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True Story
6,000 Steps to Paradise (6)

6 December 2006
 

1, A Stone Ladder
2, A Beautiful Bride
3, A Forbidden Love
4, A Life in the Wilderness
5, A House on the Hilltop

6, Six Thousand Steps To Paradise

As Xu slipped, she lost her foothold. In that instant of confusion, she had no chance to think. But she was calm; decades of mountain living gave her capacity to respond to an emergency as such. Her hand managed to catch hold of a rock edge, slowly and gingerly she had manoeuvred herself into a safe ground.

Xu came out of the woods near her home on the hilltop
(The shot was taken not too long ago)

But her ankle was badly sprained, and she had to twist off a branch to support herself. By the time she toiled her way up to the hilltop, what her anxious children saw was a woman smeared with mud all over limping out of the woods on a cane.

When Guojiang returned and learned the accident, he felt terribly bad about himself. "All my fault," he rumbled, "making you suffer here with me…"

"Nonsense," Xu halted his words. "Here is my paradise."

That night hearing Xu’s deep moans of pain during her sleep, Guojiang kept his eyes open gazing into the darkness. Then he stroke upon an idea: "Why not to build a stone ladder from the hilltop all the way down to the foot?"

But when he told his plan to Xu the next morning, she was only alarmed. "You’re not serious, aren’t you?"

"Yes, I’ll do it, I can do it."

"No you won’t!" Now she was really in a grave pain. "What if you get hurt, what if you slip in your steps …" The mere thought of that terrified her, the rims of her eyes became rather red.

He lingered, and said, "… All right, I won’t do it."

So the life went on as it was before. Just Xu stayed on the hilltop most of the time and tried not to venture beyond the woods on her own, while Guojiang developed a passion for exploring the mountain by himself. When he was not doing something in the cornfield, vegetable garden, bee farm, fishpond, piggery or chicken yard, he would carry a tool bag and took couple of roasted potatoes, set off hunting. But He always returned empty handed in complete exhaustion.

After a while, Xu started to marvel inwardly. But whenever she asked, he would forever blame on the bad luck that he wasn’t able to catch or collect anything worthy of bringing back.

One day, Guojiang left home for his alleged hunting trip again. When the sun began to tilt to the west, Xu slowly trudged her way down the mountain trial to wait for him. Unable to set her mind in ease, she began to hum a ditty Eighteen Visits To My Lover, which she and Guojiang often sang together when they worked side by side.

"The second day of month,
I got up earlier.
Sneak out of home,
I wen to see my lover.
He lied in his bed,
Having terrible fever…"

"初二早起去望郎,
我郎得病睡牙床…"

It was a song about a pair of lovers who were forced to live separate lives. In sorrow and despair, the young man fell gravely ill. During the eighteen visits to her lover, the girl felt heart broken when saw him lying on his deathbed. Each time after visit, she would go alone to a cliff side to cry her heart out by wailing, supposedly, this tune.

"I lifted open the certain,
I touched his head,
It scalded my hand,
It hurt my sorrowful heart……"

"双手推开红萝帐,
我摸郎一把热忙忙…"

A sound suddenly arose amid the dense foliage in the up slope side. As she watched, she witnessed a hare jumped out of the lush grass and plunged into the thicket by the cliff edge. Beyond the cliff on the other side was a rocky ridge sizzling in the sun, and in between, the gorge was deep and fed by pure mountain spring that prattled over the rocks like tears streaming on cheeks.

After the world regained its tranquility, she could hear nothing save the flowing of the water and the signing of the wind lamented through the trees. Her heart turned desolated, and the emptiness all around bore hard on her. She tried to drive away the troubled thoughts, and descend the steep route by following the ragged trial leading down to a single plank bridge, where Guojiang would certainly have to pass on his way up to the hilltop.

Then she stopped to listen as she detected a high pitched voice wafted forth:

"The third day of month,
I got up earlier,
Pocketed some rice,
I ran to see my lover……"

"初三早起去望郎,
衣袋兜米来望郎......"

It was Guojiang singing in a false tone. He returned earlier today, and he had already crossed that single plank bridge. She tried to quicken her pace, but the ragged terrain prevented her from moving fast. "It’s all right," she told herself, pausing to catch her breath, "Guojiang will come over in no time." But the strange thing was, after a while, the singing voice did not drew any nearer; and she noticed that in the background there was a consistent sound of sharp clink of something striking upon a stone.

Her curiosity got the better of her, and she ventured down to the source of the noise. Once turned a corner, here she had a clear view of Guojiang. She tried to call him, and her lips moved, but not a sound her uttered - she was spellbound by what she saw.

His shirt was off and thrown aside, sweat oozing from his bare back. Bent his body with his knees on the ground, he was chipping off the sharp edge of a slab. Around, stones evidently moved here from elsewhere were scattered here and there, some in a raw form, others having already been made into slabs. Before him a long stone ladder winded its path down the hill to meet the single plank bridge.

With the tears swelled in her eyes, she slowly walked down and stood behind him, battering to cope. When Guojiang eventually straightened his back, she threw her arms around him from behind.

It took Guojiang by surprise, but by the familiar scent he quickly realised it was Xu. Dusted his hands, he turned to meet her eyes.

Xu wiped sweats from his face with her sleeve, and said "I told you not to … Look now, how exhausted you are …" Her words choked themselves.

Guojiang moistened his lips with his tongue, and cracked, "I’m okay … hmm, guess you’re not upset with me, aren’t you?"

Xu didn’t say anything, just held him tighter.

7, A Love Story that Never Ends

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