A Journey Through Life and Death in a Rural Village

  After the deceased spent her last two nights at home, we decided to send her to the cemetery.
  The cemetery is on a hillside ten kilometers away. It is the birthplace of the dead. She lived there for a long time. Her ancestors are buried there. Now that she has finished her life, she will return there, to the place where life began, and to the body of a mountain, where she will rot, dissolve, and grow into eternal time with her ancestors. .
  Before dawn, they took a large package of her clothes, shoes and socks, used sheets, quilts, pillows, combs, mirrors, etc. outside and burned them. The flames ignited by dry straw first licked a pair of yellow silk stockings, then a white floral shirt, a diagonal handkerchief, then sheets, quilts, pillows… Finally everything burned, crackling and roaring. As these clothes were burned to ashes, the ordinary life of the deceased came to an end.
  At six o’clock sharp, we escorted the deceased on his way. It is said that a secret door will open at this time. Through this door, we can safely send the deceased to the cemetery. Life is like a piece of prose, with paragraphs beginning and ending, and echoing from beginning to end – people have to go through the door of life when they are born, and they have to go through another door after death, and it takes us a long time to understand the mystery.
  According to the planned route, we have to walk on a road for a long time, and then we have to walk on a village road for a long time. There is no doubt that this is a long farewell, the axis of time is stretched very long, and we will have enough time to weaken the memory of the deceased. But we try to remain as sad as possible, lowering our heads, watching the road under our feet recede little by little, watching the dry and flourishing vegetation passing by our feet, and watching a person’s life end on such a morning. The road seemed to be even more dilapidated than what I had seen from the car before. The crushed cement was scattered here and there, and the plants on the middle partitions were growing randomly. They were gradually becoming barren due to lack of maintenance for a long time. Some plants stretched their leaves out from where they lived, blocking the middle of the road. Do they need a hug? Some houses stood silently on both sides of the road. Their doors were closed, and the wood grain of the doors and windows was old and melancholy. The window glass of one house was broken, revealing an irregular hole, like a sad eye. Look for the eyes watching from outside. But it is so quiet here. Except for the occasional large truck passing by, we can’t see a person, a bird, or even a breath of wind. Everything is still, like a crystallized world, with only this funeral procession. It is flowing slowly, and the white and black are so eye-catching.
  The deceased was the mother of a friend. If she hadn’t contracted a bad disease, she should have lived ten, twenty, or even longer. She is only fifty-seven years old this year, not yet an old man, and she can still see the distant mountains and weak waters of her youth between her brows and eyes. And she was unaware of it. During her friend’s ten-year working period, she hardly traveled far away. She walked around the fields every day, digging here and picking there, piously taking out what she needed for the day from the soil. Every time I look at her, she will be holding something in her hand, a machete, a hemp rope, a pole, a hoe, a shovel, a broom, a water ladle, or clean clothes. It was as if these things were always in her hands. Once, we saw her dragging a bundle of dry branches back. Her trouser legs and shoes were stained with mud and grass clippings. Her face was tanned and red, like an animal slowly returning to its cave with food in its mouth. The stove that requires firewood has long been replaced by a liquefied gas stove. The exquisite integrated cabinets are not suitable for rough firewood, but she is still keen on collecting dead trees and does not hesitate to spend more energy to complete it. Her legs and feet are nimble and she can walk as fast as flying. When necessary, she will climb a tree to chop off the branches broken by the wind, even if there are bloody marks on her legs. There are always neat stacks of firewood on the top of her house. The firewood pile was dull, crowded, and desperate, like a piece of imprisoned time. Even with the sun shining, it gives people a gloomy and depressing feeling. Moreover, firewood that has not been used for a long time will be invaded by mosquitoes and emit an unpleasant smell, which can ruin a person’s mood. Her friend seemed to have had an argument with her, but it didn’t lead to a resolution. Or not getting a correct result. While her friend continued to work outside, she continued to collect dead trees, big, small, bent, and straight, stubborn and affectionate, just like a person slowly collecting her long-gone memories.
