Ah De was hungry again. This was not surprising, for he had only eaten half a
bun since morning. It was already late afternoon, and sleeping was not going to
help him stave off the hunger any more. He
slowly lowered himself from the ledge he was on and made his way home from the
disused bridge he was napping on.
Home was a dilapidated mud shack with so
many holes puncturing its walls and roof that the wind practically whistled
through it when the rainy season approached. Ah De loved the music of the wind
then; it helped him forget the chill that permeated his
emaciated body. Though his house was in a pathetic condition, Ah
De still smiled as he thought of his mother's face. She was a wonderful woman
who never forgot to make him feel treasured. They were alone in this remote part
of China, his father having died in the war. She made a meagre living washing
clothes for other families, while Ah De did his part by eating little and
staying out of her way. But in the evenings, she would put her arms around Ah De
and tell him the loveliest stories of courage and adventure. Ah De knew that he
would do all he could to make his mother happy.
Suddenly, the loud din of cymbals clashing and trumpets playing a merry tune
cut the air. Ah De swung around to where the sound was coming from. He saw a
procession of people coming down the road, heralding the brightly-coloured sedan
chair that was carried by four burly men. The children of the village were all
dancing around the sedan chair, delirious with joy. Ah De's curiosity was
piqued. The children were usually dour and
listless. Why were they so chirpy now? He rushed after the procession.
He finally found out that the man in the sedan chair was an important man in
the capital, someone who wielded great power and was back in the village to find
a successor. He was a native of the village who had left many years ago to eke
out a living somewhere else. Now that he was close to retirement, he needed to
find a smart little boy who could carry on his work. Ah De felt a glimmer of
hope. He could do it, he was sure. After all, his mother had always said that he
was smart. Ah De found out that the rich man was leaving the next day and would
bring the chosen boy with him. His heart surged with hope as he went home.
His mother was appalled at his intention. Ah De was surprised. Did she not
understand that he wanted a better life for both of them? He would love to see
his mother luxuriating in silk instead of having her skin roughened by the
coarse cotton that she now wore. He would make sure that she partook of the
finest delicacies once he was rich. He wanted her to be happy, not suffering.
But his mother cried hopelessly, pleading with him not to go to such lengths for
wealth. He simply could not understand it.
Suddenly, he realised why she was crying. She did not want him to leave her!
Of course he would not! Ah De laughed and assured her that he would definitely
bring her along to the capital. He loved his mother too much to even leave her
for a day. But his words did not reassure her. She merely cried louder. In the
end, Ah De fell asleep, exhausted by all the excitement.
Ah De woke up with a start the next morning. The day was unusually bright. He
scratched himself irritably, wondering where his mother was. Suddenly, he
realised what it was that troubled him. He was late! He had to get to the rich
man's house for a chance to be selected as his successor. Ah De rushed out of
the house, tugging at his clothes and trying to slip his feet into the shoes at
the same time. When he arrived, all he could see was an empty courtyard. All the
trumpeters and musicians were gone. There was no sign of the feasting and
celebration that had taken place the day before. Ah De sank to his knees in
tears. He was too late. He would not be able to give his mother a better life or
buy her silk and delicacies.