Pathlight: Three Grassworms” by Alai 阿来

2019-06-04 ☼ translations

Elevation: 3,300m above sea level. The primary school bell rang. From the top of the hill, Sangay turned back towards to the source of the sound. This was the seat of the local government: there were twenty odd buildings scattered below, and all those with three storeys belonged to the government. The two-storey, L-shaped buildings belonged to the school he had just left. It was the beginning of June, and the moisture was rising in the air. During those winter months your nose knew nothing but the smell of ice and flying dust, but now his nostrils were filling with the smell of thawed water saturating the air. And there was the smell of frozen earth coming back to life. And there was the smell of green grass freshly sprouted. This is what a late spring smells like at high altitude. As the bell continued to ring, the sun emerged from a layer of clouds. The sky, the undulations of the earth and the serpentine streams all sharpened into focus. The first bell was called the Get Ready Bell. When the Get Ready Bell rang — Sangay could picture it — all the girls would already be quietly sitting at their desks. Whereas the boys would all start rushing in from the dormitory, the showers, the toilet, or from beyond the school gate. Clothes flying, shoes — some which fit, some which didn’t — clattering. The boys liked to run in like this, liked to jostle and collide on the stairs and in the corridors, to burst into the class- room en masse. These boys, still in the first days of their education, liked to fall, panting, into their seats. Like little wild animals, they puffed vapour into the cold morning air. When the second bell rang, the room went quiet, but for the sound of the boys’ heavy breathing. When the third bell rang, the lesson officially began.

Read the full novella in Pathlight issues 2016-2 (iBooks / Kindle) and 2016-3 (iBooks / Kindle).