One evening Qian answered the phone and was greeted by the detached and pragmatic voice of his uncle Xue-Ping. He had called to inform them that their grandfather had passed away peacefully early in the morning while sleeping and the coroner had certified that he had died of natural causes. He went on to comment that, while the death was unfortunate, the fact that he had not suffered was good fortune of a sort. Then, he changed the conversation to what Qian supposed was the real purpose of the call; the cost of the coffin and all the other expenses associated with burial.
Qian had a premonition that now he would have to confront his father’s siblings to avoid adding an additional expense to his already staggering debt load. He had never imagined that he would someday inherit the animosity of his father’s family now that Father had died.
The family packed for a short trip and left for Xue-Heng’s home town in the south of Taiwan where the grandfather’s funeral would take place. It was a small nondescript town and held no emotional significance for Qian as he had only visited his uncle once or twice and his only points of reference were stories that his father had told him about his childhood.
When they arrived at the family house and rang the bell, Xue-Ping opened the door with his sibling aunt hovering closely in the background. Qian sensed that they had discussed at great length how to approach him regarding a contribution to the funeral expenses and was uncertain about how to deal with their proposal.
Once inside and the perfunctory greetings dispensed with, Xue-Ping immediately got to the point.
“The money that your mother borrowed from our father was supposed to cover his funeral expenses. But the money has been spent and the loan has not been repaid. So who will pay for the funeral?”
Xue-Ying, Qian’s aunt was obviously exasperated by what she perceived to be a reluctance to contribute to the funeral costs. “All the relatives have been told that your mother is mentally ill but I can’t believe she is that mad.”
Xiao-Mei, whose world had disintegrated since her husband’s death sat expressionless; totally oblivious to the thinly veiled insult from her sister-in-law. The apprehension that had gripped Qian on the trip south suddenly vanished when he heard his aunt’s words. But instead of retorting, he held back his anger and simply remained silent.
“Let’s sit down and relax.” Xue-Ping was attempting to ameliorate an embarrassing situation. But, Xue-Ying could not control her vituperation. “What kind of parents raise their children to not respect their elders?”
Upon hearing those words, Mo-Fan could feel the rage building in his chest and all he could do to suppress an outburst was to look away. Qian on the other hand, remained cool and purposely ignored his aunt as if she were no more than a potted plant in the corner of the room. Instead, he turned his gaze to his uncle who was obviously feigning congeniality while inwardly scheming to extract money from the Yin family and attempted to engage in casual conversation.
“Where is Grandfather now?”
“He is at the undertaker in preparation for the funeral service.”
“When will the service be held?”
“Your father is dead now but out of respect for him, I wanted to discuss this with your family. Let me know your opinion on how and when the service should be conducted.”
“You are too polite Uncle. We have no opinions about that so, we will attend whatever service you arrange.” Qian knew that his uncle was trying to work up to discussing the funeral costs but he deliberately played dumb.
Again, Xue-Ying interrupted to contribute her accusatorial opinions. “You are too young to understand your uncle’s words. My father could have paid for his own funeral but your mother conned him out of his savings. Now the money is gone and your mother is crazy. Who will pay for his funeral?”
“Oh, so you want us to pay for the funeral costs?”
“That is not what we are asking. We only want you to repay your debt so we can afford the funeral.”
“Soooo, if we can’t repay the debt, then your father will not be buried?” Qian spoke slowly and with mocking remorse in his voice.
“I don’t want this discussion to get ugly. However, traditionally if a man is unable to pay a debt, then it is the filial duty of the sons to do so. Speaking of filial duty, why isn’t Mo-Xiu with you?”
Mo-Fan was now so angry he could no longer restrain himself. “Our family has a staggering debt, our mother is insane and we don’t even have enough money to provide for a doctor’s care for her. Our coward brother could not take the pressure and ran away to parts unknown after promising to support the family. If you want money from us to bury your father, get in line with the rest of our creditors.”
Qian noticed that both his aunt and uncle were visibly agitated by that insolent outburst. He was really annoyed at how shameless his relatives were and wished that he could walk away from the situation and spare himself the aggravation of feuding over money. Still, it was their duty to honor the passing of their grandfather if for no other reason than to avoid being scorned by others for not attending the funeral. He wanted to say something in support of Mo-Fan to ease the tension.
