Shanghai Life and Death(89)

Finally a ray of light came in under the door again, a guard moved and scraped his way over, and I stood up.

“Are you ready to explain? Have you thought about it?” It was a male guard’s voice.

“I want to talk to you.” I said.

“Good! So, in the end, you’re willing to give an account.”

“No, it’s not about giving an account, it’s about my hands.”

“Hands? What’s wrong with your hand?”

“It’s swollen badly. These handcuffs are too tight, could you loosen them for me?” I asked.

“Do you feel uncomfortable now? Well, why don’t you explain? Once you explain, the handcuffs can be removed.”

“Can you loosen them for me now?”

“Why don’t you learn from others and give an account? You are the one who wants to put on the handcuffs, what else do you mind handcuffing?”

“Please look at my hand, it’s swollen.”

“I have no right to do so. If you are determined to explain, I will open the door and take you out, that’s all I can do.” The guard said.

“Can’t you report to your superiors that my hand has swollen badly?”

“No. If you decide to give an account, I’ll take you out.”

It seemed useless to argue with him any further, so I resumed sitting on that plank.

“Are you prepared to give an account?” He asked me again, but I didn’t answer. He waited a little longer, then left.

In his opinion, the swelling of my hands was nothing extraordinary, but of course he knew that it was because of the handcuffs. It seems that someone had already been subjected to this kind of punishment in the past. Later, he probably reported to his superiors that I was worried about my two hands, but they thought I was wavering, and deliberately delayed releasing my handcuffs in order to force me to give an explanation. Anyway, I was sure that it was hopeless to ask the guards to release the handcuffs and I had to pray to God to bless my hands.

“Come here!” A female guard’s voice.

As soon as I stood up, I was already pressed against the door, wondering how she suddenly made a 180-degree turn in her attitude.

“I’m here to do your job,” she said in a normal tone, as if she were talking to her own colleagues, rather than the gruff voice she customarily used to reprimand prisoners. “You’re not stupid, so why don’t you be smart and explain quickly? Why are you making a fool of yourself like this?”

I was silent.

“You’re understandably worried about your two hands. Hands are very important for everyone, especially for intellectuals, because writing must be done by hand. You must protect your hands and not let them get hurt. Actually that is not difficult, as long as you promise to account for it.”

I remained silent.

“They have already said that they will never loosen your handcuffs until you promise to explain. They mean what they say, and they will certainly do it. You know, the dictatorship of the proletariat is not just a joke.”

I still didn’t make a sound.

She waited for a while and then said; “Well, think my words over. I am trying to persuade you, and I sympathize with you, to reconsider what I have said.”

Listening to her footsteps fade away, I sat down again.

I was angry with myself, cursing myself for being so stupid. How could I have been so whimsical for a moment and thought they would loosen my handcuffs? Now I had exposed my gap and made them happy, thinking that I would possibly submit to them because I was worried about two hands. I said to myself, “Forget about the two hands. If I am crippled, let it be crippled. There are many famous people in the world who are handicapped with both hands, or have no hands at all.” I remember when I was in Holland with my husband in 1951, I bought a painting by a veteran who had lost both hands during the two wars. He was said to have used his toes to hold the brush to paint. I have always treasured this painting as a symbol of human perseverance and intelligence. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by the Red Guards who raided the house. But this artist, whom I had never met, gave me courage and strength at this moment, helping me to overcome the fear that I might lose my hands.

The female guard came with a group of people, each one of them talking with two mouths, explaining to me all the advantages of submitting to the dictatorship of the proletariat and giving a full account. Now they knew that the handcuffs were very unpleasant for me and that I was worried about the possibility of ruining both hands, so this time they did not leave in a hurry, but stayed outside the door and waited patiently for me to answer. And I have not been dripping water for a long time, not into the grain of rice, and did not sleep well, so weak, almost faint fainting. Just feel the intestinal spasms and cramps, the pain is to straighten up. But I still sat on the board, resting my head on my knees, and waited for them to leave.

The day seemed to stick, especially long, and I waited patiently for their “next course”. Finally, the door opened and a female guard’s voice said, “Come out.”

The bone-chilling and refreshing scent of the courtyard immediately lifted my spirits, as if an angry wave had hit me head-on, and I was able to dominate the trembling feet to step forward. The guards took me back to the interrogation room where I had been beaten yesterday.

The female soldier guard and the guard who had handcuffed me sat grumpily in the interrogator’s seat behind the high table. When I entered I bowed to the statue of Mao Zedong, and the woman guard let me recite my own choice of Mao quotes.

“Chairman Mao taught us: one is not afraid of suffering, two is not afraid of death.” I said. This was the first quotation that flashed into my mind, and it was very appropriate to use it in front of me.

“That quotation is not for people like you, that is what Chairman Mao said to the heroes of the revolution.” The female guard said, annoyed.

But it seemed they weren’t going to pursue it any further and didn’t ask me to recite any more quotations. If they ask me to recite another quotation, I am ready to recite the paragraph “Determined, not afraid of sacrifice, to overcome all difficulties, to strive for victory”.

“What are you thinking about now?” The male guard asked.

“I’m not thinking about anything.” I answered.

“Don’t pretend. You’re worried about those hands of yours, and you want to loosen the handcuffs.” He said.

I didn’t say anything.

“First you have to think about how you got handcuffed. It was entirely of your own making. We don’t handcuff every prisoner here, do we? When you feel uncomfortable with the handcuffs, you have to think about why you are handcuffed. If you explain, the handcuffs can be removed immediately. It’s entirely up to you.” The male guard said.

“Are you going to explain?” The female guard asked.