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The Lonely Ward – Part 2

Second part of Hao Jingfang's short story

02·12·2017

Read Part 1 here.


Hanyi didn’t say anything more, and went into the ward with Qi Na. Qi Na turned on all the screens on the cabinets and walls, and webpages filled the room. She hurriedly checked her status update, and found two replies, both emoticons from her friends, but nothing from Paul. A bit angrily, she spanked the Network Secretary’s plump bottom, and sent her away to search the sea of information. Hanyi looked a bit displeased, and told Qi Na to quit playing around, but Qi Na pretended not to hear.

They went over to lift up patient Number 21. Number 21 was already twitching, with a hand in front of her chest, two fingers curled in, as her body convulsed weakly. The two of them helped her up, wiped her face and mouth, and massaged her arms, giving her a bit of clean water to drink and medicine. Number 21 was a fat woman in her 40s with little hair, but her skin was still in good condition. Her eyes remained closed when she sat up. Qi Na remembered that she’d been in a coma for a while.

“What’s the point of living like this?” Qi Na muttered.

“Well, at least she’s still alive,” said Hanyi.

“Not much different from a lot of people.”

“If I were in this position, I’d just prefer to die,” Qi Na said. “Relying on others day in and day out, might as well just GG out.”

“Well, then what else can you rely on to live?” Hanyi said. “Wrote about this in my book…”

They were just about to connect Number 21 to the BWM when Number 20 started to gasp, as if suffocating, trying to take big breaths but seemingly unable to breathe—it sounded quite painful. Number 20 was a short, unattractive man. Although he was in a coma, his family members kept his appearance up, executing his comb-over flawlessly each time. He gripped his hospital gown as if gripping the lapels of a suit jacket. He gasped and furrowed his brow, the look on his face one of anguish as he struggled powerfully. It took a lot of effort on the part of the two of them to get him to lie down, and connect the electrodes. When the BWM was turned on, and the current began to flow, he slowly calmed down.

Number 20’s disease was quite typical. When this kind of disease first started to turn up, a lot of people thought it was a problem with the lungs or trachea, but nobody could find anything wrong. Oxygen therapy didn’t help, and individuals experienced difficulties in both supine and sitting positions. Misdiagnosis had led to two patient deaths. When someone thought to use neural oscillation techniques, they discovered the true nature of the disease: cerebral derangement-related respiratory disease.

It was then that the Network Secretary reported that Paul had left a footprint on another girl’s webpage. He had commented.

Qi Na ran over to the cabinet and glared at Paul’s comment. It was just two words, “oh yeah”, but it stung her eyes. The recipient of his comment wasn’t someone the two of them knew, but rather an internet celebrity, the pretty spokeswoman of a technology company, quite popular recently for promoting new tech products. She frequently talked about new trends in tech, and Paul was a fan. Really, nobody cared what she talked about; she was just pretty. From what Qi Na could see, she always made a huge show of photographing herself with new products, but it was to showcase herself rather than whatever she was posing with. She was a poseur, who loved more than anything to be fawned over. Publicity was what she craved—vanity was her insanity. What was most ridiculous was how people flocked to praise her every day.

Qi Na shook with rage as she added a new line to her page: “Vanity is shameful.”

She looked again. Those two words were still there, cutting at her like a knife. During her cold war with Paul, he hadn’t messaged her once, but he had time go and say “oh yeah” to some other pretty girl? Jesus H. Christ, Qi Na felt like she couldn’t go on living. She looked at the post Paul had left his dumb comment on: “New product: Network Cloak, lets you hide from the Network Secretary.” Oh, so he’s now trying to hide from me. This is too much.

Qi Na updated her status again: “FYAD, despair. If my memories are thirsty, they can drink aqua regia². ”

She took her anger out on the Network Secretary, poking and hitting her fluffy body. The Network Secretary didn’t get angry, and just ran around the screen trying to avoid the beating, going to cower in the corner, looking up at Qi Na, her big eyes full of tears. Qi Na grew tired of abusing the virtual assistant, and went back to join Hanyi. Hanyi had already cleaned the foreheads and faces of Numbers 22 and 23.

“It’s almost 11,” Hanyi said, looking at her watch. “I need to go to the lab to check on the incubator. You can take care of the remaining patients.”

She spoke as she walked with even, smooth steps out of the door, back perfectly straight. It was exactly 11 o’ clock in the evening, not a minute earlier or later.

Left all alone, Qi Na felt abandoned, and her despair grew. She wanted to cry, but after a few seconds of boohoo, she found the tears wouldn’t come. She stomped her foot angrily. Her heart felt simultaneously swollen with sadness and empty, lonely. Even the swelling couldn’t fill the void. She closed all the webpages, and the room entered into darkness. The cabinets and walls returned to solid panes of gray-white, cold, flat metallic surfaces. Like an emotionless, cold god, they looked at her from afar.


“The Lonely Ward – Part 2” is a story from our issue, “Climate Change”. To read the whole piece, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store.

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