A-Gump had already been called A-Gump.1 At that time, the American movie Forrest Gump wasn't around yet. However, nobody knew about this. If A-Gump didn't mention it, nobody would know. Among all the people who called her A-Gump, everyone assumed that first there was the male A-Gump in Forrest Gump, followed by her, the female A-Gump. Basically nobody had doubts about the name of A-Gump.
A-Gump, however, always had lots of doubts. Really, even if she hadn't been talking about them, during lunchtime, she always liked taking the visitor's elevator from the hotel's garage on Level A, rising above to the top floor on the thirtieth story. She liked climbing up the little terrace, facing the vast sky. There, she hung her question marks, like the way Mother hung roasted geese in the store, one after another, the heads down, the buttocks up. As the glistening fat flowed to the goose heads, and then to the goose mouths, but before flowing to the shop window, it was captured by a row of funnels, and the recycled oil went into the next roasted goose. A-Gump's question marks were hung up like this in the sky every day. That hanging and undetermined little spot always followed the curve of the question mark, flowing down to help accomplish the question mark that A-Gump would hang up tomorrow.
Each day a little spot, each day a little spot. A-Gump was thirty-nine years old this year; a long string of question marks had accumulated in her head. If these question marks could be sold for money, A-Gump thought, she would have been rich by now. However, A-Gump understood later that the question marks were the least valuable thing in the world. Not only were they worthless, but a lot of money had to be spent to remove them. Therefore, A-Gump really started to worry. If she had known earlier, she should have tried to stash away more money.
If it were possible to know earlier, there wouldn't be any beggars around! You're a grown-up, and there are no extra zeros in your bankbook. You're just a nobody. How are you going to survive the rest of your life? A-Gump's mother had always been complaining like this to A-Gump. She would not pass her roasted geese store to A-Gump. She thought if ever her daughter could handle the business well, it would be because no one needed money to buy things any more.
It is true, Mom, don't you believe that we don't need to spend money in the future? People are going to move to the moon.
Oh, so you don't need to pay for groceries on the moon? You don't need to eat on the moon? A-Gump's mom was accustomed to her old daughter's stupidity. It was always as if her “brain stem” hadn't grown fully. She had had to drop out of high school, and she was always a step slower talking and doing things.
We'll definitely have to eat, but certainly not the way we do it now.
It doesn't matter what you eat, you'll have to pay if you eat. Who has a fortunate life like you?
A-Ma had been repeatedly saying, “Who has a fortunate life like you?” While in fact, it was a reminder for A-Gump, the fact that she could stay at home when she was almost forty by paying five hundred dollars family expenses was almost like a miracle in life. Really, what could A-Ma ask from A-Gump? A-Gump managed parking in the hotel's Level A. Her monthly income was just about a thousand dollars, and most of that was turned in to the family. There wouldn't be anything even if more were asked for. To speculate that A-Gump could rely on a man? That was even more like a story from the Arabian Nights. From childhood to adulthood, A-Gump had never loved a man, not to mention having been loved by a man.
A-Ma reared A-Gump. She reared and reared. Time flashed past, and she was reared into an old spinster. The old spinster A-Gump who lived at home and went to work by the clock everyday, and came home according to the clock. If there were some day when A-Ma didn't see A-Gump lying on the sofa and flipping the remote control, A-Ma would feel an indescribable happiness rising, as if there were finally the possibility of difference in life at moments like this, and today and the day before could be distinguished as two different days. Unfortunately, these moments were rare. A-Gump did not like hanging out outside, and her reason for not liking that was that no one hung out with her. The number of A-Gump's friends was pathetic like her savings. Even A-Ma could count the numbers.
My gangs of friends are all heavenly soldiers and generals, A-Gump told A-Ma smilingly.
Yes, they are all monsters that belong to the sky but not to the earth! A-Ma knew the few that could be counted. Growing up with A-Gump, they all developed the habit of taking advantage of her, and that was why their friendships were long-lasting. From A-Ma's perspective, the life of those few was not much different. The divorced were divorced, and the childless remained childless. In any case, no one lived according to the normal path.
Really I'm being honest here. They all know when I'd run into trouble and when I'd need back-up, and they can always be there in time.
What back-up? And what nonsense of being there in time? A-Ma of course knew that they would only fall from the sky and into A-Gump's narrow vision when they themselves were in need.
