A-Chou took the criminal slave to the gathering place of the beggars in the red-light district. The criminal slave had grown up in the capital, but had never known of the existence of this Xiangfen (T/N: Xiangfen means cosmetic powder) Bridge within the red-light district. People actually lived underneath the four caverns formed by arches in the bridge.
After A-Chou went to a cavern within the Xiangfen Bridge, he began to get sick. He took herbal medicine but it was no use. The liquid that flowed from his open sores turned from yellow to brown.
The criminal slave finally became anxious. This person who hadn’t spoken a word in some years opened his mouth at this time to say, “You have to see a doctor.” The beggars around them didn’t understand his words, so he had to repeat himself word by word a few times.
The accent in the criminal slave’s speech was already abnormal, and none of the beggars could understand. But A-Chou understood. He pointed at himself and then waved his hand at the criminal slave.
“A-Chou ah.” An old beggar saw A-Chou’s state and didn’t want the criminal slave to worry, so he said, “You want to return to Xuanzhou. If you’re like this, will you be able to go back alive?” (T/N: Xuanzhou in China can point to multiple places, as the name was assigned to different places throughout history. It could point to Xuanzhou district in Xuancheng City, Anhui).
The criminal slave kowtowed to the old beggar. (T/N: prostrated on the ground and pressed his forehead against it).
“With A-Chou like this, even a Daoist immortal would have difficulty curing him. Let’s not speak of us having no money, even if we had the money to call a doctor, there isn’t one who can cure him,” the old beggar said to the criminal slave.
The beggars all sympathized but could not help. These people who begged for scraps on the streets of the red-light district all knew of this criminal slave; he was someone who even domesticated animals could come to. A-Chou was just finding trouble for himself by bringing this kind of a person along. But now as A-Chou appeared close to dying, this criminal slave seemed to be regarding A-Chou with all of his heart. The beggars, even if they had a lot to say, could not voice out their thoughts.
The criminal slave had always been a person with little hope, but this time when he faced A-Chou, he felt longing again. He hoped A-Chou’s sickness could pass. This cavern in the bridge was full of beggars, but no one was willing to come close to him. Only when he was at A-Chou’s side could the criminal slave feel that he was still a human.
A-Chou couldn’t go out to beg for food anymore, and the two could only rely on the beggars around them to share some of their food. The criminal slave was accustomed to hunger and offered every bit to A-Chou first, tricking A-Chou and saying that he himself had already eaten. The beggars also helped the criminal slave in his tricks. They were closer to A-Chou, and didn’t want to care about whether this criminal slave’s belly was full or not.
During the day, the beggars all went out to find food, and only the criminal slave accompanied A-Chou beneath the cold and windy bridge.
“A-Chou.” The criminal slave repeatedly helped A-Chou apply the already largely ineffective herbal medicine, as he used his strange voice to ask A-Chou, “Where did you come from, were you always called A-Chou?”
A-Chou dipped his fingers in the ash next to the fire, and carefully drew a few strokes on the ground. He then let the criminal slave look.
The remaining eye of the criminal slave could not see clearly, and he shook his head at A-Chou.
A-Chou drew again, in much larger strokes than the last time.
“A bun.” The criminal slave could see clearly this time, and his face held a rare smile, “Twenty-nine meat buns? A-Chou what do you want to say to me? You can write, so write it out for me.”
Pointing at the three characters forming twenty-nine (T/N: 二十九), A-Chou shook his hand again at the criminal slave.
The criminal slave asked, “Are these three words wrong?” The criminal slave’s head almost touched the ground, “It’s twenty-nine ah.”
For a long time, A-Chou and the criminal slave gestured at each other. Nowadays, these two had a tacit understanding in living their lives with each other, but A-Chou had no way to tell the criminal slave the meaning of his drawing.
“Meat bun.” The criminal slave finally asked, “A-Chou wants to eat meat buns?”
A-Chou hurriedly shook his head. Right now they didn’t even have enough food to eat, how could he eat a meat bun? He pointed again at the criminal slave.
“I don’t eat meat,” the criminal slave said.
A-Chou slept underneath the bridge for three days, and on the fourth day he regained some vigor. This made the criminal slave and the beggars very happy, all of them assuming that A-Chou had finished enduring this trial. A-Chou used a cloth to wrap up his long-ruined face, and then on that night carried the emaciated criminal slave out from under the bridge.
