When a Widow Was Going to Get Married
Spring had come. Grass had pierced the soil here and there. As if overnight, wheat seedlings had filled the erstwhile brown squares of paddy field with velvet green. Birds, after a long absence in the winter, had come back, chirping and quacking in the trees. Apricot and peach trees broke into blossoms, with flickering bees buzzing around them. The sun was gentle; the air was warm and a breeze wafted, caressing people’s foreheads soothingly.
Everyone felt delighted with the arrival of spring. They cast away their heavy and clumsy cotton padded clothes and stepped out of their houses where they had virtually hibernated in the past winter. In the warm breeze, they voraciously inhaled the fresh air that made their chests contract with joy.
But not Wang Yin, a widow of thirty eight. She was fuming at home, which had given rise to a boil on her gum. Words had come from her boyfriend, saying that they should split up. However, she was not furious with him; she was furious with her late husband’s family, because she knew it was their intervention that had led to her separation from her boyfriend.
Although she was approaching forty, Wang Yin looked like she was still in her early thirties. Her face had a few wrinkles, but her eyes, though a little wide set, were still bright and lively. She had got some gray hair, but she had a fine figure, tall and slender. Her midriff was a little plump, but her limbs were youthful. Wang Yin’s late husband died eight years ago in a traffic accident when she was only thirty with two children of nine and five respectively. In the eight hard years afterwards, she struggled alone to bring up the children. Now that the elder daughter was working, and the younger son was doing fine at school, she thought she had the right to get married again when the right person came along.
The right person was one of her neighbors, Zhang Zhiqiang, living several doors next to hers and a widower whose wife died of illness several years ago. A man in his forties, he was a bit short but solid, with a flat face and round shoulders. In the past years, he had been very nice towards her. Whenever she needed some help, like the work in the fields or lifting heavy objects in the house, he would always come along to offer a hand. When Wang Yin wanted to give him some money for what he had done for her, he refused, saying if it were for money, he would not have done anything for her. Grateful, Wang Yin was always looking for an opportunity to return his kindness. The opportunity came when last year Zhang rebuilt his house. She tucked up her shirt sleeves and volunteered to cook for all the workers and helpers. She worked around the clock, cooking for both the day shift and night shift. When the rebuilding was finished, Wang Yin felt she was finished, too. She collapsed and was immediately sent to the hospital. At the bedside in the sickroom, Zhang was tearful, saying that without her, he could not possibly have his house rebuilt and then he stammered that without her his family could not be a complete family, either.
Wang Yin blushed to ears when she heard that. In a large part, what she did for him was nothing more than a return for what he had done for her. She had never thought that Zhang would take it as a cue to show his love for her. She did not say anything to his proposal of love that day. However, when he was gone, something was triggered inside her. After her husband’s death, she swamped herself with work and devoted all her time to raising the children, giving little thought to what she herself needed. Many a night, with the work done and the children fast asleep beside her, she felt every piece of her tired. She sometimes impulsively wished that there were someone beside her to help her keep the family. Such an impulse, however, always frightened her and filled her with great guilt. To her, to think of finding another man to replace her dead husband was a betrayal to him and her own conscience. She always quickly stifled the impulse and tried hard to comfort herself with the happy memories she had had with her late husband, which only made her feel even sadder and more desperate in the end.
After she was recovered, she went back home. Strangely, she felt embarrassed whenever she came across Zhang, which she had never experienced before. Her heart pounded; her breath turned tight and her face burned with a tickle. She tried her best to avoid meeting him and whenever she could not avoid it, she would at most give him a thin smile and then hurry away. However, her embarrassment seemed to have encouraged Zhang, who had taken it as a show that she was only too shy to express her love openly. A month after her recovery, Zhang came to her house with a bunch of flowers. Wang Yin pinched her brows as she opened the door to see him with the flowers, wondering what on earth he was going to do. One hand flew to her mouth when she saw Zhang kneel down before her and the other hand flew to her mouth when she heard distinctly him saying he wanted to get married with her.
