Bai Town, the Second People's Hospital.
In the dim-lit corridor, a small figure was sitting on a cold chair with her head lowered. The ponytail that was once neatly put up was now disheveled, with the pony bow slanting to one side.
One wall away was the door to the emergency room, where two people stood waiting anxiously.
Quite some time had passed when the door was finally pushed open and a doctor walked out. The two people went up to the doctor in a hurry. "Doctor, how did it go?"
"It was an acute myocardial infarction and he was not brought in in time. We have tried out best."
Both were upset by the news, but neither was particularly sad.
"Are you family members of the patient? There is a paper we need you to sign," said the doctor.
"No, we're only his neighbors. The old man was living with his granddaughter and we were from the same village. Oh, the girl's over there…"
With that, the three found He He. The doctor looked worriedly at the girl—she was too young to be qualified to sign the papers!
He squatted down and tried to sound as gentle as possible. "Kiddo, where are your mum and dad?"
He He raised her head and looked at him. There was a silence for a couple of seconds before she asked in a whispering voice, "Is, is grandpa gone?"
The doctor was choked on his words. It was impossible to break such news to a little girl. The neighbors were also grieved by the scene and said, "You won't get an answer. Her parents have left them years ago and god knows where they are now. She's the only one left of the family."
"Oh, that's an unusual circumstance." The doctor gave it a thought and took out a small notebook from his pocket. "How about this: I'll contact the government, see if they can help. I'll take some basic information first. What's the girl's name?"
"Room 331, Block 5, Hope Village, Tiemei Road."
The doctor stopped his writing. "Have you moved here from Grass River Mouth?"
"That'll make it much easier. I'll contact the Civil Affairs right away. Please wait here."
After that, he returned to his office promptly, while the two uncles were left behind to comfort the girl.
The doctor said so because the government had policies for abnormality-caused migrants, offering them favorable treatments on various aspects, especially in the living, education, and employment of offsprings of the migrants.
As expected, within an hour, there was the click-clack of footsteps and a man and a woman arrived in a hurry. At this point, the neighbors had fulfilled all their duty and said goodbye to the little girl, returning to their own homes.
The man was Ou Yang and the woman Xu Lei. They specialized in migrant affairs.
They took He He to a waiting room and the warm color and tidy surroundings of which settled the little girl down a little. The kid was odd in a way. She neither cried nor wailed, but simply would not talk and remained absolutely silent.
It took the two people quite some effort to finally establish a normal communication.
"Xiao He, don't worry. We will take care of grandpa's funeral affairs, as well as your life from now on."
"Are you going to send me to an orphanage?"
He He was only a girl of seven or eight. With the tragic incident, it was already remarkable that she was still willing to talk. Her question was blunt. Xu Lei chose her words carefully before answering her in a soft voice, "Xiao He, it's not an orphanage. It's a place for a lot of children to play together, eat together, and sleep under the same roof together. I will take you there to have a look first. It you like the place, you will be living there; if not, you can stay at my place for a while until we find you a suitable family. You will then move in with them and we will come visit you frequently."
"Can I still go to school?" He He asked another question.
"Of course! You're still in primary school now. When you're older, you can go to a boarding school and we will pay for all your tuition fees."
The little girl lowered her eyes. She could not yet fully comprehend all the things she just heard, but deep down, her instinct was telling her to resist. She said quietly, "I don't want to go anywhere. I just want to stay at my home."
"Why, what would you eat if you stay at home alone? You're still so young. Someone's got to take care of you, right? Oh, and there's grandpa's apartment. It will be entrusted to us for the time being and you'll inherit it after you come of age."
Xu Lei was very patient. She racked her brains trying to persuade He He, but the little girl was a stubborn one. She simply would not be persuaded.
The seesaw struggle dragged on. Ou Yang interjected all of a sudden, "There is actually another way."
Xu Lei glared at him—apparently, she could not bring herself to think about the option.
"Don't give me the angry look. It's been stressed in the meeting. Somebody else will say it even if we didn't," Ou Yan retorted and turned to the girl. "Xiao He, have you heard about Taiqing Palace?"
"Mhm, I have seen it on TV."
"Well, Taiqing Palace is recruiting intern disciples and the condition of your family just happen to fit the criteria…" Ou Yang was growing uneasy as he spoke; a guilty feeling of child-trafficking was getting to him. He forced himself to go on. "If you are willing to go, all your expenses from now on will be taken care of. You will have class on academic subjects as you would in normal schools and moreover, you will be given monthly allowances. Of course, we won't force it. It's completely up to you."
Taiqing Palace? Intern disciple?
He He winced. All of a sudden, her grandpa's tease from the other night came to her: when I'm gone and you have no one else to turn to, it won't be too bad to have a place to take you in.
The memory reminded her of her grandpa again. Tears welled up in her eyes and she almost burst out crying again.
"We, well, we are very considerate in this matter, so we've set an adaptation period of seven days. That is to say, you can go live there for seven days first. You are free to come back if you don't like the place, or join officially if you decide you like it."
Ou Yang stammered out the whole thing, then joined Xu Lei in watching the little girl. The way they eyed her expectantly for a decision was kind of funny.
