Several days later, shortly after noon, Xiao-Mei received a call from their lawyer, Zhong-Ping, informing her that her husband had committed suicide in the jail and tried to explain what regulatory procedures the family had to perform. But after the initial news, she had a total mental collapse and Mo-Fan had to finish the call. Afterwards he immediately made a call to his brother at the University to let him know what had happened and to implore him to return home as soon as possible to help him and their mother deal with this devastating tragedy.
Qian was relaxing in his dormitory room after returning from a late lunch when he heard a knock on his door. “You have an urgent call from your family. They have been trying to reach you for almost an hour.”
He took the phone call and after his conversation with Mo-Fan, his demeanor became totally emotionless once he embraced the reality that he would have to forfeit his education if his family was to survive. He proceeded to the Dean’s office in total submission to odious yet inescapable circumstances that would drastically alter his life. He notified the Dean that he would be dropping out of the University and then returned to his room to pack.
On the wall, above his small desk, were pictures of him and his closest college friends. He stood a while looking at them and in particular the beautiful, innocent pure smile of his girlfriend in the picture taken in a secluded restaurant setting. He reminisced about how happy they both were to be in love and celebrating their romantic relationship, totally oblivious to the existence of anything outside their small universe. She looked so naïve and he new she had never experienced, and hoped she never would, the anguish of having to make the hard choice he had just made.
But, now he had more important things to attend to. He took down the photos and put them in one of his text books and then packed them all in a cardboard box to mail home. In order to reduce his college expenses, he had purchased most of them second hand from upper classmen at the end of the school year and in some cases they were given to him free by older friends. Even though they had very little intrinsic value, he was not willing to part with the last vestiges of a life he had come to cherish. His University days were the best times of his life. He had never imagined that they would end so soon or so abruptly. He then left quietly without notifying any of his friends.
Even after years of success, the box remained unopened in the secret room of his mansion. Every time he opened the door to the room he could not bear to even look at the box except for a glance to remind him of its existence and then quickly turn away. Memories, he thought, are like the sands of the desert; beautiful to see but unpredictable and dangerous. No matter how far back in time and space reminiscing could take him, the empty space in his heart could not be filled. He would never set foot into the golden bronze of this desert for fear that he would be swallowed up into bottomless darkness and suffocated.
Qian reluctantly dragged himself home with extreme apprehension of what he would find. Upon arriving, he was confronted by a panic-stricken Mo-Fan and his hysterical, mentally shattered mother. The house was gripped in a chilling coldness that caused him to shiver.
Mo-fan, with tears streaming down his cheeks, gave him a forlorn smile. Warmth welled up in his heart and he suddenly felt that as long as they could cling together they could survive. He embraced his mother and brother silently vowing that he would be the savior of the family and that he would just have to bear down and muster the strength and courage to fulfill his vow.
Once emotions had subsided to a more manageable level, Mo-Fan gave a full accounting of the circumstances surrounding Xue-Heng’s death and what lie ahead for the family. In the early morning, the prison guard had discovered him hanging from a beam in his cell with a noose around his neck that he had fashioned from bed sheets. They had contacted their lawyer as soon as his office had opened and requested that he get in touch with the family to inform them of the procedure for identifying and claiming the body.
Now they had to somehow find the will to survive the next few unpleasant days while they complied with the regulations related to a death in prison and the inevitability and finality of the funeral.