Old Man He

December 28, 2005 at 12:45 pm | Posted in Records of a Tiny Village | Leave a comment

Old Man He looked out his window and his eyes drifted to the River. For as long as recorded history the River has always run its course just north of the village. Every monsoon season it left rich alluvial soil on the fields when it flooded the banks. Sure it was a hassle for the villagers when it flooded, but it was also the lifeblood of the village. The River also served as a means of transportation. Just deep enough for boats to navigate its choppy waters. Yet the River was also a dangerous place with young children being swept away in its currents and never seen again.

Old Man He’s thoughts lingered on a memory some fifty odd years ago. He was a young man then, filled with hope and promise for the future. Yet on that faithful day the future would abandon him, and the River would be a bane to him.

Back then Old Man He was a fisherman. He lived off the River and what it could produce for him. He wasn’t particularly hardworking or clever, but he got by. It was a living. His real motivation in life was his sweetheart, a girl by the name of Mei Feng. She was the sweetest, prettiest girl in the village, and he loved her as she loved him. Fate, however, had other plans for the lovely young couple.

Old Man He had a temper back then, and a temper it was. One day the two of them had a quarrel, as couples are wont to, and he made the mistake of striking Mei Feng and letting his temper get the better of him. From that day forth, their bliss was turned to blight. In her eyes, he was no longer the charming fisherman she could rely on. Now he was just another man, with his flaws, with his weaknesses. He was no longer perfect.

It did not take long for Mei Feng to leave Old Man He, and despite his pleading and begging, she had made up her mind. She was going to leave him and the village behind. She still thought of the village fondly and cared deeply for him, but she did not have the strength to keep trying. Old Man He was mortal afterall, and would continually fail. His humanity would be the specter that huanted her. He was not the perfection that Mei Feng had initially thought he was.

So at the end of the nut season, when the River was at its highest, Mei Feng boarded a boat headed to a far away port city. Far from this village that held such bad memories. Old Man He tried to stop her for one last time, but he knew deep down inside that the magic was over and the love had died. He still loved her, and he told her so. She acknowledged that and told him that she would write to him ever so often, to check up on her fisherman. The love was dead for her, but not the care, the concern or the fact that she still connected deeply with Old Man He.

The River had taken away the one thing Old Man He loved the most. Fifty years ago Mei Feng left on the slow boat and drifted away. They communicated, they talked, but the seasons came and went, and their lives went in seperate directions. She loved the city, stayed there and started a family. He left for the local township by foot, even though the River would have been faster, learnt carpentry and returned to the village to be a carpenter. Old Man He spent most of the last fifty years building useful objects for the people of the village, but he never used the River again. The only time he did, was when he helped the central government build a bridge across the River so that a ferry would not be needed to get to the other side. That was his revenge against the River. Was it right for him to hate the River such? Probably not. Yet all the same, each day he would look upon the River and curse it.

“Uncle He, is my chair fixed?” My question jolted him from his thoughts. He smiled at me, lit up his pipe and nodded. I took my chair, walked out and headed for the River banks. Under a willow I sat on my newly fixed chair, reading my book and listening to the calming rhythms of that old River.

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