This was the most significant talent that A-Gump learned in half of her life. For example, A-Gump always thought that raining weather was somehow connected to her. She had experimented many times. Whenever her mood hit rock bottom, with feelings smoldered as if they would explode, and even when her tears dropped for feeling sad, there would suddenly be high winds in the sky, followed by thundering and lightening, all of which would end in pouring rain. For this reason, A-Gump started to believe. It was because she was in a bad mood so it rained in the sky. However, there were also many times, when A-Gump was cheerful and full of joy, but it still rained in the sky. But A-Gump had her own explanations: there must be someone else in a bad mood, and the extent of that person's bad mood exceeded her good mood, so Heaven took care of that person, as a result–rain!
To make up her own plausible story was another talent that A-Gump developed throughout the years. When A-Gump explained herself away, she had to talk to herself. Others thought the way she talked to herself schizophrenic. Only those who were acquainted with her knew that there was not much difference between her and the male A-Gump in the movie, who liked to run by himself. It's just that A-Gump ran with her mouth, circling here and there, around a big circle, and back to the beginning again. Although that point might look like the beginning, it was in fact a new origin that A-Gump herself reappointed. In this way, what A-Gump heard and saw was no longer what other people heard and saw.
Of course, A-Gump worked in Level A of the hotel, she couldn't hear the things that other people hear, but she could, of course, hear things that other people could not hear. A-Gump knew that cars and people were essentially the same. If they came close to each other, they couldn't help speaking to each other. Once they spoke, the entire garage would be like a market, and A-Gump was surrounded by these sounds every day. Listening to car chats was not something to look forward to everyday. The most cheerful moment for her would be listening to cars approaching from the distant entrance. Then she would walk toward the sounds, for those who entered A-Gump's underground kingdom on four wheels would eventually need to leave on only two legs. Once they switched to two legs, it became impossible to distinguish them from A-Gump. If there was no distinction, then A-Gump could not remember who they were. The supervisor who supervised logistics always found A-Gump and said, You have to try to remember people, the general manager said you never remember him, if you can't remember him then you can't open the car door for him, of course, the general manager did not mean that you'll have to open the car door for him everyday, but eventually you would have to remember our guests and open the car door for them, our guests are our God, you know that? God decides our fate, you know that?
The process of remembering the general manager was more difficult.
A-Gump first remembered the manager's car. The manager's car was silver-gray. It was longer and thinner. It liked to stay in the position near the end of section A., and it never conversed with other cars. A-Gump sensed that the skinny and lengthy car actually wanted to talk with other cars. It's just that it had many things on its mind, which made it seem absentminded, so other cars took it as a sign of coldness and became reluctant to hang out with it. A-Gump not only remembered the look of this reticent car, she imprinted the car's license plate numbers in her mind. Three 8s in the end, two 2s in the beginning. Basically, remembering this car was equivalent to remembering the general manager. Therefore, when the longer and thinner car rushed meanderingly toward the end of section A, she would follow, open the door, and the man who was shorter and fatter would be the general manager. In this way A-Gump remembered to open the car door for the general manager.
That's right. Finally remembers people now. The logistics supervisor dropped this comment when he went down to Level A again.
To be honest, A-Gump herself was not sure if it would count as remembering. That shorter and fatter man, if he didn't drive that longer and thinner car one day, A-Gump could not say if she would still be able to recognize him.
One time, A-Gump received an order from the transmitter, asking her to deliver the parking ticket for A-11 to a guest in the hotel lobby. She took the elevator from Level A to the lobby. When the elevator door opened, there was a shorter and fatter man coming up front. The two of them paused. A-Gump in the end couldn't manage the greeting of “General Manager,” and in the moment of uncertainty she could not decide if the shorter and fatter man and the man who drove the longer and thinner car were the same one. Then, in the moment of uncertainty, the elevator left A-Gump and went to the upper levels, taking with it that man of uncertainty. A-Gump was a little frustrated, but when she walked into that grand lobby, she immediately became happy, because the smooth lobby, whose walls were covered by mirrors everywhere, was after all the lobby, and it's not her Level A. It wasn't her Level A, so it wasn't the place for her to open the door for the general manager. Therefore, even if that man of uncertainty was really the manager he shouldn't blame her. The elevator door opened itself and rose above. It had nothing to do with her. A-Gump talked and reasoned with herself, and became happy once she had finished.
