The Near Future
The First Long-Lost Friend
A month is gone. I mean, a whole month is gone, it’s just vanished. Usually January is followed by February, which precedes March, which comes before April, and so on, but now it’s different, now March comes after January, now February is April, it’s skipped a month.
I said to Fang Caodi, forget it, don’t go looking for it, it’s not worth it, life is short and bitter, just live it well.
A man of greater ability would not have been able to convince him. But to tell you the truth, if you really wanted to find that lost month, Fang Caodi would be the man for the job. Throughout his life, he has had many months disappear, or perhaps have their existence be reduced to non-existence – his experiences resemble a strand of fragments, unable to be organized into stories. He appears at odd times in odd places, or, many years after having seemingly vanished from the face of the earth, he returns triumphantly from the brink of eternity at some unexpected hour. Such a person might be likely to do things that are behind the times, such as going to find a missing month.
I hadn’t noticed its disappearance at first, and despite other people saying it had indeed vanished, I am of a skeptical sort. Every day, I read the papers, go on news websites, and watch China Central Television and Phoenix Satellite Television, and so I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable person when it comes to these kinds of things. Could such a major event so easily slip under my nose? I trust myself, my understanding, my intelligence, and my ability to make independent judgments.
On the afternoon of February 17, I had left home and, as part of my daily routine, was walking towards the Pacific Century Place Starbucks when someone suddenly ran in front of me and shouted with a gasp, “Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen! A month is gone! It’s been two years!”
He was wearing an unassuming baseball cap; I couldn’t make him out.
“Fang Caodi, Fang Caodi.” He said his name twice and took off his hat, revealing a bald head and a ponytail tied with a rubber band.
“You’ve started calling me ‘teacher’ now too?”
With an air of importance, he added, “A month is gone! Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen, what do we do? What do we do?”
“It’s not just a month that’s gone now, is it?”
“No, no. Teacher Chen, Teacher Chen, a month is missing, you know too! What do we do?”
Speaking with this man is tiring indeed. “When did you get back to Beijing?”
He sneezed. I gave him a business card: “Don’t get sick. It’s colder now, don’t go running around like this anymore. Let’s meet up later – my phone number and e-mail address are on the front.”
He put his cap back on and took the card. “We work well together; we’ll find it.”
It was only as I watched him run off in the direction of the foreign embassies that I realized he wasn’t exercising.
He was running somewhere.
Pay me $5,000 and I’ll translate the rest of it. Only half-joking.