Little Girl in the Temple Light, Hong Kong
'The only son of a wealthy missionary couple, the Laughing Man was kidnapped in infancy by Chinese bandits. When the wealthy missionary couple refused (from a religious conviction) to pay the ransom for their son, the bandits, signally piqued, placed the little fellow's head in a carpenter's vise and gave the appropriate lever several turns to the right. The subject of this unique experience grew into manhood with a hairless, pecan-shaped head and a face that featured, instead of a mouth, an enormous oval cavity below the nose. The nose itself consisted of two flesh-sealed nostrils. In consequence, when the Laughing Man breathed, the hideous, mirthless gap below his nose dilated and contracted like (as I see it) some sort of monstrous vacuole. (The Chief demonstrated, rather than explained, the Laughing Man's respiration method.) Strangers fainted dead away at the sight of the Laughing Man's horrible face. Acquaintances shunned him. Curiously enough, though, the bandits let him hang around their headquarters--as long as he kept his face covered with a pale-red gossamer mask made out of poppy petals. The mask not only spared the bandits the sight of their foster son's face, it also kept them sensible of his whereabouts; under the circumstances, he reeked of opium.
Every morning, in his extreme loneliness, the Laughing Man stole off (he was as graceful on his feet as a cat) to the dense forest surrounding the bandits' hideout. There he befriended any number and species of animals: dogs, white mice, eagles, lions, boa constrictors, wolves. Moreover, he removed his mask and spoke to them, softly, melodiously, in their own tongues. They did not think him ugly.'
Excerpt from The Laughing Man by JD Salinger
11 September, 2006
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