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True Story
6,000 Steps to Paradise (3)

22 November 2006

1, A Stone Ladder
2, A Beautiful Bride

3, A Forbidden Love

10 years had past. It was year 1953, by then the Japanese had long gone, so did the Republic of China. Now it entered the era of the People’s Republic of China.

And Guojiang was no longer a little boy, but a 16-year old lad. His heart began to throb with passion. Each night after his day work on farm, he lied in bed losing himself in thinking of a woman – not any woman, but Xu, the bride he first got his eye on when he was six.

Xu the Bride, at 26 with four children from one to nine, was now a widow. Being blamed by her mother-in-law as a bad luck, she was denied any help and had to struggle to bring up her children by herself. Carrying the baby on her back, she stood on street corner selling her home-made straw sandals, 5 fens a pair; and went to mountains collecting mushrooms to boil in plain water since she could not afford salt even it was only 6 fens a kilo.

Guojiang felt for her, and his sight quietly followed her every movement. He would be in pain had she knitted her brows, and felt joyous if she smiled. But whenever they met on streets, he was flooded with awe for her, and blushed to the point that he dared not to look at her in the face.

Before long a chance for a close encounter came. One day when Xu went to fetch water, she slipped from the pitted stone steps and fell into the river, along with the baby on her back. By the time Guojiang just happened to be at home. Hearing the scream, he leaped out of the house, plunged into the water and dragged the mother and the baby ashore.

Since then, they became close. Whenever he got time, he would go to check if there was anything he could do to help. For the next three years, he took all heavy chores around her house, from fetching water to collecting and chopping firewood.

Initially to her, he was forever a little boy who embarrassed her on her wedding day. But as the lad grew into a fine young man, gradually a subtle change had occurred in the relationship between them. From time to time, they would stole furtive glances at one another.

Rumours and gossips eventually spread like wildfire. Some people went to warn Guojiang to his face that he must not create a scandal to make the whole village ashamed.

The young man gave not a hoot for that. He watched how a rosy colour reappeared on Xu’s cheeks and how her radiant smile once again melt his heart. As long as she was happy, nothing mattered to him.

But the gossips affected Xu greatly. Fearing that a tainted reputation might hinder Guojiang from finding a decent bride, she decided to disappear from his life.

One August afternoon, 1956, Xu spotted Guojiang on the street and quickly dodged away. But Guojiang had already seen her and, as he always did, went over to talk to her.

Hollowed eyed, she averted her sight to him, and said, "You’d better not talk to me again." With that, she turned and walked away.

It was totally lost in Guojiang. He stood there for quite a while with his head whirling and mind going blank. On his way home he kept mumbling to himself, "What did I do wrong …"

When he slowly sobbed up, he cudgeled his brains to mull over each word she said to him, and reflected long and hard, until eventually an answer suggested itself. Gossips! It must be the gossips that kept her away from him.

Then he should let her know what he really felt about her. As he thought this, he jumped out of the bed in high spirit.

Then another possibility called to his mind. What if she indeed disliked him? Would she get offended and never want to talk to him again if he declared his love to her? This dim prospect threw him back to the bed.

But looking back over the years, he was convinced that she in fact liked him. A confidence as such, again, perked him up.

So just like this, he tossed himself up and down as he weighted the pros and cons, until eventually he said to himself, "Hell, even she rejects my love, I will always be there whenever she needs me."

Once the decision was made, his heart became calm and mind clear. Quietly, he made straight for Xu’s house.

When he got there, he said simply, "Marry me!"

She looked up with a start - standing before her was a man ten years her junior. She then turned to view her four kids asleep in bed. Her nose twitched and she began to weep. "No … it’s not fair … to you ... And your parents would never agree..." Face bathed in tears, she kept shaking her head, and attempted to edge away.

With a sudden release of a torrent of emotion, Guojiang darted forward to take her by both her hands. His eyes fixed on her with intensity, and he bellowed, "I’m serious, please!"

Her head stopped shaking, but bent low, and their hands were covered with her tears.

Next morning, news broke out in this mountain village: Widow Xu disappeared, along with her kids and the son of Liu family, that 19-year-old young man Guojiang.

4, A Life in the Wild

Pre Under One Roof
Next: A Thousand Love Calls


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