  Now, she collects herself as part of the memory.
  This is the only road here. Every year, some people here follow it to distant places, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen… or – the cemetery. People are like fruit that falls as they go, but the road endures forever. If you sit in a car, it will pull people’s eyes far away, and the mountains and woods that keep jumping out will make people feel the tension of life coming towards them. They are dynamic, complete and powerful. But as soon as you walk into them, you will find that there are a lot of details of death hidden inside: dry branches, collapsed fields, barren yards, rotting leaves, dead chickens floating in the pond, blades of grass eaten by dense insects… Reality In such a mess, everything is following the grand order of death, and all lives are experiencing their own joys and sorrows. We are so close to death.
  It was still early, some houses and trees were still covered in a light morning mist, and the thin night was still lingering in some corners. All objects were in a stalemate, with no order, no boundaries, and no sound. For a moment, I couldn’t tell the difference. Is this morning or dusk? Are we heading towards where we came from or where we are going? The sky seemed to be getting darker and darker, and a few black clouds were swimming over from the other side of the mountain. The wind finally picked up, and the sound of surging vegetation rushed over. The sound was restrained, dignified, and had a sense of sadness. As the grass and trees turned over, several pieces of wall covering and several tall and short grave tips were exposed. A tree crown stretched out from the house to cover the grave, and leaves and fruits from the tree also fell on the grave. The tree eventually became part of the grave. In fact, many things grow and become other things, graves, ditches, wilderness, or time. And some dead leaves can only run around close to the ground. They fall from unknown trees or plants and never come back. Where they end up staying, or what takes them in, probably only the wind knows. At this moment, we are heading towards deeper desolation in the desolation, the desolation of late autumn, the desolation of the mountains, and the desolation of life. We will place the deceased there, and from now on she will no longer be in our future, and she will no longer be in our memories. She is like a fallen leaf crossing the sky, falling into the silent soil, and falling into the deepest part of the earth.
  Even so, she was still an important topic of the morning. Kindness, honesty, and quietness were their summary of her life. But what ends between the lips and teeth is a forbidden area that words cannot penetrate. She had an unhappy marriage. It is said that he was a craftsman who traveled from house to house and bought her beautiful headdresses and clothes. One night more than thirty years ago, a craftsman saw the white pool as a patio on his way home. He stepped in and never got up. She brought up her daughter stumblingly, faced the cold blade of life alone, and polished herself into a person of few words. After her daughter grew up and left, she rarely interacted with relatives and friends. After working, he would rather dive into the deepest part of the house than participate in anything outside. The house stood gloomily in a corner, the dark curtains upstairs had been closed for a long time, useless old things died in every corner, and the dark staircase swallowed up the boring time. Before the arrival of the sun, loneliness and aging were so blatant, and how to relieve pain became her daily experience. She even knew the greatest value of some herbs.
  For people who work for a long time, pain is an ancient code that accompanies their lives. Any movement such as chopping firewood, digging the ground, or even walking may cause pain of various sizes. As the age increases, pain caused by rheumatism, shoulders, neck, and lumbar vertebrae may occur. When superimposed, the body is surrounded by enemies from all sides, but it is not desperate. Half a year ago, endless pain finally sent her to the hospital. A week later, the doctor informed her of the final diagnosis – advanced lung cancer. Her arms, head, legs, and bones were all covered with cancer, and there was no chance of chemotherapy. .
