Old Min, still unable to stop chuckling, poured some cold water on Little Dou's face. A moment later Little Dou came to, moaning, "Help . . . save me . . ."
The medic began bandaging him, insisting we had to send him to the hospital without delay. But who could drive the truck? Secretary Feng rubbed his hands and said, "Damn, look at this mess!"
A young man was dispatched to look for a phone in order to call our company to have them send out the other driver. In the meantime, Little Dou's wounds stopped bleeding, and he was able to answer some questions, but he couldn't help groaning every few seconds. Old Min waved a leafy twig over Little Dou's face to keep mosquitoes and flies away. Tired and bored, Huping was alone in the cab, napping. Except for the two leaders, who were in the bushes talking, we all lounged on the grass, drinking soda and smoking cigarettes.
Not until an hour later did the other driver arrive by bicycle. At the sight of him some of us shouted, "Long live Chairman Mao!" although the great leader had passed away five years before.
The moment we arrived at the hospital, we rushed Little Dou to the emergency room. While the doctor was stitching him up, the medic and I escorted Huping back to the mental ward. On the way, Huping said tearfully, "I swear I didn't know Little Dou was in the tiger."
After a good deal of editing, the fake-tiger part matched the rest of the scene, more or less. Many leaders of our prefecture saw the new part and praised it, even though the camera shakes like crazy. Several TV stations in the Northeast have begun rebroadcasting the series. We're told that it will be shown in Beijing soon, and we're hopeful it will win a prize.
Director Yu has promised to throw a seafood party if our series makes the finals, and to ask the Municipal Administration to give us all a raise if it receives an award.
Both the driver and Huping are still in the hospital. I was assigned to visit them once a week on behalf of our company. The doctor said that Little Dou, who suffered a concussion, would recuperate soon, but Huping wasn't doing so well. The hospital plans to have him transferred to a mental home when a bed is available there.
Yesterday, after lunch, I went to see our patients with a string bag of Red Jade apples. I found the driver in the ward's recreation room, sitting alone over a chessboard. He looked fine, although the scars on his upper lip, where the stitches were, still seemed to bother him, especially when he opened his mouth.
"How are you today, Little Dou?" I asked.
"I'm all right. Thanks for coming." His voice was smoother, as though it belonged to another man.
"Does your head still hurt?"
"Sometimes it rings like a beehive. My temples ache at night."
"The doc said you could leave the hospital soon."
"Hope they'll let me drive the truck again."
His words filled me with pity, because the other driver had just taken an apprentice who was likely to replace Little Dou eventually. So I gave him all the apples, even though he was supposed to have only half of them. He's a bachelor without any family here, whereas Huping has two elder sisters who live in town.
I found Huping in his room. He looked well physically but no longer possessed any princely charm. He had just returned from kung fu exercises and was panting a little. He wiped his face with a grimy white towel. The backs of his hands were flecked with tiny scars, scabs, and cracks, which must have resulted from hitting sandbags. I told him that we had received over three hundred fan letters addressed to him. I didn't reveal that more than ninety percent of them were from young women and girls, some of whom had mailed him sweetmeats, chocolates, raisins, books, fountain pens, fancy diaries, and even photos of themselves. How come when a man becomes a poor wretch he's all the more splendid to the public?
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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