Very little is known about T’ien T’ao. He was actively writing in North China before and after the War of Resistance. The author Pa Chin admired his writing from this period and apparently helped to publish his works. Since Liberation, Tien Tao has had one novel, one collection of short stories, and several single short stories published, all in the 1950s. His writings center around oppressed peoples of China, all in the pre-Liberation period, and usually in the countryside.
“Parting” (Li) was most likely written in the 1940s. The original used for this translation is drawn from the collection Hsiao-ch’eng yeh-hua, published in Hong Kong in 1961.
KUAN, A CHILD who was by nature incurably strong willed, was lodging at her maternal grandmother’s house, keeping the “young mistress” company. This “young mistress” was only two years younger than Kuan and was her cousin, the daughter of her Big Uncle. Although Kuan did not enjoy the favors of Fortune that were her little cousin’s lot, she was spurred on by an inborn willfulness, and she often got the better of the “young mistress” and sent her off in tears, rubbing her eyes and seeking consolation from her mother. Then Kuan’s aunt would dash out of her room, her pent-up anger ready to explode, and her eyes flashing and bulging like those of some ferocious animal.
“You just wait, you’ll get what’s coming to you! Go back to your own home! Get out of our house! Let your father give you a taste of his iron palm!”
With these familiar words sounding in her ears, Kuan would crawl onto a soft dirt mound in the yard. Almost every day she would hear such expressions over and over—whenever she made her little mistress cry, or, out of carelessness, dropped a porcelain bowl during a meal.
During these outbursts, her grandmother could only pretend to be deaf, and the unfortunate Kuan, who had since very young had the bad habit of whining whenever someone touched or scolded her, would burst into a vibrant, full-throated whine that lasted on and on, driving everyone in the household to distraction.
“Go on crying, go on, and I will kill you with these scissors.” Mother, fully aware that she and Kuan were unwelcome guests, always cautious, always afraid of making anyone angry, glared at Kuan with a face pulled so tight that it looked like a wooden block. The incurable disease she had contracted during childbirth was aggravated by her rage. She angrily grabbed a pair of scissors and held them tightly in her withered yellow hand. Trembling, she raised her dry, skeletal body from a pile of old clothes in a dark corner of the brick bed, opened wide her lusterless eyes, and threatened Kuan in a weak voice. But her threats had absolutely no effect, and the whines continued like an old refrain, broadcasted from Kuan’s throat as from a loudspeaker.
“You wait and see. Little Kuan, you won’t be able to come with me the next time,” Mother said in a low, tremulous voice.
Grandmother was the kindest person in the world, with a patience acquired through experience, and though she was sad at heart, there was still a smile on her sun-parched face. First she soothed the young mistress until she stopped crying, then she came over to console Kuan. When an atmosphere of peace was restored to the household, quiet and desolation once again descended upon the patient’s room.
“Do you feel the pressure in your belly again? Here, let me give you a massage.” Grandmother reached out one hand to stroke Mother’s belly.
Mother’s thin, sallow face was always filled with sorrow. Kuan had never once seen her smile. Mother’s chin was pointed to begin with, and now that her cheeks had sunken in, it looked even more like the narrow end of a funnel. When she was sullen, she would curl up her fever-ridden, purplish lips, showing her dingy teeth, while sad and bitter creases furrowed her forehead.
“Ah, she will not last long. She is going to die.” All the neighborhood women who were knowledgeable about childbirth diseases agreed. It was “blood-sucking consumption,” and it would go on until all the flesh on her body was burned up, then she would die.
Kuan did not understand death. She only felt that having such a mother limited her freedom and subjected her to severe discipline. Threats like “I’ll take these scissors and kill you,” “I’ll throw you into the well and drown you,” “I’ll call in a tiger to eat you up,” and “I’ll send you to your Father to be beaten up” meant little to Kuan’s jaded ears. But Mother’s withered, yellow arms were really to be feared. Whenever Kuan came near her, whining, those thin arms would suddenly come to life and pick up something — anything—with which to beat Kuan over the head. Sometimes when she could not find anything around her, she would take off her shoes and hurl them at Kuan. Mother was so cruel! She could die, and Kuan would not care less. Without Mother, perhaps she would be freer; perhaps she would suffer fewer beatings and reprimands.
