Editor: Wahnsinniger Herrscher
Aunt Hua had the affectionate habit of supervising Little Miaomiao while she did her homework. She also taught Little Miaomiao the subject matter of the lessons that would come the next day, so that Little Miaomiao wouldn’t find her studies strenuous.
When they reached the day’s final lesson, Little Miaomiao already felt a rush of drowsiness – her little head bobbed slowly.
Hospitals were at their busiest during the transient changing of the seasons. Because of this, Uncle Hua was busy at work and often returned very late at night. Back then, Aunt Hua would feel a sense of lonesome solitude, but now she was no longer alone. She had a daughter who accompanied her.
Aunt Hua directed her gaze at Little Miaomiao and noticed that she sat under the softness of the light. Her head bobbed due to her fatigue.
A storm of emotions melted Aunt Hua’s heart, as she stood up, gently hugged Little Miaomiao, and said, “I’ll teach you about it tomorrow.”
As Aunt Hua lifted her up, Little Miaomiao presented no struggle like last time. Little Miaomiao opened her eyes and when she realized that it was her aunt, she drew Aunt Hua’s neck into a warm embrace, before falling asleep.
When she saw her cute reaction, Aunt Hua’s heart gushed with joy. She lifted Little Miaomiao into the bathroom and placed her into her little chair. She wiped Little Miaomiao’s face with a moist towel. During this treatment, Little Miaomiao would wake up intermittently in a daze and simply said, “Aunt.”
Aunt Hua scratched her nose and replied, “Auntie is here.”
Recently, Little Miaomiao felt very tired. Aunt Hua thought that perhaps she didn’t take her daily naps at school. But when she asked Teacher Li about this, she discovered that Little Miaomiao took her afternoon nap everyday. Aunt Hua surmised that Little Miaomiao was just simply tired. That was probably why she slumbered a lot lately.
After wiping her face, Aunt Hua undressed and wiped Little Miaomiao’s body.
She never gave Little Miaomiao a bath, as Little Miaomiao greatly dreaded water. Little Miaomiao’s phobia of water was actually quite serious. At the beginning, Aunt Hua didn’t bathe her in the hospital due to the manifold inconveniences there. Little Miaomiao’s injuries further exacerbated her situation.
Aunt Hua discovered Little Miaomiao’s dread of water on the night they brought her back from the hospital. After she tucked Little Miaomiao into her bed, fatigue consumed Aunt Hua, and she unknowingly fell into a deep slumber.
Suddenly, a loud and fearful shout startled Aunt Hua out of her sleep. She opened her eyes and felt as if someone was pulling on her arms in desperation.
When Aunt Hua turned her head, she saw Little Miaomiao wailing out loudly. Her small face was overflowing with tears. She was weeping and tugging almost like a small animal struggling in desperation.
After this incident, Aunt Hua watched a video of Little Miaomiao’s torturous past and realized the source of Little Miaomiao’s fear. In the video, those wretched people dunked Little Miaomiao’s head into water. They waterboarded her. They watched her choke in water and struggle for air. They did it as a twisted form of amusement.
Since then, their family never used the bathtub ever again. Instead, Aunt Hua would wipe her body everyday.
Before going to bed, Aunt Hua rubbed ointment onto Little Miaomiao’s scars. Uncle Hua asked one of his colleagues to produce this ointment for Little Miaomiao. A multitude of scars covered Little Miaomiao’s body and considering her youth, Aunt Hua insisted on applying the ointment daily. Although the scars didn’t fade completely, the ointment still had some effect. Aunt Hua surmised that if the lattice of scars didn’t disappear by summer, she could simply design and create several long skirts for Little Miaomiao to wear.
The ointment didn’t carry the smell of typical Chinese medicine, but it did have a fruity scent that the children loved. There were several varieties and the one that she used today exuded the aroma of strawberries.
Little Miaomiao obediently stretched out her arm for Aunt Hua to apply the ointment. After its application, Little Miaomiao couldn’t resist her curiosity, so she sniffed herself. She found herself exuding a sweet-smelling fragrance.
Aunt Hua kissed her on the forehead, “Today, Miaomiao is a little strawberry.”
This kiss reminded Little Miaomiao of a phrase that she had once read – Mom’s kiss.
She continued to indulge in her thoughts which led to her remembrance of something else that happened at school. When Deng Feng’s mother asked Aunt Hua if she was Miaomiao’s mother.
Of course, she was Miaomiao’s mother.
