Chapter 46 - Memories
“Pali Zati, Pali Zati, help me please! Help me please! I know your mother and father...we are old friends…” stuttered the old man.
Shen Yu’s expression suddenly twisted, as if something sharp was biting down on her heart strings. Before she could ask a clarifying question, Mazha kicked the man on the bottom again. The soldier couldn’t make head or tails out of what the old man said and thought he was saying nasty things. He growled, “Speak in a way that normal people do! We can’t understand a single word you’re saying!”
The Desert Fox sobbed, “I was talking to the little fairy! Don’t you see, we’re old friends!”
Mazha rebutted the man immediately, “Who the hell are you trying to schmooze? We only recently just met! Just who is an old friend of yours?”
Shen Yu grasped the soldier on his sleeve and dragged him away from the Desert Fox. She bent down and thrust her left arm into the old man’s face. “You recognize my bracelet?”
The old man nodded and asked to speak with her alone. Shen Yu instantly stood up and requested that Tang Can and the others give them some space to talk.
Mazha protested. He said that it was silly of her to trust such a wily old fox. The young woman glared pointedly for the first time at both the soldier and his commanding officer. The unfamiliar expression on her delicate face looked tight and sent chills down their backs.
Seeing that, Tang Can ordered everyone to give her some space. They now stood at least ten meters away from Shen Yu and the old man. Although he had assented to her request, he was clearly uneasy. His eyes drifted towards Shen Yu again and again, but he was too far from her to hear what she was saying to the old man.
After making sure everyone was out of earshot, Shen Yu squatted down to hear what the Desert Fox had to say. The old man had a long, rambling story to tell. He started off with a sob story of his own history and background. In 1963, he was still in his mother’s womb. Apparently, that year, there was a huge famine and, to survive, his whole family left for other provinces to find food to eat. At that time, the family consisted of his grandfather, his father and his pregnant mother. His grandfather ended up getting dysentery and slowly started to resemble a bag of bones. In the end, the old man shriveled up and died on the side of the road. Naturally, his parents were devastated and cried piteously while burying his grandfather. The dead can only turn into dust, leaving the living to dry their tears. In the end, those who survive can only grit their teeth and move on.
The two of them could not return to their old home, and, so they traveled on to find a better place. His father, in an effort to give more food to his mother, starved until he was as scrawny as a thin, wooden pole. The man was around 1.8 meters in height but scarcely weighed more than a piece of paper. A gust of wind would have been able to blow him down. Even walking taxed his body. Despite those difficulties, both of them somehow made it to Xinjiang. When they reached Xinjiang, his father laid down under a tree and said he needed to rest for a bit. Except, he never woke up again. In grief, his mother lost her will to live for herself. But, for the sake of her unborn child, she persevered and buried her husband and moved on. In the end, she remarried, to a man more than ten years older than her, to get enough food to eat. A few months later, her child was born.
After marrying the Uyghur man, his mother’s life improved drastically. She was able to eat three meals a day. However, after she gave birth to him, a problem appeared: she was no longer able to have children. At first, the Uyghur man treated both mother and child very well. After five to six years passed, things changed. His stepfather now knew that his mother would no longer be able to become pregnant again. That was when the mistreatment and abuse started. By the time he was seven, the Desert Fox had been forced to learn how to steal. Successful heists would lead to less abuse from the Uyghur man.
After he grew up, his life became better. His stepfather had passed away, but it was hard for him to let go of his habit of stealing things. Later on, a squadron of soldiers had appeared near his village. He had heard rumors that the army came with delicious rice and large, white bread rolls. That night, he set out in his donkey cart and snuck into the courtyard where the soldiers had been living. From the storeroom, he stole their food and placed it into his cart.
In the past, when he stole, he targeted the regular people in the village. Even if they found out, the consequences would not be too bad. Although they would disdain him, they were still from the same village. This time, however, he had targeted the army. He had thought that the same unspoken rules applied in this case. He soon found out he had bitten off more than he could chew.
