Luckily, my father was of a younger generation; it didn’t count as breaking the taboo. But Zhou`s father nevertheless didn’t feel at ease while a man knelt down in front of him.
Meanwhile, the younger Zhou was trying to pull up my father. Even Zhou`s mother staggered with her bound feet towards my father and held his hands, saying: “Child, you cannot do this.”
“Uncle Zhou, my father once said to me that a man`s dignity is the most important thing, and ‘you cannot kneel down casually’. But I don’t have any other way to go.” After saying that, he wiped away his tears, my mother also wiped out her tears. They had made up their minds to ask for Widow Zhou`s help.
“I will not oppose it; it is up to my elder daughter-in-law.” Zhou`s father signed and asked Zhou`s mother to return to their bedroom together.
So Zhou`s father didn’t oppose Widow Zhou helping us. After all, Widow Zhou lost her husband, so the Zhou family couldn’t instruct her to do what they wanted for the sake of their own benefit. Zhou`s father had tried his best.
Moreover, that was only one of the reasons. In addition to my father’s kneeling, my departed grandfather, mentioned by my father, also helped. My grandfather had a deep relationship with Zhou`s father in his youth; he had once saved Zhou`s father’s life.
The village was rich in snakes. When Zhou`s father was working in the field, my grandfather, who was passing by, witnessed a krait behind Zhou`s father, intending to attack him. Generally, a poisonous snake doesn't attack people on its own initiative, unless someone steps on it or comes close to its eggs.
My grandfather didn’t have time to remind Zhou`s father, but immediately cut it in half with a shovel. Zhou`s father turned back, perceiving something wrong. He couldn’t help feeling a chill run down his spine when he found my grandfather and the still-withering krait on the ground.
The country people always kept in mind others’ favors towards them. Zhou`s father couldn’t stand to refuse my father since my father referred to this matter. So he was willing to take the risk to help us.
Since his father didn’t insist on opposing it, the younger Zhou also softened his attitude, saying: “Chen, stand up please, my sister-in-law will decide by herself. You cannot keep kneeling. I am going out.”
And the younger Zhou also got out. In the whole hall room, only the three of my family and Widow Zhou remained.
If my parents kept kneeling, it would shorten Widow Zhou`s fortune. My mother stood up, carrying me, and asked my father to stand as well: “Chen, stand up, it’s no good to keep kneeling.”
Wiping away his tears, my father stood up. My mother looked calmer as she looked at Widow Zhou, and said: “we both are mothers. Have a look at my son, he is only one month old, but suffering so much. My heart is in pain every day, like it’s being cut.
As a mother herself, Widow Zhou felt sympathy towards my mother. Waving to my mother, she consoled her with intermittent burping: “ah, Xiu Yun, I could understand you. I was willing to help you, but ah, but I had many concerns. I will help you, ah, tonight.”
Obtaining Widow Zhou`s promise, my parents rejoiced. With little knowledge of the so-called conjuring, they couldn’t wait for Widow Zhou to proceed.
There was a rule of Widow Zhou`s conjuring, which was that no male persons were allowed into the west wing room. If there was any question, only female relatives could approach to ask. Even some women were asked to leave after they just entered.
This was pretty different from other conjurers.
My mother finally entered into the mysterious west wing room of Widow Zhou.
It was totally black and she couldn’t see anything. My mother felt scared in the gloomy and cold room.
“I feel nervous, and I feel like being I’m being stared at by someone,” said my mother to Widow Zhou, fearfully pulling at Widow Zhou`s jacket. At the door, my mother couldn’t step forward.
The darkness hindered her most, since she couldn’t see anything.
“Do not be afraid, ah, I will light a candle,” said Widow Zhou to my mother.
My mother had to release her hands and let Widow Zhou light the candle. Waiting in the depressive darkness was a torment. My mother was a timid housewife usually; she would never step in such a place if not for me.
My mother, however, resisting her temptation to rush out, for she thought Widow Zhou was her only hope.
Widow Zhou was very familiar with her room. One oil lamp was finally lighted up after Widow Zhou groped for a while.
In the dim light, my mother could vaguely see the room’s arrangement. Thick black cloths were hung around the four walls, with no windows seen.
The furniture was also very simple. Perhaps the previous ones had been taken out, but now there were one bed, one table, and two stools.
Some food was placed on the table. There was a fire basin, with some ashes inside, on the ground. The ashes must have been left by the burning of ghost money.
There was a crumpled turnip, with some incense ashes covering it, near the food.
