This is the story about a childhood friend. She had eyes the color of clouds, and perpetually gray expressions. When she told me her name-"Winter clouds", I choked on my words.
* * *
"Hello!" I stopped in my tracks, noticing the door to the infamous
"black room" had opened, and a girl my age, seven, or eight at the most
as she seemed even smaller than me if that were possible, sat by the
The "black room" wasn't really black at
all. It had a green door, flower patterned curtains and red
brick walls. But a thick layer of moldy grime covered everything, giving
them a dull gray appearance. No sunlight ever reached here, not
with taller buildings all around it and a pathway wide enough for only
one person in front of it. Yet there was a sort of an awning over the
The girl turned a bit at the sound,
revealing the translucent color of her eyes, the color of rain clouds,
teary yet devoid of emotions. She appeared to have floated away in a
day dream, her eyes transfixed into mine yet many miles away from where I
"Are you new here?" I tried again, hoping
she would respond this time. I rather liked her scarlet colored jacket,
with a cinched waist and round pockets. With her face pale and smooth,
dark hair pulled neatly into braids, she looked rather cute and stylish.
"I am not new. But I just moved here to live with my dad."
"Oh your dad must be Mr. Shen, I know him."
She tilted her head, a puzzled look clouding up her delicate features, as if surprised and bothered slightly at this.
"But I've hardly ever seen him. He seems to always be working or going out of town."
"He was coming to see us, my mother and I, in Shanghai."
"Oh, that must be it. Is that where you came from then?"
"Yes, that was it. Yes I miss Shanghai and my mom. It is too cold and too dry here." She said.
"Beijing is better than Shanghai, it's the Capital!" I wasn't sure why, or where had I heard of this emotionally charged line of declaration, but it came out of me like a shell flying out of a lit canon. (Later I would learn that this was a long and widely held debate between the residents of these two great cities, and that) Firing without aiming was to be my lifelong specialty.
"That's not possible." She said a-matter-of-factly. "Shanghai has every kind of great food, biscuits, cakes, sugared plums, and lots of candies. There is hardly anything except cabbages here." she twisted her mouth to the side, and giving me a side-way glance of victory, knowing I'd have no come back to that.
She was right. My mouth was too busy watering by then to speak.
* * *
The next day Mrs Wu's Math class almost exploded. It was ten minutes past bell rang and no one was there to teach. At first there were just a few whispers from the naughtiest and boldest kids. Minute by minute, whispers grew louder and spread wider. Soon the classroom was more like a tea room, with all sorts of things knocking and nearly every kids shouting. Liu Bao was starting to aim his newly minted paper airplane at the back of Gao Luo's head when the teacher walked in with my new neighbor.
"Everyone, we have a new student today, her name is DongYun (winter clouds). Please welcome her to our class. "
No one clapped or said welcome. We stared instead. Was this the same girl I met yesterday? I
could hardly recognize her. Her neat braids were falling apart, with strands of hair hanging over her face. Her eyelids drooped and pulled her eyes into strange triangles. Tears had run down her cheeks some time ago, dried and left tracks of white lines across her otherwise ashen face. She shifted her feet - her pretty red jacket rustled with
her movement, bulging and gaping because a button was missing and the rest were misaligned.
The wind screeched, blowing through the gaps between the window panes and their frames, beating down bear branches of a row of young trees against the high panes. Nothing lived outside at this moment, not even birds. The teacher told us they had moved to the warm south last month where there would be plenty of food and warm shelter for them.
In this dead of winter most kids wore rough homemade cotton jackets made with cheap yardages from the corner store and even cheaper cotton stuffing sold in the street by farmers carrying them on the back of their bicycles. Our hands were often so dry that the skin cracked and bled, our lips chapped beyond repair. But no one looked as dirty and disheveled as Yun did that day.
I heard whispers behind me.
"She has triangular shaped eyes. That's what we should call her..."
"What a pretty name - clouds - too bad it's all wasted on her..."
"What's that on her face?"
My ears burned and the heat traveled to my cheeks. I wanted to turn around and shush them but I couldn't move or open my mount or even raise my head. Instead I hunched over my desk, pretending to read my books.
"Jade, Yun will sit by you so you can help her catch up on homework and lectures until she get used to our new school."
I shifted my weight and turned my face away from her.
* * *