Wang Yin could hardly resist such a man. Besides, there could be nothing more natural than the two persons, a widower and a widow, of the same ilk and having the same fate, to get married. But Wang Yin’s late husband’s family did not think so. As soon as they learned about her remarriage, they immediately and explicitly expressed their disapproval. One night, when Wang Ying was just about to go to bed, her late husband’s father came along. Without knocking, he went into the room as if he was entering his own room, which terribly embarrassed Wang Yin who was half way taking off her clothes to get ready to sleep. To ease the embarrassment, she fixed a cup of tea for him, which he accepted without saying anything. In the flicking fluorescent light, his cheeks looked concave and his gray goatee spiky. Wang Yin felt her heart was fluttering.
“Is it true that you are going to get married with that Rascal Zhang?” Without any preparatory remarks, he fired while stroking his gray goatee. The air in the room stiffened with tension.
“Yes.” Wang Yin sensed something unfriendly, but she was not daunted. She did not think he had any right to intervene with her business, even though she was still calling him “Papa” as when her husband was alive.
On hearing the word “Yes”, the old man threw away the cup of tea in apparently a great anger, his goatee vibrating a little. He stood up and said, “You must have a muzzy head to want to do that. Don’t you know you two are not of the same generation? He is the grandson of your husband’s cousin and accordingly he should call you granny.”
“So what? He is his cousin several families removed. As long as we do not have any direct blood relation, I do not see why I can’t marry him.” Wang Yin knew the mention of such a fact was aimed at something else, which was too subtle for him to spell out. Her retort angered the old man immensely.
“Shame on you! Don’t you know what people are saying behind you?”
“I don’t care. Let them say whatever they what to.”
“But we do care. You don’t know how disgusting these words are.”
“Like …I myself feel ashamed to repeat these words. It is a loss of my old face to say anything like that.”
“Then don’t say. With an upright body, I’m not scared of a slant shadow.”
“Wang Yin, let me ask you this: Are you pretending you don’t know or you are just too dump to know anything about it?”
“All right, let me lay bare everything here. That Rascal Zhang does not really love you. He wants to marry you only because he wants to get hold of your money. It’s … it’s a louse on a bald head – everybody can see it.”
“How ridiculous.” Wang Yin felt she was on the verge of sarcastic laugh, but she contained herself. “How can anyone and not I myself know whether or not he loves me? Besides, I don’t have any money to make him want to get hold of.”
“Well, well, Wang Yin, don’t just have a one-track mind. If you don’t listen to me, you are going to suffer in the future. You will be utterly regretful for not having listened to my words.” The old man knocked the small tea table in front of him with his knuckles.
“Not going to suffer more than in the past years when no one from your family came to help me and the children.” Wang Yin straightened her back a bit.
The old man, shaking his head, was too angry to say a word. He stood up, turned around and, opening the door for himself, went out.
Wang Yin closed the door when she saw the old man disappear in the darkness. She went to the bed, flopped down, pulled a blanket over her face and then began convulsive sobs. That night she hardly slept, her mind slipping into the quagmire of the past. When her husband died, none of his family came to console her or offered any help to her. Instead, they fought with her for the compensation made upon her husband’s death. They said they should have a larger portion of the money, having raised him from a tiny baby in a cradle to a fully grown man. Finally they took away almost two thirds of the money, leaving her a pathetic sum to raise the teenage children. Ever since then, an emotional chasm between them came into being and the seed of animosity had been sown deep.
She understood perfectly why her late husband’s father, the head of her late husband’s family, was so angry with her when she refused to listen to his words. They were afraid that after she got married with Zhang, the one third of the compensation money would go to Zhang, together with the house, the patches of land, and even the children, whose surname would be changed to Zhang. Her remarriage meant to them loss of money, property and family members.
