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summer 2015

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

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Having been accepted by uni in my second year of high school, I spent the last year of it wondering, strolling around my little hometown.

At seventeen, in the summer of 2015, no significant events were encountered. What remained in my little head fondly was the typical summer night smell of Kunming.

I would go to the art studio, spent all day sketching and painting, mostly chatting shit with Mr. Peng, who lead me the way into art. Then I’d go to pa and stepmum’s for dinner. Walk home around 8 o’clock. The gentle warm breeze was mixed with the lingering smell of pots of rice noodles and fried yams in the alleyways. The street-side fruit vendor who was about to close his stall took half a watermelon from the boot of his van, put it halfway into a plastic bag, used a scimitar to skillfully separate the flesh from the skin, sliced it into small pieces, slipped it into the bag and put a few wooden sticks into it - "Five yuan.” he said.

As I continued on, the smell of the restaurant down the street began to gradually replaced by the sweetness of the watermelon in my hands. The faint floral scent of tuberose floated in the background, too.

It took about 40 minutes to walk the whole way. Passing through the more vibrant neighbourhood of the well-offs with a mix of maccas and stir-fried beef. I walked past the foreigner-centric university bar area, where surprisingly, the smell of alcohol and tobacco was not as strong as the lake and the scent of lotus flowers. Up a large slope, next to the typical “Chinese City Village” area, there came a mix of milk tea and shampoos artificial scent. Sometimes there might be the misfortune of having a two-second whiff of urine flickering into your nostrils.

Five minutes from home, there was a flyover. It's not long, about 50 metres. It was built on a highway, so maybe 100 metres above the ground. It is said that this is the highest flat ground in Kunming. Apart from the constant traffic, you can see a good part of the city's buildings and the sleeping beauty silhouette of the Western Hills across the street. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with others, I stand by this bridge, the parapet is no higher than my waist, listening to a few songs and staring at the flashing lights for a while. --It doesn't seem to have any specific smell here. If anything, dust.

The apartment complex I lived in was a low-cost housing community, so it was mostly poor elderly people and people from the lower strata of society who were rooted here. Before my grandfather and grandmother passed away, the three of us were crammed into a small home with two tiny rooms full of shit and a tiny living room full of shit.

During my years here, I made a few scattered friends, all of whom were good-hearted troubled youths making dos with poverty, with whom I would sometimes go to an internet cafe in the middle of town and get an “all-night pass” for 10 Yuan. In the small, airtight space filled with the smell of barbecue and stir-fried noodles, we pounded out unbelievable codes on sooty keyboards, just to create a beautiful, quirky "QQ Space (Chinese Myspace)".

Year after year, we shifted apart and fell into our destinies. But sometimes my heart will suddenly stutter and I will miss my dear friend, X, whose soul was covered by dust but holds a crystal clear heart.

He was six or seven years older than me, about 17 when we met. He lived with his divorced father. On a few occasions, we would walk home together or eat at a barbecue stall on the street before the “all-nighter” at the Internet Cafe. The hairdresser lady next door would pour a bucket of washing water on the curb with wet hair upside down covering her face. The white bubbling, soapy water flowed as we nibbled on chicken cuttings and leeks; X took out a classic 1956 and lit it up as he told the story of how he and his father sold chickens in the vegetable market when he was a boy. The smell of chicken shit could not be washed away, and even the memory of those days smelt faintly of rancid chicken shit. He had no money, nor did his dad. He was dreaming high at the bottom of a dreamless city, so was I. At the same time, he was a great lover of music, of Bach and Kurt Cobain, and because he was too poor to go to a professional music school, he taught himself.

One time I went to X's house to borrow a guitar pick and he wasn't home, so I met his father instead. I lived on the fifth floor of unit 7 and he was on the sixth floor of unit 5. The layout is similar, with two rooms and a living room, both of which are basically 30 to 40 square metres. Most of these apartments are lived by hoarders.

His father came to open the door and hesitated for a couple of seconds before opening it at an angle of 30 degrees - there in front of me was a typical middle-aged man from the “city village”: a little taller than the 13y/o me, unhealthily bloated, burnt, an inch of spiky hair standing up like soldiers, wearing a thin fake gold chain. The picture of him was, rather scary, for my age. But when I said I was a friend of X's, he immediately invited me in with a smile that showed a row of yellow teeth.

