Make sure to read the previous posts: here is the first, the second and the third post. These three posts will give the background necessary to understand this sad post, the final in the series of post at Lily’s house in Drink Horse One Army.
On our first evening in the village, Lily’s father took us around to introduce us to the neighbors and help us get our bearings. A small clutch of villagers circled around us as Galen began to film them. Of the group, one woman in her forties, her hair drawn back in a short pony-tail, seemed most interested in us as foreigners. She was Lily’s family’s next-door neighbor. They shared a wall with us.
One of the first things she asked us was, “Do you have government-enforced family planning in your country?” Behind us, on one of the village’s walls, was a propaganda sign reminding people about the government mandated one-child policy, suggesting it would make them happy.
“No,” I responded, “we don’t have any family planning from the government. You can have as many children as you want.” As an example, I mentioned some of my Mormon friends and their litters of children.
Nearby, her only daughter stood silently watching us. The girl had a quarter size scab beneath her left eye. She was wearing a school uniform, a blue and white wind suit. The scab looked as though it had been healing for almost a week.
The mother was unhappy with her lot in life, but it was not immediately clear why. Many women in the countryside have tough lives. Rural China is a hard place to be a woman.
She complained about how expensive school was. When she was growing up, school only cost a few dollars. Now, they were charging more than a thousand dollars, she said. She asked how it was in the U.S. I told her, everything before college was free.
As we talked, two men came up to us, one of them the husband of the unhappy woman. It was clear from their rabble-rousing that they were drunk. It was almost two hours before sunset, still early. It was one of their birthdays, the men said. They were celebrating.
The husband said little to me. Instead, he stumbled around our little circle, staring at his wife as we talked. Moving closer to her, he popped her on the back of the head. I had trouble telling if it was playful or threatening. She popped him right back. He wheeled around more and grabbed his daughter by the chin, examining the wound beneath her eye before pushing her away.
The drunk husband began to argue with his wife. I had trouble understanding what he said, but I gathered that he did not like her taking an interest in us, and she did not like him constantly wasting their money boozing and gambling.
“Well, why don’t you go find yourself some more foreigners to talk with?” he said.
“”Where would I find them around here? I’d have to go to Dunhuang. That is three hours away.”
As things got more heated, Lily’s father urged us away, so as not to inadvertently cause more trouble. We walked around the village more, looking at the mud plastered houses, the stalls enclosing sheep and goats, the guard dogs on short chain metal leashes leaping at us as we passed. The men were drunks, the father explained. Whenever they got money, they would drink and eat and gamble and smoke, but they didn’t get all that much money, since they spent too much time drinking and not enough working. Each month, the government gave them two hundred r.m.b. per person, six hundred for the family, almost one hundred dollars. With this money, the family scraped by.
That night, after dinner, we talked more with Lily’s parents. At around ten, we turned in. The guest bedroom shared a wall with the neighbors’ house. Through the wall separating us, we could hear the high-pitched scream and the dull sound of thuds. I could not tell if the drunk man was beating his wife or his daughter. Screams alternated strangely as they echoed through the wall; he might have been hitting them both. At times, it sounded like the wife was hitting back. We waited, trying to think if we could do anything. There was nothing. For ten or fifteen minutes, the screams continued. Then they suddenly stopped.