My Father’s Back
Though it is over two years since I saw my father, I can never forget my last view of his back. That winter my grandmother died, and my father’s official appointment was terminated, for troubles never come singly. I went from Beijing to Xuzhou, to go back with him for the funeral. When I joined him in Xuzhou I found the courtyard strewn with things and could not help shedding tears at the thought of granny. “What’s past is gone,” said my father. “It’s no use grieving. Heaven always leaves us some way out.”
Once home he sold property and mortgaged the house to clear our debts, besides borrowing money for the funeral. Those were dismal days for our family, thanks to the funeral and father’s unemployment. After the burial he decided to go to Nanjing to look for a position, while I was going back to Beijing to study, so we travelled together.
A friend kept me in Nanjing for a day to see the sights, and the next morning I was to cross the Yangtze to Pukou to take the afternoon train to the north. As father was busy he had decided not to see me off, and he asked a waiter we knew at our hotel to take me to the station, giving him repeated and most detailed instructions. Even so, afraid the fellow might let me down, he worried for quite a time. As a matter of fact I was already twenty and had travelled to and from Beijing on several occasions, so there was no need for all this fuss. But after much hesitation he finally decided to see me off himself, though I told him again and again there was no need. “Never mind,” he said. “I don’t want them to go.”
We crossed the Yangtze and arrived at the station, where I bought a ticket while he saw to my luggage. This was so bulky that we had to hire a porter, and father started bargaining over the price. I was such a bright young man that I thought some of his remarks undignified, and butted in myself. But eventually he got them to agree to a price, and saw me on to the train, choosing me a seat by the door, on which I spread the black sheepskin coat he had made for me. He warned me to be on my guard during the journey, and to take care at night not to catch cold. Then he urged the attendant to keep an eye on me, while I laughed up my sleeve at him – all such men understood was money! And wasn’t I old enough to look after myself? Ah, thinking back, what a bright young man I was!
“Don’t wait, father,” I said. He looked out of the window. “I’ll just buy you a few tangerines,” he said. “Wait here, and don’t wander off.” Just outside the station were some vendors. To reach them he had to cross the lines, which involved jumping down from the platform and clambering up again. As my father is a stout man this was naturally not easy for him. But when I volunteered to go instead he would not hear of it. So I watched him in his black cloth cap and jacket and dark blue cotton-padded gown, as he waddled to the tracks and climbed slowly down – not so difficult after all. But when he had crossed the lines he had trouble clambering up the other side. He clutched the platform with both hands and tried to heave his legs up, straining to the left. At the sight of his burly back tears started to my eyes, but I wiped them hastily so that neither he nor anyone else might see them. When next I looked out he was on his way back with some ruddy tangerines. He put these on the platform before climbing slowly down to cross the lines, which he did after picking the fruit up. When he reached my side I was there to help him up. We boarded the train together and he plumped the tangerines down on my coat. Then he brushed the dust from his clothes, as if that was a weight off his mind. “I’ll be going now, son,” he said presently. “Write to me once you get there.” I watched him walk away. After a few steps he turned back to look at me. “Go on in!” he called. “There’s no one in the compartment.” When his back disappeared among the bustling crowd I went in and sat down, and my eyes were wet again.
The last few years father and I have been moving from place to place, while things have been going from bad to worse at home. When he left his family as a young man to look for a living, he succeeded in supporting himself and did extremely well. No one could have foreseen such a come-down in his old age! The thought of this naturally depressed him, and as he had to vent his irritation somehow, he often lost his temper over trifles. That was why his manner towards me had gradually changed. But during these last two years of separation he has forgotten my faults and simply wants to see me and my son. After I came north he wrote to me: “My health is all right, only my arm aches so badly I find it hard to hold the pen. Probably the end is not far away. “ When I read this, through a mist of tears I saw his blue cotton-padded gown and black jacket once more as his burly figure walked away from me. Shall we ever meet again?
The Sight of Father’s Back
It is more than two years since I last saw father, and what I can never forget is the sight of his back. Misfortunes never come singly. In the winter of more than two years ago, grandma died and father lost his job. I left Beijing for Xuzhou to join father in hastening home to attend grandma’s funeral. When I met father in Xuzhou, the sight of the disorderly mess in his courtyard and the thought of grandma started tears trickling down my cheeks. Father said, “Now that things've come to such a pass, it’s no use crying. Fortunately, Heaven always leaves one a way out.”