Such selfish beasts, Wang Yin cursed internally and with the curse, she was made more determined to do whatever she planned to do.
Wang Yin thought the matter was over after her late husband’s father left her house the other day, thinking they could not do much even if they objected her remarriage. But she was wrong. Soon after, a doggerel started to circulate in the village.
A widow aged almost forty,
Is indeed dirty
For wanting to marry a man
Who should call her granny
To make herself less sexually thirsty.
We wonder what will happen
After their wedding party.
Should she breast feed him
or should he fuck her
To make each other feel happy.
Wang Yin flared up as some children chanted the doggerel to her when she one day went out to fetch some water from a nearby well. She stopped them and drove them away. The first thought that came to her mind was that the doggerel was full of farts. And then, as an aftermath, she felt immensely humiliated. She flushed to her face, every word of the doggerel a sting in her heart. She knew who had made it. Her late husband’s father was an old scholar of sorts and liked composing some poems. Intending to ruin her remarriage, he had purposely made the doggerel to make her stink beyond the radius of a hundred miles. He is such a bastard, never bearing to see other’s happiness. She was just walking out of the door to straighten up the matter with him when she was stopped by her daughter.
“You can’t go,” she said. “What can you say to him? You don’t have anything to prove that he has written it. It will only make you feel more insulted when you argue with him.”
That is true. He is a real weasel. Then she thought of Zhang. What will he think when he gets a whiff of this? Worry began to take over her anger. Could he possibly stand such an insult? The thought unsettled her. She then decided to go see him.
When she met Zhang in front of his house, he was just about to go out to work in the field, carrying a hoe on one of his shoulders. When he saw her, he furrowed his forehead and did not say a word to her as if he had not seen her standing right before him. Wang Yin’s heart sank. She faced him; his eyes slipped away.
“So, you have heard of the doggerel,” she asked.
“Is that why you don’t want to say anything to me?”
By this time, Zhang had already put down the hoe. He stared into her eyes and asked slowly, word by word, “Did you tell people that I want to marry you because I am covetous of your money?”
“That is not true. I have never said anything like that.”
She knew that this must be something that hurt him most, more, perhaps, than the doggerel. She hated inwardly her late husband’s family. They had made such a nasty turn towards her and the one she loved.
She made an effort to calm down and then said in a level tone, “Zhiqiang, we have known each other for many years. You should know what type of person I am. If you love me, you should not listen to all the rumors or the gossips, let alone believe any of them.” As she was saying, she felt her nose begin to prickle. She hoped that her words could give him a piece of her mind.
“It is not a matter of my listening to anyone’s words or my believing anything. It is a matter of what others will think of me,” Zhang said. His nostrils were quivering.
“Is what others think so important to you?” She stood there motionlessly. Her heart was almost pierced by the numb and stony look on his face.
“To certain extents.” Nervously, Zhang moistened his heavy upper lip with the tip of his tongue. Wang Yin was in great despair.
“Then what would you like to do next?”
“I have to think about it.”
Hearing his words, Wang Yin swung around and left, tears stinging her cheeks in the early spring breeze. She was angry with him, for being so feckless, for not siding with her at such a difficult point of time and for not being considerate enough to say anything comforting to her. She swore inwardly that she would not say a word to him when he later came to see her at her place.
She soon felt regretful for her decision. For the next week, Zhang did not come over to see her at all. That is a signal of what? She was frightened to think further about this. Finally, after ten days in a row when Zhang did not make his appearance in her house, she became desperate. Seeing her desperation, her daughter volunteered to go over to communicate with Zhang on behave of her. She soon came back with the disheartening words from Zhang, saying that he wanted to break his engagement with her, because, as he said, he did not want to put himself to shame and did not want to get dragged into an irrelevant family wrangle.
