1976，Chongqing, China, I’m 6 years old. That summer it is often 105 degrees in Chongqing. The scorching sunshine melts the tar on the road and my sandals get glued on it several times. At home even I sit motionless and still feel sweat coming out of my skin.
Thank God, the baking daytime is finally gone. After supper, I say to my parents, “Father, mother, I go out for a walk.”
“OK, one gets long life by walking a while after a meal,” my Mom is always fond of those maxims on health.
Then I bounce out of my home. On the playground, I see several adults watering the ground, basin in hand. After that, when I step on the black area made by the water, immediately I feel the heat air touching my legs. That is not hot, but warm. I like that feeling.
Watering the ground is the prelude of our summer night life. After the watered ground turns to dry and cooled down, tens of families coming out of our shabby residential building, bamboo board, bamboo chair in hand. On the playground, they put the wood board/bed on the wooden stool. Among the crowd, I see my father and mother and help them setting the bamboo bed up, and put a bottle of iced water by the bamboo bed. In daytime, my father puts some sugar into a bottle of boiled cool water and put it in the refrigerator in his working unit. Then at night we can have the sweet iced water.
In the 1970s, our summer life does not have ice cream, cooled drink, refrigerator, air-conditioner, TV, even electric fan at home. At night, our shabby residential building is like an oven. Inside home, except the terrible heat, we cannot have any fun. So every night we spend the whole night on the playground under the still starry sky. In most nights, we go back home around midnight. In a couple of nights, we sleep till the dawn on the playground. 60 yards to the north of our residential building is the 5-floor ward of the hospital. I wonder how those patients and their relatives feel when they see us lie under the starry sky. Will they feel staying outside at night let people be happier, healthier, less worry, less illness?
My first pleasure tonight is first to count the stars in the boundless sky. Every time after I count 15 stars, I cannot tell whether the next one has been counted or not. The crisp sound of the little girl three yards away from me comes to my ear, “15—，16—，17—，18—”. The voice fades at the last number. She has done better than me.
Then I change my program. Lying on the bamboo bed, I stare at the sky. Now the entire world before me is the dark blue sky. The shabby residential building and the sultry air get sent to limbo. Looking up, I cannot see the moon, only the countless stars strewn on the boundless sky. I hear the elder sister of that little girl showing her which ones are the Great Dipper. I have no interest in this for in my eye, every star has its glamour. Those constantly twinkling stars send out the silver light, looking brilliant in the dark blue sky; those occasionally twinkling stars send out the dim light, looking harmonious in the dark blue sky. All the stars send out the beams of cold light, forming the vast still starry sky.
Lying on the bamboo bed, I see a star sending out the light, brighter than other stars in the sky. I calculate its direction. That is the way of the Mountain Theater, to the east of our First Workers’ Hospital/First Aid Center. I remember that is the way the sun goes up every day, the east. That star is on the low sky, about 30 degrees angle with the ground. Lying on the bamboo bed, I have to lift my head in order to see it. As for how far those stars are from us, I have no idea. Now it’s about 10 o’clock at night.
During the story telling, we drink the iced sweet water now and then. The iced water is just 1 liter. Many times I think of it will be my last sip tonight, but one sip induces the next sip. Drinking it, I feel its sweetness and coldness cool down every nerve of mine baked in the daytime. To me, the iced water is amazing.