Prisoner 囚徒


I finally arrived at sunset under the old crooked-necked tree where Chongzhen[1] hanged himself; close to the park’s closing time, a few middle-aged people walked down the steps in twos and threes, and further up, there was no one in sight. I came here, not for the tree or Chongzhen, just to know why. The tree doesn’t speak and grows empty with incongruously shaped branches that don’t bloom or bear fruit, saying, “He’s dead, but I’m still alive, and the longer he dies, the prouder I am.

At that time, I was in the most turbulent days of my destiny, and tonight, I was leaving Beijing, and the result of the application to my dream university would soon be released. I looked at the not-so-dense canopy of the old crooked-neck tree, and with the sweltering summer evening heat of Beijing, I felt a dizzying sense of life and death. I remembered playing Go[2]  at home with some elders before I went to school. He said that I was junior and used black, and he was an elder and used white, just like our hair color. I didn’t play well, constantly losing my territory and cornered with nowhere to retreat. He should not have known that I wanted to often look at the pile of removed pieces while playing chess and think about why I agreed to play chess with him and what it was like to be old.

At this point, I noticed that there was someone else there. A fortune teller, wearing a dark robe, sat on a rocky hill. I saw the bamboo bucket in his hand, but he didn’t look like a con man with a price tag. He didn’t have a stall or a bench. He looked old and had heavy bags under his eyes, but his eyes looked like he expected me to come and had been waiting for me for a long time. I was about to speak when he said: “Young man, come to me, and I’ll tell you your fortune, ten minutes without loss.”

I didn’t listen to him and hastily said: “No, I don’t have much time left, the train carrying me is waiting for me. If I miss the train, I’ll not be able to retake it in my lifetime.” After saying that, I felt some contradictions. Although I don’t have much time, ten minutes for fortune telling is still there. If I miss the train, I’ll not be able to retake it in my lifetime. But missing any stops, I will also not to able to visit them in my lifetime. I’m sure there are many places I’ll only visit once, and the old crooked-neck tree might as well be. So I bowed my head in shame, only to hear him say again, “Come, and I will tell you your fortune, young man. You still have plenty of time to hesitate and regret.”

I raised my head and reflexively rejected him. Even my eyes were as firm as if they were pre-rehearsed. I have never believed in fortune tellers, in their ability to foretell the future. Like the textbook says, believing in fortune-telling is only a matter of sample size and probability, and success is difficult to replicate. I turned around and left with him on my back, not even have an answer to the problem of Chongzhen and the crooked neck tree, which was destined to be a regrettable visit. But why do I feel again that this is my weakest moment? My friend is waiting for me outside the park to invite me to dinner. Am I right? Fortune-teller, is this what you want, for someone like me, who doesn’t believe in fate, to start thinking that I might indeed have missed an opportunity to know something. And that was a bit too dry and ruthless of rejection on my part.

June 2020

[1] Chongzhen: Tyrant, last emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

[2] Go: Its another name is Weiqi, an abstract strategy board game for two players in which the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent. Invented in China more than 2,500 years ago. In 2017, Google’s AlphaGo beat Ke Jie, the number one ranked player in the world at the time.








[1] 崇祯: 暴君, 明朝 (1368-1644) 末代皇帝

[2] 围棋: 一种双人策略游戏,目标是围住比对手更多的地盘。围棋在中国发明,有大约2500年的历史,2017年谷歌的AlphaGo打败了当时世界排名第一的围棋选手柯洁

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