The only thing that could make people comfortable was the bed, which was neat and kept in order. The bed sheet was dyed white with blue flowers.
Widow Zhou sat on one stool, beckoning to my mother.
My mother took a deep breath and, mustering her courage, stepped toward her and sat down on the other stool in front of Widow Zhou.
“Ah, Xiu Yun, ah, what you witness today must not be revealed to others, except what I permit you to talk about. Ah, I will let you know later, do you understand?” said Widow Zhou seriously to my mother. Though her burping made my mother feel both uncomfortable and amused, my mother could feel her severe tone.
Hastening to nod her head, my mother agreed. The country folk always kept their promises. If there had not been certain affairs later, my mother would never have told anyone what she experienced in that room.
However, she revealed this to another person, which was also at Widow Zhou`s request. But this happened later, which I will explain in following chapters.
After my mother promised, Widow Zhou closed her eyes. My mother could do nothing but wait quietly.
After a little while, Widow the younger Zhou began to smile gently. But in that atmosphere, the smile only felt spooky.
What was she smiling at? My mother thought she wouldn’t feel any happiness in that room even if she was given 10 old egg-laying hens.
Suddenly, Widow Zhou, with wrinkled brows, showed a surprised countenance. Then, in a weird tone, she began quickly mumbling to herself. My mother couldn’t follow anyway.
Widow Zhou kept closing her eyes, but she had turned her head to another direction.
My mother, with little knowledge of the world outside her home, felt very nervous and scared.
Finally, Widow Zhou’s countenance softened and she stopped her mumbling. She turned back her head and opened her eyes after her whole body shook.
When she opened her eyes, my mother was a bit shocked. Though they were familiar, Widow Zhou seemed strangely unlike her usual self.
But my mother didn’t feel she was totally strange, which my mother couldn’t explain by words.
“What is the problem with your child?” said Zhou. Oddly, she didn’t burp anymore. Moreover, she uttered the words clearly and slowly. It looked as if someone other than Widow Zhou was talking.
My mother thought it was like having one’s hand grabbed by someone else to swat a mosquito.
For my mother, the conjurers were mysterious. She couldn’t imagine she could harbor any suspicion or disrespect. My mother hastened to nod her head to answer Widow Zhou.
“Bring your son here, let me take a look.” Widow Zhou said calmly, in a weird tone.
My mother got hopeful and brought me to Widow Zhou, unveiling my quilt.
Widow Zhou suddenly closed her eyes at the sight of me, and shrieked: “take your son away, take your son away.”
My mother was shocked by her sudden change and got more worried. How severe was the evil presence, given Widow Zhou dramatic attitude?
Widow Zhou’ face, with closed eyes, turned pale.
My mother had to carry me in her arms, and returned to her stool as Widow Zhou instructed。
“My baby?” My mother asked no sooner than she sat down.
“Take your baby out, and I will talk with you after you return,” replied Widow Zhou. Then she went to the bed, and stooped down to look for something under the bed.
With strong concern and curiousness, my mother hugged me and went out of the room hurriedly.
As soon as she got out, she found my father was pacing around restlessly. My father went to her and asked: “Xiu Yun, is our baby all right?”
“No, I don’t know either. Take the baby and have a chat with the younger Zhou, don’t stay in the courtyard in case the baby catches a cold. I have to enter the room again.” After some simple chatting with my father, my mother returned to the west wing room.
Carrying me in his arms, my father wished to know more details, but had to turn to the younger Zhou.
Entering the west wing room, my mother found Widow Zhou was burning something over the fire pit, crouching on the ground, while mumbling something.
When my mother sat down on the stool, Widow Zhou spoke more clearly, so she could follow what she said.
My mother couldn’t refer to her original speech, but it was more or less like this:
“I am respecting you with some money. Don’t come here after you take the money. Don’t bother me anymore. We are the same, but I am suffering more.” Widow Zhou was repeating this; my mother could help feeling a chill creep over her.
My mother knew Widow Zhou gave the speech to the evil thing, but wondered how they were the same.
Horribly, Widow Zhou resumed her mumbling. As soon as she stopped mumbling, gusts of wind blew in the room at least ten times before stopping.
Where did the wind blow from? There was no opening in the room.
My mother felt extremely scared, her eyes filled with tears. But for my sake, my mother had to hold on.
After the winds stopped, Widow Zhou returned to her stool, looked at my mother, and said intelligibly: “you shall wait right now”.