Northern Girls: Life Goes On

Author: Sheng Keyi

Price: $29.95

Extract

Extract

Her. Right there. That's Qian Xiaohong, from Hunan province.

A little over a metre and a half tall, sporting short black hair with just a hint of a curl, her round-faced look is pretty much that of a model citizen, good and decent. She's just the sort of girl a guy wouldn't mind taking home to meet his parents. However, her breasts – through no fault of her own – are much too large for civilised, polite society. Such breasts could not help but invite the same suspicion and groundless gossip normally saved for young widows.

Xiaohong's breasts, to put it bluntly, are gorgeous! Even observed through clothing, it's easy to imagine their consistency. To touch them must be heavenly. To simply gaze upon them is to fall under their seductive power. The problem is that same unavoidable difficulty that always arises in tight-knit communities. When everyone is cast from the same mould, the person who stands out for any reason at all is sure to be seen as something of a maverick. And so, Xiaohong's full figure has always made her just a little too striking in the eyes of those around her.

Xiaohong's mother died of cirrhosis of the liver at a young age. Her chest was as flat as could be so it's clear the child gained nothing by inheritance. From then on, Xiaohong was brought up in the shelter of her paternal grandmother's bosom.

Her grandmother, a widow for fifty years, passed away at the age of eighty. She was the only one who knew the secret behind Xiaohong's well-endowed physique, but she went to the grave without ever breathing a word of it.

Ever since Xiaohong was in year five of school, rumours had surrounded her. There was always a stinging word hissed in her direction, ever a pointing finger trailing in her wake. All the other girls in the village dutifully hunched forward, guarding their chests under loose-fitting clothing, doing all they could to prevent their breasts from giving the slightest impression of sluttiness. Only Xiaohong allowed her twin bulging mounds to appear as openly and ominously as storm clouds descending upon an unsuspecting city. It was a rare gift she had, the way she carried that pair, and no one could deny that it required courage for her to do so.

At the ripe old age of thirteen, Xiaohong lost all interest in her studies. As soon as she finished middle school, she dropped out, preferring to take life easy and hang around the village.

Her father's work regularly took him away from home for weeks at a time. When he was back, Xiaohong would run and sit on his lap like a little girl, cuddling up to him, cheek to cheek. The villagers would look at them askance. Clearly the affection between father and daughter made them uncomfortable. He worked as a contractor and, with his earnings, built a two-storey house with suites on each floor. Both the interior and the exterior of the house had a more cosmopolitan air than anything in the city. Xiaohong chose for herself a room on the upper floor with a private staircase running up the outer wall.

Noticing that her family seemed to have a little money, some guys had hopes of becoming Xiaohong's man. It was often said that her earliest involvement with the opposite sex came when she was in primary school, first hooking up with boys from the secondary school, and later moving on to the young men of the village. She brought them home, each leaving his impression on her bed. Some claimed that, during the summer months, she sometimes did it while out enjoying the cool evening breeze. She was even known to go at it in broad daylight inside the large culvert at the power plant. Such was Xiaohong's reputation, and it rolled over the village in waves.

Xiaohong's only sibling was a sister eight years older than her. When she was ten, Xiaohong, her sister and their grandmother used to all squeeze into one room, the two girls sharing a bed. After her engagement, Xiaohong's sister, assuming that the younger girl would be none the wiser, often welcomed her fiancé to join them in the crowded bed.

Xiaohong and her brother-in-law got along well, very well indeed.

While village tittle-tattle was not always to be believed, spine-tingling tales about the activities of Xiaohong and her brother-in-law ran rampant on the village grapevine, and the odds were that they were true, too. Things finally came to a head in the year following her grandmother's death, when Xiaohong turned sixteen. That spring, the fields were wild. Oilseed rape plants spread out to the horizon, rippling like golden waves in the breeze. One day, she was about a mile outside of the village, working in the fields with her sister and brother-in-law.

'I'm so thirsty,' she said, and turned with a swing of her hips to head for home.

The way her rump swayed as she retreated was all that was needed to turn her brother-in-law's insides to jelly. As the poets say, spring – when the bees are dancing and the sun caresses your skin – is the time for mating. So who could blame the girl's brother-in-law for wanting to sleep wrapped in the arms of a good woman? On most nights, his wife would lie beneath him just like the third-of-an-acre plot he worked all day, quietly letting him plough her as he had the soil – and just as unmoving in response to his touch. With this in mind, the poor man suddenly lost the will to continue his work. He twisted his body this way and that, contorting himself in the oddest manner, frowning intensely. After a few moments of letting it brew, he finally succeeded in emitting a loud fart.

'Oh, my stomach!' He shouted, 'I think I've got the runs!' The urgent expression he wore made it seem he was in a desperate state.

