Chapter 030—A Tomb Sweeping Night

The son asked, ‘Why do we go tomb sweeping during the Mid-Autumn Festival?’

Father answered, ‘Because Mummy passed away during the festival.’

‘Why do you use the lunar calendar, but not the western one?’

‘Why read the western one when you have the lunar calendar?’

‘If you read the Western calendar, then I’ll get to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in the park with my friends tonight! They promised they’ll share the snowy mooncakes with the latest flavour with me!’

The father was stunned. He couldn’t help but to admit his selfishness. To overlook his son’s wish! As a traditionalist,  he had set his heart on the ‘getting together’ moral of the Mid-Autumn Festival and was hoping to spend time together as a family.

He desperately tried to convince himself. Every day, I work hard to feed my family. Is it really that unreasonable to make my son spend Mid-Autumn Festival with me? Yet, at the same time, he was aware that he already owed his son ten happy Mid-Autumn festivals.

The father then responded, ‘Snowy mooncakes… I’ll buy them for you tomorrow! Now let’s go and pay respects to your mother.’

The son said, ‘Okay… ’

After a forty-five-minute walk, the two finally reached the tombstone, which was choked with weeds. The father pulled out the weeds and picked up the rubbish, while the son took out a small mobile furnace from his backpack along with the offerings. He placed them in front of the grave and arranged them orderly. On top of the hill surrounded by pitch-blackness, the sparks of fire seemed to be particularly dazzling. The expressions of both father and son were eerily gentle under the flickering flames. Their contours were sharp yet blurry.

The father said, ‘Honey! We’re here to visit you again!’

The son added, ‘We’ve brought a white-lotus-seed-paste-flavoured mooncake for you, Mummy.’

‘We’ve even bought you a “cotton-padded jacket”! It’s to ward off the chill in winter. The weather report says that there will be a few cold waves this winter so the temperature’s gonna be pretty low. Take care my dear! Keep yourself warm. Don’t freeze yourself off!’

‘Don’t worry, Daddy! Mummy’s been dead for so many years. Her flesh has long been eaten by maggots. She won’t feel cold.’

The father found himself stunned once more. He’s right! But he still wouldn’t accept the fact that his beloved wife had returned to bones. His beautiful, gentle wife who ignored her family’s opposition and gave up everything, so as to run off with him, a poor fellow. Day and night, calluses started to grow on her slim, tender fingers. Not a word of complaint was said whenever there were challenges, but only a smile and words of comforts for him… The father could hide his sorrow no more, and he covered his mouth while weeping.  

The son said, ‘I’m sorry. I said too much.’

The father replied, ‘You did say too much, but you’re right… ‘

The son was taken aback, not knowing what to say. ‘Saying too much’ was wrong. ‘Saying the right thing’ was right. Could one act be both right and wrong at the same time? Then should I apologise? Or should I do a half-apology? But how so? ‘I am sor-’? Or ‘Am sorry?’ How do I split up three words into two sections?

The father urged his son, ‘Hurry up and cut the mooncake into three pieces. Let’s share them with Mummy.’

‘Okay.’ 

The father’s instructions pulled the son out of the spirals of perplexity and chaos. The son hurriedly took out a small paring knife and cut the mooncake. Cutting it into three portions wasn’t a problem, but cutting it into three equal portions was a huge challenge. One is not divisible by three. What should I do? And there aren’t any measuring tools here. I guess I can only make a rough estimation by my eyes…  Seeing his son being hesitant, the father couldn’t help but get mad. Without a word, he snatched the knife from his hand and cut the mooncake himself.  

The son exclaimed, ‘They’re all in different sizes! They’re not even equal!’

The father argued, ‘They don’t have to be the exact size! Why are you so stubborn?’ 

‘Just now you said that you want three equal pieces! Somebody’s suddenly changed their mind about not being stubborn now! You have such a fickle heart! I can’t keep up with you!’