After all, A-Gump remembered the person and the car of the general manager in Level A. That should be enough. The logistics supervisor didn't come again, and he wouldn't bring up subjects about God and fate anymore.
During lunchtime, A-Gump took the visitor's elevator rising directly to the thirtieth floor, and she climbed up the small terrace as usual. When she wanted to hang the question mark in her heart in the sky like hanging up a roasted goose as she did in the past, suddenly she discovered, in that particular spot in the sky, a silver white thing, already hanging there, very tiny, very tiny, as if it stayed there motionlessly. A-Gump narrowed her eyes, trying to distinguish what it was for a while, and finally she realized happily that it was an airplane. Looking at it for another moment, A-Gump suddenly became confused. It looked like the airplane was really staying still there, like it was parked there. Is it possible for an airplane to be parked like parking a car in the sky? When has it become possible for an airplane to be parked in the sky without falling down? A-Gump had looked until her neck and eyes became sore, her head bending down and totally forgetting the question mark that she wanted to hang before she came. Hard as she tried, she just couldn't remember it. A-Gump could only say to herself, it can't be helped if it's not remembered, not a big deal.
*** Besides listening to cars talking in Level A, A-Gump often thought about Leslie Cheung in Level A. Yes, that Leslie Cheung, the one who sang, acted, and jumped off the building.2 This sounded more absurd, but it was real. It wasn't one day or two days since A-Gump thought about Leslie Cheung. Starting from some day, A-Ma saw that Leslie Cheung's pictures suddenly filled the entire room where A-Gump lived, pictures with him holding the microphone, wearing a hat, smiling, contemplating, big, small.
Good Heavens! Hanging up a dead man's picture in the room for no reason, do you want to jinx my business? A-Ma was very upset.
A-Ma was not a fan, but she was a superstitious person. Before opening her shop every day, she had to burn the first incense for A-Gump's dead father, as she said that only the first incense would be effective. That year on April 2, A-Ma overslept because she took some cold medicine, and didn't burn the first incense on time. She accepted a one-hundred-dollar forged bank note from a customer without even noticing.
Leslie Cheung jinxed me! So A-Ma believed.
In fact the world had only known about Leslie Cheung's death on the day after it. Leslie Cheung jumped from the building on April 1. That day was April Fools' Day, easy to remember. A-Gump remembered very clearly. Then, that means when A-Ma found out that Leslie Cheung died, he had already jumped the day before. Leslie Cheung's suicide and A-Ma receiving the forged money didn't happen on the same day! But A-Ma still thought that Leslie Cheung had jinxed her.
When A-Gump hung up Leslie Cheung's pictures in her room, he had just jumped from a building a few days earlier. Every newspaper and TV station in Guangzhou broadcast the death of the “brother” in the way of broadcasting. The influence of the “brother” in this city would be no less than any other figure in the news and television.
When the man was alive you were not obsessed, and only becoming obsessed when he is dead. I don't understand why you're always a step slower, ever since you were a child. A-Ma demanded that A-Gump remove Leslie Cheung's pictures from the wall.
A-Gump stubbornly resisted, and locked and sealed the room completely. In the end A-Ma made sure that her business was going well and gradually forgot about the Leslie Cheung that occupied the entire wall.
A-Ma was right. When a person was still alive A-Gump would not be obsessed with him. Only after the death of that person would A-Gump realize her own obsession for the person. This was referring to Leslie Cheung, and it also referred to A-Gump's father, A-Ba. A-Gump's father died from cancer when A-Gump was thirty-two. After his death the only thing A-Ba had left was the picture hanging in the sanctuary right across from the door. That means that since she was thirty-two, A-Gump suddenly discovered that she actually quite liked the A-Ba that was hanging on the wall. Although A-Ba was very serious and grave before his death, and she could count the moments when they talked and laughed together even now, this smiling A-Ba on the wall welcomed her going and returning from work, coming in and out of the door. A-Gump became happy at the sight. In addition to A-Ba's smile, there was another thing that obsessed A-Gump. It was something that nobody in the world would know. That was–A-Ba smelled wonderful.
A-Ba smelled wonderful. Only A-Gump knew.
On that day, according to the rule, A-Ma should personally go to the funeral home for A-Ba's ashes. But because A-Ma had just fired an employee in her shop, and she couldn't get away, A-Ma instructed A-Gump, Take the little pot to carry back a little, and put the rest in the storage place we bought in the funeral home.
