by Charles Qu '19
It is 1:00 in the morning of 1/1/2000. On the east third ring road of Beijing. There is a narrow street, at the end of the street, there’s a dilapidated building. All the tenants in there are gone outside to celebrate the new year except there is still one person left in this building. In the small room covered in dim orange light, the posters on the wall seem yellower than they used to be, the window has a white frost, it is 5 degrees Celsius outside (15 degrees Fahrenheit). The heat is fully operated in this room, and a 78-year-old man is lying on the bed, with quilts on top of him, stone still. He was outside with his family to see the fireworks for a while, then he got back to his house because he felt too tired and let his family continue to enjoy the new year.
“I am about to die.” The old man says to himself. He starts to think about his entire life. He was born in a farmer’s family since he was very young, he has been dreaming to move to the city. Though he is not a special person, and has no outstanding abilities, at the age of 20, he still left his hometown and went to Beijing. He started as a sanitation worker for 10 years, then he became a driver for 30 years until he retired. He married a girl who also came to the city from the suburbs. They managed to get a house on the east third ring road in the city and had one child.
Now, he starts to feel his head to get heavy, his eyelids can barely open, just every night before he is going to sleep. But this time he feels he might not be able to open his eyes again, so he tries to wake himself up. He wants to get some water, but he realizes that he couldn’t feel his legs anymore, he couldn’t move his arms anymore. He can still feel his breaths, but it’s getting slower and slower, lighter and lighter. Sleepiness and memories of his whole life come like the waves of the ocean, strong and consistent, finally, he couldn’t resist it anymore. When he sees the memories of his whole life in front of him, he realizes that he is just a mundane man among seven billion people.
“I have worked my entire life, I don’t have much to enjoy the world, I do have a wife and children, but I feel I am just barely passing by the world, doing nothing on it, and left nothing.” His last thoughts vanished as his life goes away.
“Where am I?” The man murmured, he feels light, he feels bright, he cannot breathe, but he doesn’t feel pain.
“Welcome to the afterworld, I don’t have a name, but some of your people like to call me god. However, my job is just to lead you to your next life.” God says, “Before your reincarnation, because of your diligent work in your last life, you can choose what kind of path do you want to have.”
“A life that is not normal, a life that will be remembered.” The man says without hesitation.
“That life may not be considered a ‘good man’ in human’s moral standard, and that life may lose a great deal of things that you had in your last life, but you will be remembered by thousands of people”
“That’s fine, if I have to go to hell to be remembered by others, then hell is my destiny.”
“You had a good wife, good children, a stable job, you lead your family to a better place. Thousands of people have dreamed of a life like yours, but now, all you wanted is to be famous, instead of the treasure thing s you already have. Why do you want a life to be remembered so much? Is your family remembering you not good enough?” God asks him.
“I love my family, and I have worked very hard my entire life to make my family live well. And I don’t regret that, because that is the only choice I had. I remembered when I was young, my parents told me there are three things a man can do when he is growing up, the thing he loves doing, the thing he is good at doing, and the thing he is needed to do. In my life, what I did is only the thing I need to do so that my family and I could survive, I don’t know what I am good at doing, and I never have a chance to do the things I love to do.” The man sighs and says, “and sometimes, I think maybe my life is meant to be like this, this mundane, normal man, have no significant influence on society. But through my life, I have met many intelligent, unique people, they have talents I don’t have, they have time I don’t have, and they have their family’s financial support which I don’t have. But even so, many of them still choose to do nothing and stay at home or at a bar to waste their time. I don’t understand that, I envy them. Thus, god, I just want a chance, a life that I can choose where I want to go, where I can have some unique talents and I will make use of that.
“Well, well, if you truly want a life like that, then I will give it to you. You won’t remember anything about your last life, and of course your conversation with me, until your next death.”
“Yes, thank you.”
In his new life, he is an orphan, adopted at the age of seven by the CEO of a top 500 company. His adopted family treat him very well, satisfies everything he asks. And he never let them down, he never loses a single point in any school test. He does not have friends, sometimes he does feels he wants to talk to somebody, but he thinks no one would understand him. Besides, it is not a big deal to live alone, he has done it since the beginning of his life. He is polite to his adopted parents, teachers, and classmates, but he never shares his real thoughts with anyone. His adopted parents have noticed that he never plays with his friends, but he told them that he needs to focus on study, and his parents have a big company to take care of, they don’t have much time to spend on him.
Some time has passed, the boy now is 29 years old. The streets were crowded, teachers, students, parents, police officers are all out on the pavement to celebrate the new year, fireworks shoot to the sky, bright light make the city never goes dark, the newborn baby stops crying, children open their sleepy eyes, college students stop their busy writing utensils, the arguing couple stops yelling at each other, and old man get off his bed, opens the window, and enjoys another new year of his life. But in a corner of the city, a laboratory lighted by electric light, with an insulated wall. He, the boy who is now a full-grown man, was lying on the hard, old cold floor, listening to the only sound in the room - the tic-tac sound of the old clock. What outside is not necessary for me, the lab is my life. He thought like that.
Just like that, the days passed, months passed, and years passed. His ingenuity in science and focus on that area has brought him fame, money, and a luxurious laboratory. His invention has helped thousands of people, his name has been printed in magazines many times. At his funeral, many people have come to mourn for him, feeling sad that the world has lost a great scientist, but no one understands anything about him as a person.
“Do you regret to have a life like this?” God asks him.
“There are seven billion people in the world, even though the city at night can be as lively as the city in the morning. All the parties, meals, technologies, fast transportation should trim down the distance between everyone. But my entire is by myself, though I have acquainted many people, none of them really knows about me. I didn’t feel lonely and that is only because loneliness is like the background music which never stops playing.” He says, “I do not regret my life because what I have contributed to humanity, but if I have to choose again, I would like to be a normal man.”