that wooden instrument
heavy and bulky
lay in the over-sized container
tightly shut

i opened the box gingerly
taking the instrument out

its four strings were still intact
though the first
and second strings were
coated with a layer of
dirty brown iron oxide

the music score flipped open
at 《三六》
my fingers moved across the
familiar wooden surface
nimble, agile
pressing the strings
that dug right into the flesh
of my delicate fingertips

the little musical notes
danced, pranced, jigged
in harmony


the day had arrived

facing the whole orchestra
i sat on the chair
palms sweaty

i started playing
my hand lifted and flung
the plectrum touched
only the first string

an unpleasant 'creak' –
it was supposed to be a chord

i momentarily heard
uncontrolled giggling from
the audience

i continued

my fingers
no longer familiar with
the instrument
clumsily each found notes and pressed

my wrist
joint hardened
as the plectrum struggled to hit each string
creating shrilling tremolos

the musical notes, alas
no longer danced and pranced and jigged
asthey did before

all i heard was
metal scraped
against cold metal air

the whole thing ended within three minutes
(《三六》is three-minute long)

reluctant applause

i walked off
eyes away from
friends and seniors

the next performance
a 古筝 solo
dancing fingers on the
numerous strings of the zither
producing a melodious traditional chinese tune

my eyes watered

the dead skins at my fingertips
peeled off
indelible scars
excruciating pain


that wooden instrument
heavy and bulky
lay in the over-sized container
tightly shut

a mockery of my plight

a sudden urge overwhelmed me:

i opened the cover
took the instrument out

heartlessly i flung it to the floor

pieces of wood shattered
pearly lustre lost
pieces of metal strings scattered
into smaller fragments

i cried