“What a coward, so spineless, and so easy to be defeated and give up,” Wang Yin cursed loudly. Then, after calming down, she realized perhaps Zhang was pardonable, giving consideration of the fact that in a sense he was a victim of rumors, too. Her curses were then redirected to the source of the rumor, her late husband’s family. If they had not interfered, she and Zhang would never have split. She hated them, every one of them.
Exasperated, she forcefully pushed open a window. Immediately, a breeze drifted in, spanking her cheeks, fanning her hair and rubbing her burning forehead. The breeze enabled her to think more coolheadedly. I can’t give up my happiness and marriage so easily. I have to combat with them face to face and teach them a lesson so as to restrain them from nagging incessantly about my marriage.
Her resolution made, she soon was on her way to her late husband’s family. As she was walking, she noticed that the roadside trees were softly green with budding leaves. Occasionally, a breeze passed by and shook a few raindrops off the leaves, pattering through the trees. From far and near, frogs were croaking hesitantly. Indeed, everything has come back to life, and so will my marriage, Wang Yin pondered.
In less than fifteen minutes, she was approaching her destination which was a big house where her late husband’s father lived with his other son’s family. She slackened her pace.
The door was closed. A smell of fried leeks was hovering in the air, ensuring her that the people in the house had just had lunch. Wang Yin took a deep breath and then pounded on the door with a throbbing heart. After a while, the door opened a crack. Through the crack, she could see the sallow and chafed face of her late husband’s sister-in-law. Seeing Wang Yin, she was about to close the door. Wang Yin was quick enough to insert her hand in the crack.
“What do you want?” she asked coldly in her abrasive voice, glowering at her.
“Nothing much. I want to see Papa.”
“He is not in.” She was not yet quite finished when she was about to close the door again.
“You are lying. I can see his overcoat hanging on the wall.” By this time, Wang Yin had already successfully forced half of her body into the room.
“He has gone out without his overcoat.”
“And his leather shoes are still on the shoe stand. He can’t have gone out without his overcoat and his leather shoes.”
Her late husband’s sister-in-law was silent for a while and then she became delirious and obstreperous.
“You have got a thick face to come to see him after you threw mud in his face!” Though she had an unremarkable face, she had a remarkable voice.
“What makes you think I have a thick face to come to see him?”
“After you have taken away all the money that was meant for him.” She was referring to the compensation.
“I have taken away nobody’s money. I deserved every cent that I possessed.”
“You deserve to be dead one thousand times for what you have taken away from us.”
“Watch your filthy mouth.” Wang Yin felt her lips were twitching. She made a mental note that she was saying “Us” instead of “Him”. That was exactly what she was so angry about because what her late husband’s father might get would finally go to her and her husband.
“All right, I will watch my mouth if you watch your pussy cunt,” Her late husband’s sister-in-law said with both of her hand holding her robust wrist, obviously ready for a fight.
“Your mouth is filthy indeed. Let me clean it for you.” Wang Yin was half throttled by scalding rage. She raised her hand to give her a slap as if she was about to wipe her mouth. Her late husband’s sister-in-law responded quickly to hold back her hand in the air. Stimulated by Wang Yin’s move, she became wilder and her attack more vicious.
“You are the dirtiest of all. Everyone knows that you are always ready to sleep with any man willing to offer you the slightest help. And now you even have the temerity to want to get married with one of them, even though he should call you grandma.”
“Let me call you a bitch.” Wang Yin lift her foot and kicked her hard on her calve unexpectedly, which made her release her hand and slumped down on the ground, moaning and twisting in a very exaggerative manner. Wang Yin believed the kicking must be fatally hard, powered by her long restrained anger. Just as she was at loss about what to do next, she saw someone dashing out of the darkness of the inside of the room and another figure following closely. Before she could see who they were, she felt a biting slap on her face. She lurched and stars started to fly in front of her eyes. She had to close her eyes and when she reopened them she saw standing before her was her late husband’s brother, raising his hand high in the air, ready for another slap while her late husband’s father holding his hand just in time to stop him.
