At the entrance of the village, there is a clearing under the old locust tree, the earth worn white. There are often old people in the village carrying a bench to come and sit together to talk about the fun and gossip. On summer days, it is so hot that one seems to catch on fire. The old pagoda trees cast a shade where the women of the village sit and rest between farm work. The cloth shoes with which they work make the earth shiny.
My grandmother at this time will slowly walk past, carrying from home a small stool. Today was just like any other day. The bottoms of her calf trousers were rolled up, and her cloth shoes were stained with mud from her work in the cornfields. With one hand behind her back, she moved slowly to the pagoda tree and put down her bench. Around her were other women in floral blouses. The women in their thirties looked stiff, those in their forties looked slightly mean, and most in their fifties and sixties wore floral shirts and looked a little cloudy in shrewdness.
Tang's wife, my grandmother's lifelong nemesis, was sitting in the center of the crowd, fanning her straw hat over and over. Her long, thin eyes shrugged when she saw my grandmother, and the corners of her mouth twitched. "Gui Nu!" She called my grandmother's name. "Your daughter-in-law has given birth to another daughter." She gave a sudden smile and looked around at the other women. She found some recognition in their faces. Grandma paused for a moment in taking off her straw hat and then looked back very quietly. "It was already verified, and our family knows that. We love our daughters." Grandma glanced over the bridge, where there were some “mud monkeys.” One of them was Tang's grandson, a fat boy born from his daughter-in-law at the beginning of the Lunar New Year. He likes to eat, move, and play, but he hates studying. Grandma raised her eyebrows, a hint of playfulness in her eyes. "Girls get better grades than boys. Don't need to worry about studying, and don't need to use violence." Grandma even gave a playful wink to the people around her. Everyone in the village knew that the teacher visited his house that day, and the boy had been howling from his father’s slap hit. Anyone who walked past Tang's house could hear it.
Tang's wife's thin lips compressed, her high cheekbones shifted, and a long breath came out of her nose. Grandma grabbed the bench, ready to leave the center of the women. I watched her walk to the peanut field from the distant beams and slowly put on her straw hat as she stepped into the hot sun. "Wasting money." "Can't give birth to a son." From the middle of those floral shirts came the buzz of the bugs. Grandma's feet did not stop, and I saw her straighten her back. The figures heading for the fields were like pine trees.
Some commotion was coming from the bridge, and I heard a boy screaming. He shouted, "Grandma!" It was Tang's grandson, who was being held by a shaggy, focused woman. Tang's wife rushed forward and pushed the woman away. She threw her arms around her grandson and scolded, "Go away, crazy bitch!" Then she picked up the little mud monkey and walked home. I looked ahead. The woman was mumbling, her shaggy hair and eyes fixed on them. "Son... My son..." She took a couple of sharp steps forward, then stopped, looked hesitantly from side to side, and suddenly covered her face and began to cry. The cry grew louder and louder and mingled with the broken sound of her nursery rhyme.
I tried to take a few steps forward so that I could see the crying woman sitting on the ground. Grandma did not know when to walk next to me, and she reached out and knocked me on the head. She looked pale. "Little girl, don't join in the fun, she will hit you if she finds out you are a girl." Looking at my confused face, grandma pulled me home and told me the crying woman’s story slowly while walking. She was Zhu's daughter-in-law, who lived in the west of the village. She had given birth to two daughters but had not given birth to a son. Her mother-in-law was very angry about this and even disliked the daughters she gave birth to. Then Zhu’s daughter-in-law finally became pregnant with a third child and went to the hospital to have tests. She thought it was still a daughter. So she induced the baby, only to find out it was a son. After returning to the village, she was blamed by her whole family. It affected her mentally, and she began to sing children's songs to the empty cradle. The boys in the village will cling, while the girls will be beaten and scolded as "good money lost.”
I looked around and saw that she was still sitting on the floor, her eyes red but unfocused, and she was still mumbling a nursery rhyme.
Wenhui Chen is 19 years old and from Taizhou City, Jiangsu Province, China. Chen is an exchange student who came to Salem State University from Nanjing Normal University. Chen has been studying and living in the United States for about a year.
"Village Woman" by ToGa Wanderings is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.