The smell of bamboo – 香香 – English

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Author: Yuan Hao

During midsummer, for people who live in rural mountain areas, the early mornings are always the most comfortable time of the day. Often, on mornings like this, I would always snuggle in bed for that extra snooze; even if Mum shouts herself hoarse from downstairs for me to get up, I wouldn’t budge one bit. But this morning, as soon as mum shouted at me from downstairs, I rolled out of bed and descended the staircase on half-slipped-on shoes. Last night, Dad had already arranged with me to ask Uncle Fuxun, who lives by the mountain bend, to come over for breakfast this morning. Today my family was planning to make some new furniture with a dragsaw, and Uncle Fuxun was one of the people we invited around to provide some much-needed help.

The real reason Dad sent me to invite Uncle Fuxun over for breakfast this morning is because he is a little unreliable and flaky with his commitments. He doesn’t necessarily complete what he has agreed to. In reality, Dad made me ask him over for breakfast to force him to come and help out sooner rather than later. Bluntly calling him over to start work wouldn’t be effective, so we had to say we were inviting him for breakfast instead.

Rubbing my still half asleep eyes, I listlessly walk down the stone steps on the embankment of our backyard, and head towards uncle Fuxun’s house. The early mornings in the mountains are the most enchanting part of the day, and especially so this summer, with a light mist casually curling around the mountain towns further adding to the quiet, peacefulness. The crops in the fields glow with an intoxicating deep green after absorbing their fill of the night’s dew, and all sorts of birds jump and leap about between the branches and bamboo tips. In order to get to uncle Fuxun’s house you have to pass through one field after another with both sides of the fields planted with soybeans, adzuki beans, ba mountain beans and similar things. The flourishing bean sprouts and their tightly rolled shoots, full of last nights dew soaked the ends of my pants as I walk through them. I normally wont go to the fields with Dad and Mum on summer mornings precisely because I hate that sticky wet feeling of your pants being soaked through from the dew. But this morning there is no way out – Dad told me to go and I am not game not to, otherwise he will pull my ear and ask me if I heard him clearly or not.

Just after passing through another couple of long fields, I turned into the entrance of the mountain and saw Xiang xiang and her family’s yellow ox. Xiang xiang was still wearing that set of pink clothes that set off her long pony tail, while the yellow ox buried it’s head in the grass next to her, chewing away at it. Xiang xiang and the ox seemed to float in and out of view amongst the morning’s mist, and for a moment, I stared transfixed in a daze by the scene. After a while I eventually snapped back, ran over and asked Xiang xiang, “is your Dad home”? Xiang xiang gave a brief ‘aahuh aahuh’. I also asked her why she didn’t go home to eat breakfast when it was still so dark. She gesticulated, indicating that her Mum hadn’t caled her to come home yet.I didn’t say anything else and walked off towards their family’s house.

Xiang xiang is mute, one year older than me, and one of the kids in our little group of friends that often play together. She laughed at a lot, though, for not being able to speak, and everyone loves to tease her. Even though she gets teased, she still persists in wanting to play with the group. Everybody especially loves to make fun of her when we play games. Normally she doesn’t get angry, and if she does get upset, will just grunt “ah ah” a few times and then again be happily following on our tails. Sometimes I tell the leader of our little group, Xiao Fei, not to make fun of Xiang xaing anymore。 At this point our little leader will raise his eyebrows at me and declare in a loud voice that there is no place for compassion and sympathy in the business of revolution. ‘Ok whatever’, the leader has spoken and I’m not game to say anything else, otherwise I also might get expelled from the revolutionary ranks and then even a playmate would be impossible to find. Xiang xiang doesn’t really get a chance to play with us much, though, and most of the time just watches. Even this opportunity is relatively rare in itself, as she is always been ordered about and made to do this or that, cook the rice, put out the ox, clean the clothes and so on. Its not like we don’t get bossed around by our parents as well, but then most of us a willing to just disobey them, after all everybody’s parents loves to dot on their kids in the end. Xiang xiang’s situation, however, isn’t like this. Her Dad and Mum are pretty good by her, and normally don’t make her do to much work. The person that really puts her to work the majority of the time is her Grandma. All it takes for Xiang xiang to bolt off from playing with us is one brief yell of her grandma’s from their backyard. Xiang xiang’s grandma truly treats her like a slave to be ordered about and put to work. Just now, it was also more than likely her Grandma who had sent Xiang xiang to put out the ox. Her Grandma doesn’t live with her and her parents, but her parents still have no choice to be to do whatever her Grandma says, and allow her to use this slave that can’t say a word.

我想着香香的处境,有些不是滋味。走到福勋表叔家门前,我也不进家门,在他们屋后的田埂上喊了几声,福勋表叔答应说他吃了早饭就过来,我坚持说到我们家去吃早饭,我妈都把饭做好了。磨磨蹭蹭半天后,福勋表叔才从茅草屋里出来。临出门时,秀兰表婶给福勋表叔说了一声,叫香香回来吃饭。我跟在福勋表叔后面,由原路返回。走到坟山上时,看到香香依然安静地看着那头啃草的黄牛,根本就没感到肚子饿。福勋表叔走到香香身边喊了一声,“回去吃饭。瓜得很,这么半天了也不知道肚子饿。”香香一点反应都没有。要走过坟山时,我对香香说,“今天到我们家来耍,小飞、超平、小艳子他们都会来的。”香香朝我这边看了一下,脸上绽开了夏日绯红的朝阳。

山村人家一般很少搞大建设的,除了修房、打家具之类,一年到头家里难得用几次人。我们家刚修过新房不久,需要打一些家具,不得已请人拉锯破木料,然后再等木匠来打家具。家里用人对大人来说可能是件麻烦事,得花钱,又得准备好酒好菜,这对很少有收入的山村人来说,确实是件犯难的事。在要不要打家具这件事上,我爸妈犹豫了很久,他们密谋不打,但我奶奶坚持说非打不可,哪能修了新房家里空空荡荡,几件像样的家具都没有,这怎么像话呢。说到此,我奶奶就要搬出她和我爷爷在三十年代兴家立业的艰苦事迹来教育我爸妈。我爷爷奶奶当年背着一个破包裹,从外乡逃难到此,凭自己的一双手,硬是兴起了一个不大不小的家。每每说到这里,奶奶就要细数爷爷的好与能干,相反就要骂我爸妈的懒惰与无能。这时,我和妹妹往往很讨巧地一左一右依偎在奶奶两条腿上,非常敬佩地看着奶奶,感觉奶奶就是全世界最有能耐的人,她头上缠的长长的葛巾和葛巾下花白的头发,无不激起我们的敬意。不得已,我爸妈拗不过奶奶光荣的兴家史,硬着头皮也得打些家具。

对孩子们来说,家里用人却是难得的节日,甚至比过节还重要。节日一般很短,而且节日只能是和家里人一起过,在那艰苦的年月,自家人往往勒紧裤腰带舍不得大吃大喝。不是不愿好吃好喝几顿,确实是没有什么能拿出来大吃大喝的东西,粮食每年能顺利上缴国家公粮就不错了,剩下的粮食一般都不能等到第二年粮食新收季节。什么鸡鸭鱼肉更是少之又少。但是在用人的日子里,谁家都得准备上好的酒菜。而且一般用人时间都比较长,非一两天就会结束的。所以,对我们这般小孩子来说,用人的日子就是我们欢乐的日子,这种欢乐显得如此奢侈,我们在梦里都会流淌着满足的欢笑。

