By: Ron | 06-22-2021 | Stories

Memories from Behind


It has already been more than two years since I have met my father - my most unforgettable memory of him is how he looked from behind.


The winter when my grandmother died, my father also lost his position at work; it is said that misfortunes tend to overlap. With the intent of heading back to my childhood home to meet my father and mourn the loss of grandma, I traveled from Beijing to Xuzhou. Upon catching up with my father and arriving at our house, I was greeted by a messy courtyard full of stuff. Immediately thoughts of Grandma swarmed through my head and I couldn't help but start crying uncontrollably. "She is already gone, there is no need to cry. We are fortunate to still be alive ourselves!", exclaimed my father.


Back home my father paid off the interest on our mortgage, then borrowed money to pay for grandma's funeral. Our home life really felt miserable with half of the borrowed money going towards grandma's funeral, and since neither of us were working, the other half went towards our daily necessities and meals. After the funeral, my dad said he would go to Nanjing to find a new job, and I planned to head back to Beijing to continue my studies. Since we were both leaving, we headed to the train station together.


When we arrived in Nanjing, my friend asked me to go window shopping together, so I stayed an extra day. On the morning of the second day in Nanjing 南京, I had to cross the river to Pukou 浦口 then catch the afternoon train heading north. My father said he was too busy and couldn’t accompany me to the station, so he asked a tea house in a famous hotel to send a porter to accompany me and help carry my baggage to the train. However, I could sense my dad's hesitation about sending a porter to accompany me - he thought that it might not be very appropriate. In fact, that year I was already twenty years old and had been to Beijing 北京 a few times without any trouble at all. My father continued to hesitate but ultimately decided to bring me to the station himself. I repeatedly told him that he doesn't need to go, I can just go with the porter, but he quipped, "don't worry about it - the porters won't do a good job anyways!"


We crossed the river and arrived at the station. I bought a ticket while my dad watched over my luggage. I brought too many bags and we had to pay some baggage carriers to help out before we could go on. As my father busily discussed pricing with them, I realized how smart I was and kept interjecting with their bargaining. Eventually a price was settled and my father escorted me onto the train. He picked a seat for me near the train door, and placed down a purple fur jacket that he made for me to sit on. He told me to have a safe trip, warned me to be careful at night, and said I should be careful not to catch a cold. He said he asked the tea house to take good care of me. In the back of my mind I laughed to myself at him for asking the tea house to take care of me; tea houses only care about money, they won’t care about me. Besides I was already quite independent and a young adult, did he think I couldn't take care of myself? Thinking about it now, I was so smart back then.


"Dad, you can go home now", I told him. He looked out of the train window and said, "I'm going to go buy some oranges for you, just wait here and don't move." I saw that one of the other train platforms had a few vendors selling items to travelers, but to get there you needed to jump down onto the train tracks and climb back up onto the platform on the other side. My dad was fat and getting to the other platform would be really hard for him so I offered to go get the oranges myself, but he would not let me. After a bit of a back-and-forth, I eventually gave up and let him go himself. He was wearing a little black hat, a black overcoat, and a deep blue cotton robe as I watched him stumble over to the side of the platform and climb down onto the tracks. It didn't look like he had much trouble getting down at all. The problem was when he got to the other platform and tried to climb back up. He grabbed onto the platform with both of his hands and tried to kick his feet up too. He really gave it his best effort as his overweight body leaned slightly to the left. At that moment, while watching him from behind, I began crying uncontrollably and immediately began wiping away the tears so nobody could see me cry. After I was able to stop the tears, I looked out the window again and saw him walking back while carrying some vermillion colored oranges. When it came time to transfer back to my platform, he first put the oranges on the ground before climbing down onto the tracks and picking the oranges back up. When he reached my platform, I ran out to help him climb up and he escorted me back onto my seat on the train. After a bit of thought, I placed the oranges down onto the purple fur jacket which I had placed on the seat. Although my fur jacket got a bit dirty from the oranges, I felt at ease and comfortable with the decision. A few moments later my dad said, "Alright I'm heading back, when you get to Beijing please send me a letter!" I walked out onto the platform with him and watched him take a few steps towards the station before he turned around and said, "go on back to the train, it isn't too crowded." I watched him from behind as he disappeared into the sea of people coming and leaving the platform. After I couldn't see him anymore, I headed back to my seat and the tears started flowing yet again.


In these past few years, my dad and I have been transient and traveling around looking for work. Each day in our family feels worse than the day before. When he was young, he went out and made a name for himself, doing a lot of great things. Who knew he would live such a depressing life in his old age? He is sad every day and can't seem to pick himself out of his depression. With a lot of bottled up emotion and sadness, it is easy for him to lash out in anger at trivial family matters. Now he treats me differently. He hasn't seen me in two years now and seems to have finally forgotten about my faults. Now all he says is that he misses me and my son. After I moved up north, he wrote me a letter: "My body still feels pretty healthy overall, but these days my arm aches so much that I can barely lift a pencil to write or chopsticks to eat. It's quite inconvenient and I feel that I may be nearing the end of my life." As I read the letter with tears welling up in my eyes, I once again imagined him from behind - an obese man wearing a black hat and blue cotton robes climbing the train platform. Ah! Will I ever be able to meet him again?


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