I Want to Grow Old

I Want to Grow Old

1.

Once, I ate a very delicious dish of red braised pork. Suddenly, I couldn’t help but feel a great deal of sorrow.

A not-too-fat, not-too-skinny, perfectly textured pig had died just like that. Was there anyone in this world that would remember him? Was there anyone who knew his name?

I suddenly felt a wave of valiant emotion towards this pig.

A-Chen also calls me a pig a lot.

Every time he comes over to my house, he will see me cook a lot of dishes. At first, he was very courteous with me, telling me, “Sorry for inconveniencing you, making you cook all these dishes.” In return, I told him calmly, “I didn’t cook these dishes for you. They’re all for me to eat!”

After he heard these words, he picked up his chopsticks, ferociously scooping up dishes as he cursed me: “You really are an insatiable pig!”

I humphed in reply. “I’m not like a pig at all. How can a pig be as thin as me?”

I have been thin since childhood, so much that I am little more than skin and bones.

Because my body is rather weak, the amount of medicine I ingest every day is more than what I eat.

Have you ever met a pig that needed to take medicine?

It’s only in front of A-Chen that I eat more.


2.

The place where A-Chen and I grew up is called Zhihua Mountain. The people with medical expertise that live nearby all come over to help me cure my illness.

“This girl will not live long,” they all say.

But I’ve relied on the herbal medicine that grows on the mountain to live one year after another.

I love Zhihua Mountain. Everything that I have is a gift from this land.

However, A-Chen doesn’t like this place. His dream is to leave the mountains.

He says that the world outside the mountains is very vast. He said that outside, there are countless mountains made of gold and silver. He said that there are innumerable novelties that I’ve never heard of, a great deal of women as beautiful as flowers… he asked me, Shui Miao, do you want to go with me?

I’ll go, then. Why should I not go? I nodded my head.

I always followed after him.


3.

When I was young, I played with A-Chen.

He was also the only one willing to play with me.

Other people said, “this young girl’s body is too frightening”.

At that time, I didn’t know what they meant. All I knew was that they avoided me, as if one touch would result in my certain death.

I definitely wasn’t that weak. I even climbed trees with A-Chen, stealing bird eggs together.

That time, A-Chen had noticed a large bird’s nest. His hands were unable to hold all of the bird eggs, so he called for me for help.

After a great deal of effort, I made my way up the tree as well. A-Chen handed me a few bird eggs, telling me, “I’ll go down first, then you jump after me. I’ll catch you.”

With one rustle of the tree branch, he had returned back to the ground.

Sunlight filtered in through the leaves, casting mottled patterns over his tanned face. A-Chen opened both of his arms toward me, his eyes clearer than any of the lakes on Zhihua Mountain.

Without hesitation, I jumped off the tree, the wind whistling past my cheeks.

A-Chen didn’t catch me.

Both of my legs suffered heavy sprains, requiring half a year’s recuperation to heal.


4.

In order to leave Zhihua Mountain, A-Chen and I began to tidy up our luggage.

“Why do you bring these kinds things with you? This is so heavy.” A-Chen pointed to the iron cooking pot I had placed in my bag. There were still a little bit of random scraps  and condiments stuck to the sides of the pot.

“This you don’t understand,” I said, pleased with myself. “The food that this pot makes is especially delicious. Every time you come over, I use this pot to cook the dishes.”

A-Chen’s face suddenly became solemn. “Shui Miao, have you thought about what you’re going to do after you leave with me?”

Of course I had thought it over. I had thought it over a great number of times.

Looking at the taciturn me, A-Chen continued, “Shui Miao, my meaning is that we’re not going out to play house, nor are we going out for two or three days before returning. You need to know what you want to do before you go with me, do you understand?”

I understood.

Before I could reply, the door behind me was opened by someone else.


5.

“A-Chen, why are you looking for Shui Miao again!”

When I heard the voice, I knew that it was A-Chen’s mother.

“What are you two organizing?” A-Chen’s mother asked, walking to my side.