大半上午的时候,我正和小飞们在院坝里看大人们甩膀子拉锯,香香无声无息地从石梯路上走了上来。大黄狗象征性地叫了两声,算是向香香打招呼。大黄狗已非常熟悉我这帮小伙伴们了。福勋表叔看见香香,怨怒地吼道,“跑来干什么,赶紧回去。”香香眼瞅着我,默默地用手拉着衣服角。我爸忙搭腔,“碎娃儿嘛,莫得事,就让她和阿永他们耍。”“香香,不用怕,晌午就在这儿吃,不要回去了。”听了这话,我忙拉着香香,和小飞们,跑向院坝边上的竹林,那是我们童年的天堂。

夏天的竹林是那么怡人,无论怎样热,只要钻进竹林,立马赶到层层凉意轻袭,我们在竹林里搭建起我们的世界。我们最喜欢玩的游戏是牵电线。今天也不例外,伙伴们这么多,正好可以齐心协力玩这个游戏。小飞和超平先去割棕榈树叶子,电线的材料就是用一匹匹棕榈树叶子连接起来的。我们此次想把电线从中国一直牵到遥远的非洲,支援非洲苦难的黑兄弟们,需用的棕榈树叶子就更多,小飞和超平都用背篓背从田塝上割来的棕榈叶子。我和香香,还有小艳子,负责把棕榈叶子撕成一缕一缕,并连接成一根线。小艳子,是我们村村长的女儿,娇气得很,做事磨叽得不行。连接电线的事,实际上就是我和香香来完成。香香坐在地上,把小飞和超平背回来的棕榈叶子撕散,我负责系。香香动作非常快,小手唰唰地,地上一会儿就堆起厚厚一层,不久香香就撕完了。香香撕完后并没有像小飞们在旁边闲耍,而是蹲在我身旁,递给我叶子,这样我连接起来要快许多。我们这几个小伙伴都差不多大,都好耍,整天东奔西跑,搞些莫名其妙的事情。只有香香要懂事些,她总是为我们这帮孩子做东做西,很少像我们爱使性子、爱哭爱闹,她很安静,默默地陪着我们。虽然我们不喜欢她,但是我们往往离不开她,她也能始终似远实近地和我们玩在一起。

竹林很大,有毛竹、斑竹。我们把位置最好、长得最好的斑竹林称为中国,把偏远一些且长得很差的毛竹林称为苦难的非洲。以往我们牵电线只在中国境内牵,因为中国是世界中心,只有中心有了光明,远方才能有所希望。这次我们要把电线从世界中心的中国牵到黑非洲,是为了实现我们久有的梦想。小飞经常煞有介事地给我们说,他长大了一定要当一名电线工,把我们中国的光明送到非洲去,实现毛主席老人家未实现的愿望,这事儿小飞在学校里当着全班同学们的面是立了保证的。那次老师让我们谈一下我们将来的理想,小飞庄严地宣称他的理想是当电线工,要把中国的电线牵到非洲。老师问你知道非洲有多远吗,小飞说管它多远,毛主席说能达到的地方我一定要到达。小飞的这股豪迈劲儿,多半受到他爸的言传身教,他爸是我们村唯一的铁路工人,他爸说他们铁路工人的理想是把铁路修到非洲去。小飞比他爸理想要高远点,铁路毕竟是在地上,他要在空中把电线牵到非洲,比他老爸还要牛。每次小飞说到他远大理想时,我们都暗暗惭愧,为什么我们什么想法都没有呢,除了一天抓螃蟹捣鸟窝,干些杂小琐碎的事,一点都不显得庄重神圣。

现在我们只能跟着小飞把电线从斑竹林牵到毛竹林,从中国牵到非洲。牵电线好玩就好玩在看谁把电线架得高牵得远。要想架得高就得会爬竹子,这在我就显得吃力了,我比较胖,爬半天都爬不上去。况且爬竹子比爬树滑多了,有可能费了九牛二虎的力气刚爬上去,正要把背在背上的电线取下来缠在竹子上,突然一下子又会滑下去。因此我往往就会输给小飞他们。每每这时香香就会帮我忙,她从我背上取下电线团,飕飕地就爬上了竹子,非常灵巧地把电线拴在竹子上。所以,虽然每次玩牵电线游戏,名义上是我和小飞们比赛,实际上是香香和他们比赛,只是香香不争强好胜,乐意把胜利果实让给我。为此,小飞非常不服气,还讽刺我,算什么英雄好汉,靠女人,而且是个哑巴女人。这搞得我倍加难受,又没得办法,只能把气撒在香香身上。老是训斥她。她也不怎么反抗,最多啊几声,然后就默默待在一边,像是和她没什么关系似的。而今天的牵电线比赛,却惹火了我。牵电线牵到一半时,小飞跑过来看我们的进度,算是勘察敌情,当他又看到香香在帮我牵电线时,鄙夷之情溢于言表,搞得我很是狼狈,我就对香香说,别帮了,你下来吧。香香像是没听到一样,继续爬在竹子上拴电线,我火了,上去就抓她的脚,把她往下拉,她重重地摔在地上。我还在不依不饶地骂她。香香爬起来就过来推我,眼睛里全是泪水,估计真是摔痛了。我才不管,在小飞们面前我的面子才重要,谁管你一个哑巴。她还在推搡我,我气急了,对他吼道,“滚吧,小哑巴。晌午不要赖在我们家吃饭。”“谁赖在这儿谁就是乌龟王八蛋。”香香也生气了,喉管里咕咕地乱响,像是要喷出岩浆一样,我有些后怕了,赶紧躲开,并叫小飞他们同我一道撤,不理香香,让她一个人滚回去。我们一股烟似溜掉了,香香没有像往常一样跟在我们屁股后面。

晌午吃饭时,香香没有跟过来,小飞们被我妈留下来了。问我香香哪里去了,我赌气地说不知道,估计回家去了吧,我妈骂了我几句也就算了。其实香香并没有回家,我知道,她一定躲在我们家屋后的小树林里,她一定在等我们这几个小伙伴过去把她叫过来,或者等我们告诉大人,大人来把她喊回屋。这种方式,是我们这几个小伙伴惯用的手法,谁要是和用人家的孩子发生矛盾了,就扭捏着躲起来,那些躲的地方,我们几个是非常熟悉的。如果该家的小伙伴还看重小伙伴间的友情的话,在临吃饭前,一般都会过去把藏起来的小伙伴叫到家,即使自己不亲自出面,也会告诉大人,大人就会去把小孩拉过来。可是这次我偏偏不去叫藏在屋后的香香,小飞暗示了我几次,我也没理他,以至于吃饭时小飞他们显得极不自在,心里都在责怪我欺负香香,因为是在我家,他们也不好过去叫香香,无形中他们与我构成了同伙,集体性地欺负香香。

