Selected Modern Chinese Essays: Mr. Postman

By Shi Tuo

Mr. Postman would walk up the street with a bundle of letters in his hand. Working in a small town as postman-stamp seller, he still had lots of spare time. Every day he would sit bending over his desk scissor-cutting flower patterns, wearing a pair of glasses for farsighted old people. All this, plus age, had given him a bent back. When the mail arrived, he would stand up, run his eyes over it, pick out the letters he was to deliver, and carefully bundle them up.

“This letter is from a real far place!” he could not help sighing inwardly when he happened to catch sight of a letter from a remote province, such as Yunnan or Gansu. He had never thought of a place farther than that, though he himself had no clear idea at all where it was located. Who was to blame for its being so far away that people had to deny themselves, for life, the pleasure of eating, say, millet in Gansu or salted turnip in Yunnan?

Mr. Postman was now carrying various kinds of letters in his hand. Few, however, came from Gansu or Yunnan. Most of them were probably sent by students to their parents.

“Here’s another letter pressing for the allowance,” said he to himself. “It’ll take the poor old man at least three or four days to raise the money.”

While walking on the deserted open street, he reminded himself that in case he met a sow approaching with her piglets following close behind he must take care to skirt round them. The small town sun was shining down on his greying head and on the back of his black mandarin jacket. The dust kicked up from under his feet was lucky enough to settle on his white socks and leg wrappings. As a small town postman, he was not liveried. A father would grumble to him again about his own student-son, “Hum, to see him finish school… I’ll be finished myself!” Mr. Postman listened smilingly to the poor old man’s oft-repeated well-meaning complaints about his beloved son. Of course, not all senders knew him and none would even think of him. But that didn’t matter, for he knew about them all and he also knew when they had a new address.

Mr. Postman knocked at a door, and stepped inside if it was left ajar.

“Anybody at home?” he called loudly from the passageway.

As was often the case, he had to wait quite a while. Finally an old lady emerged. Perhaps her son-in-law was doing business elsewhere, or perhaps her son had gone soldiering somewhere. A dog behind her was barking furiously. The old lady had come out in a hurry. She must have been busy with household chores, as witness her hands still dripping wet with water.

“What’s up?” she inquired.

“A letter,” Mr. Postman answered, “a registered one. You’re required to stamp your seal here.”

The old lady didn’t have a seal.

“Then you have to find a shop guarantor for yourself and come later to the post office for the letter. Maybe there’s money in it. “

“How much?”

“I said ‘maybe.’ Can’t tell if there is any money in it.”

What else could he do with this good old lady? After doing a lot of explaining, Mr. Postman was finally on his way down the street again. With the top of his greying head bathed in the small town sunlight, he looked dignified and calm with a characteristic bearing of his own. People would probably think he was out taking a walk at his leisure. In fact, he had no need for hurrying at all. He had plenty of time to finish delivering all the mail in his hand. Could there be anything urgent in this town calling for his prompt attention? Yes, once in a while, to his great regret, he did deliver a letter with a bit of unhappy news. It was very seldom though, and he wished it would never happen again.

“Hey, any letter for me?” a playful youngster suddenly stopped him.

“Your letter?” Mr. Postman smiled. “It hasn’t arrived yet. For this moment it’s dozing on its way.”

Mr. Postman kept on walking along the street with the mail in his hand. Not a vehicle in sight, nor a noise within hearing. The sun was beating down on sidewalks, roofs and walls. The whole town was immersed in a silent brilliance. He felt like sweating. Were it not for his age and long beard, he said to himself, he would break out humming a tune. He gasped with admiring wonder, “What a beautiful day!”