Kirk Ke Wang
In the early days, when U.S. dollars were strong, it was always my honor/duty to pick up the checks after dinning with friends in Shanghai. Nowadays, plenty of my friends are eager to let me give them a chance to showoff their success. They not only pay the dinner, but also take me out drinking at fancy karaoke bars, following a sauna bath and a massage…
One night, when we were facing down on the massage beds, enjoying the torture of those massage girls and chatting about our childhood’s stupidity, a friend tuned his squashed head and said:
“Do you know Xiao Bo died a few years ago?”
“What? He was only in his early 40s! What happened?”
“Oh, you don’t know? His life was a mess. He grew very depressed and became an alcoholic. He died from the liver cancer.” My friend shook his head inside the face cradle.
Under the rhythmic fingers of the massage girl, I gradually entered into a dreamy state.
Xiao Bo, the image of a boy with a red round face flashed in. Behind him, I saw the face of Xiao Bo’s mother, Mrs. Su. A fear aroused.
Time flashback to 1967, the second year of China’s Cultural Revolution. My first memory of it was one day when I was playing in our courtyard, I heard loud shouting of approaching crowds and saw tips of red flags appeared above of the wall. Suddenly, the gate burst and many young people with red bands rushed in and smashed anything they could find…
Mrs. Su was my mother’s favorite teacher and soon was promoted as the assistant principle of my mom’s elementary school. She was very nice to us and always brought gifts to my sister and me. We loved Mrs. Su’s big hugs and her big smile, like a blossomed chrysanthemum.
Xiao Bo, her son, of course became our inseparable playmate.
Mrs. Su’s chrysanthemums started to wither the day after my parents was dragged to the streets by the red guards and were forced to hang a chalkboard on their necks, with the words “I am an anti-revolutionary skunk”.
For some fanatic ideology, during the Cultural Revolution, young people were encouraged to rebel and overthrow authorities of all kinds, no mater their positions, including company presidents, mayors of cities, distinguished scholars, and even a principle of an elementary school, in my mother’s case. Many of them were publicly humiliated, beaten and eventually sent to the labor camps.
One evening, my mother said she had to go to work and asked my sister and I to stay at home. Just about the time we felt bored, Mrs. Su knocked on the door. She said she would take us to see a play. Mrs. Su often took us to see theater performances in the past, so we followed her to the school’s auditorium.
The auditorium stage was scorched by intense light. A huge portrait of Chairman Mao was overlooking at a crowd of students, teachers, school staff, and some young people with army uniform and red bands on their arms. On the center of the stage, we saw my mother was standing with her back bent and her head lowered.
“Confess your anti-revolutionary crimes to Chairman Mao!” “You Bourgeois skunk!” the crowd roamed.
My mother was a tough woman. Despite her bending back and head, she was quite calm.
“Confess your crimes to your children!” Mrs. Su suddenly shouted. “Confess your crimes to your children!” the crowd stormed.
Mrs. Su ‘s words “your children” shook my mom. Tears streamed down on her face. Her body started to tremble. A red guard ran to the stage and kicked at the back of her calf. My mother collapsed and kneeled down on her knees.
The crowd cheered. Mrs. Su smirked with satisfaction, like a dried winter chrysanthemum.
My mother’s downfall changed Mrs. Su. Maybe for the irk of being accused as my mom’s assistant, or for the chagrin of humiliation under years of subordination, she was the first one who denounced my mother. She had to do more to proof that she had completely severed the connection from the “Bourgeois class enemy”.
I hated her so much!
Days past with many of my mom’s “working” evenings. We hide inside and never wanted to see Mrs. Su again.
But Xiao Bo, her son, still played with us.
One day after one of those “working” evenings, I saw Xiao Bo at the elementary school’s playground. Students and teachers stopped coming to school since the Cultural Revolution and there was no one around.
“Do you want to play a war game in the empty classrooms?” I proposed to Xiao Bo.
War game was popular among children at that time. Like the western movies, kids acted as the good or bad guys and pretend to fight a battle. The good guys usually were soldiers of the Peoples Liberation Army and the bad ones were soldiers from Gen. Jiang Kai-shek’s Army (of Taiwan) or traitors.
Xiao Bo was all into it.
We climbed through the boarded window of a large classroom. We built fortresses and battle ships with studying tables and canons with benches.
I was a year older than Xiao Bo. Of course, I was the good guy and he had to unwillingly take the role as the bad guy.
We shouted and shot each other with all our imaginary weaponry made by anything we could found in the classroom. We fought very hard. We advanced and retreated as the game normally proceeded.
Finally, I blew the victory horn and charged towards the enemy.
Through the opening of the bunker, Xiao Bo’s round red face morphed into Mrs. Su’s rotten Chrysanthemum. Rage and bravery filled my chest. My eyes burned and blood boiled.
I jumped on Xiao Bo, and loaded my fists on him with my full force. Xiao Bo was surprised by the attack and cried.
“I will kill you the anti-revolutionist! I will kill you the traitor! I will kill you the Bourgeois skunk!” I shouted. Xiao Bo crawled under the tables. I grabbed his legs and pulled him out with another round of beating.
Vengeance, vengeance for my mom! It was my happiest hour since my mom’s first “working” evening. I triumphed as a warrior.
When the “battle” was over, I saw the tear marks on Xiao Bo’s face. A moment of trepidation for Mrs. Su’s retaliation aroused. If she found out about it, she would bring the red guards to do more harm to my mom.
I set Xiao Bo on the bench, undusted his clothes and wiped his tears. I praised for his act as a soldier. I searched my pockets and gave him some of the raisins that I saved. Soon, Xiao Bo forgot the “battle” and left with a smile.
From that time on, every time I heard that Mrs. Su led a “working” evening towards my mom, I planed a war game with Xiao Bo.
Xiao Bo started to hide from me and was reluctant to play the war games any more. Every time I had to sacrifice many of my treasures, from toys to my collection of picture books, to allure him to play the “games”.
A kid is a kid. Every time Xiao Bo failed to resist the temptation of the enjoyment of my gifts, by letting me have the pleasure of punishing a “bad guy”.
Years passed. So did the Cultural Revolution.
The last time I saw Mrs. Su was shortly after the nightmare ended, when my parents returned from the labor camp and resumed their social status.
One day, Mrs. Su knocked on the gate and asked to see my parents. I was a teenager then and still felt the anger. I slammed the window on the gate and shouted that we did not want to see her again.
My mother stopped me and asked the maid to open the gate to let her in. She accepted the apology and promised the forgiveness. Mrs. Su left with tears. I could not believe, my mother was so easy to let go of the pain of cruelty and betrayal that Mrs. Su inflicted upon her.
Seeing me baffling, my mom said peacefully: “If we now seek for reprisal of what we suffered, there will be more retribution when next turmoil comes. Retaliation never ends vengeance. The world is reciprocal.”
“Ouch!” The massage girl pressed hard on my lower back and pulled me back from the time tunnel.
Laying there, a sense of guilt started to pester me as I imagine Xiao Bo’s adult life. Did my vengeance to his mother alter his childhood mental development? Did my “war games” result his masochistic personality and alcoholism, thereafter cause his death?
Xiao Bo is now gone to a better place and these thoughts will torment me for the rest of my life.
It is Xiao Bo’s revenge!
Yes, the world is reciprocal indeed.