It was around the time when I was eight; we used to live in a little village at the periphery of the city, next to a garbage dump surrounded by the farmlands. There was a black cat, perhaps wild, most likely some neighbor’s mice season pet, that came around every once in a while and sat quietly on a branch in a cautious serenity. We used to look each other in the eye. She would stare for a while, and then jump agilely among the branches until her slim figure merged with the dusty leaves. No one paid any particular attention to her, even when her gaze was so intense that a restless kid like me was constantly memorized. I thought she was some friendly ghost trying to speak to me, telling me secrets such as my power to control all feline species. Having nearly no control over any tangible things in life, I certainly believed so for a long time, and exchanged many conspiring smirks with various cats. No one quite reciprocated with a cementing look as hers.
I paid no attention to saying proper goodbye to her when we left, as I still don’t to most things. As a matter of fact, I forgot about almost every bit of her existence when we moved away in a rushing frenzy, amid the dull sounds of gunshots plaguing the village after a local butcher apparently raped the wife of a man later discovered to be the head of the notorious Blazing Rooster gang. I found out a friend, B, was killed during the unfortunate event when the kid’s parents were crying in our living room. For a long time that was all I could recall from that period of my childhood. It took me ten years to go back to the village and burn a little paper crane where my friend died. If I had known better, I would have done that earlier. Things you say no proper goodbye to always come back to haunt you.
As I said, it was only ten years later that I revisited my old home. The night before I went back, I had a startling dream where B was sitting on the top of a deserted tower. He was almost transparent like a melancholy ghost. His little limbs hang wavering in the wind. I was standing right behind him, thinking about the terrible things that a little child like him could do, such as falling off the tower and hitting the concrete ground. The thought was so horrid that I started yelling warnings at him. That little guy turned back, showed me a crooked smile and asked me to come closer. I did exactly what he said, only to catch him jumping off the tower, lost in the brooding forest underneath like a hapless broken kite. I woke up panting in bed, almost lost control of my trembling shriek. The noise interrupted Grandpa Lee’s shallow sleep. He came knocking on my door with his typical curse words. I apologized by cursing back. That was the only way I knew how to apologize those days. He went back to sleep, rumbling about how life was unfair and a little bastard like me deserved nothing less than going to hell. I sat frozen in bed for a while, wondering if he ever dreamed of his grandson the way I just did.
Afraid to wake Grandpa Lee up again, I stayed in bed for two more hours until the damp sunbeams penetrated the rugged closings of the curtains. It might not have been a coincidence that I dreamed of B. His parents called from the coal mine the night before. It was the only phone call in almost half a year. I knew it because Grandpa Lee was irrevocably pensive at the dinner table. He would usually curse at my cooking, but said nothing yesterday about the potato soup, which I myself could barely swallow because of the sour cabbage stolen from a dump of stale vegetables. We didn’t talk at all during the dinner. He buried his stern face in the soup bowl for most of the time, reaching for hot peppers on the table from time to time. He went back to his bedroom as soon as he was finished with the soup, making a resolved sound of placid sorrow while shutting the door. We all went to bed early that night because of an electricity shutdown. I struggled for quite a while to fall asleep among the incessant screaming of insects and the smell of sulphur in my sweat but was only annoyed by my own effort. Finally I decided to go wash my head in the cold water. In the hallway, there was a flickering orange haze emanating from the crack on Grandpa Lee’s door. I looked into his room, and saw him staring at a photo of B under the dim candle light with an expression I had seen only, well, on the black cat when she came over during the rainy season – drenched with an inexplicably vast capacity for sorrow disproportionate to the limited knowledge I had about her. He looked even older and more solemn than he usually was, gazing intensely at the image of a little face that was nearly intelligible after ten years of repeated examination - a face I could hardly recall from my scattered memory except for the wicked smile you only expect from a spoiled child.