When I think about it later, there was a power in that smile, one of the most sincere and kind I have ever seen, similar to the kind of a child.

There were no lights in the room (in fact, they kept them off as much as possible to save the bills), and the four walls were cast in a blue haze by the television. From the living room to the balcony, apart from a crumbling sofa where you could sit and a very narrow 'path' where you could barely pass even sideways, the rest of the room was crammed with boxes, hardware, tools and discarded items. A small antenna television is nestled between some large boxes and the ceiling. From the living room to X's room, the smell moved from five-spice powder and soy sauce to a rusty metal scent that was faintly covered in mould. But the moment I opened the door to his room and flicked the light switch, warm yellow light flooded the door, illuminating a small castle - a keyboard, a pale blue plastic stool, a neatly tidied single bed with a dozen music books stacking up as tall as the bed-- nothing else. The room smelled vaguely of smoke and newly washed warm yellow bed linen.

In the few minutes I spent there, apart from the first time I saw X’s father, nothing significant happened, yet it has often come back to me over the years. The best memories in my life, which rarely fade, seem to be these unimportant and unconnected moments.

Then X found a job as a cleaner for an instrument store. The owner let him practice on pianos to attract customers. When X played, he glowed. Then I heard that his father had been put in jail after a fight. Then I moved away and settled in a distant place, so our contact naturally faded, just like the train tracks slowly diverging.

******

In the courtyard of the complex, a film about the heroes of the Resistance was playing, and the elders were sitting on the stone steps chatting about the day. I walked past them, through the door of the building, and climbed up to the fifth floor in one breath- opening the door, taking off my shoes, and unhooking my bra in one go. Put the plastic watermelon bag inside a large bowl and plunged into the sofa. Inserting the DVD of "Amélie" that I had just bought from the DVD dealers. I sank into the sofa with a plate of watermelon and only a lamp, pressed “play”.

...

“Sans toi, les émotions d'aujourd'hui ne seraient que les restes des émotions d'hier.”

...

...

What I wrote was nothing unusual, but for me at that particular age, situation and year, it was a rare blessing. The summer of my seventeenth year was one of those months when I was more content and less anxious. It was a sunny little island in the middle of a storm.

The scent of the earth from the coming rain wafted through the air, and sleep swept me away...

The thunder is hidden, the sky is cloudy, but I hope the wind and rain would come and make you stay.

Though I'll stay here even if it does not rain.

⋯⋯






已經被錄取所以高二就輟學了。2015年十七歲夏天那段日子好像沒有做什麼偉大的事,但記憶最深的是昆明典型的夏夜氣味。


基本每天在畫室畫上一整天,去爸爸和阿姨家吃晚飯,罷了差不多八點多再走路回家。溫涼的風夾雜著小巷裡小鍋米線和炸洋芋的餘味。即將收攤的街邊水果小販從麵包車後備箱取下半塊西瓜,套上半邊塑料袋,用一把彎刀熟練地將瓜皮肉分離,片成小片,一股腦滑進袋裡,再插上幾根木簽——

「五塊錢。」


繼續往前,街邊飯館的氣味漸漸被手裡西瓜的清甜和隔壁小區種的「夜來香」取代。


整段路約摸得走四十分鐘。穿過比較熱鬧的混合maccas和小炒牛肉蓋飯的小康居民區,路過洋人集中的大學酒吧區,那裡沒有濃重的菸酒氣,反而是翠湖的湖水與荷花香更勝一籌。再上一個大坡,旁邊是典型的城中村中專技校構造,奶茶店和洗髮水兩種香精交雜在一起,有時要是不幸的話,得有兩秒鐘似有似無的尿騷一股腦竄到鼻孔裡。


離家還有五分鐘的距離,得經過一座天橋。說大不大,也就五十米左右。因建在高速路上,離地得有一百米上下吧。據說這裡是昆明市最高的平地,所以除了日夜不息的車流,基本能看到整個城市好一部分的建築和對面隱約的西山輪廓。有時自己,有時和人一起,就立在這護欄高不及腰的橋邊,聽幾首歌,望著閃閃滅滅的各種光點,發一會兒呆。——這裏好像沒有什麼特別的氣味。


