Become a Fan
Ch.5, Pt. 2, Journey from Shanghai
By Lucille Bellucci
Friday, August 26, 2005
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
Excerpt from prize-winning novel, Journey from Shanghai.
JOURNEY FROM SHANGHAI
The Roman autumn gave the city back to Italians. Colors changed. Women's dresses and silk scarves graduated to rusts and crimsons. The huge chestnut burrs on the thirty-foot trees on Via Veneto and near the Bardinis' home on the Lungotevere swelled and split to expose the reddish-brown nuts inside. On Via della Conciliazione, the broad central avenue leading to the Vatican, young seminarians walked in groups with their long black cassocks flying and hands clamped atop their black cartwheel hats. With their broad sashes, they, too flaunted various shades of red.
Mai-yeen Bardini yielded to the change in seasons with sadness. In October her garden went to sleep, and in a few weeks would be nothing but moldering flower beds to remind her that she had produced a garden at all. She did not like being shut indoors for months until spring. Winter was danger; it worked loneliness into cruel forms and there was no way to fight them. This condition became as seasonal as hay fever.
She missed more than the landscapes of her homeland. She knew enough Italian to manage the daily demands by herself, but her sentences were like wood when she uttered them and always the same set pieces. The only antidote she had for that was to read aloud from a volume of poetry by Wei Chuang until she had convinced herself that her mind had not turned into wood also, that she could make song out of words and use them at her will. She had not prized enough those inconsequential chats with other women in Shanghai over the garden gate or at the beauty shop. Such foolish, comfortable nonsense! Their gossiping had been more valuable than they knew; it had made them secure, bonded in a sisterhood of common language.
Her talks with Mrs. Wei, her only Chinese friend, were always about the same things, the family in Taiwan, the two recalcitrant sons, and invariably ended with Mrs. Wei bursting into tears. Mai-yeen had several times tried to speak of her own uneasiness over news received from her sister and foster aunt in Soochow but had given up. So she read to Rafaella the cold, proud letters filled with sinister words: Land Reform. Collectivization. Industrialization. Revisionist struggles.
"They seem to have become fervent Communists," she said, meaning, They do not sound like my own family.
"It's the only way to survive there, Mother," Rafaella replied. She barely knew her relatives, having met them when she was a child. To her they were no different from the other hapless millions who were forced to conform to Mao Tse-tung's edicts.
But Mai-yeen felt each defection of family personally. The last of her line in China was being transformed into something alien. Her sister's children were seldom mentioned in the letters, as if it were understood they were busily growing up to be productive citizens with no use for their aunt in a foreign land. The year before, Mai-yeen's brother-in-law had been promoted to commune leader. Since then, there had been no more salutations from him. The tone of the last letter was almost malevolent. "You may laugh at us in your imperialistic culture," her sister wrote, "but for once we are all working together, and together we Chinese will show the world what we can achieve."
I do not laugh, Little Sister. I miss you. Do not push me out of the family. Why do you say "we Chinese"? I am still Chinese.
There was never any mention of Matteo, the husband who had brought her to this country and then died, no matter how often Mai-yeen did so in her letters. Now there was no one with whom to share memories of him, except with Rafaella in his character as her father. Her own various characters drove her deeper into her state of isolation. To Rafaella’s friend she was Madame, to their landlady she was Signora Bardini, to her own Rafaella she was Mama. To the grocer she was the Chinese lady with strange bound feet. I am Mai-yeen, she thought. My name is Mai-yeen.
How complex was the state of loneliness.
Site: Lucille Bellucci - Author
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