Hei Papa did not need the comfort of others to get back on his feet and resume his life. Even though he was never the type to whisper sweet nothings to his wife, everyone could tell how good their relationship was just based off how many children they had together. This was the kind of love that they had gradually built up bit by bit. After 13 years of sharing their life together, he had already long been smitten by that woman. He was very proud that he had her. In this small county, his woman beautified its landscape. Even though the whole country was dressed in the same grey-blue colours, the same oversized clothes that looked like a uniform – that grey and that blue on his wife appeared extraordinarily elegant.
Hei Papa’s love was expressed through Hei Mama’s status in the family. He was unlike the other families’ chauvinists who would go home expecting to be fed, and knock over oil bottles but refuse to pick them back up. He liked to pick vegetables, cook and do other chores with his wife while he appreciated her every look, every smile and every raised brow. His heart radiated with warmth and happiness. When the men got together to drink and joke about, a few drunkards would envy Hei Papa for marrying such a beautiful woman who looked like she descended from Hangzhou1. The uncouth blue-collared workers would cajole Hei Papa to describe Hei Mama’s beauty and loveliness. Hei Papa would only chuckle and laugh patronisingly. Please, why would he want to share his baby with others. This amazing woman was his, and he didn’t want to share even a strand of her hair with others.
It was exactly because of their strong relationship that everyone was surprised at how quickly Hei Papa recovered. He could already return to work and talk to everyone normally – as if nothing had changed in his life. But, no one saw the tears Hei Papa shed alone at night, and no one saw the hole that had formed in his heart. The woman he loved had left him forever, but she left behind five sons who were relying on him to get back on his feet. Please forgive Hei Papa for not considering the newborn, because he really had no milk to give him. Milk powder was a luxury that he couldn’t afford, so the newborn had been entrusted to a colleague whose wife had just given birth and could share a bit of her milk with the baby.
The Hei family had five sons, and the oldest was already twelve years old. Each of them were about two to three years apart. Respectively, they were the eldest Hei Aiguo (1960), Hei Aidang (1962), Hei Aijia (1965), Hei Aiwen (1967) and Hei Aige (1970)2. The Hei Papa who didn’t have good naming sense gave his sons names rich with social flavour, which realistically reflected the strange inclination of that era. The two eldest sons Aiguo and Aidang dutifully took over most of their mother’s work. They understood that the departure of their mother was permanent; but the other three little ones, Aijia and Aiwen still couldn’t fathom why their little sister hadn’t arrived, but took their mother away instead. Their relentless questions only added onto the burden on Hei Papa’s heart.
Five months later, the new mother had done the most she could and sent the youngest son back. In these times when resources were scarce, no one had it easy; an additional mouth was really too much to bear. At the same time, Hei Papa found an effective way to cover up his wounds: every day after work, he would hang out with his colleagues, listen to their nonsense, drink some strong white wine and go home slightly drunk so that he could have a peaceful sleep.
The ones who got the worse end of the stick were the children. They often had to wait for their father to give them money and tickets before they could buy rice and noodles to cook for dinner. The elder two had already begun to plant cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants and shallots in their yard, but the plants needed time to grow. The seeds didn’t come from a celestial sister’s hands that, once planted, would miraculously sprout fruit the next day. But no matter what, the children proudly watched the seeds they planted sprout, flower and bear fruit. Hei Papa never noticed any of this, if not for what happened next.
One day, he was called up by the Cultural Revolution Working Group. The team leader was an old colleague who patted Hei Papa’s shoulder and sighed, “The organization understands that you’re experiencing some difficulties, but right now everyone is going through a hard time, why cause such trouble? In the face of difficulties, we should bite down on our lips and continue to work hard, not engage in capitalism…….” his words only served to confuse Hei Papa even further. When he remained dumbfounded after several hints and reminders from his old colleague, the team leader’s face blackened and said, “Xiao Hei, I don’t care if you accept it or not, the organization has already handled it. We chose to handle it as gently as we could because you are a hardworking member of our working class. Go back and think about it carefully.”
When Hei Papa left the factory, he met Zhang Baozhen and Aige who were waiting for him. “Hurry home and take a look, they’re still crying at home.”
On the way back, Zhang Baozhen explained what had happened to him. Someone had reported that the Hei family secretly planted vegetables in their yard to the Cultural Revolution Working Group. Once they were notified, they immediately dispatched some people to get rid of the vegetables and confiscate the ones that had ripened. This was a symbol of nipping the capitalist’s roots in its bud. When he got home, the children were standing next to their garden that had been ravaged into a mess. Some held tears in their eyes, while others were snivelling. The moment they say their father, the third and fourth son pounced on him while crying, “Papa, papa, they- the bad guys came.”
As she looked at the crying faces of the children and Lao Hei’s sorrowful face, Zhang Baozhen knew that this family needed a new mistress.