he breathe. Although he doesn't want visitors from his hometown, he does wish that some would come from his wife's side. If any should come, he appears unusually warm toward them so as to offset the constant visits from his own side and make his wife feel psychologically balanced. But few of his wife's relatives come to visit and he always has a guilty conscience. His parents didn't understand Young Lin's feelings about the visitors. They felt that they could flaunt their son being in Beijing and would say: "My son's in Beijing. Go and ask him for help." Young Lin found it hard for him to be cold toward these visitors. After a long stretch of frequent visits, he realized that the warmer he was, the more visitors he had. He learned his lesson and ceased to be warm any more, which made the folks from home feel slighted and displeased. Back home, they would accuse him of having forgotten his origins. If they think he has forgotten them, well, he has forgotten them. What's there in his origins worth yearning for? He wrote to his parents telling them that he was very busy and hard up, too. He asked them not to parade him and his home in front of people. When he had finished writing the letter, he showed it to his wife. But she didn't show any gratitude. Spitting at the floor, she said:

    "If I had known that your family was like that, I wouldn't have married you!"

    Young Lin flared up. Pointing at his wife, he shouted:

    "I explained to you my family background. You said you didn't mind. Why do you talk as if I've cheated you!"

    Despite their quarrels, visitors arrive as usual. Because they will come despite anything, his wife gradually gets used to them. Once she does, the visits become second nature to her. She reveals no more than an unhappy face. Young Lin is satisfied and conscientious: to a meal for his guests, he adds nothing but two popular dishes, one of them fish or chicken, and no alcohol. If they are displeased, so be it. It's better that than an unhappy wife.

    However, this time Young Lin feels he simply can't add just two dishes for today's guests. One of them is old and the other young. At first he did not recognize them and asked which village they were from. On hearing the old man's voice, he knew him at once as his primary school teacher. His surname is Du. Young Lin studied with him for five years. He taught mathematics and Chinese. One winter, being a mischievous boy, Young Lin stole out of the classroom during a self-study period to play on the ice. The ice broke and he fell into the water. After he was rescued, the teacher didn't scold him. Instead, he quickly took off Young Lin's wet clothes and wrapped him in his own padded coat. The good teacher is now in his home after more than ten years' separation. Young Lin cannot help feeling excited. He walks over to shake hands with him: "Teacher!"

    Seeing how pleased he is, the teacher becomes pleased too. Holding his hand, he said: "Young Lin! I wouldn't recognize you if I met you in the street. "

    He hastily introduces the young man as his son.

    After the excitement has died down, Young Lin asks his teacher what they've come to Beijing for. The answer makes him worry. His teacher has been suffering from pulmonary emphysema. The hospital in their hometown is a low level one and cannot tell for certain whether his disease has degenerated into lung cancer. Of all his students, Young Lin has turned out the best in terms of where he is working, Beijing. And so, accompanied by his son, he has come to Young Lin for help to recommend a hospital that will diagnose his disease. If it is cancer, he'd better stay in hospital for treatment.If it's pulmonary emphysema, he hopes to have an operation. Thinking hard, Young Lin says: "Let's take time to discuss it. Let's take time to discuss it. "

    But he cannot think of a suitable hospital. At this moment the door opens. His wife has come back from work. Looking at his watch, he sees it's already 7:30. Seeing his wife, he worries again. Closely watching his wife's expression, he introduces the two parties to each other. Of course his wife doesn't look pleased at seeing the guests and the room full of smoke and spit. She merely nods her head and goes to the kitchen. A moment later, a quarrel is heard. His wife is blaming the childminder. It's already 7:30 pm. Why has nothing been prepared for the child? Young Lin knows the blame is meant for his ears. He is to blame for his carelessness. Engaged in conversation with his teacher, he forgot to ask the childminder to cook for the child first. Young Lin, his wife, the childminder, the child plus the two guests, there are six of them for dinner. But the dinner is nowhere near ready. So he asks his teacher to sit for a while and then goes to the kitchen to explain to his wife. First of all, he takes out the fifty yuan awarded by his work unit as a present for her. Then he explains that he really can do nothing about it. Unlike other visitors, this is his former primary school teacher. Just cook a meal for them and that is all. His wife knocks the five notes out of his hand and says:

    "Damn it! Who hasn't got a teacher! How can I take care of a teacher when my child is waiting for a meal!"

    Pulling at her, he says: "Lower your voice. They'll hear you!"

    She raises her voice even more: "Let them hear it! Guests come almost every day. I'm not running a hotel. I can't stand it any longer if it goes on like this!" Then she leans against the edge of the sink and bursts into tears.

    Young Lin is in a towering rage. But it's no use flying off the handle now. His guests are still waiting in the inner room, he has to go back and keep his teacher company. Evidently the teacher has heard their quarrelling. After all his teacher is a cultured man, unlike the other folks from hometown who put on airs if not properly entertained. He immediately declares loudly: "Don't bother, Young Lin. We've had our dinner already. We are staying in an underground hotel in Jinsong. We just wanted to see you and bring you some local products. We must leave after this cup of tea. We'll miss the bus if we stay late!"

    He zips open a canvas bag and lets his son take two big tins of sesame oil to the kitchen.

    Young Lin feels this is even harder to bear. He is sure his teacher hasn't had dinner yet. What he just said is deliberately for his wife's ears for fear that Young Lin will feel awkward. Maybe the two tins of sesame oil have worked or his wife has found her conscience again. Anyway, she cooks for them and has done well: Four dishes, one of which, fried shrimp meat, is usually meant for their child. They finish the meal and Young Lin sees his teacher and the son off. On the way the teacher keeps saying:

    "I have troubled you with my visit. I didn't plan to come but my wife kept persuading me so I came."

    He cannot help feeling sad when he sees his teacher's grey hair, halting steps and the wrinkles in his face full of dust. He didn't give his teacher time to wash his face. He says:

    "Teacher, you are ill. You need to come to Beijing for treatment. Let me first look for a cheap hotel for you to stay and tomorrow I'll go and look for a hospital."

    The old man stops him with his hand:

    "Don't bother about me. I've got another way." He takes off his cap and produces a slip of paper. "I was afraid that I wouldn't find you so I went to Section Chief Li of the County Education Bureau. A former classmate of his is head of department of a big work unit. Look! He has written a letter for me! This man is such a high-ranking cadre. I'm sure he'll be able to help me!"

    On hearing this, Young Lin doesn't insist. For if he tries, he can't be sure of finding a good hospital, and he may only waste his teacher's time. Better let them go and ask the head of department for help. So he sees his teacher off on a public bus and says goodbye. The bus drives away with his teacher still waving to him in the distance, all smiles, even when he is lurching backwards and forwards from the sudden stops and starts. Tears well up in Young Lin's eyes. His teacher smiled at him just as he did when he was in the primary school. After the bus is out of sight, he walks back home alone. He now feels weighed down as if a mountain is resting on his back. With every step he is at a risk of being crushed.

    The next morning, Young Lin reads the newspaper in his office and sees a memorial article for a great leader who passed away many years ago. The article elaborates on how much this leader respected his teachers and concerned himself with education. He once sent for two of the teachers who had taught him in his early youth, the only two who were still alive, arranged for them to stay in the best place in Beijing and showed them around the whole city. Young Lin thinks highly of the late leader. But now when he reads the article, he can't hold back his curses:

    "Who doesn't want to respect one's teachers and show concern for education! I would love to let my teachers stay in the best place and show them around Beijing, too. Do I have the power to do so?"

    He throws the newspaper into a dustbin.



    家里来了客人。小林晚上下班回来,一进楼道,就知道家里来了客人。因为他家的门大开着,里边传出外地老家人的咳嗽声。等小林回到家,果然,里间床上正坐着两个皮肤晒得焦黑、头上暴着青筋的老家人,脚边放着几个七十年代的帆布包,提包上还印着毛主席语录。两个人正在不住地抽烟,咳嗽,毫不犹豫地将烟灰和痰弹吐了一地。小林的小女儿也被烟呛得不住地咳嗽,在烟雾里乱跑。小林本来今天心情不错,办公室新到处长老关,别看平时一脸严肃,原来对人却没坏心眼,季度评奖,给小林评了个头奖,多发给他五十块钱。虽然五十块钱不算什么,但多五十总比少五十强,拿回来总能买老婆个高兴。谁知兴冲冲回家,老婆还没下班,家里却来了两个老家人。小林像被兜头浇了一桶凉水,一天的好兴致,立即跑得无影无踪。本来老家来人应该高兴,多年不见的乡亲,见了叙叙旧也没什么不可,但老家经常来人,就高兴叙旧不起来,反过来倒成了一种负担。家里来人不得招待?招待一次就得几十块钱。经常来人,家庭就受不了。老家来人和别的同学朋友来还不一样,别看老家来的人焦黑、头上暴着青筋,是农村人,但农村人比城里人礼还多,同学朋友招待不好人家可以原谅,这些农村人招待不好他反倒不高兴,回到老家说你。他们认为你在北京,来到北京理应该你招待,全不知小林在北京也是社会的最低层,也整天清早排队买豆腐,只是客人来了,才多加两个菜。有时小林看老家人那故作傲慢的样子,不禁又好气又好笑:你们在家才吃什么!老家人来,如果单是吃一顿饭,还好应付,往往吃过饭,他们还要交代许多事让小林办。搞物资、搞化肥、买汽车、打官司,走时还让小林给买火车票。小林哪里有那么强的办事能力!自己老婆的工作都办不了,送礼人家都不收,还能给别人打官司、买汽车?买火车票小林照样得去北京站排队。一开始小林爱面子,总觉得如说自己什么都不能办,也让家乡人看不起,就答应试一试,但往往试一试也是白试,虽然有些同学分到了不同的单位,但都是刚到单位不久,还没到掌权的地步,哪里办得成?免不了回头还是尴尬。后来渐渐学聪明了,学会了说“不,这事我办不了!”当然说这话人家会看不起,但看不起是早晚的事,早看不起倒可以省下麻烦。但老家仍是源源不断来人,来了起码吃你一顿饭。问题的复杂性还在于,小林老婆是城市人,城市到底比农村关系简单,来的人很少。人家家老不来人,自己家老来人,来了就要吃饭,农村人又不讲究,到处弹烟灰吐痰,也让小林不好意思。按说小林老婆在这方面还算开通,一开始来人不说什么,后来多了,成了常事,成了日常工作,人家就受不了,来了客人就脸色不好,也不去买菜,也不去下厨房。小林虽然怪老婆不给自己面子,但人家生气得也有道理,两人如倒个个儿,小林也会不高兴。于是除了责备妻子,也怪自己老家不争气,捎带自己让人也看不起。老家如同一个大尾巴,时不时要掀开让人看看羞处,让人不忘记你仍是一个农村人。对门印度女人就说过,看他们家那土样,一家子农村人。弄得小林老婆很不高兴。所以小林时常提心吊胆,一到下班,就担心今天老家是否来人了?有时在家里坐,一听院子里有人说外地口音,他就心惊胆战,忙跑到阳台上看,看这外地口音是否进了自己的门洞,如不是进这门洞,才松一口气。虽然小林不盼望自己老家来人,却盼望老婆那边来人。那边如也来人,小林故意热情些,也可抵消一些自己这边来人,让老婆心里平衡一些,但人家来人少,让小林时刻亏着心。老家的父母也不懂小林心情,觉得自己儿子在北京,是个可炫耀的事情,时常说:“我儿子在北京,你们找他去!”人家来了,小林就不能不热情。后来时间长了,小林发觉你越热情,来的人越多,小林学聪明了,就不再热情。不热情怠慢人家,人家就不高兴,回去说你忘本。但忘本也就忘本,这个本有什么可留恋的!小林也给自己父母写信,说我这里也很忙,经济很难,以后不要图你们面子好看,故意往这里介绍人。信写好以后,小林还故意让老婆看了看,老婆没领他这个情,照地下吐了一口唾沫:

    “早知道你家是这样,当初我就不会嫁你!”

    小林马上火了,指着老婆说:

    “当初我也把家庭情况向你说了,你说不在乎,照你这么说,好像我欺骗你!”

    但斗气归斗气,家里还是照常来人。因人照常来,久而久之小林老婆也习惯了,习惯了就自然了。无非是脸色不高兴。这就使小林很满意。小林也自觉,客人来了,吃饭只加两个大路菜,无非是一条鱼,或一只鸡,没有酒水。老家人不满意,只好让他不满意,总比让老婆不满意要好。

    但今天来的两个客人,使小林觉得只加两个菜绝对说不过去。这两个人一个老头子,一个年轻人,一开始小林没有认出来,上去问他们是哪个村的,听那老头子一说话,小林认出来了,是自己小学时的老师。这老师姓杜,小林上小学时,跟他学了五年,杜老师既教数学,又教语文。一年冬天小林捣蛋,上自习跑出去玩冰,冰炸了,小林掉到了冰窟窿里。被救上来,老师也没吵他,还忙将湿衣裳给他脱下来,将自己的大棉袄给他披上。这样的老师,十几年没见,现在到了自己门上,如何使小林不激动?小林上去握住他的手:

    “老师!”

    老师见他激动,也激动起来,拉住小林说:

    “小林!街上遇到你,肯定我认不出来!”

    又忙把年轻人向他介绍,说是自己的儿子。

    大家激动过,小林问老师来北京的意思。老师把意思一说,小林又有些胆战心惊,原来老师得了肺气肿,到底发展没发展成肺癌,老家医院水平低,诊断不出来,这时老师想起他培养的学生,还就数小林混得高,混到了北京,于是带儿子来投奔他,想让他找个医院给确诊确诊。如果是癌症,最好能住院治疗;如果不是癌症是肺气肿,也望能做一下手术。小林一边说:

    “咱慢慢商量,咱慢慢商量!”

    一边转动脑筋。可北京哪里有他熟悉的医院?这时门开了,小林老婆下班回来。小林一看表,已是晚上七点半。小林见了老婆又是一番胆战心惊,一边看老婆的脸色,一边向老婆介绍,这是自己的老师和老师的儿子,这是自己的爱人。老婆见又来了一屋人,屋里烟气冲天,痰迹遍地,当然不会有好脸色,只是点点头,就进了厨房。一会儿,厨房就传来吵声,老婆在责备保姆,都七点半了,怎么还没给孩子弄饭?小林知道那责备声是冲着自己,也怪自己大意,只顾跟老师聊天,忘了交代保姆先给孩子弄饭。何况来了两个客人,加上小林、小林老婆、保姆、孩子,一下成了六口人,这饭还没准备呢。于是就让老师先坐着,自己去厨房给老婆解释。解释之前,他先掏出今天单位发的五十块钱,作为晋见礼;然后又解释说,实在没办法,这是自己小学时的老师,不同别人,好歹给弄顿饭,招待过去就完。谁知老婆一把将五张人民币打飞了,说:

    “去你妈的,谁没有老师!我孩子还没吃饭,哪里管得上老师了!”

    小林拉她:

    “你小声点,让人听见!”

    小林老婆更大声说:

    “听见怎么了,三天两头来人,我这里不是旅馆!再这样下去,我实在受不了了!”