Watching his son almost bursting into tears, the father was left speechless once more. It turned out that he did say he wanted three equal pieces. Maybe he blurted out the word ‘equal’ without thinking. But he never intended to ‘divide the mooncake evenly’ to start with. Words, even when spoken without the intention to, could hurt sometimes. Should the speaker take responsibility? Or was the listener too touchy? He let out a sigh. It was all his fault. He obviously knew his son didn’t understand how to read faces and only stuck to his one-sided thinking. Why didn’t he remind himself to be more aware of his own words and actions? 

The father said apologetically, ‘I’m sorry, son. Daddy made a mistake. Please forgive me.’ 

‘Am I stupid, Daddy?’

‘No, son. You’re not stupid at all. It’s all Daddy’s fault…’

There was a double entendre hidden in his words. HIs mind was filled with thoughts of his son’s dimwitted sleeping face, as well as his wife’s pale grey embalmer makeup. Their faces kept changing quickly, as if they belonged to the same person. The same eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The same contour. They drove him crazy and stressed out.

‘It’s all Daddy’s fault…It’s all Daddy’s fault…  It’s all Daddy’s fault…’

His wife died of a difficult labour, leaving their bawling son behind. He didn’t understand why this little punk, barely a month old, could be so irritating. He didn’t understand why this brat had to be the one who survived instead of his dear wife. He didn’t understand why his usually rational mind would sprout such a thought. He knew his mental state had plunged into instability for a long time. Still though, he couldn’t care less. He let that wild dog capriciously bite all over the boy. Relief washed over his body…  

 ‘It’s all Daddy’s fault!’ 

Covered in blood, the boy’s face had turned purple by the time he arrived at the hospital. The doctors saved him, but his injuries were so severe that he could never recover fully. His limbs were not agile anymore. His speech was slurred, and his intelligence was greatly challenged.

‘I’m sorry, son!’

‘Daddy, you only made one mistake. One apology would be enough. You don’t have to repeat it over and over again.’

‘…’

‘I wanna eat the mooncake.’

The son bashfully pointed at the smallest piece of mooncake. The father rubbed the corner of his eyes, and fed his son the second largest piece. 

‘Can I eat this piece, Daddy?’ 

‘Yes, you can.’

The son happily chowed down his piece. Satisfied, a smile was spotted across his face.

‘Yummy!’

‘You can have another one if you like it. It’s a white-lotus-seed-paste-flavoured mooncake. Eat this and you’ll have a wonderful life!’

A young woman approached both father and son, without making any sound. She handed a sealed pack of mooncake to the pair. Decorous with dignity, her smile was amiable. The shock and realisation of his elapsed love drove the father’s eyes to wander all over her face, and his mind had completely forgotten to stop his son from taking the box.

‘Thank you!’

‘You’re welcome, dear.’

The woman gently patted the boy’s head, telling him that he was the best child in the world. She also told the father to take good care of him. Hot tears brimmed the father’s eyes, yet not a word came out from his mouth. Seeing him not knowing how to react, the woman fed him the largest piece of mooncake. 

The father said, ‘This piece is for you.’

‘I will save the best of everything for you.’

‘I will cherish and treasure it greatly.’

The father ate the piece of mooncake, nodding and saying how delicious it was. A kind smile grew on her face. After eating the last piece, she immediately turned away and left with quick steps. It was like a small breeze, or like wisps of smoke. In the blink of an eye, her slim figure had already disappeared.

After exchanging looks, both father and son continued to pay their respects…  

Since that night, the father stopped furrowing his eyebrows. He became more friendly and was more lenient with people. Many said that his personality became that of his deceased wife. Meanwhile, the son became more nimble. He could now catch up with his classmates during sports class. Besides, he also stopped fumbling with his words. He was even recommended to join the school’s debate team. His vision became clear, and his view of the world started to stand out from the others. 

He could see his father’s love and his mother’s blessing.


TOC


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