[FEATURE] Lu Xun’s 𝑊𝑒𝑒𝑑𝑠: After Death

After Death

by Lu Xun, translated from the Chinese into English by Matt Turner

I dreamt I was dead on the road.

Where I was, how I arrived there, how I died, I understood none of it. In short, by the time I knew I was dead, I was lying there, dead.

I heard magpies cry, and then a black crow. The air was brisk, with the flavor of dirt. It must have been about dawn. I wanted to open my eyes, but they wouldn’t move a bit. It was like they weren’t my eyes at all. I tried to lift a hand, the same thing.

Terror shot through my heart like an arrow. When alive, I once imagined, as a joke, that even if a man died and his motor movement was exhausted, he could still perceive—a state more fearful than death itself. Who could know that what I imagined then would come to be, and that I myself would confirm what I once imagined.

I heard footsteps on the road. A wheelbarrow pushed past my head. Probably a heavy load. Its sound made me sick, set my teeth on edge. I saw everything in crimson—the sun must have risen. So, I was facing east. But none of that matters. The sounds of voices—the spectators. They kicked up the earth, it flew into my nostrils and I wanted to sneeze. I was unable to, though I really wanted to.

One after another the footsteps kept coming, and all stopped by my side. Then there were more low voices: a lot of people had come. I suddenly wanted to hear their commentary—but at the same time, I thought, when I was alive I’d say critics were beneath contempt. Though that was probably insincere: having just died, this flaw lay exposed in me. Anyway, I listened. But I couldn’t come to a conclusion. Not much more than this:

“Dead?…”

“Uh… yeah!…”

“Hmmm…”

“Ahem!… well…”

I loved it, because I never heard a familiar voice. Otherwise, it might have made them sad, or maybe it could have made them happy, or maybe it would have given them material for conversation after dinner, wasting their precious free time; this all made me feel very sorry. No one had seen me, so no one could be affected. Okay. I really do treat everyone fairly!

But then there was an ant or something on my back, crawling, itching. I couldn’t move even a little, and I couldn’t get rid of it! Normally, if I turned over I’d be able to knock it off, and then my thigh had one crawling on it! What are you all doing? Bugs!

Things went from bad to worse: a buzz, and a fly paused on my cheek- bone, took a few steps, then flew and landed again. It mouthed and licked the tip of my nose. I thought, annoyed: I’m not an important person, you don’t need to look to me for commentary…. But I was unable to speak. He scurried from my nose on down, using his cold tongue to taste my lips. I don’t know—was this was an expression of love? Then many more landed on my eyebrows, taking steps, my eyebrows shaking. Tired of this, unable to endure it. Unable to any longer.

There was a gust of wind, and from above a piece of something covered me. And together they flew off, saying as they left:

“Alas!…”

I nearly passed out from anger.

Suddenly I came to. Wood was breaking on, and shaking, the ground, and I could feel strands of reed matting on my forehead. Then the reed mat was lifted, and I felt burning sunlight. I heard someone ask—

“Why should he die here?…”

The sounds were near me, he was bending over me. But where should a man die? I used to think that although no man truly has the privilege to live how he pleases, he could at least die in the way he wanted. Now I know this isn’t so—it’s so very hard to suit the needs of the public! It’s too bad I didn’t have paper and pen, but if I had I wouldn’t have written; and even if I could write I’d have nowhere to publish it. It’s best to let it go.

Men came and carried me, but I don’t know who. Based on the sound of blades being drawn, there were police there, at my “where I shouldn’t die.” I was turned around and around several times, felt like I was raised up and then set down, the cover was covered, the nails nailed. But, weirdly, there were only two nails. It’s hard to say whether or not the coffins here only use two nails.

I thought: Knock on six walls, I’m nailed in. All is over now, oh, I’m dead and gone!

I thought: “It’s stuffy!”

But, compared to before, I was much calmer. I still didn’t know if I was buried or not. The back of my hand could feel the strands of the reed matting, and the shroud didn’t seem bad at all. Only I didn’t know who paid for it—what a pity, and how I loathe those fuckers who stuck me in here! Under my back a corner of my shirt had bunched up, and since no one had straightened it for me, I was now uncomfortable. Do you all think the dead don’t think, so you can be careless in how you do things? Ha!

