A 17-year-old girl was headed abroad, with four of her close relatives sending her off at Pudong airport. The sky was overcast with drizzling rain. She had six suitcases. All the elders were reluctant to see such a young child carry the heavy luggage to the consignment counter. But they knew she would have to handle it all by herself when transferring in California to New York, so it was better she get used to it now.
From now on, the girl needed to handle everything herself.
For her worried parents, the two-hour wait at the lounge seemed endless. They were extremely careful about their words for fear that a single question may induce tears and spoil this parting. The mother kept silent while the father exchanged small talk with his daughter every now and then, repeating the cliché – “Well, it’s too late for regrets.”
“I have no regrets.”
“Are you fully prepared? Have you forgotten anything?”
“No, I even have the hair clippers with me. Daddy, why don’t you trust my ability to adapt to a new life?”
A 16 year old who speaks fluent English is much like a horse galloping out of the gates during a race. They think everyone will stand up and clap for them. I noticed a detail – this child didn’t even turn around when passing the boarding gate.
This parting showed the gap between the family and the girl. The senders were distracted, but pretended to be calm while the girl was full of expectations. I saw the father hug his wife in silence. Usually Chinese people don’t use body language when saying farewell. I heard him repeat, “She is capable of cutting her own hair, what do you have to worry about? It is said that in the U.S., if a Chinese student can cook egg fried rice, all students from across the world will feel amazed.”
The mother smiled through tears, “Look at your hair, don’t you know that our daughter is far from competent?”
Just then, I noticed the father’s hair didn’t match his refined clothes. His hairstyle looked the same as a young soldier – almost bald-headed with grey sideburns, with a bushy fringe in the shape of a peach. The father replied, “Who else will allow our daughter to cut their hair except me? Ah, are you laughing at me? What about your irregular fringe?”
Pushing aside his hand, the mother said teasingly, “You are a layman because you never browse through fashion magazines. Such irregular fringe is very popular this year. A professional model has to spend 500 dollars for a hairdo like mine.”
Seeing the bittersweet bickering, the aunt next to them was choked with tears. Just then, the mother suddenly ran alongside the French windows of the lounge. It turned out that she wanted to be closer to see her child board the plane and hopefully catch a final glance of her daughter.
As expected, the girl hesitated when boarding. She even walked down several steps and looked to the direction of lounge. Fully aware of the unavailing effort, the mother still desperately knocked the reflection glass curtain wall and almost drew the security guard’s attention. The seemingly hard-hearted child dashed into the cabin and vanished from sight.
Two minutes later, the father’s mobile phone vibrated, it was a text message from his daughter. He read it to all the family members, “Dear mommy and daddy, although I am faced with uncertainties and possible difficulties, I have learned how to wash, cook, mow lawns, sell books, bake desserts, etc.; I’ve also cut your hair, though awkwardly. I will cope with all the upcoming difficulties with my skills. Please send me a happy face, I need nothing but encouragement.”
I saw all the relatives take out their cell phones and send “happy faces” to the child. Before a child sets out on her own, all the family members suffer from this spiritual separation, the process is hard and painful as if their hearts were forced to break. However, sooner or later, this day will come, when it comes, try your best to smile and don’t cry.
MING QIANCHA is an editor with Yangtse Evening Paper.