EAST OF THE HEART
Chapter One: The Departure
1925 – Fujian, China
The rain had subsided into a light drizzle. One could hardly see the tiny drops of water, trickling down the roof tiles and onto the muddy grounds. Outside was as silent as the interior of the small courtyard house, with its somber grey bricks and red faded tiles. The rain had left the unattended clothes pegged on the lines soiled and dreary. All the flowers appeared limp and melancholy. It was morning, but with the dark over-cast sky, it could have been mistaken for evening. In the middle of the room, a nervous seventeen-year-old girl knelt before her mother with her head bowed down. She dared not speak nor look up. Her mother was explaining to her that the situation had turned out to be for the best.
“You are the lucky one, because you get to leave this place.” The elderly lady said, as her voice hid an undercurrent of sadness.
Was she really lucky to leave, the young girl wondered? Had she been born a man, she would not have to leave at all. She could have continued living in her home, and not be evicted from the village. However, fate had not been as kind and she was born a female child. Therefore from birth, she was already condemned as a liability, and not valued as an asset to the family. In a household blessed with five sons, she was the daughter that every family in the village shunned. Her mother had taken the liberty to remind her several times a week that she was more fortunate than others. For every baby girl that was allowed to live, many more had perished without a trace, and without anyone knowing of its very existence. From the second these babies were delivered unto this world, they were bundled quietly into the night, and drowned in the river that ran through the village. Over the centuries, the river had consumed countless baby girls. Yet, life continued as it always had – as if nothing was lost or missed. One might even think that it was the most natural act to perform – to have one’s daughter submerged into oblivion.
“Mei Yee, we have made a grave mistake by allowing you to study with your brothers. This has filled your head with ideas that will not be of any use to you at all – at least, not in this lifetime. Therefore, this is the best solution for all of us, and you.” Her mother added solemnly.
As a woman was regarded ONLY to be useful as a reproductive vessel in her village, an educated woman was a design against nature. Women with any amount of education were regarded with suspicion in their village because they were corrupted and damaged by all accounts. There was no real glory attached to a woman’s intelligence, only shame. Every ounce of acquired knowledge would have rendered her most unfitting to obey any man, especially her husband. Hence, she would be branded as ghastly unsuitable for marriage. And if a woman were not of “marriageable material”, then she would be totally worthless. However, Mei Yee’s education happened merely by accident. She was allowed to study along with her brothers in order to help them with their homework. All her brothers had made her stay in-doors every single day to finish all their work before their next lesson, while they went out for some mischief. Invariably, it made Mei Yee the most cultivated among them all. She had not asked to be educated in the first place. She was educated by default.
“Now, I have nothing to give you except this jade bracelet. It was given to me by my own mother when I left my village to marry your father. So, I give it to you as you leave us today to marry someone in Malaya.” The elderly lady said, as she took out the jade bracelet from the silken pouch and placed it in her daughter’s hand.
“They do not know that you are educated and they do not mind if you are. So, you are very lucky indeed.” Her mother assured her.
Again, the word: “lucky” appeared in the mother-to-daughter dialogue. No matter how many times her mother had told her how fortunate she was, Mei Yee knew the truth. Luck was never on her side since the day she was born. Even as she knelt before her mother, she knew that “luck” would not come to rescue her from the situation. She was just another female-child, and undeserving of all the trouble that “luck” would have to recruit in order to help her.
“Listen carefully, I want you to forget about all the books and everything you have studied. They are of no use once you are married. When you are married, your most important task is to serve your husband. And the second most important task is to give your husband and his family, many sons.” Her mother said grimly.
Mei Yee wondered if this was the same reason that kept her mother from showering her with much affection as she was growing up. At the end of the day, it seemed that her mother would not truly own her. Her mother’s job was simply to deliver her into this world. When Mei Yee had come of age, she was to be married off and would never be welcomed home again. In this respect, her family and home were a place of transit. Mei Yee was never meant to stay with them for long. Thus, why would her mother lavish her with so much love and attention when she already knew that she would have to give Mei Yee away eventually? It was beginning to make sense. It would have been easier for her mother to feel less pain when the time came to let Mei Yee go. Finally, Mei Yee understood her mother, and forgave her for the seventeen years that she was denied of any real warmth and tenderness from her mother.
Without allowing her emotions to spill, Mei Yee looked up at her mother’s face. She wished her mother long life and good health, as it was customary for a child to say such things to her parents upon parting. Her father had not bothered coming out of his library to see her off. Then again, he never did while she was living in the house. Mei Yee knew in her heart that it was to be the last time she would see her mother, or any of her family. She knew she would not be returning to the village ever again. With her small suitcase, she left the house for the pier. She was to take a boat from her village to the city of Shanghai. From there, she will board a large ship that would take her to a place called, Penang, in Malaya.
With her right hand, she clasped onto the jade bracelet tightly. With her left, she held her baggage uneasily. Everything she had owned in the world was inside that bag. Hidden neatly in a secret compartment, laid all her shattered sensibilities.
(To be continued….in Chapter 2: The Arrival)