Tea Leaves and Gold Pins
Match One: Funeral, White, and Stranger:
My name is Liao Ju and today is my father's funeral.
There are many ways I can start this very story. There are dead parents, the funeral, a little bit about myself, the clan, my friends' drama, and then there's…
Wait! Wait! Okay, I'll talk about one subject at a time here. First, the funeral.
All of the people of our clan all showed up at the house on this Saturday afternoon. There are six families among us at the manor and mine is the head. My father's coffin sat nailed shut before everyone. I haven't seen my father since back in March of my spring break. It still shocks me that his cancer finally claimed him. Despite being bed-ridden on machines, he still was rather lucid and as sharp-tongued as ever. I would've thought that he would've hung on until the middle of this month. But no, he died eight days before my birthday.
Today is day seven of the funeral ceremony. We have at least… forty-two more days to go. For a sixteen-year-old like me, that's just as fun as it sounds. My father was a traditional man like that. So, I have to grin, bear, and pray just like the five other families. To be honest with you, I don't have any more prayers left. They dried up four days[ago] and now I'm just pretending to pray in good taste. As head of the Liao clan, I have to put on a sophisticated face for the people. To tell the truth, this role was just dumped on me.
Yes, I am the heir to the Liao clan. I know what you are thinking: "But Ju-furen, you're a girl. So how can you be head of a powerful family?" To make a long story short, I am the lesser of two evils for my father. It was make either his daughter or his brother-in-law the heir to the clan after his death. Though he was a traditional man, he hated and distrusted my uncle. So… yeah. But, I'm only sixteen years old. I have to wait two more years to officially inherit the authority. Right now, two of my mom's dearest friends and top advisers to my father, Song Fei and Chang Hen-to, will be running things behind the scenes. I am just the figurehead. In fact, they helped me make the funeral arrangements and sign the important papers on day three. Hen-to's wife, Bik, was the one who called me and told me about father's death while I was at school. She keeps asking if I'm okay and everything like that. I'm fine, I don't really feel much. Yes, I am sorry my father died, but in all honesty we didn't get along too well.
To sum up our little relationship: father and daughter fought like two enemies in a mental war. Tradition versus modern summed us up beautifully. He wanted his only daughter to be ladylike and silent; I have grown not to be like that. When he was healthier, my father barely spoke to me except to criticize me about my clothes, choices in media, friends, and my curiosity about more taboo subjects in our country. Mind you, he did care in his own way. Father paid for me to go school and gave me such knowledge to run the clan. Both were begrudging for us, but they turned out to be beneficial in the long run.
I tried to ignore the uncomfortable empty feeling in my stomach. I haven't eaten since six this morning. I was up with Fei and Hen-to making the final arrangements for the funeral today. Rice balls are nice, but they're not as filling as I hoped they would be. It's a good thing I don't paint my nails with all of the holy paper I helped paste onto the coffin with the girls of the clan. I picked out his clothes to be buried in. I couldn't make most of the wake due to school and signing some legal paperwork to confirm everything. I felt so naked without my earrings during the whole period. I couldn't really make myself cry the whole time. I kept my head down and tried to pretend to be respectful to him. I just didn't really feel anything the whole time. I think some of the ladies knew that but said nothing about it. Today, my eyes are watering from all the incense that we have been burned for days now.
I shifted in place on the floor as I tugged my white cheongsam. Here I am back at home in traditional wear again. That's all I wore at home as far as I could remember. It feels so weird to the outsiders to wear white to a funeral as I learned, but that's how we are brought up in our country. I believe that white shows the sorrow of losing a loved one to the pure earth again. Bik told me this when I was a little girl at my mother's funeral. Still, I would've like a western-style dress for the comfort just this one time. But… Anything to keep a dead father humored on his way to the afterlife. I sure did him proud today. Even as he's nailed shut in his wooden box, I could feel his eyes on me as I sat right next to him. It's just like the times we he was bed-ridden. He could still hear somebody talking about him from another room. I had to keep my mouth shut while I was in the house.
Because he didn't have any sons in life, I have to fill in the duties of the eldest for this funeral. Father went over it with me during his trips in and out of the hospital. I felt like screaming by the tenth time he ran the information by me, but I kept a poker face and nodded in understanding. He would still beat it over my head just like he did with everything else. At least today, I know what to do.
I just wonder where they point of my life will bend to now.
As I walked with the coffin to the cemetery, I happened to look up and see a man with his man bowed his head in respect for the dead. I found that my eyes stayed attached to him, trying to figure him out. He had his long black hair tied back into a ponytail. Just like the rest of the funeral party, he had on white traditional clothes that looked freshly pressed. Even the panda on his back had its head bowed in respect. I noticed Fei and Hen-to walking over to the man. The three of them talked before going into the house. For some reason, I feel like I have seen that man in white before. I can't exactly place where.
"Bik-taitai," I whispered. She didn't turn around as she held the car door open for the coffin.
"What is it, Ju-furen?" she whispered back. I made a face when she said that. It sounded so weird to hear her call me that. She used to just call me by my first name up until this point. I shook it off and proceeded with my question.
"Who did Fei-xiansheng and Hen-to-xiansheng go back inside with?" I asked. Bik-taitai took a moment to push back her black-gray hair out of her eyes.
"One of your father's business associates," she replied.
"Yes, but who is he?"I asked. I could tell that Bik-taitai was smiling as she held back a small giggle.
"Oh, you will find that one out soon enough," she said. Then, she returned her attention back to the casket and climbed into the hearse. I looked at her and then at the house with a blank look on my face. I could see the side of that man's face in the front window as he talked to Fri and Hen-to. Suddenly, I felt a fat moist palm grab onto my small wrist. I nearly jumped as a result. Bik-taitai looked at me with a serious look in her eyes.
"Get in already," she said. I nodded like I was a little bobble-head doll and climbed in next to her into the hearse. As the car pulled away, I took one[a look] look at my house. I'll bet that man, Fei, and Hen-to are still in Father's office talking. For odd reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, I felt my cheeks turn pink with heat and my heart do a flip when I that about that third man. And unbeknownst to me at that same time, I decided to find out who he was.