A-Chen told me that his mother had agreed to him leaving the mountain. Therefore, I didn’t make any efforts to hide the luggage.

“Heavens, do you want to bring Shui Miao with you?” His mother’s voice suddenly raised in volume. “Can you not harm Shui Miao, alright?”

I watched as A-Chen’s face darkened when he heard those words. He looked at me, as if trying to interpret my expression.

“He didn’t harm me. I agreed to it,” I said.

I knew that these words would have no effect on A-Chen’s mother, and yet I still spoke them. After the bird’s nest incident, I had similarly tried to explain to A-Chen’s mother, “It wasn’t A-Chen’s fault. I agreed to it.”

It was just like how a moth was attracted to a flame. All of it was out of a moth’s own volition. The fire was so warm, so touching. When a moth threw itself voluntarily into a flame, how could it be the fire’s fault?

A-Chen’s mother acted like she hadn’t heard my words. She looked at A-Chen, her eyes glistening with tears. “Have you thought about how long the road is from Zhihua Mountain? With such a journey, and Shui Miao’s body, at any time… at any time, she could…”

She took a deep breath, before continuing. “She could perish on those long and winding mountain roads.”


6.

Comparing myself to a moth was my mistake. I want to rectify my words.

In fact, I’m not like a moth at all. A moth is brave, not fearing death, not fearing pain.

But I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of dying. I’m scared to death that I will die.

I’m a bit unwilling to let myself get hurt. I’ve exhausted all the methods in order to, with all my strength, live a little longer, and then a little longer after that.

Because being alive is really too amazing.

I’ve seen rivers flow over the mountains, I’ve seen the world change piece by piece, I’m watched naughty young boys grow up into handsome young men. All of these were because, I’m alive.

If one cannot capture a man’s heart, then they can capture his stomach. If even his stomach is unreachable, then the only thing one can do is capture his hand, and plead him not to leave.

“Can you not go, A-Chen?” I asked, smiling faintly.

How could he not leave? His eyes were filled with dreams, and his life would be long and rich. Outside, there were many beautiful young women, countless gold and silver mountains.

But here, there was only a Shui Miao.

He said, “I’m sorry.”

So I said, “It’s alright.”


7.

Before he left, A-Chen made me a dish of red braised pork.

When I ate the delicious braised pork, I suddenly felt a little bit of sorrow. This was the first time he ever cooked for me.

Afterwards, my appetite began to get worse and worse. I was only able to eat a little bit of food, throwing up the rest.

A-Chen said that I was a pig, but I felt that I was better than a pig. At least I had a name, something that pig’s definitely didn’t! See, even such a delicious pig like this wasn’t given a name!

What was a name used for? It was used to differentiate you from other things. Therefore, when I cherished you, I only cherished you, and not anything else.

When the last person who remembers your name disappears, you disappear as well. You become yellow loess, you become a wave, you become dust. You become something that no longer has anything to do with this world.

Therefore, the selfish me that fears death hopes that A-Chen will remember Shui Miao, this name, just a little, little, longer.


8.

Heavenly Grandfather ah, I want to grow old.

A-Chen’s dream was to leave Zhihua Mountain, and become an outstanding person.

My dream is to grow old.

If I’m given enough time, I’ll be able to stay by his side. I’m willing to beg incessantly, act spoiled, go through great efforts, even shamelessly follow him across the ends of the earth, just to be with him again.

We would become a middle-aged couple that was meticulous and frugal, and then slowly age together until we rivaled the likes of the Old Man of the South Pole¹.

We would live in a small and narrow wooden house. The wooden house would have a few holes here and there, and a locust tree would slowly grow through the cracks over the years.

A shadow would cover the window frame, and mothballs and moss would sprout in the night.

I would wear a gaudy outer robe, curl my black hair into waves, and make my way down to the public kitchens to make his meals.

When the oil began the sizzle, I would begin by scattering the chopped onion slices into the pot.

The passersby would ask: whose house made such fragrant dishes?

Of course, it would be our house.

A-Chen and Shui Miao’s house.

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