A tale of chance and mishap, from Chinese author Jiang Zijian
We’d moved to yet another new city. In the matter of renting an apartment, I only had one requirement: There had to be a lottery shop downstairs. Everything else was up to my girlfriend.
She thought there was a lot else that could be done with 2 RMB—buy a spoon to use for a year, a pack of tissues to use for three days, a bottle of water to drink for a day, or even just blast the air conditioner all night. Why waste it on a daydream? With the money I’d spent on lottery tickets, I could have already bought a new imported oven; instead, I’d not even won enough to buy a slice of bread.
We’d had a big argument about this. However, after we found a new apartment, I found there was a ticket shop right downstairs. Of course, this wasn’t because my girlfriend had had a change of heart—these stores are everywhere, like trash cans on the street.
The landlord promised to get us a second-hand refrigerator and a secondhand washing machine. On the third day, the delivery guy called me up.
“Boss, what day do you want your fridge?”
“Uh, this afternoon.”
“Oh? Boss, I might not be able to make it; is tomorrow morning OK?”
“Boss, please tell me your address.”
“I’ll send you an SMS.”
“Sorry Boss; I can’t read texts.”
I told him my address, and told my girlfriend the fridge and washer would be arriving next day.
“The floor’s covered in laundry, and they don’t come until tomorrow!”
“The guy’s just the delivery guy, he was really polite to me, calling me ‘Boss.’ And the weather’s so hot. It’s not an easy job.”
“Oh, so he calls you ‘Boss’; that’s great!”
I felt bad, so I thought I’d buy the delivery guy a bottle of something to drink when he came the next day.
At noon, he called, saying he was already on the way. I went down to the compound’s gate to wait for him. I’d bought a drink, but he hadn’t arrived yet, so I went to the lottery shop.
The owner was an overweight middle-aged man. He was lying asleep on the couch with his shirt off, a palm-leaf fan in his left hand resting on his chest. As his snore kicked up in intensity, the fan dropped from his hand.
It didn’t look like he was going to wake up, and the delivery guy wasn’t there yet, so I looked at the trend charts on the wall, beginning my research. I’m quite good at researching lotteries, and know all the key terms: Kill numbers, emits, even-odds, size, space, pass counts, serials, sum values, heat, skip distance, tail numbers…I can talk for an hour with the boss of any lotto shop, even though I’ve never won anything.
The delivery guy called. He was at the compound gate, and I said I’d come out. I’d already researched a group of numbers, and called the owner “boss” twice, but he was fast asleep, and didn’t hear me at all. As I was preparing to leave, I saw that the ticketing system was open on the computer. I walked over, but I’d already forgotten my string of numbers. Afraid the boss would wake up, I quickly tapped some figures in, and put the ticket in my pocket.
The delivery guy was on a flat-bed tricycle, with the fridge and washer on the bed. I gave him the drink, and he said “Thanks, Boss,” throwing the beverage in the back.
“Why did you come by yourself? I live on the seventh floor, and there’s no elevator. How will you move the stuff up there on your own?” This city was about to host a big international event, and even old compounds like the one I was living in were having their walls repainted. There was scaffolding all over; it would have been hard for even two people to move these things together.
“Boss, my boss makes us come out alone so that he doesn’t have to pay two people. I’ll figure it out.”
I really wanted to see how he would figure it out.
He looked at the ground, and turned to me. “Boss, I can carry them up on my back. Can you give me a bit more money?”
The fridge must have been 180 kilos, the washer maybe 50—how could he move them on his own? He seemed confident he could do it. Still, I was nervous, in case he was trying to extort me.
“How much do you want?” I asked with a straight face.
“Up to you, Boss; 20 or 30. Just a pack of cigarettes.”
I sighed with relief, and said politely. “Sure, but they’re so heavy. Will you be OK? What if you fall?”
“No problem, Boss. If I break them I’ll compensate you!” He thought I was talking about the fridge and washer.
He squatted down and pulled out a red cord, tying the refrigerator to his back. He sucked in a breath, and stood up steadily. I was guiding him from the front. He walked slowly, looking at the spaces between the scaffolds, and using all his strength to weave the large fridge between them. We walked out of the scaffolding, and made our way to the innermost doorway in the compound, climbing to the highest story, where the apartment my girlfriend had found was. She thought it’d be safer up there.
He put the fridge down near the door, and I had him rest a bit before going for the washer.
“Don’t worry, Boss. You don’t have to go back down; I’ll get it for you.”
Just a few minutes later he came back with the washer. I had him put it on the balcony, and took 30 RMB out of my pocket, handing it to him. The lottery ticket also got pulled out. I hesitated a bit, then gave it to him.
“Man, this is for you. Try your luck.”
“Thank you, thank you, Boss!” He left straightaway.
The next day I passed the ticket office coming back to the compound, and saw a red banner hung outside: “Congratulations to one of our residents on winning the second prize, 120,000 yuan!” I went in and looked at the previous night’s numbers—which looked more and more like the ones I’d tapped out.
“Could I have won?” I spoke excitedly.
The fat boss looked at me and laughed scornfully. “Huh, how could you win? You crazy? I don’t remember you buying any tickets yesterday.”
I didn’t worry about what he said; I just wanted to confirm that these were my numbers from the previous night. I gave the delivery guy a call, and asked if he still had the ticket.
“Boss, my boss said it wasn’t a tax invoice, so he can’t give me reimbursement. So I threw it out. Do you want it back?”
“No, no. Don’t worry about it. Goodbye.”
I went back and told my girlfriend about it. She said coldly: “You’ve gone crazy thinking about winning the lottery. Tomorrow, go out and find a job!”
I never bought a ticket again. One day, I passed by the door of the shop, and saw the boss posting up a notice about an unclaimed ticket. He looked at me and laughed, seeming to remember me. After that, I frequently went by to chat with him, for at least an hour each time.
I’ve Never Had a Winning Ticket | Fiction is a story from our issue, “Vital Signs.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.