Crime and Punishment


By 中川龍之助

It was the third year that I’d been away from school. No one went to school anymore. Our priority should be fighting against our class enemies, that was why they held those struggle sessions, where my friends would enthusiastically hand me The Red Book (I’d had three of them already) and hurry me to shout slogans with them.Today I also spent my day there. The point was to make that anti-revolutionary confess. Before that, he deserved to be beaten to death. He was our enemy.

The crowd smelled like burnt paper, and I couldn’t tell if they did burn a book or if it was just people’s emotions burning. I could hardly see the anti-revolutionary who should have been kneeling at the center of the crowd; I could only see a crimson flag shivering violently, the vivid color flaming in the clear-blue sky.

My little brother excitedly asked me to take him with me. His pupils were glowing with passion. “Down with Liu Taosong! Down with Liu Taosong!” We screamed. Everyon else screamed.

“Who is Liu Taosong?” I asked.

“Who knows,” my brother replied without looking at me, gasping. “No matter who he was, now he’s our enemy! Just shout.”

When the sky was burning the evening glow, we returned home. I went into the dimly lit study; it was the only place that didn’t smell like burnt ashes but had a comforting smell of old paper. My father was at the desk, reading a book. I went over.

“What’s that, Pa?”

He stared at me with his mouth half-open. After a moment, he said, “Keep this a secret and I’ll show you.”

I nodded.

“Crime and Punishment. It’s a fantastic book…” he showed me the cover; the gilded foreign alphabet hurt my eyes. I scowled. I couldn’t read foreign languages. “I have to keep it from being seen by others these years, you know… It’s a classic, my boy. You should read it. When this turmoil passes, I’ll teach you how to…”

His voice trailed off. I turned to the door and found my little brother standing there; his eyes were flashing in a bizarre way. I rushed up to him, but he ran away before I could reach him, and he quickly disappeared into the falling darkness.

The next day, I was taken to the struggle session of my father because I had to Draw the Line between him and I. The sun was heating the fever of the crowd. The heavy chain around my father’s neck was dazzling. One of my friends was writing all my father’s crimes on the blackboard beside him; it was the blackboard we used when we were at school, but now it was taken off and was used in all struggle sessions.

“He is an anti-revolutionary!” my brother’s tiny finger pointed at my father. “He hid those imperialist and capitalist foreign books! He’s not my father; he’s an anti-revolutionary! Down with him!”

“Down with him! Down with him!”

People picked up rocks and threw them at my father. I also picked up one, but I held it in my hands, unable to throw it.

“Are you guilty?” a Red Guard shouted, taking off his belt at the same time. My father didn’t answer. The belt buckle swung across the air, reflecting the light, bright as a shooting star, landing on my father’s back.

“Are you guilty?”

“Say it!” I moved to the front of the crowd, trying to shout at him. “You are guilty! Say that you’re an anti-revolutionary!” and maybe by saying this, he would suffer less.

The stiffening air froze. A crimson flag danced in the sky, covering the sun.

“No,” my father said.

The crowd went into a frenzy. My little brother found a steel pipe, and he started beating my father. That book, Crime and Punishment, they threw it into a pile of ashes and set fire to it. Waves of sound were swirling around the flame. Heated sand was poured on my father, from his head to his toe. Burnt. Everything smelled as if they were burnt. I rubbed the rough rock with my palm and failed to throw it.

He said, “No.”

My father was tortured to death that day. He died innocently and sinlessly with his dignity. I feel empty. Was I supposed to feel sad? Feeling sad for his death was not allowed, however. When everyone had left, I could only sit beside his body and poke at that pile of ashes of Crime and Punishment with a stick. The moon cast a white blanket on him. He was right; he was not guilty.

Whose crime was it, and whose punishment was it?

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