After arriving home in Yangzhou, father paid off debts by selling or pawning things. He also borrowed money to meet the funeral expenses. Between grandma’s funeral and father’s unemployment, our family was then in reduced circumstances. After the funeral was over, father was to go to Nanjing to look for a job and I was to return to Beijing to study, so we started out together.
I spent the first day in Nanjing strolling about with some friends at their invitation, and was ferrying across the Yangtse River to Pukou the next morning and thence taking a train for Beijing on the afternoon of the same day. Father said he was too busy to go and see me off at the railway station, but would ask a hotel waiter that he knew to accompany me there instead. He urged the waiter again and again to take good care of me, but still did not quite trust him. He hesitated for quite a while about what to do. As a matter of fact, nothing would matter at all because I was then twenty and had already traveled on Beijing-Pukou Railway a couple of times. After some wavering, he finally decided that he himself would accompany me to the station. I repeatedly tried to talk him out of it, but he only said, “Never mind! It won’t do to trust guys like those hotel boys!”
We entered the railway station after crossing the River. While I was at the booking office buying a ticket, father saw to my luggage. There was quite a bit of luggage and he had to bargain with the porter over the fee. I was then such a smart aleck that I frowned upon the way father was haggling and was on the verge of chipping in a few words when the bargain was finally clinched. Getting on the train with me, he picked me a seat close to the carriage door. I spread on the seat the brownish fur-lined overcoat he had got tailor made for me. He told me to be watchful on the way and be careful not to catch cold at night. he also asked the tran attendants to take good care of me. I sniggered at father for being so impractical, for it was utterly useless to entrust me to those attendants, who cared for nothing but money. Besides, it was certainly no problem for a person of my age to look after himself. Oh, when I come to think of it, I can see how smarty I was in those days!
I said, “Dad, you might leave now.” But he looked out of window and said, “I'm going to buy you some tangerines. You just stay here. Don't move around.” I caught sight of several vendors waiting for customers outside the railings beyond a platform. But to reach that platform would require crossing the railway track and doing some climbing up and down. That would be a strenuous job for father, who was fat. I wanted to do all that myself, but he stopped me, so I could do nothing but let him go. I watched him hobble towards the railway track in his black skullcap, black cloth mandarin jacket and dark blue cotton-padded cloth long gown. He had little trouble climbing down the railway track, but it was a lot more difficult for him to climb up that platform after crossing the railway track. His hands held onto the upper part of the platform, his legs huddled up and his corpulent body tipped slightly towards the left, obviously making an enormous exertion. While I was watching him from behind, tears gushed from my eyes. I quickly wiped them away lest he or others should catch me crying. The next moment when I looked out of the window again, father was already on the way back, holding bright red tangerinesin both hands. In crossing the railway track, he first put the tangerines on the ground, climbed down slowly and then picked them up again. When he came near the train, I hurried out to help him by the hand. After boarding the train with me, he laid all the tangerines on my overcoat, and patting the dirt off his clothes, he looked somewhat relieved and said after a while, “I must be going now. Don’t forget to write me from Beijing!” I gazed after his back retreating out of the carriage. After a few steps, he looked back at me and said, “Go back to your seat. Don't leave your things alone.” I, however, did not go back to my seat until his figure was lost among crowds of people hurrying to and fro and no longer visible. My eyes were again wet with tears.
In recent years, both father and I have been living an unsettled life, and the circumstances of our family going from bad to worse. Father left home to seek a livelihood when young and did achieve quite a few things all on his own. To think that he should now be so downcast in old age! The discouraging state of affairs filled him with an uncontrollable feeling of deep sorrow, and his pent-up emotion had to find a vent. That is why even mere domestic trivialities would often make him angry, and meanwhile he became less and less nice with me. However, the separation of the last two years has made him more forgiving towards me. He keeps thinking about me and my son. After I arrived in Beijing, he wrote me a letter, in which he says. “I’m all right except for a severe pain in my arm. I even have trouble using chopsticks or writing brushes. Perhaps it won’t be long now before I depart this life.” Through the glistening tears which these words had brought to my eyes I again saw the back of father’s corpulent form in the dark blue cotton-padded cloth long gown and the black cloth mandarin jacket. Oh, how I long to see him again.
