Picture Credits: max-kleinen

ants, dream, human psyche, love, marrriage, relationships, subconcious

The Ant-Man Part 3

Original by Ban Yu, Translated by Tony Hao , November 15, 2023

Read Part 1 and Part 2 here

I said, Of course. But everything went wrong the night before the abortion. 

I was at dinner with my brother and his business partners. We were talking about work, and we drank quite a lot. After dinner, our driver went to pick up the car, and my brother and I waited in front of the restaurant. He was drunk, so I thought I should give him a hand, but he shoved me away. Suddenly, two motorbikes pulled up in front of us. Without taking off their helmets, both drivers pulled out their pistols. One of them held his against my temple – I’d never been in a situation like this. My body froze, my mouth went dry, I completely sobered up. Cold sweat trickled down my head. And the other driver fired three times at my brother’s head. He was so calm, as if he was carrying out an execution. My brother collapsed on the stairs, the two gunmen quickly fled in separate ways. All I could do was stand there and watch. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t say a word. Eventually someone called the cops, and I was questioned for a few days. They found nothing, so they let me go. And I finally learned my brother had died on the scene. But my girlfriend also went missing – it was as if she had evaporated from the world. Two people closest to me had suddenly disappeared: it was the darkest time of my life. And because my brother had passed away, many of his debtors showed up at his door and asked for their money. His name no longer meant anything: he was dead, and all those debtors were crooks and thugs, after all. I wasn’t having it, so I brought some hard liquor and a machete, put on white mourning clothes, and sat in front of his home for three days. I wanted to be with his spirit. 

the other driver fired three times at my brother’s head. He was so calm, as if he was carrying out an execution. My brother collapsed on the stairs, the two gunmen quickly fled in separate ways. All I could do was stand there and watch.

The ants said, Got a bro like you – he had a good life. 

I said, It’s not like that. I’d always felt I owed him something, and I’m not talking about my girlfriend. It was more like I hadn’t done everything I could as his brother. But on the other hand, could I have taken the bullet for him? Anyway, a lot of bad rumors against me came out. There was nothing I could do to defend myself, so I decided it was best to go somewhere else, hide my name, and start a new life. 

The ants asked, The gunmen got caught?

I said, No, they were never caught. My friend, think about it: wouldn’t the police also be glad that someone like my brother died? As for my girlfriend, I couldn’t find a trace of her. I spent years looking for her, going from the north to the south. I don’t get it: how can someone just disappear like that?

The ants said, Ever thought about why they didn’t kill you? Think about this: when a lady falls in love, there isn’t anything she can’t do. 

I said, Maybe, it’s hard to tell. But I think she left me because I wasn’t there for the abortion. She must have thought I was a coward – I guess I was. 

The ants said, Ladies might look soft. But they handle many things tougher than men. 

I said, I don’t know if this is true, but I later heard that she went to work as a singer on a cruise ship. Always standing on the deck against the sea wind, never left the ship. And she had a beautiful voice, people called her ‘Little Teresa Teng’ – you know the Taiwanese singer popular in the seventies? She even knew some of Teresa’s Japanese songs. One of the songs was “Ferry Boat of the Night,” she sang it exactly like Teresa. I loved that song. Now I try to go to the sea as much as I can. I don’t like to go on inland trips, even though they pay better than the trips by the sea, as you know. I like what I do today. I get to drive a tourist bus and visit the sea every few days. Perhaps one day I’ll hear her sing. It doesn’t matter how far apart we are – I’ll hear her voice as long as she opens her mouth, no matter where she’ll be.

As soon as I finished my story, I heard a loud tearing sound slicing through the room. Before I knew what happened, the cardboard boxes had been shredded into pieces. Tens of thousands of ants swarmed from every corner of the room. They climbed on top of each other’s bodies, like the links in a metal chain or the capillaries between arteries and veins. Gradually, they formed the shape of a human, a human-shaped undulating shadow. 

The Antman took a seat across from me and said, My bro, great story. I got one for you too, about one of my bros. We met when were kids. Had a handsome face, came from a rich family, worked a decent job. But he loved to gamble. Lost all his money and needed to take out big loans. His wife wanted a divorce. A terrible gambling addict, but he loved his lady. His debtors showed up at his door and said they gonna kill his lady and his boy. He didn’t know what to do, until a lady debtor offered to pay off most of his debts – she wanted him to murder someone for her. She wanted him to toss the body into the sea and feed it to sharks. My bro wanted to start a new life, he thought about it and said yes. He got a boat, drew up a plan, and rehearsed every detail in his head. But the night before the murder, he suddenly wanted to quit. He didn’t think he could take someone else’s life. He couldn’t fall asleep, but he didn’t do anything. He just lay in the boat – he felt he got trapped in there.

