Girl at Dawn
Every great era arrives quietly.
A daughter is a quilted coat her mother wears in winter.
I am no bird, and no net ensnares me.
Chapter ONE (1)
SCARED OF THE AMERICAN
SLAPPING FOURTH’S FACE
I stand in the narrow hallway, ready to electrocute my hair. VeVe puts the iron comb on the rack by the door just so I won’t leave the house without having straightened my hair. I pick up the cord of the iron comb and plug it into the socket. Randomly grabbing a strand of my hair and pulling it until it hurts, I sink the teeth of the comb—so hot it gives off a metallic smell—into the curls. Unhesitatingly I move the comb down the length of my hair, all the way to my back. In the power of the 220 volt electricity, the curls give in and slowly unfurl. Then another strand of hair. Every single curl must all be electrocuted, until there’s no evidence I’ve had curls at all. Every now and then, the hot comb gets stuck and the hair is toasted brown and instantly spirals into tight circles, like a wounded snake curls itself in. This, I cut off entirely with scissors. At such times, I imagine a real executioner and wonder if he experiences the same mixed feelings of vengeance, pity, regret, and shame that I feel when he ends the life of the condemned in the electric chair.
- 我站在走廊裏，準備給我的頭發上電刑。微微把電梳子放在門口的一個架子上， 以免我在出門前忘記整我的頭發。我拿起電梳子的插頭， 插進牆上的插座裏。我隨便抓起一縷長發使勁揪直，直到揪得頭皮發疼。 然後把燙得有熱金屬味的梳子插進頭發裏， 慢慢地，毫不遲疑地往下梳， 一直梳到搭到背部的發梢。在220伏的電壓下，那些圈兒慢慢地，無奈地，鬆開了。然後我又抓起一撮頭發。一綹一綹的卷發要全部燙直， 一個不留， 如同一個罪犯在銷毀所有的證據。 稍微不留心電梳子在一個部位停留地時間過長， 頭發就被燒焦，即刻就會蜷縮回去， 像一條受了傷的蛇。這些頭發我隻好用剪子全部剪掉。這時我總會想象當一個職業絞刑人在結束電椅裏罪犯的生命時， 是否像我這樣有各種複雜的感情， 比如仇恨，報複， 憐憫，遺憾， 甚至後悔。
In the mirror next to the rack on the wall, I watch myself transform. Between curly and straight hair, I split into two different persons. Sometimes, one is the disguise of the other; sometimes, one is disgusted by the other; and still sometimes, one is the other’s protector. Other times, they are indifferent to each other. I don’t know which one I prefer. What’s worse is that I don’t know which one is the real me, or closer to who I am. Worse still, I’m not even sure if they are me at all.
No doubt, however, the curls are mine, as I was born with them, which is unusual for a Chinese. It is my bad luck, VeVe tells me. My other feature unusual for a Chinese are my eyes. Normally big and dark eyes are considered pretty, but mine are lodged in their sockets so deeply that they are half hidden under my eyebrows. VeVe says that they make her think of two bottomless water wells—she doesn’t say whether she likes the wells or not. SanNe tells me that my eyes look just like those black coal balls piled up outside her house in winter.
在架子旁邊的鏡子裏，我看著自己轉換。在鬈發和直發中間，我被劈成了兩個不同的人。有時，一個是另一個的偽裝；有時一個會鄙視另一個；還有時一個是另一個的保護者； 也有時候這兩個會彼此漠然。 我不知道哪一個是我， 也不知道我更傾向於哪一個，甚至連是不是真正的我都不知道。不過， 頭發裏的圈是我的， 生來就有。微微說這是我的不幸。另一個不幸是我的眼睛， 深深的陷進眼窩裏， 躲藏在黑眉毛下麵。 微微說那是兩個見不到底的水井。院子裏的三奶說我的又黑又大的眼睛遠一點看去像兩個黑煤球。
All that to say I look too much like a Hui. VeVe started to straighten my hair when I was a baby. “If your hair is straight, no one will think you are a Hui,” she always says. And I believe her—nothing could be worse than being considered Hui.
The Hui Muslims live on the city’s west side in rundown, low-roofed bungalows with white-washed exteriors forever smeared with graffiti. They typically have curly hair, with big noses and deep-set eyes. Although they speak Chinese, they look so different that they might as well be foreigners. Most of them make a living by running small family businesses, such as grocery stores and craft shops. Their children, in shabby clothes, often dirty-faced, sell roasted peanuts or watermelon seeds on the street, especially on a stone bridge in their living quarters. “Roasted peanuts for ten cents!”
