This is a door. It does not have any patterns, not even a simple stroke. Plain is the door, as well as the dining room behind it, which is filled only with tables, chairs, cupboards and few other pieces of furniture. Further inside the apartment is the bedroom. Once, lying in her crib all day long was a baby, with praises and blessings warming her heart. Next to the bedroom is the master’s room, where a couple used to love each other…
This door has been a silent guardian of this family for over twenty years. Behind it, despite their well-kept form, the pieces of furniture have lost their spirit they once had. Looking at the neglected furniture and the food getting cold on the dining table, Ha Yue couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. These tears were not for anyone to see but herself, so as to let herself reasonably become ‘the victim’.
As a ‘victim’, Ha Yue’s tears washed away the filth in her heart. She was not a responsible wife anymore, as she was a ‘victim’. She was not an irrational mother anymore, as she was a ‘victim’… Every mistake had been forgiven, for she was a ‘victim’ shedding tears…
The emptied house made Ha Yue question herself, ‘What did I do wrong?’
Instantly, memories of her daughter Charlotte and husband Chun Bong flashed before her eyes. Their faces fueled with anger, ferocity and sorrow…
All negativity lashed out at once, their apoplectic screams ringing in the air. ‘You really messed it up!’
For the last twenty years, she had always been content with her lot. Day and night, without a break, she had poured her heart into working for her family. Life was hard yet not miserable, since Ha Yue willingly did everything. Making meals, doing the laundry, cleaning the floor… These ordinary chores were the only thing she knew how to do, neither too much, nor too little.
After making meals proficiently, Ha Yue waited for Charlotte to come back.
‘Mum, I’m moving out.’ Across the table, Charlotte’s cold words echoed around the room.
Ha Yue blankly sat in silence. She couldn’t believe that Charlotte still had the courage to make such a bold statement. This wasn’t her first time suggesting so. In fact, she had suggested this two or three times before, and she had been rejected every time.
‘You don’t even know how to take care of yourself.’
‘Were those words from the bottom of your heart?’ Charlotte’s frosty tone provoked Ha Yue.
They weren’t, to be honest. Nevertheless, Ha Yue’s habit of hiding her feelings was in the way. ‘What do you mean?’
‘You’re afraid that once I’ve gone, you’ll lose your share of the housekeeping money, isn’t that right?’ Charlotte kept turning her face away from her mother.
Seething at her harsh remarks, Ha Yue kept a smile on her face. This was her terrifying trait—she could recover from extreme emotions instantly and calm down. Her smile, barely holding back her livid, did not relinquish any enmity.
The smile grew on Ha Yue’s face unnervingly, a bone-chilling tone wavering between her words. ‘Why is that so?’
‘Because of you.’ Charlotte admitted frankly.
‘Right.’ Ha Yue nodded in response. ‘Do go on.’
‘You don’t think that you’re wrong. That’s the problem.’ Charlotte’s answer was clear and simple. She knew the person in front of her inside and out, and no further explanation was needed.
‘Is that it?’ Ha Yue sighed. ‘How can I support such a childish decision? No means no.’
‘I’m childish? Do I have to follow everything you say, so as not to be childish like you?!’ Charlotte’s voice raised an octave.
‘Is that how you treat your elders with your belligerent attitude? Isn’t that childish?’ Ha Yue kept hold of her smile, ready to wallow in the sweet taste of victory.
‘I’m not you, you old vixen!’ Charlotte screeched. Tears brimmed up her eyes and surged up to her heart as they wretched in agony.
Ha Yue finally won. Completely defeated, Charlotte dashed into her room, the loud slam of the door marking her final attempt at releasing her anger violently.
In a flash, Ha Yue’s triumphant smile crumbled back into pieces of memories.
‘I’m not you, you old vixen!’ Oddly enough, there had been a time when Ha Yue had uttered the exact same words to her mother. She had been in her late teens, even younger than Charlotte was. Her mother was a traditional woman, who believed everything had to work accordingly.
‘Rules, rules, rules. It’s all about rules, isn’t it? Am I less important than those stupid rules?’ Young Ha Yue vented indignantly.
‘You’ll understand their importance someday, like I do.’ Her mother’s sincere words ended the conversation that impacted Ha Yue profoundly.