Wang Yin felt her mouth salty and a certain liquid was leaking out of the corner of her mouth. She wiped it with the back of hand and found it was blood. Seeing the blood, she burst into loud cries.
“You are shameless and not a man hitting a woman.”
“You are exactly the one I want to hit, so low and so despicable,” her late husband’s brother hollered. His wife was wailing beside him, now stopped awhile, now resumed.
“Don’t you forget I was your brother’s wife. What do you think he would say if he could see what you are doing to me,” she said while keeping wiping off the blood with the back of her palm.
“My brother will definitely think you deserve it and I hit you on behave of him after you have slept with other men.” He raised his hand again, his face turning the color of pork liver.
“Alright, you might just as well hit me dead, so I can go meet your brother in the other world.” She tilted her face to receive another slap. She was beyond convalescence.
Just at this moment, her late husband’s father interrupted.
“Wang Yin, Don’t be so grumpy. You have made a buffoon of yourself. Please go away.”
“I won’t go away, Papa.” She turned to him and locked her eyes on him. “Unless you tell me why you wrote the doggerel to insult me.”
“I have written nothing and I know nothing about what you are talking about,” he denied.
“You have.” She knew he was playing the fool to dodge the accusation. The hatred rising inside her made her grit her teeth.
“What I did I did for your benefits.” Seeing he could not exonerate himself from the accusation, the old man changed the subject.
“Or for your own benefits. Let me tell you this, Papa. No matter what you will write or what you will say, you can’t stop me doing what I want to do. So, you better not interfere with my affair in the future.”
With that, she turned around to go home. When she was walking away, she could hear her late husband’s sister-in-law blasting curses and pouring dirty words on her, nonstop. Her voice horse and desperate, reminding her of a ferocious animal, fighting wildly for what she thought was hers. Wang Yin walked faster, thinking she would wound herself more if her curses and dirty words fell on deaf ears and were not working to their effects. Still, she felt constriction rise in her chest and tears came to her eyes.
At night, lying on bed, she could hardly fall asleep, her face still hurt from the slap she received in the day. All night, her ears were full of the insects’ chirring and frogs’ croaking while her mind was busy with all kinds of thoughts. She felt she was just plain unlucky in everything. If only her husband had not died; if only she had never known Zhang; if only she could get back into her old rut again return to an undisturbed life.
After she did not know how long, she found it was beginning to brighten up outside. Another day had begun. The sleepless night made her feel giddy and desirous of a catnap before she got up to do the daily chorus. She closed her eyes, and almost immediately she descended toward sleep, her breath growing shallow. It seemed that she had just closed her eyes when she heard some noises outside. She got up and went out, feeling top-heavy, as if treading the clouds. She saw under a tree not far away her daughter arguing with her late husband’s brother who were flashing a hoe in her face and from time to time thrusting his fists upward into the air.
The sight jolted her and immediately she was no longer sleepy. The reckless man is capable of doing any terrible thing. Without further thought, she rushed forward in a tottering gait and stood in front of her daughter to be in between them. Facing the mad man, she could see his eyes radiate a hard light.
“What do you want?” Wang Yin asked, glaring at him.
“Who allowed you to build the toilet?” His hot and sour breath almost choked her.
Wang Yin was reminded of her newly built toilet just at the back of the house. Originally the toilet was beside the pig pen. This year, she expanded the pig pen by making the toilet a part of it and had to find another place for a new toilet. She rebuilt the toilet at a corner of the backyard vegetable garden. It had just been finished with Zhang’s help.
“Who should I ask for permission when I built my own toilet on my own piece of land?” Wang Yin fought back.
“Who said it is yours. You can build your toilet anywhere, in your bedroom, in your living-room, or even in your kitchen, but not on that piece of land.” Wang Yin knew he was trying to make her angry by saying nasty things. She waved her hand to cut him off.
“Who says it is not mine; it’s just behind my house and in my own garden.”
