Dinner that night was noisy. The father was drunk on alcohol, throwing his slurred thanks to the high heavens for giving Wei an opportunity to prove himself. While the mother was a confused wreck; she was unsure if she was upset her only son was going to war or if she was relieved the freak of the family was going to leave.
Yue sat gloomily at the side of the table, shifting her dinner about in her bowl. She couldn’t bring herself to take a bite, every time she looked at Wei – showing off that smile, the smile that made him look so happy that for once his parents were proud of him for something – she would feel her stomach turn to lead and her heart wrench as though she were physically in pain. The only reason he was happy now was because the parents were glad that their only son might have a chance to honour the family’s name in exchange for his death.
Wei turned and looked at Yue, a sad smile on his lips. He shook his head lightly before handing Yue the only chicken drumstick they had for dinner that night. The chicken drumstick their father had bought in celebration for Wei’s enlistment into the army.
“I don’t want it.”
“Eat it. I’ll get better food in the army, don’t worry.”
Yue looked down at the drumstick and felt her tears escape down her cheeks and into her dinner in front of her. She didn’t want Wei to die a meaningless death when his life was made for so much more. Wei shuffled closer to Yue and pulled her head towards his chest; he planted a soft kiss on the top of her head as he stroked her arm gently.
“Eat, we’ll talk later.”
“After Wei leaves, we should get Yue a betrothed so—“
Yue rolled her eyes and slammed her door shut, not wanting to listen anymore to the useless banter the older couple had to say. She sat herself down by the table with more force then she had intended and knocked the candle over, spilling wax all over the table top. Cursing slightly, Yue hurriedly replaced the candle into its erect position and watched as Wei took the seat opposite her.
“Wei, listen to me won’t you?”
“No. Not if you are still going to go on with that stupid idea of yours.”
“Wei, come on!”
Wei continued to ignore Yue and proceeded to scratch at the solidified wax on the table top. He had no intention on listening to the crazy plan Yue had came up with, much less go along with it.
“If I went in your stead—“
“Listen to me!”
Although she was trying her best, Yue couldn’t stop her voice from whining at this instance. She had an excellent plan to not let her brother get killed – but he wouldn’t listen to her.
“Look! If I went in your stead – listen to me first –, and failed out of the training, then wouldn’t it all be good? I am certain there is no way you’ll be willing to fail out of the training voluntarily seeing how much you want to impressed the folks and all,” Yue rambled quickly, arms exaggerating slightly to prove her point. “But I could! I don’t give two shits about what the two old people care about.”
“Yue, they are my parents – of course I want to make them proud.”
“Yes, I understand. I think. But they are not mine! So I don’t have the inclination of doing anything that would make them proud of me!”
Yue stared at Wei dumbfounded. She had never been asked a question as such – seeing how she never was in a situation that required her to think about her parents.
“If you imagined my parents as yours, why won’t you do anything for them to be proud of you?”
Yue sighed deeply, her fingers moving to scratch off the wax within her reach. She knew she would have to get to this question one day, but she hadn’t expected it to come so soon, nor did she expect it to come to her in a situation where nothing else made sense. Needing to distract herself from Wei’s inquiring gaze, Yue stood up and approached the window. She noted how the rice-paper covering the window needed to be fixed and how stiff the wooden hinge was as she pushed it open.
The night air was cold; crickets were singing their song from the bush where Yue had first stood up from. The half-moon shielded by dark clouds – casting a dark shadow over most of the village. However, the number of stars that dotted the dark canvas was overwhelming. Like glitter over dark paper, the stars twinkled with such intensity that cannot be found in the modern light-polluted cities Yue had grown up in.
“I am an orphan, Wei.” Yue began, “I never knew my parents nor do I know what it feels like to want to make someone proud of me.”
Yue turned and looked at Wei, producing a small smile on her lips. It was true, she had grown up in an overcrowded orphanage; where there were barely enough workers working there to care for the children. She had learnt that she had been abandoned outside an orphanage outside the city and she grew up learning to be independent. Once she turned sixteen, the orphanage informed her that they were not able to care for her any longer and that she had to make her way to the city where she would be assigned to a factory to work. But that was not what she wanted to do with her life – she needed something more adventurous, something away from the lines of mundane and routine. She worked hard during her first few years as an adult as a street peddler - selling knick-knacks and whatever she could make out of the whatever she found in the streets -, using whatever she earned to enrol herself in a training school. After five years, she managed to get a job as a small time stunt double, slowly making her way up the showbiz ladder.
“Won’t you let me do something that can make me feel a little better about myself? Making sure you do not die a redundant death is going to make me very proud of myself. And that’s what I’ve always worked myself to the bone for,“ settling back down on to the seat she had vacated before, Yue continued “I may not have parents or a family to work for, but I always work to make myself happy. And you not dying will really make me one very happy girl.”
“But, this is dangerous.”
Yue gave a bark of laughter as Wei’s brow knitted together with worry. This period boy doesn’t know the horrors of living in the twenty-first century – everyday was dangerous back there, what with crazy drivers all over the roads; metal containers that could fly from one country to another thousands of miles away; people choosing to jump off cliffs and into the ocean just for that adrenaline rush.
“Wei, brother dear, where I come from, and the fact that I work as a stunt double means, I redefine the meaning of dangerous and actively-doing-things-that-would-most-definitely-get-you-killed.”