Early morning: we heat the fire in the kitchen, and the man who had the flashlight gives me small chunks of wood to throw into an open pit in the ground. He whisks the lava, creating a mesmerizing effect that dissipates into mere scent, inviting and coarse at the same time. His wife brings over chicken soup in a pot, dented so much it seemed as if the creature was still fighting its way out. She tells me that the man without the flashlight killed a chicken for this, and Baba says thank you. Apparently, it’s custom to do so, but I can’t help look at the chickens in the garden, strutting through the caked mud glittered with seeds. When Baba said he woke up to the squawks and fluttering of wings, I’m surprised I didn’t hear even the shadow of an echo. Breakfast is delicious, I later realize.
It’s through the undulating wave of bamboo in which I cross over to the neighbour’s yard and approach the crude whistling of birds, imitating the sound of an erhu. A raw-boned boy runs out with a toy gun, and stopping at the sight of me, narrows his eyes. He pauses and declares something, accentuating the nuances in the syllables with such gusto that I can only reply with silence. As I stand here, I think that even the crinkling of the grass, caked in mud underneath me, could offer greater communication. He pauses once more and then runs off. I leave as well, for if I stayed there longer, I would leave myself to the clasp of nature.
I was told that last time I visited, I held in my hands a broken vase ornate with jasmine flowers whose flowers mixed into a single seamless design. Baba said he helped me find several of its blunt shards in the wooden cupboard, and the rest of the evening was spent piecing together symbols I didn’t know the meanings of. Yet, tracing the spirals let the flow reach beyond the fingers. It even carried its way hidden in a jacket pocket back home over a thousand miles from Changsha.
Baba is already waiting outside his mother’s cottage, sitting on a chair far too small for his size and staring up into a spotless blue canvas of the sky. I ask him if he’s okay, to which he replies, “Of course, I’m here. I’m at home.”
But am I? Yeye used to tell us that home is where you hang your hat, but I left my blue fedora hundreds of miles away, crumpled against empty boxes.
Sprinting down the unpaved road cakes my leg with mud, tickling me with its crisp fingers. I see that they’re that of mine, wriggling away from something that pulls me in, yet I don’t know what it is, as if it were cloaked in the shadow of an inevitable night. One the rays of moonlight set in across the undulating rows of foot high grass, I’ll find myself walking back to the cottage, and the dry mud still clings on as it crumbles.
A sudden recollection. It was five years ago the last time I was here. I was running, or rather, jumping across the crosses of dry mud while Yeye smiled from behind. And yet, I find it odd how I can’t remember his face. After he was unfit to go on these trips, my dreams only showed his voice strewing silent words. Now I have forgotten them as well.
Adam Zhou has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in the National Level and his works have appeared or are forthcoming in The Rising Phoenix Review, What Rough Beast, The Kill List Chronicles, Eunoia Review, Blue Marble Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, among others. As a high school sophomore at the International School Manila, he has been subject to the wide array of exhibitions cultural perspectives have to offer and aims to share these through writing.