Actually, Mother’s a woman extremely deserving of respect. She, a divorced woman, brought along a child, started with nothing, worked hard, underwent hardships, just charged at the world with nothing but her own abilities. Me now not having to worry about clothes and food is all due to her. As compared to her, I’m too stupid and cowardly as compared to her, not even a bit like her daughter. I’m also smug and self-righteous, fierce and unkind.
I don’t particularly feel much ’bout anything, other than knowing to support myself.
Love your country, that’s a must. Love your family, but we’re not related by blood. Love your friends, but he’s dead.
Mom had once said that, because I’d grown up in a single-parent household, my personality and temperament were somewhat strange. She’d also said that she wanted to make up for it, yet she didn’t know what I really needed.
What did I need?
How could I tell her that, when I myself didn’t know either? And besides, it wasn’t her fault I didn’t have a father.
It’s not like that, Mom said, there are some things you don’t know……
Then just tell me. I’m already this old, there’s nothing that needs to be concealed.
Mom shook her head: If I say it, maybe you’ll hate me.
If you don’t say it, how’d you know if I’ll hate you or love you more?
But I don’t press her.
After I came to Japan, Mom often asks over the phone, have you met your father yet?
Every time I tell her I haven’t, she’ll always sigh regretfully: go meet him, he’s your father after all.
I think this is so strange; at the beginning she was the one who told me Dad didn’t want us anymore, now she’s the one persuading me to lay aside my resentment. What was it that made her change?
My poor mother, she’d always been so desperate, wanting to give me a complete family, but once she really had a complete family, the daughter she’d been protecting so, had left her, had went far away.
The weather is already much warmer. All the cherry trees across Japan are in bloom, it’s pink everywhere I look, yet beneath the setting sun, it’s like a burning fire.
When Kaga comes to ask me along to view the cherry blossoms, I’m on the roof, lost in my thoughts.
After Xiao left, I began to love these types of dangerous, somewhat unsanitary places. One can look very far from here, can almost see home.
Xiao’s type of illness made him see things and hear things, so I think that was why he’d loved to go to places like these, probably to hide from others, while also relaxing his grip over these hallucinations right? I really want to know what he heard; was it HIDE’s guitar, my piano, or us crying after his death?
“I don’t want to go with people I don’t know,” I say.
“Then you have to hurry, the flowers will be gone soon.”
“But they’ll still bloom again, won’t they?” Once a person’s dead, there’s no way to come back.
Kaga smiles gently, “Thinking of your friend again?”
How strange I feel, why am I talking about this with him, isn’t this a secret between me and Ouyang?
Kaga’s a good boy, at least from my twenty years worth of perspective, he is.
“It’s strange, there’s so many tall buildings here, yet you can still see the sunset, ” I say, “when I was back in China, the school also has a flat roof like this.” I gesture, “A bit larger, facing west, that side all farmlands – our school was in the suburbs, very spacious and empty. The sunset there was just beautiful.”
Kaga listens attentively.
“That friend of mine, oh, I had two best friends there. That friend of mine, was a very outstanding person. He was very nice. The two of them were both pretty good people.” I look for the right words. While I’ve never said it before, I’d a belly full of words, but now that I want to say it, I don’t even know how to put it.
Kaga says, “Have you known each other since young?”
“No, we’ve only met after I got into college. One of them is two years older than me, studying international economic law, the other is five years older, studying medicine. Both are very capable people.”
“Then they should have graduated by now.”
“…..yeah, Ouyang stayed in the school to continue his graduate studies. Our school’s medical department is very famous.”
“And the other one?”
I turn my back against the sunset, focus my attention on Kaga’s curious face.
“He passed away.”
Kaga’s body slightly jolts.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
I turn back to the sunset, “I think I’ve mentioned it to you before, the last time I met him was around this time. The sunset’s extraordinarily pretty.”
He doesn’t know how to continue from where I leave off, and is thus silent.
“Do you know about depression?”
“Have heard of it before. Television and books often have it.”
“In fact, it happens quite often in life as well,” I say, “That was the disease he got.”
Kaga is silent.
“I’ve never had it, I didn’t understand his feelings. That wasn’t pain, that was a mental torture. The hallucinations, for example, were actually things that weren’t really there, yet tortured until the person wasn’t ever at peace. Of the things you felt, you didn’t know which was real, and which was fake. Very mysterious, right? This thing called mental disorders…..the people he loved didn’t love him, his family didn’t understand him, he was afraid his friends would leave him. He was in such pain, and so he chose to leave first.”
“We’d the happiest time, the four years he studied at college were rather good, at least that’s how I saw it. He played the guitar well, had his own band, of course behind his parents’ back. It was so much fun.”
I begin to smile, “Those days spent cutting class to cheer him on, when Ouyang was preparing for graduate school and was busy until he wouldn’t have even recognized his own family*, I’d come back with him on the subway, one trip was a hour or so, the train would shake and sway in the dusk. We would sit there yet we wouldn’t even speak a word….”
