Wang Zhixiu was an odd sort of a bloke. Although he was only just twenty there were
already two deep furrows in his brown forehead. He was quiet,
unflappable, and always seemed to
have the hint of a smile on his face. His eyesight was good and he worked with a will. The only
thing wrong with him was that he was such a glutton for sleep. It made no difference where he
was: whenever he had a moment to spare he would spread his greatcoat out on the ground and lie
down on it. Within two minutes he would be right out, and neither wind nor rain could wake him.
There were two things that could shake him out of this habit. One was when something had
gone wrong with the truck. This would fill him with so much energy that even the company
commander or the political instructor would be wasting their breath telling him to go to sleep. His
soft, warm greatcoat might have turned into a bed of nails as he climbed over the truck or lay
underneath to repair it. If it was a minor fault he might take a nap when he had put it right; but
if there was something seriously wrong he would work at it all day through till the truck had to be
moving again at night. He could not be bothered to eat properly on the job. He would ask someone
to fetch him a couple of steamed rolls, and if there were none of those to be had, he would wash a
biscuit down with a mug of hot water. He never let Hu Wenfa have anything to do with day-time
repairs because he felt that the driver needed sleep more than his mate did. He only asked Hu
Wenfa's advice when the problem was one he could not cope with himself.
The other thing that could stop him from sleeping was an urgent assignment like today's. Hu Wenfa need not have worried on that score. When they came across enemy aircraft at night
they drove without lights under a blanket of darkness. Wang Zhixiu would rock to and fro
breathing lightly as he sat beside Hu Wenfa as if he were asleep, but at any moment he might
suddenly shout, "Stop! Bomb crater!" then jump down from the truck to see how deep it was and
whether it was possible to go round it. If it was not possible he would take his shovel from the
truck without a word. Within ten minutes the hole would have been skilfully filled.
Hu Wenfa's character was the opposite of Wang Zhixiu's. He was an alert and active man of
inexhaustible energy who wanted to get on with any job he was doing as quickly as possible, and
was never happy when driving at less than sixty kilometers an hour. This often made Wang argue
with him. Once when they had been crossing a zone under artillery fire Hu had wanted to go flat
out, but Wang had been dead set against it. Instead of going into all the details he just said slowly,
"However fast you drive you aren't going to be able to race the shells."
"What do you suggest then?" Hu had asked him.
"I'm all in favor of going fast along decent roads, but the ground in front of us is
honeycombed with craters. If you drive like a madman a crash will be enough to write off the lorry
even if we dodge the shells."
On Wang's advice Hu had taken it quietly. All that happened to them was that shrapnel tore
some holes in the truck's canopy.