I’d like to share a piece of writing that’s not mine. I had been looking for a copy of a short story my mom wrote about her younger brother more than ten years ago during an English writing course. Here in Beijing, in boxes upon boxes of old things (my notebooks from 1st grade, my high school graduation speech, my parents’ wedding photo), I found a hard copy this morning. I’ve typed it up to share here, keeping mom’s original grammatical errors but omitting a small paragraph about the political environment in the 1950’s.
This story always made me tear up, even more so reading it today because my uncle passed away in the summer of 2007.
My Younger Brother
By Li Gui Rong
I was six years old by the Chinese way. When we Chinese count ages, we always include the year when we were in our mothers’ womb. I remember, it was an early summer morning. My brothers and I woke up and found a mid-wife in my mother’s room. My father was not home on that day. In those days, he always attended those useless and endless political meetings somewhere outside our town. But my father, a fervent communist, always thought the meetings were very important. The mid-wife told us to prepare some hot water. We knew a younger brother or sister would come to the world soon.
That year was the year my country just experienced “Da Yue Jin”, a big, senseless political movement started by Mao Ze Dong. Western society translated the term “Da Yue Jin” into “A Great Leap Forward!” Before people could take a breath from this, the natural disaster followed right away. Some places had drought and some places were flooded all over China…[xxx]…
My hometown is located in Northeast China; across the border is Russia. People even saw trains and trains loaded with pig’s tails going to the other side, too. But inside our country there was a big shortage of everything. The famine already started and soon spread across our country. Many of my countrymen sacrificed their lives because of “Da Yue Jin.” …[xxx]…My younger brother decided to come to the world and join us now.
My mother called me to her room. She was pale, weak and sweating all over. She was struggling with the pain about to give birth. Mom told me to go to Uncle Li’s place to get some rice (food distribution at the time was controlled by the street committee). Uncle Li was the person who was in charge of all the food distribution. I left my house with a little cotton bag in my hand. It was still very dark outside because the sky was covered by clouds. The thunder and flash of lightning was on and off. I was so scared. All the ghost stories came to my mind. I wished I could go home. I did not want to go to Uncle Li’s place any more. But mom’s pale face also came to my mind. My family was waiting for whatever I could get back for breakfast and my mother needed to eat something so she could give the new baby some milk. I had no choice but to go.
I knocked on the door hard. It took very long before Uncle Li answered the door. He came, opened the door without scything anything. I tried so hard to collect all the sweet words to please Uncle Li. Uncle Li, the whole time he even did not look at me, he slowly walked to the yellow rice counter, picked up a container, gathered some rice and put it on the scale. Still no words. I opened my bag and he poured the rice into it and said in a hardly heard voice, “Be careful, not to spill it.”
I carried the rice on my back. I moved it to my front; I put it on my shoulder. I kept changing my posture for carrying it. The rice was so heavy for me. I also stopped a couple of times to take a deep breath. Finally I got home. I was so delighted and ran to my mom’s room. “Mom! I got a lot of rice back!” My mom closed her eyes and answered nothing. I did not figure out until years later, when I was bigger, why my mom did not say anything to praise me. It was not because she did not appreciate what I had accomplished. Mom didn’t say anything because she knew the rice I brought home would not last for very long. How could a six-year-old child know that?
My little brother, the new baby, was born already. He was on the side of the “kang.” “Kang” is a unique thing in northern China, centuries old. It is normally built of bricks with holes under the surface. The holes were connected to the stove. You burned the wood inside the stove. The fire in the stove traveled around the holes. The bricks on the surface become hot. The brick also preserved the heat for quite a few hours, so you could sleep on a warm place.
I did not think so much about my mother’s reaction toward my trip back with the rice. My focus turned to my younger brother right away. Wow! The baby, he was so thin, I could see the bones, the veins. Because he was still adjusting to the temperature, he was cold. His body was a deep, dark purple color, as if his blood was freezing. “He is cold mom,” I said. “Never mind,” Mom answered. Mom was so tired and depressed by the hardship we had. It was very difficult already for Mom and Dad to raise five of us. Now, another one.
“Even if he is going to survive today, how about tomorrow?,” Mom continued to murmur to herself. I quickly gathered some clothes around the room and put them on his body. He was so quiet, he didn’t even cry, as if he knew he came to us at the wrong time. Days went on so slow. We all tried our best to manage some special food for my little brother. We were always looking forward to the next day, hoping we could get more and better food.
My little brother was growing. He was quiet, humble, sensitive, and seldom asked for anything, even if he was hungry. Everybody in my family tried our best to protect him. The way he reacted to our help made us feel we never did enough for him. One picture about him when he was two and a half years old has been in my mind ever since. My eldest brother went to a school, which was fifty kilometers away; he came home only on Sundays. One Sunday he came back with some sausages as a gift for my little brother. My little brother got a piece of sausage in his hand, but he didn’t eat. He walked slowly to everybody in the family, insisting on each of us having a bite. At first we all pretended to bite the sausage, but we could not fool him. He was still very quiet, but stubborn. He wouldn’t move until we really took a little bite of the sausage. This was my little brother. More than thirty years have gone by. He has married, has two children, and he remains the same as when he was first born. He is quiet, humble, sensitive, and cares about others. He will never asks for anything.
He is the brother I miss a lot no matter where I go. He is the brother I am happy and anxious to meet no matter how many thousands of miles I have to fly. He is the brother, one day I will tell him, that he didn’t need to be so humble, so sensitive. He didn’t do anything wrong. I am so happy to be his sister in this life. I am willing to be his sister in our next life. I promise I’ll be a better sister; I will do a better job to protect him.