Meiyan got up reluctantly in twilight, tiredness hung up on her face still, in the bleak and chilly morning. But she'd been quite aware she could not expect a sound sleep any longer since her little brother came to her family a year ago; besides, her parents had already left, with plough and Meiyan's big brother, this was how the family called their only mule, for a zigzag ascent to the mountain ridge far away from home where their wheat land lay. Papa and mama had been fully engaged in the toil of loosening the wheat soil being impacted and staved by heavy frost. As always, Meiyan got to wake herself up by wetting her face with biting cold water left in a pot after it had served her parents' faces. Now she started her jobs of the day, without conscious thinking or planning, but one and another all by her instinct: fetch water in the well that was dug out inside an independent small cave, make porridge with a local millet as breakfast for her little brother, her 82-year old blind grandma who lay in bed all almost all year round and prepare a share for herself. She'd also feed two sheep with hay and water before driving them out to loess hills for some scarce remanets of grass root in snow-covered hills and ravines. Along with wriggling to lead the sheep to hillsides where there possibly remained some roots of grass, Meiyan needed to pick and collect twigs of thorn or broken tree branches as firewood for the family to heat food and kang, their fire-heated brick bed.

Meiyan was a 10-year-old girl and never entered a school because, as her mama had once told her that they couldn't afford sending her to school, yet she overheard a murmur exchange of her parents after the birth of her younger brother that her father might go to the county town looking for a coolie job for earning the tuition for her younger brother. Her life was the life of helping her parents, her family and herself for just keeping warm and getting fed. After all she'd leave her parents' family and to live with a man and look after him and his family members for rest of her life as it happened to those grownup girls in the village; reflecting on her pegged future Meiyan felt less grievous for not being able to go to school; however, Meiyan always felt a mystic and irresistible pull that was drawing her to a mound top overwatching Dongjia caves where the only elementary school in the village lay --- she's just fascinated with the reading sound wafting in the air like most dulcet music so much that she once lost her sheep but fortunately they were retrieved long while later by her father, who was so mad at her that night the furious scold drove her trembling till she curved herself up in kang like a horror-struck squirrel. Nevertheless there were ups through her routinely dreary life that was when there's a stage show up on a comparatively smooth mound top and during spring festival time annually when there's a big temple fair held in neighboring village --- only so big crowd of people was fascinating enough, without need to mention exciting talking noises, the colorful decorations hung around everywhere, inviting smells of peddler's food mixed with whiffs of scent sent off from young girls.

 

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