May 21, 1991|By MA LIN

Last Saturday, for the first time, I went fishing. For a wholesummer I'd longed to do that, but Uncle Qiao never took me with him. This time Mamma arranged it for me.

It was a lovely morning. We drove down the country road. It seemed that I hadn't breathed any fresh air for a long time. The Qinling mountains were to the south. The fields were painted full of vegetables.

The sun rose slowly, little by some little. In Xi'an, I couldn't see the sun rise at all because of the buildings. But here it was so different. So wild, so broad. I watched the sun rise from the very beginning and looked at it as it jumped from the right side to the left side of the car, then to the right again.

I didn't know why I felt so strange: How can the sun rise like that just out of the void? If there had been some clouds, maybe I wouldn't have had such thoughts.

After about two hours, the car drove on an uneven road which led us to a lovely place. The scene there was as beautiful as pictures. (I don't know why when people want to describe some real thing which is really wonderful they say it is almost real or compare it to something that is really unreal. Very interesting!)

I liked that place. It was a village at the foot of the mountains. Very peaceful and very nice. A narrow stream (maybe a river) flowed through many clean stones zigzag. There were some trees here and there full of persimmons, especially at the tops of the trees. The fruits were orange and some leaves were turning red. A black dog watched the car and wagged its tail.

We stopped near a pond. Uncle Qiao began to prepare the fishing tackle and chose a proper place. I was sent to buy some apples and persimmons. Following a peasant, I went to several cottages.

I hadn't often been to a small village like this, and I'd never been in a farmer's family. Most of them were kind and friendly. Their rooms were all big and empty and dark and dirty. Some of them were cooking lunch. The smell of burning wood pervaded the house and the yard. Those people's clothes were dingy, their expressions humble, and they smiled timidly (I don't know why, but it's true). From Uncle's friend I learned that many of them were saving money to buy a color TV or even a tractor.

After comparing the prices of the fruit, we chose to buy at a middle-aged man's. His family seemed quite special. The rooms were bright and new, yet still very empty. His wife helped me pick the apples. Several times she looked at me and smiled. Then she put the apples into the basket beside me. She touched my bare arm with her rough hand, as though not on purpose. I glanced at her face and saw her timid eyes. I smiled and kept on working.

After we finished, she gazed at my sweater for a while, then lifted her hand which was still full of dirt, fondled it, and said: ''How nice, your life.'' If at another occasion or if another person was involved I might feel very uncomfortable or unpleasant to be touched like this. But I smiled at her the whole time and felt bitter in my heart.

''It's so hard,'' she said.

I said nothing.

The sun got warmer and warmer. I went back to see how many fish Uncle Qiao had got. But he told me the best time for fishing was 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I sat down on the dry grass beside him. There was a pile of dry stems behind me. There must have been a mouse or something in it. Every time I passed the pile, I could hear the sound of hurry moving.

I sat there and was comfortable. The pond was not big. We could hear people talking on the other side. The fishing line was quiet on the smooth water. I gazed at the other side from time to time, and chewed a biscuit.

A young man sat near us, and I thought he was about the same age as me. Maybe a few years younger. He looked at us, then called out: ''Hi, college student!'' (Many people call us in this way.)

''Do you think you can get a fish?'' he asked.

''I'm not sure. But it doesn't matter. I just like sitting,'' I said.

''Nice?'' he said. ''There come ghosts from that pond.'' He was serious.

''What are you talking about? How do you know that?''

''Three people died here,'' he said. ''When my teacher first told me about it, I didn't believe. But now I know it's true.''

''Can people really die in a pond this small?'' I asked.


''It doesn't seem very logical,'' I said.

''Well,'' said the boy, ''how do you explain this: There was a paralytic old man who couldn't move at all. But one night, when the wind was big, he heard someone call him. He got up and came here, and jumped into the water without any hesitation. When we found him his head was still stuck in the mud.''

''Is that really true?'' I noticed a group of children started to gather around and all of them nodded seriously.

''You don't believe me,'' the boy said. He seemed a little offended. ''These ghosts often have a banquet here.''

''I'll bet it's delicious,'' I smiled.

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