Tea Leaves and Opal Necklaces

Barren Lands

Match Twenty-Six: Barren Lands:

“Sir, may I tell them the rest?” Biao asked. The older doctor nodded.

“You may do so,” he said. The medic student sighed and pushed his black-framed glasses up.

“Yes,” Biao said. “We ran the test on both of you. Wang-qiánbèi, you have a low sperm count.”

“What?” Yao asked.

“Your count is 14 million,” the med student said. “Just below the normal range.”

“But… how did this happen?” the older man asked. The doctor walked over to the med student. He looked like a pine tree compared to the short dark haired Biao. This old doctor could be his uncle or grandfather.

“There are many factors that cause this,” he said. “Smoking, drinking, drugs, being overweight, radiation, antibodies, certain medications, your job, exposure to heavy metal, tumors, chromosome defects, industrial chemicals, infection, defects to tubules, particular surgeries, overheating your testicles, hormone imbalances, celiac disease, varicocele, certain medications, problems with ejaculation, undescended testicles, or emotional stress.” Yao froze at the words “emotional stress”. He began to see himself in that kitchen again. Ju held his hand.

“I’ve studies all of Yao’s health records and the tests that he did prior to this one. I already ruled out most of these factors myself,” Biao said. “How has work been?”

“Good,” Ju said.

“Any stresses lately?” the doctor asked. Yao pressed his lips together.

“I don’t really know…” he mumbled. He could smell the smoke again. The man started to tremble.

“Can it be reserved?” Ju asked.

“Oh yes,” the old doctor said. “There are plenty of treatment options. Surgery, medicines for infections, treatments for sexual intercourse problems, treatments and medication for your hormones, and even assisted reproductive technology.”

“And if none of those work?” Yao asked. Biao lowered his brown eyes.

“You might have to consider the option of a sperm donor,” he said in a quiet voice. The male patient’s stomach dropped.

“Oh,” Yao murmured. “I see.” Ju squeezed his hand.

“Thank you for telling us,” she said. Her husband couldn’t look up at anyone. He squeezed Ju’s hand back.


It didn’t take long for the dads and moms of the clan to hear about Yao being sterile. Hen-to and Fei gave him sympathetic looks.

“You can still have a child,” Fei said. “It took Cai and I several times before we had Kee. My wife had two miscarriages. After she got checked out at the doctor, she got pregnant and the baby lived.” Yao pressed his lips together and nodded.

“What do you plan to do?” Hen-to asked.

“I don’t know,” Yao admitted. He rubbed his forehead. It was embarrassing enough that he was firing blanks, but he had something else on his mind. Yao couldn’t stop seeing flames in his mind. He could hear the screams of children begging to be let out. Their little hands pounded on the heavy doors. It didn’t help that they were all locked in the kitchen. Yao huddled over on the ground.

“Yao?” Hen-to asked. “You okay?” Yao turned his head.

“I don’t feel so good,” he mumbled. “Can I leave for the day?”

“Of course,” Fei said. “We’ll let Ju know you had to leave the meeting early.”

“Thank you,” he said. Yao dragged himself to his feet and walked out the door. Hen-to and Fei watched with a sense of unease.


But, Yao did not go home. Instead, he dragged himself to the Sun house. The man breathed heavily as he pounded on the door. Relief washed over his face as Man answered the door.

“Yao?” he asked. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have a meeting today?” Yao shook his head.

“I need to talk to you for a minute,” he said. “Can I come in? I won’t be too long.”

“Uh… sure…” Man said. He moved aside to let the older man in.

“Thank you,” Yao said, bowing. He walked into the house.


“What is on your mind?” Man asked. Yao sat down on the gold and red living room couch. He rubbed his forehead for a bit.

“I don’t where to beginning,” he confessed.

“Take your time if you need to,” Man said. Yao dropped his hand by his side.

“I keep having strange dreams,” he said. The psychiatrist raised his eyebrow.

“What kind of dreams?” he asked. “Do the best you can to describe them.” Yao looked out the window.

“I keep dreaming that I was a child working in a kitchen of an old restaurant,” he said. Man gave him a strange look.

“Why would you dream something like that?” the therapist asked. The older man shook his head.

“I don’t really know.”

“What about this dream?”

Yao’s eyes trailed to the ceiling. “I see myself as a ten-year-old boy from a poor village. I had to go into the city to work.”

“Did you have to do this growing up?”

“No. I had a decent childhood growing up. But this, I don’t know what to make of it.”

“What happened in this dream?”

