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***


A deafening explosion jerked me awake. Blotting out the sound of the continuous rain, it jarred all the residents of the building out of their dreams.

The explosion was followed by an eerie silence, then the corridors rang with a piercing female scream, "Someone, please! Help! Help!"

Again, there was a dead silence.

Soon the corridors were filled with the clanging of burglar-proof doors opening and the scattered scuffle of slippered feet. The noise and confusion got louder and louder.

It had taken me this long to fully awaken. Now, I shot out of bed and rushed to the door. Someone was already pounding on it.

I swung it open to see Ho standing there, frightened beyond measure.

She said, "Are you all right?"

Without a word, I grabbed her and we rushed to my mother's apartment.

The hallway was already jammed with people asking each other about the explosion. Without stopping to talk to anyone, I raced to my mother's door and started pounding on it violently.

There was no answer.

I knew that Mother was a light sleeper, and when she didn't respond, the strength went out of my legs.

I began to shout and bang the door with my fists.

Ho said, "Quick. Go and get your key."

When we finally got the door open, we rushed into Mother's bedroom and shook her awake, to find to our surprise that nothing had happened, that she was safe and sound.

A great stone of fear was lifted from my heart.

Mother explained that she hadn't been feeling well for the past few days and because she couldn't sleep, she had taken an extra-strong dose of sleeping pills.

The lights were out in the corridors, and in the inky darkness Ho and I groped our way upstairs with some neighbors who had heard where the accident was.

There was already a crowd of people outside the door of the Ge girl's apartment. Pale as a ghost, she stood stricken outside the open door, trembling uncontrollably, muttering repeatedly, "Please help my papa! The kitchen the pressure cooker," while her husband stood jouncing their wailing son in his arms.

Suddenly I put things together: the familiar-looking "stranger" I had bumped into in the stairwell must have been Mr. Ge. After hiding for so many years, he had finally resurfaced, come home.

Nervously, I followed several of our neighbors into the apartment, looking for the kitchen, but what I saw there made me sick with fear.

The "stranger" was indeed Mr. Ge. He was stretched out on the dull red tile floor. A red and white mess the consistency of paste was splattered all around his head. The twisted, empty pressure cooker was beside his left shoulder, the bean porridge it had contained spewed everywhere, the lid nowhere to be seen. There was a round hole in his skull just behind his left ear, from which the grayish curd of his brain and syrupy thick blood still oozed. It was disgusting.

A middle-aged male doctor who lived in the building came in, and crouching down beside the motionless body, he reached out to feel for a pulse in Mr. Ge's neck. After a moment he stood up and said, "He's gone. With injuries like that, death is a matter of seconds."

I turned away and fled.


14 One Persons Death Brings Punishment To Another | A Private Life | 15 Endless Days