午饭过后,我呼呼地睡午觉去了。小飞他们背着我,到屋后玩去了。我在睡梦中被小飞摇醒,他悄悄地对我说,“香香一直坐在小树林里哭,你快去看看吧。”我不知道是该去还是不去,朦朦胧胧中被小飞超平拉到屋后小树林。我看到香香坐在那颗核桃树下,如泓的泪水,流淌在晒红的脸上,头发散乱,看上去很是让人心疼,尤其是她那双眼睛定定地看着我的时候,上午的怒气早已消散,涌动的只是隐隐的歉疚。看到我不说话,小飞很知趣地把香香拉起来,往我们家走。我默默地跟在他们身后。香香见我不说话,停在那里,不往前走,小飞对我怨到,“你把她拉回家吧,都是你的错。”默默,我走上前去,拉起香香的左手,粘满泥土的小手透过一股温热,彻底激醒了呆钝的我。赶紧把香香拉回家。我妈忙前忙后为香香洗脸洗手,又为她热饭。我们几个小伙伴,挤在厨房门口,看着坐在厨房小饭桌前一口一口吃饭的香香,负疚之情在你推我搡中慢慢散去。

香香是哑巴,她奶奶不上她上学。她奶奶既然态度这么坚定,香香爸妈也只能听她奶奶的话,把香香留在家里。村小学幼儿园的老师其实没说不让哑巴进学校,山后的张家屋里的广娃子不是哑巴吗,一样来幼儿园耍,还耍得比谁都欢快。香香怕她奶奶,奶奶说了不让去学校就只能呆在家让她使唤。比香香小一点的超平也是她奶奶的孙子,可享受的却是小皇帝般的待遇,什么事都不让干,而且都吃得好穿得好。后来我听说,香香奶奶如此虐待香香,不单是因为香香是个哑巴,香香虽是哑巴,但聪明伶俐,而且长得很可爱,山湾里的大人们都喜欢这个小丫头。香香奶奶如此对待她还有另外的原因。香香爸爸不是香香奶奶亲生的,是从河对岸山梁上邓家过继来的,到五岁时,香香奶奶又生下一小孩,就是后来的超平的爸爸。自从有了自己的亲生骨肉后,香香爸爸就没得好日子过了,俨然就成了家里的童工。香香奶奶一句书也不送香香爸爸去读,而超平爸爸却读到了高中,在那个年代能读到高中,在全乡也没有几个,差一点超平爸爸就当上了我们乡乡长。香香爸爸呢,被香香奶奶撵到偏远的山坡边,在那里给他修了几件茅草房,到了结婚的年龄,随便找了个姑娘就成了亲,这就是后来的秀兰表婶。

香香一家的不幸是不是怨她奶奶,我不知道,只知道香香一天一天远离我们是她奶奶的使然。在没上学之前,香香还能时不时地和我们一起耍,尽管香香奶奶使唤得紧,但毕竟是小孩子,也干不了什么事,香香还能偷偷跑过来和我们一起耍。自从我们几个小孩开始上学后,和香香一起耍的时间就非常少了。香香也想上学,每天看着我们背上小书包,欢欢喜喜地去村里小学,香香就要向她爸妈哭,她的哭不同一般人的哭,她哭得没有声音,只有喉管的响动和潺潺的泪水。开始时香香还偷偷往学校跑,我们在教室里上课,香香在学校小操场上一个人玩,这样有一段时间后,她大概觉得极其无趣,慢慢就不来学校里了。只是在每天下午放学后在回家的路口等我们,我们一块儿耍到天黑再各自回家。我们有时也把新发的课本翻给她看,她看着书上的图片,喜悦之情挂上眉梢,久久摩挲那些画面,然后不无爱恋地还给我们,寂寂走回家。

也不知是哪一年,香香妈妈去世了。那时我们还在村里上小学,放学回家,我们没看到香香,只听到香香他们家那边有锣鼓响和鞭炮声。我们几个撒腿就往香香家里跑。刚跑过山尖,就看见香香家院坝里有好多人,还有花圈什么的。我们知道是死人了,不知道是死的谁,很担心不会是香香吧。小飞说不会是小孩,小孩子死了才不会这样敲锣打鼓呢,卷一张破席子往山沟里一埋就了事了。当我们跑到香香家院子时,看到院坝中央摊着一个死人,用白布遮住了,看不清是谁。这时香香忽然出现在我们身边,她穿一身的白布片,头上还带着用白布串起来的帽子,显得有点怪兮兮的。我们问她谁死了,她什么也没表示只是流泪。旁边的在这里帮忙的超平他妈,对我们低吼道,“香女子妈死了。”我们一同哦了一声,就不知道该干什么了,只是看着怪怪的香香。香香站在她妈妈尸体旁边,半靠着摊尸体的门板,看上去有些累,又有些伤心,一时觉得香香是如此的可怜。从此香香就没有妈妈了。