David Pollard 译
The View from the Rear
It has been two years and more since I saw my father. My most vivid memory of him is a view of him from the rear. That winter, my grandmother had died, and my father’s job had come to an end; our troubles truly did not come singly then. I left Peking for Xuzhou, to accompany my father home for the funeral. When I saw the household things strewn about the yard, and thought too of my grandmother, I wept copiously. Father said: ‘What has happened has happened, you shouldn’t upset yourself. Heaven helps those who help themselves.’
When we got home, father paid back what was owed by means of selling and pawning things, and borrowed again to pay for the funeral. Those days at home were very gloomy, partly because of the funeral, partly because of father being out of work. Once the funeral was over, father decided to go to Nanjing to look for work, and as I was returning to Peking to study, we traveled together.
In Nanjing, friends wanted to take us sight-seeing, and that detained us one day. The next morning I was to cross the river to Pukou, where I would take the afternoon train north. Father had already declared he would not see me off because he had too much to do; he arranged for a houseboy he knew at our hotel to go with me. He gave the houseboy his instructions in great detail, and repeated them over and again, but after all that still worried that the houseboy would prove unreliable, and could not finally make up his mind. Actually I was already twenty years old, and had made the trip to Peking two or three times, so it was no great matter. At last he decided to see me off himself. In reply to my protests that it wasn’t necessary he just said, ‘It’s all right, I shouldn’t leave it to them.’
We crossed the river and went into the railway station. While I bought my ticket he looked after the luggage. The luggage was too much for us to cope with; we needed to pay some porters to get it on the train. So he started haggling over a price with them. At that time I thought myself very clear, and didn’t quite approve of the way he spoke to them, so I butted in, but in the end he agreed on a price with them, and saw me onto the train. He chose a seat for me next to the carriage door, and I spread the Persian lamb overcoat he had made for me over it. He told me to be careful on the journey, and told me to watch out at night in case I caught a chill. Then he instructed the car attendant to look after me well. I laughed to myself at his naivety: the only thing that mattered to them was money, it was a sheer waste of time to ask them to do a good turn! Besides, I was grown up. Couldn’t I look after myself? Ah, when I look back now, I was really too clever for my own good!
I said, ‘There is no need for you to wait around, dad.’ He looked out of the window and said, ‘I’ll go and buy some oranges. Stay here, don’t go away.’ There were some hawkers waiting for customers behind the railings on the opposite platform. To get to that platform you had to jump down, cross the tracks, and climb up the other side. That would not be too easy for my father, seeing how fat he was. I volunteered to go myself, but he would have it his way. I watched him waddle over to the tracks, dressed in his black mandarin jacket and dark blue padded gown, with his black skullcap on his head. He slowly lowered himself down, which didn’t prove too difficult. But climbing onto the other platform was a different matter. Supporting himself with both hands on the edge of the platform, he drew his feet up; then he inclined his body to the left and appeared to be making a strenuous effort. As I watched him from behind, my tears gushed out. I hurriedly wiped my face dry, afraid that he would see, afraid that others would see. When I looked up again he was already on his way back with an armful of bright red oranges. To cross the tracks he first place the oranges on the ground, then slowly climbed down, then picked the oranges up again. I hurried to help him up when he got to my side of the track. He walked with me onto the train, plonked all the oranges down on my fur coat, and dusted himself off. Now seeming very relaxed, he said after a while, ‘I’ll be off, then. Write to me when you get there.’ I watched him leave. After taking a few steps, he turned his head and saw me. He said, ‘You’d better go in, there’s no one looking after your things.’ I waited until his retreating figure had been swallowed up in the throng before taking my seat. Then my tears came again.
In recent years, father and I have been on the move all the time, and our family fortunes have gone steadily downhill. He left home in his youth, stood on his own two feet, and did some great things. Being constantly reminded of his failure, he was of course unable to control his feelings; as his depression mounted, he naturally had to give vent to it. Trivial family matters made him fly into a temper. He came to treat me differently from the way he had in the past. But in these two years we have been parted, he has finally forgotten my faults, and is only concerned about my well-being, and my son’s well-being. After I came north he wrote me a letter, in which he said, ‘I have reasonably well, it’s just that my shoulder gives me a lot of pain, which makes it awkward for me even to eat with my chopsticks or write with my brush. Probably my final exit is not too far away.’ When I read this I saw again, through glistening tears, that view from the rear of his fat shape, dressed in a long padded gown with a black mandarin jacket over it. Ah! When, I wonder, will we two be able to meet again?