by Pema Tseden, translated into English by Jessica Yeung
Before meeting him, Yongtso had lost all confidence in men.
This man was her ninth.
Her first was a monk. She was eighteen. Before she understood what was going on, she had become his girl. She was considered a great beauty in the village. Quite a few lads in the neighbourhood were very sweet on her. When the villagers became aware of her liaison with the monk, they were very perplexed and exclaimed that there were things in this world that could not be fathomed by reason.
He was two years older than Yongtso but had had no experience of anything between the sexes. It was true that Yongtso was two years younger, but she had heard much from idle talk around the village. Therefore, she was not as innocent as one might suppose. In fact, she had harboured a vague longing of that sort.
It was with some help from Yongtso, and in a slightly panicky manner, that he accomplished his first time, which was also her first.
When it was over, a faint and subtle disappointment crept up in her heart. It felt slightly hurried. It was not in any way as mysterious as she had thought it would be, or as she had heard it to be.
When it was over, he started to sob. Then the weeping turned into wailing. His tears flowed into his snot. He cried like a child.
Guilt was biting at her heart. It was her failure to rein in her desire of the moment, that had caused a monk to break his vow of celibacy.
She wanted to say something to comfort him but was lost for words. Finally, she said to him, "I'm a grave sinner. A woman like me should end up in hell."
Yet, he took her hand, held it tightly in his and said, "I'm not weeping because I've broken my vow of celibacy. I'm crying for the long time that I have wasted before finding such joy. You've shown me the best thing in life. You won't go to hell. You'll go to heaven. You are such a wonderful woman. I wish I had met you much earlier."
This was Yongtso's story with her first man. She told her man all about it. He was her ninth. She withheld nothing from him. This ninth man of hers smiled and said, "This is the delight between men and women. One simply can't fight it. And it is what has led me to you."
Words like these could no longer move her. Her face stayed expressionless.
The second man Yongtso had was someone who had just been abandoned by a woman.
She had run off with another man, but he could not forget her. He felt he was the loneliest man in the world.
Yongtso's looks bore a certain resemblance to that woman. So he often came to see her and talked to her, especially when he was overcome by loneliness. Yongtso had always worn two long plaits. They fell all the way to her waist. He would touch them with fondness.
Yongtso's monk had returned to the secular life in order to stay with her. Because of this, the villagers called her names. They said she was inauspicious and cursed her with the threat of hell. In fact, sometimes Yongtso agreed with them. But then this man who had been a monk was earnest and sincere, and indeed rather good to her, so she took no notice of what other villagers said. They also made sarcastic comments to him. This made him feel very bad. The feeling was one of an abrupt descent from magnificent highs to shabby lows. At the end, it was all too much for him, so he quietly quit the village for some place where no one knew him, leaving Yongtso behind.
Therefore, when the man abandoned by his woman came to Yongtso and poured his heart out to her, Yongtso empathised with him. A loneliness concealed deep in her heart chimed with that he expressed to her. Soon, they became a pair. He often mistakenly called her by the name of the woman who had abandoned him. She did not exactly feel comfortable about this, but he was good to her, so she just accepted this occasional slip with her name.
Just when she had got used to this name he gave her sometimes, and they had become settled in their lives together, the woman who had previously abandoned this man came back to him.
That woman had a feisty character. She confronted Yongtso and the man. There and then she grabbed Yongtso by her plaits and pushed her around in front of the man. He stood there and watched without doing anything to stop her.
Yongtso went over to him and looked him straight in the eyes, with tears welling up in her own.
He dipped his head as he said, "I came to you only because you look like her. Now she's back. I want to be with her."
At that moment, Yongtso noticed that the other woman had grown two plaits, just like her own.
This was Yongtso's story of the second man of hers. She told her ninth man all about it. She did not withhold anything. Her story made him angry and he said, "That was wicked of him!"
She heard what he said and looked closely at him.
