Luckily, my father was of a younger generation; it didn’t count as breaking the taboo. But Zhou`s father nevertheless didn’t feel at ease while a man knelt down in front of him.
Meanwhile, the younger Zhou was trying to pull up my father. Even Zhou`s mother staggered with her bound feet towards my father and held his hands, saying: “Child, you cannot do this.”
“Uncle Zhou, my father once said to me that a man`s dignity is the most important thing, and ‘you cannot kneel down casually’. But I don’t have any other way to go.” After saying that, he wiped away his tears, my mother also wiped out her tears. They had made up their minds to ask for Widow Zhou`s help.
“I will not oppose it; it is up to my elder daughter-in-law.” Zhou`s father signed and asked Zhou`s mother to return to their bedroom together.
So Zhou`s father didn’t oppose Widow Zhou helping us. After all, Widow Zhou lost her husband, so the Zhou family couldn’t instruct her to do what they wanted for the sake of their own benefit. Zhou`s father had tried his best.
Moreover, that was only one of the reasons. In addition to my father’s kneeling, my departed grandfather, mentioned by my father, also helped. My grandfather had a deep relationship with Zhou`s father in his youth; he had once saved Zhou`s father’s life.
The village was rich in snakes. When Zhou`s father was working in the field, my grandfather, who was passing by, witnessed a krait behind Zhou`s father, intending to attack him. Generally, a poisonous snake doesn't attack people on its own initiative, unless someone steps on it or comes close to its eggs.
My grandfather didn’t have time to remind Zhou`s father, but immediately cut it in half with a shovel. Zhou`s father turned back, perceiving something wrong. He couldn’t help feeling a chill run down his spine when he found my grandfather and the still-withering krait on the ground.
The country people always kept in mind others’ favors towards them. Zhou`s father couldn’t stand to refuse my father since my father referred to this matter. So he was willing to take the risk to help us.
Since his father didn’t insist on opposing it, the younger Zhou also softened his attitude, saying: “Chen, stand up please, my sister-in-law will decide by herself. You cannot keep kneeling. I am going out.”
And the younger Zhou also got out. In the whole hall room, only the three of my family and Widow Zhou remained.
If my parents kept kneeling, it would shorten Widow Zhou`s fortune. My mother stood up, carrying me, and asked my father to stand as well: “Chen, stand up, it’s no good to keep kneeling.”
Wiping away his tears, my father stood up. My mother looked calmer as she looked at Widow Zhou, and said: “we both are mothers. Have a look at my son, he is only one month old, but suffering so much. My heart is in pain every day, like it’s being cut.
As a mother herself, Widow Zhou felt sympathy towards my mother. Waving to my mother, she consoled her with intermittent burping: “ah, Xiu Yun, I could understand you. I was willing to help you, but ah, but I had many concerns. I will help you, ah, tonight.”
Obtaining Widow Zhou`s promise, my parents rejoiced. With little knowledge of the so-called conjuring, they couldn’t wait for Widow Zhou to proceed.
There was a rule of Widow Zhou`s conjuring, which was that no male persons were allowed into the west wing room. If there was any question, only female relatives could approach to ask. Even some women were asked to leave after they just entered.
This was pretty different from other conjurers.
My mother finally entered into the mysterious west wing room of Widow Zhou.
It was totally black and she couldn’t see anything. My mother felt scared in the gloomy and cold room.
“I feel nervous, and I feel like being I’m being stared at by someone,” said my mother to Widow Zhou, fearfully pulling at Widow Zhou`s jacket. At the door, my mother couldn’t step forward.
The darkness hindered her most, since she couldn’t see anything.
“Do not be afraid, ah, I will light a candle,” said Widow Zhou to my mother.
My mother had to release her hands and let Widow Zhou light the candle. Waiting in the depressive darkness was a torment. My mother was a timid housewife usually; she would never step in such a place if not for me.