But whenever kind Grandmother went to the Buddhist temple to pray, she would drag Kuan along, and stroking Kuan’s hair with her calloused palm, she would make Kuan kneel beside her, kowtow and pray in front of the clay image of the Madonna Bodhisattva. And what was hardest to bear was that Grandmother forced her to recite in front of the Bodhisattva the words, “Good, kind Madonna Bodhisattva, please cure my mother of her disease,” again and again.
Kuan never believed that the Madonna Bodhisattva had any efficacy. She had seen the urchins in the neighborhood run into the temple and play pranks on her, and once a naughty boy even took a stick and clubbed her on the head. The goddess submitted herself to the insult without even making the slightest protest.
But Kuan had to listen to Grandmother, so she knelt down and prayed. Grandmother carefully lit the incense, then she burned the paper money. As the ashes rose towards the ceiling of the temple, Grandmother silently looked into the dirt-smeared face of the Bodhisattva. Kuan became very impatient. Her knees were pressed against the brick floor of the temple, and they hurt. She jumped up, “Grandma, I wet myself.” And, as she was speaking, a big patch of wetness appeared on the brick floor.
Grandmother grabbed her and dragged her out of the temple hall. Outside the red temple door, Grandmother slapped her and glared with an anger Kuan had never seen before. This time Kuan did not whine; she only sobbed quietly. But Grandmother felt ashamed of herself for having hit her. As she thought about her daughter’s illness, sorrow and confusion filled her heart. Two large, hot tears rolled out of her eyes and tumbled down her thin, parched cheeks.
Mother’s skin was all shriveled from her fever, and Grandmother’s hands rarely left Mother’s belly. Although she devoted most of her time to caring for Mother, her hands simply could not undo the lumps inside Mother.
One day Grandmother brought in a pair of scissors. Kuan suspected that Grandmother would give them to Mother, and Mother would use them to kill her. She was so scared that she backed away several steps, and stared wide-eyed at Grandmother, but Grandmother did not hand the scissors to Mother. Instead she pulled up Mother’s clothes and exposed her belly.
“Good heavens, how skinny you’ve become!” Grandmother said, scraping away the dried out, dead skin of Mother’s belly.
“Have you gone to burn incense before the Bodhisattva again?” Mother asked listlessly.
“Yes, but your Little Kuan behaved very badly. She wet herself in front of the Bodhisattva.”
“That little devil! She really puts the curse on me!” Mother painfully moved her skeleton-like head around the pillow, as though she were looking for something to strike Kuan with.
“Don’t move. Look how badly scorched your belly is.” As Grandmother spoke, she pulled up a large, thick layer of shriveled dead skin. Suddenly her hand started to tremble and she released the skin, not daring to lift it any further. Then, as Grandmother resumed cutting away the dead skin with quivering scissors, Kuan saw her face turn pale as death, as if the gravity of her daughter’s illness had dawned on her for the first time and she could not quite believe it.
Kuan heard her speak to Mother in a low weak voice: “Do you feel sad?”
“No, mother. I feel relieved and at peace.” Mother shook her head. Her lusterless eyes fluttered shut, as if she did not wish to see anything.
“What would you like to eat? I’ll go and fix it for you.”
Mother was silent for a while, then she said, “You can make some buckwheat dumplings for me.”
Grandmother took out the little stove, set a small earthenware cooking pot over it, and lit some firewood. When the dumplings were cooked, they turned a greyish color, and Grandmother mixed in some cabbage leaves, sprinkled on a little salt, and added a few drops of sesame oil. When Kuan saw the dumplings in the little pot, her whiny refrain began in her throat.
“Your sick mother has not even eaten yet! What are you whining about?” Even the kind Grandmother couldn’t tolerate it anymore, but Kuan, to whom whining had become a habit, continued to whine even after her throat had become dry from the effort.
Mother was covered with a mess of clothes and quilts. Grandmother set down the bowl of grey buckwheat dumplings by her pillow. A pair of red lacquered chopsticks was sticking out of the bowl, as though the food were being offered to ancestral spirits. Mother numbly watched the steam swirl up from the bowl. Kuan’s whines reached her ears, annoying her and driving away what little appetite she had.
“Mother,” she called out to Grandmother, “bring Little Kuan over here. I’ll give her a good beating. How dare she bully me like this, thinking that I don’t have any strength now, that I can’t do anything any more.”
“Don’t be angry. After all, she’s only a child. Finish eating first.”