The third man Yongtso had was a trader. He sold coral necklaces by going around villages vending strings of red corals brighter than the colour of blood. He wore them around his own neck and peddled them in the district. From time to time, he would call out, "Coral necklaces for sale!"
Every woman in Yongtso's village dreamt of having a coral necklace. So when they heard his calls, they could not help themselves peeping through the crack of their doors. Some even followed him around for a whole afternoon.
Whenever this coral trader turned up and cast his cries into the village sky, the men would be overcome with a profound anxiety. Their loathing for him intensified all the time. Some of the poorest men even planned to ambush him and break those damned legs of his before he could enter the village. This would ensure his absence from the village. Yet, such plans were all talk and no action. What they in fact did was to send their wives up to the hills when he approached. Their women would be told to cut some grass, tend the sheep or run some errands in the hills, in order that they would not catch even a fleeting glimpse of him. It can be imagined how hard business was for him in the village.
Then Yongtso met him.
Like other women in the village, she responded to the siren call of his coral. Whenever she heard his voice floating in the air above the village, she would go out to look at the coral necklaces he wore around his neck. She could see in her mind's eye how they would look around her own neck.
Yongtso was no more than twenty years old, but she had already known two men. Like other young women in the village, she found herself unable to suppress her desire for the coral necklaces. This desire was growing all the time in her heart.
The coral trader saw how she was looking at his necklaces, and he asked her, "So you like coral necklaces?"
She was honest in her answer, "Yes."
He said, "Send your man to me. Get him to buy you one."
She blushed, "I don't have a man."
He said, "How come a pretty girl like you does not have a man?"
The pink on her cheeks subsided. She said, "I just don't."
He thought about it, but only for a brief second, and then pointed to the necklaces around his neck, asking her, "Which one do you like best?"
She hesitated but allowed her eyes to wander all over the coral necklaces he carried. Then she pointed at one of them and said, "This one is best."
He smiled as he said, "You've got good eyes. This certainly is the best."
"I like this one."
"There are thirty pieces of coral in this string. They are all good ones."
She made no reply.
He looked at her and asked, "What will you give me in exchange for this necklace made of thirty pieces of good coral?"
She still made no reply.
He peered at her and said, "You are not exactly plain-looking. This is what we can do. If you stay with me for thirty nights, this necklace with thirty pieces of coral will be yours."
She blushed again, without saying a word.
After the thirty nights were over, the necklace with thirty pieces of coral appeared around Yongtso's neck.
Other women in the village felt a mixture of envy and contempt. They often made sarcastic comments at her. Some would even spit and curse as she walked past.
This was Yongtso's story about the third man of hers. She told her ninth man all about this, leaving out nothing. This ninth man of hers scoffed and said, "There are no decent traders in the world. They are all deceitful and greedy."
At hearing this, she looked at him again.
The fourth man Yongtso had was a truck driver. He made a living by providing transportation for goods between villages and cities. Many young lads used to like coming to see Yongtso and whispering sweet nothings in her ear, but things changed once they noticed the coral necklace around her neck. They didn't come to see her anymore. When they saw her from a distance, they would run a mile. If she caught their eyes, all that could be read was disdain. Other women in the village also became unfriendly. Not a single one of them would initiate a conversation with her.
Now Yongtso understood the loneliness her second man used to speak about so often. She mulled it over and came to the conclusion that it was all to do with the coral necklace. She took it off and looked at it. It was so very beautiful. Without a second thought, she put it back around her neck. It was at this precise moment that the wish to leave the village began to burn inside her. She wished she could find a place where nobody knew her, just like her first man did. For a long time, she had heard about a world outside that was much bigger and more beautiful than her own village.
She was reminded of a song that was very popular, and that everybody could sing:
The rainbow across the sky
Is my golden bridge.
I will leave the mountain
To see the world outside.
Yongtso wracked her brains but could not work out where she could find the rainbow or the golden bridge. All that came to mind was that truck driver. She reckoned he was the only person who could take her beyond the mountains that surrounded her village on all four sides.