“I know you have many connections Uncle so, if you can help us locate Mo-Xiu our family would be extremely grateful. We are all worried about him and his family, especially mother. As for the discussion about finances, I suggest we postpone that until later. We have just spent most of the day traveling and are very tired. Perhaps in a day or two we can arrive at an acceptable agreement.
Mo-Fan was shocked to here his brother speak that way. Why was he implying that he was willing to return the borrowed funds? There was no purpose in pretending to be rich when they were so poor and had no means to satisfy the debt at this time. But, he kept silent for the time being waiting to see what would happen next.
Xue-Ying ran into the kitchen out of frustration over the lack of any progress toward getting any money from the Yin family. Immediately after her exit, Qian turned to Xue-Ping and said, “Uncle, I deliberately maneuvered our conversation in a way that would madden your sister to the point where she would leave the room. Now we can have a more serious rational discussion.”
Xue-Ping was surprised that such a young man that had not graduated from college or even served in the military could possess such shrewd manipulative skills. He inwardly became defensive and was curious to see what Qian seemed so eager to discuss with him.
“If I remember correctly, Grandfather built this house so that you and my father both could live here with their families.”
Much to the delight of Mo-Fan, when Xue-Ping heard this, his face betrayed his panic. Mo-Fan could only smile at the shrewdness of this bold move to derail their uncle’s original plan.
“What are you getting at?”
“Well, the original floor plan of father’s house has been modified and converted to a workshop for your business. It looks to me like it is about thirty pings in size. If we sell it do you think it could cover the cost of your father’s funeral?”
Xue-Ping sensed where Qian was headed and deeply resented the fact that, despite his efforts, his father would not transfer ownership of his brother’s house to him before he died. He was so distraught that he was speechless.
“Don’t worry Uncle. I haven’t finished yet. Since you say that the money borrowed by mother came from Grandfather’s funeral fund, if we repay our debt and you apply those funds toward Grandfather’s funeral costs, what happens to the unused portion of the money?”
“I doubt there would be any money left over.”
“Well, if there were, wouldn’t it be fair to split the money three ways.”
“How do you figure that? Father said that the family house was to be left to the two brothers since our sister was married and was given a dowry. She has no claim to this house property.”
“As far as I know, your sister has the right to an equal share of the estate and if she decides to go to court and sue for her share then I’m afraid the two houses will have to be sold and the proceeds split three ways. Then with that money in hand, we can repay our debt to you and there is no need to worry about Grandfather’s funeral expenses.”
“You are so vicious and disrespectful for someone so young, not to mention that you are a relative. You know I won’t agree to sell the houses. Go ahead and sue me for it.”
“Calm down Uncle. I have no desire to get the house but you will have to deal with your sister. If your greedy coward of a brother-in-law gets wind of the property status he might convince your sister to sue for a share and then the houses will have to be sold.”
Now Xue-Ping fully understood Qian’s plan. He was concerned that he would not be able to get the second house transferred into his name without his sister complicating the process and would continue to worry until the transfer was complete. “Even though you say you do not want this house, I am not naïve enough to believe that you want to help me out of the goodness of your heart. What do you really want?”
“We will give you the house as repayment of the money your grandfather loaned to mother if you agree to bear the cost of his funeral. However, this offer is conditional on your sister signing over her claim to the property first. Once she agrees and signs the transfer, I will sign it and no mention will be made about our conversation to anyone.”
He studied Qian in an attempt to determine the extent of what he was prepared to do if he refused his offer. Qian was definitely a force to be reckoned with. Not only was he wise far beyond his years but also possessed the cunning of a wily fox. He concluded that if he didn’t accept his proposal Qian would go to his sister and convince her to sue for a portion of the estate; thereby forcing the unwanted sale of the property.
“As long as you sign the transfer first, my sister won’t have any objection to signing herself.”
Qian sensed that his uncle was still trying to find a way to get his family to pay for the funeral and countered with a suggestion that would shield his family from further indebtedness. “Once Grandfather is buried and the funeral expenses have been paid, my mother, the legal heir to the property will sign the transfer.” Xue-Ping agreed to the proposal and Qian was gratified that he would never have to see or speak to his aunt again.
Mo-fan grinned from ear-to-ear in amazement over the skillful negotiation that his brother had just executed. He had just witnessed the “coming out” of Qian as a gifted strategist with a keen sense of how to effectively manipulate and control human nature; an ability that would serve him well in his future business dealings.