Half of Little Miaomiao’s knowledge came from her experiences in the gruesome enclosure that imprisoned and immured her during the dark years of her life. Her beloved Aunt Hua gradually taught her the other half.
Little Miaomiao was taciturn at school, but after listening to all her classmates speak about their mothers, she naturally understood that her ‘mother’ would never strike her.
Memories of her classmates’ statements echoed in her mind.
“Dad went to work today, so my mom dropped me off to school.”
“My mom said that I look beautiful in this dress.”
“My mom bought strawberries and milk for me today…”
Aunt Hua did all of these things for her. So was Auntie…her mother?
Little Miaomiao drifted deeper into her recollections, which led to another memory resurfacing in her mind. During her hospitalization, a grandmother, who was seemingly filled with anger and bellicosity, came into her room and began to speak loudly and aggressively with her aunt. The thunderous voice awoke Little Miaomiao from her slumber during that time, traces of fear crept into her heart, and she called out “Aunt”.
“You see, she still calls you aunt instead of mom. A child, who’s this old, would surely realize that you aren’t her real mother, no? Besides, she has the genes of her parents, and when she grows up, she will become just as cruel and callous as them. You would be raising a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” said the grandmother.
Aunt Hua pleaded, “Mom, please don’t say that.”
“I’m doing this for your own good. If you want to adopt a child, you could just go to an orphanage and adopt a boy who doesn’t remember his past…”
Little Miaomiao’s little brain recalled that many individuals didn’t like it, when she addressed her aunt as “aunt”.
Aunt Hua tucked the fragrant Little Miaomiao inside her quilt, “Little Strawberry, go to sleep.”
Aunt Hua retired from the room, but Little Miaomiao was still immersed in her thoughts.
She couldn’t think clearly, and eventually, she drifted off to sleep.
During the next day, Zhou Yuan was the first person to arrive at school. After a brief period of time, he noticed Little Miaomiao’s aunt seeing her off at the classroom door.
Little Miaomiao came in with her schoolbag. She walked with a slow gait almost like a little, old lady. Or at least, she bore some resemblances with one.
“Miaomiao, good morning.” Zhou Yuan greeted her.
“Good morning, Zhou Yuan.” Little Miaomiao was still a little shy.
Little Miaomiao slowly placed her schoolbag beside her desk, and instead of settling down on her chair, she walked out of the classroom.
At first, Zhou Yuan conjectured that she simply went to the bathroom. But after a while, he noticed that almost all of his classmates had appeared, but Little Miaomiao still did not return.
Zhou Yuan departed from the classroom to find her.
As soon as he exited the door, he found Little Miaomiao squatting behind the flower bed that was near the classroom.
The classroom for first graders was located on the first floor. And there were several flower beds containing osmanthus and gardenia plants directly outside it.
Little Miaomiao was squatting there and her expression reminded Zhou Yuan of the phrase [secret observation].
Zhou Yuan approached her, only to find a trio of children squatting there, not just Miaomiao.
Jingjing and Deng Feng also squatted near Little Miaomiao. Their schoolbags were still secured on their shoulders.
Zhou Yuan greeted them and squatted alongside them, “What are you all looking at?”
“Little Miaomiao was looking at something here, and we just both followed her lead.” Jingjing said.
Deng Feng nodded in assent.
Little Miaomiao whispered, “I want to see…other people’s mothers…”
Jingjing declared, “You should have said this earlier. It’s a simple task, I will show you my mother, when she comes to pick me up during the afternoon.”
Deng Feng also patted his chest and remarked, “You…you can…also…see my…mother.”
Then, Jingjing remembered something troublesome. Usually, when parents came to pick them up, only the name of that particular child would be called and be allowed to leave. Similarly, she alone would be summoned and leave with her mother. She wouldn’t be able to show Little Miaomiao her mother. No, she had to devise a plan to show her mother to Little Miaomiao.
When school reached its conclusion in the afternoon, the P.T. teacher called everyone out individually by their names.
When Jingjing’s turn came, Jingjing laid on her stomach and screamed, “My stomach hurts!”
Jingjing’s mother heard her daughter’s voice outside. Fear enveloped her. Under the assumption that something dreadful had happened, she raced inside, “Jingjing?”
Jingjing quickly stated to Little Miaomiao, “Look. She is my mother.”
Little Miaomiao dilated her eyes and looked at Jingjing’s mother, who was rubbing Jingjing’s stomach in a panic.
Zhou Yuan witnessed everything: “…”