    就坐在厨房的水池上落泪。

    小林怒火一股股往头上冲。但现在生气也不是办法,客人还在里间坐着,只好先退出来,又去陪老师。但看老师的样子,已经听见了他们的争吵。老师到底有文化,不比别的老家人,招待不好故意傲慢,马上大声说:

    “小林你不必忙,俺已经在外面吃过饭了,俺住在劲松地下旅馆,也就是来看看你,给你带了点老家土产,喝了这杯水,俺就该走了,晚了怕坐不上车!”

    接着拉开了帆布提包,让儿子把两桶香油送到了厨房。

    小林感到心中更加不忍。他知道老师肯定没有吃饭,只是怕他为难,故意说这话给他老婆听。也许是两桶香油起了作用,也许是老婆觉悟过来,饭到底还是做了,做得还不错,四个菜,把孩子吃的虾仁都炒了一盘。好歹吃完饭,小林将老师和他儿子送出门。路上老师一个劲儿地说:

    “我一来,给你添了麻烦。本来我不想来,可你师母老劝我来看看你,就来了!”

    小林看着老师的满头白发,蹒跚的步子,脸上皱褶里都是土,自己也没有让他在家洗洗脸,心里不禁一阵辛酸,说:

    “老师身体有病,该来北京看看。我先给你们找个便宜旅馆住下,明天我就去给老师找医院!”

    老头子忙用手止住小林:

    “你忙你的,我还有办法!”

    接着摘下帽子,从里边拿出一张纸条:

    “来时怕找不到你,我找了县教育局李科长。李科长有一同学,在某大机关当司长,看,都给我写了信!我投奔他,他那么大的干部,肯定有办法!”

    老师话说到这里,小林就不再坚持。因让他找医院,他也肯定找不出什么好医院,是瞎耽误老师的时间,还不如让人家去找司长。于是就只好将老师和他儿子送到公共汽车上,和他们再见。看着公共汽车开远,老师还在车上微笑着向他挥手,车猛地一停一开,老头子身子前后乱晃,仍不忘向他挥手,小林的泪刷刷地涌了出来。自己小时上学,老师不就是这么笑?等公共汽车开得看不见了,小林一个人往回走,这时感到身上沉重极了,像有座山在身上背着,走不了几步,随时都有被压垮的危险。

    第二天上班,小林在办公室看报纸,看到一篇悼念文章,悼念一位已经死去好多年的大人物,说大人物生前如何尊师爱教,曾把他过去少年时代仅存的两个老师接到北京,住在最好的地方,逛了整个北京。小林本来对这位死去的大人物印象不错,现在也禁不住骂道:

    “谁不想尊师重教?我也想让老师住最好的地方,逛整个北京,可得有这条件!”

    就把这张报纸扔到了废纸篓里。

    4

    The child falls ill. She has a running nose and a cough. The wife says: "Your teacher had pulmonary emphysema when he visited us. Perhaps he's given it to our child."

    Young Lin also worries a lot whenever the girl falls ill. Her illness makes a great difference to the family. When she is ill, one of them at least, either him or his wife, has to ask for leave to stay at home and look after her. The childminder alone is not good enough over such a period. But on hearing his wife wildly blaming his teacher, his indignation is greatly aroused. As a punishment after his teacher left, Young Lin didn't talk to her for two days, because she had hurt his feelings by embarrassing him in his teacher's presence. For that meal you prepared, my teacher paid two big tins of sesame oil weighing about five kilos. At the free market in Beijing sesame oil is sold at eight yuan per half kilo. Five kilo means over eighty yuan. Was your meal worth that much? When she uses the sesame oil his wife also looks ashamed for a few days. She too feels she went too far. Now that the child is sick, she wants to take it out on her husband and retaliate using his teacher as a pretext. Young Lin is not polite to her. He says:

    "Better check the child's illness first. What if it's not pulmonary emphysema? Isn't it immoral to blame a person without any proof?"

    So the two of them ask for leave and take the child to hospital. It's no simple matter to have a diagnosis done. Basically, one thing is needed: money. For a child to see a doctor these days, twenty to thirty yuan is the minimum cost, including unnecessary medical tests and prescriptions. Young Lin feels that life is bearable if people in other occupations become dishonest, but unbearable if doctors are dishonest, too. Once his child had a runny tummy, going to the hospital cost him seventy-five yuan. It's true. Annoyed and amused at the same time, his wife asked him while shaking her both hands:

    "Is the excrement worth seventy-five yuan?"

    Each time they take the child to hospital, they feel they have been cheated.

    But there is no alternative, they have to go. Take the present situation for example. On their way to the hospital, the child's temperature has gone up. The couple forget to accuse each other, forget that they are going to be cheated again. All their attention is on the child and they hurry to catch a bus to the hospital.

    A check shows that it is nothing but a cold. Yet they are informed at the cash desk of the hospital pharmacy that the charge for the prescription is 45.58 yuan. Shaking the prescription, his wife says:

    "Look. Got ripped off again. Shall we pay for the medicine or not?"

    He does not reply. Just now he was anxious that for some unknown reason the child was running a high fever. He was not sure whether it was contracted from his teacher. Now the diagnosis reveals that it is just a cold. He feels relieved. At the same time he begins to feel indignant again with his wife. You said that it was because my teacher had an infectious disease. Hasn't the diagnosis proved that it's a cold? He wants to have the matter out with her before tackling the question of having been ripped off or not. Seeing the crowd of people queuing at the pharmacy and lots more coming and going, he feels this is not the right place to discuss things. That's why he didn't reply. Full of resentment he just says to her:

    "Don't come if you are afraid of being ripped off. Who asked you to come and forced you to pay for the medicine?"

    His wife picks up the child at once: "If that's what you think, I won't take the medicine!" She starts to walk away.

    She acts rashly when she feels wronged and Young Lin is worried. He knows what his wife is like. If she heads in one direction, not even the most strenuous effort will be able to turn her around. How will they treat the child without medicine when they're back home? So he hurries after her and blocks her way, saying:

    "Why? Come on! When it comes to such a matter, you can't act this way. Give the prescription to me."

    But this time his wife is not acting out of a grudge. She looks at him and declares:

    "We won't buy the medicine. Isn't it just a cold? There is still some leftover from the medicine I got from my work unit the last time I caught a cold. The child can take some of that. The prescription will probably just be Cefalexin tablets, Chinese medicine to be taken with boiling water, antipyretic pills and the like. That's all you'll get even though you spend more money."

    Young Lin retorts: "Your medicine is for adults. For children there should be something different."

    His wife assures him: "There's nothing different. You give a child a smaller dose. Leave it to me. I can cure her within three days and save the forty-five yuan. When the medicine is finished, I'll ask my unit for more."

    Young Lin feels that what his wife has said is reasonable. He feels the child's forehead and finds the temperature has dropped, but he doesn't know whether it is because of the sleep she has just had or because of the hospital smell. Her eyes are bright again. She points at the Hami melons on a stall opposite the hospital and asks for some. Now that the case is less serious, Young Lin thinks it's alright to give his wife's idea a go. So they leave the hospital and buy the child a piece of Hami melon. After eating it, she is even more active and gets down to play with her father. She has even stopped coughing. He is happy, so is his wife.

    Now that they are happy, they relax. Young Lin won't take his wife's remark about his teacher's disease seriously any more. It was just a thoughtless grumble when she was too worried to keep her temper. Now he has straightened out his thinking. The child's illness is not serious and his wife's bright idea has saved forty-five yuan on medicine. Isn't that as good as earning forty-five yuan for nothing? The thought makes them even more cheerful. Young Lin feels like giving his wife a treat. As they pass through the street full of stalls selling snacks, he turns to her:

    "You like stir-fried liver, don't you? Why not have a bowl?"

    His wife tut-tuts, saying: "One yuan fifty a bowl just for fun. It's not worth it."

    He immediately takes one yuan fifty out of his pocket and hands it over to the vendor: "A bowl of stir-fried liver, please."

    His wife glances at him with embarrassment, then sits down to eat it. The way she eats the stuff shows she really loves it. She even puts into her mouth the two pieces which the child spits out when she finds them too hard to chew. She insists that Young Lin has a taste of the soup. He isn't too keen, to him it looks like a bowl of muck. But his wife keeps offering it in gentle, soft voices and with eyes full of tenderness as she had been before they got married, so he has to take a mouthful. In a hot, coriander-flavoured soup, it tastes delicious. When his wife asks him what he thinks, he answers that it is nice. She glances at him affectionately. He didn't expect a bowl of fried liver could make them relive the tender feelings of the past. The feelings are kept till the evening. The child is not seriously ill so she plays by herself after her mother has given her some medicine. By the evening, she stops coughing and sleeps soundly. When the snoring of the childminder is heard from the outer room, Young Lin and his wife are both filled with passion. It is just as good as when they were newly married. Afterwards, caressing each other, they have a chat about the cause of their child's illness. The wife freely admits in her anxiety she wronged his teacher today. He replies, "We are to blame for not having taken good care of the little thing so that the quilt was kicked aside and left off all night." His wife says that it is not the points. There is only one person to blame. His heart misses a beat and asks who she is referring to. His wife points toward the hall, the outer room—she means the childminder. Then she recounts the childminder's faults: She's too concerned with what she can get out of us, she takes no initiative in doing the chores, and dawdles over her work, she's always visiting the childminders' dormitories and tells everyone our family secrets, she doesn't even have any feelings toward the child. She lets her play alone with water while she takes a nap or watches TV when we are working. How can our daughter avoid catching a cold? His wife says she is determined to dismiss the childminder by September when the child can start going to nursery.

    The next morning Young Lin feels their feelings about the childminder were right. As usual, his wife goes off early to work while he goes to queue for bean curd. He should have gone to work after that but because it is drizzling and not so many people came to buy bean curd, it doesn't take as long today. Glancing at his watch, he finds that he still has some time to spare. Concerned about the child's illness, he goes back home again to have a look but discovers that childminder is busy cooking for herself. The bed hasn't been made, the child's breakfast hasn't been prepared and she hasn't had her medicine. The nanny has let the child play with a basin of water with which she washed her face. Early that morning, Young Lin and his wife just ate some food leftover from the day before. They added some hot water and washed it down with pickled vegetable. It is all right for the childminder to cook porridge since she doesn't eat leftovers. But instead, she is cooking fine noodles in the small wok which is meant for cooking the child's meals. A delicious smell greets him as he enters the room. She has put coriander, dried bean curd and an egg in the noodle soup. Seeing Young Lin return unexpectedly, she hurriedly tries to hide the egg under the noodles with her chopsticks. However, he has already seen it. He feels himself bristling with anger. Isn't she trying to fool us by secretly cooking nice meals for herself while neglecting the child? Things are not easy for you, neither are they for us. We are wrong to blame you for everything, that's true, but you don't merit the slightest respect, understanding or sympathy if you yourself are not in the least conscientious. But he does not censure the childminder. Usually, catching her red-handed would be a handy opportunity to criticize her to her face. It would give him the great satisfaction of revenge. But the childminder is just like that. You cannot be sure that she won't take it out on the child after you go. How could he bear to let the child suffer because of his action? So he just furiously seizes the basin of water which the child is playing with and pours it into the lavatory bowl. The child's nose is running again. Because the water has been taken away, she rocks herself on the floor and cries. He doesn't take any notice of that. He goes off to work, slamming the door behind him. As he hurries down the stairs, he curses to himself: "Damn you! I'll make sure you're gone by September!"

    Back home from work that evening, he finds the child's cold seems to have worsened. Her nose is blocked and she keeps coughing. Her temperature has also risen. He knows that it all has to do with the childminder's mischief today. But he doesn't dare to tell his wife. If he does, a mighty uproar will be inevitable. His wife, however, looks happy. She doesn't even care that the child's illness has worsened. He doesn't know why. She is sitting on the edge of the bed, deep in thought. There must be some good news for her to have such an expression. Peering into the kitchen, he is not surprised to see his wife has brought home some sausage. That is not all, either. There is a bottle of "Yanjing" brand beer, no doubt for him. He loved beer when he was single. After they got married, he gradually stopped. Why drink it at the cost of over one yuan a bottle? Granted that money is not to be worried about, but who would be in the mood to drink it? Ignorant of his wife's thoughts today, Young Lin goes into the inner room and asks: "Hey, what's happened to you today?"

    His wife just chuckles at him.

    "What are you giggling for? Tell me."

    His wife answers: "Well, Young Lin, let me tell you.

    The problem about my work is solved!"

    He is taken aback. "What? Solved? Did you go to the unit in Qiansanmen again? Has the head of personnel agreed?"

    His wife shakes her head.

    He asks again: "Have you found another unit to go to?"

    His wife shakes her head again.

    He can't help feeling disappointed: "Then what's been solved?"

    His wife replies: "I'll stay in this unit."

    Young Lin asks: "Why? Have you developed some feelings towards the unit? Aren't you worried about the overcrowded buses any more?"

    The wife says, "Feelings are out of the question but soon I won't have to catch the public bus. The head of our unit announced that a shuttle bus will run past here from September onwards. So you see, I can get to the unit by the shuttle bus in forty minutes, and it won't be necessary to catch the overcrowded public buses. It will be the unit's special bus with seats available during the trip. Isn't it even better than going to Qiansanmen on the crowded underground? Young Lin, I have sorted myself out. If the shuttle bus runs this route in September, I won't try to get a transfer. It is true that my present unit is not good, with lots of complicated relationships; but who can be sure that relations at Qiansanmen are good? Just look at the head of personnel there! You've convinced me:  'All crows are black.' I will stick to my unit as long as the shuttle bus runs. I'll just drift along, turning a blind eye to things. So I can say that my work problem is solved, can't I?"

    At his wife's explanation, Young Lin is also happy. It has been a major family issue which they have constantly worried about and often been at odds. Now at long last it is settled. Although the solution is actually based on a lack of solution, his wife's mind will be set at rest and she'll no longer worry about it. The causes of her agitation will be removed, which in turn will ensure there are no more conflicts about it at home. The problem has been solved so easily in such a simple way, it seems. Relying on themselves, Young Lin and his wife have asked for favours and presented gifts only to find themselves repeatedly being foiled at every turn. In the end, a shuttle bus dispatched by the unit solves everything easily. Young Lin, like his wife, is cheerful:

    "That's great. Since the problem no longer exists you won't stir up trouble for me in the future, will you?"

    His wife replies: "Yes, it no longer exists." Then she pretends to rebuke him: "Who has been stirring up trouble but you? How can you blame me when you can't even find a solution yourself? Didn't I solve it all by myself in the end? Let's just wait for September."

    Young Lin agrees: "That's right. You've solved it yourself.

    Let's just look forward to September."

    They are all in a good mood. The child's illness is under control. They have beer at dinner. After the child and the childminder have gone to sleep, they enjoy themselves once more, again full of passion. Afterwards, they both feel embarrassed. They did it yesterday and today too. It's been a long time since they did it so frequently. Then, caressing each other they chat again about September. September is really a lucky month, the wife's work problem will be solved, and the child will be able to go to a nursery, so the childminder can go saving the family a large sum of money. They look forward to the future, to the happy days September will bring them, and they discuss what they'll spend the money they save on. Then the wife raises doubts as to whether they should let the child stay at home another year before going to nursery because she'll still be too young. In this case they should keep the childminder on till next year. Recalling the childminder's ill-doing this morning, Young Lin exclaims: "No! It must be this year, for the child's sake. Get rid of her as soon as possible."

