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.
- 我站在走廊里，准备给我的头发上电刑。微微把电梳子放在门口的一个架子上， 以免我在出门前忘记整我的头发。我拿起电梳子的插头， 插进墙上的插座里。我随便抓起一缕长发使劲揪直，直到揪得头皮发疼。 然后把烫得有热金属味的梳子插进头发里， 慢慢地，毫不迟疑地往下梳， 一直梳到搭到背部的发梢。在220伏的电压下，那些圈儿慢慢地，无奈地，松开了。然后我又抓起一撮头发。一绺一绺的卷发要全部烫直， 一个不留， 如同一个罪犯在销毁所有的证据。 稍微不留心电梳子在一个部位停留地时间过长， 头发就被烧焦，即刻就会蜷缩回去， 像一条受了伤的蛇。这些头发我只好用剪子全部剪掉。这时我总会想象当一个职业绞刑人在结束电椅里罪犯的生命时， 是否像我这样有各种复杂的感情， 比如仇恨，报复， 怜悯，遗憾， 甚至后悔。
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.
在架子旁边的镜子里，我看着自己转换。在鬈发和直发中间，我被劈成了两个不同的人。有时，一个是另一个的伪装；有时一个会鄙视另一个；还有时一个是另一个的保护者； 也有时候这两个会彼此漠然。 我不知道哪一个是我， 也不知道我更倾向于哪一个，甚至连是不是真正的我都不知道。不过， 头发里的圈是我的， 生来就有。微微说这是我的不幸。另一个不幸是我的眼睛， 深深的陷进眼窝里， 躲藏在黑眉毛下面。 微微说那是两个见不到底的水井。院子里的三奶说我的又黑又大的眼睛远一点看去像两个黑煤球。
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.
我的不幸在于我长得像个回民。 在我很小时， 微微就开始想各种办法掩藏我的圈发。 “你的头发直了就没人以为你是回民了。”好像被认为是回民是一件最不幸的事。
我不在乎自己长得是否像回民。 我在乎的是为此微微从来没有说过我长得好看。不管别人怎样夸我 “漂亮，”“秀气，” “洋气，”我只相信微微的话。 她是邻里和周围补店 菜市公认的美人， 走在街上也会有人回头看她。 她的五感很精致，细长的风眼稍稍往上挑，好象那些仕女画里的美女都是比着她画的， 艳丽而脱俗。我知道自己长得不如妈妈美； 只有我的皮肤和瓜子脸型是她的。
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
厌倦了整天给头发上电刑，这几天我找了一个偷懒的办法： 把头发拽直盘在后脑上， 再用几十个卡子固定住， 这样头发里的圈就不明显了。 微微看到后皱了皱眉头， 但没有说什莫。刚才从外面回来，我的头发松开了。一圈儿一圈儿的伸展到我的肩膀。微微立刻注意到。她当时正在桌边研墨， 盯着我，眼睛像东北 狼一般犀利。
从小我就被爸爸的照片着迷，困惑。一直在找他和我的相似之处。他的眉毛很浓。但是他的眼睛很小。而我的眼睛很大，杏仁儿形状。他的嘴角稍稍往下斜， 使他的表情有点悲哀。给我稍微有点希望的是他的头发和我的一样乌黑。 爸爸的照片虽然小。他的形象在我的心里却很巨大。其它的我就不知道了。微微总是避讳谈到他。我一直有一个感觉，爸爸仍然活着，在什么地方。我越长大，这个感觉越强烈。有一次在我不停地问爸爸的时候，微微生气的说，“忘掉他吧，他反正不跟我们在一起，只有你和我。你认也得认，不认也得认。”我明白微微是在瞒我。好多事情她都瞒着我。连照片中这个人是我的爸爸我也不能确信啊。
但最终我老是告诉自己， 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.