Source : my1510

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May 10, 2015 @ 16:49:07Current Revision
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<p>Author: Yuan Hao</p>  Author: Yuan Hao
<p>During midsummer, for people who live in rural mountain areas, the early mornings are always the most comfortable time of the day. Often, on mornings like this, I would always snuggle in bed for that extra snooze; even if Mum shouts herself hoarse from downstairs for me to get up, I wouldn’t budge one bit. But this morning, as soon as mum shouted at me from downstairs, I rolled out of bed and descended the staircase on half-slipped-on shoes. Last night, Dad had already arranged with me to ask Uncle Fuxun, who lives by the mountain bend, to come over for breakfast this morning. Today my family was planning to make some new furniture with a dragsaw, and Uncle Fuxun was one of the people we invited around to provide some much-needed help.</p>  During midsummer, for people who live in rural mountain areas, the early mornings are always the most comfortable time of the day. Often, on mornings like this, I would always snuggle in bed for that extra snooze; even if Mum shouts herself hoarse from downstairs for me to get up, I wouldn’t budge one bit. But this morning, as soon as mum shouted at me from downstairs, I rolled out of bed and descended the staircase on half-slipped-on shoes. Last night, Dad had already arranged with me to ask Uncle Fuxun, who lives by the mountain bend, to come over for breakfast this morning. Today my family was planning to make some new furniture with a dragsaw, and Uncle Fuxun was one of the people we invited around to provide some much-needed help.
<p>The real reason Dad sent me to invite Uncle Fuxun over for breakfast this morning is because he is a little unreliable and flaky with his commitments. He doesn’t necessarily complete what he has agreed to. In reality, Dad made me ask him over for breakfast to force him to come and help out sooner rather than later. Bluntly calling him over to start work wouldn’t be effective, so we had to say we were inviting him for breakfast instead.</p>  The real reason Dad sent me to invite Uncle Fuxun over for breakfast this morning is because he is a little unreliable and flaky with his commitments. He doesn’t necessarily complete what he has agreed to. In reality, Dad made me ask him over for breakfast to force him to come and help out sooner rather than later. Bluntly calling him over to start work wouldn’t be effective, so we had to say we were inviting him for breakfast instead.
  Rubbing my still half-asleep eyes, I listlessly walked down the stone steps of the courtyard, and headed towards Uncle Fuxun’s house. The early mornings in the mountains are the most enchanting part of the day, especially this morning, with the light mist slowly unfurling on the mountain further adding to the tranquillity. The crops in the fields glow with an even more intoxicating deep green after absorbing their fill of the night’s dew, and all sorts of birds jump and leap about between the branches and bamboo tips.
  In order to get to Uncle Fuxun’s house you have to pass through rows and rows of ridges in the fields. On both sides of these ridges were planted soybeans, adzuki beans, Ba mountain beans and the like. The flourishing bean sprouts and their tightly rolled leaves were full of last night’s dew, and it often soaked the ends of my trousers as I walked through them. I normally won’t follow my parents to work in the fields on summer mornings precisely because I hate that sticky wet feeling of your pants being soaked through from the dew. But this morning there was no way out – Dad told me to go and I didn’t dare to refuse, otherwise he would pull my ear and ask me if I was going to listen or him or not. Nine-year-old me could only meekly obey and let the dew pour cold water on the midsummer morning, startling me from my dreams when I was sound asleep.
  Xiang Xiang is mute, a year older than me, and one of the kids in our little group of playmates. However, everybody always loved to bully her, after all, who asked her not to know how to speak! Despite getting bullied, she still wanted to play with us. We would often prank her during our games, but she usually wouldn’t get angry. If she did, she would just grunt “ah ah” a few times, and then she would be on our tails again, happy as ever. Sometimes I told the little leader of our group, Xiaofei, not to make fun of Xiang Xiang anymore. Our little leader would raise his eyebrows and declare in a loud voice: there was no place for compassion in the enterprise of revolution. Fine, the leader has spoken, and I did not dare to say anything else, or I might have been expelled from the revolutionary ranks as well, and then even a playmate would be impossible to find. Xiang Xiang doesnt really get a chance to play with us much though; most of the time she just watches, and even this opportunity to watch was becoming increasingly rare, as she was always ordered round and about to do this or do that, cook the rice, let the ox out to graze, wash the clothes and so forth. Even though we were often bossed around by our parents too, most of us dared to defy their orders, and our parents in the end would spoil us. But Xiang Xiang was different. Her parents were alright and usually didn’t order her to do things. It was usually her grandma, and if grandma stood in the courtyard and yelled once, Xiang Xiang would immediately bolt off from our side and leave. Xiang Xiang’s grandma truly treats her like a slave girl to be ordered about and put to work. Now most of the time it is her grandma who orders her to let the ox graze on the part of the mountain that houses the cemetery. Her grandma didn’t live with her parents, but her parents still have no choice but to do whatever her Grandma says, letting her order around this ‘servant girl’ that cant even utter a word.
  I always felt somewhat uncomfortable when I thought of Xiang Xiang’s situation. Walking to Uncle Fuxun’s front door, I didn’t enter the house, but shouted a few times from the back of their house. Uncle Fuxun answered to say that he would come over after he had breakfast; I insist that he come over to my house for breakfast – my mum had already prepared the meal for him. After spending a lot of time on this back-and-forth talk, Uncle Fuxun walked out of the grass hut. As we were about to leave, Aunt Xiulan called Uncle Fuxun and asked Xiang Xiang to return home for lunch. I followed behind Uncle Fuxun, going back home by the same route. While walking up to the cemetery, I saw that Xiang Xiang was still quietly watching that yellow ox nibble at the grass; she hardly seemed to have felt hungry at all. Uncle Fuxun walked to Xiang Xiang’s side and yelled, “Go home to eat! Such a stupid child, it’s been so long and you still don’t know you’re hungry.” Xiang Xiang didn’t react at all. When we were about to pass the cemetery, I told Xiang Xiang, “Let’s go to my house to play today. Xiaofei, Chaoping, Xiao Yanzi and the rest will all be there.” Xiang Xiang looked in my direction for a while, and her face bloomed into the crimson of the morning sun.