She found him and told him her wish.
He looked at her coral necklace, not saying a word.
"Don't even think that. I won't give you my necklace," she told him.
Then he looked at her face.
"But I will pay you in some other way."
So he told her to meet him at the entrance to the village just before daybreak.
Yongtso could not contain her excitement. She did not get a wink of sleep and went to the meeting-place much earlier than agreed.
Just before daybreak, the truck arrived. The driver did not look as sober as Yongtso would have wished.
He took out a small bottle and drank a mouthful.
She smelled the wine. Nevertheless, she asked him, "What's that?"
He said, "This is wine," and drank another mouthful.
She looked at him and said nothing.
He said, "I take a drink every time I hit the road," and he started the engine.
As soon as they were on the road, he became very alert. It was Yongtso who fell asleep.
When she woke up, they were parked in a quiet open space. The ground all around them was scorched by the sun, and the light reflected from it pierced the air. She could hardly keep her eyes open. Yongtso felt the driver undressing her. He was about to take her. She did not resist and simply lay there, half shutting her eyes to the sun and letting him have his way.
He was thorough in every step of the process. At the end he said, his voice trembling, "You are the most beautiful women I've ever seen."
She opened her eyes narrowly to look at him. His expression looked comical to her. She asked him, "How many women have you seen?"
He told her, in the same trembling voice, "I can't remember. I really can't remember. I can't remember a thing."
When he recovered his voice, he said, "Life is worthwhile being with a woman like you, if only once."
He pulled up when they arrived at a crossroad. He told her, "Here we are—in the city."
Yongtso was overpowered by the crowd she saw. She had never seen so many people. Not even in her dreams had she imagined so many tall buildings, all stacked up like dozens of carts, one on top of the other.
She prepared herself to get down from the truck. The truck driver looked at her as if he did not want to part with her. "Stay with me. I will take you to the city every day, a different city every day if you like."
She smiled, "I don't feel comfortable with you. It felt like being with my uncle."
He fell silent and registered no expression on his face.
She jumped down from the cab of the truck and stood right in the middle of the crossroad.
The truck driver, looking at her coral necklace, called out to her, "Watch out and take care of yourself."
This was Yongtso's story of the fourth man she knew. She told her ninth man all about it. She had no intension of withholding any part of the story from him. When she finished her story, he said, in a light voice, "Compared to that cynical trader, this truck driver was not an indecent man."
Yongtso heard this and kept her thoughts to herself.
The fifth man she had was a handsome young lad. He often hung out around that same crossroad where Yongtso had got down from the truck. That day when she stood there, amazed at all the new things around her, he appeared in front of her. The truck was still there. The driver saw him and called out to Yongtso, "Watch out and take care of yourself."
The handsome lad also saw the driver and asked her, "Is that your uncle?"
She answered, "How do you know?"
He said, "He cares about you as a parent does."
She took another look at the truck driver and said to the handsome lad, "Yes, you are smart. He is my uncle."
The truck drove away, leaving no trace behind but the sad purr of the engine, as it receded into the distance.
The two of them laughed and looked at the departing truck emitting black exhaust fumes as it went.
They remained standing there at the crossroad. He told her all kinds of jokes. His jokes were all decent and in good taste, and so unlike all the blue jokes she had heard around the village. She never dared to laugh at those. They were too embarrassing. She had never heard so many good jokes before this day, and they were all so funny. So she laughed to her heart's content.
Everybody that walked past looked at her as if taken by surprise.
She found this strange and asked the handsome lad, "Are they looking at this beautiful coral necklace I'm wearing?"
He did not even look at it. He simply said, "In a city like this, your type of necklace is nothing special. Every woman here has one just like it."
She looked at the women walking past and asked him, "Why aren't they wearing theirs?"
