Memtimin Hoshur has been writing stories for more than five decades and it is no surprise to find works of very different kinds in his corpus. This story was written in 1961, in a period of intense socialist construction in China, complete with radical labels and slogans. The political background weighs heavily upon this story, effectively turning it into a propaganda piece. It is impossible to imagine Hoshur writing such a story today. Yet, for all that, the tale still manages to be somewhat surprising.
Two notes which will help the reader understand this story
1. The name of the female protagonist, Güli, means “flower.
2. “Iron Girls” refers to a movement of state feminism which was designed to liberate women by engaging them in the means of production.
by Memtimin Hoshur
Translated by Robert Peace with Ayshemgül Yolwas
Do you remember? This was the conversation we had last spring. We were talking by a canal with lush green pasture land on either side. Beside us lay a road that stretched away into the far distance. It was there that I shyly confessed my love for you.
“What? I will test you,” you said. “After all, everyone knows that boys are like butterflies flitting from flower to flower, right?”
“How am I supposed to explain my feelings for you?” I asked. “We don’t have enough time together. Our tractors are already on their way to help plough the fields in the neighbouring villages. Güli, how are you going to test me?”
“I am going to test you from this spring through to the next, during which time we will see each other four times. You will set the times and places for our meetings.”
“Fine, I will do whatever you wish. Go ahead and test me,” I said, before setting off hurriedly down the road.
When I looked back at you after firing up my tractor, you were waving goodbye with your handkerchief. My tractor, too, put-putted as if to say “Bye bye! Bye bye!” as I drove away.
Later that spring, the day I came back from completing the task of helping the neighbouring villages, I invited you to the mountainside above our village. I really love standing up on the heights and looking down over our beloved village. When a gentle spring breeze brushes your face as you gaze into the distance, you feel as though your chest is going to burst, it is filled with such vigour. Looking at the waves of grain in serried rows of wheat fields billowing like the sea, the whitewashed new houses of the village residents dotting their respective orchards and gardens, the channels of water stretching into the distance like threads of silver, you can’t help wanting to burst into song.
You did not come that day.
If you had come, we would have enjoyed the springtime scenery in our new village together. I would have regaled you with stories of the successes I achieved during my days of labour.
Later, when I asked you, “Güli, why didn’t you come?”
“Come on, how could you invite me to such a faraway place?” was your reply.
For our second meeting, I invited you out to the fields at the height of the harvest. The commune had called on us to complete the summer harvest quickly, and the fields were a hive of activity. Anyone who saw this year’s bumper harvest and the joyful and lively spirit of the harvesters could not help but take up a sickle and join in…
But, you didn’t come.
I had hoped that you would come and challenge the others with a, “Hey, let’s see who finishes first?”, and become one of those “Iron Girls” singing as they worked their way down the rows of wheat.
If you had come, we would have sung the songs of the farming folk together; If you had come, we would have shown everyone our labouring skills; If you had come, we would have drunk from cool spring water together after work, and talked about this year’s bumper harvest as we walked home.
“Güli, why didn’t you come?” I asked you later.
“Oh please!” you said, taking me to task. “What did you mean by inviting me out to the fields under the blazing sun? Is our village lacking in cool gardens to walk in?”
The bountiful season of autumn.
Our village had successfully finished the harvest and everyone had been given the day off. Nature had taken on a golden colour, while, after the autumn ploughing and sewing, the fields had assumed yet another hue.
But it was not to the fields that I invited you. Rather, it was to pleasant orchards filled with the sweet scent of fruit. But when I passed the fields and came to the production group’s great apple orchard, I was taken by surprise. Young people clutching baskets were making their way into the orchard.
“Hey, what’s going on? Today is a rest day isn’t it?” I asked the “Iron Girls” I saw there.
“There’s been urgent news from the weather station. It looks like a wild dust storm is coming this way. So the brigade youths have been called out to pick the apples quickly.”
It was true, the weather was changing and a black cloud was already rolling towards us. I took one look at those apples, so thickly clustered that the branches could hardly support them, and immediately removed my coat so that I could join in with the apple pickers…
Not long after, the first signs of the storm were upon us. But we beat the storm with our frenetic apple-picking efforts. By the time it hit with full force, the apples had all been brought in. In this battle with nature, a plentiful harvest had been saved.
I didn’t even have time that day to notice whether you had come or not. Perhaps, if you had come, you would have made yourself busy with the group of girls picking apples.
Later, when I ran into to you, “Güli…”
But as soon as I began to speak, you cut me off with your excuses, “Don’t be upset, I couldn’t go out that day either. Didn’t you see that storm? I had gotten all ready, but just as I was getting up to leave, the storm arrived and was whipping dust and dirt up into the air.”
The last time I invited you out was on a freezing winter’s day. Nature had been covered with a cloak of pure white, and even the ice was cracking in the intense cold. Trees were weighed down with brilliant white blossoms of hoarfrost, their branches sagging. The winter air created fantastic patterns on window panes. In the village schoolyard, lively children were throwing snowballs at each other. Girls with cheeks as red as pomegranates were bringing water up from the fog-shrouded springs below the village. Their laughs resounded in the cold air, echoing even in the far distance.
“See, it may be winter outside, but in their hearts it is spring!” I couldn’t help blurting out.
Again you did not come.
If you had come, we would have taken a walk in the countryside, enjoying the winter landscape. We would have left our footprints in the pure white snow. The crisp air would have nipped at our cheeks. With the stick in my hand, I would have written on the snow, “Güli, I love you!”
Sadly, you didn’t come. Maybe you just didn’t feel like going out into the cold of that day.
Now another new spring has arrived. The hills are covered with spring flowers. Today I am supposed to be going to see you. You are expecting to tell me the result of the test…
But, Güli, don’t wait for me. You should understand that I was also testing you. Whenever I envisioned your slender form and your moon-like features, I would think to myself, “If only such a beautiful flower would embrace with passion the ups and downs of life, how much more beautifully would it bloom?” But not even once did I see you with a fire for real life.
Güli, whenever I used to ask you, “Güli, what kind of flower are you?”
You would answer, “I am a beautiful mountain wildflower that blooms just the same in all four seasons.”
But now I know. You are not a proud mountain wildflower blossoming eternally on the snowy peaks; you are a potted flower sitting behind a window, witnessing nothing but the dim light of the sun.