In to the River

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

She found a dead infant floating down the river.

For lunch, Lu Tsing finished her meal in the chain supermarket, Family Mart, as usual. The warm, dead, suffocating summer air was waiting right out there when she left the shop. The sunlight hit on the marble tiles of the square in front of the company building and burnt Lu’s eyes. She blinked and moved her focus to somewhere else, and then she noticed there was something over the fence causing a commotion on the pavement.

Lu got curious. There were still 20 minutes before the lunch break ended, so she took a detour towards the commotion. As she walked closer, she realised the pedestrians were not gathering for something on the pavement, but something below. The busybodies leaned forward against the fence and looked down to the river.

It was a 4-meter-wide canal. They used this for irrigation but not anymore. There was a small hospital and a nasty neighbourhood on the upstream, which might be the cause of how dreggy the river was.  All sorts of garbage bags floated on the surface. Among the empty chip bags, cheap damaged toys, and medical waste, Lu couldn’t tell what was attracting everyone’s attention.

‘Over there.’ A middle-aged lady pointed out her finger for Lu with an unspeakable enthusiasm.

There it is.

Wouldn’t be bigger than a domestic cat. Lu squinted her eyes. What is that? The thing was made by some unusual material. Not plastic. Not cloth. Not fur. Covered with mud. A strong feeling of disgust and fear grabbed her guts before her brain extracted the name of the floating thing-

An infant.

A greyish pink cloth tangled on its arm and covered half of the little body. The closed eyes and purple skin suggest that the baby had been dead for some time. The instinct told Lu to look carefully at the dead baby’s crotch and she did. Lu didn’t find a penis there. It was a little girl.

‘Of course.’ Lu thought. ‘Explained everything.’

She stared at that infant for a while, almost studying it. For a moment, she could see the new parents eagerly open the baby’s leg but to disappointedly find no ‘treasure’ there. The stink from the polluted river woke her up from the bewilderment.

Lu asked aloud, ‘Sorry. Has anyone called the police?’

People stopped whispering; some in the group looked at her cautiously, but nobody said anything.

‘It is a murder.’ A young man mumbled.

‘Did you call the police?’ Lu immediately asked towards his general direction, but he didn’t say a word again. People started to turn their heads back to the river.

Lu dialled 110 herself. She informed the operator that there was an infant in the river near the Tong-Fi Road and suggested they come quickly before the infant got carried to some drains. The woman on the other end replied ‘ok’ and hung up.

Lu felt overwhelmed. She looked up to the windless sky. The well-maintained, splendid glass walls are everywhere. They blocked most of the sky and trapped the rest of it with their reflection.

Over the street, two stray cats somehow started a fierce fight and grabbed people’s attention immediately. The two grumpy fluffy things fought from the roof to the bush. Finally, one who was wounded too much turned around and jumped over a fence. The other walked to the alley proudly. There was a chubby calico cat waiting.

‘He’s getting some tonight!’ A man whistled, raising some giggles. People then remembered there was another show. They turned back to the river to see how it went.

Lu didn't. Her lunch break ended five minutes ago. She had to go back to work. Lu called the police again.

‘Hi, officer. I reported a case 20 minutes before but I haven't seen any police cars yet.’

‘Apologise for that. Let me check for you. Can you describe the case you reported?’

‘We found a dead baby floating in the river. Right over the Tong-Fi Road.’

The tapping of the keyboard stopped.

‘Have you sent anyone here?’ Lu urged.

‘Our officers are very busy.’

‘Well. When will you have time then?’ Lu asked urgently. ‘Can you give me a call when you arrive? I can help with the investigation, you know, as a witness…’

‘Right. We appreciate your concern, but honestly, there won’t be any investigation.’

‘What? But why?’

‘They just need the boys to pass down their blood. Who can blame them?’

 Lu lost her words. Her vein throbbed. What was flowing in it then, if it was not the ‘blood’ all men and women in this country eager to pass down?

 ‘Lady, if you don’t have further request-’

‘What should I do about it… I mean, the body?’

‘Water Resources Agency will take care of the contaminant in water.’ The woman cut off the line.

Lu sighed, exhausted. The infant was carried by the water several meters forward while Lu was on the phone. It was not a rapid river, and the garbage stuck in the riverbed helped slow it down.

Water Resources Agency will take care of all the contaminant in water.

Her phone rang again. It was Lu’s colleague texting her that she just received a 5% fine on her salary.

Brilliant.

She had done enough. She could just leave. However, Lu still didn’t move. It was as if her mind was overtaken by something bigger, something spiritual, a long howl had been hovering on this contaminated soil, made up by thousands of dead girls’ cries.

Lu should turn around and leave, but her legs carried her in the opposite direction. The nosy audience nudged each other, trying to get a better view. Lu looked around and found some steps down to the river. She threaded through the crowds and walked down. The river stank. The mud, grey foam, dead leaves, and things she couldn’t define tangled together.

She stopped. The price of her leather shoes, linen trousers, and top she just bought last week, ran through her mind. People on the embankment were looking at her. She lost her courage to turn around and walked back, so she took off her watch and trudged into the river.

The water pressed her trousers to her thighs, mud and sand flowed among her toes. She had to focus on the balance of her body in the filthy water. It was as if the two spaces, in the water and above the embankment, were split up. People on the embankment became blurry, merged into the sky, and their whispering faded away.

A few empty packages flowed pass Lu; the colour on the snack packages used to be bright but now faded. She told herself not to think whether there were some maggots in the water from the corpses. Do not throw up. Not here.

As she tried to distract herself, Lu suddenly thought of an old classmate, Chao, from primary school. The chubby boy craved for people’s attention and loved to brag about everything, and one time, he bragged about how he had found a dead infant on the way to school. He fell in the flood on the street in a raining day, right onto a dead baby, an abandoned girl. Having touched a dead human was the major thing he bragged about in that story.

‘It’s nothing special.’ She remembered he said. ‘Feels like chicken breasts in our kitchen. Cold and slippery.’

While Lu was imagining the touch of chicken breasts, her ankle kicked at something on the riverbed. Soft, slippery, and cold. Lu almost jumped up, but then she took a close look at it through the murky water – it was just a used shopping bag, not another dead body.

--But where did the rest of them go – the missing 30 million women in this country? If they were all thrown in the same river, for how long and wide could it be enough? It would be like the countless lotus leaves spreading out over the summer river, piling over each other, stirring the limbs when the wind passes. Their eyes were all wide open, staring at her.

Lu blinked. The river was eerily empty and only had one dead infant. Lu looked up. There were even more people on the embankment, holding phones at her.

 

Finally, Lu could reach the baby, her only ally at this moment. It was swollen, purple. Mouth agape, as if still trying to breathe. Lu slowly bent over and tucked one arm under the baby’s neck, the other around its bottom. She carried the corpse out of the river carefully.

I am sorry you didn't survive, she whispered in her heart.

I am sorry you did, it opened its eyes and replied. Lu stunned there, failing to tell if it was laughing or crying.

(The end)

 


Submitted: October 18, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Alison Tsing. All rights reserved.

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