For twenty-eight years, Mr and Mrs Su have kept their daughter hidden awayby Yiyun Li / April 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
Mr and Mrs Su are finishing their breakfast when the telephone rings. Neither moves to pick it up at first. Not many people know their number; fewer use it. Their son Jian, now in his second year at college, calls them once a month to report his wellbeing. He spends most of his holidays with his friends’ families, not offering even the most superficial excuses. Mr and Mrs Su do not have the heart to complain or to remind Jian of their wish to see him more often. Their two-bedroom flat, small and cramped as it is, is filled with Beibei’s screaming when she is not napping, and the foul smell when she dirties the sheets. Jian has grown up sleeping in a cot in the foyer and hiding from his friends the existence of an elder sister born with severe mental retardation. Mr and Mrs Su sensed their son’s elation when he finally moved into the college dormitory. They have held on to the secret wish that after Beibei dies—she is not destined for longevity, after all—they will reclaim their lost son, though neither says anything to the other, both ashamed by the mere thought of the wish.
The ringing stops for a short moment and starts again. Mr Su walks to the telephone and puts a hand on the receiver. “Do you want to take it?” he asks his wife.
“So early, it must be Mr Fong,” Mrs Su says.
“Mr Fong is a man of courtesy. He won’t disturb other people’s breakfast,” Mr Su says. Still, he picks up the receiver, and his expression relaxes. “Ah, yes, Mrs Fong. My wife, she is right here,” he says.
Mrs Su does not take the call immediately. She goes into Beibei’s bedroom and checks on her, even though it is not time for her to wake up yet. Mrs Su strokes the hair on Beibei’s forehead, light brown and baby soft. Beibei is twenty-eight and so large it requires both her parents to turn her over to be washed; she screams for hours when she is awake; but for a mother, it takes just a wisp of hair to forget all the imperfections.
When Mrs Su returns to the living room, her husband is still holding the receiver for her, one hand covering the mouthpiece. “She’s in a bad mood,” he whispers.
Mrs Su sighs. “Yes, Mrs Fong,…