The fall sky at sunset is always grey and seemingly endless, stretching to infinity. But tonight, in addition to being cold and humid, the air held a hint of instability that foreshadowed turbulent winds and driving rain. Mo-Fan, sitting at his desk studying for a final exam, mused that if Mother Nature truly possessed human traits, this could be a sign of approaching menopause.
Momentarily distracted from his studies, he quietly gazed out of the window and noticed that the grey tones were slowly encompassed by an ominous darker blue-grey cloud cover that engendered an uncomfortable, apprehensive feeling within him. In the peripheral of his unfocused stare he became aware of a black cloud mass that appeared to be spinning. At sea, this would have been a whirlpool and he speculated that if Taiwan had tornadoes, they would look like this. But, the spinning abruptly ceased and the cloud formation dissipated into the surrounding atmosphere, leaving behind frail wisps of clouds resembling horse tails.
Suddenly, multiple bolts of lightening forked across the sky. He cringed mentally waiting for the inevitable crack of the thunder. Somehow, it always made him feel like he imagined a death row inmate would feel waiting for execution. This time, the delay was shorter than he has expected which, in a way, was a relief but still a shock to his senses. But his relief was short lived as another bolt of lightening struck so closely nearby that there was less than a second between the flash and the deafening crack.
At almost the same instant, he heard the nearly imperceptible jangle of the telephone over the pattering of rain against the window. His mother answered and began speaking but he could not guess who the caller could be. Her voice was sometimes apologetic and other times assertive as if defending herself. Suddenly she lost her patience and began yelling very loudly with abandon, unconcerned over who might overhear her.
Mo-Fan ran into the living room to see what the ruckus was about and to try to keep his mother from getting out of control. From what he could surmise, his uncle, Xue-Ping had found out about the money his mother had borrowed from her father-in-law and was calling to accuse her of cheating his father out of his life’s savings.
“The money will be repaid. If that was not the case, I wouldn’t have asked your father to help me. And besides, I had exhausted all other options to raise funds for my husband.” She suddenly felt tired from explaining her action repeatedly to so many people.
Apparently, Xue-Ping had accused her of even taking the money set aside for his father’s funeral. “Why are you talking about your father dying? He is in good health. He lives in the house with you and his hearing and eye sight are just fine.”
Her attempt to reason with her greedy brother-in-law had failed and his relentless accusations pushed Xiao-Mei to the breaking point; unleashing her fury. “Your brother is in prison and what have you done to help? You never inquired about his well being or offered support to his family. You never visited him in jail or offered to donate money to his defense. The first time you call you accuse me of stealing your father’s money but that is a lie. We owe the debt to your father not you. Are you afraid that your brother will steal your inheritance? You are a heartless, inconsiderate, greedy bastard!”
Then she angrily hung up the phone, went to her bedroom and slammed the door behind her. Grievously distressed, she began pacing back and forth, but could not calm down. She looked over at the $200,000 cash on the dressing table and recollection of all the controversy surrounding it gave her the sensation that her strength was slowly draining from her bit by bit. She didn’t know how much longer she could endure without collapsing.
It had been two days since she had learned the truth about the money and Ying-Quan’s betrayal. She was struggling over whether or not she should keep the “tainted” money but realized that it was essential to support her husband’s defense. And, if she didn’t keep the money the effort invested in accumulating the other 1.8 million would be wasted. Still, she felt that somehow, even if the money helped free her husband from prison, it was futile to hope that it would compensate for the suffering and pain caused by Ying-Quan.
She couldn’t ask her husband to help her resolve her dilemma. After all, what could he say? In the end it would only add to his worry. She came to the realization that her only choice, and the only chance for her husband’s freedom, was to forge ahead with money in hand and gamble that Zhong-Ping would live up to his reputation as a stellar lawyer.
She hoped that the vehement insult from her brother-in-law, “Consider the money you schemed out of my father, the family contribution to Xue-Heng’s funeral expense!” was not prophetic of things to come.