He Said He’d be Waiting
The girl put on a blue skirt and slipped covertly out of the house unnoticed by family, her big ponytail swinging across her slim, attractive waistline.
She clutched a small note in her hand that she unfolded and eyed from time to time. Prompted by the small note, she took two turns, got on the bus, rode five stops, got off and crossed the street, where there was a river. Along the river, she saw a bridge crossing from afar. Her destination was an alley on the other side of the bridge.
She beamed with a beautiful smile.
Two months ago, she couldn’t read the note, as she hadn’t yet attended the literacy class and met the man of letters.
After class the previous night, he gave her a small illustrated note. On it was sketched a bridge, at the end of which was a figure marked with the three characters of his name, indicating there he’d be waiting for her.
However, before she could reach her destination, she felt a pair of strong hands grab her holding her back. It was her older brother. “Mom wants you to go back home.”
“I don’t know. But you have to go back.”
The girl was 18 years old that year. She had been proposed to by a fiancé who turned out to be her maternal aunt’s son in Shanghai. She had no choice in the matter, although she was sweet on the young teacher in the literacy class.
She gave in to her parents’ wi s h e s and g a v e h e r h and in marriage the man in Shanghai. She gave birth to four children in ten years. It goes without saying that she was a good wife and loving mother who provided a home with a simple life and all the basic necessities, but her husband was the technical wizard of the factory. He was needed to help support the great Third Front Movement, designed to reinforce China’s interior, so the whole family moved with the factory to the mountain region between Yunnan and Guizhou.
Living in poor conditions, she still managed to keep the family’s day-to-day life running like clockwork. As the children grew up, her only wish was that they could leave the mountains and go back to Shanghai or return to
their hometown in Hangzhou.
Later, her husband passed away and she went back to live in Hangzhou with her younger daughter.
That day, she left the house with her silver hair meticulously combed, and a floral scarf tied fastidiously around her neck..
She walked slowly, pausing thoughtfully from time to time. She rounded two bends, got on the bus and passed by several stops, before getting off. She walked along a small bridge over a flowing river, lined with white walls and black tiles. The place was filled with a delicate aroma, as it has evolved into a restaurant row.
She grinned, wrinkles rippling over her aged face.
That day from dawn to dusk, people were bustling all about this street lined with restaurants and vendors peddling their gourmet food sand snacks, but no one paid any mind to a single elderly woman lingering there the whole day, walking, pausing and sitting without food or drink.
Once the night fell and people scattered, feeling sorry for her, the owner of a small noodle restaurant greeted her, “Ma’am, come in and have a bowl of noodles.”
After the meal, she didn’t have any intention of leaving. She kept on muttering to herself to herself, “He said he would be waiting for me here.”
The owner had to dial 110. When the police car came, she refused to get in. “He said he would be waiting for me here.” She was on the verge of bursting into tears.
A policewoman said cheerfully, “Think hard ma’am, who is it that’s supposed to be waiting here for you? We’ll help you look for him.”
She fumbled around in her pocket. She remembered that when she went out, she took a small note. On it, at the end of the bridge that had been drawn years before by her literacy class teacher, there was a figure marked with the three characters of his name. As promised, he would have been waiting for her there.
This road was so long she had gone for a lifetime.
When the policewoman told me the story, she said with emotion, “The old lady who had only been in the literacy classes for a few days had such a strong memory that she could even remember the three characters off the top of her head. The old man had indeed lived in this area, but it was a shame that he had passed away before she found his home.”
( From Youth , January 2018 Translation: Qing Run)