When Kuan saw Grandmother’s protective stance, her whines became even more shrill. In the next room her aunt coughed loudly, grumbled and scolded ruthlessly. Mother, hearing the message in those words, found it even more difficult to swallow the dumplings. She stretched out a jaundiced arm, picked up a couple pieces of cabbage with the red chopsticks, and put them into her mouth, but as soon as the wearisome smell of the buckwheat dumplings hit her, she felt nauseous. Her eyes filled with tears, she quickly set aside the chopsticks to lie down. She groaned, and the two pieces of cabbage that she held in her mouth flowed out with a flood of yellowish fluid onto her pillow.
“Mother, I don’t feel like eating,” she moaned, swallowing her saliva. “Give the food to Kuan’s cousin.” Moaning, she pressed down on a lump in her stomach. She felt that many such lumps were stuffed inside of her, and she often had the urge to cut open her own belly in order to find some relief.
Grandmother’s eyes were wet with tears. She wiped off the yellowish fluid and cabbage that Mother had spat up, then she slowly divided the buckwheat dumplings remaining in the pot into two bowls, giving one to Kuan, and taking the other over to Kuan’s aunt for her to feed to the young mistress.
Kuan ate up everything in a hurry, then, as if still hungry, she started to whine again.
“I’m getting you out of here tomorrow!” Mother looked at Kuan sullenly, then turned to Grandmother and said, “Mother, tomorrow, let my younger brother take us back to my husband’s home.”
When Grandmother heard these heart-rending words, tears immediately brimmed over from her eyes. She could see that her daughter’s condition was getting rapidly worse. Returning to her husband’s family and eating that coarse food would make her recovery even more unlikely.
“Going back to your in-laws? They have so many mouths to feed, and how could you survive on the kind of food they eat?”
“No, Mother, it’s best for us to go back. Little Kuan harasses people here every day.”
“Ah—if only your father were still alive, who would dare to raise any objection? I am old now, and I cannot control my sons and daughter-in-law any more. It is my fault” Grandmother’s tears rolled down like a spring. She continued: “But as long as I’m alive, you can stay here and let me nurse you back to health.”
“In that case, let’s send Little Kuan away.” Mother was still sullen; her forehead creased with worry. Her sparse, straw-colored hair was tied into a small topknot, and her temples were sunken, pulsing weakly and slowly. At that moment her eyes seemed bigger than ever. Her face was paler too, covered only by a thin layer of dried-out skin. Her lips had grown more purplish, and her eye sockets were only two deep holes, which made her nose look even more prominent.
Grandmother picked up the corner of her smock to wipe her tears. Then she combed Mother’s hair and returned to massaging her belly again. She had tacitly consented to send Kuan away.
“Tomorrow tell my little brother to take her home.” Mother repeated these words, then she started to moan again.
Kuan’s youngest uncle often caught frogs in the fields for her, but he also hated her whining. This bad habit of Kuan’s annoyed even the neighbors. She was born ugly to begin with. Her head, her eyes, forehead, face, belly, thighs—almost everything—were round. When she cried, her mouth opened wide as a ladle, and although there were no tears, her throat gave out an extraordinary vibrating sound, “Hhhho—hhhooo—,” as if she were not really crying, but merely putting human tolerance to the test; as though she knew that no one could do anything about her.
Little Uncle caught a cricket in the fields, tied it to a green sorghum stick and lifted it high, deliberately provoking Kuan. He wanted to see just how great her capacity for crying was. Kuan started out sobbing, then warmed up to whines, but finally she broke out in loud wails.
“Take her away quickly, Little Brother.” The patient’s weak voice came from her room.
“Let’s go, Little Kuan. I’m going to take you to your father!”
At that, Little Kuan wailed even louder. Her uncle took her arm, and dragged her out. As they went out the gate Kuan’s tears really came. She remembered how Father’s strong palm had landed on her back, and how it left an imprint there for a full five days. Such a terrible Father—she would rather die than go back to him. She dropped to the ground and refused to move. Her little legs kicking, she screamed with all her might, as if someone were going to skin her alive. Many children gathered to watch her. Yet, the louder she cried, the more force the determined uncle used. He grabbed her arm tight and dragged her through the dirt as though dragging a log.
“Let’s go. Still crying? Look, your father is coming. He’s going to beat you up.” He dragged her quickly along.
“Er-shun, Er-shun,” from behind them came the trembling voice of Grandmother, “If she doesn’t want to go, don’t force her.”
