After handing out the last pack of tissue paper, I stuff my hands in my puffy jacket pockets and head towards the agency. I call it an agency, but it’s more of a family-run printing shop in one of the old town’s alleyways. The Zhou family does all the advertisements around here; from small billboards to tissue packs, there is no one who doesn’t know their name. When they took pity on me after the accident, they contacted me personally, asking whether I wanted to work for them. Apparently, they had been fans of mine. They said that they didn’t mind the non-existence of my right hand.
“Long Yi, you’re back.” Uncle glances up at me from the front desk and continues to type away on the computer.
“Yeah, I’m done with the two boxes,” I reply.
“That’s great.” He answers with a flat voice.
“Umm, am I finished for the day?”
“Wait, give me a few minutes.”
Assuming that it is going to take a while, I fill my tin water bottle with hot water, listening to Uncle’s inconsistent tapping and the gurgling of the water dispenser. How things have changed. It wasn’t supposed to be like this before. When I first started helping out at their agency, Uncle would rush over to where I was whenever he had heard that I was done with a task. Even when I was working, he would ask Auntie to check up on me, making sure I wasn’t too cold or too tired. None of that happens anymore. The Zhou family hasn’t neglected me yet, but I guess people start to act differently when they get used to having the same person around. Even if the person is special. Even if it is me.
His body jerks at the sudden utterance as if startled to see me in the room.
“Ah, Long Yi, I was just about to ask if you could do the night shift.”
Is this a question? Do I have a choice?
“Sure,” I say reluctantly.
“That’s great. There are another two boxes of posters near the door.”
He returns to his computer screen, dismissing me with the clickety-clack of his keyboards. I stand there for a second, in awe of the brusque conversation that just happened between Uncle and me. However, realizing that the sun has already set, and that the temperature is dropping by the second, I lift one box off the floor, tuck it in between my hip and my left arm, and go out the glass door.
Winter in Beijing is like living in a worn-out picture. The unchanging, dark grey sky looms over the city, toning down what used to be the bright colors of red, green, and blue of the buildings. Even the bald, scrawny trees that once boasted their evergreen youthfulness look as if they have lost their place in the scenery. Outside on the streets, people are no longer people. They become passing shadows, walking from one place to another with stiff faces and rigid strides; their minds only set on finding refuge somewhere within the walls. There is no doubt that the cold has tamed the city’s original liveliness, but there is a certain antiqueness that gives it a new beauty. Beauty that makes my heart ache. Beauty that pisses me off.
When I arrive at an intersection, I carefully place the box on the ground and put on my gloves. It is always the right one first since the glove doesn’t have finger compartments and is much easier to cover. I grab a stack of flyers, stick it under my elbow on the handicapped side, and continue distributing the papers with my useful left hand. I try to smile. I approach a few people. But unsurprisingly, they dodge me without moving one muscle in their faces.
One could say that anyone would be able to do this job—even handicapped people. However, being a full-time distributor, I know for a fact that race, gender, and body parts don’t matter in this world. It would turn anyone into a no one. Standing outside with a stack of advertisements will suck the life out of you. On the surface, the job description may be to hand out a given number of products to people on the streets. Seems simple enough. Yet, on the other hand, the hidden description is that your whole existence will be rejected, ignored, and eliminated just because. Of course, having a complete body would save me from fewer disgusted expressions, but I would not be doing this dehumanizing task if I still had my right hand. It was not supposed to be like this.
I was the one that created beauty. I was the child that everyone had hope in. Had cared for. Had admired. I was in the newspapers and on television, not only locally but internationally as well. Every time I played at a concert the headlines read: LITTLE DRAGON DID IT AGAIN. They were the ones that solidified the nickname. They were the ones who noted that the movement of my fingers on the black and white keyboards resembled that of a mystical creature. They were the ones that needed my music to escape reality. But now, look at where Little Dragon is. Look how they left me when I lost my right hand.
Surrounded by stone buildings on the stone-bricked streets, I am no longer allowed to create anything. Repeating the same gesture to each passing person, my brain, my nerves, and my muscles have all become a part of the dull assembly line. Even the words I previously had control over stopped coming out anymore. The cold has numbed my lips, and my shakes keep creating gaps in my voice like an unstable phone connection. Don’t even mention the problem with my right hand. Why did God give me two hands only to take one away from me? Did he do this so that I can pass out flyers for the rest of my life?
As I sit, huddled in the corner of an alleyway, I flatten the empty cardboard box to shield myself from the piercing wind. For an hour or so, I stare blankly at the street across from me, but since it is late, no one walks by. Only a single lamppost spotlights the darkness.
But suddenly, I hear a woman’s voice in the distance. She is whispering. She tells me to play it once more.
“Long Yi,” she calls with the softest, most loving voice. “My child, play it for me! Play it for us!”
As I look around me, I see other people cheering me on. Their eyes fixed on me, impatient. The light that shines at me from above embraces me and gives me warmth. Even the velveted crimson seats and gold structural designs on the high ceiling welcome me into their rich atmosphere. Everything and everyone urge me to play. I am in the concert hall, and the concert hall cannot be complete without me.
I sit up straight, take a deep breath, and tap on the first note. From there, I let my fingers take the lead and move to the right of the keyboard, then to the left. My hands pounce on the notes as I am reaching the climax. I know that people cannot take their attention away from me. They are immersed in the performance, and so am I. Electricity is in the room. Everybody braces themselves for the end. I sway randomly as my fingers begin to slow down. It is coming to an end. Slow and tender. The last note lingers in our bones. Silence.
With the adrenaline slowly withdrawing, I finally let go. The weight of my body pushes against the concrete, and the coldness once again seeps into my skin. I close my eyelids.
Will they recognize me? Will they mourn the death of their Little Dragon?