He said, "It's nothing special to them. They don't bother to wear theirs outside and usually leave them at home in the drawer. When their coral pieces have bred smaller pieces, they send them as gifts to their poor relatives in the village."
Yongtso was astonished and asked, "Do you mean that corals can breed little corals?"
Only now did the handsome lad lower his eyes to her neck and look at her corals, "These look to me like small corals bred from the large city corals."
Yongtso looked disappointed.
The lad tried to comfort her, "But they definitely are the largest among the small ones."
"Is it because I'm wearing small corals bred from large ones that they look down on me? Is that why they look at me in such a way?"
"No, not at all. They look at you because you are very pretty."
Yongtso did not really believe what he said. She looked at the women walking by and said, "I'm not as pretty as any of them. Look at their pale skin. They look like snow."
The handsome lad smiled and said to her, "None of them is as pretty as you. When they stand next to you, they look like white pork hung up in the slaughter house."
She blushed and dared not look at the faces of the women around them.
He said, "Now you look even more beautiful."
Just as they were talking, a policeman came over and said to him, "Hey, you can't just stand here and chat up girls. You're obstructing the traffic."
The handsome lad said, "This is my cousin. She's just come from the village. I'm showing her around."
The policeman turned serious, "If you continue to obstruct the traffic, I'll have you locked up."
The lad said, "I'll buy you a drink tonight. See you in Black Cat Bar."
Now the policeman smiled. He took a glance at Yongtso and said to him, "Get going and don't forget to take your cousin with you."
Black Cat Bar was not too far from the crossroad. After nightfall, it proved to be just around the corner.
Yongtso was amazed at the colourful neon lights at the door. She asked the handsome lad, "Why wasn't this house here in the day?"
He assumed an air of mystery and said, "This city is full of magical colours."
They went in. Amazement kept growing in Yongtso. She asked, "Why didn't I see all these strange people in the day?"
The handsome lad smiled as he answered, "They come from another world and only show up at night."
She had been told that ghosts only appeared at night, but these people did not look at all like ghosts to her.
He led her to a dark corner and sat down. The policeman they had seen in the day joined them. He was still wearing his uniform but looked much less solemn.
He sat opposite them and said to the handsome lad, "Brother, get your cousin over here to keep me company. The drinks are on me tonight."
The lad said quickly and clearly, "She's too young. She's too young. She'll be good company for you when she grows older."
The policeman said, "You're a stingy bastard, aren't you?"
The lad just replied, "She's too young. She's too young."
The policeman turned to Yongtso, "Is he really your cousin?"
She nodded enthusiastically.
The policeman said to the lad, "What kind of cousin are you to bring her to a place like this?"
The lad said, "I mean to let her see more of the world."
The policeman ordered several beers, and they started drinking.
At first, the beer tasted foul to Yongtso. She did not like it at all. But gradually the taste improved, and the more she drank, the better it tasted.
Yongtso got to the point where she really loved the taste of it, then she no longer knew what happened.
The next morning when she woke up, she found herself naked in a big bed. She felt the weight of her head like a stone and simply could not lift it. She gathered her remaining strength, lifted her head from the pillow and saw her clothes scattered on the floor, but her coral necklace was nowhere to be found.
She ran back to the crossroad, the policeman was there on duty.
She asked him, "Where is the handsome lad?"
He smiled, "Are you looking for him?"
"How would I know where he is? Isn't he your cousin?" He was still smiling.
"I don't know him."
"Didn't you spend the day together yesterday?"
"I met him yesterday."
"What are you young people capable of these days!" He shook his head as he spoke.
"My coral necklace is missing," she told him.
"Are they real corals?"
"Yes, the handsome lad told me they were small corals bred by large ones."
He burst out laughing, "What a liar he is!"
Yongtso was desperate as she asked him, "Where does he live?"
He stopped laughing and said, "You won't find him. He's left the city this morning. He's got a ride to Lhasa."
She cried and said to the policeman, "You must find him for me."