My mother, however, resisting her temptation to rush out, for she thought Widow Zhou was her only hope.
Widow Zhou was very familiar with her room. One oil lamp was finally lighted up after Widow Zhou groped for a while.
In the dim light, my mother could vaguely see the room’s arrangement. Thick black cloths were hung around the four walls, with no windows seen.
The furniture was also very simple. Perhaps the previous ones had been taken out, but now there were one bed, one table, and two stools.
Some food was placed on the table. There was a fire basin, with some ashes inside, on the ground. The ashes must have been left by the burning of ghost money.
There was a crumpled turnip, with some incense ashes covering it, near the food.
The only thing that could make people comfortable was the bed, which was neat and kept in order. The bed sheet was dyed white with blue flowers.
Widow Zhou sat on one stool, beckoning to my mother.
My mother took a deep breath and, mustering her courage, stepped toward her and sat down on the other stool in front of Widow Zhou.
“Ah, Xiu Yun, ah, what you witness today must not be revealed to others, except what I permit you to talk about. Ah, I will let you know later, do you understand?” said Widow Zhou seriously to my mother. Though her burping made my mother feel both uncomfortable and amused, my mother could feel her severe tone.
Hastening to nod her head, my mother agreed. The country folk always kept their promises. If there had not been certain affairs later, my mother would never have told anyone what she experienced in that room.
However, she revealed this to another person, which was also at Widow Zhou`s request. But this happened later, which I will explain in following chapters.
After my mother promised, Widow Zhou closed her eyes. My mother could do nothing but wait quietly.
After a little while, Widow the younger Zhou began to smile gently. But in that atmosphere, the smile only felt spooky.
What was she smiling at? My mother thought she wouldn’t feel any happiness in that room even if she was given 10 old egg-laying hens.
Suddenly, Widow Zhou, with wrinkled brows, showed a surprised countenance. Then, in a weird tone, she began quickly mumbling to herself. My mother couldn’t follow anyway.
Widow Zhou kept closing her eyes, but she had turned her head to another direction.
My mother, with little knowledge of the world outside her home, felt very nervous and scared.
Finally, Widow Zhou’s countenance softened and she stopped her mumbling. She turned back her head and opened her eyes after her whole body shook.
When she opened her eyes, my mother was a bit shocked. Though they were familiar, Widow Zhou seemed strangely unlike her usual self.
But my mother didn’t feel she was totally strange, which my mother couldn’t explain by words.
“What is the problem with your child?” said Zhou. Oddly, she didn’t burp anymore. Moreover, she uttered the words clearly and slowly. It looked as if someone other than Widow Zhou was talking.
My mother thought it was like having one’s hand grabbed by someone else to swat a mosquito.
For my mother, the conjurers were mysterious. She couldn’t imagine she could harbor any suspicion or disrespect. My mother hastened to nod her head to answer Widow Zhou.
“Bring your son here, let me take a look.” Widow Zhou said calmly, in a weird tone.
My mother got hopeful and brought me to Widow Zhou, unveiling my quilt.
Widow Zhou suddenly closed her eyes at the sight of me, and shrieked: “take your son away, take your son away.”
My mother was shocked by her sudden change and got more worried. How severe was the evil presence, given Widow Zhou dramatic attitude?
Widow Zhou’ face, with closed eyes, turned pale.
My mother had to carry me in her arms, and returned to her stool as Widow Zhou instructed。
“My baby?” My mother asked no sooner than she sat down.
“Take your baby out, and I will talk with you after you return,” replied Widow Zhou. Then she went to the bed, and stooped down to look for something under the bed.
With strong concern and curiousness, my mother hugged me and went out of the room hurriedly.
As soon as she got out, she found my father was pacing around restlessly. My father went to her and asked: “Xiu Yun, is our baby all right?”
“No, I don’t know either. Take the baby and have a chat with the younger Zhou, don’t stay in the courtyard in case the baby catches a cold. I have to enter the room again.” After some simple chatting with my father, my mother returned to the west wing room.
