Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Dusk

By Xie Bingying

Dusk is deadly dull, but also most poetic.

Every day after supper Te and I would go for a walk in the Miao Gao Mountains or along the railway track.

After walking up a sloping street, we could get to a small pavilion behind No. 1 Middle School. But we never stopped to take a rest in the pavilion. Instead, we would stroll about enjoying the hazy twilight scene before the waning sun disappeared.

Usually, we would first go to the Lao Long Lake to take a look at its water rippling in the evening breeze. Sometimes we competed with each other in playing ducks and drakes while our reflections were mirrored in the water, fat ducks swimming in flocks, wisps of cooking smoke curling up from chimneys … Then we would walk back home leisurely.

The scenery all the way from the Miao Gao Mountains to the small pavilion was particularly fine, with locust trees on both sides dancing in the wind like fairy maidens and their pretty snow-white flowers set off by emerald-green leaves appearing all the more dainty and pure. The sweet aroma of the flowers wafted to us by the soft breezes was indescribably refreshing and pleasant.

What’s more, in passing through the locust trees, we often felt as if we had entered a fairyland with lush greenery — a real Shangri-la. Sometimes, I would purposely lag behind Te so as to watch his shadowy silhouette moving about in the shade of the trees like in a film.

“Te, it’s great!” I would say to him. “How I love these trees! Let’s walk slowly.”

Every time when I was there, I used to linger about for quite a long while, reluctant to leave.

When we came back to the pavilion, it was already empty of visitors. Sometimes a couple of workerlike men would be found sitting there dozing. Quietly we feasted our eyes on the hazy evening scene.

The sky was grey. The dark smoke from chimneys was also turning grey. The Xiang River, the Lu Mountains and the city of Changsha all looked grey from afar. Oh, the whole universe was turning grey. Only electric lamps glittering against the universal grey were providing some light to the gathering dusk, suggestive of the brightness of the future world.

One warm spring evening, we walked along the railway track towards Hou Zi Shi.

The place was farther than it seemed. We had to walk past numerous straw sheds and cottages before we got there.

In the deepening dusk, the whole earth was shrouded in grey. Nevertheless we kept walking ahead with rapid strides.

A ghastly stillness reigned. Not a soul in sight except Te and me.

“No need to hurry, Te. One way or another we’ll have to get to Hou Zi Shi. It’s OK even if we come back as late as midnight. Let’s go slowly. Don’t miss this opportunity of enjoying the beautiful scene before us.”

Holding me by the hand, Te was gazing up at a star over the horizon.

“Look, the star has come out. Why not move faster? It’s getting late, no good for making our way in the dark.”

“Don’t worry!” said I laughingly. “There’s nothing to be afraid of with me keeping you company.”

“It’s a pity that you’re not a boy!” he continued. “Otherwise, when we got tired, we could lie down sleeping beside the railway, or go up the opposite hill to lie on top sleeping with the green grass as our bed, the white clouds as our quilts, and with inextinguishable lights over us in the sky and nightingales singing sweet songs. Oh, how happy we would be! Now that, of all people, you are a girl, I’ll be full of inhibitions wherever we two go.”

“It’s a pity that you’re not a boy.” I chewed over his words again and again. Yes, if I were not a girl, I would be even more daring!

Arriving at our destination, we could not help uttering a cry of wild joy. Looking back, I saw Changsha lying still in the darkness like an ancient castle. The frogs croaking in the fields made the countryside seem all the more dismal and forlorn.

Now, against the music of Mother Nature, two figures set out on their homeward journey, nestling against each other.