Eighty Soldiers 06
That’s him, right?
It was almost the end of the month near Zhang Xiaohua’s delivery date.
These days, Wang Tong Hua and a few women on the brigade left early and returned late, going into the deep mountains to harvest wild chestnuts. Because she did not have a coupon, she could not buy sugar in the supply and marketing agency. She thought of exchanging more money and asked someone to quietly buy brown sugar.
The family’s rabbits gave birth again. Generally speaking, rabbits could give birth to seven or eight litters a year, but if the nourishment could not afford to keep up, the female rabbits would not be able to bear, and there would also be very little milk during lactation. Du Baoqin kept them under control, only letting them have three or four litters a year. Sometimes, there were five or six in a litter, sometimes seven or eight, and at most, once, there were eleven.
The more rabbits, the less they were cared for, and often they died, so the more, the better. This time, eight were born. If they survived until weaning, then Zhang Xiaohua would have a whole month of eggs.
This time, Jiang Rui dug rabbit grass more diligently. Almost the entire back of the mountain has been given to her to cover. The team was near the ridge road, and sometimes her figure could be seen, washing clothes at the river or holding a handful of dandelions.
After the eggs and brown sugar were exchanged, they were placed in the rice jar by Wang Tong Hua, and no one was allowed to move them without permission.
A few days later, Zhang Xiaohua had abdominal pain and at home, gave birth to a girl.
The Zhang family came the next day. The mother and sister-in-law were carrying a cloth bag, and inside the bag were clothes sewn for the child with old garments. After entering the house, they took out a bag of dried longans from under the cloth bag.
Zhang Xiaohua’s eyes were red. Her family’s conditions were not much worse than those of Du’s. For this package of longan, the family didn’t know how much work it took.
Having a new child demanded many more things; several people in the Du family divided the labor. Du Youfu and Du Baoqiang had to go to the brigade to dig a ditch during the day, and after work, they were responsible for filling up the family’s large water tank and tending to their land in the backyard. Jiang Rui still took care of a few rabbits and the three meals for the family. Wang Tong Hua was experienced and slept with Zhang Xiaohua at night, caring for the baby and washing diapers during the day.
The company’s main business was to provide a wide variety of products and services to its customers. The first thing they needed to do was go to a fisherman’s house, bring a carp, and give it to her in a soup.
Although this kind of food was not comparable to that of a wealthy family, it already required the whole Du family’s workforce to provide. At this time, the family tightened their belts and held in their minds Zhang Xiaohua and her child first.
On Friday night, Du Baozhen returned home, saw her little niece, and was lured to the kitchen by a sweet aroma.
Jiang Rui had just finished cooking the cinnamon stew and was ready to take it to her room when she turned around and saw Du Baozhen standing behind her, her eyes staring straight at the bowl in her hand and mouth drooling.
“You’re back quite early this week. Go and wash your hands first, and dinner will be ready soon.”
“Alright.” Du Baozhen said, but she couldn’t move her feet. She was living at school this term; she had a heavy academic workload, and the food was not as good as what she ate at home. She previously disliked the sweetener added to the pumpkin porridge at home, which was not as tasty as white sugar, but now the school food was so bland that she was sucking her fingers all day long.
Jiang Rui saw her craving and said helplessly, “This cinnamon is a gift from our sister-in-law’s family to nourish her body, so we can’t eat it.”
“I know.” Du Baozhen inhaled deeply twice with a longing face, “I’ll just smell it. Sis, you don’t have to mind me.”
Jiang Rui went to the house, and when she returned, Du Baozhen was still in the cooker inhaling the remnants of the sweet smell, looking hungry and miserable.
She shook her head, took out the jar of brown sugar, and found a piece the size of a fingernail inside. She stuffed it into Du Baozhen’s mouth.
” Mmm …… delicious!” Du Baozhen instantly squinted in happiness and sweetly said, ” My sister still loves me.”
“All right, go and set the table and tell Mum, Dad, and brother it’s time to eat.”
” Mm-hmm, okay.” Having gotten her wish, she jumped up and ran outside.
Du Baozhen’s appetite was not alleviated until Zhang Xiaohua was out of the puerperium and her family took care of her.
At the end of the year, the commune distributed grain dividends and, in addition to money, also gave each family a few pieces of cloth, cotton stamps, and other necessities.
Wang Tong Hua waited for all the family to be present at the dinner table and told them one by one where to spend the several coupons. When she spoke of the cloth coupons, she looked at Jiang Rui with a bit of joy on her face, “The cloth this year will be used to make new clothes for Bao Qin.”
“Isn’t there more? Mum, I want to have new clothes made too.” Du Baozhen took Wang Tong Hua’s hand and pouted.
Wang Tong Hua glared at her with very little power, “Bao Qin is going to meet someone else before she gets her new clothes made. Why are you getting involved?”
Du Baozhen was surprised: “Sister is going to meet someone new? How come I didn’t know?!”
“You’re a child, so just study. What do you need to know about this?” Wang Tong Hua ignored her and turned her head to explain to Jiang Rui: “Tomorrow, go to the commune, sell the rabbit fur and buy back the cloth and cotton. If it’s too late, all the good fabrics will be picked out.”
Jiang Rui nodded, seeing Du Baozhen sulking and pouting, she gently advised her, “Xiao Shanzha doesn’t have any fresh cotton clothes yet, with the extra cloth, we need to make one for her first. You’re an aunt now; let your little niece have it.”
Xiao Shanzha was the nickname of the Du family’s newest granddaughter; the first name had yet to be chosen. When Zhang Xiaohua heard Jiang Rui’s words, she gave her a grateful look.
After eating, Du Baozhen followed Jiang Rui into the kitchen, “Sister, who is it that you’re meeting? Is he in the same brigade as us?”
