I know- it is five o’clock in the morning: You get up and walk into the yard. You look up at the sky and check the weather- a few stars are still sparkling there. It looks like a good day. You turn on the gas and start to boil some water in the kettle. While waiting for the water to boil, you wash your face and brush your teeth. From the mirror you may notice there are a few new lines on your face, and more gray hair dyeing your temples. In one second, you may sigh, “Ai-ya-, I am getting old, and that’s life!” Or you may think of nothing, just turn your back and shut the gas.
You take some green tea leaves from a tin box and put them in your glass thermal. Then you pour some just-boiled hot water in it. You sit on the wood couch. Through the window pane you still can see those stars half hiding behind some crab-green featherlike clouds. You sip the hot tea slowly, until your stomach is filled with it and your whole body warms up.
About five thirty: You take a pot from the pantry, pour some rice in it and rinse the rice under running water. When the water becomes clear, you put the pot on the stove top and cover it with its lid. It takes about ten to fifteen minutes to boil up the congee, more than enough time for you to put on your gray canvas shirt and that pair of twill shorts (they have been worn by you for many years, so every time when you come to my mind, you are wearing them). The congee finally boils, so you turn down the gas and let it simmer.
You take a peek into the dark bedroom: My mother is still sleeping. You quietly close the door and lock the gate. You head for the open-air morning markets.
You know very well that between five thirty and six o’clock is the best time to buy fresh live fish. Even though outside it hasn’t completely brightened yet, you can tell the quality of the fish without fail: First, check the eyes- they should be clear and full; then the fish gills, they should smell clean and be a bright red color. Of course, you never forget to check the scales of the fish as well—They should look shiny and smooth. Only those fish who put on their best outfits and with the most innocent look could attract you.
After buying the fish, you turn to the vegetable market. The vegetables you choose still have dew on them. You negotiate price with the booth owners; sometimes they pretend to be angry with you and comment that you purchase like a woman. But you don’t mind their kidding at all, as long as you get the freshest vegetables at the best price. When there is a good bargain, you buy more than you need so you can use for the next few days.
You come back home with two fully loaded hands. You open the door and find my mother is up. You show her what you have bought, then she fetches the water from the well and puts the live fish in a bucket (You told me that fish always tastes better after staying in fresh water for a day or two).
The congee isn’t ready yet. You go up to the veranda and check the flowers: The roses are blooming, as well as some chrysanthemums. You count the number of the new flowers and compare it to yesterday’s. You are always proud of your gardening—People give you the compliment that you plant the best flowers in this neighborhood. The flowers make you happy, so you take a few pictures of the flowers when they are bathing in the golden early morning sun. The dew on the petals is glittering like diamonds.
Now it is seven thirty: Time to have breakfast. My mother has taken out some pickled vegetables, and sometimes there are also salty eggs. The congee is cooked perfectly: Not too thin nor too thick, each rice grain has exploded and the water turns into light rice paste. “Meow!” Our neighbor’s cat creeps in. My mother throws an eggshell to it; the cat starts to eat greedily.
After breakfast, my mother washes the pot and bowls, and you start to water the flowers: This little garden needs buckets of water; you have to fetch the water from the well, then carry it in a bucket and walk up to the veranda. You carefully water the root of each plant and spray some water to wet the flowers and leaves. You enjoy this moment, which reminds you of beauty and hope.
Everything is done. You sit on the couch in the living room and turn on the TV. The morning news reports are about the numbers of confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide, the trade war between US and China etc., You don’t like this news at all, so you turn off the TV and sit there for a while in silence. What to do next? you are figuring. Finally, you decide to send me those flower pictures that you just took this morning.
When the flower pictures are delivered on my phone, it is about nine o’clock in the evening. I am in New York, on another side of the earth, twelve hours’ time difference from you. After a whole day’s work. I enlarge your photos and examine them carefully: Most of them aren’t well taken, some are blurred. Your messages are always just photos without a word; however, I know your words behind them. As a father, who can’t and won’t express his feelings, that’s your way of saying “I love you” to your daughter, to someone you miss every day, to someone you want to protect forever but you can’t.
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