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18 A Stray Bullet

Even until today, we still use silence to avoid our past.

These have been days that I do not wish to remember. Everything has been changing too quickly. With every day, I become more substantial; with every day, this world is less so.

I am at a doorway. If I pass through, perhaps I can be young again yet I know I can never be young again

How that stray bullet came to find me, penetrating my left calf and exiting without my feeling it at all, remains an unsolved riddle.

It was late one evening in early summer. I was on my way to see my mother, who had been confined to the hospital because of a partial malfunction of the left chamber of her heart.

It was strange that this shady, cool street directly behind Tian'anmen Square, which for many days had been part of a boiling ferment of debate, was now suddenly deserted and quiet. I was rather puzzled. How could that tangle of traffic and press of crowds simply vanish into thin air?

My senses sharpened. I could hear in the distance a strange, clanking sound, the rumble of wheels, and what sounded like exploding fire-rackers. At the corner two or three hundred meters in front of me, lying there like the carcass of a huge dead horse, was what appeared to be an overturned object blocking the road. All around it, I thought I could make out the wavering shapes of people, but I couldn't be sure. Farther away, a corner of the descending night sky suddenly darkened as if it were preoccupied with plotting some secret.

Then I heard an angry sound like the snort of a wild boar hang briefly in the evening air at the same moment that I felt something hard strike the calf of my left leg. It felt hot, numb. I struggled to keep standing. It seemed as if suddenly my leg had been wrenched away from me, was no longer mine. Feeling no pain at all, I looked down curiously. A thick red liquid was running down the left leg of my trousers onto the street.

Jerking up, I looked all around me. The dying echoes of that angry sound were followed by a dead silence. As the blue of twilight gradually thickened, the dying light clung like a tight mesh around my body. I stood there frightened and afraid to move. I couldn't see anything unusual, nor had any idea what had struck my leg.

As I looked around in fear, I kept thinking that these were unusual times, everything was distorted, changed. Evil intentions lurked everywhere and anything could cause them to erupt.

The muffled clanking sound in the distance became clearer and clearer, turning into a rumbling thunder. As I strained to listen, I heard once more that angry sound, like the snort of a wild boar, this time protracted and unbroken.

I turned fearfully in its direction.

What transpired was a miracle. Beyond the street corner in the distance, a wavering mirage suddenly appeared and began to rumble slowly toward me, cutting through everything within my field of vision

I was dumbstruck.

Dropping to my knees, I scrambled to the side of the road, and grabbing hold of a spindly tree, hid there like a thief, holding my breath, pressed behind a huge block of stone. Only then did the pain in my leg start rising upward, to engulf me. The wound was like a dark red cave, the mouth of a living spring. Around the opening, the flesh, like the split cardboard casing of an exploded firecracker, was curling outward

Only after being taken by the people on the street to the nearby hospital where my mother was, not as a visitor but as a patient, did I finally find out that the hard object that had struck my leg was a wayward bullet. It had passed between the two bones in my calf and out the other side before it even registered that something had hit me.

When Mother, all upset, came to the emergency room to see me, the whole thing struck me as totally absurd.

17 A Fiery Dance Of Death | A Private Life | c