When my brother accused Auntie of frightening our mother away, Auntie shouted that our mother had married a man named Wu Tsing who already had a wife, two concubines, and other bad children. . . . “You are the son of a mother who has so little respect she has become ni, a traitor to our ancestors. She is so beneath others that even the devil must look down to see her.”
But even if I had known I was getting such a bad husband, I had no choice, now or later. That was how backward families in the country were. We were always the last to give up stupid old-fashioned customs. In other cities already, a man could choose his own wife, with his parents’ permission of course. But we were cut off from this kind of new thought. You never heard if ideas were better in another city, only if they were worse. . . . So Taiyuanese mothers continued to choose their daughters-in-law, ones who would raise proper sons[.]
Huang Taitai looked impatient as I began to cry softly again. “But then the servant left the room with our candle and a big wind came and blew the candle out. And our ancestors became very angry. They shouted that the marriage was doomed! They said that Tyan-yu’s end of the candle had blown out! Our ancestors said that Tyan-yu would die if he stayed in this marriage!”
It was not until then, too late, that I saw my new clothes—and the spots of bloods, flecks of fish scales, bits of feather and mud. What a strange mind I had! . . . I quickly dipped my hands in the bowl of turtle’s blood and smeared this on my sleeves. . . . This is how Amah found me: an apparition covered with blood. I can still hear her voice, screaming in terror, running over to see what pieces of my body were missing. . . . And when she found nothing . . . she called me names, using words I had never heard before. But they sounded evil[.]
Out on the water I saw rowboats and pedal boats and sailboats, and fishing boats like this one, with a long bow and small house in the middle. I looked hard, my heart beating fast. “There!” I said, and pointed to a floating pavilion filled with laughing people and lanterns. “There! There!” and I began to cry, desperate to reach my family and be comforted. . . . People were crowded on one side of the pavilion, leaning over, pointing, looking into our boat. All strangers, laughing red faces, loud voices. Where was Amah? Why did my mother not come?