It seemed forever and their patience was running out when He He finally spoke. "I, I want to go to Taiqing Palace."
Three days later, sunny.
Grandpa had been cremated and buried. With the absence of family members, the funeral arrangements were kept very simple. He He was staying at Xu Lei's place these days and had been taken very good care of—Xu Lei even took He He out for a health checkup.
That morning, Xu Lei and He He went back to Hope Village, packed some clothes, and set out.
The little girl sat in the backseat holding her school bag between her arms. It contained her textbooks and exercise books. She had grown quieter than ever and all she did was looking out of the window.
Xu Lei was overwhelmed by a million emotions. Sending a child into a Taoist temple, which might eventually result in her abandoning the secular world, was an idea that still troubled her.
"Auntie, could you pull over? I want to go have a look."
About a quarter of an hour later, He He spoke suddenly. Xu Lei looked around and realized they were close to her school. It was time for between-class exercises at the moment and the hubbub was coming out of the playground.
"Don't stay too long."
He He jumped out of the vehicle and ran to the outer wall of the school, where she held onto the iron bar and looked in eagerly. Students had lined up neatly on the large playground. On the high platform in the front, two people were teaching the moves.
"The fifth movement. Draw back your left foot, turn halfway to your side, and kick out you right foot! Remember, keep you back straight and your breathing smooth. Follow the momentum of your turning and kick… good. One more time!"
Hundreds of children waved their arms and legs, making complicated movements. Some took it seriously, while others made a joke out of it. It was a rather strange picture.
He He knew they were learning that set of fitness program. She could have been one of them, had it not been for...
She only stood there for a little while before being called back by Xu Lei. They then headed straight for Shengtian.
Both Buddhism and Taoism had the term "forest of ten directions".
It was referring to public palaces and temples belonging to religious believers (of Buddhism or Taoism, respectively) of the country, which were qualified to initiate someone into monkhood/priesthood and were not allowed to recruit disciples without authorization. Regardless where the believer came from or what sect they belonged to, they were all entitled to temporarily stay in these temples or palaces. Meanwhile, they were also obligated to protect the latter in return.
Taiqing Palace was Quanzhen's largest "forest of ten directions" in the Northeast.
It was a popular tourism destination and had attracted many worshippers. Today, however, business was not as usual. No tourist was allowed to enter and two priests were even guarding the gate.
In a large hall inside, over forty people sat there waiting. They were all in pairs of a parent and a child. The children ranged from teenagers to as young as seven or eight years old. Everyone of them had a nervous yet curious look on their faces.
He He stayed quietly by Xu Lei's side. A little while later, someone called outside, "Xu Ziying!"
A girl in fine clothes walked out of the hall, accompanied by her weeping mother. Another ten minutes passed before the next name was called out.
A teenage boy rose to his feet, but the family member accompanying him had a cold and detached face, which was quite an odd picture.
It proceeded like so. Someone was called away every ten minutes and it was some time before it was finally He He's turn.
"Yes!" Xu Lai answered right away and took the little girl out of the hall. A priest led their way and took them to a meditation room after quite a few turns in the corridor. The priest extended out his hand. "If the laywoman would be so kind to wait here and let the girl go in alone."
"I see. Don't be afraid, Xiao He. I'll be right here."
He He nodded, pushed the door open, and entered on her own. The big room was almost empty. The only furniture was a set of table and chair, by which a gaunt old priest sat.
"Close the door and move closer." He had a very serious face and the most rigid tone.
The little girl was a little fazed and took a few steps forward anxiously.
"He He. He as in the surname, and the second He as in the word 'seedling' 1 ."
The old priest took a rectangular strip of wood and wrote down her name. The tip of his writing brush was dipped into ink, then dragged along the wood this way and that in steady, forceful strokes. The ink seeped deep into the wood, marking down her name.
"This is your name tag. Keep it close and don't lose it."
He passed her the wood and said, "Turn around."
The little girl was a little shaky as she did as told. A big hand patted her back and gave her arms a few squeeze.
"That's all. You many leave."
She let out a sigh of relief and left the room in a hurry. What she did not see was the look on the old priest's face, which was as if he had found the biggest treasure of the world.
Immediately after that, the priest led their way again, zigzagging to another big room. The boy before her had just left. He He thought his name was Shao Yangming.
The boy's father remained behind, he fumbled out a bank card and was trying to slid it into a fat priest's hand unnoticed.
"Once a member of our community, everybody is treated the same. Please take it back." Frowning, the fat priest refused.
The man only thought it as some sort of formality and tried another two times. In the end, the fat priest grew impatient and flipped his sleeve. With a loud bang, the man stumbled back and was shoved out of the room.
The fat priest snorted at the direction the man disappeared and turned to instruct He He, "He He, is it? Here are three sets of summer garments, three sets of winter ones, two sets of beddings, and three pairs of shoes and socks each, as well as toiletries and some daily necessities. Take them to your room."
"Well, we're only here for the adaptation period. Do we need this many clothes?" Xu Lei asked tentatively in case they might have been mistaken.
"It's the same with everyone. Take them now!"
Right after that, the two carried the load out of the room and were led to her dormitory.TL/N: "seedling" is pronounced as "he miao" in mandarin.