” Yeah.” Jiang Rui said truthfully, “It’s the Zhao Nan who saved you before.”
“It’s him?” Du Baozhen was startled again, “How could it be him? You know each other?”
“Help me start the fire first.” Jiang Rui put the dishes away in the pot, added half a pot of water and directed Du Baozhen to boil the water before saying, “Not exactly an acquaintance.”
Du Baozhen was sitting under the stove, adding a handful of firewood into it. She frowned when she heard her answer, “Isn’t it strange that you don’t even know him? Sister, why don’t you choose someone you like?”
Jiang Rui just smiled and shook her head.
Du Baozhen stared at the fire in the stove for a while before saying, as if talking to herself, “I definitely wouldn’t want that…”
Zhang Xiaohua happened to be walking around the courtyard with her baby in her arms when she heard their conversation. She hummed in her mind. When she returned to the house, she saw Du Baoqiang soaking his feet comfortably. Angrily, she went up to him and kicked his wooden basin.
“What’s the matter again?”
“What do you mean what’s wrong with me?” Zhang Xiaohua lowered her voice and snapped angrily, “Just now at the dinner table, Bao Zhen was on the verge of snatching our daughter’s new clothes away from her, and you didn’t even let out a single word!”
Du Baoqiang scratched his cheek, “Mom didn’t say she was going to give it to her either.”
“That’s because Baoqin opened her mouth! If she hadn’t said anything, with Mum’s partiality, do you think that piece of cloth would still have gone to our child’s head? I’ve seen it all. This Bao Zhen is a bloodsucker, sucking our whole family dry to provide for herself alone!”
“There’s no need to speak so harshly.” Du Boqiang frowned.
“Hehe…” Zhang Xiaohua laughed coldly, thinking of what she had just heard—what Du Baozhen said about never being like Du Baoqin. What a big joke. She let the whole family raise her alone—study, attend university, and go to the big city in the future—like a phoenix flying out of the chicken nest. They are different from these rural people, of course, they don’t have to be like them! And don’t think about it; if it wasn’t for everything the Du family did for her and Du Baoqin’s sacrifice, would she still be able to say such idiotic things?
“Let’s wait and see what this sister that your Du family treasures can give you in return in the future.”
The next day, Jiang Rui went to the supply and marketing agency to choose a piece of red printed scraps of cotton fabric. From fitting herself, marking the board, and cutting, she did it all under Wang Tong Hua’s guidance.
When Du Baoqiang got married, the family bought a sewing machine, which had been sitting in a corner gathering dust because they rarely made new clothes. Du Baoqin turned it over and spent seven or eight days sewing a new dress by stepping on it every day in her spare time.
She had been Du Baoqin for so long that she found the matter the most interesting, so she spent another two or three days and finished the new clothes for the Xiao Shanzha as well.
At the end of the Chinese New Year, Wang Tong Hua waited for the news that Zhao Nan had returned home to visit his family.
Zhang Liyun quickly agreed with her on a time and place for the two young people to meet.
As it was their first meeting, it was not good for the elders of the two families to meet too early, but they could not let Jiang Rui go alone, so the Du family discussed the matter and decided to let Zhang Xiaohua accompany them.
That morning, after breakfast, Jiang Rui was shoved into the house to dress up.
Zhang Xiaohua turned over all her family’s money from her marriage and gave Jiang Rui a good eyebrow shading and a bit of rouge on her mouth. It was only after she strongly resisted that she didn’t put powder on her face, but she was so white that it wasn’t much different without it.
After shaping her eyebrows, combing up her two twisted braids, and changing into a new outfit, Jiang Rui came out of her room. Wang Tong Hua and Du Bao Zhen were momentarily frozen.
It took a while before Du Baozhen reacted, “Sis, you’re so pretty today!”
“It’s indeed very good.” Wang Tong Hua said joyfully.
Zhang Xiaohua smiled and said, “Baoqin’s workmanship is good. Look at this cotton dress on her. It looks no different from others, but while others are wearing bulging clothes, she is clever and has tucked it in at the waist. It looks much more elegant.”
Du Baozhen nodded straight, walked around Jiang Rui, and took her hand, “Sister, I want new clothes next year. I want something like yours too, so why don’t you do it for me?”
“The way I see it, next year, Bao Qin won’t be in our house.” Zhang Xiaohua said with a smirk.
Wang Tong Hua looked at the sky and urged the two of them, “It’s almost time. You guys set off; don’t keep people waiting too long. Baoqin’s family is embarrassed. Xiaohua, you are her sister-in-law. Say what you need to say, ask what you need to ask, and don’t get cold feet.”
“I know, don’t worry, Mom.”
The two went out arm in arm, and when people met Jiang Rui on the road, they had to take a second look before asking them where they were going. Zhang Xiao Xua simply said that they were going to the commune to buy some Chinese New Year goods.
The two walked to the commune and saw a man standing under the bus stop from afar. Seeing his back, standing straight up like a pine, he resembled a sword.
Zhang Xiao Xua whispered and chuckled in Jiang Rui’s ear, “That’s him, right? He looks pretty spirited.”
Jiang Rui raised her head to look at the man. He seemed to feel her gaze and turned his head towards them.
puerperium 月子 (yuèzi) : traditional one-month confinement period following childbirth / puerperium
Xiao 小 ( xiǎo): small / tiny / few / young
Shanzha 山楂 (shānzhā) : hawthorn tree (rose family, genus Crataegus) / rose hip (hawthorn fruit)
don’t get cold feet : is a way of saying you’re scared or anxious about something planned. Cold feet can prevent you from completing a goal. If you don’t have cold feet, you’re relaxed and confident in your decision.