A-Gump had sweated profusely on the crowded bus, so when she arrived at home with the little pot, she bought a bottle of soda from the store downstairs. While she was putting the pot in the middle of the sanctuary that A-Ma had put together, A-Gump opened the little pot to take a look, but who knew that a small amount of soda, from the bottle that she was reluctant to let go, was spilled in the pot.
Spilled soda wet A-Ba's ashes.
A-Gump had never thought she would commit such a sin. God help us! God help us! She imitated the tone A-Ma usually used. A-Ma was superstitious. As long as there were some premonitions, she would burn three incense, apologizing toward the sky–God help us! That was an apology to the gods in the sky. However, A-Gump's soda wet A-Ba's ashes. A-Gump only apologized to A-Ba. The A-Ba on the wall still continued to look at her smilingly, being much more amiable compared to when he was alive. Although A-Ba did not scold A-Gump, A-Gump knew A-Ma would not forgive her when she came back. It would be as if the sky were falling down.
She did not dare open the pot again. The pile of wet ashes, its color especially dark; its look especially hollow.
Turning it over and over in her mind, as if she were getting the help from the gods in the sky, A-Gump somehow thought of taking it to “ding ding.” Yes, taking the ashes to “ding ding.” A-Gump opened the cover of the pot, putting it in the microwave, setting it to one minute, low power.
Inside the microwave, the pot whirled and whirled. A-Gump looked inside from the glass door, the pot was dancing rhythmically. Dancing and dancing. A-Gump then smelled a sweet aroma. She could not tell what the smell was, but it was a nice fragrance, a fragrance that A-Gump had never smelled before. The fragrance bedazzled A-Gump, like dancing and whirling in the sky. In only one minute, A-Gump felt as if she were dancing to the west of the Atlantic Ocean . . . What is in the west of the Atlantic Ocean? Who knows? A-Gump only knew that is the farthest place on earth, because a mantra that A-Ma had used to scold her ever since she was a child was: Kicking you to the west of the Atlantic Ocean! For this reason, the west of the Atlantic Ocean is the farthest and most distant place in A-Gump's mind.
One minute was up. The microwave stopped its motion. The pot stopped dancing, and A-Gump had also come back from the west of the Atlantic Ocean. She opened the door. That strange aroma of A-Ba blew on A-Gump as if in its most essential form at that moment. Hot steam and fragrance steamed A-Gump's face. A-Gump couldn't see anything. The world paused. A-Gump was like a car in Level A that couldn't speak, parked in front of the microwave for a long time.
At last, the pot cooled down of course. A-Ba's fragrance disappeared forever.
OK, OK, I'm finally home. We are finally united as a family. A-Ma came back from the shop, burned three incense, and put a few white chrysanthemums there, paid respect to A-Ba's pot, and washed her hands for dinner.
Only A-Gump knew about A-Ba's fragrance. Of course, A-Gump sensed that A-Ba must have known too. He smiled at her from the wall surreptitiously. Then A-Gump felt regretful. Why didn't she do more fun things together with A-Ba before she was thirty-two? At those moments, she even felt lazy to speak a few more words with A-Ba.
Afterward A-Gump had always stayed good friends with the deceased A-Ba. There was nothing they did not talk about.
Leslie Cheung became A-Gump's good friend in the same way, after he died from jumping off a building.
Late at night, A-Gump faced Leslie Cheung's picture, using her hand to touch his eyes and lips. This was what A-Gump liked the most, although these places remained unresponsive and motionless to her touching hands. However, there were feelings of heaviness that took A-Gump's heart sinking with the feelings of touch from her hands. Heart sinking, the feeling of being slightly weightless, was a little similar to sliding down from the thirtieth floor while she took the visitor's elevator alone at noon. A-Gump lay on the bed, while flattening that weightless heart, laying flat on the bed. Then, asking Leslie Cheung:
Brother,3 why are you so handsome?
The full wall did not answer. A-Gump was left asking and asking. With her tears streaming down, she fell asleep.
Leslie Cheung rode on a motorcycle and parked next to A-Gump.
If A-Gump remembered it correctly, that day was the hottest day in Guangzhou history. The hot molecules in the air were being chased, so they would stick to people's skin whenever there was a chance, dead stuck on it. A-Gump was the one caught by these sticky hands, on her way to the bus station from work. She could not move an inch. She tried to bargain with the hands on her skin.
