Chapter 14: Folders
Translated by Fefe of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Tang Heng got up and ran out. The instant he opened the door, he crashed into Lu Yue. She stumbled back from the impact, slipped, and fell to the ground.
Director Xu stood on the side but seemed like he didn’t dare to walk over. He just yelled through clenched teeth, “What are you all doing? Are you crazy?!”
Tang Heng looked at Lu Yue. She had a small frame with short black hair and glasses. She felt just like a student. When he’d first joined the school, Lu Yue had been very cold to him, not treating him like a “shidi” at all. At that time, Tang Heng even wondered what he’d done to offend her. After getting to her better, he realized that this was how Lu Yue was. Not talkative, introverted, didn’t have much of a presence. It was like her life was too simple to need words to talk about. It was just studying and more studying, graduating with a PhD, entering a school, getting married, giving birth—so simple, so successful.
“Shidi.” Lu Yue curled up. Her expression was as calm as Sun Jihao’s. “You really didn’t know?”
Tang Heng’s knees wobbled and he almost fell to his knees.
That question again.
He lurched forward and grabbed Lu Yue’s shoulders. “What do you mean… Shijie, what am I supposed to know? I—”
“Don’t call me shijie,” Lu Yue said, word by word. “Don’t you know? I want to die every time you call me that.”
“Every time you call me shijie, I think of him. Do you know why I keep my hair short?”
“Because he said that he likes girls with long hair. I thought that it’ll be okay after I graduate. I just need to survive until graduation—but I can’t escape from it, you know? He introduced Sun Jihao to me. He did that sort of thing to me and then introduced a man for me. Amazing, right? He even sent you to Macao and asked me to take care of you… Your first day at work, I thought about how great it’d be if you were dead. If you got smashed by a falling block of glass, if you died from a heart attack, if you died, it would be great. I would stop thinking of him.” As Lu Yue spoke, tears fell from her eyes. “But then I realized that you didn’t know anything. He’s your uncle, but you actually didn’t know—Tang Heng, I’m so jealous of you.”
With a boom, a downpour came to Shijiang City at two in the morning.
The windshield wipers of the SUV moved at max speed, but they were no match for the velocity of the falling rain. The entire sky and world were full of rain. The car seemed to be driving in an angry tide. The air conditioning temperature was very low, causing the driver to curl into himself as he drove.
“How much longer?” Tang Heng asked. His voice was gruffer than usual and he hung his head, hiding his expression.
“The rain is too hard, sir.” The driver shivered. “It’ll be at least one more hour.”
One hour. Tang Heng didn’t answer. After a long while, he finally made an unclear, “Mn.”
The driver didn’t dare to speak further and just aggressively turned the wheel. Tang Heng swayed back and forth in his seat. As if someone had extracted his spine, he sat lopsided, legs turning into jelly. His entire body was at the brink of collapse; only his brain was still running.
But his brain was running into chaos. The doctors had told him before to not think about the past if he could help it. So, he always tried to avoid the memories. But right now, those scenes and images were like alcohol that had been sealed for too long. The instant he opened the lid, the odor flooded out, intoxicating him until his sanity fell apart.
The river of the East Lake rolled like the sea. Li Yuechi sat beside him. There was a black backpack next to his hand. It was half unzipped, showing a stack of cram school flyers. He asked Li Yuechi, Will you hand them out again tomorrow? Li Yuechi said, Yes, until next Tuesday. A bit unhappy, he asked, How much will you make? Li Yuechi smiled shyly and didn’t answer.
Inside LIL Bar on Jianghan Road, the band just finished their performance. He got a big bouquet of red roses from a girl. The girl confessed her love to him—shy yet anxious. He nodded, but his eyes went over the girl to the corner. Li Yuechi was standing there, also looking at him. His expression was sly as the bystander. Tang Heng frowned and Li Yuechi walked over, taking the guitar from his shoulder. The girl asked, Who’s that? He said, My assistant. Li Yuechi nodded seriously. Please register with me next time you want to confess.
June 2012, he went to the detention center, but Li Yuechi refused to see him. Jiang Ya went in and came out not long after. He just grabbed Tang Heng’s shoulders as if afraid he’ll fall apart. Jiang Ya said, Li Yuechi told me to apologize in his place. He said he liked you, but he only loved Tian Xiaoqin. The setting sun at the end of the road was so big he felt like he could touch it. The dusk was like blood. After that, his symptoms always acted up in the evening.
Li Yuechi. All of the shards of memories surged up like countless butterflies flapping their wings. Delirious, he didn’t know which butterfly was real, which would crumble to dust with one touch. All of the lies and lies, hate and hate that he’d believed in before meant nothing now.
The SUV stopped. “Sir, we’re here,” the driver said.
The rain came down even harder. Tang Heng opened the door and walked into the curtain of rain of the darkness. He remembered this path—Li Yuechi had led him down it that night. The village was extremely quiet at night. He was completely drenched now and his feet stepped on the cold, muddy ground as if he was about to enter some doomed fate.
The mayor strode out of Li Yuechi’s house, greeting him with a flashlight, “Tang—Teacher Tang?” He probably didn’t expect him to really come.
When Tang Heng got closer, he said, “Where is Li Yuechi.”
“He…went on an errand.” The mayor stared at Tang Heng in shock. “Teacher Tang, what’s wrong? Come, come, come to the village council to rest. I already sent someone to contact him. He’ll be here soon—”
Tang Heng entered the Li house and was met with stooped old woman. Her eyes were filled with tears. “Official, please help us,” she begged with a heavy accent. “Yuechi didn’t do anything…” She was Li Yuechi’s mother.
“Didn’t do anything?” The mayor rushed over and cried angrily, “I’m telling you, we investigated! Li Yuechi stabbed his teacher, ah, it was Teacher Tang’s uncle! Teacher Tang didn’t say anything, but you dare to keep troubling him, you don’t know your place—”
“Where’s Li Yuechi’s room?” Tang Heng asked.
“Yuechi was innocent!” the woman cried even harder as if ripping out her lungs. “Official, he really was innocent! He told me when I visited him before—”
“Please tell me,” Tang Heng tried to make his voice gentle, “where is Li Yuechi’s room?”
“In there, first on the left…”
Tang Heng walked forward. Rainwater dripped down from his body to the cement ground. The water stains followed him, turning left, opening the door, pulling the string for the light. Using the dim incandescent light, he saw Li Yuechi’s bookshelf.
The room was small enough for him to see everything in one glance. One twin-sized bed, one bookshelf—nothing else. Tang Heng used the last bit of strength to move before the bookshelf. He took out some dark blue folders from between the old books and old newspapers. His mind had stopped working by now. He depended solely on his senses, because the folders were so organized that they stood out. He opened the first folder. Issues in the Sociology of Knowledge’ – a Comparative Analysis of the Translation–his bachelor’s final thesis. The second folder: Max Scheler’s Individualism—his master’s final thesis. The third folder: Michel Foucault and the Politics of China—his PhD final thesis. The fourth folder was very thick. Li Yuechi had printed out all of Tang Heng’s published theses, page by page, separating the different theses with post-its. It was hard to imagine how he took a flash drive to some print shop in this remote city and printed out English papers that had nothing to do with Shijiang beef jerky. Would others laugh at him? The fifth folder was in Chinese. Li Yuechi’s verdict. Four years and nine months of imprisonment.
Tang Heng turned slowly. He saw Li Yuechi standing at the door. They met each other’s eyes and neither spoke.
This exchange of stares was like the world splitting apart.
Tang Heng fell to his knees before him.
Author’s note: don’t take the thesis titles seriously