    The wife has not been on good terms with the nanny. Hearing Young Lin's words, the wife is quite glad and gives Young Lin a kiss. Then she falls asleep soon.



    孩子病了。流鼻涕,咳嗽。老婆说:

    “你老师有肺气肿,上次他来咱们家一次,是不是把孩子给传染上了?”

    孩子有病,小林也很着急。孩子一病,和不病时大不一样,小林和小林老婆,起码得一个人请假在家照顾。这时单靠保姆是不行的。但老婆胡乱联系,又责备他的老师,使小林心里很愤怒。上次老师走后,小林两天没理老婆,怪她破坏他的情感,当着老师的面让他下不来台。人家吃了你一顿饭,却给你提来两桶香油,两桶香油有十斤,现在北京自由市场一斤香油卖八块,十斤就是八十多块,你一顿饭值八十吗?两天来吃着老师的香油,老婆也面有愧色,也觉自己做得太过分。但现在孩子病了,她有气无处撒,又想反攻倒算,拿小林的老师做码子,小林就有些不客气,说:

    “孩子有病,还是先检查。如检查出不是肺气肿传染,你提前这么责备人家,不就不道德了吗?”

    于是两人都请假,带孩子去医院检查。但检查是好检查的?说来说去还是一个字:钱。现在给孩子看一次病,出手就要二三十;不该化验的化验,不该开的药乱开。小林觉得,别人不诚实可以,连医生都这么不诚实了,这还叫人怎么活?一次孩子拉稀,看下来硬是要了七十五。小林老婆又好气又好笑,抖着双手向小林说:

    “一泡屎值七十五?”

    每次给孩子看完病,小林和小林老婆都觉得是来上当。但孩子一病,这个当你还非上不可。你别无选择。譬如现在,路上孩子又有些发烧,温度还挺高,这时两人都忘记了相互指责,忘记了是去上当,精力都集中到孩子身上,于是加快步伐挤车去医院。到医院一检查,原来也无非是感冒。但拿着药单子到药房窗口一划价:四十五块五毛八。

    小林老婆抖着单子说:“看,又宰人了吧!你说,这药还拿不拿!”

    小林没“说”,也没理她。刚才小林有些着急,小孩发烧那么高,不知出了什么问题,不知是不是老师给传染了,现在诊断出是感冒,小林就放了心。放心以后,小林又开始愤怒:刚才你断定是我的老师传染,现在经过医院诊断,不成感冒了?小林本想跟她先理论理论这事,再说宰人不宰人的事,但看到药房前边排队的人很多,来往的人也很多,这个场合理论不对,就没有理她,只是没好气地向老婆说:

    “怕宰人就别来呀,人家谁请你非拿药不可了?”

    老婆马上抱起孩子:

    “照这么说,我就真不拿药了!”

    抱起孩子就走。看着老婆赌气不拿药,小林倒着了急。他知道老婆的脾气,赌上气九头牛拉不回来。赌气不拿药,回家孩子怎么办?忙又撵出去,拦住老婆:

    “哎,哎,这事你还能真赌气呀,把药单子给我!”

    谁知老婆这次不是赌气,她看着小林说:

    “这药不拿了,不就是感冒吗?上次我感冒从单位拿的药还没吃完,让她吃点不就行了?大不了就是‘先锋’、‘冲剂’、退烧片之类,再花钱不也是这个!”

    小林说:

    “那是大人药,大人小孩不一样!”

    小林老婆说:

    “怎么不一样,少吃一点就是了。这事你别管,不花四十五块,我也能让孩子三天好了。药吃完我再到单位要!”

    小林觉得老婆说的也有道理。他用手摸了摸女儿的头,不知是孩子刚刚睡醒的缘故,还是嗅到了医院的味道,烧突然又退了下去。眼睛也有神了,指着医院对面的“哈密瓜”要吃。看情况有些缓解,小林觉得老婆的办法也可试一试。于是就跟老婆一块出医院,给孩子买了一块“哈密瓜”。吃了一块“哈密瓜”,孩子更加活泼,连咳嗽一时也不咳了,跳到地上拉着小林的手玩。小林高兴,老婆也高兴。大家一高兴,心胸也就开阔了,小林也不再追究老婆说过老师传染不传染的话了,那都是着急时没有办法乱发的火,不足为凭。既然不追究了,孩子的病也确诊了,老婆想出办法,看病又省下四十五块钱,这不等于白白收入?大家心情更开朗。小林对老婆也关心了。路过小吃街,小林对老婆说:

    “你不是爱吃炒肝,吃一碗吧!”

    小林老婆咂吧咂吧嘴说:

    “一块五一碗,也就吃着玩,多不划算!”

    小林马上掏出一块五,递给摊主:

    “来一碗炒肝!”

    炒肝端上来,小林老婆不好意思地看了小林一眼,就坐下吃起来。看她吃的爱惜样子,这炒肝她是真爱吃。她拣了两节肠子给孩子吃。孩子嚼不动又吐出来,她忙又扔到自己嘴里吃了。她一定让小林尝尝汤儿,小林害怕肠,以为肠汤一定不好喝,但禁不住老婆一次一次劝,老婆的声音并且变得很温柔,眼神很多情,像回到了当初没结婚正谈恋爱的时候,小林只好尝了一口。汤里有香菜,热腾腾的,汤的味道果然不错。老婆问他味道怎么样,他说味道不错,老婆又多情地看了他一眼。想不到一碗炒肝,使两人重温了过去的温暖。这种情绪一直持续到晚上。因孩子病得不重,回家后老婆让她吃了药,她就自己玩去了。晚上也不咳了,睡得很死。等外间保姆传来鼾声,小林和小林老婆都很有激情。事情像新婚时一样好。事情过去以后,两人又相互抚摸着谈起了天,重新总结今天孩子病的原因。小林老婆主动承认错误,说今天一时性急,错怪了小林的老师。小林说既然不怪老师,就怪我们夜里没看好,让孩子踹了被子。老婆说也不怪夜里没看好,就怪一个人。小林心里一“咯噔”,问是谁,老婆用手指了指外间门厅。这是指保姆。接着老婆说了保姆一大堆不是,说保姆斤斤计较,干活不主动,交代的任务故意磨蹭,爱在保姆间乱串,爱泄露家中的机密;对孩子也不是真心实意,两人上班不在家,她让孩子一个人玩水,自己睡觉或看电视,孩子还有个不感冒的?等今年九月份,一定送孩子入托,把她辞出去。

    但等第二天早晨,小林又感到昨天对保姆的指责没有错。清早老婆上班,小林照常出去排豆腐。排完豆腐,小林本来应该去上班,但今天下着蒙蒙小雨,来排豆腐的人少,豆腐买得顺利,看看表,还有富裕时间,因惦着孩子感冒,就又回家看了一趟。回家后,发现保姆床也没叠,孩子的饭也没做,药也没喂,给了孩子一盆洗脸水让她玩,她呢,正在给自己鼓捣吃的。清早起来小林和小林老婆都吃的剩饭,把昨天的剩饭泡了泡,就着咸菜吃下了肚。保姆不吃剩饭,你再熬点新粥也就罢了,谁知她正在用给女儿做饭的小锅下挂面,进屋一股香气,她加了香菜,加了豆腐干,还卧里一个鸡蛋。保姆见他突然回来,也有些吃惊,忙用筷子将鸡蛋往面条底下捺。但不管怎么捺,还是让小林发现了。小林怒火一股股往脑门冲,这不是故意败坏人吗?起床孩子不弄,自己倒先偷着做好的吃。大家都不容易,我们背后议论你,把一切罪过归到你身上固然不对,但你也忒不自觉,忒不值得尊重和体谅。但小林没有再指责保姆。按说现在抓住了罪证,当面指责一顿十分痛快,但保姆是这种样子,你指责她一顿,岂敢保证你走了以后,她会不把气撒到孩子身上?孩子还不懂事,能让她再替你承担罪过?于是只是把孩子正在玩的保姆的洗脸水,气鼓鼓地夺过来倾到马桶里。孩子一玩水,又开始流鼻涕;水被夺走,便坐在地上拧着屁股哭。小林没理,摔上门就上班去了。边匆忙下楼边心里骂:

    “妈的,九月份一定让你滚蛋!”

    晚上下班回家,孩子的感冒似乎又加重了,鼻子齉齉的,一个劲咳嗽;摸摸头,烧也有点升上来。小林知道,这和保姆一天捣蛋肯定有关系。但他又不敢把清早保姆捣蛋的事告诉老婆,那样肯定会引起另一场轩然大波。不过,不知老婆今天怎么了,一脸喜色,对孩子病情加重也不在意,喜滋滋地自己坐在床前想心思。老婆一有这种脸色,肯定有好事。来厨房看看,果然,老婆买回来一节香肠。买了香肠不说,还买回来一瓶“燕京”啤酒。这肯定是给小林买的。过去单身汉时,小林最爱喝啤酒。自结婚以后,这种爱好渐渐就根除了。一瓶一块多,喝它干吗?就是不说钱,平时谁有喝啤酒的心思!小林摸不透老婆今天的心思,忙进里间问:

    “喂,你今天怎么了?”

    老婆“吃吃”地笑。

    小林感到有些奇怪:

    “你笑什么?说出来我听听!”

    老婆说:

    “小林,我告诉你,我的工作问题解决了!”

    小林吃了一惊:

    “什么?解决了?你去前三门单位了?管人事的头头答应了?”

    老婆摇摇头。

    小林问:

    “找到新的单位了?”

    老婆摇摇头。

    小林禁不住泄气:

    “那解决什么?”

    老婆说:

    “这工作我不调了!”

    小林说:

    “怎么不调了,你对单位又有感情了?你不怕挤公共汽车了?”

    小林老婆说:

    “感情谈不上,但以后不挤公共汽车了。我们单位的头头说,从九月份开始,往咱们这条线发一趟班车!你想,有了班车,我就不用挤公共汽车,四十分钟也到了。自己单位的班车,上车还有座位,这不比挤地铁去前三门单位还好?小林,我想通了,只要九月份通班车,我工作就不调了。这单位固然不好,人事关系复杂,但前三门那个单位就不复杂了?看那管人事头头的嘴脸!我信了你的话,天下的老鸦一般黑。只要有班车,我就不调了,睁只眼闭只眼混算了。这不是工作问题解决了!”

    小林听了老婆一番话,也很高兴。家中的一件大事,过去天天苦恼,时常为此闹矛盾,现在终于有了着落。虽然工作问题的解决实际上是以不解决为解决,但不管怎样,解决了老婆就安心了,就没有烦恼了,就不会情绪激动了,家里就不会再为此闹矛盾了。说来问题解决也简单,靠小林和小林老婆自己去求人,去送东西到处碰壁,最终解决无非是单位发了一趟班车。但不管怎么解决,小林也马上和老婆一样高兴起来,说:

    “好,好,这不以后不存在这问题了?你就不再跟我闹了?”

    老婆说:

    “是不存在呀!”

    又娇嗔道:

    “谁跟你闹了?你没有本事解决,还怪我跟你闹!最后不还是靠我自己解决!就等九月份了!”

    小林说:

    “是呀,是呀,是靠你自己解决,就等九月份!”

    大家情绪很好。孩子的病也压过去了。吃饭时大家喝了啤酒。晚上孩子保姆入睡,两人又欢乐了一次。欢乐时两人又很有激情。欢乐之后,两人都很不好意思。昨天欢乐,今天又欢乐,很长时间没这么勤了。接着两人又抚摸着谈心,说九月份。九月份真是个好日子,老婆工作问题解决,孩子入托辞退保姆,家里可省一大笔开支。两人又展望起未来,憧憬九月份的幸福日子,讨论节省下的开支如何使用。后来老婆又说,现在孩子还小,要不再让孩子在家呆一年,再用一年保姆,等明年再送孩子入托。小林想起早晨保姆的事,马上恶狠狠地说:

    “不,就今年,不为孩子,也为保姆,马上让她滚蛋!”

    老婆与保姆矛盾很深,听小林这么说,也很高兴,又亲了他一下,翻过身就睡着了。

    5

    It is September now. Two events are expected to take place in September. First, the shuttle bus starts running, and second, the child will begin nursery and so the childminder will be dismissed. The first is smoothly realized. On September 1, the route is served with a regular bus from the unit. At once, Young Lin's wife is much more relaxed. She no longer needs to go to work so early in the morning. In the past, she had to get up at six, otherwise she would be late for work. Now, she can sleep an extra hour and get up at seven. By 7:20 she is washed and dressed and can get on the shuttle bus at the gate without hurrying. There are seats on the bus, so she is not so tired. She can also get home earlier. Before, she came back by the light of the moon. But now, she finishes at five in the afternoon and is home by 5:40. She can have a rest before preparing dinner. At first she had been happy about the shuttle bus because she thought it showed the concern of her work unit's head for his staff, but later she found out this was not the case. Rather than kind concern, the reason was that a sister-in-law of the head had recently moved to the district and he had been pressurized by his wife to arrange a shuttle bus for her sister's convenience. When she heard this, Young Lin's wife was disheartened. She felt the value of the shuttle bus service had fallen and her happiness had been based on wrong assumptions. Returning home, she told her husband about it. He also felt awkward and rather humiliated—but not as humiliated as he had felt by the refusal of the personnel department head at Qiansanmen. So he tries to soothe his wife: "At all events, you can enjoy the shuttle bus, which is good. Don't worry about the cause of it, be it good or bad."

    His wife grumbles: "At first I thought every commuter had an equal right to the shuttle bus and it showed that our head cared for us. Who would have believed it was because of his sister-in-law? I'll have to think of her every time I use the bus, won't I?"

    He answers: "There's no way out! It's clear—you wouldn't have been able to enjoy the bus without that sister-in-law!"

    His wife says: "I feel awkward, like a second-class citizen, when riding that bus."

    He reproaches her: "You are still as naive as when you first graduated from university; What do you mean by second-class citizen? It's not that bad. Let me just ask you this: Isn't it better than a crowded public bus, even if it is associated with the head's sister-in-law?"

    His wife admits: "Well, it is."

    He continues: "Besides, it is not just you benefiting from this special relationship. Let me ask you again: Isn't the shuttle bus full of people every day?"

    His wife answers: "Oh yes, it's always full. It's no credit to any of us!"

    He rejoins: "No one else seems to be as principled as you are. Very well, then, you can go by public transport. Also, didn't you once try to curry favour for a job transfer? You were even stopped from entering the corridor with the present you were trying to bribe people with."

    His wife counters: "I just want to have a little grumble, but you've kept babbling on. I suppose what you've just said is true. Under these circumstances, what use is strength of character? No damn use at all so I'll simply enjoy the shuttle bus each day without thinking more about it."

    Young Lin claps his hands: "That's it!" His wife then starts being happy.