As soon as Little Uncle let go of her arm, Kuan dashed back like one possessed. She clung to Grandmother’s legs, wailing and screaming.
Grandmother took Kuan inside. She picked up the cricket, still tied to the sorghum stick, and played with her until she stopped crying. The ashen-faced grandmother then slowly walked into the patient’s room and found her eyes filled with hot tears.
Auntie walked in, a cold snicker on her face. In her arms was the young mistress.
“Why bother sending her away? Let her stay!”
“This child really drives me out of my mind!” The patient dried her eyes and forced a smile. “She’s been a real nuisance. She pees in front of the Madonna Bodhisattva; she makes your little girl cry all day long, and then there is her bad habit of whining. I want to send her home for her father to straighten her out.”
“Why bother? Just let her stay on. Heh-heh.” The aunt, still wearing that sarcastic smile, still holding her little girl, slowly moved towards the door. When she finally went out, Grandmother lifted her lapel and wiped the cold sweat off her forehead.
“Mother, I’ve been meaning to talk with you about something for a long time. It’s been on my mind for several months now. When we went home for New Year’s, Little Kuan’s dad talked to me about selling her to a wealthy family in our neighboring village. They say that in this family there’s an old lady who wants to buy a little girl to be her maid. I figure, if we sell Little Kuan to them, she will be able to eat better, and she will not be treated badly. Her dad is very much for it. What do you think, Mother?”
Grandmother lifted her troubled face in silence, and sniffled, not giving an immediate reply. She just stared vacantly at the jaundiced face of the patient. Finally she said, “She is so small, what can she do when she gets there? All she knows how to do is cry.”
“They promised not to make her work in the first two or three years.”
Grandmother hesitated. Ashen-pale, she fixed her gaze on the floor, like a motionless cat watching a rathole, waiting for some animal to crawl out from under the floor.
The patient was drained from having talked so much. Trembling, she lay down again, sighed ever so slightly, and fell into her private thoughts.
After talking it all out, everyone agreed to have Kuan sold. Mother, who had watched Kuan grow up since she was an infant, was naturally distraught. The image of that little bundle in her arms, gazing up at her with those innocent eyes, remained fresh in her mind. Yet, in order to get some peace and quiet for herself, to take some of the burden off her own natal family, and to reduce the insinuations from her brothers and sisters, she forced herself to pretend happiness about the decision. The compassionate grandmother became even more somber, and she watched her daughter closely, as if probing her true feelings. Is she really willing to give up her own child and let her become a maid to a total stranger? She is ill and has to lean on others for support, so she is forced to such a decision. But, like all parents, she must love her child. The little girl is only six years old. Hai, Heaven’s will did not permit her to enjoy love and comfort. Instead, she was born to a poverty-stricken father and a bed-ridden mother.
Grandmother again took Kuan to offer incense and say prayers at the temple, but this time Kuan behaved as if she understood. She knelt straight down in front of the Bodhisattva, keeping her little knees close together, and quietly watched Grandmother finish burning the incense and paper money. She even knocked her head on the floor three times, together with Grandmother. After they returned from the temple, perhaps owing to her recent traumatic experience, Kuan became somber and more compliant. Grandmother borrowed a bit of white flour from a neighbor and made some dumplings for Kuan’s farewell meal.
Mother lay in a dark corner of the brick bed, moaning. She saw how Kuan had become somber these days, and felt a boundless pity for her. The child had never enjoyed happiness, and now she was soon to become a maid in another family. Mother felt guilty and distressed. Tears welled up in her eyes again. “Little Kuan, come over here.”
When Kuan heard Mother call her, she was afraid that Mother was going to beat her over the head with something again. So timidly, she walked over. Mother reached out to her with her bony arm. Her trembling hand held Kuan’s small arm, and she stroked Kuan’s two little braids. She did not hit her but was very gentle. Kuan had never seen her so loving before. She noticed how Mother’s wrist showed many blue veins, and her sparse lusterless hair was disheveled. Her dried out, flat chest was exposed, her nose and chin seemed unusually pointed, and her sunken eyes were lying in little pools.
Why? Kuan wondered. Why does Mother look like this? She seems to be crying, yet she is not really crying. Only—why does she have these tears in her eyes?
“Mother, there’s a flea crawling on the edge of your quilt.”