She became like her mother now, an old vixen to the letter. This was no other than destiny which everyone has to go through. She doubted her beliefs at first, but now she was completely convinced. There was only one difference though. She was much harsher than her mother had been, since she had unfortunately been granted the role of witnessing her mother’s tragic end—left behind by her husband and daughter.
Fear silently reigned over Ha Yue’s mind. Was this fate? If so, she would have to work very hard to change its courses, so as to break her ill-fated future. She had to be tougher than her mother had ever been, and that would mean constraining her husband and daughter. Especially Charlotte, as she would walk the same path as her. The only way to protect her was to be a good role model, a good woman—a better woman than her mother.
‘Is our sweet little girl throwing a tantrum again?’ Chun Bong came home.
‘She’s sleeping now.’ Ha Yue smiled tenderly.
Chun Bong loosened his tie, and ate the soup Ha Yue made. ‘Our honey bear’s being too capricious,’ he sighed.
‘Don’t worry,’ Ha Yue shook her head. ‘She’ll understand my efforts someday.’
‘Oh!’ Chun Bong put his bowl of soup down abruptly. ‘It’s payday today!’ He took out his cheque.
‘Let’s spend it on…’ Ha Yue’s eyes widened with joy, with a tint of delight dancing across them.
‘Alright…’ Chun Bong gestured with his eyes, signalling her to lower her voice, not wanting Charlotte to hear what they said.
‘Okay then.’ Ha Yue gave him a stern look. ‘I’ll go there tomorrow.’
As night fell, wrapped around Chun Bong’s arms, Ha Yue remained sleepless as she kept thinking how to cope with tomorrow’s affair. Her troubled thoughts lurked and clouded her mind, which were then turned over and over again as the night went on.
“Can you… this time?” Chun Bong asked, delighted to see Ha Yue return home.
‘Yeah.’ Ha Yue looked him in the eye, but something amiss was in the air. When had Chun Bong become such a coward? He was even worse than herself! Back in the day, he had been the popular, masculine heartthrob at school. Yet now, he actually… lacked the courage to see his creditor and needed his wife to do it for him!
Tears streamed down her cheeks. Greatly alarmed, Chun Bong gently wrapped his arms around her, whispering, ‘It’s alright dear…’ over and over again.
Alright? Was it really alright?
Sometimes, Ha Yue felt that she loved Chun Bong too much, up to the point where it defied logic. If that wasn’t so, then why would she go to that shady place and help him pay his debt back to the loan shark? Honestly, she deeply feared that place, especially that loan shark. The scumbag kept ogling at her chest. What a disgusting act.
The male main character in television series always protected his female counterpart, shielding her from danger. Why then, did Chun Bong without fail, hide behind her while she had to dodge bullets on her own? The more she thought about it, the more confusing it was to her…
Alright? Was it really alright?
For the next few days, Ha Yue continued to treat Chun Bong the same, yet her mixed feelings kept growing in her heart. She still loved him, just not that much.
At the same time, she also doubted whether he still loved her as much as he had before.
Looking at herself in the mirror, Ha Yue felt only distress. The last time she had a good look at herself was twenty years ago, which was the day before her wedding. At that time, she had been only twenty years old, her youthful look radiating with beauty. With her flushed rosy cheeks against soft supple skin, she was a fair lady without a hint of dark circles or freckles. The wedding dress refined her grace even more.
Yet now, she was only seen as a ‘worn-out drudge’, a ‘housewife’, or an ‘aunt’, these names rising and falling around her, lingering around her ears persistently. Despite this, she couldn’t blame what people had to say, because it was the truth… No wonder all men loved young and pretty women!
She didn’t cry, as there wasn’t any evidence suggesting that Chun Bong was having an affair. Nonetheless, the very thought of him had its seeds planted and rooted in her, skulking at the back of her mind.
‘I mustn’t think of him like that!’ Ha Yue mentally slapped herself. ‘Twenty years of seeing each other day and night. Our love definitely isn’t a fraud after all! He must still love me!’ Was this self-comfort? Or self-hypnosis?
Chun Bong didn’t do anything wrong, but did she? Why must she suffer with the pain of having this wicked thought—this wicked thought that should have never existed in the first place alone? This was pure torture, yet it proved that she still cared about him and loved him. That’s why she could not ask him, directly or indirectly, or else it will break her family apart.
