Zongzi, by Sophia Fang


By Sophia Fang, Young Writers Contest Fiction Finalist

To make zongzi you must shape two bamboo leaves into a cone, then alternate filling it with glutinous rice and meat until it teeters at the brim. You must then wrap it tight with string. You also require a mother’s love, a father’s patience, and the indistinct chatter of voices from the living room. Alas! Here, amongst the endless skies and stretches of wheat fields, there is no such “love” or “patience” or any semblance to the warmth of a home. Out here, there’s just farms, desperation, broken dreams, and us—the “sent-down youth”.

I try to reminisce, as the sun beats down on my back and the air carries a bite of frost, of the mundane mornings spent learning math and the afternoons studying science, of the collective “Good morning, Teacher” and “Thank you for the lesson” we recited each and every day. Yet, I can no longer conjure up those images with ease. It seems the only picture scorched into my memory is that of my father: his tears spilling onto the ground like fresh blood dripping from wounds. The only sound heard, from this bleak and endless land, are their cries.

There is a pulling on my leg, like the insistent, demanding tug of my brother when he spots his favorite food on the shelves of the grocery store. Here, there are no grocery stores or familiar faces; only blood-hungry leeches. As I slap it off, droplets of blood drip into the dirt and lag behind me in a trail, like bodies pounding against the pavement, the redness of blood blending into the red wristbands of the Red Guard. The days are long here. Each second is marked only by the passage of exhaustion from the work in the fields. Each minute is the straining of backs and the wiping of sweat. Each hour we are faced with harsh reality. Where did the childlike innocence go? Where is laughter? Where is hope? Where are dreams?

The nights are the ones for dreams. Underneath the cover of the bright moon and the swishing of the wheat, I finger the letters on the cover of the book I had tucked safely beneath my covers. A-n-n-a-K-a-r-e-n-i-n-a. Anna Karenina. Once, in a time of chewy zongzi and crackling fireplaces, I dreamt of flowy scripts and woody pages, with my name printed on the cover. I had hoped that one day, I could share a story, one of heart pounding excitement, one so beautifully tragic and tragically beautiful that it chains you to your seat and keeps you there until the faint glow of lamps is blinded by the midday sun. Those times are long gone, but I cannot bear to leave those aspirations behind. Someday, when the sky is blue and painted with clouds, and red is once again the color of festivity not oppression, maybe I will pick up the pen and dream.

Soon, winter’s white fury descends upon us. The fields are covered by a blanket of snow; they seem warm. I view them with envy as I pull my threadbare blankets tighter around me. My eyelids are heavy, but I still trace the words on the beaten old book: A-n-n-a-K…

It is day again. We march to an open patch of dirt for the ritual humiliation. I am chosen first; the cold air caresses my skin and the curses numb my insides. Again and again it continues, until every child is stripped of not only their freedom, dignity, and confidence but their happiness.

It is day again. We start off with a reading of the Little Red Book. Every sunrise is followed by the collective “Workers of the world, unite!”; every sundown is the same.

Day by day, the seasons passed—and so did we. Jiang Liwei, Zhang Qingling, and Xiong Guang stayed within icy depths of December; Ding Jie and Peng Shaoqing, armed with rope found in abandoned sheds or rusted knives, chose to follow them. I wonder if there will be anyone left to remember their names, to remember stories. Will there be anyone left to keep their memories safe?

The skies slowly fade from their grey hues, the fields lose their blankets. Somehow, there seems to be the scent of hope in the air. Unexplainably, on this particular day, memories of glutinous rice and meat seem incredibly clear.

The day begins again. Walking down the aisles of wheat, the sky above is blue painted with cotton candy clouds; there is a whiff of green grass in the air. Suddenly, my knees buckle, and I collapse onto the dirt ground. My eyes are heavy—oh so heavy—but my fingers they twitch, itching to write, full of dreams of stories not for this lifetime. In the distance, I hear my mother’s voice and my brother’s laughter; I see my father smile. Will I be remembered past a number, a one in a million? Will anyone remember my name? Will you remember me?

Sophia Fang lives in sunny SoCal, and has never heard of the peculiar phenomenon known as “seasons”. She often enjoys sedentary activities such as reading, writing, and surfing the Internet. She gets her daily dose of Vitamin D by going on walks around the neighborhood with her family.

Sophia Fang is in grade 10 at Westview High School in Sandiego, California, US.

The 2020 Young Writing Contest Finalist pieces will be published on our blog during the month of July in recognition of their outstanding qualities. Winning pieces will be published on August 1st in the summer edition of DoveTales, Resistance, Guest Edited by Brad Wetzler.

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