Once the bus is here you'll be dead.
Why? There is air conditioning on the bus.
Not afraid of the air conditioning? That is because the bus is not here yet. Wait for a bit longer, then you'll know the consequence.
Those hands grabbed A-Gump's skin with all their might, which were burning and hurting.
The negotiation was a failure. The bus still had not arrived. A-Gump became a hostage at the bus stop, where she could not move an inch.
It was at that moment Leslie Cheung appeared and saved the hostage.
A-Gump seldom rode the motorcycle, unless she was in a hurry. But at that moment, with the help of Leslie Cheung, she got on the motorcycle. Once it started moving and caught the breeze, the hands on her skin fell off by the wayside.
Very cool, isn't it? Leslie Cheung spoke to A-Gump through the mirror.
A-Gump was wearing an oversized helmet. She nodded her head.
Leslie Cheung hit the gas, making A-Gump losing her balance almost, while her body pressed close to Leslie Cheung's body. Not knowing what to do, A-Gump used her hand to support his back.
Cool? Isn't it? Leslie Cheung shouted these words backward in the wind, laboriously.
A-Gump could not help nodding, while shaking her head a moment later. Shouting very laboriously forward–Can you slow down?
When Leslie Cheung heard, he immediately hit the brake. A-Gump's body was again pressed against Leslie Cheung's body.
It is still very cool even though we slowed down, isn't it? Leslie Cheung kept looking at A-Gump from the mirror. That big red face under the helmet, which looked like a freshly baked pancake from his family home.
A-Gump did not speak and closed her eyes in the wind.
My driving skills are the best. It's cool to go faster and it's also cool to go slower, do you feel that? Leslie Cheung looked at that homemade pancake sitting behind with her eyes closed from the mirror, laughing licentiously.
Almost kidnapped to Yuan village. A-Gump only discovered after she opened her eyes, her home was already behind them.
A-Gump squeezed Leslie Cheung's shoulders. But while his shoulders became painful because of harsher and harsher squeeze, Leslie Cheung became more and more excited. It was the fact that, after the motorcycle stopped in a small alley in Yuan village, A-Gump fumbled and struggled to get off the motorcycle. The excited Leslie Cheung shouted excitedly at A-Gump, so, my skills are pretty impressive, right? Doesn't it make you feel refreshed?
Lunatic! A-Gump didn't forget to scold him in her clumsy state. She turned and wanted to leave.
Leslie Cheung left his motorcycle and blocked A-Gump.
Miss, I became obsessed with you the moment I saw you. You're so pretty.
Only when facing that picture of Leslie Cheung on the wall at night, would A-Gump ask Leslie Cheung something like this. But in the bright daylight, this person blocked her way, saying something like this?
Lunatic! Lunatic! A-Gump shouted, panicking. At that moment A-Gump did not feel fear. Getting closer to the age of forty, there seemed to be less and less fearful things, especially facing a man who looked much younger.
If you have time, shall we chat?
Stupid! Do you think I'm stupid? A-Gump looked at him, and she made sure that he was a very ugly man.
I'm stupid. It is my stupidity. It's completely my stupidity to be obsessed with you. He pretended to apologize humbly.
A-Gump thought this comical figure was really stupid. She was even sure that he must be a real fool, saying these things in broad daylight. But stupidity aside, A-Gump didn't really dislike this person. She thought the way he spoke was very funny.
Leslie Cheung bought two bottles of water in the small store in the alley and gave one to A-Gump.
They sat on the chair in front of the store and finished the two bottles of water.
Do you have a boyfriend, or anything?
Maybe I do, maybe I don't. Leslie Cheung bought water for A-Gump. A-Gump felt obligated to answer his question.
If you have one you have one, if you don't then you don't. Or? Leslie Cheung's face was grayish red in the summer light.
What kind of men do you like?
A-Gump laughed while shaking her head. I haven't thought about it.
A-Gump really hadn't thought about which kind of men she'd like. If there had to be an answer, maybe someone like the dead Leslie Cheung then. But she didn't say it in front of him. For a woman nearing forty, yuck.
Then, do you have an idol? He seemed to have guessed what's in A-Gump mind.
A-Gump nodded. Is it something significant to have an idol?
Who are they? A-Du? Jeff Chang?
