She was dancing with such grace on the stage it was as if she had never been a cripple. It was the night of her performance and I watched as she twirled her perfect pirouette. Anyone else would believe she was born with those legs. Five years of practice and dedication and she was already such a prodigy. Seven years old and she was nothing but smiles. Her dancing magnified the brilliance of the old Brooklyn theater. Back then I wouldn’t have thought this life possible; the current of the American life was swifter than that of rural Asia. Even with the joy radiating from her face I couldn’t help but think back to the darker past. Her past.
They were called the dying rooms. From the outside the building looked completely normal, the exterior made of polished wood, unassuming, inviting, even. To the passersby outside it was just another part of the city, another thing they didn’t have to give attention to. If one bothered to stop and listen closely, sometimes faint cries could be heard, like a muted chorus of kittens. The sign in front advertised the place as a shelter, a safe haven for the unfortunate. But most only feigned oblivion; they knew of the cruel reality within the building’s walls, for those cries came not from animals, but infants. It was China’s darkest but best kept secret, a secret which the citizens walking briskly past the building buried deep in their hearts. It was the shame of our country, the shame of people who knew how to save a life but were reluctant in doing so. The weight of their own burdens were already heavy enough to bear.
I had a burden of my own at eighteen. I was responsible for two lives when I hardly had control of one. My marriage was rushed for the sake of saving our family, but I knew the love Li had for me was extinguished as soon as I gave him the news.
The disappointment on his face never faded after he held the ultrasound. My baby was beautiful, but held no value. Even in several years’ time, it wouldn’t make a difference. She would not wield a sword like a boy. She would not be fit to be a farmer or soldier. What niches can the inferior occupy in this world? Li was convinced there weren’t any. So much so that one day when I came home to the note, both of them were already gone, and I knew he had done the unforgivable.
I had arrived in front of the building at three am, when the street was devoid of pedestrians. Slowly, careful not to let out a sound, I entered. I walked down a hallway and stepped into the innermost room. The room was already occupied. The moonlight passing through the sole window revealed three other figures: a makeshift bamboo crib whose inside I couldn’t see, an infant lying motionless on a small table, and a crippled baby rocking feebly in a high chair set a foot above the ground. There was no food or water. Broken toys littered the area.
The sight of this horror triggered an impulse in me to leave, but I was here for a reason. Holding back a sob, I searched through each of the rooms. At last I found her. Carefully, I picked up the bundle on the dusty wooden floor.
Unraveling the blankets, I gazed down at her face. Her hair was as soft as spun silk, her skin the texture of cashmere. The cold air tinged her paper white cheeks. Her face resembled that of a porcelain doll’s. I hoped she was dreaming of a place much more forgiving than here, someplace where heaven felt tangible and true.
Since then I’ve rebuilt both our lives. I will never disclose the truth about her. A little girl should never question her worth, her reason for existence. As her performance winds down to an end and she flashes a smile in my direction and I flash one back. I will make sure love is all she will ever know.
Fic Collage is a collection featuring scraps of undeveloped scenes, chapters, or short stories.