“Good morning, class,” the teacher said.
“Good morning, teacher,” the students replied.
I was sitting in front of my mother’s desk just beside the door of the teacher’s room. Outside the teacher’s room was a long wide corridor. Along both sides of the corridor were the classrooms. The corridor was quiet, so I could clearly hear my mother’s voice coming out from one of the classrooms. I was very bored, sitting alone in front of the desk with nothing to do but wait for her to finish her lessons. I knew that after the lessons, my father would join us. We would have lunch together and then most importantly, visit my grandparents’ house, which was in Macau. At that time I had only visited my grandparents’ house once two years before, when I was three.
Time was passing slowly, and the school bell rang. One lesson was gone. The corridor became noisy, everyone was moving around. The world seemed busy. Footsteps and conversations were coming from outside the door. Teachers were going to another room to teach their old lessons, students were flowing to other places to learn their new subjects, and I was still sitting there with nothing to do. In front of me was my mother’s desk, a tall, bulky, gray, metallic desk with bundles of books covering the whole surface. With difficulty, I pushed away some of the books so that there was enough space for me to place my head on top. I leaned forward against the desk to take a rest. In front of my eyes was a clock and a timetable. It was nine o’clock in the morning. There were five more lessons to go.
Time continued to pass. When I was still resting on the table, another school bell rang, and the corridor became noisy again. School bell, followed by the noises in the corridor, school bell, followed by the noises in the corridor. While I was waiting for the next school bell to ring, a familiar but strange rhythm suddenly came into my ears. It was the rhythm of a Buddhist prayer!
I opened my eyes. My mother’s desk had gone! Instead, I found a long table covered by yellow cloth in front. It was not the teacher’s room. “Where am I? What place is this?”
I was standing in the middle of a room, a wide and tall room – a hall. The light was dim, but I could still see the decorations inside the hall. Flower stands were placed alongside the walls of the hall. On both sides of the hall were some rows of empty seats. In the front part of the hall was a long table covered by bright yellow cloth. On top of the table were tin incense burners, candle-stands, joss sticks, and all sorts of offerings, including buns and cakes, fruits and peanuts, wine cups and flowers of different colors. In the middle of the table were three large red burning candles. In front of the candles was a bowl of rice, with a pair of red chopsticks vertically stuck into the middle of the rice. A blue horizontal banner with colorful flowers round it’s edge bearing four large white Chinese characters was hanging high above the table, just beneath the ceiling of the hall. I could only read one of the characters on the banner: the word “Sky”. Below the banner was a photograph hanging in the middle of the wall just above the long table. It was a black and white photograph. The light was dim, but with the help of the burning candles, I could still see the lower part of the photograph. It was of a woman, a smiling women dressing traditional Chinese clothes, wearing a pair of big shiny pearl earrings. I wanted to walk closer to the photograph, but at that moment, some interrupting noises came into my ears. The school bell was ringing. I opened my eyes slowly. The photograph had gone. The hall had gone. In front of me was my mother’s desk.
Finally came the last school bell. The school day had finished, the student’s were rushing out from their classrooms. My mother came back. She put down the books, took out her handbag from the drawer and said: “We can go and meet your father now.” We left the school together. We spent about one hour to travel to the pier in Central to meet my father, and then spent another hour to travelling to Macau by hover-ferry. At about noon, we were at the pier in Macau. My uncle, who is my father’s younger brother, was waiting for us at the pier. When he met us, the first sentence he said is: “Let’s get in my car, I’ll drive you there.” So we got into his car. Without wasting any seconds, my uncle got on the driver’s seat and started to drive. On the way, nobody spoke. I felt that something was wrong.
After a while, the car stopped. We arrived. We got off the car. It was not my grandparent’s house. My uncle brought us down a long narrow path. On both sides of the path were a series of halls with four lanterns hanging over each entrance. The lanterns were white, each with a blue Chinese character written on it. And finally, we came to the end of the path. It was another hall of the same kind. Four white lanterns were hanging over, with a blue character written on each. It was our surname. Our surname was written on the every lantern. We entered the hall. I looked around the hall. Everything was familiar. It was the hall I had entered that morning! Flower stands were alongised the walls of the hall. On both sides of the hall were rows of seats, but now there were some people sitting there. The banner was hanging under the ceiling. Far below it was the long table covered by yellow cloth. On top of it were all sorts of offerings, the joss sticks, the buns, the fruits, the wine cups, and the flowers. In the middle were the candles and the bowl of rice. Everything was exactly in the same place. I walked close to the yellow table. The photograph was hanging above. The woman was my grandmother.
~Parkin Woo Pak-hin (Hong Kong)
Return to Bloodlines: Poems and Stories about Family by Young Asian Writers (Asian Voices)