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9 A Coffin Looks For An Occupant

Through the open eyes of the dead, all that we can see is what has become of their bodies, but their spirits have not died. When the miasma of death from the netherworld in a twinkling suddenly reclaims their bodies, these "fragmented" people at last become aware that their lives were never lived as authentically or as passionately as they thought, and that they never understood this world in the way that they thought they did.


The wind is the despot of Beijing 's North China winters. At one moment, its fierce, leaping blasts tear and pull at the black mantle of bare earth; at the next it becomes gentle under a warming sun, and the earth beneath one's feet is transformed into an endless river of golden light. Such extreme weather changes make the people who live through them moody and temperamental.

Winter is an endless season.

One winter day, the heavily falling snow soon above my ankles, I spent the entire afternoon building a snowman in our courtyard. For her eyes, I stole two lumps of coal from under the eaves of Mrs. Ge's house in the courtyard in front of us the lady who had breast cancer. From our own kitchen I took some cabbage leaves for her hair, and I made an army cap for her out of a piece of cardboard. I made her look like a fearless woman soldier waving an arm in the empty, barren courtyard. Her blank eyes were open wide, as if she were pursuing some unseen or simply nonexistent enemy.

I chose a name for her Ni Niuniu, same as myself.

That night after dinner, I was totally tired out.

When I went to my room and started writing in my diary, I couldn't stop yawning. The words in my diary, strung together like my yawns, were all awry and uneven, as illegible as the magic scribblings of a ghost. My head felt heavier and heavier, and all my bones seemed to have been pulled from my body so that I slumped in my chair.



8 The Inner Room | A Private Life | c