The Second Original Writing Competition
Junior High School Group
Platinum Award

Written by 
Xu Kaiwen, Mozi Primary School, Sichuan Province, China 
Date: May, 2017

Things stay constant; people change. Tears flow faster than words

There is a street in my past that I remember was densely lined with trees. Not long ago, during Tomb Sweeping Festival, I once more found myself on that street. However, the scene I found had changed entirely. Weeds had taken over, and even the original street was difficult to follow. The poetic quality of the street of my memories had vanished.

Finally, I came upon that house that I had not seen for so many years. It looked largely the same, aside from its heavy shroud of dust. Arriving at the front door, I pushed it gently open, precipitating a long creaking sound as the door swung inward. My eyes quickly set on that table I’d not seen for so many years. Seeing it again opened the floodgates, bringing long-dormant, deep emotions to the surface. 

There were many chess sets in Grandpa’s house. But his favorite was the one with solid wood pieces. He once sternly told us: “Do not touch this chess set … Do not touch this chess set.” Although he warned us multiple times, this simply served to pique my curiosity.

One time, while Grandpa was out, I gingerly took that chess set down and placed it on that tan-colored table. I opened it up and was greeted by aromas reminiscent to me of soil and paint. It is a smell that I’d still recognize today. Curious, I picked up one of the pieces. Just then, I felt a sudden, cool breeze kick up behind me. I trembled a bit and turned my head around slowly to see a stiff, tall and severe personage looming over me. I became short of breath and dared not move a muscle as I heard Grandpa’s severe rebuke. “How many times have I told you? Do your ears not work?” I felt so ashamed. I spent the rest of that day on my knees in the main room of that house. Later that evening, Grandpa woke from his sleep and I soon heard muffled noises coming from the kitchen. At about 11:00, Grandpa emerged with a bowl of noodles. His face, however, was as stern as ever. He walked over to me and said in a kind voice, “Eat!” At that moment, whether due to some primal reaction or to my emotional response to his gesture, tears started to stream down my cheeks. Grandpa, his face still stoically severe, stomped briskly across the room and turned on the television set. Seeing that I’d finished the noodles, he said brusquely, “Go to sleep!” Perhaps out of shame, I turned to leave, without saying a word.

After reliving this memory, I started opening the other doors, eventually finishing my tour of the house and my search for childhood memories. But pervasive dust, decaying and broken furniture, and a musty stench were all I could see.

Before leaving, I sat atop a rock that I had graced so often so many years ago. Although now covered in weeds, I remember sitting here, wrapped in Grandpa’s arms. I was six at the time. During the summer, Grandpa would sit here on cool summer nights, smoking a tobacco leaf cigar and holding a thin fan while holding me in his lap, gazing out at the moonlit nightscape together. Grandpa was fond of saying to me, “Kid, you sure are a troublemaker. When your Grandpa’s old and grey, do you think you’ll still be a cause of so much mischief?” It may have been because I was so young and so unawares, but I chose to ignore that line of questioning and continued to rock back and forth on Grandpa’s legs, humming the only song I knew at the time – Little Red Riding Hood. Grandpa responded by shaking his head dejectedly and returning to watching the stars while taking continual puffs on his cigar.

When I was eight, Grandpa came down with an illness that kept him bedridden. From then on, the house wafted with the smell of herbal medicines and the sound of Grandpa’s coughs. I sat regularly by his bedside after school, wiping his back with a wet towel and bringing his water. These are things that Grandma would normally be in charge of, but she had planted a lot of crops that needed tending to, so I took over Grandpa duties after school. Sitting by his bedside, he often said to me, “Kid, your grandpa isn’t long for this world.” My response? Before he could continue on, I held my hand over his mouth. I was older then; I wouldn’t allow Grandpa to say such things.

A little over a month before he passed, Grandpa’s condition seemed to be getting better. He once more went out in the evenings to cool off. He didn’t listen to Grandma’s urgings that he stay in bed. “It’s too stuffy inside,” he would say. “I’m going out for some fresh air.” While outside, I’d climb up and sit on his legs as I’d done before. I no longer hummed, but rather looked up at the stars. Seeing the universe unfold reminded me of something I learned in class. I asked, “Grandpa, how many stars are there?” He said, “Innumerable.” I continued, asking, “Where do stars come from?” He answered, “After people die, they travel into the heavens, where friends and family can cherish their memory.” Not completely understanding, I asked, “Do we know which stars belong to which people?” Grandpa chuckled and said, “Of course. If they have a deep emotional attachment, they’re sure to know.” I nodded in half understanding, and then asked, “Grandpa, will I be able to find you?” He said, “If you love me, you’ll certainly be able to find me.” Satisfied, I answered happily, “I’ll definitely find you.” Grandpa nodded his head in warm approval.

Grandpa left me. I saw his stiff body lying on his bed. I tried to shake him awake, but he didn’t move at all. I knelt by his side and cried out loud. It was to no avail. In the end, I finally accepted that Grandpa had left me forever.

Seeing this weed-covered stone once again, my tears flowed profusely once again. Grandpa had gone, but to this day I don’t know why he wouldn’t let us touch that chess set …

Today, scanning the stars, I have yet to find Grandpa’s shadow. He told me that he would be watching me from the heavens, but in all my searching, I’ve not found any trace of Grandpa up there. Grandpa, are you truly …?

The life has gone too from my grandparent’s home. The furniture and trappings are still there, but you are not. Void of the warmth of people, I am estranged from this familiar setting.

Grandpa, you are my fondest memory of youth. You made my childhood complete. You brought so much happiness. I will never forget. Grandpa … Thank you for giving me so many wonderful memories. I will never forget you!

Comments of Reviewer 1

Grandpa’s table is the focal point of this narrative, while the author uses flashbacks to describe naturally his genuine emotions. The words used in the text are polished and brilliant. The story has elements of subtleness and straightforwardness and shares heritage, while teaching important lessons. It is a refreshing and cute story. The author holds much future promise.

Comments of Reviewer 2

The author uses a flashback narrative to tell us of personal discoveries that he made during a Tomb Sweeping Festival and to describe his previous relationship with his grandfather. The author couches his deep-rooted emotions against the backdrop of a dilapidated, time-worn setting. While the “things” of the author’s past remain in place, the people who once lived there have long gone. The narrative strikes deep emotional chords, making this story a still moving read.