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Updated: 2015-05-08 16:39:37

( China Today )

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Winter in Tibet[File Photo]


You sit by a heap of burning cow dung, bored and listless.

It’s normal to feel despondent. You are stationed at the highest, most isolated post in Tibet. There is nothing to look at but snow by day and stars by night. The ground is shaggy with withered weeds, and the sun, shedding hot ultraviolet rays, rises above and sets below the distant horizon like clockwork to mark each empty day.

Your memory wanders back. Two months ago you were still a high-flying cadet on a leafy campus. Now, faced by tough reality, you spend your hours immersed in colorful daydreams, the only escape from life at the dreary outpost, confined by snowy peaks towering all around.

You slowly straighten up, and hear a hubbub. Some soldiers are chasing a fox cub, and others try to round it up. The furry red critter normally hides well out of sight of the garrison. After days of snowfall, cold and half starved, it ventured out to hunt for food, only to find itself the prey.

Finally the fox wheezes in a solder’s hands, its belly heaving. The other men come together. It seems more like a pixie than an animal. Its eyes plead with you, and its squirms for escape only to invite you to squeeze it harder. The velvet fur is as bright as flame.

The soldiers take turns holding the fox. “Yikes, the fur feels good on my sore hands!” One exclaims. “Bullshit, it is not the girl you carry in the pocket all day long!” Another voice mocks in a rough Sichuan dialect.

A young recruit has just climbed down the watchtower and presses his chapped cheek against the poor cub. He gently rubs the delicate fur. “They say that foxes are smelly, but he doesn’t smell bad.” He speaks softly to avoid moving his cracked lips.

You watch, unmoved, except for your occasional facial twitches. All this is nonsense, you tell yourself, caused by the psychological strains of work, and loneliness, and cold, in this damn dreadful winter.

Before you notice it, the soldiers fall silent, and turn their eyes towards you. Then they understand your look: kill the fox, and make a scarf with its hide, or anything useful for the sentries outside during the long frozen winter.

The man from Sichuan takes out a knife, and extends it to you, hesitantly. You look at the blade, then the fox. Inexplicably you think about Heshi Jade, the Venus de Milo and the wounded swan in your military school’s pond, all pure and immaculate things. When you return from your reveries you feel some newly discovered compassion.

But now the knife slips out of his hands. As it flops out the men’s expressions change. Someone snorts, kicking the ground to create a splash of snow. It shows disdain and distrust for you, their indecisive commander.

You swallow and stoop to dig the dagger out of the snow. When you raise your head again, your team remains emotionless. So you slowly run your fingers over the blade, and put it to the neck of the fox before snapping it with left hand. You blow apart the fine hairs at its throat, and raise the blade...

The fox instinctively begins to tremble and closes its beautiful eyes, giving a long, sad whine. This sends the soldiers into action. Almost immediately they all jump over, extending hands toward you and shouting “No.”

The young soldier with the chapped face holds your arm: “Sir, please let it go. It is a companion for us, meant to bring life and color to this post. I would rather take on another shift every night than have a fur scarf.

You take a deep breath, shaking off the last remnant of your daze, and dart the knife into the distance.

The fox, formerly curled up, tentatively stretches out its limbs before cautiously walking between the soldiers, who step aside to make room. The fox then speeds up and dashes into the field. The spot of flaming red finally merges into the white distance, invisible.

At this moment, you feel a kind of rebirth, and an emerging bond with the post.

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