In October, the cool autumn day suddenly turned cold. The winter of the year was about to begin. Liu Sanniang believed that she had enough food reserved for the winter. From now on, she could stay at home for the entire winter season just doing embroidery work.
She sat under the candlelight. On the wide embroidery table was the piece of embroidery that Liu Sanniang had started working upon. She slowly and carefully threaded the needle. This was the only skill she had, to make a living.
She was 75 years old. Her parents had long passed away, and two years ago, her second brother passed away as well. Her eldest brother was still alive and three years older than her. His health was still alright. She was an old girl and had never married in her life.
Her parents were concerned about her and gave her all the money before they died. Her brothers and sisters-in-law also treated her very well and did not mind their parents' decision.
Her nephews and nieces came to visit her often and brought her necessities.
However, most of the time, she was alone. Many of her female friends had already passed away.
The room was quiet and there was only the sound of the night watchman outside.
"The weather is dry and things are flammable, take care not to catch the fire."
Dong! — Dong!
Dong! — Dong!
Dong! — Dong!
After hitting the gong three times, the night watchman slowly walked further and further away, and then the world quieted down again.
Liu Sanniang smiled and continued doing the embroidery.
Other than some rumors about her when she was young, the rest of her life had really been smooth-sailing. Before the age of 30, there were some matchmakers who wanted to match her with men who were either old bachelors or widowers who had lost their wives and contained a house full of children.
She didn't like any of them, neither did her parents.
Year after year passed and she eventually became old.
She was not married. When she was young, she was quite skilled in embroidery. The money she earned was subsidized to her two brothers to support their family. She also doted on her nephews and nieces. Her efforts were not in vain. Her nephews and nieces treated her fairly well. When they grew up, they visited her very often.
A few days ago, her eldest brother even brought his grandson to visit her. That little fatty was really likable.
She gave the little fatty a few pieces of candy. His eyes sparkled when he ate them. Before he left, he started crying and refused to leave. Liu Sanniang comforted him by saying that she would give more to him the next time he came over. Only then did the little fatty leave from there reluctantly.
Liu Sanniang embroidered while recalling the past.
Her mind became active as she recollected many things, until the rooster started to crow.
Liu Sanniang put down the embroidery in her hand with a gentle smile on her face. For many years, she had never been so lost in her old memories like tonight, so much so that she did not even hear it when the rooster made the noise.
She picked up the walking stick beside her, blew out the candle, and slowly walked to the bed. She had lived in this house for decades, so she could navigate her way even with her eyes closed.
She laid on the bed and covered herself with a blanket. This was a new blanket, and she put it under the sun a few days ago. It felt very warm.
She closed her eyes but couldn't fall asleep. Slowly, she fell into the old memories yet again.
When she was young, her mother liked her the most and praised her for being beautiful.
After her fourteenth birthday, more and more people came to ask for her hand in marriage.
A scholar from Willow Alley came to ask for her hand in marriage. He was already a scholar at the age of fifteen and was about to take the county-level exam. Liu Sanniang did not dislike this marriage, but one day, she saw him kicking a stray cat with a terrifying expression on his face.
She was so scared that she begged her mother for a long time to reject the matchmaker.
The peddler in Willow Street was said to be very capable. He could earn dozens of taels of silver a year and was rich.
However, unfortunately, one day, when she and her mother went out to buy clothes, they happened to see this guy coming out of the gambling house. His eyes were bloodshot and scary.
This time, before she needed to beg, her mother rejected the matchmaker herself…
"Great-aunt, boohoo… You haven't given any candy to Huzi yet."
The child's cry interrupted Liu Sanniang's train of thought. She was puzzled as to where this crying was coming from. When she opened her eyes, she saw that the little fatty was crying with his eyes wide open. He was fair and tender, and Liu Sanniang liked him to the core.
Ever since she was old, everything she saw was blurry. But this time, she could see the surroundings so clearly!
Before she could go over and hug the little guy, she realized that something was wrong. There were so many people all around!
Young, middle-aged, and old were all crying.
Why were they crying?
Liu Sanniang saw her eldest brother.
Her eldest brother bent over and sobbed sadly, clenching his walking stick. His snot and tears were smearing his gray beard.
For some reason, Liu Sanniang wanted to laugh. She had not looked into the mirror for many years. If her eldest brother was like this, she must also be very old and ugly too.
Liu Dalang cried sadly. "Sanniang, don't worry. Go and reunite with Father, Mother, and Second Brother. Wait for me in the netherworld. In no time, I'll come and be with you all."
Liu Dalang could not stand properly. His two sons standing beside him supported him. Both his daughters-in-law were also sobbing.
Everyone in the room was filled with grief.
The juniors whom Liu Sanniang doted upon were also shedding tears.
"Great-aunt, don't worry. I'll visit your grave every year. I won't forget how good you were to me. Even if I die, my son and grandson won't forget you. Every year on Tomb-Sweeping Day, I'll burn you some joss paper."
"Me too. We'll burn joss paper for Great-aunt."
Liu Sanniang suddenly realized that she was dead…
No wonder there were so many people in her courtyard. No wonder her brother was crying so sadly.
Liu Sanniang smiled. She was not sad. She was already 75 years old and had rarely suffered from illness in her life. Other than being lonely during her entire life, she had no regrets in this life.
She did not suffer any torture and died in her sleep.
Liu Sanniang's vision became darker and darker, and her consciousness gradually disappeared…
After an unknown period of time, Liu Sanniang heard a crackling noise. This sound reminded her of a large banana tree in the backyard of her old house. Every spring, when there was a storm, this was the sound of rain hitting the banana leaves.
With a creak, someone pushed the door open and entered. Liu Sanniang felt like she was being shaken a few times, and a gentle voice was heard. "Sanniang, Sanniang, get up and drink some medicine before sleeping."
Madam Wei helped Liu Sanniang up with her strong arms. Liu Sanniang opened her eyes and looked at the person in front of her who felt both unfamiliar and familiar.
She was a little stunned and remembered that this familiar face was her mother, Madam Wei when she was young.
She mumbled in a daze. "Is this the Netherworld? Why isn't it dark? Why am I seeing my mother? Wasn't my mother dead many years ago?"
Liu Sanniang covered her head in pain.