    But the second event is not as smooth. Finding a nursery for their child is not easy. There is no nursery in Young Lin's work unit, and while there is one at his wife's place of work, it is too far from home for a small child to travel each day. So they must find one closer. There are quite a few nurseries around—one of them is run by another work unit, one by the district government, one by a street committee, one by a neighbourhood committee and a private nursery run by several old women. The best is run by the work unit, for it has qualified pre-school teachers on the staff. The others are poorly-run. They lead the children in files along the streets and that is all. The worst is the one run by the old women who got together to earn money as their main motive. The child's eduction is an issue which concerns the next generation, so Young Lin's wife regards it as even more important than her own job transfer. She pressurizes him to apply to the nursery run by the other work unit, adding that the second choice should be the one run by the district government. The rest will not be taken into consideration at all.

    At first, Young Lin underestimated the difficulties. He thought it would be easy to find a nursery for the child—she needs only to stay there for two years before leaving for primary school—not a big problem. But he had learned from his past experience of making rash promises and later being nagged at by his wife when he failed to realise them. So he just said:

    "Let me go and talk it over with the people concerned. I'm not in any leading position. Who knows whether they'll take any notice of me. You can't make too many rigid conditions on the place we want to send her to!"

    Their neighbour opposite, the "Indian" woman, also has a child about the same age as theirs, and Young Lin's wife hears that they have found a place for their child, in just the one they wanted, the one run by the other work unit. In the light of this, his wife says to him: "Why can't I make conditions? I have to! That nursery is the only one we want. Their child will go to that one, so ours must go there as well. Don't bother with the nursery run by the district government."

    Thus the job of getting his daughter into nursery school falls to Young Lin, and he finds it more difficult than arranging his wife's job transfer. First of all he investigates the situation. The nursery of the other unit is really well-run, winning municipal awards for years. Some leading members of the district government send their grandchildren to this nursery even though their own nursery has spaces. This work unit nursery, however, imposes strict limits on admission numbers. Without powerful influence it would be impossible to get a child into it. The admission forms are in the hands of the nursery principal. No form will be released unless written instructions are issued by the head of a bureau or an even higher authority of the unit. Young Lin racks his brains trying to remember any of his former classmates in Beijing who has some influence with this unit, but cannot think of one.

    A man will try anything when he is desperate. Failing to find anyone who can help him, he suddenly thinks of the old man who repairs bicycles at their gate. Young Lin is a frequent customer there. He always addresses the old man as "Grandpa" and the two of them are very close. When he has no money on him, he can have his bike repaired first and pay for it later. During a casual chat Young Lin has learned that the old man's daughter works as a nurse in a nearby nursery. Could that be the one run by the other work unit? Thinking of this possibility, he becomes excited. He gets on his bicycle, and goes off to the bicycle repairman right away. If the daughter is working in that nursery, she can provide an opening by giving him some inside information, even though she is just an ordinary nurse. The old man is very warm-hearted and straightforward. After Young Lin's explanation, he makes promises on behalf of his daughter, saying that all he needs to do is to ask and it will be done,for sure. However the nursery his daughter works for is not the one run by the other unit, but by the neighbourhood committee. Young Lin feels disheartened. He reports the situation to his wife when she returns home. She first blames him for not having useful connections, and then suggests: "Let's prepare a generous gift costing about seventy or eighty yuan for the nursery principal and see whether that works or not. How does the 'Indian' child opposite get admitted? The father doesn't appear to have any special ability, so they must have given gifts!"

    Shaking his hand, Young Lin says: "We haven't even met the principal yet. We know nothing about her. How can we offer her anything? Have you forgotten our humiliation when we tried to give a present to the head in charge of personnel?"

    His wife flares up: "You haven't any influence; you can't give gifts. What can you do?"

    Young Lin replies: "We can use the nursery where the bicycle repairman's daughter works. Let it go at that! What does education mean to a three-year-old child? Shaoshan was a poor village, but it produced the late Chairman Mao! It is the child herself that really matters!"

    His wife gets more angry and says that he can't be so irresponsible towards their child. If the child stays with the repairman's daughter, she would only know how to repair bikes when she grows up. "Young Lin, you have not even met the principal yet. How can you be so sure that our child will not be admitted?" Those words encourage him and he plucks up courage and decides to go to see the principal immediately, with no intermediate person and without taking any gift. He plans to explain his difficulty to the principal and see if he can win the principal's sympathy. On his way, Young Lin tries to comfort himself: in China things are complicated. A total stranger may get things done without any gift. Even if you have some influence or acquaintances, sometimes the things may get complicated. People might feel envious of others and the things turn out to be unsussessful. What's the matter with a stranger? Chances are a stranger may feel sympathetic to you. Isn't there any kind person in the world? Perhaps here you can meet one. However, he realizes his thoughts are all too naive when he meets the principal.

    The principal is an elderly woman, over fifty years old. She is kind, but her reply is a clear-cut refusal. This nursery does not take in any children outside the work unit, she says. They do not even have enough places for the unit's children. Will the unit's employees keep quiet if they admit children outside the unit? But, she adds, there may be exceptions. The nursery is going to have capital construction but has not got a quota. If he can help them acquire one, his child can be admitted.

    This makes him lose heart. He cannot even cope with his own problems, so how can he help with getting capital construction quotas? Crestfallen, he returns to report to his wife and unexpectedly finds a great disturbance at home. Trouble of another kind has broken out. The childminder has learned about their efforts to find a nursery for their child, which means she will lose her job. She blames them for not letting her know in advance. So to gain the upper hand, she decides to leave immediately. Young Lin's wife thinks she is unreasonable. "The chile is mine. Why do I have to tell you whether she is going to nursery or not? Are you not being vengeful by leaving before we find a place?" The two of them start a quarrel, and Young Lin's wife demands the childminder's immediate departure. Not prepared to humble herself either, the childminder starts packing at once. When he gets home, she is about to leave. As his efforts to find a good nursery have not gone smoothly, they can't cope if the childminder leaves right now. He tries to persuade her to stay. His wife stops him:

    "Let her go! I'll see whether the sky will fall down just because she goes away!"

    He has no choice, but his daughter loves her childminder and when she sees her leaving, the girl rolls on the floor crying. The childminder also loves her charge so she hurries over to give her a cuddle before she leaves. Once she is gone, his wife begins to cry. She feels conscience-stricken as the childminder has taken care of the child for over two years. She asks him to hurry to the balcony and throw down another month's salary for her.

    The childminder's absence throws the Lins' home into confusion. No nursery has been found and the couple now have to ask for leave and look after their daughter in turn. Young Lin's wife blames the childminder for having caused so much trouble and her husband for being incapable of finding a nursery. He argues:

    "They want a capital construction quota in exchange. The head of my office might not be able to get it, let alone me."

    He adds: "I don't think we should make matters worse. I admit I'm incapable. If our daughter can't go to that nursery, we will have to let her go to the one where the bicycle repairman's daughter works. After all, lots of children are there."

    Faced with the situation, his wife starts to relent a little. They cannot go on asking for leave for long. The next day, the husband and wife visit the nursery where the bicycle repairman's daughter works. Their first impression is not bad, although it can not compare with the one run by the unit, but it is clean. Dozens of children play in the rooms and there is a piano in it. It is far away from busy roads as well. Seeing his wife is silent afterwards, Young Lin knows she has basically agreed and he feels relieved.

    Once home they put together the equipment the child needs to take to her nursery—clothing, pillows, bowls, spoon, cup, handkerchiefs—as if they are sending their daughter on an expedition. His wife sheds tears again:

    "Your parents are incapable, so you have to go to the neighbourhood nursery. From now on, you will have to take care of yourself the best you can!"

    The child is then given a medical check-up and is ready to go the next day when there comes a surprise turn of events—their daughter can go to the unit's nursery! Of course it is not due to the efforts of Young Lin. It is the "Indian" woman's husband who unexpectedly helps them. There is a knock at the door in the evening, and he is standing there. They do not know what work he is actually doing. All they know is that he dresses up in a smart suit with a tie every day and rides a motorbike to work. The "Indian" family is comfortably-off, and their flat is well furnished, whereas the Lins are quite hard-up in comparison and their flat is dingy, so they are diffident and have little contact. Only Young Lin's wife and the "Indian" woman are coldly polite to each other. The sudden visit of the husband arouses the Lins' suspicion. What has he come for? The visitor, however, is quite affable and says: "I hear you are having difficulties in finding a place for your child. Is that so?"

    Young Lin feels his face go red. This man has made him feel inadequate. So he hums and haws. The man continues:

    "I have a spare placement which you can use to get your child into the unit's nursery. I obtained two originally: one for my child and the other for my elder sister's. But she has decided not to use it. If you don't mind, I can let you have this placement. We are neighbours after all!"

    Young Lin and his wife feel pleasantly surprised. There seems to be no malice in the expression of the 'Indian' woman's husband. So Young Lin's wife exclaims excitedly:

    "That is wonderful! Thank you so much. We've tried hard to get our daughter into that nursery but failed. We are about to get her into the neighbourhood nursery."

    Young Lin feels ashamed: he wasn't able to do it, but another man could. Surely he will be looked down on for this. So he does not appear as pleased as his wife. The "Indian" woman's husband is aware of his feelings and adds considerately:

    "I could not find a way to solve the problem at first. It so happens that the father of one of my colleagues is the head of that unit. I asked for a favour through him and was given these placements. That's the way things are done these days!"

    Young Lin feels better. The "Indian" woman is a trouble-maker but her husband seems a gentleman. He offers a cigarette to his guest. The cigarettes are not a good brand, and also a bit old and dry. But the guest appears unconcerned and smokes it with aplomb.

    Their daughter can now go to the nursery they wanted.

    Their minds are at rest. The relations between the Lins and the "Indian" woman's family become much more friendly and the two children go to the nursery together. But several days later, Young Lin's wife looks gloomy again. When asked what is the matter she answers:

    "We've been taken in! We shouldn't have let our child go to that nursery!"

    "How? And why not?" he asks.

    His wife replies: "It seems on the surface, the 'Indian' family helped us out; but I have noticed something not quite right. They are helping themselves rather than us. Their child found it hard to go to the nursery, wailing and whining. So they helped us so that our daughter should keep theirs company. The two used to play together so they certainly find going to the nursery easy if they can go together now. I've also found out that there isn't an elder sister! We are so incapable that even our child is taken advantage of. I benefit from the shuttle bus because of that sister-in-law. Who would have thought our child gets a place in the nursery because she is needed to accompany another child!"

    After this, she starts sobbing. A chill goes down Young Lin's back. Damn it! The "Indian" family are scoundrels after all. But it isn't something that can be said openly. He feels slightly dirty like a piece of garbage, yet even after consoling his wife, he knows his child will still go to the nursery tomorrow with the other child. But after all, he admits to himself, it is better to stay as a companion in a good nursery than to play about in a poor one. It is the same with the shuttle bus: better to enjoy it even knowing that the benefit is brought by the sister-in-law than to catch an over-crowded public bus. In the evening, after his wife and child have gone to sleep, he sheds tears of remorse for the first time. In the dark, he even slaps himself in the face:

    "Why are you a good-for-nothing? Can't you be more capable?"

    But his slap is not very hard, in case his wife wakes up.



    九月份了。九月份有两件事,一,老婆通班车;二,孩子入托辞退保姆。老婆通班车这一条比较顺,到了九月一号,老婆单位果然在这条线通了班车。老婆马上显得轻松许多。早上不用再顶星星。过去都是早六点起床,晚一点儿就要迟到;现在七点起就可以了,可以多睡一个小时。七点起床梳洗完毕,吃点饭,七点二十轻轻松松出门,到门口上班车;上了班车还有座位,一直到到单位院内,一点不累。晚上回来也很早,过去要戴月亮,七点多才能到家。现在不用戴了,单位五点下班,她五点四十就到了家,还可以休息一会儿再做饭。老婆很高兴。不过她这高兴与刚听到通班车时的高兴不同,她现在的高兴有些打折扣。本来听说这条线通班车,老婆以为是单位头头对大家的关心,后来打听清楚,原来单位头头并不是考虑大家,而是单位头头的一个小姨子最近搬家搬到了这一块地方,单位头头的老婆跟单位头头闹,单位头头才让往这里加一线班车。老婆听到这个消息,马上就有些沮丧,感到这班车通得有些贬值,自己高兴得有些盲目。回来与小林唠叨,小林听到心里也是别扭,感到似乎是受了污辱。但这污辱比起前三门单位管人事的头头拒不收礼的污辱算什么,于是向老婆解释,管他娘嫁给谁,管是因为什么通的班车,咱只要跟着能坐就行了。老婆说:

    “原来以为坐班车是公平合理,单位头头的关心,谁知是沾了人家小姨子的光,以后每天坐车,不都得想起小姨子!”

    小林说:

    “那有什么办法。现在看,没有人家小姨子,你还坐不上班车!”

    小林老婆说:

    “我坐车心里总感到有些别扭,感到自己是二等公民!”

    小林说:

    “你还像大学刚毕业那么天真,什么二等三等,有个班车给你坐就不错了。我只问你,就算沾了人家小姨子的光,总比挤公共汽车强吧!”

    小林老婆说:

    “那倒是!”

    小林又说:

    “再说,沾她光的又不是就你自己,我只问你,是不是每天一班车人?”

    老婆说:

    “可不是一班车人,大家都不争气!”

    小林说:

    “人家不争气,这时你倒长了志气。你长志气,你以后再去坐公共汽车,没人拉你非坐班车!你调工作不也照样求人巴结人?给人送东西,还让晾到了楼道里!”

    老婆这时“扑哧”笑了:

    “我也就是说说,你倒说个没完了。不过你说得对,到了这时候。还说什么志气不志气!谁有志气?有志气顶他妈屁用,管他妈嫁给谁,咱只管每天有班车坐就是了!”

    小林拍巴掌:

    “这不结了!”

    所以老婆每天显得很愉快。但小孩入托一事,碰到了困难。小林单位没有幼儿园,老婆单位有幼儿园,但离家太远,每天跟着老婆来回坐车也不合适,这就只能在家门口附近找幼儿园。门口倒是有几个幼儿园,有外单位办的,有区里办的,有街道办的,有居委会办的,有个体老太太办的。这里边最好的是外单位办的,里边有幼师毕业的阿姨,可以教孩子些东西;区以下就比较差些,只会让孩子排队拉圈在街头走;最差的是居委会或个体办的,无非是几个老太太合伙领着孩子玩,赚个零用钱花花。因孩子教育牵扯到下一代,老婆对这事看得比她调工作还重。就撺掇小林去争取外单位办的幼儿园,次之只能是区里办的,街道以下不予考虑。小林一开始有些轻敌,以为不就给孩子找个幼儿园吗?临时呆两年,很快就出去了,估计困难不会太大,但他接受以前一开始说话腔太满,后来被老婆找后账的教训,说:

    “我找人家说说看吧,我也不是什么领导人,谁知人家会不会买我的账,你也不能限制得太死!”

    对门印度女人家也有一个孩子,大小跟小林家孩子差不多,也该入托,小林老婆听说,她家的孩子就找到了幼儿园,就是外单位办的那个。小林老婆说话有了根据,对小林说:

    “怎么不限制死,就得限制死,就是外单位那个,她家的孩子上那个,咱孩子就得上那个,区里办的也不用考虑了!”