“You think once it is in your garden, then it is yours. How ridiculous.”
“Could it be yours even it is not in your garden?”
“It is my brother’s. After him, my father has given it to me.”
“That is ridiculous. What right does your father have to give it to you? Besides, I remember that Papa has written in the agreement that I have this piece of land.”
“Do you mean this?” With a wry smile trembling on his face, her late husband’s brother confidently produced a piece of paper from his pocket. Wang Yin knew it was the agreement at the first sight. She was filled with doubts as she took it over to have a close look. It was exactly the same as she saw it several years ago, but when she moved her eyes to the end of the agreement, she was given a terrible start. A new sentence was added there, saying that the piece of land behind her house should be given to her late husband’s brother, who, at this moment, was sneering, seeming to relish the surprise on her face. Wang Yin felt tiny pinpricks of sweat emerging on her skull.
“You are a shameless beast.” Without thinking, she tore the agreement into pieces and threw what was left in her hands right into his face. Her late husband’s brother, so astonished, could not utter a word for a while, with his mouth wide open. When he recovered his senses, he walked directly towards her, pushed her down unexpectedly, went on to the newly built toilet and there he shoved his hoe to demolish the toilet.
The moment Wang Yin fell down, she felt her mind went blank and then was appalled by the realization of what her late husband’s brother was trying to do. She got up and started to run to the garden. When she got there, she desperately held his wrist. To get himself free, he lifted one of his feet and gave Wang Yin a hard kicking. Wang Yin was forced to release her hands and almost fell. She steadied herself to make a new effort. Seeing Wang Yin come along again, her late husband’s brother was immensely agitated. At the moment Wang Yin was about to get hold of his hands, he turned aside, raised his hoe, and without a second’s hesitation, struck it hard on her head.
When Wang Yin woke up, she found she was lying on a bed. It was so quiet in the room that she even could hear her own breathing. Turning her head around, she saw whiteness everywhere, which made her feel dizzy and wonder if she was in a dream. It was the pain on her head that reminded her of the reality and brought back the memory of her fight with her late husband’s brother. When she saw him raise his hoe, she thought it was merely a gesture of threat. When she realized that he was not merely threatening, it was too late for everything. She felt a sharp pain on the head and then lost her consciousness.
Feeling thirsty, she tried to get up to get some water from a cup on the bedside table. Till this moment did she see Zhang sitting beside the bed, his hands drooping between his knees and his eyes staring at the floor. Beside him, on the bedside table, a bunch of roses stood in a beer bottle.
She was filled with mixed emotions. She did not know what to say to him. Seeing her getting up, Zhang went over. He hugged her and, seeing that she was not objecting, touched the small of her back with his palm, caressing her.
“Are you feeling better?” he asked.
“Yes, much better.” Something caught in her throat.
“You are really silly to try to fight with that mangy dog.”
“What can I do? I am a helpless woman without a man to depend on.” She was reminded of the cold war between them. She pushed him away from her.
“You can depend on me in the future.” There was a trace of embarrassment in his voice. He sat back on the seat.
“Even if people will gossip behind you,” she teased him.
“They will have nothing to gossip if we get married.”
“And you are not afraid of people saying you are covetous of my money?”
“Do you think you are a rich woman?”
“I’m not a rich woman and you are not a rich man, either.”
“So we make a perfect match.”
At this, both of them laughed. The laughter was cut short when Wang Yin ouched on account of the pain on the head. Zhang went over again and rubbed her head with the palm of his hand.
“We are like two grasshoppers tied together by one thread,” he joked light-heartedly.
“No, a pair of mandarin ducks,” Wang Yin corrected with mock seriousness.
They laughed again till their eyes welled. They then subsided into silence. After a while, as if having received a signal at the same time, they turned towards each other and embraced each other tightly. Once they were united, they were unwilling to depart from each other, afraid that once departed, they would be forever distanced from each other for a marriage.