Kuan, so innocent, so unaware of the suffering in this world, reached out her small hand and caught a flea as big as a grain of wheat. She pinched the little creature with her nails.
“Little Kuan, do you ever think of me?” Mother suddenly asked.
“Yes, I think of you, and Daddy, too.”
Mother’s face turned white, and she fell back on her pillow. “Tomorrow you can go with your Big Uncle to visit your Aunty.”
“Going to visit Aunty?”
Mother could not speak. Her face was pale and quivering. Her lips turned purple. Kuan loved visiting relatives, for she could put on new, colorful clothes, ride the oxcart, and eat good things: pork, white flour, white rice, chicken, duck, and fish! When she heard that she was to go visit her Aunty, her somber manner vanished. She became sprightly, and her two little feet jumped up and down. But she noticed Mother’s eyes were filled with tears, which rolled over her nose and down her cheeks. Kuan concluded that Mother was again being attacked by the lumps in her belly.
The next morning, as soon as Kuan heard the first crow of the cock, she jumped out of bed, put on her new colorful clothes, and ran all over the yard. She was so excited that she could only eat half a dozen of the dumplings made of white flour; a rare treat which was her farewell meal.
Big Uncle had already yoked the ox to the cart. Kuan blithely called out to him and asked him to lift her into the cart, but she heard Grandmother call her from behind.
“Little Kuan, Little Kuan, go let your mother give you a kiss before you leave.”
Kuan ran back to let Mother, who lay ill on the brick bed, kiss her. She also let Grandmother kiss her. Both of them were very somber, but Kuan hardly noticed. She ran out again and got on the oxcart. As she was leaving, many people came to see her off. Her braids, tied with pieces of red yarn, fluttered in the wind, and when the oxcart had traveled some distance from the fence, Kuan turned around and looked back. She saw her Grandmother in the crowd, her hands covering most of her face.
They arrived at a strange village, and the oxcart stopped in front of a big brick house.
“Is this Aunty’s house?” Kuan wondered. As she remembered, Aunty’s house had two large poplars filled with crows’ nests in the front yard. So she asked, “Did you come to the wrong place, Uncle?”
“No. This is your Old Aunty’s house.”
Oh? Is there also an “Old Aunty?” Perhaps this was the first time she had ever visited here, but she never remembered even hearing of this “Old Aunty” before and she couldn’t picture her face. She felt a mysterious sort of curiosity and wanted to see just how old this “Old Aunty” was.
Big Uncle brought her to an old woman, and Kuan concluded that she must be the “Old Aunty.” Why, she was really old! Her hair was white as snow, her face was full of wrinkles and her bound feet were smaller than the rice dumplings wrapped in lotus leaves. She smiled warmly at Kuan, and Kuan, without thinking whether it was proper or not, called her “Big Aunty.”
She felt that this old aunt was kinder and nicer than anyone she had known. Now that she was going to be settling down with this aunt, life would be peaceful and quiet. The old woman had no family except for an adopted son. She owned many houses—lonely, sleepy houses. After breakfast, when her son had left the house, the old woman and Kuan were the only ones at home. The old woman’s favorite pastime was praying. In a quiet room she would put down a large, thick, round cushion woven from wheatstalks. Then she would kneel on it, reverently keeping her knees together. In front of her, in a small incense burner, a short stick of incense was burning. She would close her wrinkled eyelids, and count the beads of the rosary in her hand.
Kuan went out to play every day. She was much happier now than when she was living at Grandmother’s. She could now eat white noodles and white rice. She also had a little boyfriend to play with. He was called “Little Pillar” because of the tuft of hair which stood on his head. All day long Little Pillar was out in the fields, a basket on his back, cutting grass and bringing it home to feed the cows.
One day Little Pillar took Kuan out to the weedy ditches with him to catch crickets. Near an embankment, Kuan heard a cricket chirping, but she suddenly lost all interest in catching crickets. She began thinking of her grandmother and mother, and her throat started vibrating. Finally long wails broke out.
“What’s the matter? Why are you crying?” Little Pillar asked. Kuan shook her head and just stood there, with her little legs buried in the grass. Little Pillar quit paying attention to her and quickly turned to cut the grass with a sickle. Suddenly he saw a cricket jumping out of a little ditch, and he deftly caught it in his small hands.
“Kuan, Kuan, I caught a cricket. Here, you can have it.”