A-Gump didn't like both of them. Leslie Cheung.
This time it was his turn to laugh. Someone dead?
He became my idol after he died.
Ah? He can't be your idol if he's still alive?
A-Gump didn't know how to communicate with him.
He took out a little bag from his pocket, opened it, and took out two white pills. Take one? You will see Leslie Cheung.
A-Gump shook her head.
It's not drug. It's only going to make you feel happy. He took one himself.
I'm happy everyday. I don't need it.
Then you will be happier. Doesn't seeing Leslie Cheung make you happy?
Leslie Cheung is dead.
You can see him even if he's dead. Try one if you don't believe it.
A-Gump stood up and walked out of the alley going in the opposite direction of the motorcycle.
The hostage finally went home intact after riding the bus for two stations.
After arriving home and entering her room she could see Leslie Cheung, on her wall. She still touched his eyes and lips at night, and he still stayed there without motion. She didn't ask Leslie Chung before crying, and she cried for the entire night this time without falling asleep. Her eyes were all swollen when she went to work the next morning. A-Ma asked her if she felt sick. She didn't speak and she sealed off the room, as if she's afraid that A-Ma would see her Leslie Cheung inside.
*** The motorcyclist was, of course, not called Leslie Cheung. From the beginning to the end, A-Gump did not know what his name was. After being taken to his motorcycle at the bus stop several times, on a similarly hot day, during peak commuting time from work, the motorcyclist's face became Leslie Cheung's face. And those eyes and lips, pressing against A-Gump's eyes and lips, could move, and feel warm.
I told you. You can see Leslie Cheung after taking the pill. You wouldn't believe me.
After A-Gump took the pill, she not only saw Leslie Cheung, she also slept with him.
A-Gump started to become obsessed with Leslie Cheung for real, along with those little white pills. As long as the two were mixed together, A-Gump could keep on dancing, dancing to the west of the Atlantic Ocean, just like the fragrance that A-Ba brought for only once, which made A-Gump whirl, dance, west of the Atlantic Ocean……
During this period, when she was rather absent-minded, A-Gump always heard someone talking in Level A. That should never be the sounds of cars talking. She could make a very clear distinction. Cars talked garrulously, but the human voice she heard was a singular sound.
Among cars and cars in the entire Level A, sometimes A-Gump tries to catch the sounds as if she were catching a butterfly.
Occasionally, these sounds would turn into a song – Monica, who can replace you …… coming and going there were only these two sentences. A-Gump knew this song. It was Leslie Cheung's song. She sang a couple of the lines. Dead silence resumed in Level A, and after a few moments, the cars started to chat again.
At noon, A-Gump again took the elevator to the upper floors. Leslie Cheung once told A-Gump, he was speeding on his motorcycle, on the highway at night, speeding and speeding, and then he would be rising above the ground, rising and rising. Then, he could ride the motorcycle in the sky, closer to the moon.
If Leslie Cheung rode the motorcycle to the top floor, to this small terrace, then he must be able to ride to the sky as well. To park the motorcycle in the sky, how cool!
Shit! If I'm talented like that do I still need to rent a room in this crappy alley? I would fucking move to the sky. When she didn't take the medicine, Leslie Cheung was really ugly.
A-Gump really wanted to say that she actually saw a flying airplane stopped when it reached the sky, which was parked in the air. But A-Gump did not say it. No one would believe it. Leslie Cheung was not a three-year-old kid.
Have you seen E.T.?
A-Gump shook her head.
Leslie Cheung took out a black T-shirt and put it on.
A-Gump saw, right above Leslie Cheung's chest, a small kid, riding a bicycle to the sky, and next to him was the moon, big and round.
It's a T-shirt for the movie's promotion, with collectable value. Leslie Cheung said that he didn't even wear it once. That time at the premiere of E.T., he stayed in line for the entire morning to get it, free.
A-Gump went close to Leslie Cheung's chest and took a careful look. The bicycle and the moon were really close. They were only a finger's length apart.
Leslie Cheung confidently looked at A-Gump, and A-Gump looked at Leslie Cheung. They laughed.
Half narrowing the eyes, the sky would look closer, and one could see strings of air bubbles jumping around the eyelids, suddenly left and suddenly right. This was a game that she had played quite often as a child. Not knowing why, A-Gump thought of this game at the moment, while also half narrowed her eyes.
