Wo De Wei Yi
Men, as my late Mother had said, were weak and lecherous creatures.
They succumb easily to lust and seduction. Their incessant need and desire for sex and pleasure can never be satisfied by any one woman. There will always be two, three, four, and even more females in their lives. And still their sordid yearning cannot be fulfilled.
"Men are pigs!" Mother had spat bitterly.
My father was one of those weaklings; one of those pathetic, feeble males. Mother had been his first woman; his legal wife. He said his love for her will never fade, will never change, will never be replaced. And it didn't...
For a while...
It was after my birth. Mother had gained weight, as she should justifiably do so: her body was now slightly large in size and her abdomen protruded out of her former body-fitting gowns ever so slightly.
No matter, I didn't care. In my eyes, she was as kind, as graceful and as beautiful as any woman could possibly be.
But father thought differently.
His love, if you could even call it that, for Mother had gone out, extinguished; like a bouquet of budding roses, thrown aside when the petals lost their bloom and is replaced by another bouquet.
It wasn't long before concubinage began.
Father was a court official, perhaps not a very important one, but was still wealthy and powerful enough to get women who are young enough to be my sisters wed him readily.
Father was forty at the time. I was merely eight.
Mother and I would always sit in the backyard, listening to the drone of the umpteenth wedding as it commenced a few walls away. Her hands would grip mine stiffly, knuckles whitening as the hold tightened. Her gaze would be towards the sounds; tears would be harboured in her eyes. They would glisten, yet never fall.
I didn't understand then.
Years passed, I saw less and less of father, until I could barely remember what he looked like. The once peaceful household of Han was now filled with unbroken chattering, non-stop bickering. Father's many concubines fought over petty and trivial things like dresses and make-up; their children, my brothers and sisters, ran around fighting for toys. They felt like strangers to me.
In this enclosed atmosphere, I grew up without friends. But I didn't care, for all I cared about was Mother, and as long as she was by my side, nothing else mattered.
One morning, I entered Mother's room to bid her good morning, as I do everyday before my Guzheng practice, I found her asleep on the bed.
Smiling happily, I gently shook her shoulders, but she didn't stir. I shook again, yet the same reaction still followed. Frowning, I pulled away the thin blanket and gasped at what I saw.
Two dark red gashes slashed across her wrists. The deep crimson colour embedded against Mother's pale skin; etching into her tender flesh; permanent, stained.
Mother was dead.
I can't remember much after that. It was like I was in a trance; all I saw were blurred images, all I heard were muffled sounds. I might have cried, I might have not. I really don't remember.
The funeral was set the next week. Father had organised it. There were many people there, people who had been hired by father to grieve for Mother. From the Han household, only I had attended. Father couldn't come, he said, for he had to attend the coronation of the new Emperor. I watched him being fussed over by my stepmothers that morning.
After the funeral, I went into Mother's room. Her light cherry blossom fragrance still hung in the air, I inhaled deeply. I looked around Mother's dressing table, and found that it had been rummaged. No doubt it were my stepmothers who had come here and took everything they could. I neatly stacked what was left of Mother's jewellery and possessions in a row across the table, and swept the dust from the closets and drawers.
As I was fanning out the bedsheets, a piece of envelop suddenly flew from within. I picked it up and saw that my name was written on the front. It was Mother's writing.
I opened the envelop and reached inside. Something soft and velvety grazed my finger, I pull it out.
I held it up. It was made of white silk. On the bottom right edge, a pair of intricately embroidered butterflies danced around a beautiful pink cherry blossom.
Mother's handiwork, I knew at once. I folded it neatly and pocketed it safely into my gown strap.
I reached into the envelop once more and withdrew a piece of folded parchment.
My dearest daughter,
I'm sorry to have left without saying goodbye. Please don't be angry at mother, I only did so because I knew had I talked and seen you, my strength would have fled me.
I hadn't planned to leave so early, I had wished to wait at least until you're sixteen, when you are a fully grown adult; so I know you're aware enough of the cold and brutal world out there, then I shall be at least a little bit assured.. But... Iguess I just couldn't take it anymore.
You may not understand all this now, but I'm telling you because I do not wish for you to make the same mistakes as I had done.
Your father, as you know, married many many times... more than I can even count. I... I don't know how to explain this. It is true that within the Chinese law, men are allowed to have more than one wife. In fact, many do have more than one wife. Especially for a man who is high in status as your father, ten, twenty, even over a hundred wives are considered to be quite normal.
Maybe I'm too selfish, too greedy. I just cannot accept your father having so many wives, so many women. Tell me, child, am I too self-centred? Am I asking too much? Is it because of my selfishness that God have decided to punish me so harshly?
No! I knew the answer why... It's because I love him too much; too much to share with anyone else. From the day he brought home the first woman, I knew I had lost him, and I was dead from that moment already. "Men are pigs," remember what I told you. Heh, then I guess I'm mad to be in love with a pig; hopelessly in love.
Sweet child, mother has never asked you of anything before, but I am asking you now. Promise, promise me you will never fall in love, never marry, especially with anyone significant. Men cannot be trusted, they may mean well, and may even be sincere when they promise you their love for eternity and always; but their lustful longings cannot be controlled even by themselves.
My beloved daughter, my sweet and gentle Leili, grant me this wish. And don't ever forget it,,,
Love you for always
That night, I went back to Mother's tomb. I gazed stonily at the engraving 'Beloved wife' as I knelt down, and placed the fresh bouquet of cherry blossoms in front of her.
The cold wind bellowed past me like a raging monster, piercing painfully into my skin. He was angry, I remember thinking, the God of Thunder was angry. Still, I knelt there, staring ahead unblinkingly, as darkness fell around me.
I don't remember how long I stayed there, like that. Time seemed still as I carried on gazing. At last, after what felt like eternity, I reached into my waistband and tenderly pulled out the silken handkerchief; it fluttered frailly between my grasp.
Mother's words came rushing past, amid the howls of the wind. "Promise me, Leili..."
Silently, I stood up, a single tear dropped onto the wavering handkerchief. Smiling softly, my answer floated back to her.
"I promise... Mother"
Legal wife – in Ancient China, the first wife of the man is known as the legal wife. It is usually her who will produce the heir, however, this does not apply to Emperor's successors.
Concubinage – apart from the legal wife, a man could have many more wives who are less important, they are known as concubines. Concubinage is the term used to define this system.
Guzheng – a traditional Chinese instrument, it's like a table harp played by plucking the string with one hand and finding the right notes by pressuring different sections of the strings like a violin. If played by a professional, it can produce sounds similar to the trickling of water.