Chapter 31 - Turning Pale With Fright
Tang Can grinned knowingly. The two of them stayed silent, but there was a weird atmosphere between them.
Most people would be tired after sitting for a whole night but Tang Can was different. He felt refreshed and energized, as if he had slept the entire night.
After a brief moment, the branch secretary came over with a bunch of the villagers. Most of the villagers that came with him were men.
Shen Yu was familiar with the rural customs. Although they were currently in the southern part of the country, many of the traditions remained the same. All funerals required sacrifices and the pertinent ceremonies in order to send off the dead properly to the afterlife. The townspeople that followed the branch secretary immediately started doing their duties.
Tang Can, however, was not as comfortable with the countryside. He grew up in a military household and was not well-versed in the rural traditions. He watched the others prepare for the funeral, feeling oddly incompetent in this situation.
Since Song Geng was a ward of the village, and Commander Jin and his compatriots agreed to pay for the costs, the villagers were willing to conduct the rites. All of Song Geng’s property came from the village. The branch secretary said that whoever paid respects to the old man would inherit the piece of land and the house that Song Geng lived in. No one knew who spread the news but soon everyone learned that there would later be a highway built through Song Geng’s lands. Whoever inherited them would get a large payout from the government. It was not surprising that many of Song Geng’s relatives still in the area came out of the woodwork. Although they disdained the old man while he was still living, they clearly didn’t mind profiting off of his death. The infighting was so bad that some of them almost had a fist fight.
Birds will die for food, humans will die for wealth. People who lived in the countryside would all fight viciously if there was land at stake. Shen Yu had seen it happen many a time in her own village, so she didn’t find it unusual. Tang Can, on the other hand, could not help but shake his head in disapproval and sorrow. Although he didn’t say anything out loud, Shen Yu could easily guess what he was feeling.
In the end, the branch secretary and the village elders managed to come up with a plan that they thought was acceptable. Based off of the silver bracelet, they decided to claim that Shen Yu was the daughter of Song Geng’s daughter who had left the village years ago. Shen Yu had come to this village to finally get in contact with her old grandfather. The other relatives were not directly related to Song Geng, so her inheritance had precedence. Therefore, the land would not fall into the hands of the people who had treated the old man so poorly.
Although it was a good thought, things didn't go as planned! The relatives who had sprung up clamoring for Song Geng’s property were not easily dissuaded. They didn’t want to believe the branch secretary’s words, so they demanded proof. When the branch secretary saw how shameless they all were, he had no other choice. In a moment of desperation, he asked Shen Yu to take off her silver bracelet and showed it to Song Geng’s female cousin. The old lady inspected the bracelet carefully. After a period of time passed, she finally returned the bracelet to Shen Yu and left without saying a word, her expression black with disappointment. Her children and grandchildren closely followed her. The people that were left looked at each other but had nothing more to say.
After seeing all of this happen, Shen Yu felt uneasy. Her silver bracelet clearly had a link to old Song Geng. Otherwise, why else would his relatives agree to drop their claim to his land? She remembered that her mother had never liked to mention what her own family was like. Then she connected it to what she knew about the old man’s past: Song Geng had left his daughter behind in his quest for a fortune. From this, she could slowly build a web of reasoning. In fact, she felt like she already had most of the pieces...but it made her heart feel as heavy as a chunk of granite! Thinking of how Song Geng died made her feel a little bit depressed.
“Sorry that we had to do that,” apologized Tang Can. The sky had slowly gotten dark as the sun set. The fading light of the sun hit his face and made it seem redder than usual. Golden flickers of light seemed to reflect off of his eyes.
Shen Yu stood across from him, facing him, her eyes squinting against the fading light. Due to the difference in their height, she had to angle her head up to look at his face directly. In actuality, she was okay with what had happened as she could understand his motives in this scenario. He had allowed the branch secretary to go through with this plan such that old Song Geng could be buried and at rest sooner. This would also allow them to leave the village faster.
“It’s not a problem,” she replied, her mood a little down from everything that happened. “That poor old man had lived such a desolate and lonely life. It’s only right that we spend some time making sure he gets sent to the afterlife properly”.
The funeral arrangements for the old man turned out to be simple. According to the village customs, the traditional three day waiting period for the funeral was there to give time for mourners to come and weep. Since no one expected anyone else to come, they could move on with the rest of the rites. The branch secretary found some men in the village to help dig out a hole next to Song Geng’s deceased wife’s grave. After they finished digging, the men laid the old man down to rest next to his long-dead wife. After they finished burying Song Geng, there was nothing left for Shen Yu to do according to the customs. Although the branch secretary said that Shen Yu was to inherit the old man’s belongings, that was only to fool Song Geng's grasping relatives from stealing the inheritance. Tang Can had already negotiated everything in advance with the secretary. The land that was Song Geng’s was deeded back to the village to use.