Carrying me in his arms, my father wished to know more details, but had to turn to the younger Zhou.
Entering the west wing room, my mother found Widow Zhou was burning something over the fire pit, crouching on the ground, while mumbling something.
When my mother sat down on the stool, Widow Zhou spoke more clearly, so she could follow what she said.
My mother couldn’t refer to her original speech, but it was more or less like this:
“I am respecting you with some money. Don’t come here after you take the money. Don’t bother me anymore. We are the same, but I am suffering more.” Widow Zhou was repeating this; my mother could help feeling a chill creep over her.
My mother knew Widow Zhou gave the speech to the evil thing, but wondered how they were the same.
Horribly, Widow Zhou resumed her mumbling. As soon as she stopped mumbling, gusts of wind blew in the room at least ten times before stopping.
Where did the wind blow from? There was no opening in the room.
My mother felt extremely scared, her eyes filled with tears. But for my sake, my mother had to hold on.
After the winds stopped, Widow Zhou returned to her stool, looked at my mother, and said intelligibly: “you shall wait right now”.
Since my parents decided to ask Widow the older Zhou about my problem, Widow Zhou’s home was my father’s frequent destination for visits. To avoid any gossip, my father often went there after 9 o’clock in the evening.
There was no recreational activity in the countryside. The days in winter got shorter. Widow Zhou lived at the west end of the village, while we were at the opposite end. The whole way from our home to hers consisted of field paths which were narrow and bumpy. My father dared not use a flashlight, fearful of others noticing him. Though he fell down on the paths numerous times, he failed to persuade Widow Zhou to offer help.
Was my father not considerate? No. Every time he went, bringing a variety of presents, like extravagant at that time, milk powder and preserved meat which my family resisted eating but saved for Widow Zhou, my father even promised to give her half of our harvest.
But every time, Widow Zhou gave the same response: “ah, Chen, we are fellow villagers, if ah, I can, I will, ah help you. How I can I receive your, ah, presents? Ah, now, with the current society, ah, you know better than me, ah, if I am arrested by the government, ah, then who will look after my child? Ah, and my whole family will be implicated, ah, don’t place me in dilemma. Ah.”
Like her burp, Widow Zhou’s reply just disgusted my father, but was there any alternative? My father had to try again and again.
Later, my father’s frequent visits finally drew suspicion from her family, who questioned Widow the older Zhou and finally understood the matter. Widow Zhou`s father-in-law responded: “Chen, your act is not appropriate. You are making trouble for us, aren’t you? We don’t talk about whether my daughter-in-law is able to cure your child. Even if she can manage it, dare we? Your child’s life is cherished, but so are our lives. Leave us, please.”
When my father didn’t give up and went there again, the younger Zhou, not allowing my father to speak a word, took up a hoe to beat him. The matter seemed at an impasse.
My health remained weak. In particular, I cried occasionally as if my throat was seized by someone, which made the whole family overwhelmed by distress.”
Though our house was so warm, with a hot stove in the freezing winter, my family’s hearts didn’t feel bit of warmth. My litter sisters were also worried about me. Every time I cried they would look at my parents. They were afraid to hear my father’s sigh and to see my father’s sorrowful eyes.
Another bout of weeping, I began to cry again, but this time my cry sounded more severe. As per usual, my mother scooped me up and patted me, but it didn’t work this time.
“Maybe he is hungry. Bring some milk for him. There is still some leftover milk that I fetched today, let me heat it up.” When a baby was crying loudly, common sense said that he it was probably hungry. My father felt heart-broken upon hearing my throat-held cry. He stood up to warm the milk on the stove.
My family remained in somber silence, except for my intermittent weeping and my mother’s gentle pacifying words for me.