He said, "I'm a traffic policeman. That's not my job."
She kept crying, and people started to crowd around them. The policeman became slightly nervous. He persuaded her to go home.
Solemnly the policeman stood at the crossroad and pointed in one direction to Yongtso. So she left and followed that direction.
This is Yongtso's story of the fifth man she had. She told her ninth man all about it and kept no part of it from him. Having heard her story, this ninth man of hers was outraged and said, "This is outrageous! It is exactly how hooligans in the street deceive young girls and take advantage of them."
Yongtso heard his words and became absorbed in her reminiscences.
The sixth she had was a shepherd boy. In fact, he was no longer a young boy. He had long entered his adulthood but still had no family. So people in the village still called him the shepherd boy.
The shepherd boy was an orphan. As a child, he tended sheep for people in the village. He was still doing it now. All his companions of similar age had got married and were raising their own families. He did not have anyone to make a match for him, so he was still out there tending sheep. The girls of his age either teased him or mocked him. None of them bothered to flirt with him. So he had developed a shy and quiet personality.
Yongtso had followed the direction the policemen pointed out to her. She walked all the way home without having a mouthful of food. When she was on the point of fainting, the shepherd boy happened to be there.
She saw him and felt safe enough to let herself faint. Until then, she had held herself up by will.
The shepherd boy poured some water from his water-pouch into her mouth. All this time, he dared not look at her face.
When she woke up, she beamed a smile at him. Never before had a beautiful woman smiled at him. He was dazzled and didn't know what to do.
Yongtso had heard about him, but she had never thought that one day she would lie in his embrace. Yet, now, seeing a familiar face was enough to move her.
He gave his bread to her.
She wolfed it down to the last morsel. Then she realised she had taken all his food. He had not eaten anything all day, but the last thing he felt was hunger at this moment. Yongtso felt very sorry. She felt she ought not to have taken all his food, but as for the shepherd boy, he had never felt such a sense of fulfilment.
When the sun started to set, he led the sheep home with Yongtso on his back.
There they were at the entrance to the village. He hesitated, but at last he asked, "Where do you want to go? Stay on my back. I'll bring you there."
She gave it some thought and said, "Let's go to your place."
He did not move but still kept her on his back. The sheep went on ahead, but he did not move.
She asked, "Don't you want to take me there?"
Then he started walking again. The walk turned into a canter, and they caught up with the sheep.
That night, in the shepherd boy's humble hut, Yongtso gave herself to him.
When it was over, three times he prostrated himself before her in a ritualistic manner. With all solemnity he said, "You are my Drolkar!"
She laughed and said to him, "How could you compare me to the divinity? This is a sin."
Again, three times he prostrated himself to honour her.
She said, "I no longer have that coral necklace. I shouldn't have had it in the first place. Now I'm like any other woman in the village."
He replied, "You are the most beautiful of all women and even more beautiful when you wore that necklace."
She said, "Didn't you hate me when I wore it?"
"I have always looked on you as a goddess."
From then on, Yongtso lived together with the shepherd boy.
The young men in the village were now envious of him, but the women grew even more contemptuous of her.
Every night, the shepherd boy went home. The first thing he did after dinner was to wash Yongtso's feet. He was careful and thorough. It pleased her. At bedtime, he always prostrated himself three times before her before they went to bed. At first, she felt awkward and tried to avoid it. Then she got used to it and did not mind it anymore.
But then things became unbearable just before daybreak. Yongtso had no idea where the shepherd boy had found this excessive energy and excessive desire. Every morning at this hour, he would turn into a beast. His desire for her would become so unreasonably intense that he would take her at least six times before he stopped. Every morning, it was the same.
He no longer tended the sheep properly by day. Instead, he took the sheep to the hills and found somewhere for himself to sleep. He tended the sheep only in his dreams. He was not even aware when a few sheep were killed by the wolves. People no longer trusted him as they used to. Some took their sheep back.
