When people are alive, they are not so mindful about day and night because they can only occupy themselves with a finite number of matters. Once a person has passed away, the days pile up: According to my reckoning, in twenty days' time it will be the third anniversary of my mother's death.
During these three years, I have been seized by a queer sensation, namely, I have felt that my mother is not actually gone. I have also felt that my mother shares the sense that she has not departed. It is said that dying is like going to sleep, but while the sleeper knows he must slumber on a bed, he does not know when exactly he will drift off. For fourteen years, my mother lived together with me in Xi'an. After a serious illness, the doctor confirmed that all of her organs were in a state of terminal exhaustion. I then decided to send her back to our home village of Dihua, where she might continue to receive medical care. Every day, in my village, she knew that once one bag of intravenous medicine was spent, her children would feed another into the drip. She simply closed her eyes and lay down there at ease. On the third night, her closed eyes did not open, but she was certain that the drip remained attached. She did not anticipate that thereafter she would never regain consciousness because when she laydown, she asked my younger sister to wash her facecloth. The comb lay beside her pillow. The key tied to her belt stayed fastened. She did not convey her final wishes.
Three years ago, whenever I sneezed, I would always ask "who is missing me?" My mother loved to crack jokes. She would pick up where I left off and say "who is missing? Your mother is missing you!" During these three years, I have sneezed with greater regularity. Usually, when I am late for a meal or stay up for too long, I shall sneeze. When I sneeze, I think of my mother and I am certain that my mother is still missing me.
My mother is missing me. She does not believe that she has passed away. I am even more convinced that she is still alive. This feeling is especially intense when I stay quietly alone at home. Often, when I am writing, I will suddenly hear that my mother is calling me. The voice is real and sincere. On hearing her call, I will customarily twist my head to the right. Before, my mother used to perch on the edge of the bed in the room to the right-hand side. When I craned over and began to write, she would stop walking around and not make a peep. Instead she would keep her eyes fixed on me. After having stared at me for a long time, she would call out for me and then say, "Can you finish writing all the words in the world? Go out and walk for a while." Now, whenever I think hear my mother calling me, I will lay down my pen and walk into the room. I wonder if my mother has come to Xi'an from Dihua? Of course, there is nobody in the room, but I will stand there for a long time and say to myself that my mother has returned, but popped out onto the street to buy my favorite green peppers and radishes. Or perhaps, she is pulling my leg by deliberately hiding behind her portrait hung on the wall? I will then burn incense in the censing bowl in front of the picture and add one sentence: "I am not tired."
Over those three years, I have composed dozens of articles for others, but never written one single character for my mother. This is because in the eyes of their children, all mothers are great and kind. I do not want to repeat this cliche. My mother was an ordinary woman with bound feet. She was illiterate and her household registration certificate was still that of a peasant. However, my mother was so important to me. After a long, long time, the thought of her illness no longer brings my heart into my mouth. And yet whenever I prepare to venture to a distant place, there is no longer anybody to nag me to do this and that. When I am given fine food and drink, I no longer know to whom I should send them.
In my home in Xi'an, I have not moved a stick of furniture in the room where my mother formerly lived. Everything has been left in its original state. However, I have never glimpsed my mother's shadow. Again and again, I have repeated gravely to myself: "My mother is not dead. She has gone to live in the countryside." This summer, it is too hot and humid. Every night when the heat and humidity wakes me, in a trance I think that I should install a new air-conditioner for my mother. When I spring back to my senses, I comfort myself that my mother is living in a new place in the countryside. That place must be cool.
The date of the third anniversary is drawing near. As per to the custom of the countryside, we should hold a special ceremony. I am preparing candles, incense, and fruit, ready to go back to Dihua. But once I return to Dihua, I have to visit her grave. The reality is that my mother has passed away. I am on the ground and she is beneath it. Life and death separate us. The mother and son can never cross paths again. Tears cascade down my face, accompanied by a long wail.