The General was retired.
In the past, he had spent most of his life away from home—Either in battles or guarding the coasts of the country. He was a man, a great man with great responsibilities. He was away when his sons were born; he was away when his wife died; he was away when he had his first grandson. He never thought that he had sacrificed his family and his private life; he loved to be outside; he loved to be in the army; he felt more intimate with his warriors than his family.
But now he was old and retired. All of a sudden, he found there was nothing he could do, and everything around him wasn’t familiar at all. Even though he had lived in this house for more than thirty years, he could get lost in it. There were so many rooms and yards and passages, more complicated than the camps in the army. And he didn’t understand why suddenly he had a lot of family members: Three sons, two daughters, the nephews, the nieces, the sons in law, the daughters in law, the grandchildren, the servants…Their faces also all looked very similar to each other, and their names were so hard to remember. When he was in the army, he just needed to call his subordinates their surname, such as Zhao, Lee, and they quite understood him. Now a few times when he tried to call his grandchildren, they all looked confused. So finally, he developed his own way: Whoever bowed to him, he just nodded back; whoever talked to him, he just smiled politely, and made a short response to their questions. People thought he didn’t like to talk, so they started to keep some distance from him as well. People around him seemed always busy. They passed by right in front of his porch many times a day, but they seldom stopped and talked with him. He felt he was an outsider, in his own family.
His old colleagues and friends gradually all disappeared after his retirement, only a few of them still kept in touch with him. They were all as old as him, or even older, and they had been through a similar background. Sometimes they came to visit him, and sometimes he went to meet them. During their meetings, they talked a lot about the old days: How the general used his broad knife to kill fifteen enemies; how cold the wind was when they were at the north coast—It blew on the face like slits from a knife. Then they would retreat to the silence and sigh. Yes, they were all old, and couldn’t go back to those golden days anymore.
Since two of his old friends died, he became much lonelier. Nobody visited him, and there was nobody he could visit. He stopped his morning and evening practices with his legendary broad knife, most of the time he just sat on the porch, aimlessly. Spring came and went, the magnolia tree in the garden facing his porch bloomed and faded. He thought he was just like that tree, but an older one. He had used up his energy to bear year after year’s flowers, now he was too old, and it was time to be barren. The winters were also getting longer and colder. He started to love to sit in the sun and doze off. He was an oil lamp whose oil had almost run out. He peeked at his broad knife which was hanging on the wall in his study, he signed deeply: “Sorry my dear old friend, we are retired together. Even though you are still such an excellent knife, nobody appreciates you anymore. We are of no use now!”
But when one of his grandsons whose name was Bo came to see him, he was happy. Different from his other grandchildren, Bo adored him. He loved his grandfather’s old stories. Every time he met the General, he pushed him to tell something new. “Grandpa is a well of stories, he is a superhero!” Bo told everyone the same thing. It was true. More than forty years served in the army and the experiences of hundreds of battles, the General had a lot to talk about, if there was someone who wanted to listen. Sometimes when he was in a better mood, he would teach Bo to practice his broad knife. Bo’s father, his eldest son, didn’t like Bo to follow the General’s life routine; he wanted Bo to read more books; besides, Bo was only seven years old, too young and it was too dangerous to practice with such a weapon. But he also respected his father, the General, and only in the presence of Bo, he could see the rare happiness on the General’s face.
The General also taught Bo to read:
"An old steed in the stable,
still aspiring to its next thousand mile journey;
A retired man in elderly years,
still dreaming about his undying ambitions."
Bo couldn’t understand. He looked up at the General’s face: “Grandpa, why the old horse and the retired man do that?” The General patted Bo’s head gently, and his eyes stared into space: “You will understand it when you grow up. A soldier will never die, he just fades away!”
But still, the General died two years after his retirement. His study was locked, and nobody had touched his broad knife since. It hung there motionless, full of dust. The magnolia tree knew nothing—Each spring it kept blooming, and then the petals fell everywhere in the garden. But it had no audience, so perhaps it felt lonely also.
One night, two thieves were caught in the General’s garden. One was found dead, the other one was injured. Two big parcels were left nearby; inside were gold and jewelry of the General’s family’s. From the police record, people later knew what had happened that night: The two thieves climbed on the top of the roof and waited until everyone in the house was asleep. Then they jumped into the courtyard nearest the storage room, forced open the door, and packed the valuables into two parcels. When they were about to escape, they happened to pass the General’s garden. They heard some strange sounds from the study. They knew that the General had died, and nobody lived there, so what were the sounds? They poked the window paper to look inside: They saw the General’s broad knife kept opening and closing in its sheath; the sharp and harsh sounds were from it! And while the knife was open, it glittered in the dark. One thief told the other one: “I heard people say that the General’s knife was the best in our country. It’s our luck to find it here. Let’s go get it, surely we can sell it at a good price!” The other one held this first one’s arm: “Wait! The knife keeps opening and closing, which means it senses the danger and wants blood. We’d better not touch it and just go!” The first thief didn’t believe that; he scorned his companion as a coward. He jumped into the study from its unlocked window, when his feet just landed on the floor, the knife flew out of the sheath and slashed at his throat! It happened in a flash. The other thief yelled out. He was just about to run, the knife flew toward him from the open window and stabbed him in the back. He fell on the ground. Then the knife flew back to its sheath and stood still inside.
People couldn’t believe this story. But they did hear the yell, and they did see one thief was killed and the other one was injured in his back. So, what else could happen? The General’s sons took out the knife and opened it—There were still some fresh blood stains on the blade.
Twelve years later, Bo entered the army. He is a junior General now, and he uses his grandfather’s broad knife. People say that he is a young man with a great future, perhaps one day he will be even greater than his grandfather. He inherits his grandfather’s legacy, as well as his broad knife.