Monday, January 25, 2010


They were polite and courteous young people when they first came to the village. They would borrow either a wok or a cleaver from us, but always returned them promptly after they were done. I felt sorry for them—so young, and already thousands of miles from home. Their garbs were torn, dirty and skimpy.

They called us either “big uncle” or “big auntie,” the way kids in most villages did. We had to go to their meetings organized by some village leader everyday, and I really didn’t mind too much, except I moved with difficulties in the snow. In the meetings they told us our poor days were about to end, and that their "common property party" would liberate us from the evil landlords soon.

We had some land, but I didn’t think we were evil because we had to work very hard to put a roof over our heads and food on our table. There was not a single idle hand in the house. Everything we had we earned it with sweat and back-breaking work. But I didn’t say anything under some villagers’ unfriendly glare. I recognized some of the faces that had refused work we offered in the past.

Often someone from their group would pat my round tummy lightly and ask: “Big auntie, when is the baby due?” and nod with a mysterious smile after I replied. I didn’t think much of it. Kids were naturally curious about such things and were probably too shy to ask.

I was “sitting the month”1 in my bedroom with my new born baby when things came crashing down.

First I heard that a lot more of them were coming to the village. The meetings soon turned ugly. People would shout hateful bouts of slogan against landlords.

Then one day they came and dragged my husband and my father-in-law out. My sister-in-law told me what happened next.

They were forced to kneel down on an outdoor platform with cone-shape paper hats put on their heads that read “landlord” on them. The villagers shouted and threw stones at them all day long. Her hollow eyes reflected the horror she saw. She couldn't shed a tear.

After three days of this torture they died. It was cold, they didn’t have any food or sleep during the three days, and they finally succumbed to the stoning. Nobody was allowed to collect their bodies. They wanted to use them as a warning to others. My mother-in-law and I were crying everyday after hearing this. The most heart wrenching thing was we couldn't even bury them properly.

And then the liberators and the village vagabonds came and occupied most part of the house. The remaining women in the family were crammed into two rooms. They confiscated our food as well. We had meager rations from the liberators while they ate to their hearts' content.

I grieved silently in my bedroom. My husband and his father were honest and hard working men. They didn’t deserve this kind of death. What would be the future of me and my babies? What would happen to the family? In less than a year the invisible hand of a demon choked off our livelihood. Our only fault was being the owner of a piece of farm land.
My mother-in-law and I sneaked out one night to where the bodies were. We took a piece of wood plank with us to carry the bodies. They deserved to be buried instead of being exposed like animals. It was difficult for us to move my father-in-law’s body – we both were bound-foot women, but eventually we managed to move him onto the plank. I had to hush my mother-in-law so her sobs wouldn’t alert anyone.

We dug a grave in the field and buried him. It was hard to dig a deep one since the soil was frozen. I couldn't tell if my tears were from grief or the piercing wind.

We went back to move my husband’s body, and that was when I found out he was still alive. His faint breathing was barely detectable. We were elated. We put him on the plank and dragged him home to my room. It was the only safe place because the liberators wouldn’t enter my room during the first month. We slowly nursed him back to health in a few weeks.

They found out what we did, and told me they would deal with me later.

My mother-in-law told us to leave before the month was up. The liberators would no doubt kill my husband as soon as they could. She would be safe, she said, because she was a woman and didn’t really own the land. We made the difficult decision to do what she said. We didn't know if we would ever see her again.

In a snowy evening when most people were sleeping, my husband, me, my elder daughter left quietly. I wrapped my baby close to my bosom and covered both of us with my cotton quilted jacket. We plunged our feet into the deep snow all night long, avoiding the main roads, and caught a train in the next village. We traveled hundreds of miles to the capital city of the province, where we heard was not controlled by the liberators yet. My husband found a job at the pier as a day laborer to support the family.

I still get a headache when it gets cold, because not only I didn’t get the proper rest after the child birth, but also from the work and long march I did in the snow. But it was nothing comparing to the nightmares I have until this day.2

(1. It was believed women needed to rest 30 days after the child birth, and their rooms were considered unclean for a man to enter. 2. After hearing the story from this elderly woman, I too had recurring nightmares for years.)

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  1. Another beautifully written story. Great work!

  2. Amazing story, Sarah. Are these all family histories?

  3. Terrible to think of the horror inflicted on people. What a miracle that he was alive and they managed to save him though. Such emotional stories, Sarah! Thank you for bringing them to us.

  4. leah - thank you!

    hunter - it's a true story but not in my family.

    tina - i have you to thank. the wild swan reminded me of this story that was told many years ago.

  5. Heavens, Sarah. I may have the odd nightmare too. Amazing

  6. uber - isn't it amazing how much humans have to suffer just to survive? or not?

  7. I'm a nightmare-maniac. This is lovely but unsettling. And now, knowing it's true...

  8. melissa - repeat this: i will have a sweet and peaceful dream tonight, and every night.

  9. Great story, Sarah. Sometimes, it is so hard to accept how much suffering there is in this world. It certainly puts things in perspective.

  10. Sarah, so much courage, so much emotion, reality of horror thats was levied against the innocent, the escape just to survive that will never let go of the truth. Very nice.

  11. marla - i sometimes forget how lucky i am to live in a different era. just listening to the story gave me nightmares.

    bob - welcome back! isn't it awful the innocent ones are always the ones who suffer. she is very strong though.

  12. I feel like a broken record but your stories are really such a gift. You are never allowed to stop writing, okay? :-) Keep em comin!

  13. Wow that was a really moving story. Beautiful and really disturbing at the same time.

    Kate x

  14. Incredibly touching Sarah and so interesting! It is a story of hope and strenght "never give up". Life is everywhere...


  15. charlene - thank you. i feel priviliaged to know these strong women.

    kate - indeed it was very disturbing so many people suffered, and continue to suffer.

    lorenza - amazing how life continues isn't it?

  16. Wow just wow. I didn't like this one as much for the first two sentances then it just drew me in so much I actually got tearful. You are incredible

    Kate xx

  17. kate - do you mean this one or the latest one? just curious why you didn't like the first two sentences...

  18. Sorry I meant this one. I re-read it because I like it so much - sorry to double comment. I do love the story I think the first paragraph seemed very ordinary which didn't immediately draw me in like your openings usually do.

    I genuinely love this story though.



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