'Ever notice how frequently lazy folks have to find a toilet?' his wife said. 'Go on. Looks like you'd better hurry.'

He set off at a trot.

The diligent woman kept at her work, placing each sprout neatly in its own hole and the pepper seeds in rows as orderly and pleasing as a well-embroidered fabric. When she'd finished, she looked over her handiwork with a maternal eye and smiled in contentment, her face as brown as the petals of a wilting flower. She was now in need of a little water herself, and the other two still hadn't returned. The wind blew over her solitary figure, her dusty drab overalls covered in mud. With her feet immersed in the loose soil, she looked exceptionally short. After a while, she climbed the ridge. Bringing her right hand to her forehead, she sheltered her squinting eyes and looked towards the family home lying in the distance. The tiled walls her father had built glistened like gold in the sunlight, as if thousands of precious jewels flashed before her, but there was no sign of her sister or her husband.

Beginning to have some misgivings, she slapped her hands together to remove the clods of soil, left the patch of land she had been working, and made her way home dejectedly. She went to the outside toilet, but her husband was not there. Could he have gone to the kitchen to get some water? No one was there either. In her heart, she began to feel a sense of dread, some vague notion of what must be going on.

She climbed the outer stairs to Xiaohong's bedroom, one hand clutching her chest, the other braced against the wall. She opened her mouth wide to breathe, feeling a little dizzy in the bright afternoon sun.

The door, unlatched, was open about an inch.

'Feng Ge, you need to get dressed and go. She's going to start suspecting something.'

'She's too blind to ever notice.'

'But what if she does?'

'She won't.'

'What if you knocked me up this time?'

'You bear it, I'll raise it.'

Legs trembling, Xiaohong's sister kicked the door open with a bang and stood there, the doorway framing her shape. With the sun behind her, she cast a long shadow that fell across the room and onto the bed, drawing a line between the two faces that lay there.

A bee flew past her, buzzing into the room. Dust motes danced in the long rays of the sun.

All was deathly silent.

Without a hint of embarrassment, Xiaohong slowly sat up and began to dress herself. At first, she'd been afraid of hurting her sister, but now that they were face to face, she felt relief, as if a cairn of stones had tumbled to the floor. Saying nothing, she finished dressing, simply turning her back to the door as she waited for her sister's tirade to begin.

Her brother-in-law stood up, his naked body quivering all over, as if he had just completed the most exquisite act of his life. His wife stood there muttering, her face puckered in anger, wrinkly as a bitter gourd. She gazed breathlessly at his naked body. A sudden whooshescaped her lips before she covered her face and ran. Rushing down the stairs, she came to an abrupt halt, feeling that things were the wrong way round. She thought, Isn't that little bitch the one who should be ashamed? Why isn't that bastard running away? I didn't do a fucking thing wrong! Why am I the one fleeing?

With that thought, she let it fly, her voice crashing through the house with her wailing and weeping.

'You bastard! You shameless hussy! What a cheap, rotten pair! Don't you even give a fuck about our reputation?'

She raised her voice higher and higher, as if in hope that the whole neighbourhood would come to support her cause. And sure enough, no sooner had the cries of condemnation been raised than they all crawled out from their little holes, coming from all directions, like ants scurrying over a disturbed mound. They rushed madly to the scene, and gathered in a mass at the foot of the stairs.

Also by Sheng Keyi

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Book Cover:  Fields of White: Penguin Special
From Man Asian Literary Prize nominee Sheng Keyi comes an offbeat and true-to-life tale of the inconstancy of modern life.
From Man Asian Literary Prize nominee Sheng Keyi comes an offbeat and true-to-life tale of the inconstancy of modern life.
Published: 17/03/2014
Format: eBook
ISBN: 9780734310507
Price: $3.99
Book Cover:  Northern Girls: Life Goes On
A beautiful coming-of-age novel, Northern Girls explores the inner lives of a generation of young, rural Chinese women who embark on life-changing journeys in search of something better.
A beautiful coming-of-age novel, Northern Girls explores the inner lives of a generation of young, rural Chinese women who embark on life-changing journeys in search of something better.
Published: 23/05/2012
Format: eBook
ISBN: 9781742535104
Price: $19.99
Published:02/05/2012
Format:Paperback, 336 pages
RRP:$29.95
price:AUD $29.95
ISBN-13:9780670080953
ISBN-10:0670080950
Origin:China
Publisher:Penguin China
Imprint:Viking

News

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10 Jul 2014
National Biography Award shortlist announced
The State Library of NSW has announced the shortlist for the National Biography Award, which recognises ‘the continuing importance and value of life writing’. Congratulations to Gideon HaighThe winner will be announced on 4 August at an event at the State Library of NSW, which coincides with the beginning of the library’s Biography Week. Read more about the prize and Biography Week events here.

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