Finally, the boiling milk broke the gloomy atmosphere. My father took a bowl to pour out some milk, blew at it to help it cool down, and gave it to my mother. And they all expected me to get better after sucking milk.
But after one minute, all of a sudden, my mother shrieked with panic: “Chen, Chen, come here, have a look. What’s wrong with our child?”
My mother’s lips were shivering, and my father hastened to look at me. Instantly, his face turned black.
I couldn’t swallow the milk. The milk was choked out by my coughs. Not like the normal milk choking of other infants; I just couldn’t suck it in.
My whole face turned livid, my coughing sounded like an old man’s, which was the severest condition since my birth. Looking at the swelling blue veins of my neck, my father got panicky for the first time.
Still patting me, my mother tried to make me feel better. My sisters also shed tears in fear but refrained from making any noise to further upset my anxious parents. My father, with tearful eyes, gasped deeply with fury.
Suddenly my father stormed out, and returned after taking up a knife in the kitchen, then brandished the knife in the room madly.
“Damn it, I, Chen Hongjun never has done anything immoral, so why do you possess my son? If you want to do harm to us, just target me, me, but don’t hurt my son. You are so cruel, look at what you are doing to such a tiny baby. Come out, I will kill you,”
My father seemed mad, but it was no wonder that my father became like that, since he went to the clinic and several hospitals in the town, and even the urban hospitals’ doctors found no problem but malnutrition.
But how could my condition be explained, since I didn’t suffer from any respiratory tract disease? According to my sisters’ and my parents’ memory, it was as if my throat was being held by someone.
Initially, my father held some doubt about Granny Liu, but after that he had to believe her. That is why he went crazy that night.
But his mad movements scared my sisters into crying. My mother, showing a woman’s special toughness, turned out to be the calmest one.
Patting me, my mother grabbed my father`s swinging hand, “Chen, we don’t only have a son. If you remain like this, who could the two daughters and I rely on? You look at your daughters, how scared they are. Calm down!”
My father seemed to regain consciousness after hearing my mom’s words. However, weirdly, I started getting a little better.
I could breathe better and my heart-broken crying gradually ceased, while my livid face turned pale. My father finally quieted down when he found that I was getting better.
My mother put me on the bed to soothe my sisters, and pacified them enough to go to their room to sleep.
When she returned to the room, looking at my father, she said calmly: “Chen, I will ask for Widow Zhou tonight.”
“It is said that ghosts are afraid of villains, Xiu Yun. I have understood what is happening to our son, and I have the same opinion as you. We are going tonight. Our son may lose his life if we cannot solve this problem promptly.” my father agreed with my mother.
As they had made the decision, they held me in their arms and set off without any hesitation. My father even used a flashlight, regardless of anyone’s notice. They only tried to reach Widow Zhou’s home as soon as possible.
In the chilly wind, it took a little over ten minutes for them to complete the journey, which usually took about twenty minutes. After I grew up, I often imagined that if they hadn’t brought me, they would have taken even less time.
Humans’ potential is unlimited. The mountain in metaphysics highlights the cultivation of one’s morality. To put it simply, it tends to inspire one’s potential.
When they reached Zhou’s residence around eight or nine o`clock，their gates had already been shut, since there was no creational activity in the countryside at that time.
Instead of shouting from outside, my father just banged on the gate anxiously, which sounded extremely ear-piercing in the quiet night.
Soon someone replied from the courtyard: “who is that?” it was the younger Zhou’s voice.
My father, knocking on the gate more harshly, didn’t speak, nor allowed my mother to, for fear of the younger Zhou not opening the gate. Since my father’s persistence irritated the Zhou family.
“Who is that? Why aren’t you speaking?” The younger Zhou got angry, raising his voice.
My father still kept on knocking, and the younger Zhou roared: “If you don’t speak, I won’t open the gate.”
Getting anxious, my mother whispered to my father: “Chen, you’d better talk.”
