To our relief, when the leaders broached the plan with Huping, he eagerly agreed to fight the tiger again. He said that he'd live up to their expectations and that he felt fine now, ready for work. "I'm a tiger-fighter," he declared. His voice was quite hoarse, and his eyes glittered.
"Yes, you are," agreed Secretary Feng. "All the provincial leaders are watching you, Huping. Try to do a good job this time."
So we trucked the tiger to the site the next morning. The weather happened to be similar to that of the previous time: a little overcast, the sun peeking through the gray clouds now and then. I identified the elm and the spot where the fight had taken place before. Huping sat on a boulder with a short cudgel across his naked back while the medic was massaging his shoulders. After a tranquilizer dart was shot into the tiger's thigh, Huping rose to his feet and downed a bowl of White Flame in two gulps.
Director Yu went over to give him instructions, saying, "Don't lose your head. When I shout, 'On the tiger!' you get on its back, ride it for a while, then bring it down. Until it stops moving, keep punching its head."
"All right." Huping nodded, his gaze fixed on the caged animal.
In the distance, on the hillside, a few cows were grazing, the west wind occasionally blowing their voices to us.
The tiger was let out. It pranced around, bursting with life. It opened its mouth threateningly. It began eyeing the distant cows.
"Roll the camera!" shouted Director Yu.
As Huping was approaching the tiger, it growled and rushed toward him. Our hero seemed stunned. He stopped and raised the cudgel, but the beast just pounced on him and pawed at his shoulder. With a heartrending cry, Huping dropped his weapon and ran toward us. The tiger followed, but having been caged for weeks, it couldn't run fast. We scattered in every direction, and even the camera crew deserted their equipment. Huping jumped, caught a limb of the elm, and climbed up the tree. The animal leaped and ripped off Huping's left boot, and instantly a patch of blood appeared on his white sock.
"Save me!" he yelled, climbing higher. The beast was pacing below the tree, snarling and roaring.
"Give it another shot!" Director Yu cried.
Another dart hit the tiger's shoulder. In no time it started tottering, moving zigzag under the elm.
We watched fearfully while Huping yelled for help. He was so piteous.
The tiger fell. Director Yu was outraged and couldn't help calling Huping names. Two men quietly carried the cage over to the motionless animal.
"Idiot!" Director Yu cursed.
The medic wiggled his fingers at Huping. "Come down now, let me dress
"The tiger's gone," a woman said to him.
"Help me!" he yelled.
"It can't hurt you anymore."
No matter how many comforting words we used, he wouldn't come down from the tree. He squatted up there, weeping like a small boy. The crotch of his pants was wet.
We couldn't wait for him like this forever. So Secretary Feng, his face puffy and glum, said to a man, "Give him a shot, not too strong."
From a range of five feet a dart was fired into Huping's right buttock.
"Ow!" he cried.
A few men assembled under the elm to catch him, but he didn't fall. As the drug began affecting him, he turned to embrace the tree trunk and began descending slowly. A moment later the men grabbed his arms and legs and carried him away.
One of them said, "He's so hot. Must be running a fever."
"Phew! Smelly!" said another.
Now that our hero was gone, what could we do? At last it began to sink in that the tiger was too fierce for any man to tackle. Somebody suggested having the beast gelded so as to bring the animal closer to the human level. We gave a thought to that and even talked to a pig castrator, but he didn't trust tranquilizers and wouldn't do the job unless the tiger was tied up. Somehow the Choice Herb Store heard about our situation and sent an old pharmacist over to buy the tiger's testicles, which the man said were a sought-after remedy for impotence and premature ejaculation. In his words, "They give you a tiger's spirit and energy."
Excerpted from The Bridegroom by Ha Jin Copyright© 2000 by Ha Jin. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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