SEVENTEEN-year-old Qi made the comment when she was having noodles with her mother and me at a restaurant. Wearing a canary-colored shirt, pale skinned with a long, slender neck that curved elegantly down to the collarbones.
With a faint smile, she said: “Wang Xiaorou was quoted as saying, life is unfair, and no matter what you are, it may throw a rock at you any time and knock you down. Mom, you and dad threw a really big rock at me when I was six!”
Still smiling, she slurped a mouthful of noodles, spattering a drop of broth on the corner of her mouth, which, on her young beautiful face, was like a beauty spot. In sharp contrast to her, both of us adult women at the table were gorging ourselves wholeheartedly and gluttonously, with a couple of soy sauce stains on the collars of Qi’s mother’s dress and a noodle hanging from the rim of my bowl. After an exchange of glances, we realized that neither of us, despite our huge collections of books, had ever heard of the name Wang Xiaorou before.
“Mom, Wang Xiaorou also said, to maintain a life of peace, sometimes people have to swallow tears and put on a defiant smile. Is this what you have been doing for so many years?”
“Mom, are you afraid that I would hate my father? So you have kept telling me that he pays for my upbringing? Do you think I still believe it? When I was younger, all I knew about dad was from your mouth, and I believed in every word you said. Now I learn of him through my own eyes. You cannot deceive me anymore.”
With a straight face, Qi’s mother lowered her head to scrub the stains on her collars with tissue paper. I picked up the noodle drooping down the rim of my bowl, and slowly put it in my mouth, trying not to make any noise that would disrupt their conversation. I had thought all the changes on the child who had been growing up right in front of my eyes were her height and the length of her neck.
“I overheard your spat with him. He pushed you around, but you tried to appease and ingratiate yourself with him, because of me… I later called him. He said: how can you, a child, speak to me so aggressively? I said: dad, why cannot I talk to you in this manner? Mom has been raising me for all the past years. How many times do you think she has stomached my impulsions?”
“Are you worried that I will hate him on learning the truth? You make up lies about him for fear that I will feel insecure and pity for myself, don’t you? Now let me tell you, I know I lived in an illusion of fatherly love, you no longer have to try so painfully to sustain it.”
After a pause, Qi ran her slim fingers across the corner of her mouth, and swiped off the broth drop. “Why can’t I hate him? What harm can my untold hatred do to him? I think this is the only way to do right by you. Why can’t I think differently of two people whose behaviors are widely divergent?”
“Didn’t you tell me that, given our limited abilities, we can achieve nothing if we try to achieve it all. It is no cinch to keep only those nice to us in our hearts. I can do no more than that.”
Clasping her hands at the chest, Qi continued: “Let me hate him for you. The hatred won’t poison my life. Don’t worry as I will still believe in love when I grow up.”
I watched as Qi slurped up the last few drops of her juice through a straw, noisily sucking air at the end. Then she looked to us: “This resentment won’t be life-long. It will grow thinner and thinner before eventually evaporating. When that day comes, we will be truly relieved.”
“You adults presume you must tough it out, for the sake of love for your children, seeing broken relationships to the bitter end of your lives, but I have a right to the truth and the grit to face it.”
Qi’s mother finally broke her silence. “It seems I paid for your school all these years to get a lecture from you.”
When we walked out of the door, the woman pinched my shoulder, really hard. “Are you going to cry?” I asked.
“No, just feel as if a great burden has been lifted from my heart.”
LIU LING is a member of Henan Province Writers’ Association and author of I Write When I Feel Like It.