The criminal slave did not know where A-Chou was going to take him. He was afraid that A-Chou would send him back to the Pleasure Compound, and softly pleaded with A-Chou, “A-Chou, delay a few days before sending me back.”
A-Chou glanced back at the criminal slave and shook his head.
The criminal slave became silent. He’d lived a few good days and forgotten that he was only a criminal slave who could not even receive death when he sought it. A-Chou was already good enough to him, but he still wanted to bother his already ill A-Chou? As expected, he wasn’t a good person!
A-Chou carried the criminal slave on his back out of the red-light district. Those who passed by them one after another covered their noses and avoided them, afraid to slightly touch the two who stunk from head to toe, covered in rags.
“A-Chou,” the criminal slave urgently asked A-Chou, “where are you going to take me?”
A-Chou pointed to the front.
“I, can’t, can’t go, ah, A-Chou.” The criminal slave was anxious and afraid. His speech, which was already difficult to understand, became stuttering.
A-Chou turned back and used his forehead to rub once against the criminal slave’s face. He turned around and continued to carry the criminal slave forward on his back.
“A-Chou,” the voice of the criminal slave carried weeping tones, “I can’t go, you, you alone, go alone.”
Aside from the red-light district, the streets of the capital were tranquil after nightfall.
“Let me come down.” The criminal slave looked up at the falling snow above his head, and he patted A-Chou’s shoulder gently.
“Scram!” A man ran past the two on a fast horse and shouted loudly.
The horse brushed against A-Chou and he became unsteady, his two hands loosening, and the criminal slave slid from his back down to the snowy ground.
“A-Chou?!” The criminal slave watched A-Chou fall before him with wide eyes. In his panic, he finally let out a loud cry, calling A-Chou’s name.
A-Chou was embraced in the criminal slave’s arms. He looked at the criminal slave and spit out ink-black blood.
The criminal slave tore the cloth off A-Chou’s face. He covered A-Chou’s mouth with his hands, thinking that he could block off A-Chou’s mouth like this, thinking that like this the blood wouldn’t come spurting out.
“In front!” There was the clamor of people’s voices behind them.
A-Chou’s mouth moved, as if to say something to the criminal slave.
“A-Chou, don’t die.” A person who hoped for death all day long begged another to live.
A-Chou’s head fell askew in the arms of the criminal slave. This man <a TITLE=”(T/N: lit. = the final radiance of a setting sun. Points to final lucidity or activity before death)”> who had had a flash of activity prior to his demise </A> finally spent the last of the oil in his lantern.
“A-Chou?” The criminal slave falteringly stretched out his hand to feel for A-Chou’s breath.
“It turns out that you can speak the human language!” The boss brought people and caught up from behind. Hearing the criminal slave shouting for A-Chou, he kicked him to the ground. “Otherwise I would think you were entirely pitiful! You dared pretend to be mute?!”
“Please help him sir,” the criminal slave fell to the ground and begged the boss.
A guard reached out a hand and placed it under A-Chou’s nose. “Dead,” he proclaimed.
“Wretched unlucky thing!” The boss vehemently stepped on the slave’s hand. “You actually dared to run with a dead person? You want to cause the deaths of everyone in our compound, is that right? I’ll see you run!” The boss personally handled matters this time. When he heard that the ugly beggar had carried the criminal slave on his back and run, the boss was so frightened he nearly lost half his life. This was someone the government had handed over to him; if the slave escaped, would the boss be able to keep his own life?
Several old beggars who lived in the cavern under the bridge also rushed over at this time. They glanced at the criminal slave being kicked and cursed at by the boss in the middle of the street, and then walked over to the front of A-Chou.
A beggar felt for A-Chou’s breathing, pressed an ear against A-Chou’s chest to listen, and then reported to his companions: “Dead.”
“Ai!” The old beggar looked at A-Chou’s body and shook his head. “You followed me all the way here, begging for food. A person who wanted to return to his homeland in Xuanzhou, how could he stop his steps here?”
The beggars took A-Chou away.
The criminal slave was dragged away by a guard. He knew that the man’s name was A-Chou, but A-Chou did not know that he had a name–Luo Wei. The criminal slave’s tears could not flow out; the blood pouring from his body served in their stead.