At first, Yongtso enjoyed it. None of the men she had known before could give her delight in such an uninhibited manner. Yet, half a month passed by, and she started to fear it. Every day when the sun set, she became anxious and fearful of what was to come in the night.
Another month went by. She could no longer take it. So she tried all means to get away from this energetic shepherd boy who was burning with desire.
This was Yongtso's story about the sixth man she had. She told her ninth man all about it without leaving out any parts of it. This ninth man of hers gave a light laugh and said, "Some men are just born with insatiable desires."
She heard him and she felt as if she were lost.
The seventh man Yongtso had was a village hooligan. He was much faster with his fist than with words. He was known as the brute in the village. All the women loathed him, and the men feared him. He had seen Yongtso before, and a few times, he had made explicit sexual remarks to her, but she never took it to heart.
When Yongtso could not bear it anymore with the shepherd boy, the brute came to mind. He was the only person who could save her from the shepherd boy.
One day, the shepherd boy went out as usual, and she went to see the brute.
She said, "If you save me from the shepherd boy, I will be your woman."
He was bewildered and asked, "Aren't you two living happily like a married couple? Why do you want to be saved from him? It can't be that bad, can it?"
She told him everything.
The brute was astonished, and he murmured as if to himself, "How could that little shit get such tremendous energy?"
That day when the sun set, Yongtso and the brute were waiting in front of the shepherd boy's hut.
The shepherd boy looked so frail, and the brute started laughing.
He asked him, "What are you laughing about?"
The brute did not say a thing, still looking at him, grinning.
The shepherd boy was fed up. He looked to Yongtso.
She had already packed and held her bag in her hand. She plucked up her courage and said, "I'm leaving you."
The shepherd boy gave out a cry and darted at them, trying to snatch her bag. With one kick, the brute sent him flying to the ground flat on his back.
He got up and flew at Yongtso, and once again, the brute kicked him away.
The brute spoke, "Yongtso is my woman. She's already slept with me. It was properly done. If you dare interfere with her again, I'll break those dog legs of yours."
Yongtso was surprised. She looked at the brute, and he looked back at her with a smirk on his face.
The shepherd boy looked at her and cried with all his might. This made Yongtso very uncomfortable.
When the brute led Yongtso away, the shepherd boy threw himself on the ground, held on to her legs and begged her to stay.
She felt so sorry for him that it became very difficult to go. At this moment, the brute kicked him away again and dragged her off.
She could still hear him crying from a long way away.
Later, she heard that the shepherd boy lost a few sheep every day. At last, no one gave their sheep to him to tend anymore. Several times, Yongtso thought about going over to see him, but she never managed to.
The brute had a strong physique and a fiery temper, but at night, she was surprised to find that he was impotent. She had never imagined this. Unfortunately, the more he showed his impotence, the more he took it out on her.
After just a few days, Yongtso got dark eyes and a swollen nose. No one could tell she was once a beautiful woman.
She decided to leave him. She threatened to tell all the young lads and girls in the village that he was impotent.
The brute was completely defeated and deflated. All he could do was to beg Yongtso not to. He even started sobbing. This was also something she had never imagined. At last, he promised that if she could keep the secret for him, he would continue to protect her after they parted.
So Yongtso left her seventh man. It was a clean break with no ties.
This was Yongtso's story about the seventh man she knew. She told her ninth man all about it, withholding nothing. This ninth man of hers said, "Some men are like that. They appear strong but are incredibly weak."
Yongtso heard him say this and started thinking about it, too.
The eight man she had was the only son of a decent family in the village. They were conscientious people working hard to making a living.
The parents of the only son asked him, "Would you like Yongtso to be your woman?"
He said, "I doubt she would agree."
They said, "She is no longer the same Yongtso in the past. She would be happy just to have a place to stay."
The only son smiled.
They asked again, "Would you like Yongtso to bear a son for our family?"
He answered, "I'd like that. He will definitely be like Yongtso and as beautiful as her."
