La parte conclusiva del racconto riesce a racchiudere la staticità degli atti dei personaggi, mentre i tumultuosi pensieri del personaggio principale si muovono con un altro ritmo, la scrittura del pensiero non attuato è come una trottola che gira attorno a se stessa e lascia che le immagini degli uomini che la circondano diventino pannelli su cui scagliare le parole che però rimbalzano su di lei, rimbalzano sulla perdita che come una catarsi greca si conclude nel giorno più lungo. Il finale che non è finale è la sospensione che Arnie Hung riesce a evocare in tutto il suo racconto come quando si cammina nei suoi paesaggi che sono effimeri ma concreti.
If so, was he also obedient to his wife? All sorts of questions churned about in her mind, and even though she only waited for a few minutes, every second felt like a year. She started to be
angry with herself: why was she so impulsive? Why did she have to come here to see him? What would he think? Why did she put herself into such an embarrassing situation? Many times she wanted to get up and leave, but she was held back by an inner voice. She realized that she was not just coming here looking for comfort. Maybe she was actually looking for an excuse to come and see him.
When she caught sight of him, she tried to put on a mature smile, but then she noticed his look of surprise.
After they had been separated for so many years, he was finally showing the reaction of a normal person. He had asked for two hours off from his office, and the two of them sat in a coffee shop, silently facing each other. He had asked her about a few things, such as: how had the child been recently? How was she getting on in life? Had she received the money he had sent in the first few years?
She just answered each question with one or two words and then let it go. She did not know how to be alone with him. But hadn’t she gone especially to see him?
He saw the cake box she was carrying and asked whose birthday it was. And how come she was not at work?
She told him she was still working, and it was the boss’s birthday, but for the moment she did not want to go back to the office.
“Why?” he asked, his demeanor as soft as it had always been.
Originally, there was so much she wanted to say, but when she saw his face, she could not say any of it. She did not know what his life was like now, or how he wanted to treat her. And how come she was so brazen, rushing back in pursuit of what she had previously rejected as soon as something went wrong?
“Are you married?” she said.
He nodded, adding that he already had two children, twins, and that his wife was looking after them at home.
Hmm. She again answered monosyllabically, saying she understood, and showing she did not want to know any more.
“So how have you been? Is there any way I can help you?”
The more he asked, the more she was unable to say anything. She felt she was as pathetic as a dog. She looked at her watch. There was just over an hour left before all her colleagues would gather to celebrate Mr. Huang’s birthday, and she had to get back before then.
“How much time do you have?” she asked.
“About one hour.”
“In that case, why not make love to me!”
He froze for a moment. Then he shook his head, his face expressionless.
Had she remembered him wrongly? Maybe he had not always been obedient like that. It was just that they had been apart for so long, and she only remembered the best things about him … just as she was thinking about this, she convinced herself that she was right, and she tried hard not to remind herself that he already belonged to someone else.
She felt somewhat hurt.
“I was only joking. Actually, I was hoping to borrow some money from you.”
“Oh! That’s fine then.” He still showed no emotion as he meekly sipped the coffee in front of him.
“That was also just a joke.” She straightened her face and called over the waiter to settle the bill. Her ex-boyfriend tried to pay, but she insisted.
“It was me that came to find you. You just agreed to be with me for a while.”
He did not object. It seemed that he was just doing what was expected of him.
Preparing the morning meeting was her responsibility every day, so she always arrived before the others. Most people rushed to clock in by 9:30, and then they promptly went and sat in the meeting room waiting for the daily meeting, but by that time she had already started her daily work.
Today was the same. The only difference was that letter. But she did eventually find the time to read it. Initially, she thought someone must have made a mistake with the addressee. But when she received the same message by email, she experienced a feeling she had previously only read about in books, a sharp pain like a blow on the back of the head.
This pain originated from the indentation on the back of her neck. It felt like what she had suffered when she had fallen from a high place when she was young and hit her head, and the ache moved to the inner ears and then extended to her throat, the intense throbbing probing for an exit. Perhaps she could now understand why her daughter would cry out when she was incapable of expressing all kinds of suffering, but it was not something she herself could do.