  It seems that not long ago, she was repairing windows and door frames, and fixing various farm tools, tables and chairs with wedges. Those wedges are readily available, and wood chips, gravel, and bamboo sticks are easy to use. A chair with broken legs is always reborn through her repeated repairs, and an abandoned hoe always magically regains its sharpness. She is like a magician, always able to restore the details of life. And her food cooked without the fire of grass and trees can always comfort our hearts, repair the distance between us and our hometown, and help us rebuild the food system of our hometown. She spends a lot of time every year marinating vegetables, meat, and fish according to traditional methods and sealing them in jars. Her kitchen is filled with endless vegetables and fruits all year round. But in the end, these did not completely become delicacies on the table. Most of them fermented, rotted, or turned into pools of sewage, becoming a place for ants to flock to. Doors, windows, and walls that are getting older year by year have a fishy smell of rotten vegetables all year round, and the wind blows everywhere. Sometimes, there is a faint smell on her body, which is distant and vague, as if blowing from a distant river. I even saw the river lying in a desert, silent like a black scar, with a huge sense of space surrounding it, squeezing it, and tearing it apart… In fact, I have never studied a river. Or how those unknown desolations that had never penetrated her heart covered her, occupied her, and swept her away bit by bit.
  Even now, my focus is not on this farewell. I hope to see more people or hear more voices at this moment. I hope those voices will grow out of the surrounding corners and cover up the sound of farewell. In fact, the farewell was silent. Many times, we don’t even have time to say goodbye, and everything we were once familiar with is no longer found. I went back to my hometown not long ago and found that the last wall of the old house collapsed at some point. Bamboo and weeds swaggered out of the remaining bricks to declare their sovereignty. I picked up the blades of grass and followed the ruins to find the location of the kitchen, main room, and rooms in my memory. I shed tears while searching. After our parents left, the world that once shielded us from the wind and rain also quietly left. From now on, what coordinates will we use to find our hometown? After all, we have become travelers with no way back. Later I wanted to visit a carpenter who knew how to make windmills. I still remember the way he looked when he traveled from house to house. He was tall and thin, wearing a dark blue denim jacket, with a straight back. We could smell the strong smell of sweat and smoke on his body as we followed. But when I asked someone for help, I was told that he was no longer in the village and his whereabouts are still unknown. Then I learned that not only the carpenters, but also the bamboo craftsmen who made bird cages for us when we were young, and the sugar craftsmen who cut candies for us during the New Year were also missing… They seemed to have been blown away by the wind into the vast universe, and became stars and all things. . And those exquisite traditional craftsmanship have become extinct because no one has passed them on.
  For example, at this moment, I can clearly see the veins on the hands of the bearers (coffin bearers), the dirt in their fingernails, the gray hair and the spots on their faces. They are eight old people in their seventies, and they are also the last supporting team here. Their whole lives are spent saying goodbye to their ancestors, their peers, and their years. Now that we are nearly seventy years old, we have to continue to pass on the baton because there is no one to take over. Young people are leaving one after another, and middle-aged people are busy making ends meet. In three to five years, where will this ancient supporting culture go? The wind rushed past my feet in bursts, and the withered and yellow vegetation made a loud noise. Years change, time flows, everything in the world just moves from one season to another, one life and death succeeds another. At this moment, instead of saying goodbye to the dead, we are saying goodbye to everything that has disappeared and is about to disappear, including our yesterday and today.
  It is undeniable that such a farewell will knock a person’s emotions to the bottom and make us return to the inner essence of life. In fact, we have been dominated by this emotion since we learned that our friend’s mother was ill, or, from the moment of diagnosis, we began a long farewell. In this farewell, we witnessed the entire process of a patient approaching the end of his life. When my friend quit his job and came back, he spent everything he had to make up for the debt, serving tea and meals, washing and massaging, talking and chatting… But we kept asking about the patient’s condition, including diet, mood, pain, etc. from time to time. We will guess how far the disease has progressed based on what our friends say. In fact, behind the seeming concern lies our secret curiosity about the final days of cancer patients.
  This guilty curiosity continues until the last time we see her.
