Its A Matter It Doesnt Matter
I’m not sure why I was so tired that day, so tired that I slept before dark. The phone blinked in a corner of the room. I heard weak vibrations and struggled to rouse myself. My mom didn’t even wait to ask how I was, “Where are you?” Before I could answer, she added anxiously, “Grandpa won’t be holding on for too long.”
I packed without a word. No taxis running on full speed could chase the numbers that codified one’s life or death.
Through the hustle and bustle, the interchange of good news and bad news, my brother and I took my sister to my hometown through clouds of sand and dust.
My hometown was nondescript. Everyone had left for the city. Sometimes I thought, was it attachment or responsibility that drove our impulse to protect our homes? On the slightly blurred highway, I remembered my childhood. My sister had not yet arrived. My father who was driving, and my brother who had to ride shotgun because he got carsick, and myself who leant against my mother sleeping. I couldn’t remember how I felt. Even if I did, it was probably false. It was what I produced as feelings in the moment.
Through the hustle and bustle of the little towns, the scenery changed and became slick green mountain roads. You had no idea how tall you are. You just knew that the beautiful scenery under your eyelids was very, very still. You had arrived. Standing in front of the ancestor’s house. There were many stranger’s faces. It was still very quiet. They all knew who I was, but I just wanted to find mama.
Mom wanted to let us into the rooms. I held onto sister, seeing that gasping was all that was left. To be softly paralyzed in the home to which he had long said a temporary goodbye, the earliest home. I sat softly on one side, fearing that each movement would disturb his rest. He loved money, gold, watches. Loved them so much that he would only flaunt them during the new year. His hands were now full of them. I held the hand that weighed slightly, a hand full of warmth in deep winter.
My sister fidgeted beside me. That’s right. They were distanced from each other, but so was I – I unknowingly grew further and further away from him. People were struggling to listen to me, and yet all I could utter was, “I am back, thank you for your effort.” The house remained still.
He was weeping. That meant that he knew. The tears are pouring. Our tears.
I sat on a wooden chair on the side. The chair creaked to announce its seniority, that it depended on the tattered and broken stool beside it – and too the small wooden table laden with medicine, the walls full of marks, the whitened wood beams above our heads – they were all describing the time spent here, just as him on the bed.
He was looking at me, staring at me with open eyes.
I dragged my sister and knelt before him, crying on behalf of my brother and mother.
“I am here. Could you see me?”
That’s the last time that we looked into his eyes as we spoke. I felt that he used all his power to take a glimpse of those of us who have come from far away. Did you see me? He was weeping. And just like that, I became the last person that he saw.
Occasionally, we sat beside him to speak. Then, we finally understood that when hearing went, so did the person.
I wandered inside the unfamiliar ancestral home. It was an old house with a lightwell. Many years ago, I picked up an old radio from this house. Past the lightwell, there was a picture of my grandmother. I never saw her before she left. One year, I came to see her resting place right before Mid-autumn’s Festival. That day was unusually hot. Various ceremonies, the unceasing note offerings and firecrackers made me uncomfortable. As I approached her, the sky became overcast. My mother said that it was grandmother’s care. I felt that she was a gentle person from my parents’ stories. The small room on the other side of the lightwell had its deepest impression on me. There was a framed picture that was losing color. That was an image of youth and happiness. I remembered that I wasn’t in it, and yet the photograph under the portrait of Mao in his city living room contained me, him and my siblings. The sky was getting dark, and he was still gasping for breath. We were worried that we would miss something if we left the room. Mom had aged a lot. More wrinkles appeared on her face as she ceased to rest. Her vanity didn’t even prompt her to gather her unkempt demeanor. Uncle took us to the spa hotel, and mother and sister and I soaked ourselves in the sulphureous waters. We listened to the sound of the water and let the mist gather around our faces. I forgot what we were talking about. Perhaps we didn’t. My mother breathed deeply as she slept beside me, and so I could only maintain my position, because I knew that I inherited the tendency from my mother to be easily roused or flustered.
The sky lit up, and we went back. My mother said that she and the aunts needed to seek Guanyin for the “return.” Those were traditional rituals, that is to help grandpa finish certain things. I followed my sister to the ancestral home as usual. The air is very fresh here, the hills green, the birdsong crisp. Perhaps there were echoes. I forgot what happened that morning. I forgot a lot of things. I just knew, after lunch, grandpa wandered away with the gods right after I saw a moth on the wall.
We were beside him. There was only one person that wasn’t there.
And then there was the complicated Hakka funeral. Everyone was busy and crying.
Days in the home country were summer, and nights sank under subzero temperatures. He laid in a coffin that he picked for himself, the bamboo rack covered with a sheen of protective satin. It was etiquette that the tears did not touch the coffin. We laid the mattresses and quilts that we prepared beside the coffin for the vigil. He laid by my feet. It was very, very cold, so cold that it was difficult to sleep. Everyone was talking about the past. Those who kept watch at the door changed the incense that were not to be extinguished. We were supposed to be close, but we weren’t. Blood brought us together, and I was happy to be their little girl, because I was very tired.
People rushed to bring breakfast. The following two days were raucous. I dragged my sleep deprived body to bathe in the newly built ancestral shrine. Water was boiled with burnt wood, and so we had to use it sparingly. After we changed into linen clothes, people kept coming. They all knew who I was, but I could only respond with tears. I looked at the coffin and continued to fold gold ingots and took care of the children around me. Those from the maiden family came. That are relatives of grandma's family. They carried a pig on their backs and the elders had us take it at the door. The eldest brother must take on the responsibility of a father, and so he led us to kneel, kowtow, kowtow and more kowtow, kneeling against the coarse gravel. Uncle conjured some cardboard out of nowhere and slipped them under our knees. I gestured to my sister to put up for a little longer, but she knew what was going on and didn’t make a sound. People kept coming. The relatives crowded closer and closer to each other – that was the time that we grew most intimate. I was crying the deepest when uncle, my paternal uncle and aunt came. Those were faces that I was familiar with. They all took me into their arms.
The dawn was pale. It was very cold. No one left nor rested. The moth was still there.
The hourly ceremony was necessary. My brother was still holding on. I twinged weakly, gazing at the stars that filtered that through the lightwell and the white mist that I exhaled. Kowtow, kowtowing and kowtowing each hour. I heard people outside the house starting a fire to keep warm, but we couldn’t willfully walk outside. The morning light was coming through the lightwell, and it was time to hike up the hill. I was told to leave the house to avoid them, just that I couldn’t keep up. Outside, my paternal aunt fastened her hands around mine tightly, as uncle led me to bask by the fireside. They didn’t say much to me, there was no need to. There were a lot of sounds inside the house, but I wasn’t allowed to see.
Kowtow, kowtow, kowtow again. That was my last rite, kneeling on the slope’s gravel.
Almost everyone was prepared to climb up the hill that he picked himself. The last stretch, I was stopped when I finally caught up. As I walked back, they and the guards of honor passed by me. It was cacophonous. I saw my uncles far away, held them, and that was the first time that I ever howled as I cried – it was then I knew how hard your heart could ache when you cried out loud.
We were all finding means to relieve each of our own pains, but there was no way. Time could not dilute pain. It only prepared us for its repeated arrival, as if it were ocean tides.
The hill in which he was buried in, a patch of foggy forest –I thought it was beautiful.
（English Interpretation by Joy Zhu)