I believe that my Hui looks are the reason that VeVe never praises my appearance. No matter how other people say I’m “pretty” and “exotic” “like fresh water lilies,” VeVe’s words are what matters. She herself is a beauty known to the neighborhood and beyond. People on the streets do double takes to look at her. She has long, upward-slanted “phoenix eyes” and willow-leaf eyebrows. Her nose and mouth are well-defined and delicate. She is a walking version of the noble beauties in the Chinese gong-bi paintings. The only features I share with her are fair skin and the watermelon-shape of our faces.
我的不幸在於我長得像個回民。 在我很小時， 微微就開始想各種辦法掩藏我的圈發。 “你的頭發直了就沒人以為你是回民了。”好像被認為是回民是一件最不幸的事。
我不在乎自己長得是否像回民。 我在乎的是為此微微從來沒有說過我長得好看。不管別人怎樣誇我 “漂亮，”“秀氣，” “洋氣，”我隻相信微微的話。 她是鄰裏和周圍補店 菜市公認的美人， 走在街上也會有人回頭看她。 她的五感很精致，細長的風眼稍稍往上挑，好象那些仕女畫裏的美女都是比著她畫的， 豔麗而脫俗。我知道自己長得不如媽媽美； 隻有我的皮膚和瓜子臉型是她的。
From the hallway, I steal a glance at VeVe. She’s toying with the ink stone in her hand, her eyes far away. Slowly, she begins to rub the stone on the inkwell. The ink should be ready within minutes, but she doesn’t seem to be aware of it. She keeps grinding, faster and faster, as if possessed.
My curls have upset her. For the first time, it occurs to me that her anguish over my hair goes beyond the curls. It’s one of the many mysteries of her I may or may never find out.
As I tilt my head to iron my hair, my eyes fall on the family photos on the wall, inevitably gazing at the one on the side. The photo is small, hung on the edge of the cluster of photos like an afterthought. My father—or whom I insist to be my father—stands alone inside the simple, ill-fitting frame. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been obsessed with this picture, looking for resemblance between him and me. He has small, squinting eyes on his dark, square face, whereas my eyes are big and shaped like an apricot seed, or so others tell me. His nose is flared; his mouth is pulled slightly downward on the side, which gives him a sad expression. The only resemblance between us is the raven blackness of our hair, though his is straight. My father’s photo is small, but his image is huge in my mind. VeVe avoids talking about him. The only thing I know is that he was a renowned doctor who died from a rare illness when I was two. I’ve always had the inkling that he is still alive somewhere. As I grow older, that feeling grows stronger. Once VeVe became angry when I would not stop asking about him and said, “You must forget him. It's just you and me.” I knew then that VeVe was hiding the truth about my father from me, as she does so many other things. How do I even know if the man in the photo is indeed my father?
But he is, I always assure myself in the end.
--to be continued
厭倦了整天給頭發上電刑，這幾天我找了一個偷懶的辦法： 把頭發拽直盤在後腦上， 再用幾十個卡子固定住， 這樣頭發裏的圈就不明顯了。 微微看到後皺了皺眉頭， 但沒有說什莫。剛才從外麵回來，我的頭發鬆開了。一圈兒一圈兒的伸展到我的肩膀。微微立刻注意到。她當時正在桌邊研墨， 盯著我，眼睛像東北 狼一般犀利。
從小我就被爸爸的照片著迷，困惑。一直在找他和我的相似之處。他的眉毛很濃。但是他的眼睛很小。而我的眼睛很大，杏仁兒形狀。他的嘴角稍稍往下斜， 使他的表情有點悲哀。給我稍微有點希望的是他的頭發和我的一樣烏黑。 爸爸的照片雖然小。他的形象在我的心裏卻很巨大。其它的我就不知道了。微微總是避諱談到他。我一直有一個感覺，爸爸仍然活著，在什麽地方。我越長大，這個感覺越強烈。有一次在我不停地問爸爸的時候，微微生氣的說，“忘掉他吧，他反正不跟我們在一起，隻有你和我。你認也得認，不認也得認。”我明白微微是在瞞我。好多事情她都瞞著我。連照片中這個人是我的爸爸我也不能確信啊。
但最終我老是告訴自己， 是的， 他就是我爸爸。
Still grinding ink, VeVe has fallen into a trance; she seems locked in a place only she knows, and she will stay there until she is spent. This is the image of her I’ve known since childhood. She pours the ink into an empty milk bottle so she can grind more. Later, as always, I will empty the ink in the bottle, or bottles. She will need them again. And again.
As soon as every curl in my hair has yielded to the heat, I pull the electric comb out of the wall and sneak out. VeVe won’t notice I’m gone before I make it back.