“Nonsense! The younger Zhou definitely won’t open for us if he recognized our voices, due to his personality. If I just keep knocking; he will open the gate when he can’t stand it anymore. As you know, he is bold, (if he was timid, how did he dare to go to west wing room at night).” at that time, my father acted differently from his usual modest behavior.
As my father expected, after 10 minutes of persistent banging, the younger Zhou, holding a chopper in hand, opened the gate furiously.
As soon as the younger Zhou opened the gate, my father rushed in without a word, which gave The younger The older Zhou shock. He couldn’t figure out what happened.
“Stop, what are you doing here? Why are you intruding into other’s residence?” screamed the younger Zhou, as he could barely hold back my father.
Instantly my father pulled my mother into the yard, and slammed the gate. Then he was relieved and started to reply: “The younger Zhou, it is me, Chen.”
“You, Chen, what are you doing?” The younger Zhou breathed with relief, he knew my father was coming for a bad purpose.
The younger Zhou was angry, but resisted bursting out laughing, thinking it was somewhat amusing.
“The younger Zhou, we are fellow villagers. Let us enter the room to talk, ok? You know I cannot force you to do something, but please listen to me explain. Please tell me whether I am an honest man in the village, whether I have once treated you without a consideration before?” well, it was not very easy for him, a country man, to make such a speech embodying affection and reasoning.
My father’s speech apparently worked. Given my father’s everyday honest behavior, the younger Zhou softened his voice and replied: “Ok, come in, you win.”
My father breathed in relief, considering that maybe he would succeed tonight, since the younger Zhou, the toughest person of the Zhou family, had allowed them in.
So my parents, carrying me, entered the main room. The whole Zhou family was crowded around the stove in the room. There were some roasted sweet potatoes on the stove.
Zhou’s father looked up and gave a sniff, recognizing my father. When he found my mother carrying a baby in her arms, his grim face softened. He couldn’t help to heave a sigh.
Widow Zhou, though she wanted to say something, only emitted 2 burps instead.
Biting a cigarette holder, Zhou`s father took a deep drag of tobacco, said: “Yue Shuang，take Zhou Qiang and Zhou Hongjun to sleep.”
Yue Shuang was the wife of the younger Zhou. At the request of their father, Yue Shuang, with a quick obedient response, took Zhou Qiang and Zhou Jun out of the room. Zhou Qiang was the posthumous son of the older Zhou while Zhou Jun was The younger Zhou’s son. They both went to primary school.
“No, grandfather, I will go to bed after I eat a roasted sweet potato.” Zhou Qiang didn’t want to leave.
“Me, too.” Zhou Jun followed his elder brother.
Glaring at them, the younger Zhou reproached them loudly: “Roasted sweet potatoes cannot fly. Hurry up and go to bed, or I will give you a sound beating.”
In the face of their father and uncle’s authority, the two kids were obediently taken away by the hand by the younger Zhou’s wife.
“Chen Hongjun，I clearly understand your purpose. But I have made it clear that you cannot place us in this dilemma.” Said Zhou`s father, tapping on his pipe.
It was not that they were ruthless. Besides not being able to ensure they would cure me, as for the political atmosphere, they would be risking too much in doing this.
With imploring eyes looking at Zhou’s father, my father didn’t mention a word, but his tears welled up instantly. He knelt down before Zhou’s father, and my mother, hugging me, also knelt down.
A man doesn’t shed tears until he is broken-hearted.
My father rarely shed tears in his whole life. For the sake of his only son, he had to kneel down before others.
For what they did for me, I am so grateful, and whatever I do to them will not be sufficient to repay them. Filial piety tops all virtues. Not treating one’s parents with kindness is equal to committing the most serious sin.
“Chen Hongjun, you needn’t do this. What are you kneeling down for?” said Zhou`s father, standing up as he saw my father kneeling down.
The old generation in rural areas was most concerned about the custom that accepting other’s kneeling without giving them favor would be bring bad fortune.