The soldiers very quickly discovered the identity of their thief, and a fierce, higher-ranking officer pointed a gun at him in fury when they confronted him. At the time, he was so scared that he had wet his pants. Luckily, another officer, a young and handsome young man, intervened. The other officer said that only food was stolen, and that he had also heard that Abu Lizi knew the way to Lop Nor. The officer proposed that Abu Lizi could guide them to the salt lake to atone for his crimes. If the trip was successful, the theft of army goods would be wiped away from his record.
So the Desert Fox became a guide for the army. At first, he only did it to avoid punishment and imprisonment for his crimes. He never would have guessed that he would gain fame from this trip. Later on, many other teams asked him to be their guide, and even a tv station came out once. For every trip he guided, he always received ample rewards at the end. After working for a bit, his bad habit of stealing had finally disappeared. Because of that, he was especially grateful to that officer that he met years ago who gave him a second chance. For several years in a row, that particular officer would come back every year to travel to the lake. Each time, Abu Lizi would be his guide. Before long, the two of them became friends.
On the last year the officer came back, the man had brought his newly wed wife with him to the Ruoqiang County. She looked very clever, and it was said she was from one of the minor ethnic tribes in the country. Exactly which tribe she was from, such as Miao or Hui, the Desert Fox never bothered to ask. Rumors said that she previously had a difficult life. Her mother had passed away, and her father had been locked up in prison. Luckily, the officer truly cared for his wife and took good care of her. She also adored him and wanted to birth a son for him.
Unfortunately, the heavens had other plans and they ended up having a girl. However, for some reason, the officer thought that they had a son. He happily came back from his trip from Lop Nor but on the way he was in a bad accident. With one foot in the grave, the officer gritted his teeth and clung onto life as he wanted to see his son before he died. His wife hadn’t seen in for more than half a year, and now her husband was at the brink of death. In order to let him rest easily, she borrowed a young infant boy from someone else and presented the child to him. The soldier smiled and said he had a son now who could take care of her when he was gone. He shortly died afterwards.
After his death, his widow could not bring herself to cry. Other people pointed their fingers at her and cursed her for being a cold-hearted woman. Unfortunately, no one knew she had fallen into despair. By the time the officer’s other colleagues came over, it was too late. The woman ended up successfully killing herself with one of late husband’s guns.
The dead soldier’s commanding officer had seen with his own two eyes that his subordinate and his subordinate’s wife were no longer in this world. The man wept in pain. Afterwards, he vowed to raise the couple’s son as his own and took the child after their funeral rites were finished.
Later on, Abu Lizi had heard that the officer’s true daughter had passed away from neglect. For a while, in the wilderness next to the village, they could hear the sounds of a child crying. It was said that it was the ghost of the child who died after losing both of her parents!
After the officer died, the army no longer came back to Lop Nor. Expeditions also decreased, and so, Abu Lizi no longer had people to guide into the desert. When it was easy for him to earn money, he had learnt bad money spending habits. After his source of income disappeared, he quickly became bankrupt. So he went back to a life of crime. Unfortunately, he got caught almost instantaneously and his would-be victims beat him viciously and also trashed his home. Even his wife and kids were attacked. Because he didn’t have money to pay for medical expenses, he almost didn’t survive his injuries. His beloved son was less fortunate. His wounds had gotten infected and he died.
Devastated, he vowed to get revenge for his deceased son. But he didn’t have the ability to exact vengeance on the people who beat him and his family up. He remembered that the officer had been buried with a gun and decided to do something dishonorable. That night, he went out to dig up his old friend’s grave. When he opened the coffin, he discovered that he had uncovered the officer’s wife coffin on accident instead of the officer’s. Under the light of the moon, the woman looked half alive and her large eyes seemed to stare at him. Abu Lizi was frightened out of his wits by the sight of the dead woman’s eyes and decided to forgo looking for the gun. He scampered off and went back home, shaken to his soul. Later on he became very ill and had to stay in bed for a whole month before he could recuperate.
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