I cut through the university grounds today. Found a gap in the fences surrounding the large field by the gate and walked on the grass to feel it under my feet. It was brittle, and pale yellow – the color upper middle class women favor for the parlor or the bedroom walls. I wanted to fill my eyes with only one thing. The pale yellow spilled into every corner of my vision. It reminded me of the day they gave me away…
That morning, we were the first ones to walk on the night’s freshly fallen blanket of snow. She was sniffling, but I don’t think she was crying. He coughed, because he’d spent another night sleeping by the stove in the folding bamboo chair. Our kang was narrow. Three pairs of footprints made a trail of black marks behind us, but the ground before us was pristine, monochrome, glinting and almost blue.
…I left the field, and walked over the bridge. For some reason, every university in China has a river running through it, and at least three stone bridges.
There was an old woman in a, well, I can only describe it as a glade because it was a small grassy clearing surrounded by trees. The glade and the veranda reminded me of old ink prints of imperial concubines – Consort Yang with attendants on a terrace, etc. The only incongruity was the old woman, who would never be counted as one of the four great beauties of ancient China.
Head down, she paced across the clearing, planning each footstep like it would be her last. I wondered how she came to be at the very center of the university, if this was part of her routine. Her daily bread.
Rise at seven, and pass through the neighborhoods flanking the school. Make her way down the stairs, across footpaths, past students, bicycles, and cars all zooming around her isolation. Step, slowly, for hours, to arrive at this glade (which she probably thinks of as her glade) to pace back and forth, looking at the pale winter grass, filling her eyes with just one thing.
I took the bus to Taoranting Park, and sleeping on the way, dreamt of them for the first time in a long time. They were stepping carefully through the snow, placing one footstep in front of the other like it would be their very last, and between them was a space. A shadow. Just wide enough for a ghost.