So Yongtso became their daughter-in-law.
A few months later, her belly started to grow. The entire family would look at it and smile. They all felt a new sense of happiness that belonged exclusively to a family situation.
A few more months passed. Yongtso gave birth to a son, as expected by the family. However, soon after it was born, the son died.
Another month passed. She left this family. No one asked her to stay.
This was Yongtso's story of the eighth man she had. She told his ninth man of hers about it, not sparing any part of the story. This ninth man of hers said, "What a pity! You almost became a mother. But even if you did, so what?"
Yongtso heard her ninth man say this, and she replied, without much emotion, "These are the men I've had. Perhaps you have already heard about them all from other people."
This ninth man of hers said, also without much emotion, "All I care about is you, this person in front of me. I've never tried to find out about your past from other people."
Yongtso felt as if she was moved. She asked him, "Are you sure you really don't care about my past?"
This ninth man of hers did not give it a second thought. He said, "I've told you all I care about is you, this person in front of me."
She said, "Can you swear you'll never mention any of these?"
He said, "I swear."
This ninth man of Yongtso's was a teacher in the village primary school. He wore glasses, and they gave him a very serious look. She looked at him and wanted to laugh.
She moved in with him on the first day of the new year. He took her to the county government office to get a marriage certificate.
He put the certificate in a frame and hung it above their bed. Every time before they had sex, he would look at it and say to her, "We'll start a new kind of life."
She would also murmur, "We'll start a new kind of life."
In the first four months of their lives together, Yongtso was happy. Their neighbours kept saying what a model couple they were. She did not understand what a model couple was. An old lady who lived nearby tried to explain it to her but still she could not get her head round it.
At night, she asked her man, "What is a model couple?"
He said, "A couple who are closer than all other couples in the world."
Now she understood and smiled, feeling content.
Once a month, the teachers in his school held a gathering. He missed it in the first four months of their marriage, so that he could spend the time with her. In the fifth month, on the day of that gathering, his colleagues came and dragged him along with them.
He did not return home until midnight. When he did, he was drunk. Instead of going straight to bed, he woke her up and said in an aggressive manner, "They should have cut off that monk's dick the day he became a monk, like they used to do with eunuchs."
Then he collapsed into bed and fell asleep, but Yongtso could not go back to sleep.
The next morning, he saw the strange colour on her face and asked, "I didn't say anything last night, did I?"
She shook her head.
Then he said, "Good that I didn't. It was the booze. I'll never drink again."
In the sixth month after the teachers' gathering, he came back drunk and said to her, "I used to know a woman who grew too plaits like yours."
In the middle of the night, he called out the name of a woman she did not know.
The next morning, he woke up and thought long and hard; then he said, "Did I say anything last night?"
She shook her head.
He said, "The booze! I really mustn't drink again."
In the seventh month after the teacher's gathering, he came back drunk again and said to her, "I'll get my bonus at the end of the year. We'll get a real coral necklace and let it breed small corals. We'll give the small ones to your poor relatives in the village."
The next morning, he asked her, "Did I make a promise to buy you something last night?"
She shook her head and said nothing.
He said, "I've been thinking about getting you an automatic watch, one that doesn't need winding. I'll do that when I have enough money at the end of the year."
In the eighth month after the teachers' gathering, he came back drunk as he had before. He said to her, "When we get rich, we'll take an aeroplane and go to a big city. It doesn't count until you've been to a really big city by plane."
Yongtso looked at this man of hers and helped him lie down on the bed, but she sat up all night.
The next morning, he asked her again, "Did I mention the automatic watch again? I've put some money together. I'll have enough at the end of the year. We'll definitely get you a watch."
She said, "I don't want any automatic watch. I just don't want you to drink."
He said, "We'll get you one. We will."
In the ninth month after the teachers' gathering, he came back more drunk than ever. As soon as he came home, he wanted to make love to Yongtso.
