The First Excellence
What happens when East bleeds into West – when a flower of the Orient takes root in Canadian soil?
Fa-ling is faced with the dilemma of all modern young adults: she must choose a career and settle on a life path that will become her own “first excellence”.
Join Fa-ling on an incredible journey into the heart of mainland China as she sets out to discover the land of her birth. In order to determine her future, Fa-ling must first unlock the mysteries of her past. To this end, she travels with a Canadian adoption group to the exotic southern province of Guang-Xi Zhuang.
Searching for her lost heritage, Fa-ling encounters murder, kidnapping, political intrigue and organ theft. Together with Detective Wang Yong-qi and his brilliant but uncouth partner Cheng Minsheng, Fa-ling must uncover a high-stakes kidnapping plot — before another child goes missing!
Min-xi gripped the edge of the table and forced herself to stand. Another jolt blasted her spine, causing her to double over. From the corner of her eye she saw the little one crouching behind a chair. Why didn’t Jong send her outside to play? No one seemed to notice the child, no one except for Min-xi.
Good Mother came into the room carrying a stack of worn out towels. Jong followed with a full basin. He was almost a foot taller than his mother, but due to a perpetual slouch he possessed only half of the old woman’s presence.
“She has grown low from the beginning,” Good Mother said. Her voice, never soothing at the best of times, ripped through the humid afternoon. Min-xi knew better than to argue with her.
It was not unusual for Good Mother to refer to her daughter-in-law in the third person, as if her son’s wife were a family dog that had fallen out of favour. She seldom spoke to Min-xi directly, except to offer instructions concerning domestic matters.
“It will be another girl.” Her words slapped the air.
Jong placed the basin on the table and put an arm around Min-xi’s waist. He tried to lead her to the bed, but she pushed him away. She would not look at him — had avoided contact for over a month, ever since the decision had been announced one evening at the dinner table.
Of course, Jong’s father was not present for the birth. He would no doubt make himself scarce until the situation was resolved to his satisfaction. Good Mother said her husband was working in the field, but more likely he was busy tending to a case of watery Beijing beer, his shanty floor littered with bottles.
As far as Min-xi knew the old man seldom spoke, yet he managed to rule his family in unbending silence. Somehow Good Mother always understood his wishes. She enforced them without mercy.
“Jong, take this towel,” she said. “Clean up that mess.” She pointed to the floor where Min-xi stood, water trickling down her leg.
Min-xi reached into a box near the window. She removed a quilt that had been placed there for the purpose. Another wave of pain caught her off guard, and she almost dropped the blanket. Good Mother took it from her and spread it over the bare mattress, taking care to double its thickness near the centre.
Min-xi climbed onto the bed.
It was an easy labour. The child — another girl as expected — was small. It did not require much effort to push her out.
Jong wrapped the infant in a clean towel and placed it in a basket on top of the dresser.
“There will be no name,” Good Mother said. “We have the moon tonight, so we will have to wait until tomorrow after dark. If anyone comes this evening, we will say we are all ill and cannot leave the house.”
Yes, thought Min-xi, we have the moon. That was as she had planned. When she woke that morning, she excused herself from her chores by telling Good Mother the baby was too close and she could not walk. In truth, she felt as fit as could be expected in her condition. The birth was yet days away, if the signs of her body could be trusted.
Min-xi poured herself a bath. Remembering the advice of old Song, her mother’s aunt, she topped it with repeated kettles full of boiling water till it was steaming hot. Then she sat in it for over an hour, drinking castor oil to trigger the contractions.
She knew Good Mother would not take action on the night of the full moon, when friends and neighbours might be walking outdoors at any hour and the risk of discovery was too high. By inducing her labour to take advantage of the lunar swell, Min-xi had grasped the only feather of hope that floated within her reach. She had stolen one precious night.
She caught the little one’s eye and held it, willing the girl to understand what they must do. It was pointless. A four-year-old could not be expected to carry the desperation of a grown woman. Min-xi would have to take her chances when the time came.
Meanwhile, she needed her rest. Without so much as a look at the newborn, she closed her eyes and turned away from her family. Sleep came quickly despite the turmoil in her soul.
After less than an hour, Min-xi heard the infant stir. She pretended to sleep on. Jong gave the baby a bottle to quiet it. Good Mother made a clucking sound, no doubt scornful of the waste. The old woman put away her sewing and blustered out of the room. There were other tasks to attend to.
Alone at last with Jong and their children, Min-xi continued to feign sleep. She knew there was nothing to be gained from further discussion. Every appeal had already been denied. The gentle, generous man she had married was changing, his goodness eroding with the constant friction of his mother’s voice.