She was unable to sob or call out or scream, as she had to suppress all those feelings. She re-read the letter again and again. It seemed like it was a dream, a nightmare in which there were countless explanations. Every time she read it, the words seemed to rearrange themselves. When she scanned it once, it was sadness, but when she looked over it again, it turned into joy, and then it became anger. Or then there was no feeling. But that letter was so real, and no matter how many times she studied it, the result was the same. She still scrutinized it again and again, in the hope that, if she read it more, she would get used to it and not feel so shocked.
She carefully checked the signature at the bottom written with a blue pen. The ink was a bit thicker where the pen first touched the paper and also on the lower curves of the signature. She was thoroughly familiar with that signature. During these two years, so many documents had passed in front of her, all written with that same handwriting, and to get a copy of the signature to attach to the bottom of email messages, she had searched through a range of documents and selected the best example to scan. Now, in the whole of this letter, it was the only sign of a human touch.
Had she made some kind of unforgivable mistake? Maybe she had offended someone? Why had this letter been sent to her?
She tried to stay calm and analyze why she was so shocked. She had just found a place for her daughter in a nursery school, and she had not yet paid the fees. Following this termination with immediate effect, what should she do?
Someone walked up behind her, and she closed down the notification letter on the computer. How embarrassing it would be if someone saw it! But the moment she closed it, she regretted it. Maybe she should stand up and demand her rights, as after all she had done nothing wrong. In the end, she was just a secretary, so what kind of mistake could she have made?
She remembered that when she had just delivered the envelopes, none of them was for Little Cai, which meant she was valued even less than a company driver. Her heart felt like it was being smothered by something black that was pressing down and asphyxiating her. She forced herself to sit down and do her work. She looked at the digital clock on her desk. It was 24 minutes past 11, so there was half an hour till the lunch break. She tried to adjust her breathing, and then she started looking for jobs on the internet. Hundreds of different kinds of job popped up in front of her. She selected “Administration” and then clicked on “Secretary,” and a long list appeared. Were so many places looking for staff? She randomly chose a few pages to browse through, and she opened her own electronic CV to check it once more. It clearly included the basic information, including her educational background. She added the job she was doing now and updated the file, hoping other companies would find the experience valuable. But then she felt it was unnecessary, as there was no need to demonstrate any experience in applying for such a simple administration job as this. In that case, what did she have to offer?
The mouse pointer was moving aimlessly over the website. Still trapped in her despair, she could not decide what to select. She suddenly decided she wanted to do something crazy, but she was not certain what. She did not even know how to indulge herself.
The time was even closer to twelve o’clock. Today was her last day. She debated with herself over whether to go and get Mr. Huang’s birthday cake. One way or another, anyone celebrating the boss’s birthday after they had been fired might be expected to harbor a few negative thoughts. Unfortunately she did not have much chance to put those ideas into action, as the cake was already ordered. She felt like doing something she had seen in the television soap operas, such as adding poison or laxative to the cake, but it seemed a bit stupid now.
If you get through life simply, just like a monk fulfilling his basic role and ringing his bell every day, then other people should not hold anything against you.
On the other hand, the boss did not care at all about her, so why should she be concerned about his birthday?
These two emotions jostled with each other in her mind. She wished there was someone with whom she could discuss these things, but there was no such person in the office, and she also did not want to go and search for another recipient of one of those envelopes, a colleague suffering the same fate as hers, so that they might comfort each other and jointly moan about the way company was treating them so unfairly, as that would be just too awful. She looked through her mobile phone list of contacts, and there was nobody suitable to call. Although she had some close friends, she did not know how to talk about her failure with other people.
But these feelings pressed down on her. If she did not say something, she would explode. Even a stranger would be fine. She thought of the lifeline, so she searched for the number on the internet, and then picking up her mobile, she went out to the stairwell.
When she pushed open the emergency exit, a few men who were smoking out there glanced over at her in the doorway. Pretending she had come to the wrong exit, she lowered her head and closed the door again. Originally, she thought of finding a quiet spot in the ladies, but when she opened the door, she saw some female colleagues gathered in front of the mirror and touching up their makeup. She continued in and entered one of the cubicles, but after several minutes, those women were still gossiping outside, so she chose instead to leave the building.
The Birthday Party
In the end, she did take the cake back to the office building. Mr. Huang still had not returned. During this time, nobody had been looking for her or asked where she had been for so long. Maybe she was not really needed, as she was just a simple secretary.
She went into the meeting room and placed the cake and some drinks on the table. Then she went back to her desk and did the things she was supposed to do that day. She did everything properly, and then she wondered why she did not feel more anger.
