The small river beside my home was called Erdao River, which means "the second river." It was actually a creek no wider than fifteen yards. Its greenish water had a slow moving, gelatinous appearance. It emanated the kind of pungent stink only humans could release -- the stink from garbage, human waste and worse.
Once on my way home from a mass rally downtown, I was crossing the wooden bridge over the Erdao River when I noticed some movement under the bridge. I stuck my head out over the rail to see a middle-aged man stuffing an infant's body into a gunnysack. A middle-aged spectator told me it was "just a little dead kid."
"There are many of them if you walk along the riverbed." He went on, with an even tone, in an attempt to calm me down.
"But why are they here? They should be buried, shouldn't they?"
He then explained to me that illegitimate or other unwanted babies were routinely strangled or drowned and then thrown into the river at night when no one was around.
"Oh. So he is going to bury them." I was still recovering from my shock.
"You are not from here, are you?" He wants these dead babies to use their brains to make antidotes for mental retardation. You've never heard of such a concoction in traditional Chinese medicine?"
I didn't know what to feel. I hurried home and sat on the edge of the kang. Mother was yelling at me to buy some corn flour at the local grain store, but I was unable to respond. My mind was boiling. I could not erase those images and sounds from my mind -- the dark figure with the bag in his hands, the tiny pale feet, the shadows on the bridge, the music of "The East Is Red" billowing from the loudspeakers in the central square.
Nothing had a reason. Nothing had a purpose. Nothing had meaning.