  People in the villages seldom have big construction projects. Other than fixing the house, making furniture and the like, hardly anybody needs to be called upon for most of the year. Our family just completed a new house, and needed some furniture, so we had to invite people to saw the timber, then ask the carpenters to craft the furniture. Asking people to help the house is a troublesome affair; you had to spend money, prepare good wine and good food, and for the village people in the mountains who rarely have an income, this was indeed a difficult matter. To make or not to make furniture? My parents deliberated for a long time. They secretly planned not to do so, but my grandma insisted that they had to: how could a new house be left in such an empty state, without even a few pieces of presentable furniture? Speaking on the subject, my grandma went on and on to educate my parents about the arduous experience she and grandpa had in the thirties in first raising up a family and then a business. In those days, grandma and grandpa carried naught but a tattered bundle on their backs, escaping from other cities to seek refuge here. Literally with their own hands, they built a home and raised a family that was of a decent size. Every time she talked about this, grandmother would carefully enumerate grandfather’s strengths and competences, and conversely, scold my parents’ laziness and incompetence. At this time, I and my sister would always snuggle next to grandma and sit on both her legs, one on her left and the other on her right. We would look at her with grand admiration, and feel that she must the world’s most capable person. The long towel that she wrapped her head in; her hair below the towel that was speckled in white – all excited our loving admiration. My parents could not fend against grandma’s glorious stories of raising a family, and had no choice but to bite the bullet and call on the help of neighbours to make some furniture.
<p>Rubbing my still half asleep eyes, I listlessly walk down the stone steps on the embankment of our backyard, and head towards uncle Fuxun’s house. The early mornings in the mountains are the most enchanting part of the day, and especially so this summer, with a light mist casually curling around the mountain towns further adding to the quiet, peacefulness. The crops in the fields glow with an intoxicating deep green after absorbing their fill of the night’s dew, and all sorts of birds jump and leap about between the branches and bamboo tips. In order to get to uncle Fuxun’s house you have to pass through one field after another with both sides of the fields planted with soybeans, adzuki beans, ba mountain beans and similar things. The flourishing bean sprouts and their tightly rolled shoots, full of last nights dew soaked the ends of my pants as I walk through them. I normally wont go to the fields with Dad and Mum on summer mornings precisely because I hate that sticky wet feeling of your pants being soaked through from the dew. But this morning there is no way out – Dad told me to go and I am not game not to, otherwise he will pull my ear and ask me if I heard him clearly or not.</p> For children, the occasions on which the house would call upon others for help was a rare festival, and even more important than a festival. Festivals were usually short, and the celebration had to be with your family. In those difficult years, your own family would usually tighten their belts and be reluctant to eat or drink well. It was not that they did not wish to feast or drink heartily; it was more that there was nothing much that they could bring out to feast or drink on. It wasn’t bad if the national grain quotas could be delivered without a hitch each year; the remaining grain usually could not wait until the second year’s new round of collection. Whatever chicken, duck, fish or meat there was, it was even fewer than the grain. But on these days when others came to help out at the house, whoever’s house it was had to prepare the best wine and food. Moreover, the duration where one had to call upon others for help was slightly longer than a festival; it wouldn’t end in one or two days. As such, for kids like us, the days where others came to one’s house to help were happy days of celebration, a happiness that was so indulgent that we would even giggle in our dreams, brimming with satisfaction.
<p>Just after passing through another couple of long fields, I turned into the entrance of the mountain and saw Xiang xiang and her family's yellow ox. Xiang xiang was still wearing that set of pink clothes that set off her long pony tail, while the yellow ox buried it's head in the grass next to her, chewing away at it. Xiang xiang and the ox seemed to float in and out of view amongst the morning's mist, and for a moment, I stared transfixed in a daze by the scene. After a while I eventually snapped back, ran over and asked Xiang xiang, “is your Dad home”? Xiang xiang gave a brief 'aahuh aahuh'. I also asked her why she didn't go home to eat breakfast when it was still so dark. She gesticulated, indicating that her Mum hadn't caled her to come home yet.I didn't say anything else and walked off towards their family's house.</p> In the mid-afternoon, just when I and Xiaofei were watching the adults in the courtyard flapping their arms as they pulled the dragsaw, Xiang Xiang walked up the stone stairs to my house without a sound. The big yellow dog barked twice as a formality; it was his way of greeting her. He was already very familiar with the other kids. Uncle Fuxun spotted Xiang Xiang, and angrily shouted, “What did you run here for! Get back home!” Xiang Xiang eyed me, and silently tugged at the corner of my shirt with her hand. My father helped to intervene. “She’s just a child, she won’t be a problem. Just let her play with Ah Yong and friends.” “Xiang Xiang, it’s ok then, just have lunch here and don’t go back.” After hearing this, I quickly pulled Xiang Xiang, Xiaofei, and the rest, and we ran towards the bamboo forest near the courtyard, the paradise of our childhood.
