You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. -- Psalm 56:8
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Cloud (Dongyun) sat on that green wooden bench by her front door, peering out into the courtyard as I walked by. I did not know what to do. Should I stop and speak with her or pretend that I was too much in a hurry?
I decided to stop in, then immediately regretted it. I could smell the dirty chamber pot brewing in the corner and crusty dishes lining the few patches of floor space in the room. A tattered quilt was on its way sliding off the side of the bed, and peeling newspaper hung as if on half mast solutes to show the mournful gray surface of the wall beneath. I wanted to run away but she spotted me.
A school book lay open on a wooden table next to her, deserted. Her eyes were gray and empty, as if all the dreams inside had drained away during the last storm.
Like the one from last night.
We had barely finished dinner when I heard the shouts.
"... Useless! .... no!... no good!... such a burden! Why? Why????"
Bang!... Bang! ... Bang! Something wooden knocked, cracked then splat against something hard. These sounds punctuated Mr Shen's rants. Cloud's house was but a few steps from mine, crammed between other little homes the sizes of large tool sheds. Once the home of a wealthy family, this historical courtyard now wore the split personalities of thirty makeshift homes like a poorly stitched patchwork quilt. This quilt of togetherness, its lumpy, frayed, frail, shabby, fragile, leaky and well worn warmth was all we had, besides each other. So day by day we watched each other's comings and goings, our downcast shoulders, flat faced weariness, and not so occasional outbursts.
But last night I only heard Mr Shen. No screams, sobs or pleas from Cloud escaped at all. When I pressed my ears to the window, peeking out through the gaps in the curtains, nothing but frozen shadows and dark corners leaped into my view.
She must have sat just like this, taking in the world and washing it away again with the abundance of gray rain gathered in her eyes.
"Are you doing your homework?" I asked.
"....." she murmured something to herself, curling her body inward like a bowl.
"..., no good, go away..." several murmured words finally slipped from the tight circle that had become her body while I pressed close to her head.
She raised an arm to push her hair away from her face, and I caught glimpses of red scratches and marks. My heart tightened, seized by something cold and dark, pressing in and needling me more than the cold winter air. I labored on my breathing, but my legs carried me nowhere. So I sat down next to her, asking if she had something to eat, something from Shanghai perhaps?
She only had one last "White Rabbit" candy left, so we each took half. Huddling close to the weak ring of warmth by the stove, we chewed on the sticky lumps until milky sweetness covered our tongues. There were no need for words, but an occasional "useless..., dumbest..., waste!..." couldn't help themselves but escaped from my friend's mouth, in between sounds of our gums smacking. She rocked back and forth gently, as if held by invisible arms, in an invisible chair, rocking her all the way back to Shanghai.