Bitter acid congested in his throat as Wei dismounted his bicycle. Li, clutching the doorframe, watched her husband trudge up the garden path. His eyes were empty and his face ashen, as if a wisp of smoke had eclipsed his head.
He entered the house. “Coming events cast their shadows before them.”
“What do you mean?” Li pulled the door closed and hurried after him.
Wei collapsed into an armchair. “1989: Year of the Snake. At Chinese New Year, I gave Long the traditional snake blessings, courage and wisdom. Look where it got him.” He looked at Li desperately. “My son, protestor for democracy.”
“A blessing is what you regret?” Li blinked and perched on the chair opposite him. “Not, perhaps, what you said to him the morning he left for Tiananmen?”
Wei eyed her sternly.
“What has university done to you Long? All this equality garbage dribbling from your grubby little mouth is an offence to your family, to your country. Go. Go to the protest. But you will not go as my son.” Li spat the words at him. “Why not regret that?”
“The Vice Treasurer of the Communist Party with a protestor for a son. It couldn’t happen, don’t you see?
Li gave a moan and shook her head.
“Do you ever wonder whether it was your job that made him do these things? He had an inside view into — as he said — the corruption and hypocrisy of the Party. When the opportunity came around to join that university protest group, nothing was going to stop him.” Li sighed. “And the way you raised him, Wei, always so strict…”
There was a silence. “Tiger father begets tiger son,” Wei said quietly, the guilt thick in his voice.
She cried, for herself, for her son, for the proverb that was now so true.
“He is dead, then?” Li finally asked.
The warm wind beat at his face as he cycled in the early hours of that morning. The streets suddenly parted into Tiananmen Square, but he scarcely recognised it. Bodies littered the ground like the autumn leaves scattering after a gust of wind. The square was no longer bore the chaos of soldiers and students from yesterday, now only a weakened crowd carried away bodies crushed by tanks. Grave faced men lumped mangled figures over their shoulders, distraught faces and dead eyes following Wei as he stared from his bicycle.
Blood streaked the road of Chang’an Boulevard like a child’s splatter painting. A window which previously displayed red symbols celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, was now graffitied with the words ‘Down with the Fascists’, written in blood. Red seemed to appear everywhere, as if to mock them all, red of happiness, red of good fortune, red to scare the demons away, but now, red of death.
Wei walked his bicycle slowly through the war scene, contrasting to the scurrying pace of everyone around him. He forced himself to lock eyes with every dead face, gingerly turning over bayonetted bodies, trying to keep his hands clean. Long wasn’t there.
Wei’s chest tightened. Where else could he be? He stared vacantly into the distance, at a crowd forming outside a large white building — the hospital! He jumped on his bike, pedalling so fast he wobbled. The entrance of the hospital was papered with endless lists of the dead and wounded. Wei scanned it furiously, Zhang Long, Zhang Long. There — ‘Zhang Long, 25 years’. No, that was too old. His son wasn’t listed.
Wei rode to the next hospital, Fuwai. Squinting along the list, he found him: ‘Zhang Long’. Wei tried to stop himself from reading along the row, ‘-dead’. He stared at the word, all his surroundings slipping away until it was just him and that word.
The darkness shattered as Wei was pushed aside by the queue. He cycled home, now unconscious to the happenings on the streets, his insides numb.
“Was it — bad?” Li sniffled.
“It was bad. Many students died. Hundreds I would say.”
Li nodded. Her imagination filled in the details. She rose and went to Long’s bedroom. Wei followed. They stood over his bed, a sliver of sunlight peeking through the blinds.
“We named him Zhang Long. Brave. And he was brave, fighting for democracy. Don’t tell me he wasn’t. I know you didn’t approve of what he did but you can still be proud for his courage.”
Wei took a breath. “I am.”
She rested her head on his chest and he stroked her fine black hair. The sun broke through the blinds and brightened the room, warming them. They closed their eyes for a moment of peace, and in that moment, the three of them were together.