Shen Yu was not that naive or stupid. She grew up in a farming village and was very accustomed to events like these. She knew early on that the branch secretary was waiting for Tang Can to say exactly what he had just vocalized. Even though she knew their plans beforehand, she had no desire to cause trouble for either of them.
Regardless, she had already made up her mind. Shen Yu would never tell her mother the events that had happened here today. There was no point. If her mother really was the long-lost daughter of Song Geng, it would only make her sad to find out what had occured. Song Geng was dead. There was no point in trying to make connections with someone who was deceased.
Tang Can, Commander Jin and the branch secretary chattered on for hours, but Shen Yu didn’t care to listen. She had no desire to eavesdrop on them. Instead, she went around the village and played with some of the children. Doing that helped to lift her spirits.
In the distance, she could see the branch secretary's wife walking over with a bowl of eggs. The middle-aged woman was short and plump. When the kids, who were around five to six years of age, saw her, they ran over and extended out their grubby little hands. They wanted to steal the eggs in the bowl.
The fat woman raised the green colored bowl high above the ground, to keep it out of reach of the children. The kids grabbed the hem of her jacket and held on, to keep her from moving forward. The secretary’s wife cursed profanities at them and even extended out a hand to hit a boy who had hair as messy as weeds. Shen Yu couldn’t understand what the woman said, but she could hear the impact of the hit when it connected to the boy's face. The slap sounded loud and clear. The little boy sat on the ground and started to wail. After being scared off by the secretary's wife, the other children ran off. When the middle-aged woman walked into the room and offered the eggs to the group to eat, Shen Yu thanked her with grave courtesy. She grabbed two eggs from the bowl and walked outside to the courtyard. She offered one of the eggs to the boy who was still crying on the ground.
“Go ahead, eat it!” Shen Yu squatted down and smiled at the little boy. She knew that the child couldn’t understand what she said since she couldn’t speak their dialect, but she wasn’t talented enough to learn it in the short period of time she had been there.
The little boy looked at her but didn’t take it. All of the courage he had showed before the secretary's wife had completely left his body. Shen Yu cracked the two eggs against each other. The shells cracked open and she peeled one of them. She offered a freshly peeled egg to him, but the child lowered his head and wouldn’t look at her. Instead ,he kept his eyes on his dirty feet on the ground. With a wicked glint in her eyes, Shen Yu deliberately pretended to shove the egg into her mouth. The little boy couldn’t help but raise his head to look at the egg in her hand. She could see him swallowing the drool in his mouth.
Shen Yu slipped the peeled egg into the little boy’s hands but he tried to refuse it. The egg dropped onto the ground and a group of ants started marching towards it. The child hurriedly picked it back up and tried to use his mouth to blow away the dirt on the egg, but it was futile. He then used his sleeve in attempt to wipe the dust off. Even though the egg still had some dirt left on it, the kid opened his mouth widely and bit into it. One bite was not enough to finish it, so he took a second bite. The boy ate so quickly that at the end of his last bite, he choked. Shen Yu swiftly went into the room to grab a bowl of water for the child.
After the little boy caught his breath, he stared with large, pitiful eyes at the other egg in her hand. Shen Yu smiled and slowly peeled the other egg. Although she knew that the child couldn’t understand a word she said, she still told him not to let it drop on the ground. But when the kid took the peeled egg, he didn't eat it. Instead, he got up from the ground and ran off.
At this point, Tang Can also came out of the room. He held the bowl that was half filled with chicken eggs. He hollered at the little boy, telling him to take the eggs in the bowl too. But it was too late. The child had run off too far and couldn’t hear him.
Shen Yu looked at the eggs in the bowl and snatched it from Tang Can. She bolted off after the little boy with Tang Can following closely behind her.
They chased the boy to the outskirts of the village and saw the boy offering the egg from his hands to a little girl who was cutting wild grass. The young girl was probably a couple years older than the boy and was likely his older sister. Shen Yu could hear the two siblings talking but she couldn’t understand what they were saying. The little girl used her hand to slap away the egg from the little boy. Her brother then sat on the ground and started to cry again.
Shen Yu was just about to go over when Tang Can grabbed onto her hand. The grim look on his face was enough to scare someone.
“What’s wrong?” asked Shen Yu, startled. Tang Can slowly let out a breath and then said something to her. The bowl with the eggs trembled in her hands and dropped to the ground. The eggs rolled out of the bowl and tumbled a good distance away.
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