 I asked him what happened the next day. 

The ants said, My bro drove to the train station, waited for his target, found nobody, drove back, returned the boat, and called the lady. She was scared, she thought her plan was leaked, so she hung up, and that was it. And my bro later heard that his target got killed the night before. Man, isn’t that funny? My bro had prepared so much, and it all became useless. I asked what happened next. The ants said, He went home, acted like nothing had happened, and broke up with his lady. After that, he figured he wanted to be a good man, so he boarded a fishing ship and worked there for a few years. He sailed through a lot of big waves, it was tough. But he paid off his debts, met a new lady, got married, and had a boy. A happy family. He invited me to his boy’s one-month birthday party. He’d become rich again, got a party boat, brought everyone a good time. And his new lady was pretty. She wore her years on her face, but she was a great singer. People cheered whenever she opened her mouth. We partied all night and saw the sunrise the next morning. The sun slowly rose from the sea, the red hot sun, the wide blue ocean, the morning sunlight through the clouds. It was so beautiful. Anyway, enough about my bro. But man, aren’t our lives decided by just a few moments and nothing else? 

I nodded in agreement and said, But at the same time, the wind is always going after us, and the sea never hides our sins. My friend, the sea is so powerful, it witnesses even our smallest fleeting thoughts. It keeps all our thoughts in its memory and let them echo in its waves. And everything in the ocean waves lives on forever, like sparks that never perish, or like spells in the back of our minds. And we’ll hear these spells over and over again. Think about your friend – he might’ve never murdered his target, but he was still a murderer. Imagine an ant that marches on the cold, dead body of his target – he’s like that ant.

That was the end of our stories. We sat facing each other, as if we were sitting on a ship – the engine had shut down, the sound of the rippling water was fading out, the ship was drifting on the empty night sea. The Antman was quiet for a moment, then said, The bro I talked about, that was me, you know? I said, Yeah, I figured it out. When people bring up a random friend out of nowhere, they’re usually talking about themselves. He said, Sorry, I lied. I said no worries. He continued, I don’t know how, but after all that I’d lived through, I started having really good luck. I became a great gambler, I won most bets I placed. But I’d learned my lesson, I learned not to be greedy. So I ended up with good money. Now I cherish everything I have. I’ve made enough mistakes already. 
I said, But my friend, the sea can’t hide our sins. He sighed and fell silent. The ants had stopped moving. His body reflected the pale moonlight like a dark mirror, upon which I saw a reflection of myself. The evening breeze brought us some music, a vintage Japanese song. Lights twinkled at a distance, as if there were a seaport. Our ship began to sway in the water, getting ready for departure. I stood up from the couch, cracked my neck, stretched my legs, and took out my pocket knife. I pressed the catch, unleashed the blade, and charged forward. In a blink of an eye, the Antman collapsed on the ground. The ants dispersed into countless tiny letters and besieged my body. Clouds had covered the sparking flames. The night had fallen like a heavy curtain. The music continued to play. And the ants, slowly, mounted and enveloped my body.

Original by Ban Yu, Translated by Tony Hao

Original by Ban Yu, Translated by Tony Hao

Ban Yu (b. 1986) is a Chinese fiction writer from Shenyang, the biggest city in Northeastern China. A former editor and music critic, Ban began writing fiction about Shenyang’s factory district in 2016 and gained national fame in 2018 for his debut fiction anthology Winter Swimming (冬泳, Dong Yong). Author of three fiction anthologies, his works have appeared in China’s most prestigious literary journals, including October, Harvest, and Selected Fiction. His story “Free and Easy Wandering” (逍遥游, Xiao Yao You) was ranked by Harvest as China’s best short story of 2018, and it was adapted into Carefree Days, a feature film selected for the 2023 San Sebastian Film Festival and the 2023 Athens International Film Festival.

Translated by Tony Hao
Tony Hao is a freelance literary translator and writer based in Connecticut. He recently graduated from Yale, where he majored in English and also studied literary translation, jouranlism, and fiction writing. His literary translation of Northeastern Chinese writer Ban Yu’s short story is forthcoming in Crayon, sister magazine of British publication Litro. He translates from Mandarin to English, and he is currently translating an anthology of Ban’s fiction. His short story has been awarded Yale’s Elmore Willets Prize, for the best work of student fiction. Born and raised in Beijing, he is interested in translating — and writing — fiction and nonfiction about the Chinese-speaking world and its intersections with America.

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