<p>Xiang xiang is mute, one year older than me, and one of the kids in our little group of friends that often play together. She laughed at a lot, though, for not being able to speak, and everyone loves to tease her. Even though she gets teased, she still persists in wanting to play with the group. Everybody especially loves to make fun of her when we play games. Normally she doesn't get angry, and if she does get upset, will just grunt “ah ah” a few times and then again be happily following on our tails. Sometimes I tell the leader of our little group, Xiao Fei, not to make fun of Xiang xaing anymore At this point our little leader will raise his eyebrows at me and declare in a loud voice that there is no place for compassion and sympathy in the business of revolution. 'Ok whatever', the leader has spoken and I'm not game to say anything else, otherwise I also might get expelled from the revolutionary ranks and then even a playmate would be impossible to find. Xiang xiang doesn't really get a chance to play with us much, though, and most of the time just watches. Even this opportunity is relatively rare in itself, as she is always been ordered about and made to do this or that, cook the rice, put out the ox, clean the clothes and so on. Its not like we don't get bossed around by our parents as well, but then most of us a willing to just disobey them, after all everybody's parents loves to dot on their kids in the end. Xiang xiang's situation, however, isn't like this. Her Dad and Mum are pretty good by her, and normally don't make her do to much work. The person that really puts her to work the majority of the time is her Grandma. All it takes for Xiang xiang to bolt off from playing with us is one brief yell of her grandma's from their backyard. Xiang xiang's grandma truly treats her like a slave to be ordered about and put to work. Just now, it was also more than likely her Grandma who had sent Xiang xiang to put out the ox. Her Grandma doesn't live with her and her parents, but her parents still have no choice to be to do whatever her Grandma says, and allow her to use this slave that can't say a word. </p>   
<p>我想着香香的处境,有些不是滋味。走到福勋表叔家门前,我也不进家门,在他们屋后的田埂上喊了几声,福勋表叔答应说他吃了早饭就过来,我坚持说到我们家去吃早饭,我妈都把饭做好了。磨磨蹭蹭半天后,福勋表叔才从茅草屋里出来。临出门时,秀兰表婶给福勋表叔说了一声,叫香香回来吃饭。我跟在福勋表叔后面,由原路返回。走到坟山上时,看到香香依然安静地看着那头啃草的黄牛,根本就没感到肚子饿。福勋表叔走到香香身边喊了一声,“回去吃饭。瓜得很,这么半天了也不知道肚子饿。”香香一点反应都没有。要走过坟山时,我对香香说,“今天到我们家来耍,小飞、超平、小艳子他们都会来的。”香香朝我这边看了一下,脸上绽开了夏日绯红的朝阳。</p>  
<p>山村人家一般很少搞大建设的,除了修房、打家具之类,一年到头家里难得用几次人。我们家刚修过新房不久,需要打一些家具,不得已请人拉锯破木料,然后再等木匠来打家具。家里用人对大人来说可能是件麻烦事,得花钱,又得准备好酒好菜,这对很少有收入的山村人来说,确实是件犯难的事。在要不要打家具这件事上,我爸妈犹豫了很久,他们密谋不打,但我奶奶坚持说非打不可,哪能修了新房家里空空荡荡,几件像样的家具都没有,这怎么像话呢。说到此,我奶奶就要搬出她和我爷爷在三十年代兴家立业的艰苦事迹来教育我爸妈。我爷爷奶奶当年背着一个破包裹,从外乡逃难到此,凭自己的一双手,硬是兴起了一个不大不小的家。每每说到这里,奶奶就要细数爷爷的好与能干,相反就要骂我爸妈的懒惰与无能。这时,我和妹妹往往很讨巧地一左一右依偎在奶奶两条腿上,非常敬佩地看着奶奶,感觉奶奶就是全世界最有能耐的人,她头上缠的长长的葛巾和葛巾下花白的头发,无不激起我们的敬意。不得已,我爸妈拗不过奶奶光荣的兴家史,硬着头皮也得打些家具。</p>  
<p>对孩子们来说,家里用人却是难得的节日,甚至比过节还重要。节日一般很短,而且节日只能是和家里人一起过,在那艰苦的年月,自家人往往勒紧裤腰带舍不得大吃大喝。不是不愿好吃好喝几顿,确实是没有什么能拿出来大吃大喝的东西,粮食每年能顺利上缴国家公粮就不错了,剩下的粮食一般都不能等到第二年粮食新收季节。什么鸡鸭鱼肉更是少之又少。但是在用人的日子里,谁家都得准备上好的酒菜。而且一般用人时间都比较长,非一两天就会结束的。所以,对我们这般小孩子来说,用人的日子就是我们欢乐的日子,这种欢乐显得如此奢侈,我们在梦里都会流淌着满足的欢笑。</p>  
<p>大半上午的时候,我正和小飞们在院坝里看大人们甩膀子拉锯,香香无声无息地从石梯路上走了上来。大黄狗象征性地叫了两声,算是向香香打招呼。大黄狗已非常熟悉我这帮小伙伴们了。福勋表叔看见香香,怨怒地吼道,“跑来干什么,赶紧回去。”香香眼瞅着我,默默地用手拉着衣服角。我爸忙搭腔,“碎娃儿嘛,莫得事,就让她和阿永他们耍。”“香香,不用怕,晌午就在这儿吃,不要回去了。”听了这话,我忙拉着香香,和小飞们,跑向院坝边上的竹林,那是我们童年的天堂。</p>  
<p>夏天的竹林是那么怡人,无论怎样热,只要钻进竹林,立马赶到层层凉意轻袭,我们在竹林里搭建起我们的世界。我们最喜欢玩的游戏是牵电线。今天也不例外,伙伴们这么多,正好可以齐心协力玩这个游戏。小飞和超平先去割棕榈树叶子,电线的材料就是用一匹匹棕榈树叶子连接起来的。我们此次想把电线从中国一直牵到遥远的非洲,支援非洲苦难的黑兄弟们,需用的棕榈树叶子就更多,小飞和超平都用背篓背从田塝上割来的棕榈叶子。我和香香,还有小艳子,负责把棕榈叶子撕成一缕一缕,并连接成一根线。小艳子,是我们村村长的女儿,娇气得很,做事磨叽得不行。连接电线的事,实际上就是我和香香来完成。香香坐在地上,把小飞和超平背回来的棕榈叶子撕散,我负责系。香香动作非常快,小手唰唰地,地上一会儿就堆起厚厚一层,不久香香就撕完了。香香撕完后并没有像小飞们在旁边闲耍,而是蹲在我身旁,递给我叶子,这样我连接起来要快许多。我们这几个小伙伴都差不多大,都好耍,整天东奔西跑,搞些莫名其妙的事情。只有香香要懂事些,她总是为我们这帮孩子做东做西,很少像我们爱使性子、爱哭爱闹,她很安静,默默地陪着我们。虽然我们不喜欢她,但是我们往往离不开她,她也能始终似远实近地和我们玩在一起。</p>  
<p>竹林很大,有毛竹、斑竹。我们把位置最好、长得最好的斑竹林称为中国,把偏远一些且长得很差的毛竹林称为苦难的非洲。以往我们牵电线只在中国境内牵,因为中国是世界中心,只有中心有了光明,远方才能有所希望。这次我们要把电线从世界中心的中国牵到黑非洲,是为了实现我们久有的梦想。小飞经常煞有介事地给我们说,他长大了一定要当一名电线工,把我们中国的光明送到非洲去,实现毛主席老人家未实现的愿望,这事儿小飞在学校里当着全班同学们的面是立了保证的。那次老师让我们谈一下我们将来的理想,小飞庄严地宣称他的理想是当电线工,要把中国的电线牵到非洲。老师问你知道非洲有多远吗,小飞说管它多远,毛主席说能达到的地方我一定要到达。小飞的这股豪迈劲儿,多半受到他爸的言传身教,他爸是我们村唯一的铁路工人,他爸说他们铁路工人的理想是把铁路修到非洲去。小飞比他爸理想要高远点,铁路毕竟是在地上,他要在空中把电线牵到非洲,比他老爸还要牛。每次小飞说到他远大理想时,我们都暗暗惭愧,为什么我们什么想法都没有呢,除了一天抓螃蟹捣鸟窝,干些杂小琐碎的事,一点都不显得庄重神圣。</p>  
<p>现在我们只能跟着小飞把电线从斑竹林牵到毛竹林,从中国牵到非洲。牵电线好玩就好玩在看谁把电线架得高牵得远。要想架得高就得会爬竹子,这在我就显得吃力了,我比较胖,爬半天都爬不上去。况且爬竹子比爬树滑多了,有可能费了九牛二虎的力气刚爬上去,正要把背在背上的电线取下来缠在竹子上,突然一下子又会滑下去。因此我往往就会输给小飞他们。每每这时香香就会帮我忙,她从我背上取下电线团,飕飕地就爬上了竹子,非常灵巧地把电线拴在竹子上。所以,虽然每次玩牵电线游戏,名义上是我和小飞们比赛,实际上是香香和他们比赛,只是香香不争强好胜,乐意把胜利果实让给我。为此,小飞非常不服气,还讽刺我,算什么英雄好汉,靠女人,而且是个哑巴女人。这搞得我倍加难受,又没得办法,只能把气撒在香香身上。老是训斥她。她也不怎么反抗,最多啊几声,然后就默默待在一边,像是和她没什么关系似的。而今天的牵电线比赛,却惹火了我。牵电线牵到一半时,小飞跑过来看我们的进度,算是勘察敌情,当他又看到香香在帮我牵电线时,鄙夷之情溢于言表,搞得我很是狼狈,我就对香香说,别帮了,你下来吧。香香像是没听到一样,继续爬在竹子上拴电线,我火了,上去就抓她的脚,把她往下拉,她重重地摔在地上。我还在不依不饶地骂她。香香爬起来就过来推我,眼睛里全是泪水,估计真是摔痛了。我才不管,在小飞们面前我的面子才重要,谁管你一个哑巴。她还在推搡我,我气急了,对他吼道,“滚吧,小哑巴。晌午不要赖在我们家吃饭。”“谁赖在这儿谁就是乌龟王八蛋。”香香也生气了,喉管里咕咕地乱响,像是要喷出岩浆一样,我有些后怕了,赶紧躲开,并叫小飞他们同我一道撤,不理香香,让她一个人滚回去。我们一股烟似溜掉了,香香没有像往常一样跟在我们屁股后面。</p>  
<p>晌午吃饭时,香香没有跟过来,小飞们被我妈留下来了。问我香香哪里去了,我赌气地说不知道,估计回家去了吧,我妈骂了我几句也就算了。其实香香并没有回家,我知道,她一定躲在我们家屋后的小树林里,她一定在等我们这几个小伙伴过去把她叫过来,或者等我们告诉大人,大人来把她喊回屋。这种方式,是我们这几个小伙伴惯用的手法,谁要是和用人家的孩子发生矛盾了,就扭捏着躲起来,那些躲的地方,我们几个是非常熟悉的。如果该家的小伙伴还看重小伙伴间的友情的话,在临吃饭前,一般都会过去把藏起来的小伙伴叫到家,即使自己不亲自出面,也会告诉大人,大人就会去把小孩拉过来。可是这次我偏偏不去叫藏在屋后的香香,小飞暗示了我几次,我也没理他,以至于吃饭时小飞他们显得极不自在,心里都在责怪我欺负香香,因为是在我家,他们也不好过去叫香香,无形中他们与我构成了同伙,集体性地欺负香香。</p>  
<p>午饭过后,我呼呼地睡午觉去了。小飞他们背着我,到屋后玩去了。我在睡梦中被小飞摇醒,他悄悄地对我说,“香香一直坐在小树林里哭,你快去看看吧。”我不知道是该去还是不去,朦朦胧胧中被小飞超平拉到屋后小树林。我看到香香坐在那颗核桃树下,如泓的泪水,流淌在晒红的脸上,头发散乱,看上去很是让人心疼,尤其是她那双眼睛定定地看着我的时候,上午的怒气早已消散,涌动的只是隐隐的歉疚。看到我不说话,小飞很知趣地把香香拉起来,往我们家走。我默默地跟在他们身后。香香见我不说话,停在那里,不往前走,小飞对我怨到,“你把她拉回家吧,都是你的错。”默默,我走上前去,拉起香香的左手,粘满泥土的小手透过一股温热,彻底激醒了呆钝的我。赶紧把香香拉回家。我妈忙前忙后为香香洗脸洗手,又为她热饭。我们几个小伙伴,挤在厨房门口,看着坐在厨房小饭桌前一口一口吃饭的香香,负疚之情在你推我搡中慢慢散去。</p>  
<p>香香是哑巴,她奶奶不上她上学。她奶奶既然态度这么坚定,香香爸妈也只能听她奶奶的话,把香香留在家里。村小学幼儿园的老师其实没说不让哑巴进学校,山后的张家屋里的广娃子不是哑巴吗,一样来幼儿园耍,还耍得比谁都欢快。香香怕她奶奶,奶奶说了不让去学校就只能呆在家让她使唤。比香香小一点的超平也是她奶奶的孙子,可享受的却是小皇帝般的待遇,什么事都不让干,而且都吃得好穿得好。后来我听说,香香奶奶如此虐待香香,不单是因为香香是个哑巴,香香虽是哑巴,但聪明伶俐,而且长得很可爱,山湾里的大人们都喜欢这个小丫头。香香奶奶如此对待她还有另外的原因。香香爸爸不是香香奶奶亲生的,是从河对岸山梁上邓家过继来的,到五岁时,香香奶奶又生下一小孩,就是后来的超平的爸爸。自从有了自己的亲生骨肉后,香香爸爸就没得好日子过了,俨然就成了家里的童工。香香奶奶一句书也不送香香爸爸去读,而超平爸爸却读到了高中,在那个年代能读到高中,在全乡也没有几个,差一点超平爸爸就当上了我们乡乡长。香香爸爸呢,被香香奶奶撵到偏远的山坡边,在那里给他修了几件茅草房,到了结婚的年龄,随便找了个姑娘就成了亲,这就是后来的秀兰表婶。</p>  
<p>香香一家的不幸是不是怨她奶奶,我不知道,只知道香香一天一天远离我们是她奶奶的使然。在没上学之前,香香还能时不时地和我们一起耍,尽管香香奶奶使唤得紧,但毕竟是小孩子,也干不了什么事,香香还能偷偷跑过来和我们一起耍。自从我们几个小孩开始上学后,和香香一起耍的时间就非常少了。香香也想上学,每天看着我们背上小书包,欢欢喜喜地去村里小学,香香就要向她爸妈哭,她的哭不同一般人的哭,她哭得没有声音,只有喉管的响动和潺潺的泪水。开始时香香还偷偷往学校跑,我们在教室里上课,香香在学校小操场上一个人玩,这样有一段时间后,她大概觉得极其无趣,慢慢就不来学校里了。只是在每天下午放学后在回家的路口等我们,我们一块儿耍到天黑再各自回家。我们有时也把新发的课本翻给她看,她看着书上的图片,喜悦之情挂上眉梢,久久摩挲那些画面,然后不无爱恋地还给我们,寂寂走回家。</p>  
<p>也不知是哪一年,香香妈妈去世了。那时我们还在村里上小学,放学回家,我们没看到香香,只听到香香他们家那边有锣鼓响和鞭炮声。我们几个撒腿就往香香家里跑。刚跑过山尖,就看见香香家院坝里有好多人,还有花圈什么的。我们知道是死人了,不知道是死的谁,很担心不会是香香吧。小飞说不会是小孩,小孩子死了才不会这样敲锣打鼓呢,卷一张破席子往山沟里一埋就了事了。当我们跑到香香家院子时,看到院坝中央摊着一个死人,用白布遮住了,看不清是谁。这时香香忽然出现在我们身边,她穿一身的白布片,头上还带着用白布串起来的帽子,显得有点怪兮兮的。我们问她谁死了,她什么也没表示只是流泪。旁边的在这里帮忙的超平他妈,对我们低吼道,“香女子妈死了。”我们一同哦了一声,就不知道该干什么了,只是看着怪怪的香香。香香站在她妈妈尸体旁边,半靠着摊尸体的门板,看上去有些累,又有些伤心,一时觉得香香是如此的可怜。从此香香就没有妈妈了。</p>  
