One night—I must have still been in elementary school at
the time—my mother shook me awake in the middle of the night
and crawled under my blanket. It was winter, and as she lifted
the covers a draft of cold air made me shiver. Then my mother’s
woolen sweater was prickling my face, and I caught a faint smell
of alcohol on her breath. Wen Wen, my little sister who’s two
years younger than me, was lying next to me, sleeping like a
dead pig with a little rivulet of saliva running out of her mouth.
My mother just sat there without moving, and as it gradually
became warm and cozy again under the blanket I almost nodded
off once more. But suddenly my mother began to cry. She said
she was really a princess who, fleeing from the pursuit of murderous
rebels, had taken refuge among the common people.
Concealing her name and true identity, she had been lucky enough to be taken in by a kind farmer. Even though he was
very ugly and poor, she had been touched by his honesty and
good-heartedness, and so she had married him. Only then did I
realize that she was talking about Daddy. Only heaven knows
what was going on in my mother’s head: Daddy was a worker,
not a farmer.
Daddy used to be a cement worker, but he had an accident
on the job when I was four years old. He fell and hurt his spine
so badly that he’s been in a wheelchair ever since. Not being
able to work anymore, he continued to be a very good father to
us, not like one of those characters you see on TV or read about
in novels, people who just give up completely on themselves and
start to drink. Every day, he’d have prepared a meal for us when
we came home from school. He’d ask us about our day at
school and watch us do our homework. Since Mother had to go
out to work in the evenings as well, the three of us—Wen Wen,
Daddy and I—had the joys of family life all to ourselves. When
we were still little, we would sing and dance for Daddy.
Sometimes he was so tired that he’d fall asleep in his wheelchair,
and we’d be terribly disappointed. Every day, Daddy
would write elaborate comments in our school communication
book, and before we went to bed he’d inspect our schoolbags
and remind us about the crayons, compasses or empty soda bottles
we were expected to bring to class the next day. Seeing how
our father wrote entire novels into our communication books,
our teacher even thought that our mother was no longer alive.
By comparison, Mother was totally weird and bad-tempered.
I didn’t like her, and neither did Wen Wen. Since a brain
injury eleven years ago, Mother had been suffering from amnesia.
She no longer acknowledged that Daddy was her husband, or that Wen Wen and I were her children. She said the two of us
were way too ugly to be hers, looking totally different from her.
When we wanted her to take us on a roller coaster ride and buy
us Mickey Mouse watches and goldfish, she declared that she
was in no mood for any of these things, seeing that, after all, she
wasn’t our mother. She hated it when we called her “mommy,”
and so we never addressed her that way. But after I turned seven
and went to elementary school, I turned pretty and began to look
more like Mother, while Wen Wen still looked the same. Daddy
bought us a colorful tropical fish, and we kept it in a glass.
Daddy told us that it was only because of the brain injury
that Mother had become so ill-tempered. Also, she was working
very hard, and so we had to be very considerate and understanding.
It was almost like one of those TV dramas where the parents
seem to care only about their work and never show any concern
for their children, and then they tell their kids, “But the
only reason we’re trying so hard to earn more money is so that
you can have a better life.” Now that’s something I can sympathize
with, but Mother didn’t quite fit into this category. True,
Father couldn’t work anymore, but Wen Wen and I earned our
own pocket money with little odd jobs such as distributing
advertising leaflets or helping the teacher to correct homework.
That’s how we paid for the snacks or Doraemon stickers we
often bought. And Mother wasn’t really working so hard to
“give us a better life”: most of the money she made she spent on
her own stuff. She worked in a frozen food factory. I don’t
know what exactly she did there, but she often complained how
tiring her work was, and how exhausted she was. Sometimes it
was that her back was sore from scrubbing the storage rooms,
sometimes it was her head that was spinning from taking inventory.
Not long after Mother started working at the frozen food
factory she told us to stop eating that company’s products. She
said they put flies, cockroaches and rats into the grinder along
with the meat, and that the workers would be dragging the meat
across the wet concrete floor. Daddy replied that this was pretty
much the same at any frozen food factory. Mother wasn’t happy
to hear that, and she retorted, “How would you know that?” She
added that she didn’t care what we were eating, it was all the
same to her. After that, we’d still be buying that company’s
products because they tasted better than the rest. Then one day I
found a butterfly in one of their meat buns. Its wings were
almost completely decayed,...