Yao sighed. “I, as a ten-year-old boy ended up working at some restaurant.”

“Excuse me, but when does this take place?”

“What?”

“What year is this dream? Is it modern times?”

“No, I think this was before the war. I want to say the 30′s at least.”

“You sure?”

“Yes. I could tell by the cars on the streets. And the way some of the buildings looked.”

“What do you remember about this restaurant?”

Yao tilted his head. “Really old. The wallpaper was peeling and the walls looked like they were about to cave in. It always like grease and rotting wood.”

“What did the kitchen look like?”

“The yellow wallpaper was falling off. The smell of spices are overpowering. I think the lights weren’t working properly either. The kitchen always looked like a mess. We used fire and gas to cook everything.”

“We?”

“There were at least ten other children with me. We all had to wash dishes, clean the floors and kitchen tools, and go pick out the ingredients for the meals.” Yao shook his head. “We slept in the kitchen because we had nowhere else to go. We didn’t make enough make to live in a better place.”

“What was your boss like?” Man asked. The other man trembled.

“Unpredictable,” he said. “He could be nice to us when he was sober. But when he got drunk…” Yao grabbed onto his wrist. “His temper was the worst. Sometimes, he would beat us over the tiniest mistakes. We would hide from him when was drunk.”

“Why didn’t you go to the police?”

Yao shook his head. “What choice did we have? We needed the money. Most of us were too scared to speak up. I needed the money because my little sister was sick and Mama was dying in the village. What little money I made went back to my old village.” He looked down at his feet.

“There was something wrong with that restaurant.”

“What was it called? Do you remember?”

Yao rubbed his forehead as he tried to think. “I don’t know. Lucky Dragon? Golden Dragon? I can’t remember that much. But the police started coming by the restaurant almost every day. There were rumors of some of the children were used to smuggle drugs and stolen property. I didn’t really see anything. Or rather… I pretended that I didn’t. A couple of the girls kept disappearing outside with much older men.” He drew his knees to his chest.

“Things got worse when the restaurant started to fail,” he said. “The chef had a bit of a gambling problem. He couldn’t keep up with his payments. He took his frustration out on us. The customers started asking questions.”

“What happened?” Man asked.

“I overheard him talking one night,” Yao said. “’I can’t pay them back. I can’t pay them back. I’ve got no choice. I’ve got no choice! The next night, I could smell smoke. When I woke up, I could see flames in the kitchen. The other children ran to put out the fire while others were pounding on the doors, screaming for help.”

“Were the doors bolted shut?”

“Yes.” Yao’s whole body began to tremble as he huddled up into a ball. “We all died in the fire. He killed us to get the insurance money on his shady restaurant for his debts.” Up until now, Man had been taking notes.

“How do you think this ties into your impotence?” he asked. Yao looked up at him with a blank stare.

“Huh?” he asked.

“Why else would you come to me?” the therapist asked.

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

“I do, I am just trying to find a meaning to all of this. Have these dreams affected you in your waking life?”

Yao looked down at his hands. “Every time Ju and I would start to have sex, I would have strange flashbacks about fire and it would all go blank. She claims that I would freak out and not remember what happened afterwards. On the day of Tina’s party, I had another flashback about fire and wound up on the balcony.”

“What did she say happened then?”

“She said that I didn’t who she was and that I was married to her.” Yao trembled and pulled his knees to his chest. “And you know what the weirdest thing is? It all feels so real. Like these aren’t dreams at all. It’s like I’m remembering it.” Then, Man suggested something that he usually never would to any of his patients.

“Yao,” the therapist said.

“Yeah?” the other man asked. Man pressed his silver-framed glasses up on the bridge of his nose.

“I am about to say something crazy here,” he said. “But do you think that you might be looking at images of a past life of some kind?”

“What?” Yao asked.

“I am trying to explore different possibilities with what you described to me,” Man said. “It’s just one theory for now.” Yao looked up at him with pleading eyes.

“No matter what you think, you can’t tell Ju,” he said. “She’s still dealing with me being impotent. Please don’t tell her, not until we’ve worked through that problem at least. Please?”

“You are no different than any of my other patients right now,” Man told him. Yao bowed his head.

“Thank you,” he said.

“What are you going to do for now?” the therapist asked. The other man rose to his feet.

“Work through our options,” Yao said. “See what’s going to work for us. I do not have to come using a sperm donor or surgery.” Man bowed his head.

“In that case, I wish you luck,” he said.

“Thank you,” Yao said again. He turned and walked out the door.

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