When A-Gump half narrowed her eyes, she heard a voice, a man, like the voice that had been hiding like a butterfly in Level A. this voice didn't turn into a song. It was speaking, it was a man speaking.
A-Gump turned around to look for it.
As if the butterfly knew she was searching for it, it was gone so quickly. The voice stopped.
A-Gump searched again, on the other side of the terrace. She could not see. The butterfly must be parked there. A-Gump climbed to the other side, the voice could be heard again.
Until the voice lost its disguise and had nowhere to hide.
The voice was interrupted. A short and fat man was holding a cell phone in the air, facing A-Gump, like a hostage. A-Gump just wanted to catch the butterfly. The voice stopped. The butterfly flew away.
The fat man's facial expression was just like his voice, which was interrupted halfway. Only the eyes were left, looking at A-Gump.
A-Gump retreated down the stairs, as if she were the one who was getting caught. At noontime, there was no one disturbing the visitor's elevator as it went straight down to Level A. When it arrived there, A-Gump's heart was heavy.
Throughout the entire afternoon, A-Gump was thinking about the short fat man. She couldn't remember his face. She thought about the possibility that he could be the fatter and shorter general manager who drove the thinner and longer car. But it was almost similar to that time in the elevator in the hotel lobby, when it was impossible to discern. In fact she didn't want to know who he was, it's just that his interrupted expression and voice made her feel curious.
For a long time, A-Gump did not go to the roof. Those voices that were elusive like the butterflies also disappeared. But a shorter and fatter man came in front of A-Gump's eyes very often. The frequency with which he appeared made A-Gump conclude, the shorter and fatter man was the same person, one who had an elusive voice like a butterfly.
One afternoon, A-Gump went to the bathroom. A-Gump's bathroom was in the emergency exit stairway of the hotel, at the conjunction between Level A and Level One. A-Gump wanted to open the door, and the door was opened. That short fat man, yes, this time A-Gump was sure about the man.
Have you shitted? Facing each other for too long, the sentence slipped out of A-Gump. It was like casually asking a person, have you had dinner?
The short fat man was stingy with his words. He nodded toward A-Gump, and turned and left.
A few days later, the logistics supervisor went to Level A and said to A-Gump, the contract has been fulfilled, the boss doesn't want a renewal.
A-Gump could not understand. She stayed silent.
The logistics supervisor couldn't bear looking at A-Gump, or at the organized cars in Level A. They were silent but dignified.
Go to the accounting office for a final round-up. You know the accounting office? Third floor.
A-Gump began to understand. She asked the logistics supervisor, how long is the contract?
It's not long. It's fulfilled anyways, says the boss. The logistics supervisor understood the employees' feelings at these moments. If A-Gump were a guy, he would drag him out for a drink, according to custom, and announce the news while being half awake and half drunk, the boss just fired you, if this one doesn't work out try another one, there are plenty of jobs out there. But A-Gump was a woman, he just read her files, she was almost forty, she had worked in Level A for thirteen years.
Who is the boss?
The boss? Isn't that just our boss?
Who is our boss?
You won't know even if I mention it. Anyways he is God. He decides our fate.
A-Gump struggled to remember who this God that “determines our fate” is. Cars entering and exiting, God must be sitting inside one of those cars. Afterward, A-Gump thought of the thinner, longer, and reticent car, opening the door, it was that fatter and shorter man.
The general manager is the boss?
The logistics supervisor didn't answer. Who ever said that?
A-Gump stood in the dim light in Level A, wearing out her brain in thinking.
Don't think anymore. Try to find another job. The last sentence from the logistics supervisor echoed in Level A.
A-Gump was still in the dark. She couldn't understand, wearing out her brain, for what reason did she lose her job?
This was only one thing that A-Gump had to wear out her brain thinking through in these few days. There was another one–Leslie Cheung stopped visiting A-Gump.
If Leslie Cheung didn't come to find A-Gump, A-Gump could not find Leslie Cheung.
There were a lot of motorcycles in Guangzhou, in and out of the streets, and once the helmets were on, everyone looked like Leslie Cheung. A-Gump stood in front of the bus stop, looking intently at every motorcyclist passing by, not able to find Leslie Cheung. The communication network was very developed in this city. For every visible or invisible space, there were countless sound waves exchanging, transmitting, and whispering. But A-Gump and Leslie Cheung were still separated in these sound waves. A-Gump could only think about this level. She thought the reason that she and Leslie Cheung were separated was that Leslie Cheung had stopped contacting her. And by herself, she could never find him.
