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xlwoo
September 11th, 2015, 01:33 PM
Chapter 19

The valley led to a steep slope. Linda scaled up and entered a forest. Soon she came across a hut, made of tree trunks with thatched roof. Carefully she approached the hut, unaware of what was lurking inside, waiting for her. There might be an escaped prisoner hiding inside. There might . . .
She could not—should not make so many hypotheses. There hung in the doorway a patchy cloth curtain. She stood in front of the curtain, shouting, “Anyone there?”
“Who’s it?” A woman’s voice called from within. Then the curtain was pulled aside and a woman stood in the doorway. She was in her forties, dressed in old shabby clothes.
“I’m lost in the mountains.” Linda told the woman with an inquiring look.
“Come in, please.” The woman said. She stepped aside, still holding the curtain up.
Linda walked in. It was dim inside. Linda could not see anything. After a while when her eyes were adjusted, she saw a table a few paces away with two benches on either side of it and an oil lamp on it. A wooden bed was in one innermost corner. That was all the furniture they had.
Linda sat on one bench and the woman on the other.
“Do you want a drink of water?” The woman asked her.
“No, thanks.” She said curtly. She was not sure if she must tell the woman her story. Finally she decided to wait.
“My husband’s a hunter.” The woman said. “Whenever he gets some games, he will sell most of them in the village at the foot of the mountain and buy some necessities. I will collect fruits in the woods. We still have some salted deer meat. It’s delicious. You can stay for supper and for the night. Tomorrow my husband will show you how to get to the nearest village.”
Linda thanked her again. Now she was worried about the deer with her name on. Some day it would surely become the trophy of the hunter. She did not want to witness it. If she could, she would leave right off. But it was growing dark and she did not know the way out. So she had to stay for the night.
“I’m home.” A man’s voice came in. It must be the husband of the woman, who stood up and went out to meet him.
“A lovely deer! A big game!” exclaimed the woman.
“Yes.” The man said in delight. “It ran so fast, but couldn’t be faster than my arrow. So I got it. Look at its antler, the engravings.”
Linda’s heart thumped wildly. The horrible thing she had feared did happen to the poor deer. She got out checking on the antler. Surely her name was on it. She wanted to nauseate. She wanted to cry. But she restrained herself. There were something else beside the deer, a rabbit and two pheasants. She was not sure if the rabbit was the one she loved. She had not made any sign on it.
She returned into the hut and sat on the same bench. When the couple came in, she stood up to greet the husband, who just nodded his recognition. The games were left outside.
At supper Linda could not eat the salted deer meat and so she made up an excuse that she was a vegetarian. She ate some fruits and drank some water.
The family went to bed early. The woman arranged that Linda slept with her on the bed. The man put two benches together side by side and slept on them. Although it was not comfortable, the man did not complain. He blew out the wick and soon began to snore.
Linda had always slept alone, never shared a bed with anyone. So she could not sleep well. She stayed awake most of the night.
The family got up early when Linda wanted to sleep for a while longer. As the woman saw that Linda was still sleepy, she told Linda to keep on sleeping. Now Linda was alone on bed and so she slept like a log. When she woke up, it was almost noon. She got up and ate some fruits as brunch. The woman offered her some deer meat. Linda could not eat it. It was her deer. Thinking of that, her eyes were filled with tears. She turned away from the woman to wipe them off.
The husband had already gone out hunting. The woman asked Linda to wait for the return of her husband, but Linda declined. She wanted to leave at once and asked for the direction. The woman told her how to get to the nearest village. Linda thanked her for her hospitality and took leave.
She passed a graveyard and saw many people crowding before respective tombs here and there. The graveyard had no fences around. The tombs looked like domes, or inverted bowls, or in the eye of Linda, like gigantic buns. The tombs were made of stone bricks with boiled sticky rice as mortar. Mortar was easily broken while the stone bricks stuck together with the boiled sticky rice, when dried, were very strong. The gravediggers could hardly break through to steal the valuable things buried with the body. It was another custom for rich families to put some valuable things or the things the diseased had loved when alive in the coffin. They believed that the diseased could still possess them in the nether world when buried with him or her.
Before every tombstone there were platefuls of fruits and lighted candles and incenses. People of a family kowtowed to the tomb one by one, from the oldest to the youngest. Then some houses or horses or men and women, all made of paper, were burned. By burning these things, people also believed that the diseased could receive them and use them like in this world. The diseased could live in the house, riding the horse when traveling and have the men and women as servants.
Linda stood aside watching and wondered why so many people came on the same day. She went with a crowd going west. She asked a woman if it was a special day. The woman wondered how the girl could not know the day. It was a popular day that almost everyone knew. But she still replied, “Yes. Every year on this day people go to the graves of their ancestors to worship them.”
In Chinese it is called “Clear and Bright Day” in the fifth solar term. But it is not always clear and bright on that day. Sometimes it will rain.