    任务就这样给小林布置下了。等小林去落实时,小林才感到给孩子找个幼儿园,原来比给老婆调工作困难还大。小林首先摸了一下情况,外单位这个幼儿园办得果真不错,年年在市里得先进。一些区一级的领导,自己区里办的有幼儿园,却把孩子送到这个幼儿园。但人家名额限制得也很死,没有过硬的关系,想进去比登天还难。进幼儿园的表格,都在园长手里,连副园长都没权力收孩子。而要这个园长发表格,必须有这个单位局长以上的批条。小林绞尽脑汁想人,把京城里的同学想遍,没想出与这个单位有关系的人。也是急病乱投医,小林想不出同学,却突然想起门口一个修自行车的老头。小林常在老头那里修车,“大爷”“大爷”地叫,两人混得很熟。平时带钱没带钱,都可以修了车子推上先走。一次在闲谈中,听老头说他女儿在附近的幼儿园当阿姨,不知是不是外单位这个?想到这个茬儿,小林兴奋起来,立即骑上车去找修车老头。如果他女儿是在外单位这个,虽然只是一个阿姨,说话不一定顶用,但起码打开一个突破口,可以让她牵内线提供关系。找到修车老头,老头很热情,也很豪爽,听完小林的诉说,马上代他女儿答应下来,说只要小林的孩子想入她女儿的托,他只要说一句话,没有个进不去的。只是他女儿的幼儿园,不是外单位那个,而是本地居委会办的。小林听后十分丧气。回来将情况向老婆作了汇报,老婆先是责备他无能,想不出关系,后又说:

    “咱们给园长备份厚礼送去,花个七十八十的,看能不能打动她!对门那个印度孩子怎么能进去?也没见她丈夫有什么特别的本事,肯定也是送了礼!”

    小林摆摆手说:

    “连认识都不认识,两眼一抹黑,这礼怎么送得出去?上次给前三门单位管人事的头头送礼,没放着样子?”

    老婆火了:

    “关系你没关系,礼又送不出去,你说怎么办?”

    小林说:

    “干脆入修车老头女儿那个幼儿园算了!一个三岁的孩子,什么教育不教育,韶山冲一个穷沟沟,不也出了毛主席!还是看孩子自己!”

    老婆马上愤怒,说小林不能这样对孩子不负责任;跟修车的女儿在一起,长大不修车才怪;到目前为止,你连外单位幼儿园的园长见都没见一面,怎么就料定人家不收你的孩子?有了老婆这番话,小林就决定斗胆直接去见一下幼儿园园长。不通过任何介绍,去时也不带礼,直接把困难向人家说一下,看能否引起人家的同情。路上小林安慰自己,中国的事情很复杂,别看素不相识,别看不送礼,说不定事情倒能办成;有时认识、有关系,倒容易关系复杂,相互嫉妒,事情倒不大好办。不认识怎么了?不认识说不定倒能引起同情。世上就没好人了?说不定这里就能碰上一个。但等小林在幼儿园见到园长,才知道自己的想法幼稚天真。幼儿园园长是个五十多岁的老太太,人倒挺和蔼,说她这个幼儿园不招收外单位的孩子;本单位孩子都收不了,招外单位的大家会没有意见?不过情况也有例外,现在幼儿园想搞一项基建,一直没有指标,看小林在国家机关工作,如能帮他们搞到一个基建指标,就可以收下小林的孩子。小林一听就泄了气,自己连自己都顾不住,哪能帮人家搞什么基建指标?如有本事搞到基建指标,孩子哪个幼儿园不能进,何必非进你这个幼儿园?他垂头丧气回到家,准备向老婆汇报,谁知家里又起了轩然大波,正在闹另一种矛盾。原来保姆已经闻知他们在给孩子找幼儿园;给孩子找幼儿园,不马上要辞退她?她不能束手待毙,也怪小林老婆不事先跟她打招呼,于是就先发制人,主动提出要马上辞退工作。小林老婆觉得保姆很没道理,我自己的孩子,找不找幼儿园还用跟你商量?现在幼儿园还没找到,你就辞工作,不是故意给人出难题?两人就吵起来。到了这时候,小林老婆不想再给保姆说好话,说,要辞马上辞,立即就走。保姆也不服软,马上就去收拾东西。小林回到家,保姆已将东西收拾好,正要出门。小林幼儿园联系得不顺利,觉得保姆现在走措手不及,忙上前去劝,但被老婆拦住:

    “不用劝她,让她走,看她走了,天能塌下来不成!”

    小林也无奈。可到保姆真要走,孩子不干了。孩子跟她混熟了,见她要走,便哭着在地上打滚;保姆对孩子也有了感情,忙上前又去抱起孩子。最后,保姆终于放下嗷嗷哭的孩子,跑着下楼走了。保姆一走,小林老婆又哭了,觉得保姆在这干了两年多,把孩子看大,现在就这么走了也很不好,赶忙让小林到阳台上去,给保姆再扔下一个月的工资。

    保姆走后,家里乱了套。幼儿园没找着,两人就得轮流请假在家看孩子。这时老婆又开始恶狠狠地责骂保姆,怪她给出了这么个难题,又责怪小林无能,连个幼儿园都找不到。小林说:

    “人家要基建指标,别说我,换我们的处长也不一定能搞到!”

    又说:

    “依我说,咱也别故意把事情搞复杂,承认咱没本事,进不了那个幼儿园,干脆,进修车老头女儿的幼儿园算了!这个幼儿园不也孩子满满当当的!”

    事到如今,小林老婆的思想也有些活动。整天这么请假也不是个事。第二天又与小林到修车老头女儿的幼儿园看了看,印象还不错。当然比外单位那个幼儿园差远了,但里面还干净,几个房间里圈着几十个孩子,一个屋子角上还放着一架钢琴。幼儿园离马路也远。小林见老婆不说话,知道她基本答应了,心里一块石头才算落了地。

    回来,开始给孩子做入托的准备。收拾衣服、枕头、吃饭的碗和勺子、喝水的杯子、揩鼻涕的手绢,像送儿出征一样。小林老婆又落了泪:

    “爹娘没本事,送你到居委会幼儿园,你以后就好自为之吧!”

    但等孩子体检完身体,第二天要去居委会幼儿园时,事情又发生了转机,外单位那个幼儿园,又同意接受小林的孩子。当然,这并不是小林的功劳,而是对门那个印度女人的丈夫意外给帮了忙。这天晚上有人敲门,小林打开门,是印度女人的丈夫。印度女人的丈夫具体是干什么的,小林和小林老婆都不清楚,反正整天穿得笔挺,打着领带,骑摩托上班。由于人家家里富,家里摆设好,自家比较穷,家里摆设差,小林和小林老婆都有些自卑,与他们家来往不多。只是小林老婆与印度女人有些接触,还面和心不和。现在印度女人的丈夫突然出现,小林和小林老婆都提高了警惕:他来干什么?谁知人家很大方,坐在床沿上说:

    “听说你们家孩子入托遇到困难?”

    小林马上感到有些脸红。人家问题解决了,自己没有解决,这不显得自己无能?就有些支吾。印度女人丈夫说:

    “我来跟你们商量个事,如果你们想上外单位那个幼儿园,我这里还有一个名额。原来搞了两个名额,我孩子一个,我姐姐孩子一个,后来我姐姐孩子不去了,如果你们不嫌这个托儿所差,这个名额可以让给你们,大家对门住着!”

    小林和小林老婆都感到一阵惊喜。看印度女人丈夫的神情,也没有恶意。小林老婆马上高兴地答:

    “那太好了,那太感谢你了!那幼儿园我们努力半天,都没有进去,正准备去居委会的呢!”

    这时小林脸上却有些挂不住。自己无能,回过头还得靠人家帮助解决,不太让人看不起了?所以倒没像老婆那样喜形于色。印度女人的丈夫又体谅地说:

    “本来我也没什么办法,只是我单位一个同事的爸爸,正好是那个单位的局长,通过求他,才搞到了名额。现在这年头儿,还不是这么回事!”

    这倒叫小林心里有些安慰。别看印度女人爱搅是非,印度女人的丈夫却是个男子汉。小林忙拿出烟,让他一支。烟不是什么好烟,也就是“长乐”,放了好多天,有些干燥了,但人家也没嫌弃,很大方地点着,与小林一人一支,抽了起来。

    孩子顺利地入了托。小林和小林老婆都松了一口气。从此小林家和印度家的家庭关系也融洽许多。两家孩子一同上幼儿园。但等上了几天,小林老婆的脸又沉了下来。小林问她怎么回事,她说:

    “咱们上当了!咱们不该让孩子上外单位幼儿园!”

    小林问:

    “怎么上当?怎么不该去?”

    小林老婆说:

    “表面看,印度家庭帮了咱的忙,通过观察,我发现这里头不对,他们并不是要帮咱们,他们是为了他们自己。原来他们孩子哭闹,去幼儿园不顺利,这才拉上咱们孩子给他陪读。两个孩子以前在一块玩,现在一块上幼儿园,当然好上了。我也打听了,那个印度丈夫根本没有姐姐!咱们自己没本事,孩子也跟着受欺负!我坐班车是沾了人家小姨子的光,没想到孩子进幼儿园,也是为了给人家陪读!”

    接着开始小声哭起来。听了老婆的话,小林也感到后背冷飕飕的。妈的,原来印度家庭没安好心。可这事又摆不上桌面,不好找人理论。但小林心里像吃了马粪一样感到龌龊。事情龌龊在于:老婆哭后,小林安慰一番,第二天孩子照样得去给人家当“陪读”;在好的幼儿园当陪读,也比在差的幼儿园胡混强啊!就像蹭人家小姨子的班车,也比挤公共汽车强一样。当天夜里,老婆孩子入睡,小林第一次流下了泪,还在漆黑的夜里扇了自己一耳光:

    “你怎么这么没本事,你怎么这么不会混!”

    但他扇的声音不大,怕把老婆弄醒。

    6

    There is a bumper harvest in Chinese cabbages this year.

    Standing in a long line of locals, his breath is white as it hits the cold air. Young Lin is waiting to buy cabbages to store for the winter. Everyone is holding a card. Some people are wearing cotton-padded hats. During the wait, people begin talking to each other. A middle-aged man in front of Lin offers him a cigarette. Whenever it is time to store up cabbages for winter, he always feels tense. He sees others take cabbages on bicycles, tricycles or in big baskets, dropping loose leaves behind them. He feels worried: the cabbages will be gone before he gets any and his family will go without in winter. When squeezing into the crowd, he feels that he has been cheated year after year. With dozens of cheap cabbages, you have to waste time arranging them, airing them, turning them around, bringing them in and stacking them up. When aired, several layers of leaves come off and the Lins begrudge eating them so early in the season. Instead they buy more for instant consumption; when the Lins are willing to eat the stored cabbages, they've become dry and withered, like small sticks. Peeling the dry leaves off, all that is left are tiny cabbage hearts. Sometimes they get frostbitten and smell sour when cooked. Every spring, looking at the leftovers, Young Lin and his wife vow not to store any more cabbages next autumn. But when they see others buying up loads of government subsidized cabbages, they feel that they will lose out. Young Lin thinks the worry of it all isn't worth the years of psychological stress over cheap cabbages. So this autumn, he has made up his mind not to store any more. His wife feels the same, pointing out that it isn't such a bargain when you take into account the lost and dried layers of leaves. For three days they resist the temptation but on the fourth, he puts on his padded hat and joins the queue to buy cheap cabbages again. Not because he is weak-willed but because there is a glut of cabbages in Beijing this year, employees have been called upon to buy "Patriotic cabbages" and their work units will reimburse them. So they will buy as much as they can be reimbursed for. If not, they will miss the free offer. The limit is 150 kilos in Young Lin's unit and 100 kilos in his wife's. Therefore the couple decide to buy 250 kilos, which is even more than the amount they used to get in the past years. Young Lin has borrowed a tricycle cart from Old He, the deputy office head. He says:

    "I decided not to store up any cabbages this year but who would have thought the unit will reimburse us? Thus we are forced into a quandary again!"

    He is buying cabbages because they will be free rather than because he wants them, so while standing in line, Young Lin feels resentful. He heaves a sigh, kicks a cabbage and passively watches the trade going on in front. But soon he is no longer passive. The cabbages are free, people are afraid the stocks will run out before their turn comes. He can't help becoming keyed up. He rolls up the padded flaps of his hat to expose his ears.

    The 250 kilos of cabbages is carried home and soon the house is filled with the smell. He is in a bad mood but his wife is happy because they are free. Young Lin imagines the end result: it will eventually go down to seventy to eighty small sticks. The thought of the high stack of cabbages throughout the winter makes him lose his appetite. But his wife is cheerful so he becomes cheerful, too. And there is a relaxed atmosphere in the home.

    The next day, six people from Young Lin's hometown visit them. He feels nervous and his wife's face changes colour, too. But the six guests do not stay for a meal. They are going to the Northeast on a business trip, they say, and they will only stay for a little while. He is relieved and his wife's face regains her normal colour. She gives them a very warm send-off, which satisfies everyone.

    This day, Young Lin knocks off early and goes to a food market. He buys first a pile of capsicums and then exchanges some grain coupons for some eggs. Now they no longer have to feed the childminder they can spare some of the coupons to exchange for eggs. He is about to leave for home when he sees a food cart selling Anhui pressed salted ducks. There is a big queue. He goes to have a look and discovers the ducks are too expensive at over four yuan half a kilo but the gizzards and liver are cheap at three yuan half a kilo. His daughter is fond of those so he decides to buy. There are two people selling. One man with an Anhui accent is chopping up the ducks and the other who looks like the boss is collecting the money. When Young Lin is handing over his money to the boss, their eyes meet and they cry out:

    "Young Lin!"

    "Young Li Bai!"

    One drops the duck gizzards while the other drops the money. They hug each other laughing.

    They are former classmates. They were good friends at university. Both liked composing poems so they joined the university's literary society. At that time they were full of ambition and creative drive. "Young Li Bai" was conscientious and talented. On average he wrote three poems a day and some were published in newspapers and magazines. He had a free and easy style. That was why he was nicknamed "Young Li Bai." Li Bai was a famous Tang Dynasty poet. Many girl students ran after him but on graduation, they dispersed like mist and smoke, and like Young Lin, he was assigned to a government office. Later, bored with office work, he resigned and went to work in a company. How comes that he is selling ducks now? Seeing Young Lin, he stops selling to have a chat with him, leaving his business to the man from Anhui who is chopping up the ducks. They light up cigarettes. Young Lin asks:

    "Weren't you working in a company? How come you are now selling ducks?"

    Smiling, Young Li Bai answers: "Damn! The company went bankrupt. I became self-employed and started selling ducks. It's not bad doing this, similar to running a private company. You earn almost one hundred yuan a day!"

    Young Lin is taken aback. "Are you still writing poems?"

    Young Li Bai spits on the ground: "Rubbish! Those I wrote in college were naive. What is poetry? It is coquettish nonsense!If I kept on writing them, I would certainly go hungry! Are you married?"

    Young Lin replies: "My child is already three!"

    Clapping his hands, Young Li Bai exclaims:

    "See? You should not have asked about my poems! I have seen through the way the world works. It's more comfortable to drift along with the crowds without wild fantasies, or the desire to stand out among your fellows, not to think too much about anything. What do you say?"