  That day, she was lying on a simple bed made of wooden boards, revealing a small skull-like head. Her eyes moved around but were empty, as if her life had gone and only a skeleton was left. The situation was very miserable. At that moment, I couldn’t remember her past appearance, as if her life no longer existed and she was just a virtual imagination. After a long period of service, my friend has lost his initial patience. When feeding him water, the hand holding the cup is obviously slightly aggressive, and his words have lost the warmth of the past. The light in the house is dim, and death is rehearsed in advance. I suddenly became sad, escaped from the house and wrote in my circle of friends: Human life is so boring. Once he dies, his household registration will be canceled by the police station, and all his clothes and used items will be destroyed or dusted. After many years, his aura and appearance will slowly fade away until they completely disappear; and many years later, his grave They will be dug up to plant crops, build houses, build roads and bridges, and their bones will be decomposed and become part of fertilizer, roadbed or plants. The last thing he has left in this world will no longer exist, just like he has never been in the future. Just like living in this world.
  Life comes and goes, who is the long-term lover and narrator of time? The time was speechless, as if a big foreshadowing was brewing.
  When passing a house, someone finally revealed half of his face from the crack in the door. It was an old face, with wrinkles carved on it like land, allowing people to see his life at a glance. He was motionless, with no emotion in his eyes, as if he had been looking like this for many years. There is no doubt that he will continue to look at it during his lifetime. Even if his breath is weak and dying, he will not be stingy with his gaze until a gust of wind blows him away and until all time collapses from him.
  On such a foggy morning, a farewell made everyone and everything look sad.
  In fact, when I raised my head again, the morning fog had already dissipated, the wind had stopped at some point, the sky was much brighter, and I could clearly see the trees, houses, cooking smoke and the clothes that had just been dried in the distance. Someone started walking around the fields. Carrying a hoe on his back, he walked to a field of rapeseed that had just turned green and stopped. Then he squatted down and pulled out the grass inside with his hands. As the morning light spread over him, his whole body was immersed in the light, and a layer of furry warmth surged around his body, making him look like he was in another world. Cars and motorcycles began to drive by on the road, and the fleeting glances seemed to contain solemnity and understanding, but more importantly, they were concerned and contemplative about the road ahead. In their view, death is probably inevitable, and there is no need to pay too much attention, because there is still an ever-expanding world in front of them, and their distant work, life, friends, and lovers are still important forces they gain.
  At a turning point, the pallbearers lowered the coffin and began to rest. Everyone stopped. They squatted on the ground or sat open on paper boxes brought in advance, chatting with each other about their children’s education, marriage, agriculture and other topics, while the coffin bearers smoked and told jokes. The depression, sadness, and reluctance disappeared. They seemed to have broken out of a haze and returned to normal real emotions. Even friends who were crying at first joined in their conversation. Less than halfway through the journey, everyone has completed this farewell. They no longer pay attention and investment. Now they just want to quickly complete the established procedures and then return to the previous life track. In terms of real choices, life is always greater than everything else, including death.
  I once saw some abandoned wooden houses in the mountains of Xiangxi, Hunan. They were dark in color and small in size, almost lying in the grass. When they suddenly appeared, they looked like gray mushrooms. They are the abandoned objects of the times and the calcium of the mountains. They have hard wood, intact structures, and intact doors and windows. Even if the purlins and beams are filled with mosquito corpses and the dust of time, it does not affect their long-term survival.
  There is no doubt that, if not for human reasons, a house will outlive a person. Over a long period of time, people repeatedly repaired the beams and pillars that were bitten by insects and ants, the doors, windows, and tiles that were blown down by the wind, and repaired every detail of its body. But in the process of repair, people left it one by one. It was like an old man slowly losing his loved ones. In the end, there was only a lonely shadow, a body without a soul, and a history full of stories. And a house without anyone living in it will usher in the last days of its life. Even so, the process is lengthy. Until the walls completely fell off, the nails were completely rusted, the beams were completely damaged, the windows and doors were completely blown off…then all the wood was invaded by insects and ants. Its body was slowly hollowed out. It gradually turned into a broken and ugly appearance. In the end, he inevitably fell to the ground and died in a gust of wind or heavy snow.
  They make no sound when they die.
  But I always believe that even if they are shattered to pieces, there will still be new houses and new lives growing from their bodies, there will still be stars, dew and moonlight to feed them, and the bright colors will be louder than any sound.

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