Carrying heavy bags of groceries, Ha Yue finally reached home. On her way home from the market, she stopped for two seconds nearly every step, spending every second on letting her imagination run wild. In the end, a journey worth fifteen minutes took forty five minutes.
Feeling worn out, after leaving the door and iron gate ajar, Ha Yue lay down on the floor flaccidly, and without skipping a beat, cried her eyes out. The bitterness wasn’t washed away by her tears though. Her own whimpers only served to drive her to the extreme—Chun Bong didn’t love her anymore.
‘Charlotte has left home for seven days already. Aren’t you worried?’ Chun Bong almost screamed out loud.
‘Mmhm.’ Ha Yue weakly let out a faint sound.
Honestly, Ha Yue’s worries were no fewer than Chun Bong’s. In spite of this, she could only feel how mentally exhausted she was. If Charlotte was determined to be independent, then naturally she wouldn’t be found easily—Ha Yue felt nothing but a sense of helplessness.
‘What do we do now?’ Chun Bong paced to and fro; the sound of his footsteps was irritating.
‘She can suit herself!’ Ha Yue was desperate. ‘Let’s pretend that she never existed in the first place!’
Or else, what should she do?
Thinking back, hints had been prowling from the beginning of the whole incident. The problem was, Ha Yue had never thought that Charlotte would ever do that—she was just a child incapable of anything! Sadly, the truth lay in front of her eyes. Not only did her own daughter actually carry out her plan, she also successfully destroyed her first line of defence.
All of a sudden, Ha Yue leapt to her feet from the sofa, blatantly ignoring Chun Bong, who was still pacing around, and barged into Charlotte’s room.
Twenty years ago, young Charlotte had been wrapped in bundles of blankets. How cute she had been! Smile at mummy! Smile… Yet, as she grew up, her cute smile disappeared over the years, while she learnt how to cry, lie, become emotional… Why would a child with a pure heart turn into who Charlotte was now? Was it because of her? Charlotte had confessed her hatred towards her more than once, then why was she still not aware of it?
‘You don’t think that you’re wrong. That’s the problem.’
No! It’s not like that!
Charlotte’s voice was crystal clear, yet there was no sight of her…
Her weeps of sorrow were dry, as her throat croaked out ‘Ah… ah…’ Her heart could ache no more, for it had already fused together with pain, becoming one all together. Her eyes could shed no more tears, followed by blood seeping into her vision. A world of red, supposedly filled with joy, but Ha Yue couldn’t see herself in it anymore…
When she woke up, she realised she was blindfolded. Still, Chun Bong’s voice was clear enough to hear.
‘An eye disease? Does it cause blindness?’
After eavesdropping, Ha Yue shivered in fear. In less than a second, she calmed down. ‘What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over,’ she thought. She could finally feel her heart at ease once more.
Since Charlotte didn’t want to see her, then so would she. Since Chun Bong grew tired of her, then so would she!
After being discharged from the hospital, Ha Yue still had to be blindfolded and Chun Bong held her up on the way back home. This house, once familiar, now became oddly strange in a day’s time. Ha Yue wasn’t scared though, for everything was in the palm of her hands.
‘Chun Bong, leave me alone now! I don’t want you by my side anymore!’
‘What’s wrong?’ Chun Bong was startled. ‘You don’t have to worry about being a burden!’
‘Just go!’ Ha Yue kept a straight face. ‘I don’t love you anymore.’
‘Please don’t say that…’ Chun Bong put his arms around her. ‘Don’t…’
‘I don’t need a man who only knows how to hide behind me.’ Ha Yue curled her lips into a wry smile as she felt Chun Bong’s entire body shake. ‘Don’t tell me that you still want me to settle your debts on your behalf after I’ve gone blind, do you?’
Chun Bong gave no reply.
‘Bullseye! Am I right? You don’t actually love me. You used me as a mere tool, wanting me to control Charlotte’s finances, then finally adding my money to settle your debts…’ Ha Yue’s smug expression was written all over her face.
Before long, Chun Bong let go of his grip, not even turning his head once, and left.
A week after Chun Bong’s departure, Ha Yue’s eye disorder had been cured. Nonetheless, she wasn’t happy at all— she could no longer face her home anymore.
Staring at her vacant home, she asked herself, ‘What did I do wrong?’
Perhaps, Ha Yue might never find the right answer.