* 六親不認 idiom; not recognizing one’s family; self-centered and not making any allowances for the needs of one’s relatives; aka just busy to the point of only being able to care for himself; literally means “don’t recognize six relatives”, with the six being: mom/dad, older/younger bro, wife, son
“How did he die?” Kaga asks.
We stay silent for a long, long time, until the last ray of light begins to struggle on the horizon.
On that empty rooftop, every time the wind blows, it’s just as if I again hear Xiao’s guitar. This must be me hearing things. Xiao died like this, and now I’m sick too.
“The song Forever Love by X-JAPAN. When we first met, I was playing that song. Xiao liked it a lot.” I look at Kaga.
That sad and beautiful melody!
This is an auditory hallucination, right? I can hear Xiao play that magnificent, sorrowful guitar solo.
Just like what he’d said, he’s already gone, so no matter how much I look out from that window built from my hands, he’s already not there anymore.
My tears begin to drip down like the rain, unable to be stopped.
I receive a large package from China. How very strange, it’s not like I lack anything, much less something sent in such a ridiculous manner.
Kaga helps me carry the big package to the dormitory: “Maybe your mother mailed over some souvenirs?”
How could that be? I bitterly laugh, “Perhaps she wanted to kick me out of the house, so she swept my stuff over.”
It turns out to be neither.
I open the package, there’s another layer underneath, with a letter on top of it. It’s a long letter in my mother’s handwriting. In this E-generation*, she actually had written such a long letter.
* E for electronic
I’ve always been indebted to you. Mom begins it like this.
I’ve never been able to give you a father. However it wasn’t because I had divorced your father, but because I had always denied you contact with him.
At that time your father had a change of heart. He went abroad to study and became close with a woman in Japan, and so he wanted to divorce me. I really hated him at that time, and so I snatched you from him. He loved you so much, if I didn’t let you near him, he would definitely be miserable. I thought this would be a fitting punishment for his infidelity.
You are my precious daughter, and I wanted to use my efforts to make you forget that you ever had a father. This was my revenge on him, to make his daughter forget him and hate him, but in the end, it was you who suffered.
I regret it. I am sorry for you. When you were young, I didn’t take care of you, and when you grew up, I didn’t properly understand you. I didn’t let you get the fatherly love you deserved, nor did I give you the motherly love you needed.
You were so lonely.
After little Xiao’s death, I saw you like that and suddenly woke up. I knew I had been completely wrong, and I didn’t know if it was too late to make amends.
I want to tell you: your father had never forgot you. All those things I said to you, instilled in you that your father didn’t need you – they are all my fault. He didn’t do that. He loved you.
For more than twenty years, he has been sending support payments on a regular basis. Every couple of months, he would send pictures and letters to you, and also toys, clothes, so forth.
I put all those things away. I had wanted to throw them away, but they were yours and I didn’t have the right to do that, I didn’t even have the right to hide them from your sight.
I’m not a very good mother, I think I must have some kind of disease, these kinds of thoughts are very abnormal. Your friend’s death caused you to escape far away and your departure caused me to repent. I used thousands of ways, hundreds of plans* to keep you here, but you still would leave. No child would forever stay next to her parents!
* 千方百計 idiom; thousand ways, a hundred plans; by every possible means
I love you, child. And please forgive your father.
These things are all what he had sent over the past twenty years, the father’s love that I concealed from you. You keep it carefully. Maybe this will ease my guilty conscience, even if just by a little…..
I move the letter away, letting the tears fall onto my lap.
The large bag of things are just as my mother had said, from toys and clothes for small children, to high school English reading materials; not much, but more than enough.
I look at those yellowing photos and letters that record twenty years of time from one man’s life.
“Month of X, Day XX From what I’ve calculated, you should be losing your teeth…do you like puppies? Your Dad, I, am also raising one. Your mother said it would be better if I didn’t visit you and I miss you a lot. If this is preferable, then I will just secretly look at you for a bit. We won’t see each other.”
“Month of XX How does it feel to be in junior high school? Do you like your new school uniform? Your mother says you like to draw. That’s good. I will have a daughter who is a painter………. I will go back to China this November, will drop by your school to see you. Don’t worry, I won’t disrupt your life. Have you read my letter?”
“You’re in college! Your brother has just entered high school! I’m old as well…extremely busy, have no time to go see you. The flowers I’d planted during the year you entered high school has grown many branches already.”
My hands keep trembling.
My mother lied to me, but it doesn’t matter much anymore. Life is just a scam, and only after death do you realize you’ve been tricked. Xiao must’ve achieved enlightenment, that was why he’d been in such a hurry.
And me, I’m just a fool!
How laughable, those many years of resentment, turn out to be a dream from Mother to deceive not only herself, but others as well. Now that I’ve awaken, I’m still speechless.
What will Ouyang say after he finds out?
I’d never wanted to know as much as I did at this moment, what was he doing, was he getting by just fine? I’d irresponsibly ran away from that place of Xiao’s death, had left him behind to clean up the mess.
I miss him so, I’m so sorry for him.
But I wish for him to know.
“What did it write? Made you cry like that.” Kaga asks.
