October 27, 2005

Translation of "The Captured Gunman" from Hou Wen-Yong's "Short-Short Story!"

Undoubtedly one of the most popular writers in Taiwan, Hou Wen-yong (候文詠) has been writing since 1990. His most popular work is "The Hospital" (白色巨塔, or "The Ivory Tower" in Chinese). Before tackling that book, I decided to start with one of his shorter works. "Short-Short Story!" (候文詠極短篇, or "Hou Wen-Yong's Extremely Short Pieces" in Chinese) is a collection of sixty short-short stories. This is the first time I have read a collection of stories this short; most of them fit inside of four pages. The literary form that stories of this length most remind me of is the stories in forwarded emails. But whereas most of the stories in forwarded emails make me cringe or leave me asking "Do they really expect me to believe that?", the stories in this collection are consistently entertaining. The stories are divided into the followings sections (in English) hospital, life, love & sex, reality show, work, growing up, money, and here & there. Instead of commenting at length about this book, I translated one of the stories.
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The Captured Gunman
By Hou Wen-yong

A friend of mine was once a reporter. We were probably discussing what makes a good reporter when she told me this story.

When I graduated from college, more than ten years ago, I stumbled into a job as a reporter at a gossip tabloid. As a female who had just left school, I understand nothing of the world, but due to the requirements of this job, I had to visit every corner of the sex industry and every crime scene, often making a fool of myself in the process. There was one time when the police had captured the chief suspect in a shooting. When my publisher assigned this case to me, I honestly knew nothing about it. I just briefly heard that this gangster was behind ten major shootings and had killed innumerably many people, many of them brutally.

I arrived late at the police station. As I entered the station, I found it packed with reporters, all of them pressed around the criminal. The police must have notified every reporter they could. For the sake of doing my duty, I braced myself and squeezed into the crowd, burrowing to the very front.
With great difficulty, I made my way to the front, directly in front of the gangster. He was cuffed and bound, hand and foot. He sat heavily in a chair, hair disheveled. The atmosphere was of deadlock. What had probably happened is that one of the reporters had offended the prisoner by asking a question he considered taboo, and now he would not speak.
I thought, as long as I'm here, if I don't ask a question it would be a disgrace, so I ventured a question with the spirit of a newborn calf too ignorant to fear the tiger. "How were you captured?" I said.
As soon as I asked, I knew that it was a stupid question. To my surprise, he raised his head and looked at me. I nodded to him as if respectfully waiting his instruction. "I just told everyone," he answered coldly.
"But I got here late and didn't hear you," I said. "How about answering the question one more time?"
"If you didn't hear, that's your problem. Why should I answer the question again?"
"Come on," I said. "You may never have this kind of opportunity again--to be able to talk to me and all these people."
I don't know what it was that stirred him. He was at a loss briefly, and then he looked at me, and to my surprise answered the question a second time.
"I heard that you killed your own younger brother," I said.
He nodded. "I was afraid he was getting too flagrant, so I forbid him from carrying a gun. But he disobeyed me and tried to hide his gun."
"So you killed him just for that?"
"It's not a question of whether or not to murder," he said. "It's about discipline."
He was calm and clear-headed, which is what frightened me most about the whole situation.
"What about your brother's girlfriend, did you kill her too?"
He nodded. "I know my brother loved that girl, so I let her keep him company."
The funniest thing is that as this went on, he refused to answer the questions asked by others. He would only allow me to interview him. Other reporters could only relay their questions to me, and ask me to ask for them. I became more and more drawn in, until at the end the police came up to me and said into my ear, "Ask him if he was responsible for the homicide in the public restroom."
I asked him. He nodded.
When the interview was just about finished and the photographers began taking pictures, he suddenly started jumping around hysterically, constantly struggling and twisting. A number of officers were startled into action. They came forward and tried to bring him under control.
"Don't you think that this will make a terrible photo?" I suddenly remembered that he was a ranking gangster.
He nodded. We hurried to find a jacket to cover his handcuffs and foot shackles. I used my hand as a pick to comb his hair. He finally calmed down.
The next day, this photograph appeared in the leading pages of every newspaper. The gangster looks fine, and there I am, standing by his side, appearing in all of the photographs with him. At the time, I was just concerned with helping to make him presentable. I never thought that I would be part of the picture. My hair had already been a mess, and after squeezing through that crowd of reporters, I looked even worse.
I heard a photographer who did not recognize me point at the photograph and say, "That woman to the side, with that afro going everywhere, she's the gangster's woman, isn't she?"
Later, the gangster was executed by shooting. I feel a little regret when I think back on that incident. My sorry figured had robbed him clean of any impressiveness or stature.


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