My father suddenly called me early morning on Friday. The last time he called me was more than a year ago as I just realised. As before, there were only bad things happening.
“Lotus (my Chinese name), last week, Sheng, (who was one of our relatives younger than my father), fell from a bus and died because the driver let the door open while driving.”
(Sheng’s father and my grandfather were cousins who lived under the same roof for a couple of years before my parents built our new dirt house in the village.)
There was a brief silence, cast by darkness, sadness and uneasiness.
“Everyone has returned to Shouning and now are gathering around the traffic police station for justice. I wish I could go, but I can’t. How about you go for me and for our family?”
My mind was shocked and blind. I didn’t know what to say at that moment.
Then his low voice continued on the other side of the phone.
“Look, his wife died of cancer the year before. His parents passed away one after another last year. All these funerals, none of us went. Now he also has died without a word, but with three children. How can I face them and all with my conscience if I don’t go? How can I call them if one day the same thing ever happens to us?”
“No. What would I do if I go?” said I bluntly, imagining the worst picture of me being there, with the white pale death, many familiar yet strange faces and me having nothing in my life to stuff in those warm mouths but a mere dream and some luxury travels.
“You don’t have to do anything. Just follow the people. If they march on the street, you go with them. If they gather at the police station, you follow them. If they eat, you eat too. If they sleep, you sleep too. And don’t worry about food and bed. Just go, okay, for heaven’s sake?”
“No, I won’t go.” I said firmly.
“Why? Only you are not working…” He raised his voice which sounded angry. And his last words turned almost mockingly hurtful. Thus our old topic was, once again, fatally thrown in, no matter what.
My throat was blocked, my face turned pale and my blood stopped running. Why do I have to go through this over and over again? My brain has lost the ability to defend me and the power to convince him once again. Yet, I know, all useless, whatever I say.
“You are the only one staying at home and doing nothing; the only one going traveling so often and making no money; the only one getting old but making no effort to do anything. Shame on you! What do you expect from your fucking book? It has been two years, and you are still doing the same thing. Even the beggars are doing better…”
…I deliberately took my phone away from my ear.
“If not, you come here to replace my work (as a night watchman). You know how to guard the gate for the factories here. Just for three nights.”
He must be so mad at me that he had gone far out of his mind. Everyone knows it’s not safe for a little woman like me to work there.
“Why not ask Ping? Have you talked to him yet?” Ping is my only brother. He’s still on his summer vacation from teaching.
“He’s still tired from traveling. He’s been busy receiving his school friends in our new apartment since he returned. These days his phone rings all the time. What have you done? Nothing! Nothing! “
“I’ve got something to do…” I bet he didn’t know I have been traveling for a month and just came back days ago. Or he would point it out more angrily.
“You’ve got nothing but shit to clean. We all know that. Now listen carefully. The sooner you give up dreaming, the better. You aren’t going to make a fortune out of that fucking book. Your mind is blind, corrupted, rusty and rotten. You are useless, the worst of the worst.”
My last words were drowned in my tears, my sorrow. The phone was hung up long before I realised it. I just held the screen still, kneeling on my bed, numb and powerless.
The day was a ruin. I called everyone in my family. In the end, I transferred six hundred rmb to my brother to see what he could do – whether he could find anyone available or work himself in my father’s job.
The next day was a total disaster, because my dad fell in the toilet. My brother said these days he’s been suffering from the pain and he couldn’t even stand up after squatting. It was something terribly wrong with his knees. My mother once mentioned it to us. But my father insisted there was nothing wrong.
However, my brother made the appointment and yesterday my father finally agreed to see the doctor downtown. After seeing the scans with a report, the doctor said, “If necessary, a major surgery ought to be done – the sooner the better. The cost will be around 70,000 to 80,000. Think about it.”
“No, but what kind of surgery?” My dad said promptly.
“It will be surgery to replace your whole knee. Your left one is much worse than the other. Luckily your body is not big and you are not fat…”
“Yes, but does it have to be such a surgery? Eight years ago, I went to see the doctor in my hometown alone and he said it cost more than ten thousand. Without thinking, I refused. Because ten thousand was impossible. Now you are saying eight times more, it’s more impossible. I’m soon sixty. I’m afraid even if the surgery is successful, my bones are not strong enough to recover fully. Besides, I have important work to do; I have a family to take care of; I have many debts to pay… Couldn’t you just give some medicine or anything without that surgery, please?”
So at last, he left with a bag full of medicine. Out of the hospital was the scorching sun above our heads. My father was wearing a pair of brown sandals. He looked around the surroundings with his eyes forming into a straight line, murmuring, “The buildings are taller; the traffic busier; more cars, less legs. People walking more quickly, though. … The downtown is even hotter, a shitty place with no wind at all.”
I watched his figure becoming shorter and shorter, lighter and lighter. Until his back disappearing into the crowds and the mist of heat.
Since when did he begin to see things in a way sharp and sarcastic?
After all, before coming to Shenzhen in 2007, all his life was out in the open fields, as a true honest farmer, only looking up at the sky for a glimpse of the weather or looking down at his feet for the way ahead of the land.