YINER ( 9 )
BigMom sipped at the hot tea falling in silence again. Yiner sat patiently on a low bench, hand with a pair of tongs gently stirring in the little brazier under BigMom’s foot. The half-burned charcoals produced fluffy ashes, pure-white on their surfaces; as the charcoals being turned over and over, they faintly crackled and spat white dusks and red sparks above the brazier like tiny fireworks blew in dancing snow that gave the room a feeling of warmth. Yiner knew BigMom never need to search in her memory, everything was just well kept in her heart; she was picking on what and where to begin with.
At length BigMom cleared her throat and said slowly in a dry voice, ‘well, you must have heard how your uncles die.’ Yiner stopped stirring and nodded in surprise. She had expected that BigMom would talk about her father. And as long as Yiner had learnt, that openly talking about the death of her uncles was forbidden in this family, especially before BigMom: not because it was a secret but a cut too deep, too bloody to be truly healed by time. Yet now BigMom brought it up herself. Yiner lost for words, only to hold breath listening.
“No, you mustn’t,” said BigMom shaking her head as if spoke to herself. “It was a morning, lunar calendar late July, in 1930, I remember. We all got up at first light, because your uncles would leave home with the Red Army. The day before that day, the Red Army had failed sieging the town Long Pond where was the KMT’s base, so they had to retreat eastwards to Province Jiangxi as ten times more enemies were coming. I went to the Buddha room to pray for them, wished the Buddha bless them a safe journey. Then I drew a divination, got the worst one among the all… I told my sons not to go, it wouldn’t be a good luck that awaited ahead them as the divination had told me. But they wouldn’t listen. The Communist never believed in fortune, they trusted only themselves and thought themselves godless. Of course they were mighty Red Army soldiers, wouldn’t want to become a deserter on account of the divination I drew. So they left home, left me and never came back again.
“When I got the tidings about their death, three days was past. A survivor from their host came to our house telling me the full account of their tragedy journey: in the next afternoon after they set off from here, they had entered the Valley Huangu where a troop heavy cavalry of the KMT Army had lay in ambush with cannons awaiting. The Valley is a juncture of Hunan and Jiangxi, 50 miles away from here, the mountains on both sides are steep and high, the path lying on the bottom along a rapid stream is very narrow, people can only walk in single file, so it has a name ‘the Goat Bowel’. If the Red Army could pass through it, it would mean a survival, because they would enter deep and dense forests of Jiangxi so that the KMT Army could not do anything. But, the Red Army didn’t make it through. Hundreds of the soldiers were slaughtered there, only a few escaped. The stream had turned red, broken bodies and limbs lay everywhere on the valley floor. My younger son was hit dead by a cannonball while the elder was missing. No one could have seen their bodies when people cleaned up the battlefield. We only collected a few pieces of armour that were assumed to be my younger’s belongs and buried them in our graveyard. And we were looking for the missing one, my elder, hopefully he was not killed and had escaped into the forests.
“One month later, another tidings arrived, of my elder was wound and captured in that battle and now imprisoned in Changsha. Your father had taken a vacation back to River Pond at that time for our son’s funeral after he received our wire. It was a jail-man came to discuss our elder’s case with your father after they learnt that the prisoner was Xiang Lan’s son. Your father declared that everything should be done by law, no one could be above or break it. So they killed him. He was only 23 years old. Oh, your younger uncle was 20.”
Yiner shocked, she never knew the details. She thought for a while, “My father … my father … is he … he really so cruel and cold, didn’t want to rescue his son? And wouldn’t you hate him?” she squeezed a word reluctantly.
“I was about to tell you that, add me more hot water please,” BigMom said calmly and gave her a glance. Yiner did as her bidden.
“Your father definitely wouldn’t want to watch our son die like that without doing anything. As soon as the jail-man left, he wrote a letter to his closed friend nearby pleading him ride a horse striding to Changsha at once, to deliver his message to a high officer in Changsha. That would work out something if everything went smooth. But It was not smooth unfortunately. The letter was sent to a wrong person by your father’s servant who could read few words. The young boy was in a rush too and mistook the receiver’s name written on the envelope as another one who had a similar name. And that one, that one was a foe of my sons since they took his possession in ‘the Xiangjiang Revolt’, he hated them, hated the Red Army. He thought his revenge have come, so he took the letter and burned it to ash after the servant left. When we had learned something wrong at first step, it was already too late to save our son’s life. Xiang the Beard was too mad, too sad, and fell ill … He lay in bed a full month before returned to work …” BigMom choked, a drop of turbid tear welling up from her cloudy eye.
Dead silence was floating up in the air, only the faint crackling of the charcoals sang a song of sorrow. Yiner felt wanting a wail.
( to be continued )