Authors: Kay Bratt
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2012 Kay Bratt
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Amazon Publishing
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
Cover Design by Streetlight Graphics
Dedicated to my mom, Vikki, with love. As I developed my main character, she began to remind me of you—Strong, courageous, and with the heart of a protector. If I had known you at her age, I imagine you would have been just like Chai.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
un flung another shovel load of debris over his shoulder and hoped it landed in the wheelbarrow behind him, then he glanced back to see that it did. Even as hot and exhausting as the work was, he knew he should be thankful to have it. China was booming and new businesses were cropping up every day, even in this midsize city. Some of the contractors were so desperate for laborers that they were hiring men of any age—even older ones like him from neighboring villages as long as they could prove they still had the energy for a full day’s work.
While he shoveled, he thought about what he would do when the construction for the new bank was done and it was time to move on to the next job. He wished for an easier task the next time. Only in his late thirties, he was afraid that his body already carried the look of a much older man.
Life had not been easy for him, but he had never let his humble beginnings stop his dreams to be something more. He had worked hard all his life. Maybe too hard—for if he had only known what the ending of this long workday would bring, he would have taken more time to drink in the sight of his daughter; he would have held her close and never let her go. Instead, like
most impatient parents, he lived in the moment, not thinking of the sudden detours fate could throw into a father’s life.
“Chai, what are you doing here?” Jun asked when he saw his daughter racing toward him. Her best friend, Josi, limped along next to her almost as fast as Chai ran. He set the heavy wheelbarrow to rest and put his hands on his hips. “I told you to stay at Josi’s house until I get home from work.”
Though the sight of Chai always brightened his day, Jun was embarrassed for his daughter to see him carrying bricks—to be reminded that her father was only a laborer. He wanted her to be proud of him, not see him sweaty and dusty, standing amid a pile of rubble. He would much rather she stay put in their small village, where the harsh reality of city life and fierce competition to get ahead was less evident.
The girls stopped in front of him, out of breath from their long run to his construction site. “I know, Baba. But Josi’s parents are away, and her father said we could stay behind and go swimming. You told me never to get into the water without permission, so I came here first. Can we please swim today?
” Chai stood on tiptoe, grabbing her father’s arm and smiling up at him. At only thirteen years old, she knew her father was unable to deny her requests most of the time. However, she was an obedient girl and would never go swimming without permission.
“One please is enough, but I don’t know, girls. Have you done anything worthy of the reward of spending time playing in the water? Have you studied today? Read a book? Finished your chores? And where is your
, Chai?” His stern voice stopped the girls in their tracks, and they looked at each other with raised eyebrows and blank faces. His eldest daughter knew
her main responsibility was her little sister, and she’d better have a good answer as to why she had left her behind.
Josi bravely answered. “Lao Jun, we have not studied; it’s summer break, and we don’t have any schoolwork. Most of my chores were already done last night—I only have to feed the pigs after dinner. And if we must, we can take a book with us to the swimming spot and read while we are resting there.” She bit her lip and looked up at Chai’s father hopefully.
“Baba, Luci is with Josi’s family. They took her with them to town.”
Jun let out a long sigh. He dropped the tough act and smiled, tugging playfully on his daughter’s braids. Though she was growing into a young lady right before his very eyes, the braids comforted him that she wasn’t quite grown yet. “You girls can go swimming, but stay together, and go home before dark. When you return to Josi’s house, be sure you help her with her chores to thank her for letting you stay. I’ll come by to pick you up on my way home, but today it might be well after dark—especially since you’ve interrupted my work.”
“Sorry, Baba.” Chai looked appropriately chastised.
“I can’t believe you girls came so far to ask me to go swimming. Now you go straight back, and do not dawdle or talk to strangers. And don’t go into deep water at the canal!” He sighed and scratched his head. “You two together can get into too much trouble.” He looked up toward the makeshift office, hoping his foreman had not noticed the girls and his break from work.
The girls jumped up and down, excited to be on their way. Chai threw her arms around her father and kissed him on his cheek. Her deep dimples shone as delight transformed her face. “Thank you, Baba.
Wo ai ni!
“I love you, too, Chai.” His cheeks reddened but he still said it loud enough for his daughter to hear. He had decided long ago that he wouldn’t let ancient superstitions get in the way of showing affection for his children.
Josi called out her thanks, “
, Lao Jun.”
Jun shook his head at their young antics as he watched them race each other down the footpath and back toward their village.
Maybe I still have a few years to go before Chai realizes I’m not much
, he thought. He couldn’t believe his genes had produced such a pretty and intelligent girl. But considering his wife was known through the village for her beauty, he was lucky Chai had taken after her with her looks. He had struggled hard to learn to read when she was born. He was determined his child would not be ashamed of her father, and he had met his goal of being literate by the time she was old enough to want stories read to her.
Next to his daughter, Josi did her best to keep up. The girl’s father was a farmer and couldn’t read, but she didn’t seem to mind their status in life. Wearily, Jun returned to his job of clearing debris from the work site.
oon the girls were winded from their rushed trip to the construction site, and they slowed to a fast walk. Chai grabbed the jade pendant around her neck to stop its steady thumping against her chest. She tucked it back under her shirt.
“We’ve plenty of time, Josi. We don’t have to run.” She didn’t want to point out that Josi was limping more than usual, and she felt bad that she had rushed her friend on the way to her father’s work site. She always took care to make sure she was sensitive without bringing attention to the disability Josi had been born with and was ashamed of.
Wo zhi dao.
I’m just very excited to get there. I haven’t been swimming yet this summer, and the weather’s perfect to play in the water. And I’m so happy to get away from my brothers and sisters for a while.”
, I’m lucky your parents took my
with them. I’m free!” Chai threw her hands in the air and twirled around on the sidewalk in front of her friend.
Josi laughed. “Chai, this summer we really need to learn to swim. My cousin teases me that we don’t know how and only splash about like babies.”
“I agree. When we say we’re going swimming, I want to really
swimming. So today we’ll begin our first lesson! I know how to float, so the next step can’t be too difficult.”
As they walked, the girls chatted about trivial things, like what teacher they might get the next school term and who would be in their class. Chai told Josi that her baba planned to replace their old stools they carried to school each day. She described what he had told her: that they could fold up the new ones and carry them like backpacks.
“I can’t wait until we can go to a better school that already has desks and seats,” Chai said as she sidestepped a newspaper someone had spread on the sidewalk to catch a toddler’s waste. She grimaced as the smell wafted up, and she wondered why they didn’t at least roll it up and throw it in the bin that stood nearby.
Josi laughed at her expression. “Well, I’ll just be glad to be done with school and have summers that never end. I don’t care if I go to university or not.”
“But Josi! You have to go with me if I get to go! Don’t worry, I’m going to help you with the end-of-year exams. You’ll be promoted.” Chai knew Josi wasn’t as thrilled about school as she was. The truth was that she could barely get through her homework most evenings. But Chai was determined to help Josi start to like it more.
They took turns pointing to things they passed. It was noisy but exciting—taxis and cars competing to get ahead while blaring their horns, bicycles flying by with passengers balancing sideways on the back racks, and even street-side vendors loudly hawking their items.