Back Shadow ("Bei Ying")
[Bei-Ying] a view of
somebody’s back; a figure viewed from behind.
by Zhu ZiQing (1898 - 1948)
[with some comments in brackets from Peter Y. Woo ]
I have not seen my Dad for over
two years. I can never forget his back shadow.
That winter Grandma died, and he
quit his job. Bad news never come alone. I went from Beijing to Hsuchow [half
way between Beijing and home at Yangchow], so that I could go home with him. At
Hsuchow I saw all his belongings lying everywhere in his yard, I thought of
Grandma, and I could no more hold my tears. Then he said, "Whatever happened
have happened, so save your sorrows. Remember Heavens doesn't give dead ends."
So we went home [Yangchow], sold
some more valuables for cash. Dad paid back his personal debt, and made new
loans for the funeral. Those were depressing days, partly due to the funeral
events, and partly due to his jobless state. After the funeral, he had to go to
Nanking to work, and I needed to return to my school at Beijing. So we traveled
At Nanking a friend took me for
a tour of the city, and the next morning I had to take the ferry across the
YangTze River to PuKou catching a train going north in the afternoon. Dad was
really busy. He said he would not see me off at the Railroad Station, and he
asked a known waiter at the hotel, to see me off. Dad gave him many detailed
instructions, but still was worrying now and then about the guy not being
trustworthy enough. Actually I was already twenty years old, and had traveled to
and from Beijing two or three times, so it was no big deal. After some more
mullings, Dad finally decided to go with me to the Station. I told him a few
times he really did not need to go, but he said, "It's all right this way.
Cannot trust them in this."
We crossed the River, then
entered the Station. I bought the ticket while he watched over the luggages.
They were too bulky, and we had to pay for some coolies to help us take them all
in. So Dad was arguing with them about the right price. I was so smart those
days. I thought he never said things as well as I could, and I would always
barge in with my words. Finally he got a reasonable price, and we got up the
train. He chose for me a seat close to the door, and I spread the big purple
overcoat that he tailor-made for me, over the chair. He then told me to be
watchful all the time, and not catching cold at night. He also asked the waiter
to treat me diligently. I was laughing at heart at his dumb ways, for these
people cared for nothing except for money, so why waste your breath telling them
how to be nice to me! Also I am fully grown up now, and can I not take care of
myself? As I think about it now, I really was too smart in those days.
I said, "Dad, you may go." He
looked outside the train's window, and said, "Let me buy a few oranges. You stay
here, don't move around." I then saw a few street sellers outside the fence,
beyond the other railroad platform. To get there he had to jump down to the
tracks, cross them, and climb the platform on the other side. Dad was a fat
fellow, and it would not be easy for him. I ventured to go, but he would not
have it, so I let him go. I saw him wearing a small black cap, a black vest
[called a Ma-Gua, a quilted long vest] over his blue quilted robe, tottering
towards the platform edge. He lowered himself to the tracks without too much
trouble, but after crossing the tracks, climbing up the platform on the other
side was not easy at all. He held on to the top with both hands, and lifted his
legs to get on the platform. His body leaned leftward, with much effort. Then I
saw his back shadow, and my tears could not help coming. I wiped them off
quickly, lest he or others would see. The next moment, I saw him coming back,
holding on an armful of sparkling oranges.
This time he first lay down the
oranges on the platform edge, then climbed down slowly, picked up the oranges,
and crossed over this way towards me. Of course I hurried up to pull him up on
to our platform. He got up the train with me, lay down all those oranges on my
overcoat. Then he brushed off the soil over his clothes, as if feeling very much
relieved at heart. After a while he said, "I go now. Write to me when you get
there." [Telephone was not common those days.] I saw him get off the train. He
walked a few steps, then turned his head at me, and said, "Go in now, for
there's nobody inside." [i.e., watch your belongings].
I waited until his back shadow
merged with all the people back and forth before me, and could see him no more.
Then I went back into the train, and my tears came on again.
During the few previous years
Dad and I were each traveling here and there, and situations at home got no
better. He started working at a young age, supporting our family alone, and
accomplished some significant tasks, yet at old age he could not have easier,
nicer, days. He felt sad, and soon could not hold up his frustrations. Little
mishaps at home would trigger his temper, and he grew more and more distant from
me. After two years of my absence, he again forgets all my failings, and only
thinks about me all the time, as well as my son. After I came back to Beijing,
he wrote me a letter saying, "My health is all right, but there is much pain at
my shoulder, giving me much trouble whether holding a pen [lit. 'brush'] or
chopsticks or other things, and perhaps my final day is near . . ." As I was
reading his letter, amidst my tears I could see again the back shadow of one
wearing his blue quilted robe and black vest. Oh ----- when would I ever see Dad