到了小區,是廉租房社區,所以基本都是窮困的老年人和社會底層人群在此紮根。爺爺奶奶過世前就是我們仨擠在這兩室一廳的小窩裡。


在這的一些年交了零零散散的朋友,都是心地善良的社會(問題)小青年,有時會跟他們一起去城中村網吧「開卡」通宵。密不透風充斥著燒烤和炒麵的煙火味的狹小空間裡,在落了煙灰的鍵盤上敲下匪夷所思的代碼,只為做一個精美的非主流「qq空間」。


跟他們的距離如今已經甚遠,但有時心裡會冷不防「咯噔」一下,掛念起那時很要好的朋友「小強」。


他比我大六、七歲,認識的時候十七歲,和他離異單身的爸爸同住。有幾次遇上一起散步回家或通宵前在街邊燒烤攤吃燒烤,旁邊理髮店老闆娘濕著頭髮把一盆洗臉水倒在路邊,冒著白色泡泡一股肥皂味的水一面流,我們一面啃著雞翹和韭菜;小強抽出一根經典1956點燃了,一面講自己小時候在菜場和父親賣雞。雞屎味如何也洗不掉,甚至連回憶起那段時光都飄著淡淡餿餿的雞屎味。與此同時他又有多熱愛音樂,多喜歡巴赫和Kurt Cobain。因為窮上不了專業的音樂學校的他只能自學。



第一次去小強家是為了借一片吉他pick,他不在家,讓我自己去取。我住七單元五樓,他在五單元六樓,格局大同小異,兩室一廳,基本都是三、四十平米的公寓。


他家鐵門外貼著幾年前已經褪色的倒「福」,他爸來開門,腳步聲到門前遲疑了兩秒,有點猶豫地把門開到三十度角——眼前是一個典型的城中村中年男人:比十三歲的我高一點,不健康的臃腫,黝黑,寸頭,戴一根細細的不知真假的金鏈子。我說是小強的朋友,他一下便露出一排參差的黃牙帶著口氣的微笑,邀我進門。


以後想起來,那個微笑中好像有一股力量,是我至今見過最真誠而且善良的所有之一,與孩童的笑臉異曲同工。


房裡不開燈(事實上因為省電,他們儘量不開燈),四面牆被電視機投射得藍幽幽的。從客廳到陽台,除了已經塌陷的沙發可以落座,以及極窄勉強可以側身通過的一條「小徑」,其餘地方全塞滿了各式盒子、五金工具、廢棄用品。小小的天線電視機正好嵌在幾個大盒子和天花板中間。從客廳到小強房間,從五香粉和醬油味變為淡淡覆蓋霉味的生鏽金屬氣味。可是打開小強房門,按下燈光開關的一瞬,暖黃色燈光撒到門邊,照亮一座小小的城堡——一架電子琴,一隻淡藍色塑料板凳,一張收拾得整整齊齊的單人床,床腳高高一打樂理書籍,再放不下任何其他。房間瀰漫著隱約煙味和暖黃色新床單氣息。


這借pick的幾分鐘,除了第一次見到小強爸爸,什麼也沒發生,只是接下來這些年,常常湧上心頭。人生裡的記憶夾子裡保存的最好的並極少褪色的,卻好像也是這些無關緊要,沒有因果關係的片段呢。


後來小強去一家琴行做工,去看過他幾次,他能自由彈琴的時候,看起來身上有光。再後來聽說他爸和人鬥毆,坐牢了。然後我搬走了,一直定居在遠處,聯繫自然也淡漠下來,就像軌道慢慢分離的火車,我們都有各自的未來去奔赴,只能在心裡默念「希望他好」。


******


院子裡正投放著關於抗日英雄的什麼電影,老人坐在石階上聊著散天。穿過他們,進過單元門,一口氣爬上五樓,——開門、脫鞋、解開胸罩,一氣呵成。將西瓜塑料袋反套在一隻大碗裡,一頭扎進沙發。把剛下載在U盤裡的《Amélie》插進DVD,就著一盤西瓜,只留一盞檯燈,陷進沙發,按下播放。


並不是什麼稀奇事,但對於那個特定的年齡、情境、年份下的我,已經是不可多得的幸福了。十七歲這年的夏天,是內心比較滿足而極少徬徨的幾個月。是暴風雨之間偶得的一隅陽光滿駐的小島。


空氣裡飄來將雨的泥土清香,睡意也悄悄將我捲走——


隱約雷鳴 陰霾天空 但盼風雨來 能留你在此

隱約雷鳴 陰霾天空 即使天無雨 我亦留此地


……









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