My body’s dead weight made lying on my shirt uncomfortable. That said, I could get used to it—or just rot. It shouldn’t be much trouble. Now I should do as the quiet do: meditate.

“Hello? Are you dead?”

A familiar sound. When I opened my eyes it was the purchasing clerk from Boguzhai Bookstore. We hadn’t met for probably twenty years; he still looked the same. I looked at the six sides of my coffin, they were really crude: unsanded and, simply put, stark.

“It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter,” he said, unwrapping a dark blue bundle. “This is a Ming edition of the Gongyang Commentary, it’s a Jiajing- era blackthread edition. Here, it’s for you. Keep it. This is…”

“You!” I looked into his eyes with amazement and said: “Is it possible you’re that stupid? Look at my condition—do you think I want to see Ming editions?”

“Take a look, it’s not a big deal.”

I closed my eyes because I was tired of what was in front of me. I stopped. No sounds. He had surely gone. But then it felt like an ant was on my neck, climbing up, up, up to my face, circling my eye socket.

Never in man’s imagination does man change after death. Although some sort of force smashed what peace was in my heart, many dreams also unfolded before my eyes. Some friends wished me happy, some enemies wished me ruin. I never achieved happiness or ruin in any way during my life, and was unable to align with either side’s expectations. Now that I’ve died like a shadow, the enemy still doesn’t know—I’m unwilling to give them even the slightest pleasure.

I want to cry tears of satisfaction. These will be my first tears after death.

But in the end, no tears fall. A flash appears before my eyes, and I sit up.

July 12, 1925

死後

魯迅

我夢見自己死在道路上。

這是那裏,我怎麼到這裏來,怎麼死的,這些事我全不明白。總之,待我自己知道已經死掉的時候,就已經死在那裏了。

聽到幾聲喜鵲叫,接着是一陣烏老鴉。空氣很清爽,——雖然也帶些土氣息,——大約正當黎明時候罷。我想睜開眼睛來,他卻絲毫也不動,簡直不象是我的眼睛;於是想抬手,也一樣。

恐怖的利鏃忽然穿透我的心了。在我生存時,曾經玩笑地設想:假使一個人的死亡,只是運動神經的廢滅,而知覺還在,那就比全死了更可怕。誰知道我的預想竟的中了,我自己就在證實這預想。

聽到腳步聲,走路的罷。一輛獨輪車從我的頭邊推過,大約是重載的,軋軋地叫得人心煩,還有些牙齒齼。很覺得滿眼緋紅,一定是太陽上來了。那麼,我的臉是朝東的。但那都沒有什麼關係。切切嚓嚓的人聲,看熱鬧的。他們踹起黃土來,飛進我的鼻孔,使我想打噴嚏了,但終於沒有打,僅有想打的心。

陸陸續續地又是腳步聲,都到近旁就停下,還有更多的低語聲:看的人多起來了。我忽然很想聽聽他們的議論。但同時想,我生存時説的什麼批評不值一笑的話,大概是違心之論罷:才死,就露了破綻了。然而還是聽;然而畢竟得不到結論,歸納起來不過是這樣——

“死了……”

“嗡。——這……”

“哼!……”

“嘖。……唉!……”

我十分高興,因為始終沒有聽到一個熟識的聲音。否則,或者害得他們傷心;或則要使他們快意;或則要使他們添些飯後閒談的材料,多破費寶貴的工夫;這都會使我很抱歉。現在誰也看不見,就是誰也不受影響。好了,總算對得起人了!

但是,大約是一個馬蟻,在我的脊樑上爬着,癢癢的。我一點也不能動,已經沒有除去他的能力了;倘在平時,只將身子一扭,就能使他退避。而且,大腿上又爬着一個哩!你們是做什麼的?蟲豸!