  The bamboo forest is so pleasant in summer. No matter how hot it is, once you enter the forest, you immediately feel the light passage of wave after wave of cool air. We built our own world in the bamboo. Our favourite game was called “pulling the power line”. Today was no exception; there were so many kids, it was just nice to play this game together. Xiaofei and Chaoping would first cut out palm leaves, and the material for the power line would be woven from rolls and rolls of palm leaves. This time we wanted to pull the power line all the way from China to far away Africa to help our suffering black brethren, so we required even more palm leaves. Xiaofei and Chaoping even used back-baskets to carry the palm leaves they cut them from beside the fields. Xiang Xiang, Xiao Yanzi and I were in charge of tearing the palm leaves into strands and tying them into a line. Xiao Yanzi was the daughter of our village leader and she was very finicky, always grumbling when asked to carry out a task. In reality, the matter of joining the power line was completed by me and Xiang Xiang. Xiang Xiang sat on the ground and tore loose the palm leaves carried by Xiaofei and Chaoping while I was in charge of tying them together. Xiang Xiang moved very fast – her little hands whooshed, the ground was stacked with thick layers of leaves – soon, she was done. After finishing the job, Xiang Xiang didn’t slack off and play by herself at one side like Xiaofei, but she squatted next to me and handed me the leaves so I could join them together even faster. We kids were roughly the same age, and we loved to play, running around everywhere for the whole day and doing strange things. Only Xiang Xiang was more obedient; she was always helping us do stuff, and rarely was she like petulant and naughty like us. She was very quiet, and silently followed us around. Although we didn’t like her, we couldn’t leave her either, so she always played with us as if she was distant from us, but in reality she was a part of us.
  The bamboo forest was huge. There was tortoise-shell bamboo and spotted bamboo. We chose to call the best-positioned and most verdant section of the spotted bamboo forest “China” while the tortoise-shell bamboo forest that was slightly further and poorly-grown was called “poor Africa”. Before today, we would only set up the power line in China because it was the centre of the world; only if the centre held light could the periphery have hope. This time we were going to extend the power line from China, the centre of the world, to darkest Africa to fulfill our long-held dreams. Xiaofei often pretentiously told us that when he grew up he would definitely be an electrician so that he could send light from China into Africa and fulfill Chairman Mao’s unrealised aspirations. Xiaofei guaranteed this in school in front of the whole class. That was when our teacher wanted us to talk about our future aspirations, and Xiaofei solemnly announced that his aspiration was to be an electrician, to bring China’s power lines to Africa. The teacher asked him if he knew how far Africa was. Xiaofei replied that no matter how far it was, what Chairman Mao said to be possible, he had to achieve. Xiaofei’s bout of heroic spirit was probably the result of his father’s words and deeds. His father was the village’s only railroad worker, and his father said that the railroad workers’ dream was to build a railroad all the way to Africa. Xiaofei had an even grander aspiration than his father. After all, at least the railways were laid on the ground; he was even more bull-headed than his dad for he wanted to bring the power lines to Africa from the air. Every time Xiaofei talked about his grand aspirations, we were secretly ashamed. Why didn’t we have any thoughts of our own? We only thought about spending an entire day catching crabs or searching birds’ nests, doing miscellaneous and trivial things that neither appeared solemn nor holy at all.
  Now we could only follow Xiaofei in extending the power line from the spotted bamboo forest to the tortoise-shell bamboo forest, from China to Africa. The fun in pulling power lines is in seeing who could set it up the highest and who could stretch it the furthest. If you want to set it up high, you need to know how to climb the bamboo. This was more difficult for me because I was slightly fatter, so I could climb for hours without getting up. Furthermore, climbing bamboo was even more slippery than climbing trees. Maybe you might have spent all of your strength just to get on and were about to unload the power line from your back to tie it to the bamboo, then suddenly, you would slide all the way back down. As such, I would often lose to Xiaofei and friends. Whenever this happened, Xiang Xiang would help me. She would take off the power line coil from my back and nimbly tie it to the bamboo trees. Hence, even though it was nominally a competition between me and Xiaofei every time we played the power line game, in reality it was between Xiang Xiang and him, except Xiang Xiang wasn’t competitive, so she happily gave the fruits of victory to me. Because of this, Xiaofei was often unsatisfied, and teased me: how could I count as a hero if I relied on women, and even worse, a mute woman? This made me doubly uncomfortable, but I had no choice but to vent my frustration on Xiang Xiang by always scolding her. She didn’t really resist, and would only make a few noises, “ah, ah”, then silently wait in a corner as if it had nothing to do with her. And today’s power line competition actually pissed me off. Halfway through the game, Xiaofei ran over to check on our progress – you could say he was spying on the enemy – and when he saw again that Xiang Xiang was helping me tie the power line, his disdain was palpable, and it made me very embarrassed. I told Xiang Xiang, stop helping, come down. Xiang Xiang looked as if she didn’t hear what I said and continued tying the power line to the bamboo. I was furious, and I went up to grab her feet and pull her down, and she fell very hard on the ground. I was continued to scold her ruthlessly. Xiang Xiang climbed up and pushed me, her eyes full of tears. It seemed that she was really hurt from the fall. I didn’t care – in front of Xiaofei and the others my prestige was more important – who cared that you were mute. She continued shoving me, and I was terribly annoyed, and screamed at her, “Get lost, little mute. You’re no longer welcome. Don’t even think of having lunch at our place.” “Whoever overstays their welcome is a wretched bastard.” Xiang Xiang also turned angry, and her throat rattled and gurgled, as if it was going to spew forth lava, and I became slightly scared. I ducked away and told Xiaofei and the rest to leave with me and ignore Xiang Xiang: let her scram by herself. We slipped away as fast as smoke, and Xiang Xiang didn’t follow us behind as usual.
  During lunch, Xiang Xiang had not yet returned. Xiaofei had been grounded by my mum. She asked me where Xiang Xiang went and I pretended that I didn’t know – she probably went home. My mother scolded me for a while then let it go. Actually I knew Xiang Xiang didn’t go home. She must have been hiding in the forests at the back of my house; she must have been waiting for us to call her back, or at least to tell the grown-ups so they would call her home. This was the way us kids would resolve any conflict then. We were all very familiar with the hiding places. If the guilty party still valued their friendship to the kid who was offended, then they would usually call their friend home before dinner, or even if they didn’t show up themselves, they would tell a grown-up, who would drag the kid home. However, this time, I simply refused outright to call back Xiang Xiang, who was hiding behind the house. Xiaofei hinted this to me a few times but I ignored him, such that they seemed extremely ill-at-ease while we were having lunch. In their hearts they blamed me for bullying Xiang Xiang, but because it was my house, it wasn’t appropriate for them to call Xiang Xiang, so they imperceptibly became my accomplices in bullying her as a group.