    Young Lin feels the same, so he nods his head. He asks:

    "Have you any children?"

    Young Li Bai stretches out three fingers. Young Lin is shocked:

    "Don't you practise birth control?"

    Young Li Bai smiles: "I had three marriages and three divorces. I've just got married again. From each of the three marriages I had one child, and none of my ex-wives took the children when we got divorced. So I'm saddled with three! What if I don't sell ducks? I have five mouths to feed at home!"

    Young Lin smiles too. Young Li Bai is true to his name. Though no longer writing poems, he has the same free and easy manner. It is getting dark when he suddenly slaps Young Lin on the back:

    "I've got it!"

    Young Lin is startled: "You've got what?"

    "I have to go out of Beijing for about ten days—to buy some ducks wholesale. But there won't be anyone here to take the money. I've been worried about finding someone suitable. Why don't you come after work and help me out?"

    Young Lin shakes his head: "No, no, I need to go to work. And besides, I don't know how to sell ducks!"

    Little Li Bai answers: "I know, you're worried about losing face. You are still naive and inexperienced. Who cares about face-saving anywhere these days? With it you look poor and affected; without it you enjoy wealth and glory. Are you the only one aloof and superior? Judging by your clothes and expression, you are still the same shambling Young Lin you always were. Come and help me collect money for ten days, I'll pay you twenty yuan a day!"

    After that, he gives a big duck to Young Lin and pushes him away.

    In a happy mood, he returns home with the duck. His wife, however, is not very happy about him coming back so late as the child was not picked up on time. She is even angry when she sees the big duck. She cries out: "Since when have you become so high and mighty that you can buy such a big duck?"

    He gives her a glare and throws the duck onto the dining table.

    "This is a present!"

    "Are you some sort of an official now that anyone should offer you a gift?"

    He tells her about the chance encounter at the food market and how Young Li Bai has asked him to help sell ducks. Surprisingly, his wife is glad. She says persuasively:

    "It will not hold up your work in any way. Two hours per day at twenty yuan—that's even better than waiting on customers in a foreign restaurant! Why not take it! Start tomorrow, I'll pick up the child. You go and sell ducks."

    Lying down on the bed with his hands supporting his head, he says:

    "I can manage it but I feel I will lose face selling ducks!"

    His wife replies: "Don't bother about saving face. With it you have been hard up for all these years. Why should you be afraid of losing it now? You're not looking for a wife and I don't mind!"

    The next day after work, Young Lin goes to sit behind the food-cart collecting money. At first he feels embarrassed. When he puts on a white apron, he dares not look up at his customers in case he sees acquaintances. As soon as he gets home, he takes a shower to wash off the smell of duck. Two days later, however, getting two tenners each day, he no longer worries about looking up, or needs to shower afterwards. He has got used to it all. He likens it to the experience of a prostitute. The first time she sleeps with a patron is always frightening and embarrassing, but as time goes on, she will become more hardened, whoever the customer may be. Now he thinks duck-selling is not too bad even on a long-term basis. This way he can earn an extra 600 yuan a month. In a year's time, he will be well-off. It is a pity that Young Li Bai is away for only ten days and he cannot carry on when he returns. It would be better if he came across Young Li Bai earlier!

    On the ninth day, Young Lin meets another acquaintance. On the whole, he doesn't mind seeing people who know him. But this one is an exception. He is the head of the office, Old Guan. He lives in another district, so naturally he doesn't shop in this food market. Old Guan's eyes open wide as he sees one of his staff behind the duck cart, and Young Lin feels ill at ease. The next day Young Lin is prepared to be sent for by Old Guan. Sure enough, Old Guan asks to "have a special word" with him. By now he doesn't feel afraid in the slightest. Everyone is drifting along in today's society. What's  wrong with my earning some pocket money by selling ducks after working hours? Life is certainly more enjoyable with more money. During these nine days he has earned 180 yuan with which he has bought a long overcoat for his wife and a big. Hami melon as a treat for his daughter. It gives so much pleasure. Face and Old Guan's criticism is really nothing compared to the pleasure. Having been in the work unit for so many years, Young Lin is not as naive and honest as when he was first assigned to it. He has learned to mingle the truth with falsehood—they can be twisted round. It seems those who tell lies get promotion and more pay while those who tell the truth don't get on and suffer. So when Old Guan asks him for an explanation for yesterday, Young Lin puts on an air of innocence. With a smile he explains that the duck seller is his former classmate, and as a joke, he put on his apron and sat there crying "duck." It was just for fun. He wouldn't disgrace his work unit by selling ducks. Old Guan is convinced. He says, "That's just what I thought! How can a dignified government staff member reduce himself to duck selling! Since that is the case, let's put an end to it. Make sure you don't play jokes like that again!"

    Young Lin agrees, and as his head of office leaves he spits on the ground: "Why shouldn't I 'lower myself' and sell ducks? I have been selling ducks for nine days! It's too bad that today is the last time. If I had the chance, I would do it permanently."

    It is a pity that Young Li Bai returns from his trip on time. this afternoon

    Young Lin has to say good-bye to the food cart. Young Li Bai gives him the last twenty yuan owing and tells him to come for free ducks whenever he wants. Young Li Bai promises that if he has to go away again, he will ask him to help. This time Young Lin does not feel embarrassed at all. "Just let me know whenever you need me!" he replies loudly.



    今年大白菜丰收。

    小林站在市民排起的长队里,嘴里哈着寒气,开始购买冬贮大白菜。大家一人手里捏着一个纸片。天冷了,有人头上已经扣上了棉帽子。大家排队时间一长,相互混熟了,前边一个中年人让给小林一支烟,两人燃着,说些闲话。一到购买冬贮大白菜,小林的心情是焦急又矛盾。看着别人用自行车、三轮车、大筐往家里弄大白菜,留下一路菜帮子,他很焦急;生怕大白菜一下卖完,他落了空,冬天里没有菜吃。等到挤到人群里去买,他心里又觉得是上当。年年买大白菜,年年上当。买上几十棵便宜菜,不够伺候它的,天天得摆、晾、翻,天天夜里得收到一起码着。这样晾好,白菜已经脱了几层皮。一开始是舍不得吃,宁肯再到外面买;等到舍得吃,白菜已经开始发干、萎缩,一个个变成了小棍棍,一层层揭下去,就剩一个小白菜心,弄不好还冻了,煮出一股酸味。每到第二年春天,面对着剩下的几根小棍棍,小林和小林老婆都发誓,等秋天再不买大白菜。可一到秋天,看着一堆堆白菜那么便宜,政府在里边有补贴,别人家一车一车推,自己不买又感到吃亏。这种矛盾焦急心理,小林感到是一种折磨,其心理损耗远远超过了白菜的价值。所以今年一到秋天小林便下定决心:坚决不买大白菜。与老婆商量,老婆也同意,说把冬贮菜的亏烂刨下去,也不见得便宜到哪里去。于是他们今年真没有买大白菜。但这样仅坚持了三天,小林又扣了棉帽子排到买冬贮菜的行列。这并不是今年小林的意志不坚强,而是今年北京大白菜过剩,单位号召大家买“爱国菜”,谁买了“爱国菜”可以到单位报销。这样,不买白不买,小林和小林老婆马上又改变了最初的决定,决定马上去买“爱国菜”,而且单位能报销多少,就买多少。小林单位可以报销三百斤,小林老婆单位可以报销二百斤,于是两人决定买五百斤。这比往年自己决定买大白菜的量还多。小林专门借了办公室副处长老何家的三轮车。小林说:

    “原来说不买大白菜了,谁知单位又要报销,逼着你非再麻烦一次!”

    由于这麻烦是报销引起的而不是自己决定的,所以小林一边排队买菜,一边又感到委屈,叹了一口气,用脚踢了踢“爱国菜”,漫不经心地看前边称菜。但小林很快又克服了漫不经心。因大家买菜都不花钱,竞争都挺激烈,生怕排到自己“爱国菜”脱销,眼珠子瞪得都挺大。小林也不由紧张起来,将棉帽子的帽翅卷了起来,露出耳朵。

    五百斤大白菜买回家,家里便充满了大白菜的气味。小林心情不好。但由于这大白菜不花钱,老婆的积极性倒挺高,在那里晾晒。不过结果小林仍然知道,无非变成七八十个小棍棍。看着它堆积那么高,一个冬天要吃掉它,也叫人倒胃口。不过老婆心情开朗,小林也跟着心情好起来,家里气氛倒是比以前轻松。大白菜拉回家的第二天,小林老家又来了人,一共来了六个,小林心里一阵紧张,小林老婆的脸也变了颜色。不过这六个客人并没有吃饭,坐了一会就走了,说是去东北出差。小林才放下心来。小林老婆脸上的颜色也转了过来,送客人时显得很热情,弄得大家都很满意。

    这天,小林下班早,到菜市场去转。先买了一堆柿子椒,又用粮票换了二斤鸡蛋(保姆走后,粮票宽裕许多,可以腾出些粮票换鸡蛋),正准备回家,突然看到市场上新添了一个卖安徽板鸭的个体食品车,许多人站队在那里买。小林过去看了看,鸭子太贵,四块多一斤;但鸭杂便宜,才三块钱一斤。小林女儿爱吃动物杂碎,小林就也排到了队伍中,准备买半斤鸭杂。摊主有两个人,一个操安徽口音的在剁鸭子,另一个老板模样的人在收钱。可等排到小林,小林要把钱交给老板时,老板看他一眼,两人眼睛一对,禁不住都叫道:

    “小林!”

    “小李白!”

    两人都丢下鸭杂和钱,笑着搂抱到一起。

    这个“小李白”是小林的大学同学,当年在学校时,两人关系很好,都喜欢写诗,一块加入了学校的文学社。那时大家都讲奋斗,一股子开天辟地的劲头。“小李白”很有才,又勤奋,平均一天写三首诗,诗在一些报刊还发表过,豪放洒脱,上下几千年,秦皇汉武,唐宗宋祖,都不在话下,人称“小李白”,惹得许多女同学追他。毕业以后,大家烟消云散。“小李白”也分到一个国家机关。后来听说他坐不了办公室,自己辞职跑到一个公司去了,现在怎么又卖起了板鸭?“小李白”见到小林,生意也不做了,一切交给剁鸭子的安徽人,拉小林到旁边树下聊天。两人抽着烟,小林问:

    “你不是在公司吗?怎么又卖起了板鸭?”

    “小李白”一笑:

    “妈拉个×,公司倒闭了,就当上了个体户,卖起了板鸭!不过卖板鸭也不错,跟自己开公司差不多,一天也弄个百儿八十的!”

    小林吓了一跳,又问:

    “你还写诗吗?”

    “小李白”朝地上啐了一口浓痰:

    “狗屁!那是年轻时不懂事!诗是什么,诗是搔首弄姿混扯淡!如果现在还写诗,不得饿死!混呗,你结婚了吗?”

    小林说:

    “孩子都三岁了!”

    “小李白”拍了一巴掌:

    “看,还说写诗,写姥姥!我可算看透了,不要异想天开,不要总想着出人头地,就在人堆里混,什么都不想,最舒服,你说呢?”

    小林深有同感,于是点点头。又问:

    “你有孩子吗?”

    “小李白”伸出了三个手指头。小林吃了一惊:

    “你敢不计划生育?”

    “小李白”一笑:

    “结了三个,离了三个,现在又结了一个。结一个下一个果,离婚人家不要孩子,我可不就落了三个!不卖鸭子成吗?家里五六张嘴等着吃食哩!”

    小林也一笑,觉得“小李白”到底是“小李白”,诗虽然不写了,但那股洒脱劲儿还没褪下。两人又谈了半天,天快黑了,“小李白”突然想起什么,照小林肩上拍了一掌:

    “有了!”

    小林吓了一跳:

    “什么有了?”

    “小李白”说:

    “我得出去十来天,去外地弄鸭子,这里没人收账,我正愁找不到人,你以后每天下班,来替我收收账算了!”

    小林忙摆手:

    “别,别,我还得上班,再说,我也不会卖鸭子!”

    “小李白”说:

    “我知道你是爱那个面子!你还是天真幼稚,现在普天下谁还要面子?要面子一股子穷酸,不要面子享荣华富贵。就你小林清高?看你的穿戴神情,也是改不掉的穷酸受罪模样。你下班来替我收账,帮我十天,我每天给你二十块钱!”

    然后,不由分说,将一个大鸭子塞到小林手里,把小林推走了。

    小林边摇头边笑,提着鸭子回到家,老婆正不高兴他这么晚才回来,孩子也没准时接;又看他手里提鸭子,以为是花钱买的,叫道:

    “你成贵族了,吃这么大的鸭子!”

    小林将鸭子扔到饭桌上,瞪了老婆一眼:

    “人家送的!”

    小林老婆吃了一惊:

    “你当官了?也有人给你送东西!”

    小林便将菜市场的巧遇原原本本给老婆说了。最后把“小李白”让他看鸭子收账的事也说了。没想到老婆一听这事倒高兴,同意他去卖鸭子,说:

    “一天两个小时,也不耽误上班,两个小时给你二十块钱,比给资本家端盘子挣得还多,怎么不可以!从明天起孩子我接,你卖鸭子吧,这事你能干得下来!”

    小林倒在床上,手扣住后脑勺说:

    “干是干得下来,只是面子上挂不住,卖鸭子!”

    小林老婆说:

    “管他呢!讲面子不是穷了这么多年?你又不找老婆,我不怕你丢面子,你还怕什么!”

    于是,从第二天起,小林每天下午下班,就坐在板鸭车后边卖鸭子收款。一开始还真有些不好意思,穿上白围裙,就不敢抬眼睛,不敢看买鸭子的是谁,生怕碰到熟人。回家一身鸭子味,赶紧洗澡。可干了两天,每天能捏两张人民币,眼睛、脸就敢抬了,碰到熟人也不怕了。回来澡也不洗了。习惯了就自然了。小林感到就好像当娼妓,头一次接客总是害怕、害臊,时间一长,态度就大方了,接谁都一样。这时小林觉得长期这样卖鸭子也不错。每月可多六百元的收入,一年下来不就富了?可惜“小李白”只出去十天,十天回来,小林就干不成了。如果自己早一点见到“小李白”就好了。

    鸭子卖到第九天,这天小林正在车后卖鸭子,又碰到一个熟人。本来现在小林已经不怕熟人了,但这个熟人不同别的熟人,小林还是有些害怕,他是小林办公室的处长老关。老关家住别处,本来不逛这个菜市场,怎么他今天逛到这里来了?当老关看到板鸭车后坐的是自己的部下,吃惊得眼睛瞪得溜圆。小林也感到不好意思。小林第二天上班,就准备老关找他谈话。果然,老关找他单独“通气”。不过这时小林一点不怕老关,大家都在社会上混,又不是在单位卖鸭子,下班挣个零钱有什么不可以?有钱到底过得愉快,九天挣了一百八,给老婆添了一件风衣,给女儿买了一个五斤重的大哈密瓜,大家都喜笑颜开。这与面子、与挨领导两句批评相比,面子和批评实在不算什么。当然小林在单位混了这么多年,已不像刚来单位时那么天真,尽说大实话;在单位就要真真假假,真亦假来假亦真,说假话者升官发财,说真话倒霉受罚。于是在老关要求他解释昨天的事时,小林故作天真地一笑,说卖板鸭的是他的同学,他觉得好玩,就穿上同学的围裙坐那里试了一试,喊了两嗓子,纯粹是闹着玩,正好被领导碰上,他并没有真的卖鸭子,给单位丢名誉。老关听到情况是这样,就松了一口气。说:

    “我说呢,堂堂一个国家干部,你也不至于卖鸭子!既然是闹着玩,这事就算了,以后别这么闹就是了!”

