Writing Chinese

Seth Griffin Translation

Chickens

Translated by Seth Griffin

When they saw all those giant cages in the street, they figured February’s shipment of chickens would be as big as cows.

I ran with them down to the road, but couldn’t find any use for all the seeds I’d brought. The cages didn’t have any of the bright, colorful chickens we’d been hoping for. They were just crammed with a bunch of women who kinda looked like moms, with really big boobs. They stuck their faces out from between the bamboo slats of the cages – mad faces. But everything they shouted was in some other language, and actually sounded kind of like chicken squawks. We squatted down by the side of the road, and we saw that the colors on their faces had melted off – they were totally white, with blood red mouths.

Maybe… they’d already eaten all the chickens. We were still debating when the policemen on guard chased us to the other side of the street. Then they took black tape and blocked off the area where the big chicken cages had been left. They pulled their coats tight, and were complaining about having stood there like that for an entire day, especially out in the cold. “What are we supposed to do? Jail’s full.” By the time we left, we still weren’t sure why those women were locked up in those cages.

“Those chickens are replacement moms brought into the city illegally, and if you have money you can buy them,” a boy sitting on a fence with a bandanna tied around his head, said. He gave everybody a puff of a cigarette he’d stolen from his dad’s shop, and even let us look for a minute at that photo he’d hidden, (at the time none of us, not even him, had any idea that the beautiful lady with one boob hanging out was his mom breastfeeding him), so we all believed him. Over the next few days, we decided we’d skip class, grab anything we could sell from our house, and head to the street.

The street was getting colder. Most of the time I held onto the other boy’s neck from behind, with my left cheek pressed up against the back of his shaved head. I kept imagining those bright, colourful chickens beating their wings, fluttering over the tops of our heads. But, whenever I opened my eyes, all I saw were those women packed

into the cages, facing the street, so cold that they barely moved. And silent, as if they were a part of the frigid roadside scene. Every now and then a policeman would yank a woman’s head out of one of the cages, and hold them inside their overcoats, then we would hear a kind of gulping sound. Whenever that happened, the boy wearing the bandana looked disgusted, and he would go off to smoke by himself, without inviting us.

We figured out pretty quickly that the growing number of passersby weren’t interested in the stuff we’d brought. They just hovered around the street, staring uneasily at the women in the baskets. When did all those people suddenly get there? We ran up the bridge that crossed over two lanes of traffic, and discovered for the first time that the men in our city were as numerous as rats, forming a long,

snakelike line that wound over the streets, stretching as far as the seaside – the place where the moms had been abandoned. This group of men were the only people left in our city. We were sad when we realized that, in comparison, the number of women in the cages was pitiful. We wouldn’t be able to get a single one of them.

The boy in the bandanna left at some point. My brand new shiny stainless steel school badge, all the handkerchiefs, slippers, and candles that everybody had brought…..had all flown off. Our spot on the street was taken. People swarmed around the policemen and the cages. We had to duck down and look for an exit through the gaps in peoples’ legs.

When I got home, the living room floor was splattered all over with puddles. My little sister was sitting in a big plastic bathtub, her body sunk completely in the steaming water, with only her tiny little head poking out.

“No food tonight. Dad took all our change.”

I don’t know why I wasn’t hungry. I just stretched my hands out wide and said, “You didn’t see. They had boobs as big as basketballs!”

But she didn’t look one bit interested. She just kept playing with the rag floating on top of the water, catching pockets of air inside, shaping it into a ball, and then flattening it out. “Maybe one day I’ll be just like them, a replacement mom, get sent out to another city and sold. Then you’ll know how much money I’m worth.” She laughed, her little body as skinny as a stick of bamboo rising suddenly from the water.

Something made me mad all the sudden, and I pushed my sister back down into the water, tipping the tub over, covering the floor in hot water and bubbles. Her shouting and fighting didn’t make a difference. She ought to know. By now, dad and the other men have already cleaned out those cages. If we climbed back onto that bridge, all we’d see would be an empty street, like a dried up riverbed, stretching on as far as night.

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