事情可更壞了:嗡的一聲,就有一個青蠅停在我的顴骨上,走了幾步,又一飛,開口便舐我的鼻尖。我懊惱地想:足下,我不是什麼偉人,你無須到我身上來尋做論的材料……。但是不能説出來。他卻從鼻尖跑下,又用冷舌頭來舐我的嘴唇了,不知道可是表示親愛。還有幾個則聚在眉毛上,跨一步,我的毛根就一搖。實在使我煩厭得不堪,——不堪之至。

忽然,一陣風,一片東西從上面蓋下來,他們就一同飛開了,臨走時還説——

“惜哉!……”

我憤怒得幾乎昏厥過去。

木材摔在地上的鈍重的聲音同着地面的震動,使我忽然清醒,前額上感着蘆蓆的條紋。但那蘆蓆就被掀去了,又立刻感到了日光的灼熱。還聽得有人説——

“怎麼要死在這裏?……”

這聲音離我很近,他正彎着腰罷。但人應該死在那裏呢?我先前以為人在地上雖沒有任意生存的權利,卻總有任意死掉的權利的。現在才知道並不然,也很難適合人們的公意。可惜我久沒了紙筆;即有也不能寫,而且即使寫了也沒有地方發表了。只好就這樣拋開。

有人來抬我,也不知道是誰。聽到刀鞘聲,還有巡警在這裏罷,在我所不應該“死在這裏”的這裏。我被翻了幾個轉身,便覺得向上一舉,又往下一沉;又聽得蓋了蓋,釘着釘。但是,奇怪,只釘了兩個。難道這裏的棺材釘,是釘兩個的麼?

我想:這回是六面碰壁,外加釘子。真是完全失敗,嗚呼哀哉了!……

“氣悶!……”我又想。

然而我其實卻比先前已經寧靜得多,雖然知不清埋了沒有。在手背上觸到草蓆的條紋,覺得這屍衾倒也不惡。只不知道是誰給我化錢的,可惜!但是,可惡,收斂的小子們!我背後的小衫的一角皺起來了,他們並不給我拉平,現在抵得我很難受。你們以為死人無知,做事就這樣地草率?哈哈!

我的身體似乎比活的時候要重得多,所以壓着衣皺便格外的不舒服。但我想,不久就可以習慣的;或者就要腐爛,不至於再有什麼大麻煩。此刻還不如靜靜地靜着想。

“您好?您死了麼?”

是一個頗為耳熟的聲音。睜眼看時,卻是勃古齋舊書鋪的跑外的小夥計。不見約有二十多年了,倒還是一副老樣子。我又看看六面的壁,委實太毛糙,簡直毫沒有加過一點修刮,鋸絨還是毛毿毿的。

“那不礙事,那不要緊。”他説,一面打開暗藍色布的包裹來。“這是明板《公羊傳》,嘉靖黑口本,給您送來了。您留下他罷。這是……”

“你!”我詫異地看定他的眼睛,説,“你莫非真正胡塗了?你看我這模樣,還要看什麼明板?……”

“那可以看,那不礙事。”

我即刻閉上眼睛,因為對他很煩厭。停了一會,沒有聲息,他大約走了。但是似乎一個馬蟻又在脖子上爬起來,終於爬到臉上,只繞着眼眶轉圈子。

萬不料人的思想,是死掉之後也會變化的。忽而,有一種力將我的心的平安衝破;同時,許多夢也都做在眼前了。幾個朋友祝我安樂,幾個仇敵祝我滅亡。我卻總是既不安樂,也不滅亡地不上不下地生活下來,都不能副任何一面的期望。現在又影一般死掉了,連仇敵也不使知道,不肯贈給他們一點惠而不費的歡欣。……

我覺得在快意中要哭出來。這大概是我死後第一次的哭。

然而終於也沒有眼淚流下;只看見眼前彷彿有火花一樣,我於是坐了起來。

一九二五年七月十二日

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Matt Turner is the author of the full poetry collections Slab Pases (BlazeVox, 2022), Wave 9: Collages (Flying Islands, 2020) and Not Moving (Broken Sleep, 2019), in addition to the prose chapbooks City/Anti-City (Vitamin, 2022) and Be Your Dog (Economy, 2022). He is co-translator, with Weng Haiying, of work by Yan Jun, Ou Ning, Hu Jiujiu and others. He lives in New York City, where he works as a translator and copy editor.

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