    小林忙答应一声,两人便分了手。等老关走远,小林朝地上啐了一口唾沫,怎么不至于卖鸭子,老子就是卖了九天鸭子!可惜今天是最后一天了。如果能长期这样,我这个鸭子还真要长期卖下去。

    可惜,这天下午,“小李白”准时从外地回来了,小林就告别了板鸭车。临别时“小李白”把最后二十块钱交给小林,交代他以后想吃鸭子就来拿;以后他到外地去弄鸭子,还请他来看摊。小林这时一点也没不好意思,声音很大地答应:

    “以后需要我帮忙,你尽管言声!”

    7

    The Lins' daughter has been at the nursery for three months. Young Lin and his wife are busier at home after the childminder has gone. They wash up; mop the floor, and do the laundry. They have to take the child to nursery in the morning and be on time to collect her in the evening. Yet despite more housework, they feel relaxed because there is no one at home during the day except themselves and their little girl. They are a proper family without a childminder whom they had to pay over a hundred yuan a month. Nursery fees still leave them fifty to sixty yuan extra. They are much better-off. Young Lin's wife can spend more on food. Now and then she buys sausages; even a roast chicken occasionally. They both agree it is much better to be without a childminder, and remind each other of the disadvantages when she was there. Gradually they feel it a bit petty to talk about her while they are eating roast chicken. They agree not to talk about her, and soon she is rarely mentioned.

    Though their daughter is going to a good nursery, it annoys Young Lin and his wife that it is through the good offices of the "Indian" family, who wanted a companion to go with their daughter. It makes them feel unhappy every morning when they send their child to the nursery and every evening when they pick her up. They frequently meet the "Indian" woman or her husband, and are polite but afterwards they feel ashamed and uncomfortable. Their daughter is still too young to understand, so she walks hand in hand with the "Indian" woman's child and they get on well together. But everything has to adapt and later they regard the whole situation matter-of-factly. They weigh the alternatives and come to the conclusion that as long as their child is happy, it doesn't matter whether she goes as a companion or not. It's almost the same as selling ducks. He may lose some face and he has been censured by his boss, but two hundred yuan is not to be sneezed at. Sometimes they still feel angry at the motives of the "Indian" family. But they just curse inwardly:

    "I don't owe you anything even though you helped us!"

    The child has to adapt, too. She refused to go to nursery on the first few days, crying bitterly when taken there, and crying when she was picked up. She was too young to understand but it needed time for her to get used to her new environment and if the parents were firm, she would surely settle down. Once she got to know the teachers and other children she didn't cry anymore. Young Lin sometimes feels sad for such a little child having no other choice but to adapt. But he realizes it doesn't do to keep her under his wing all the time. When she grows up she will have bigger obstacles to overcome. With that consoling thought he does not take the sadness too much to heart.

    The World Cup soccer is now on. Young Lin was very fond of watching soccer several years ago. It was exciting and exhilarating. He could name all the world famous soccer players then. At that time, he concluded that watching World Cup soccer was the main purpose in life. It is held only every four years and how many four years can a man have? But when he got married and was working he lost interest. However expertly the footballers played, they didn't solve any of his practical problems: housing, child care, coal briquettes, childminder and guests from his hometown. He has been turning a deaf ear to the bustling outside world. But now that the child is in nursery and he is a bit more relaxed he can't help wanting to watch the soccer match in the evening when he learns that it is a final. Live transmission is at midnight so he plans to ask his wife to let him watch. To put her in a good mood, he picks up the child after work, and busies himself with the chores. Seeing his unusual behaviour, his wife asks him the reason and he tells her sheepishly. He did not expect his wife to react as unreasonably as she used to, but her mind isn't completely at rest yet. Casting her apron onto the table she shouts:

    "You want to watch soccer at midnight when we are out of briquettes? Obviously you are not tired enough! If you can make Maradona bring briquettes for us, then you can watch!"

    Disappointed, he shakes his hand:

    "Enough. Enough. Forget it. I won't watch. I'll go and buy briquettes tomorrow!"

    He stops doing the chores and sits lost in thought in front of the bed, just as his wife sometimes does when she has had a bad day at work. He cannot sleep that night. His wife wakes up and finds him lying there with open eyes. Frightened, she says:

    "Go ahead if you really want to watch it, but just make sure you buy briquettes tomorrow."

    By now, he has lost all interest and does not feel at all grateful. He replies bitterly,

    "Have I said I want to watch it? You don't let me think about anything even when I'm not watching soccer!"

    He asks for a half-day's leave the next morning to carry briquettes home, and goes back to work in the afternoon. When the newly assigned university graduate comes over to ask him about the final, Young Lin angrily replies:

    "Damn the soccer! What's there to watch? I never watch soccer!"

    Then he starts looking through the newspapers. The university graduate is started. In the evening, his wife finds him in low spirits. The briquettes have been brought home, and feeling she has been unfair to him, she tries to do all the housework, takes care of the child and tries to cheer him up. This makes him feel contrite and he feels better.

    They are about to have dinner when the lame water meter inspector comes. It is not the date for checking meters but as he has come you cannot say no. They stop their meal while he checks the meter. Apart from the spanner to turn the water supply off, the old man has a big bag on his back which appears rather heavy. His face is dripping with sweat from the weight. Seeing the big bag, Young Lin is wondering what the old man is up to. As expected, after he checks the meter he sits on the bed. Young Lin waits; is he going to talk about his horse-feeding experience when young or the water stealing event? But the old man does not mention either of those. With a smile he says:

    "Young Lin, I have a favour to ask you."

    Young Lin is taken aback. "Grandpa, what are you talking about? I am the one who is always asking you for favours. How can you ask me instead?"

    The old man says: "I'm serious. Aren't you working in a certain office under a certain bureau of a certain ministry?"

    Young Lin nods his head.

    The old man continues: "Is there a certain report for approval held in your office from a certain county of a certain district in a certain province?"

    Young Lin dimly remembers there is such a report, which has been pigeonholed by a young woman colleague called Little Peng. It is delayed because Little Peng has been too busy learning qigong in Ritan Park. So he answers: "It seems to me there is such a report."

    Clapping his hands, the old man says: "That's right! This county of this district in this province is my native place. They are extremely anxious about this report. Both the county magistrate and the Party secretary have come to see me for a solution!"

    Young Lin is again taken aback: the county magistrate and Party secretary coming to Beijing in person to ask a water meter inspector for help? Recalling that the old man once fed horses when he was young for an important person, he realized it is reasonable.

    The old man goes on: "What solution can I get? I asked them to find out which office under which bureau has got the report and they did. It so happens that the office is no other than the one you are working in. We are acquaintances so I've come to you for a favour. Do you think it can be done?"

    Young Lin has been in the office for about six years so he knows the ins and outs of the routines. This could be done easily. If he goes and has a word with Little Peng tomorrow, the report can be processed as quickly as she puts lipstick on. It could be difficult though if she is practising qigong and you have disturbed her, or she is in a bad mood. She can pick out many mistakes, list many state regulations and enumerate many reasons why the report cannot be ratified. In the end, you will be convinced the report has defects, not because of any other reason. The report could be executed tomorrow if Young Lin helps. If he doesn't, it will be shelved for ages. It all depends on whether Young Lin is willing to help or not. This lame old man is not just an ordinary man; he is the man in charge of their water meter and he will have to help him. Young Lin today, however, is no longer the Young Lin he used to be. He is now mature. If such a thing happened in the past, he would have readily promised help. That shows a person's naivety. Now he doesn't commit himself right away. If you say at first "can't" and "hard" but finally the job is done, people will feel indebted. If you give a ready promise but for whatever reason you fail to fulfil it, people will blame you. So, leaning against the stacked quilts with his head resting on his hands, Young Lin says:

    "It's not that easy! True, there is such a report in the office. But I was told there are many mistakes in it. It can't be processed right away."

    The lame old man once fed horses for an important man. But now he has come down in the world and become the water meter inspector, unable to see what is the meaning behind Little Lin's words. He smiles ingratiatingly.

    "It's not easy, you're right. I told the county magistrate and the Party secretary that Beijing is different from local places. There are strict regulations for things here. But please try to help!"

    By now, Young Lin's wife understands what the old man means. She says, "Grandpa, all he knows is how to steal water. How is he able to help you with such an important matter?"

    Looking very much embarrassed, the old man says:

    "It was all a mistake. A real misunderstanding, truly. I am to blame for listening to others. How much does a ton of running water cost and who would have stolen water like that?"

    He hurries to zip open the big bag and takes from it a big cardboard box:

    "This gift is a token of regard from the people of my county. Please accept it!"

    Then he limps away giving Young Lin a wink as he leaves. As soon as he is gone, his wife comments:

    "It seems that our life is going to take a turn!"

    "Why?" he asks.

    Pointing at the cardboard box, she answers:

    "Look, we are beginning to receive gifts."

    They open the box and are flabbergasted to find a small-sized microwave oven, which must have cost seven to eight hundred yuan on the market.

    Young Lin says, "This is not right. If the gift was a mere doll we could accept it. How can we accept a gift worth seven to eight hundred yuan? I'll send it back tomorrow!"

    His wife feels the same. Both of them are weighed down with worry while having dinner. Later in the evening his wife suddenly asks: "Is it easy to have that report approved?"

    He answers: "Very easy. If I see Little Peng tomorrow, it can be done immediately."

    She claps her hands: "If so, I'll keep this microwave oven!"

    Young Lin still feels uneasy: "Is it right? Isn't this what they call using public office for private gain? To help pass a report and get a microwave for it? Besides, we'll give a handle to the old man if we keep it!"

    His wife replies: "If you settle the matter for him, what handle can he have? What do you mean—using public office for private gain? Others are engaged in thousands upon thousands yuan of profiteering and still reach high positions! A microwave is nothing!"

    He thinks for a while and agrees, saying nothing more. His wife immediately plugs in the microwave and roasts some sweet potatoes. Several minutes later, the room is filled with a pleasant aroma of sweet potatoes. The potatoes are piping hot, and brown. Each of the family has a piece. Young Lin's wife happily remarks that a microwave is very useful. Apart from sweet potatoes, it can bake cakes, buns, chickens and ducks. He also enjoys the sweet potato. He has learnt from this experience. It seems as if there are ways to improve one's living standards. All one needs to do is to be more active. He and his wife spend a pleasant evening and his wife is very passionate indeed. Not watching the soccer match yesterday evening is of little importance.

    The next day, he sees Little Peng. The report is processed as they chat.

    Two weeks later, their daughter suddenly begins to cry again about going to nursery. Previously, she had been happy to go, hopping and skipping on her way. But for the past two days she has behaved strangely. She complains of a tummy ache and is constipated. Yet she excretes nothing in toilet. After making her go to nursery she doesn't cry anymore but looks scared and in a daze. Her parents are frightened. They wonder if she is being bullied or the teacher doesn't like her, or whether her self-esteem has been hurt by being severely punished and so question her but she answers there is nothing wrong.

    They find out from other children's parents. It is their fault. They have been negligent about the New Year. All the other children's parents gave gifts, big or small, to the nursery teachers, except them, and their child has suffered the consequences. His wife blames Young Lin:

    "Look at this! You can't even remember New Year's Day when your child is going to a nursery. The teachers must have taken us as stingy and poor!"

    He admits: "We've been careless. When our gift was refused before, it made us wary of doing it again even when we ought to have done!"

    They discuss what to present as a late offering. It is hard to decide. A New Year's card or a calendar is too slight. A blanket or clothes are too expensive and they might not be acceptable.

    "Shall we ask the child?" says Young Lin.

    His wife answers: "Why ask her? She knows nothing about this!"

    He calls the child over and asks her whether she knows what kind of gifts other children have given the teachers. She answers:

    "Charcoal!"

    He is surprised: "Charcoal? Why charcoal? Why did they give the teachers charcoal?"

    He asks his wife to find out the next day. Indeed, the child has told the truth. Many parents gave charcoal as gifts to the teachers before New Year's Day. The reason being it is winter and in winter instant boiled mutton is popular among Beijing people. So charcoal is given to put in the braziers.

    "That's easy. They gave charcoal so we'll do the same!" Young Lin says.

    But charcoal is out of stock in Beijing now. Young Lin is worried. He thinks they ought to buy something other than charcoal, as others have given it, theirs would be unwanted. Better give something else. But the child has remembered "charcoal, " and when she wakes up in the morning, the first thing she says is:

    "Dad, have you bought charcoal for my teacher?"

    A three-year-old child is so obstinate. He feels it annoying and amusing at the same time. Patting the bed, he promises:

    "Is it just charcoal? I'm looking all over the city and I promise I'll get it!"

    He finds it in a small hide-away store in a Beijing suburb, rather expensive but he's glad he has got it after all. His wife takes the gift to the nursery. The next day, the child is back to normal and is again willing to go to the nursery. When she is happy, the whole family is happy too. That evening, Young Lin's wife has half a chicken roasting in the microwave and gives him a bottle of beer. Drinking it, he feels a little dizzy, as though he were growing bigger. He tells his wife that worldly matters are in fact very simple. Once you are clear about the way to go and follow it closely, your life will flow comfortably like water. Comfort will reign over the world, the same warmth and cold throughout the globe. Seeing that he is now drunk, his wife gives him a stare and snatches the beer out of his hand. With no more to drink, his head is already muddled and he falls into a deep sleep. He has a dream — that he is sleeping under a heap of chicken feathers with many people's scurf beneath. They are soft and comforting. In his happiness, he feels one year seems to pass as a day. Then he sees a huge crowd of people slowly drifting forward and then turning into lines of ants begging for rain. When he wakes it is dawn. Shaking his head he tries to remember his dreams but they are very vague now. His wife also wakes up. Seeing the stupid look on his face, she urges him to go and buy bean curd. He is sober-minded now, shrugs off the dream and goes to queue for bean curd before going to work. In the office, he receives a letter from the son of his primary school teacher who once came to Beijing for medical treatment. It says that three months after the Beijing trip, his father passed away. Before his death, he asked his son to write to Young Lin to thank him for the hospitality he showed him. The letter makes him sad throughout the day. When he was ill he came to Young Lin's place but he did not help him find a hospital or let him wash his face, yet this teacher once took off his own padded coat to wrap him in when he fell through a hole in the ice when he was a child. At the end of a miserable day, in the shuttle bus going home, he suddenly remembers that his stack of cabbages is getting too warm. He ought to take them apart when he gets home. The thought of his teacher is thus pushed out of his mind. The dead is already dead and there is no use thinking about him; the living had better think of cabbages first. Young Lin also says to himself that he will be well-content if his wife roasts some more chicken and gives him another bottle of beer.