She wasn't altogether willing. He detected it and asked her, "Are you worried that I won't remember in the morning? I remember everything we did when we made love even when I was drunk."
At that moment, Yongtso lost all her strength and sank. She did not feel a thing and did not realise he was already inside her. He was grunting and sweating on top of her. Then, all of a sudden, he came off her and fell into deep sleep like a pig.
In the total darkness of her surroundings, Yongtso's tears flowed to the rhythm of his snoring.
In the tenth month, Yongtso's man came back outrageously drunk. He practically had to crawl into the house.
As soon as he saw her, he blurted out, "I truly love you, but I'm not even as good as a shepherd boy. I am a teacher of the people, you see! Even a shepherd boy has preceded me."
Yongtso made him some tea and helped him to bed.
The next morning when he woke up, she said to him, "You promised never to mention my past."
He slapped himself on the face and said, "I'm an arsehole!"
She said, "You don't have to do that. You are the only man who I have given my heart to."
He gave himself another slap on the face and swore that he would never mention her past again.
Life went on, but Yongtso and her man became quieter by the day.
In the eleventh month after the teachers' gathering, a few young teachers had to bring Yongtso's man home. Behind them was the old head teacher who scolded, "What is the matter with you? In the past, you hardly touched a drop, but now you're drinking so hard. What is going on here?"
He slurred his reply, but they still heard him say, "I'm happy. You have no idea how happy I am!"
Yongtso stood on the side and looked at him.
Her man also took a look at her and turned to the old man, "Sir, your physique is the strongest among the teachers at school. All the teachers are afraid of you. But I heard that at home you're terrified of your wife. Is it true? She can't be blackmailing you with some secret, can she?"
The old man had no idea what he was talking about. Offended he left them.
Yongtso ignored him. So he went to bed by himself and fell asleep.
In the morning, nobody mentioned the night before, as if nothing ever happened.
A few days later, he was all cheerful as he looked at Yongtso's belly and said, "We've been married for quite a while. You still haven't got pregnant."
Immediately Yongtso cried.
He leant over and comforted her, "No hurry, no hurry at all. We must be patient. If it doesn't happen this year, next year it will."
She sobbed as she told him, "There is only one thing that I didn't tell you."
He asked, "What is it? Tell me now."
She starting speaking, still sobbing, "After that childbirth, the doctor told me I could never have a child again."
He was silent for a long while.
After a long while, he finally said, "That's fine. I've told you all I care about is you, this person in front of me."
She embraced him and shed many tears.
In the twelve month, the teachers' gathering was set for the last day of the year.
Yongtso's man went to the gathering and was drunk as usual when he came back.
Yongtso wanted to take the best care of him.
She said to herself that now she had lived together with this man for a year, she felt a faint sense of happiness.
He fell asleep in her care. She kept awake, waiting for him to wake. There was something she wanted to say to him.
He woke up just after midnight. He suddenly sat up and spoke to himself, "Why should I be the ninth man instead of the eighth? Had I been the eighth, I would've had a son now!"
Then he went back to sleep, as if those words were nothing but dream talk.
The next morning, he woke up and found two long plaits lying on the sideboard neatly arranged side by side.
He recognised them immediately. He knew they were Yongtso's.
Pema Tseden is a native Tibetan of the Amdo Tibetan region of the present-day Qinghai Province. He is a bilingual fiction writer in Tibetan and Chinese. He is also the first film director who has made films in the Tibetan language without providing a dubbed Chinese version in China. His films The Silent Holy Stones
, The Search
, Old Dog
have garnered major international prizes. His latest film Tharlo
is also the first Tibetan language film on release in cinemas in Mainland China.
Jessica Yeung is Associate Professor of Translation at Hong Kong Baptist University. Apart from literary translation, she also translates subtitles for independent Chinese films. She researches on Chinese dissident art and literature, and cultural production of the 'ethnic minorities' in China. She is also a theatre maker.