*** Staying at home all day, A-Gump faced her best friends, her father's smile and Leslie Cheung's lips. A-Ma once said, in everyone's life, one should eventually meet two men. One's husband and one's son. If a person was lucky, she would meet both at the same time. If half lucky, she would meet one. If unlucky, she would meet neither.
A-Gump asked her father and then Leslie Cheung, am I lucky, half lucky, or unlucky?
Thinking about it back and forth, A-Gump answered herself. Maybe it's good luck, maybe it's half good luck, or maybe it's just bad luck. ***
A-Gump's A-Ma closed the shop for the day, and picked up the short fat man at the door. The short fat man said he was the general manager of the hotel.
A-Ma was not surprised at all. With A-Gump gone, there should be someone coming, but what she'd do after that, she didn't know. A-Ma had lived this long and had figured out all about roasted geese, but nothing else.
A-Ma opened the door to let the short fat man in. At the door A-Gump's A-Ba smiled like an idiot. Idiot! No ghost is useful! A-Ma scolded A-Ba in her mind for the first time. A-Ba was still smiling.
Did your daughter ever talk to you about things in the hotel?
My daughter doesn't like to talk to me. A-Ma felt weird using the phrase “my daughter” in front of another person. She has a name, why doesn't he just use it? A-Ma thought maybe the general manager didn't know what A-Gump's name was.
Then has she mentioned anyone in the hotel?
She doesn't like talking about people.
Then why did she jump off the building?
How would I know? She said she was going to work, and she jumped after she got there, thirty floors!
She had never mentioned anything in her work?
A-Ma thought this person was really annoying. What's the difference between her work and things in the hotel that he asked about just now?
Did you think there was something unusual with her lately? The general manager seemed to come for a crime investigation.
I knew A-Gump had problems. She was nuts about Leslie Cheung. She cried in front of the wall all the time. A-Ma opened the door to A-Gump's room on her way. The entire wall of Leslie Cheung winked at the general manager.
Not daring to go in, the general manager held A-Ma's hand with his left hand for a moment, and took out an envelope with his right hand, as if he were a little excited. Please don't be too sad. Although your daughter died from her obsession with Leslie Cheung, she died in our hotel. Here's some money for your consolation. Please take it.
A-Ma did not stand on ceremony. Taking the money, she asked, do you want some water?
The general manager shook his head politely while continuing to sneak glances into A-Gump's room, and he nodded to Leslie Cheung.
Why wasn't it April 1, but April 2? The whole world knows that Leslie Cheung jumped on April 1 last year. Did she remember the wrong date? The general manager asked before going out of the door.
There's nothing wrong with it. She was always a step slower. A-Ma escorted him to the door, and pretentiously insisted on walking him down the stairs. She was gently refused.
In the passageway in the hotel's logistics department, there was a white notice, saying that those who wanted to attend the memorial of Yang Gumpxiang could gather at the hotel entrance.
Who's Yang Gumpxiang? Everyone who passed by the notice would ask the person next to him, and if there were no one, then the person asked himself. Asking for a while, someone finally got it, oh, isn't that A-Gump! The one who jumped because she's obsessed with Leslie Cheung!
A-Gump? So her family name was Yang?
Big surprise, huh? Did you think A-Gump's family name was “A”?
1Huang Yongmei is using a specific cultural reference to punning effect. The American film Forrest Gump is roughly translated as “The Story of A-Gump.” Playing with the gender of the term, Huang calls her female protagonist “A-Gump.” Using the prefix “A-” in front of a proper name is typical of Cantonese dialect, which the author of “Level A” uses frequently to register linguistic and cultural diversity in contemporary Chinese culture. Unfortunately, once translated into English, Cantonese is indistinguishable from Mandarin.
2 Leslie Cheung (1956–2003), or Zhang Guorong, was a legendary Hong Kong actor and singer in the 1980s and 1990s. Known for his feminine beauty and gay sexual orientation, Cheung made many movies in the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. On April 1, 2003, Cheung committed suicide by jumping from the twenty-fourth floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Thousands of fans still gather in annual memorial services for him.
3“Elder Brother” is a nickname for Cheung used by his fans, friends, colleagues, and the media.