She remembered what her daughter had said: I didn’t do anything wrong!
She also had done nothing wrong, but this was the way they treated her. She thought about having to cancel the purchase of the property, about being unable to get through to the lifeline, about her former boyfriend, about being constantly rejected all day long. How much she wanted to stand up for herself, but she did not know how to go about it.
Mr. Huang came back. Some colleagues raised their eyebrows to warn her about it, meaning it must almost be time for her to surreptitiously tell everyone to head to the meeting room and prepare for the surprise. She went to her desk and telephoned all the department heads, asking them to put off whatever they were doing and gather in the meeting room in ten minutes’ time. At the given time, she would tell Mr. Huang to go in there. Everyone would sing happy birthday under the flickering light of the indeterminate number of candles, and she would present the flowers to him on behalf of everyone. She could already imagine the look of surprise on his face, and everyone would clap and cheer, and then urge him to make three wishes. Afterwards she would cut the cake and put a piece on everybody’s desk.
Everything was so familiar and routine. Just like every other day, when the schedule of the things to be done was piled up in the in-box of the document rack. None of the good wishes they uttered were genuine, as nobody really cared about anybody else.
Finally, they gathered together in the darkened meeting room waiting for her telephone call to trick Mr. Huang into coming. Of course, as usual he was not really fooled, but he pretended to be surprised. She felt it was all so hypocritical.
She was annoyed that she had received the letter and still had to do those damned things. She was angry that she herself had to keep on smiling even under those conditions. While the candlelight shone on all the faces, she was bursting with resentment, but nobody else could see it. The door opened and Mr. Huang came in. Ready: Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you!
Make some wishes, make some wishes. They all cheered. Tell us the first two!
Wish number one: I hope this year business of the company will be thriving. Number two: I hope everyone will be healthy, those with no boyfriend will soon find someone, and those with no wife will quickly get one.
Every year was the same. But these wishes never came true. She went forward and gave the plastic cake knife to Mr. Huang. He made the first symbolic cut, leaving the rest of the job to be done by her. While waiting for this to be completed, Mr. Huang said a few words of gratitude towards the staff, then uttered some empty expressions of encouragement, and finally he expressed his regret about having to send out those letters of termination that morning.
She cut the first piece of the cake and put it on a plate.
Mr. Huang said, “Sorry, I’m really sorry. It’s just temporary. When the situation in the company improves, you will certainly all be the first to be considered.”
She passed the cake to Mr. Huang, but she forgot to put a little fork in it. She saw a female colleague moving forward to pick up a fork and place it on the cake, but she quickly turned round and walked towards Mr. Huang.
“I hope everyone won’t get discouraged by this incident. You need to work harder . . . .”
Actually, she was not sure if Mr. Huang finished saying the final word “harder,” as she had already thrown the cake into his face. The cream, chocolate and mousse merged, creating a new outline for his face. Two white drips of cream spurted out of his nostrils, just like the scene on one of those television programs where they make a fool of people. There was a moment of stunned silence in the meeting room before everyone started to shout. Some people came forward with tissue paper, others asked what she was up to, but it seemed that there were also some who were laughing. In the end, things were not the same as before. In the end somebody had done what they really wanted to do, she thought.
But it was just a thought, that’s all.
As she was imagining all of this, she had already cut the first piece of cake, and she put a little fork on it.
She walked over to Mr. Huang, and with a smile said to him, “Happy birthday.”
Mr. Huang took it, his eyes expressing his gratitude towards her, and he said, “Thank you. I appreciate all you’ve done.” Then everyone in the meeting room applauded loudly.
Translated by David and Ellen DETERDING 戴德巍、陳艷玲
Arnie ci racconta come si sente quando scrive i romanzi in semplici parole, ma intense come è lei. Lei è come un operaio, una persona che lavora direttamente sulla materia letteraria come fossero degli oggetti edili per costruire un edificio, ma non sa se troverà la conclusione di questi atti, sarà sempre in ricerca. Quello che la rende felice è essere artefice della sua vita, come un costruttore di un se che non è statico, ma è nel movimento.
很慶幸我能夠選擇自己想做的事情，同時我在工作上所學也能支撐我的生活，對許多台灣人來說，這並不容易，謝謝我的人生中所遇到的每一個人- Arnie Hung