But Kuan kept on crying. She looked up at the boundless sky, the fields filled with verdant growth, and the trees, villages, and mountains far away. She missed her grandmother and mother even more. Little Pillar took her hand and put the cricket in her palm, but as Kuan would not hold it, the cricket jumped out and disappeared into the grass.
“Look, it got away! It got away!”
Little Pillar parted the weeds to look for the cricket, but couldn’t find it. Finally he picked up the sickle and resumed his work.
After a while, Kuan stopped crying. She had rubbed her eyes red, and she now wanted to go home. Little Pillar brought her back to the village, right up to the door of the wealthy old lady. Kuan walked in, still plunged in grief.
“Little Kuan, Little Kuan, do you like peaches?” The old woman pulled Kuan to her and stroked her hair. But Kuan’s eyes were glazed, and she said not a word. She was on the verge of tears again, and her brow contracted.
The old woman took two big sweet peaches from a drawer and offered them to Kuan, but Kuan wouldn’t take them.
“What’s happened?” wondered the woman, “Did someone bully her?”
Kuan pouted, staring at the old woman’s white hair. Although she was kind and good-natured, Kuan had suddenly lost interest in her. The woman seemed in many ways to be no substitute for Mother and Grandmother. Kuan’s anguish mounted, and she finally opened her mouth wide and bawled.
A few days later, as Kuan was out in the courtyard gazing up at a date tree full of ripe red dates, she heard shrill voices calling her from behind. “Kuan! Kuan!” When she turned around she saw a group of bare-bottomed urchins carrying fish nets, on their way to catch fish at a ditch outside the village. Among them was Little Pillar who asked her to come along and watch them catch fish. Kuan just shook her head.
“How come? You don’t want to come with us?”
Kuan shook her head again.
“If you come with us, when we catch a big one, we’ll give it to you, and you and the old lady can have fried fish.”
Kaun was touched by his surprising fervor. How could she turn him down? So she followed the pack of bare bottoms out of the village.
Just as they reached the outskirts of the village a familiar-looking man walked towards them from under a willow by the roadside. As the man came closer, Kuan recognized him with a start. Why, he was her very own father! And as soon as she saw Father’s face she was reminded of his strong hand, which, when it fell on her back, made her hurt for five days. But not knowing why, she was now brave enough to walk up to him and ask, “Where are you going, Daddy?”
Father was sad at heart for he had come to take Kuan to see her mother for the last time. He had walked a long way and his face was wet with perspiration. He stopped, and when he saw his child, with her two little braids tied with red yarn, he pulled her into his arms. Kuan thought that she was about to be beaten again, and her heart beat aloud. Her entire body quivered, yet she did not dare to cry. Father did not hit her, however. After a moment he set her down, held her hand, and asked her, “Little Kuan, do you miss your Mom?”
“Sure, and I miss you, too.”
Only then did Kuan dare to lift her head to look at Father’s face. He was so hot that his whole face was red, and his eyes were watery. She couldn’t imagine her father crying, so she thought to herself, “Why, do Daddy’s eyes sweat, too?”
The bunch of bare-bottomed urchins watched them with curiosity, but after a while they all went down to the ditch to catch fish.
Kuan walked along holding her father’s hand. She felt that she was being fooled. Surely Father will beat me up when we get home, she thought, but she did not dare resist, not even a bit. She only dared to look up sometimes to see if there were changes in Father’s expression.
At dusk, they finally arrived at their village. Kuan was baffled. She saw many people in front of Father’s house, each wearing a white band on his head. A bunch of white paper was hung on the door. What was happening? She wondered why all these people were gathered there.
Then suddenly she caught sight of her grandmother and her uncies in the crowd. Grandmother, with tears brimming in her eyes, scooped her up and carried her into a bamboo shack. She wound a long strip of white cloth around Kuan’s head and carried her into a white canvas canopy. Tears tumbled down her cheeks; she couldn’t suppress her sobs as she said, “Kuan-kuan, take a look at your mother.” She pointed to Mother, who was neatly dressed and sleeping quietly on a door board.
Kuan felt dizzy. She raised her hand and grabbed the white cloth band that bound her head tightly, wishing she could tear it off.
“Ma-a!” she called.
Mother did not respond, nor did she pay any attention to her. Kuan called to her again. Still there was no response. Mother did not even reach out her yellow, skinny arm to her.
Kuan’s mouth widened, and loud wails came out.
And once she started, louder wails followed.