MY wife’s birthday falls at the beginning of spring when the winter chill still hangs over the approaching warmth. On that day, I came home from work, stopped her from entering the kitchen and asked her to dine out at a restaurant.
“Has Linlin called?” she asked. I shook my head, knowing she was anxiously waiting for our daughter’s blessings.
“And there is not even a text message from her?” she pressed on.
I told her to wait till evening as Linlin has classes during the day. My wife is a quality inspector and there are very strict rules about using mobile phones or making calls in the workshop, so she doesn’t even own a phone. This makes her life very peaceful and easygoing.
The atmosphere at the birthday meal was rather oppressive. My wife kept glancing at her watch, persistently asking whether my phone was turned on or not. I placed my phone in plain sight right in front of her, ensuring she would see her daughter’s blessings the moment it rang. Soon she made the waitress put all the leftover food in a take-out box and said we should go home as she was worried that Linlin might be calling the landline but no one was picking up.
“But we have a mobile on us,” I said, “Is there any need for that?”
She said she didn’t like all the noise here anyway, so we picked up the take-out and left.
Our home was particularly quiet and gloomy that evening. My wife sat in front of the TV with the remote clutched in her hand, incessantly flicking through the channels without uttering a word. I tried my best to bring up something interesting to talk about, but she never said much in return. Finally, I couldn’t bear the tension any longer and picked up the phone, wanting to call our daughter, but she stopped me resolutely, asking what had come over me and had I no dignity? Later that night when we went to bed, I left the phone switched on and placed it next to the pillow. But it was quiet throughout the night. The phone never rang and the mobile never rang. All I could hear was my wife tossing and turning and sighing until I succumbed to sleep.
Early the next morning, my wife got up to make breakfast. Her face was ashen, with dark rings encircling her eyes. I knew what was weighing her down, so I didn’t bring up the non-event of the previous evening. We only have one child. When Linlin still lived at home, every year when her birthday was coming up we would start the grand preparations several days in advance. And on her birthdays after she left home for university, my wife would call her countless times from morning till night.
How could it be that when her mother’s birthday comes around she utterly forgets? My mind was also besieged with such complaints, but I didn’t wish to add any more fuel to the fire. Sitting on the bus on the way to work I sent Linlin a text, “Your mother didn’t sleep well last night.” I thought that I really shouldn’t have to tell her if she has so much as a sliver of love and care for us.
That entire day I heard nothing from her. When I got home that evening my wife looked at me, but I avoided her gaze. Her eyes were red. She said, from this day forward, neither of us will call her again.
That evening my wife went to bed very early, without even watching any TV. Later that night I heard the sudden sound of a key rattling in the door. Startled, I got up and threw on my clothes. I had only just turned on the lights when Linlin, who had always kept a copy of the house key on her, was standing at the foot of our bed, with a birthday cake in one hand and a plastic bag with a Peking roast duck in the other. Her shoulders were draped in a thin layer of fresh snowflakes.
“Mom, Dad. I made a mistake; I want to wish mum a happy birthday,” she said with tears welling up in her eyes.
My wife woke up immediately. She rubbed her eyes, appearing to wonder if she were still dreaming. Then she jumped out of bed and in an instant, was patting and brushing the snow off Linlin’s shoulders. A constant stream of complaints was spilling from her mouth: “You silly girl, what are you doing coming all this way at such a time? Why didn’t you call? Don’t you know it is cold outside? Don’t you have classes tomorrow?”
Linlin only stayed for two hours. In the small hours she got a bus back to school so that she would not miss the classes the next day. After I came back from walking her to the bus stop, my wife started berating me, “What did you send that text for? It’s not only exhausting for our child to come all this way and go back again, but also a waste of money.”
“What does money have to do with this? Aren’t you in much better spirits now?” I said.
I do feel I handled this matter quite successfully for it concerns the child’s upbringing after all; therefore, I tell this story to many other people. One day I called up my parents who live in our hometown, and told them about this event. I never thought they would respond with a long silence, or that they would then say: “How many times have you two forgotten our birthdays? Has either of us ever complained?”
SUN CHUNPING is president of the Jinzhou Federation of Literary and Art Circles in Liaoning Province, and is a long-time creator of literature. He has received several awards for his works.