  After lunch, I soundly took an afternoon nap. Behind my back, Xiaofei and the rest went behind the house to play. In my dreams I was shaken awake by Xiaofei. He quietly told me, “Xiang Xiang has been crying in the forest, go and look.” I didn’t know if I should go or I shouldn’t, and still bleary-eyed, I was dragged by Xiaofei and Chaoping to the woods behind the house. I saw Xiang Xiang seated beneath that peach tree with streams of tears rolling on her sunburnt face and her hair in a mess. It was a sorry sight, especially when her eyes fixed on me – the rage in the early afternoon had dissipated, and what surged was a hidden sense of guilt. Seeing that I wasn’t talking, Xiaofei handled the delicate situation with finesse, pulling Xiang Xiang up and walking her towards our house. I silently followed both of their backs. Xiang Xiang saw that I wasn’t talking, stopped, and refused to go further. Xiaofei grumbled to me, “You bring her home. It’s all your fault.” I silently walked to the front and held Xiang Xiang’s left hand. The surge of warmth from her small hands, sticky with soil, completely woke me up from my haze. I hurried to bring Xiang Xiang home. My mother rushed back and forth to wash Xiang Xiang’s face and hands and to heat up her meal. The few of us kids squeezed in front of the entrance to the kitchen and watched Xiang Xiang sit at the small table, eating bite by bite. Our feelings of guilt slowly dissipated as we jostled against each other to watch her eat.
  Xiang Xiang was mute, so her grandma didn’t allow her to go to school. Since her grandma’s attitude was so stubbornly fixed, her parents could only listen to her and keep Xiang Xiang in the house. The truth was that the teachers in the village’s primary school and kindergarten never said that they did not accept mutes. The Guang kid from the Zhangs at the back of the mountains was also a mute, but all the same, he came to the kindergarten to play and played more happily than anyone else. Xiang Xiang was afraid of her grandma, and since grandma said she couldn’t go to school, she could only stay at home and listen to grandma’s orders. Chaoping, who was slightly younger than Xiang Xiang, was also her grandma’s grandson, but he could enjoy being treated like a little Emperor – he didn’t have to do anything, plus he ate well and dressed well. I heard afterwards that Xiang Xiang’s grandmother abused her so not only because she was mute, but because she was clever and cute, and all the adults in the mountain bend liked this little girl. Xiang Xiang’s father wasn’t grandma’s child but was adopted from the Dengs, who resided on top of the hills across the river. When Xiang Xiang’s father was five, grandma gave birth to a son, who later became Chaoping’s dad. Since grandma now had her own flesh and blood, times became difficult for Xiang Xiang’s father, who practically became child labour for the house. Grandma refused to send Xiang Xiang’s father to school at all while Chaoping’s father studied until high school, as that was the highest level you could study at in those days, and they were only a few high schools in the countryside. Chaoping’s father almost became our village leader. Xiang Xiang’s father, on the other hand, was thrust by grandma into the remote hillsides, where she built a few grass huts for him. When he reached the age for marriage, he lackadaisically found a girl to be his wife; this would later be Aunt Xiulan.
  I don’t know if the misfortunes of Xiang Xiang’s family should be blamed on her grandma. I only know that Xiang Xiang’s increasing detachment from us was the result of her influence. Before she went to school, Xiang Xiang could still play with us from time to time. Even if her grandma had a tight rein over her, we were clearly still small children, and couldn’t do much, so Xiang Xiang could secretly run over and play with us. Ever since we started to go to school, Xiang Xiang played with us very little. Xiang Xiang wanted to go to school too. Every day she saw us carrying our small schoolbags happily walking to the village’s primary school, and she would cry to her parents. The way she cried was different from the way normal people cried. Her cry was soundless except for the moving of her throat and the trickle of her tears. At the start, Xiang Xiang even secretly ran towards school, and would play on the small parade square in school by herself while we had lessons in the classroom. After a period of time like this, she probably felt it was too boring, and slowly stopped coming to school. However, she would wait for us on the road home every afternoon after class was dismissed, and we would play together until dark before going home. Sometimes we showed her the newly issued textbooks we received. She would see the pictures in the books and her expression of joy was hung on her eyebrows. She stroked these images for a long time, and then reluctantly returned the book to us, then walked to home alone.
  I don’t know which year it was when Xiang Xiang’s mother passed away. Then we were still in primary school in the village. Returning home after school had ended, we didn’t see Xiang Xiang, but only heard the sound of drums and firecrackers from their house. At once, the few of us scampered towards her house. Just after running past the peak of the mountain, we saw that there was a crowd in her house’s courtyard along with things like flower wreaths. We knew that someone had died, but we didn’t know who it was, and were very worried that it might have been Xiang Xiang. Xiaofei said it wouldn’t have been a child, because they wouldn’t bang on the gongs and hit the drums like this, but would wrap the child in a tattered mat and quickly bury her once and for all in the valley. When we reached her house’s courtyard, we saw that a dead body was displayed in the centre, covered with white cloth, and we couldn’t see who it was. At this moment, Xiang Xiang suddenly ran out to our side, completely dressed in white, and wearing a hat on his head that was made from white cloth skewered together, looking really strange. I asked her who died, and she didn’t indicate anything except cry. Chaoping’s mother, who was helping out by the side, growled at us, “Xiang Xiang’s mother is dead.” We all went “oh”, and didn’t know what to do next but look at the strange mannerisms of Xiang Xiang. She stood by her mother’s corpse, half leaning on the door on which it rested, looking somewhat tired, somewhat sad, and suddenly I felt the utmost pity for her. From now on, Xiang Xiang would have no mother.
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About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact julien@marcopoloproject.org