Shanghai Life and Death(59)

The newcomer was organizing his things while peeking at me from time to time, as if hoping to meet my gaze.

“How long have you been here? Is it still okay here? Do they beat people up?” She finally said in a lowered voice as she came over and sat down next to me.

What she said confused me. She didn’t look like a well-fed, well-lived, newly-incarcerated prisoner. Her face was white and gray, indicating that she had been imprisoned for a considerable period of time. Due to the lack of protein, her hair is thin and thin, and scorched like straw. Her clothes, draped over the same hunger as me to empty the body. An occasional glimpse of treachery and fear erupted from her dull, lifeless eyes.

“We’re not allowed to talk to each other, that’s forbidden.” I told her, so I looked toward the door peephole, suddenly, a black eye behind the hole flashed past. I was suspicious: why did the guard know she was sitting next to me and not open the window to scold her?

At dinner, she gobbled up her share of yams, and seeing that I had only picked a few of them and put them into my own cup and chewed them slowly, she grabbed the lunchbox and poured the rest of the yams into her bowl, mumbling to herself as she ate; “We can’t waste food.”

I didn’t stop her from taking the rest of my portion and eating it too. This detail proved that she was simply lying when she initially stated that she was newly incarcerated. She was starving to death.

If I had been familiar with the inner workings of prison, I would have recognized her charade instantly. But it was only years later that I learned that, according to the Public Security Bureau, it is not possible to keep two prisoners in one cell. In a group cell, at least three people had to be held. This is because the prison authorities believe that it is a little more difficult for three people to plot against each other than for two people.

I continued to sit on the edge of the bed, cold-eyed waiting to see what she would do next. But she didn’t try to talk to me anymore, except to mooch off my hand towels and soap.

The next morning, after listening to the news broadcast, she sat over again.

“I hate this terrible Cultural Revolution. Do you hate it? The damn Red Guards raided my house, was your house raided?”

I had often heard over the PA that many people had been sentenced to long prison terms for criticizing the Cultural Revolution and the revolutionary actions of the Red Guards, so I knew that such words, were very serious crimes. It was not normal for her to expose her views so casually, unless the guards had authorized her to do so as a bait to lure me into empathy with her. So I just replied, “Don’t whine. Why are you sitting here talking endlessly instead of studying ‘Mao Xuan’? If the guards found out we were talking to each other, they would punish us.”

I looked around the cell and found that she didn’t have a copy of “Mao Xuan” at all. Since the Cultural Revolution, “Mao’s Selected Works” has become an indispensable part of every Chinese man’s life, as important as his shirt and pants. Moreover, it has also become a necessary protection for the body. The presence or absence of Mao’s writings has become a litmus test for everyone’s political reliability.

In addition, I remember the night I first came to the prison, the guards made me read the prison rules, one of which mentioned that every prisoner must study the works of Mao Zedong. How could she not bring “Mao’s Selected Works” with her when she was sent to prison?

“Where is your ‘Mao’s Selected Works’? When you entered the detention center, didn’t anyone ask you to bring it with you? How could they be so careless?” I explained the situation to her, and her face turned red. I was willing to lend her the book, but she pushed it away and wouldn’t take it.

“I don’t want to read his books. I hate him, he has ruined my home. I think the National Consciousness is much better than the Communists. What do you think?”

Out of instinct, my eyes swept toward the peephole in the door, where no one was watching us. What a serious crime it is to glorify the Kuomintang. I was pretty sure that she had been ordered by the army guard to act in this way. Maybe the guard was a leftist, and she couldn’t wait to incriminate me. I said, “Don’t talk nonsense, I’ll report it.”

But she didn’t realize that I was on guard, and she kept on urging me to speak reactionary words.

“Weren’t you in Shanghai before 1949? Wasn’t the Kuomintang much better?” She insisted on going on.

“I really don’t know anything about the situation in Shanghai before 1949, when I was in a foreign country.” I said.

“Well! How fortunate are you? In a foreign country! I hate Shanghai now! We have no freedom. Do you hate the Communists?” She tempted me again.

“I am a Christian, a Christian who can only love people, not hate them. We should even love our enemies.” I said to her.

I found her very confused about me and why she said that she should also love my enemies. I only saw her smile conceitedly, and then, as if to win my trust, she suddenly popped out, “I am a Christian too.”

“That’s great, let’s recite the Lord’s Prayer together. Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name ……” But instead of reciting it down with me, she showed a woeful look of being at a loss for words.

“You’re not a Christian, you don’t have to be a fake Christian.” I said, “But that’s okay, I’ll teach you the Lord’s Prayer.”

She shook her head, but didn’t exploit it to report that I was spreading religious superstition.

I don’t think she was cultured enough to discern that my teaching her the Lord’s Prayer would be of equal value to these ultra-leftists as reporting my anti-Party rhetoric, and would be of interest to them. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the punishment for believers was very severe. The first action of the Red Guards was almost exclusively to destroy temples and churches and punish monks, nuns and clergy.

In the afternoon, the same military woman guard opened the cell door and called out my cellmate’s number, yelling, “Come out for arraignment!”

I waited anxiously to see what other tricks would be used after the trap they had set had not worked. Two hours later, she came back, wiping her eyes uncontrollably, as if she had been crying. Seeing someone shed tears always makes me feel very uneasy. I also felt sorry for her because I had put her through the wringer by not taking her bait. But I didn’t comfort her. I didn’t want to offer her another opportunity to play tricks to entice me to inadvertently say the wrong thing. I figured she would try me again. But to my surprise, she didn’t seem interested in talking to me again.

The next day, the whole day, she just did not say a word, only stared blankly at the window, but once or twice, when she thought I was studying, sneakily coveted me.

In the afternoon she was called in for another trial, and when she returned she was crying again. This went on for three days, and on the fourth day she went and did not return. When the woman in the kitchen brought dinner, she sent only my portion of yams. I asked her for another one to leave for my roommate, but the woman just shook her head. But I still left some yams in the tea pot for her.