    Translated by Ma Aiying



    孩子上幼儿园已经三个月了。小林或小林老婆每天接送。平心而论,孩子上幼儿园以后,家务比以前多了,家里没有保姆,刷碗、擦地、洗衣洗单子,都要自己动手;孩子每天清早送、晚上接,都要准时;不像过去家里有保姆担着,回去得早晚没关系。家务虽然重了,但因为家里没有保姆,孩子一天不在家,让人心理上轻松许多;孩子接回来,关起门也是自己一家人,没有外人。保姆一走,每月省下一百多元钱,扣除孩子的入托费,还剩五六十,经济上也显得宽裕了,老婆也舍得吃了,时不时买根香肠,有时还买只烧鸡。两人在一起讨论起来,都说没有保姆好处多,接着说了用保姆的一连串毛病。但现在人家已经走了,两人还边啃烧鸡边声讨人家,未免显得有些小气。不说她也罢。以后两人说保姆少了。

    孩子入托好是好,但小林和小林老婆一直有一个心理问题,还没有解决。因为孩子入托是沾了印度家庭的光,是为了给人家孩子当陪读。清早一送孩子,晚上一接孩子,就想起这档子事,让人心理上不愉快。接送过程中,常碰到印度女人或她的丈夫,招呼还是要打,但打过招呼就有一种羞愧和不自然。不过孩子不懂事,有时从幼儿园出来,还和印度女人的孩子拉着手,玩得很愉快。但什么事情都有一个过程,时间一长,小林和小林老婆就把这事看得轻了。有时又一想,什么陪读不陪读,只要能进幼儿园,只要孩子愉快就行了。就好像帮人家卖鸭子,面子是不好看,领导也批评,但二百块钱总是到手了。只是有时见了印度家的人依然愤怒,愤怒起来心里要骂一句:

    “帮我联系幼儿园,我也不承你的情!”

    孩子在幼儿园也有一个习惯过程。开始几天,孩子哭着不去。送时哭,接时也哭。这是年幼不懂事,大人只要坚持下来,孩子也没办法。坚持一段孩子就习惯了。等孩子熟悉了新的环境,老师、别的孩子,她都认识了,于是也就不哭了。小林有时觉得那么小的孩子,在无奈中也会渐渐适应环境,想起来有些心酸。可老放在身边怎么成,她就不长大了吗?长大混世界,不更得适应?于是也就不把这辛酸放到心上。

    这时有了世界杯足球赛,小林前几年爱看足球,看得脸红心跳,觉得过瘾,世界级的明星,都能说出口。那时觉得人生的一大目的就是看足球,世界杯四年一次,人生才有几个四年?但后来参加工作、结婚以后,足球就渐渐不看了。看它有什么用?人家球踢得再好,也不解决小林身边任何问题。小林的问题是房子、孩子、蜂窝煤和保姆、老家来人。所以对热闹的世界杯充耳不闻。现在孩子入了幼儿园,小林心里轻松一些,看到今天晚上要决赛,也禁不住心里痒痒起来;由于转播是半夜,他想跟老婆通融通融,半夜起来看一次转播。于是下班接孩子回来,猛干家务。老婆看他有些反常,问他有什么事,他就腆着脸把这事说了,并说今天晚上上场的有马拉多纳。谁知老婆仍是那么不通情达理,她的思路仍没有转过弯来,竟将围裙摔到桌子上:

    “家里蜂窝煤都没有了,你还要半夜起来看足球,还是累得轻!你要能让马拉多纳给咱家拉蜂窝煤,我就让你半夜起来看他!”

    小林一阵扫兴,连忙摆手:

    “算了,算了,你别说了,我不看了,明天我去拉蜂窝煤不就行了!”

    于是也不再干家务,坐在床前犯傻,像老婆有时在单位不顺心回到家坐床边犯傻的样子。这天夜里,小林一夜没睡着。老婆半夜醒来,见小林仍睁眼在那里犯傻,倒有些害怕,说:

    “你要真想看,你看去吧!明天不误拉蜂窝煤就行了!”

    这时小林一点兴致都没有了,一点不承老婆的情,厌恶地说:

    “我说看了?不看足球,还不让我想想事情了!”

    第二天早起,小林就请了一上午假,去拉蜂窝煤。拉完蜂窝煤下午到单位,新来的大学生便来征求他对昨晚足球的意见。小林恶狠狠地说:

    “一个鸡巴足球,有什么看的!我从来不看足球!”

    接着就自己去翻报纸。倒把大学生吓了一跳。晚上下班回来,老婆见他仍在闹情绪,蜂窝煤也拉来了,倒觉得有点对不住他,自己忙里忙外弄孩子,还看着他的脸色说话。这倒叫小林有些过意不去,心里的恶气才稍稍出了一些。

    这天晚上,小林和小林老婆正准备吃饭,查水表的瘸腿老头来了。本来今天不该查水表,但查水表的老头来了,就不敢不让他查。小林和小林老婆停止弄饭,让他查。这次老头除了拿着关水的扳手,身上还背着一个大背包,背包似乎还很重,累得老头一脸的汗。小林看着大背包,心里吓了一跳,不知老头又要搞什么名堂。果然,老头查完水表,又理所当然地坐到了小林家的床上。小林站在他跟前,不知他想说年轻时喂马,还是继续说上次偷水的事。但老头这两件事都没有说,而是突然笑嘻嘻的,对小林说:

    “小林,我得求你一件事!”

    小林吃了一惊,说:

    “大爷,您说哪儿去了,都是我有事求您,您哪里会有事求我?”

    老头说:

    “这次真有事求你。你不是在某部某局某处工作吗?”

    小林点点头。

    老头说:

    “某省某地区某县的一件批文,是不是压在你们处里?”

    小林想了想,想起似乎是有这么一个批文,压在处里,似乎是压在女小彭手上;女小彭这些天忙着去日坛公园学气功,就把这事给压下了。于是说:

    “好像是有这件事!”

    老头拍着巴掌说:

    “这就对了!某省某县是我的老家呀!老家为这件事着急得不得了,县长书记都来了,找到我,让我想办法!”

    小林吃一惊,县长书记进京,竟要求到一个查水表的老头身上?但又想起他年轻时曾给大领导喂过马,于是就想通了。

    老头继续说:

    “我能想什么办法?我让他们打听一下批文压在哪个部哪个局哪个处,他们打听出来,我一听真是凑巧,这个处正好是你在的处,我忽然想咱们俩认识,于是今天就求到你头上了!这事情好办吗?”

    小林在机关呆了五六年,机关那一套还不熟悉?这事情说好办就好办,明天他给女小彭说一句话,女小彭抹口红的工夫,这批件就从她手里出去了;说不好办也不好办,如果陌生人公事公办去找女小彭,如果女小彭正在做气功你打扰了她,或者因为别的事她正心情不好,这批件就难说了;她会给你找出批件的好多毛病,找出国家的种种规定,不能审批的原因,最后还弄得你口服心服,以为是批件本身有毛病而不是别的什么其他原因。瘸老头说的这批件,就看小林帮忙不帮忙,如果帮忙,明天就可以批;如果不帮忙,这批件就仍然得压一些日子。但瘸老头不是一般的老头,管着给他们查水表,这个忙看样子得帮。但小林已不是过去的小林,小林成熟了。如果放在过去,只要能帮忙,他会立即满口答应,但那是幼稚。能帮忙先说不能帮忙,好办先说不好办,这才是成熟。不帮忙不好办最后帮忙办成了,人家才感激你。一开始就满口答应,如果中间出了岔子没办成,本来答应人家,最后没办成,反倒落人家埋怨。所以小林将手搭在后脑勺上,将身子仰到被子垛上说:

    “这事情不好办哪!批文是有这么一个批文,但我听说里边有好多毛病呢,不是说批就能批的!”

    瘸老头虽然以前给大领导喂过马,但毕竟是多年以前的事了,现在已经沦落成一个查水表的,不懂其中奥妙,已经多年矣,所以赶忙迎着小林笑:

    “是呀是呀,我也给老家的县长书记说,北京中央不比地方,各项规定严着哩。不过小林你还是得帮帮忙!”

    小林老婆这时也听出了什么意思,凑过来说:

    “大爷,他就会偷水,哪里会帮您这大忙!”

    瘸老头一脸尴尬,说:

    “那是误会,那是误会,怪我乱听反映,一吨水才几分钱,谁会偷水!”

    接着又忙把他的背包拉开,掏出一个大纸匣子,说:

    “这是老家人的一点心意,你们收下吧!”

    然后不再多留,对小林眨眨眼,瘸着腿走了。老头一走,小林老婆说:

    “看来以后生活会有转变!”

    小林问:

    “怎么有转变?”

    小林老婆指着纸盒子说:

    “看,都有人开始送礼了!”

    接着将纸盒子打开,掏出礼物一看,两人大吃一惊,原来是一个小型的微波炉,在市场上要七八百元一台。小林说:

    “这多不合适,如果是一个布娃娃,可以收下,七八百元的东西,如何敢收!明天给他送回去!”

    老婆也觉得是。晚上吃饭,两人都心事重重的。到了晚上,老婆突然问他:

    “我只问你,那个批文好办吗?”

    小林说:

    “批文倒好办,我明天给女小彭说一下,马上就可以批!”

    小林老婆拍了一下巴掌:

    “那这微波炉我收下了!”

    小林担心地说:

    “这不合适吧?帮批个文,收个微波炉,这不太假公济私了?再说,也给瘸腿老头留下话柄了呀!”

    小林老婆说:

    “给他把事情办了,还有什么话柄?什么假公济私,人家几千几万地倒腾,不照样做着大官!一个微波炉算什么!”

    小林想想也是,就不再说什么。小林老婆马上将微波炉电源插上,拣了几块白薯放到里边试烤。几分钟之后,满屋的白薯香。打开炉子,白薯焦黄滚烫,小林老婆、小林、孩子三人,一人捧一块“稀溜稀溜”吃。小林老婆高兴地说,微波炉用处多,除了烤白薯,还可以烤蛋糕,烤馍片,烤鸡烤鸭。小林吃着白薯也很高兴,这时也得到一个启示,看来改变生活也不是没有可能,只要加入其中就行了。这天晚上,他与老婆又亲热了一回。由于有微波炉的刺激,老婆也很有激情。昨天发生的足球事件,这时也显得无足轻重了。

    第二天上班,小林找到女小彭。果然,谈笑之间,两人就把那个批件给处理了。

    微波炉用了两个星期,孩子突然出了毛病。本来去幼儿园她已经习惯了,接送都不哭了,有时还一蹦一跳地进幼儿园。但这两天突然反常,每天早上都哭,哭着不去幼儿园,或说肚子疼,或说要拉屎;真给她便盆,什么也拉不出来。呵斥她一顿,强着送去,路上倒不哭了,但怔怔的,犯愣,像傻了一样。小林和小林老婆都有些害怕,断定她在幼儿园出了毛病,要么是小朋友欺负了她,使她见了这个小朋友就害怕;要么问题出在阿姨身上,阿姨不喜欢她,罚她站了墙根或是让她当众出丑,伤了她的自尊心,使她害怕再见阿姨。小林和小林老婆便问孩子因为什么,孩子倒哭着说:

    “我没有什么呀,我没有什么呀!”

    于是小林老婆只好接孩子时在其他家长中进行调查。调查的结果,原来毛病出在小林和小林老婆身上。他们大意了。大意之中过了元旦;元旦之前,别的家长都向阿姨们送东西,或多或少,意思意思,唯独小林家没有意思,于是迹象就出现在孩子身上。老婆埋怨小林:

    “你也真是,孩子进了幼儿园,你连个元旦都记不住!幼儿园阿姨背地里不知嘲笑咱多少回,肯定说咱抠门、寒酸!”

    小林也说:

    “大意了大意了,过去送礼被人家推出去,就害怕送礼,谁知该送礼的时候,又把这事给忘了!”

    于是就跟老婆商量补救措施,看补送一些什么合适。真要说送什么,两人又犯了愁。送个贺年卡、挂历,显得太小气,何况新年已过去了;送毯子、衣服又太大,害怕人家不收。小林说:

    “要不问问孩子?”

    小林老婆说:

    “问她干什么,她懂个屁!”

    小林还是将孩子叫过来,问孩子知不知道其他孩子给老师送了什么,没想到孩子竟然知道,答:

    “炭火!”

    小林倒吃一惊:

    “炭火?为什么送炭火?给老师送炭火干什么?”

    于是让老婆第二天再调查。果然,孩子说对了。有许多家长在元旦给老师送了“炭火”。因为现在冬天了,冬天北京时兴吃涮羊肉,大家便给老师送“炭火”。小林说:

    “这还不好办?别人送炭火,咱也送炭火!”

    但等真要去买炭火,炭火在北京已经脱销了。小林感到发愁,与老婆商量送点别的算了,何况别人家已经送了炭火,咱再送也是多余,不如送点别的。但孩子记住了“炭火”,每天清早爬起来第一句话便是:

    “爸爸,你给老师买炭火了吗?”

    看着一个三岁孩子这么顽固地要送“炭火”,小林又好气又好笑,拍了一下床说:

    “不就是一个炭火吗,我全城跑遍,也一定要买到它!”

    果然,最后在郊区一个旮旯小店里买到了炭火。不过是高价的。高价能买到也不错。小林让老婆把炭火送到幼儿园。第二天,女儿就恢复了常态,高兴去幼儿园。女儿一高兴,全家情绪又都好起来。这天晚上吃饭,老婆用微波炉烤了半只鸡,又让小林喝了一瓶啤酒。啤酒喝下,小林头有些发晕,满身变大。这时小林对老婆说,其实世界上事情也很简单,只要弄明白一个道理,按道理办事,生活就像流水,一天天过下去,也满舒服。舒服世界,环球同此凉热。老婆见他喝多了,瞪了他一眼,一把将啤酒瓶给夺了过来。啤酒虽然夺了过去,但小林脑袋已经发懵,这天夜里睡得很死。半夜做了一个梦,梦见自己睡觉,上边盖着一堆鸡毛,下边铺着许多人掉下的皮屑,柔软舒服,度年如日。又梦见黑压压无边无际的人群向前涌动,又变成一队队祈雨的蚂蚁。一觉醒来,已是天亮。小林摇头回忆梦境,梦境已是一片模糊。这时老婆醒来,见他在那里发傻,便催他去买豆腐。这时小林头脑清醒过来,不再管梦,赶忙爬起来去排队买豆腐。买完豆腐上班,在办公室收到一封信,是上次来北京看病的小学老师他儿子写的,说自上次父亲在北京看了病,回来停了三个月,现已去世了;临去世前,曾嘱咐他给小林写封信,说上次到北京受到小林的招待,表示感谢。小林读了这封信,难受一天。现在老师已埋入黄土,上次老师来看病,也没能给他找个医院,到家里也没让他洗个脸。小时候自己掉到冰窟窿里,老师把棉袄都给他穿。但伤心一天,等一坐上班车,想着家里的大白菜堆到一起有些发热,等他回去拆堆散热,就把老师的事给放到一边了。死的已经死了,再想也没有用,活着的还是先考虑大白菜为好。小林又想,如果收拾完大白菜,老婆能用微波炉再给他烤点鸡,让他喝瓶啤酒,他就没有什么不满足的了。 (责任编辑:admin)
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