Chapter 5 - Strange Things
Shen Yu let out a long sigh. It was difficult for her to understand the lifestyle choices of the older generation.
She walked towards the willow tree where her father was crouching. When he saw her, he silently took off his canvas shoes and gave them to her so she could sit on them instead of the dirt on the ground.
Shen Yu’s father continued to puff soundlessly on his pipe. The embers in the pipe’s bowl flickered as strands of white smoke rose into the air. The spicy scent of tobacco slowly diffused into the air around them and Shen Yu started to sputter when she choked on the smoke. Her father twisted his head to glance at her and took the pipe out of his mouth. He flipped it over to dump the rest of the tobacco onto the ground and ground his foot on the smoldering embers.
She flashed a smile at her father. Her father loved her and this was one of his ways of showing it.
Silence reigned between them. Shen Yu could feel her legs going slowly numb and turned slowly towards her father. “Dad, how much do you know about Uncle Li’s past?”
Her father acted as if he didn’t hear her question and continued to stare blankly in front of him. His eyes were still like a dead person’s and it was if his mind had wandered into a different world.
Inwardly she sighed. It was a waste of her breath to ask him this question, but it wasn't out of character for him. After living twenty plus years with him as his daughter, she should have known better. The villagers called people like him “closed mouthed gourds”, and her father’s nickname in the village was Mr. Gourd.
After she went back to the house, she asked her mom about Uncle Li again. Her mother smiled. “By the time I was with your father, your Uncle Li was already crazy. You know your dad’s personality, he’s as close-mouthed as a clam! He never bothered to tell me anything that happened before we met.”
Shen Yu didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry. Whenever someone asked a question that no one wanted to answer in her family, the default answer was “I don’t know”. However, she was not discouraged. There were other methods to discover what she wanted to know. Bad news always traveled farther than good news and Shen Yu had a suspicion that the villagers knew more than she suspected. After all, gossip was the lifeblood of a nation.
In the afternoon she went to the village square and squatted in the shade of the tree to chat with some of her neighbors. In her town, she was considered to be one of the more successful young ladies. For the youths who left the rural countryside, there were two general types. The first kind were those who came back and were not arrogant. They were praised by the villagers for remembering their roots. The second kind were haughty and thought highly of themselves for leaving. The villagers often cursed those people behind their backs. Shen Yu was the former type. Despite obtaining a college education and living in an urban environment, she never looked down at the ordinary farmers and workers of her hometown. Therefore it wasn’t surprising that the villagers liked to socialize with her whenever she came back to visit.
Without much effort, she learned that Tang Can and his team had stopped by the village a month ago. Apparently they went to the Shen’s house to talk to her parents and check on Uncle Li. Unfortunately, no one knew what was discussed behind the walls. At the time, the more curious neighbors tried to scale the courtyard wall to eavesdrop but the local police shooed them away like they were swatting away mosquitos. The town secretary had commiserated with the soldiers before they left. According to him, the daughter of the Shen family was the only one with her head screwed on right, the rest of the members were either crazy or simple-minded...
Shen Yu immediately felt better after learning this information. She had wondered why they sought out her and now she had the answer. Unfortunately for them, she knew less about her family’s affairs than the secretary had thought! Even the neighbors knew more about her family than she did!
After connecting all of the dots, Shen Yu sighed and felt a little dizzy. She was tired after spending all of that time with Tang Can and his men and listening to stories from the distant past. She was even supposed to meet someone face-to-face but ended up not being able to due to that person’s health. Other than that bad-tempered old man, who else could it be?
That night, Shen Yu could hear the chorus of frogs croaking in the pond behind the farmhouse. She had trouble sleeping after the day’s events and decided to sneak out of the house. Stars carpeted the sky. She found a raised patch of dirt in the backyard and sat down, staring at the night sky. Her thoughts went back to that scary old geezer as she idly counted the stars. His reaction to her still didn’t make any sense. Why did he did he see mountains of gold when he met her?
An unknown amount of time passed when she suddenly heard some footsteps in the alley behind her. In the shadows, she could see two people walking, one much taller than the other. They stopped a distance away from the farmhouse and started talking in indistinct murmurs. The taller one left first while the other shadow stood there for a while before returning back to the house. Shen Yu’s eyes widened when she recognized the smaller figure; it was her mother!
Shocked, she stood up and started pelting towards the alley. The sound of the silver bell on her bracelet pierced the silent night, but Shen Yu didn’t notice it. She had worn the bracelet every day for many years and was already used to its jingle whenever she moved. Her thoughts raced as she strove to catch up with that mysterious person. The larger individual was not her father, that much Shen Yu was sure about. So then who was that person?
Just as she was about the reach the mouth of the alley, a stray cat suddenly darted in front of her. Shen Yu tumbled and fell face first into the mud, accidentally sandwiching the animal in between her legs. An ear piercing yowl shattered the peaceful night. Seconds later, Shen Yu could hear the cat scrambling up a nearby wall after it disentangled itself from her. Her chest throbbed with pain as she slowly picked herself up from the ground. By the time she got back on her feet, the person she was chasing had long disappeared.
Shen Yu silently cursed as she looked down both sides of the street. If it wasn’t for that stupid cat, I could have caught that person. From her left, she saw someone appear, walking slowly towards her.
“Little Yu, is that you?”, hollered the shadowy figure. “Why are you out so late?”
The sudden noise made all of her hair stand on end as if she had just met a ghost. The person calling her was no other than her mother.
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