I wipe my tears and say, “You look at the sunset. I remember the day after Xiao had died, I rode the bus with Ouyang, when we saw the dusk, I actually shouted: ‘Sunset clouds! Look! The clouds are painted by the sunset!’* The entire bus looked at me like I was some weirdo.”
* 彩霞 basically the clouds that are dyed with color of dusk; just the clouds in the sky during dusk, I don’t think there’s an english term for them, but more literally “colorful red clouds”, I used “sunset clouds” here tho….maybe there’s a better term out there?
I begin to laugh.
Kaga looks at me with worry, but he doesn’t know how to comfort me.
He thinks for some time, then also looks out the window, and says, “Yeah, it feels like it’s been a lifetime since I’ve last looked at the sunset……”
Ever since I’ve received the stuff from my mother, I feel somewhat timid at the sight of Yasutomo. I’d initially been putting on a front just for a bit of face, but now that everything’s clear, I find that I myself am the biggest loser.
Yasutomo of course doesn’t know about this; he’s as amiable and warm to me as ever.
“My birthday is on April 28th, my mom still won’t be back, it’ll be rather lonely if I just spend it with Father, can you come?”
I stare at him, my intuition telling me this is a planned set-up. But I nod anyway.
I want to meet that man again, want to see him once more now that I’ve thrown aside my prejudice, I want to see if he is really my father.
The cherry blossoms at the end of April are already in full bloom, on seeing how nice the weather is, I exit the subway station and slowly walk while looking around at the fallen cherry blossoms.
Father pulls the door open at the same time the doorbell sounds out.
“Hurry, come in, how was the trip?” He gets slippers for me, places them in front of my feet.
“It was alright, just a little crowded,” I say, and catch a glimpse of the white on his sideburns, which had been missed when he’d dyed his hair.
“It’s the going home rush hour, ” He hangs up my bag and jacket, “I had thought you’d get here earlier.”
“Yeah….” I hesitate, then ask, “Is everything alright with your body now?”
He seems very happy, says, “I’ve been back at work for some time now, even if I’m getting along in age, but I instead feel as I’m getting younger and younger.”
Yasutomo sticks his head out of the kitchen, “The cooking will be done soon!”
“It’s you making dinner?” I’m in disbelief.
“His mother taught Yasutomo very well!”
Most boys nowadays know how to cook one or two specialties, it’s the girls though that now stay far from the kitchen.
I sit in the living room, and think back on my first visit here. Frozen until my nose became red, legs that slightly shivered, and that faint sense of resentment and helplessness.
The dog comes over, nuzzles its nose against me, wags its tail. I pat its head, and it gives a whine, then lies down at the side.
“He likes you a lot” Father says.
I see his face full of satisfaction, remember Mother’s letter, and feel that this man in front of me was more pitiful than hateful. At least my mother had said he’d quietly came to see me, albeit just four or five times….
Yasutomo calls us into the dining room. There, the birthday cake is already set out, along with the seemingly appetizing dishes.
“You’re eighteen this year, right?” I ask.
“Seventeen, I began to study earlier.”
“I see,” I take out a birthday gift, “Happy birthday.”
Yasutomo rips it open to look, cheerfully shouts, “Team Brazil’s uniform!”
“Give it a try!” Father says. And so Yasutomo immediately pulls the shirt over his body.
“Fits really well.” I laugh, “I had been worried you didn’t like the Brazilian team.”
“Of course I like it!” Yasutomo exclaims, “What about you?”
“How strange, girls usually all like England.”
Father laughs ha ha ha as he lifts his cup.
“Dad sing a song!” Yasutomoto cries out.
“Sing a song?” He laughs, “Well, that’s fine as well.”
Father stands up, says, “I can’t sing pop songs like you young folks.” He then clears his throat, and begins to sing.
I listen, why is this melody so familiar?
And then I finally realize it.
It is ‘When Will You Come Back Again’.*
* 何日君再來: more literally, When Will the Gentleman Come Back Again; a classic mandarin song sung by Teresa Tang; the original version had been sung by Zhou Xuan and used in the Chinese silent film Three Stars by the Moon (三星伴月); here’s a translation of its lyrics
The wrinkles on Father’s face begin to deepen, there’s the glisten of tears from the folds of wrinkles.
When I leave, Father accompanies me to the opening of the alleyway.
I say, “It’s not late, I can go back by myself.”
“The public law and order is not good, you must be careful,” He repeats his warning, “Call if anything happens, just tell me if you need anything.”
“I know,” I say, “You should go back.”
“Okay! Okay!” His agreement comes from his mouth, but he continues to look at me.
I think for a bit, then say, “Dad, you have to take care of your body.”
He suddenly jolts, looks at me, full of emotions. I know this is the first time I’ve called him ‘Dad’, that year he’d left the country, I’d been yet unable to speak.
Twenty years of estrangement, bridged by one mere appellation. Really, what had we been doing all these years?
Why had we wasted so much time?
“I’m leaving,” I say, as I turn to leave. I see my father cover his eyes with his hands.
I take a deep breath, and walk into the subway station.