Hey everyone, sorry for the late post. Happy International Women’s Day! Serendipitously, continuing the translation of Sanmao’s work seemed appropriate for celebrating the occasion.
Part One – After I made up my mind, I decided to go and get an X-ray.
“Wow, it really is empty!” The doctor exclaimed after taking a look at my results.
“Yet you’ve managed to survive 14 years, truly impressive.”
I grab the x-ray image off him, quickly run home and slide it under my bed to keep it hidden and safe. I decide that twenty years later, I will go get another x-ray scan and see if by then, I will be a full person.
As I don’t have a heart or any courage inside, my will has always been a weak one. Even after being inspired by the Japanese thieves, I did not try my own hand at pickpocketing, letting precious time slip through my fingers day by day.
That was until one year, when the neighbours nominated our family to be the district’s model family. Everyone in our district already knew of my parents’ characters but they were still very careful with the selection, coming over and conducting a thorough interview with them.
Question after question cemented the committee’s initial assessment that we were a model family. Alas as the interviews were wrapping up, I walked by the kitchen and was spotted by the interviewer.
“Today isn’t Sunday, why isn’t your daughter at school?”
Mother, trying to protect me, replies “my daughter’s not well, so she has quit school.”
“What type of illness does she have? She looks quite healthy.”
“She has honeycomb shaped holes in her organs. It’s an incurable disease. As you can imagine, it’s very frustrating for us all.”
In the end, because of my strange illness, our family did not become the exemplar of a perfect family. According to the interviewer, a family with a mysterious sickness does not set a good role model to others.
That night, tears streamed down my face as I lay there in the silent night. I vowed in that moment to become a thief.
Now, out of all the outlaws in the world, I bet you could not name even one driven by anything other than greed or power. I did not have a master in the craft but these basic principles I understood well.
As I scanned my surroundings carefully, not letting even a blade of grass escape my sight, my eyes settled on my parents. As a novice thief, they were fantastic practise targets. If I get caught, the stakes would be much lower. It’s not like they’d actually report me to the police!
I carefully sized up my prey. These two are very principled people who are harsh with themselves and endlessly generous to others. They are responsible in all their actions and supportive of their children. They never speak about others behind their backs, never ones to brag either. They are neither insecure nor self-pitying. If others owe them money, they would never chase the debt and often when it comes time to pay, they are the ones footing the bill and then some. I’ve never properly assessed my dear parents before but having taken a look, aside from their above average looks, all this stuff inside them is so outdated! All these old fashioned qualities that nobody wants anymore, yet they treat them like gold!
It was a decade or so ago where they met a ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ type. Since then, both of them have become more and more foolish. Idiotic buggers beyond all hope! Even to me, an empty person, stealing from them would not be worth my time. From the perspective of an absolute beginner desperate for some practise, I decide that these two chumps just don’t make the cut, no thank you sir.
After I leave, I end up strolling around for a bit before my fourteen-year hunger hits me, hard. Dizzy and all top-heavy and wobbly-legged, I realise how tired I am. After barely making it back home, I see my parents asleep and without a second thought, I pinch all their unpalatable bits and stuff them inside me.
Digestible or not, let’s start filling this hole with anything on hand.
After stealing from her parents without so much as the blink of an eye, the infamous outlaw sets her next target on her older sister.
This victim is about two to three years older than the thief. Gentle, and studious in nature, she is polite to others, does not complain about the cold when she cycles to school in winter and is not a fussy eater. She can eat anything she wants at her boarding school canteen without upsetting her stomach. Her slender, bony fingers, though useless at applying nail polish, never tire of playing the piano or violin.
I look her up and down, another big idiot. You should be learning music to become a star! You could earn big money yet you choose to play one classical tune after another. No nose job or dyed hair to fit society’s standards, so devastatingly unfashionable, not trendy whatsoever. After some careful consideration, even though I saw nothing I’d like to steal, since she’s part of the family, I begrudgingly take a little bit of the mix.
As the scene of the crime remains in my home, I decide to be as fair as can be and steal a little something from everyone. In case I’m caught one day and it looks bad otherwise, you know?
In all honesty, my younger brother was someone who I would never steal from. He’s got the temper of a tiger and is a bit of a miser. Worst of all, when he gets angry, he always snarls and bites. How can I possibly steal from him? I’d be lucky not to be ripped to shreds.
One day though, he comes home with a limp. At first, his long pants covered up his legs and nothing seemed off. After the tiger has filled his belly and was feeling much too hot, he casually stripped down to watch TV. The sight caused the empty girl to shriek in terror, getting everyone’s attention on the little tiger.
Exposed bits of skin and blood from his knee to claw and a row of stiches thick enough to be rope.
As the empty girl kneels down and gently counts the stitches on his leg, the tiger roars “what are you looking at! It’s just a scrape, you looking at me like I’m a monster now?”
In a flash of brilliance, the empty girl sucked in the tiger’s roar and his courage in one gulp. The stupid cat had no idea this happened. The empty girl couldn’t help giggling to herself as she turned away during his tirade.
The tiger is selfish in nature anyway, so he’s fair game!
Whenever the empty girl has a cold and needs a tissue, the tiger will only give her half. When she tries to turn the light on in the middle of the night, he’ll hand her a tiny candle. When their brother in law took everyone out to eat steak, the hungry tiger dared to growl “I don’t want steak, I want cash. Feeding me cash is much more efficient.”
Look at this Chen family tiger, he’s a stingy one, isn’t he! Though he’s also just air and big talk.
That career-beggar at the end of Yongkang Rd, go ask him, all these years, is it not the striped tiger stuffing him fiftys and hundreds so he can go buy some beef noodles for dinner? This baby cub, so stubborn and foolish was only a paper tiger at heart.
Unfortunately the thief was only able to steal a little of his kindness and frugality. Overall, there was not much improvement in her state, not with traits like that, what a waste of time.
Her youngest brother however, she has been eyeing up for ages. He is a once in a generation kind of meal and that’s worth planning a heist for.
Devastatingly, she didn’t keep a good eye on him and one day he drank some “morality infused red tea” at a nearby store after a rigorous basketball game. He suffered no other ill effects except some of the good traits in his stomach being swirled around and flushed out.
This brother though no hero, was born balanced in knowledge and strength.
He is diligent, clever and handsome. Not only this, table tennis, pool and bridge are just a few games where he can absolutely destroy his enemies. It fills his empty sister with joy to see his talents.
She waited ever so patiently for her brother to slowly grow up so she can one day steal his innards.
Their father also paid close attention to this young boy, hoping to pass along his business after the moral tea was flushed out his system. Only then can the boy master the important skills of flattery, deceit, fraud, bowing to power… all these in-trend behaviours to get ahead in life. Whatever I couldn’t do in my day, their father thought, use your hard work to learn well, boy, so you can make your ancestors proud.
Alas, my younger brother was not careful with the friends he made and he lost his way. Deceit, he will not learn. Power, he will not praise. By the time his schooling was done he has failed both his father and sister’s expectations. The youngest of the family turned out a fool too! An absolute fool!
The thief looked at the boy in contempt one last time, decides there is nothing worth stealing, and knows it’s finally time for her to head out and test her skills in the wider world.
(to be continued)