"What is a typical 10-year-old boy’s life like? I think there should be cartoons and toys scattering around, scooter, after school plays, new clothes on festivals and lots of bounderless dreams. In a word, it should be a time when one enjoys love of the family and tastes the joyousness of growing up.”says the VJ of Discover Chongqing, who then introduces her subject of the day’s program: the untypical life a 10 year old boy Zhu Honglei (朱鸿磊).
6 o’clock in the morning, knocks on the door awake Zhu Honglei up. It is grandpa, the only one who lives with him in the old cottage. Mother went away years ago for sick of poverty, and father went to city to make money but never sends a penny home. Grandpa can’t work in the fields anymore, his rheumatism gets worse early this year, making him hardly get off bed, so Zhu Honglei becomes the man in the family, at only 10 years old.
Zhu Honglei rubs his eyes in the darkness. He pulls the lamp on, a squirrel swishes out of his empty window, but Zhu is used to it. He puts on clothes that he’s been wearing for a week. He only changes after shower to save the laundry, and he only showers once a week to save water. Every 4 days, Zhu will climb up to the mountain spring with neighbor, to fetch water and fill the tank at home.
Getting off the bed, Zhu comes to the kitchen on the other side of the wall to make fire for cooking breakfast, which is fried pickles and some pumpkin leftover from last night. Pumpkin is the main food in the house, there are always 5 or 6 of them in the corner to serve the table. Zhu can’t remember when is the last time he eats meat. He goes through his homework a bit in the glow of the hearth.
After breakfast with grandpa, it is half past seven. Zhu puts away the dishes and leaves for school. He has to be quick since there are about 5 km mountain roads to hike before he could reach school, which starts at 10. According to Liao Guoliu, principal of Cherry Elementary School, Zhu is never late for school. “There is a storm in July this year, resulting in a mudslide that blocks many mountain roads. We tolerate kids not coming to school whenever there is storm and mudslide. But Zhu climbed a whole other mountain to go around the mudslide for school. He arrived at 1 pm that day. Teachers were touched by his effort and made up his morning class for him before sending him home.”
2 hours later, Zhu arrives at school. Class hasn’t begun yet so he goes play badminton with peers. Rackets belong to his desk mate, one of them is broken in handle. Zhu asked grandpa to replace the handle with wood, not very comfortable for hands though. He holds the racket with his right hand, and serve the shuttlecock up high. His pair gets it and returns a drop shot. Zhu rushes forward immediately but he fails to reach the ball in time. The ball touches ground, his peers laugh and so does Zhu, since he brags about his badminton skills before.
After a few rounds, Zhu is sweating with messy footwork. He sits on the ground and takes off his sandals that is thin as sheet and ruptured in fore sole. “I can’t play well today, because the shoes are too broken.” Zhu says the shoes are brought by his father when he is 7, it is meant to be oversized so that they can still fit as he grows up. Zhu’s best shoes are a pair of white mesh shoes. He takes very good care of them, wearing them only on Monday to flag-raising ceremony, other than that, he cleans them and put them away in the closet.
Class begins. Zhu sits at the 4th row. Due to his little body, he sits as straight as he can and tries his best to read out loud along with the rest of class.
Though there are over 300 people in Cherry Elementary School, it is too poor to build a canteen. Teachers and schoolchildren don’t have lunch. Many schoolmates will buy some snacks as lunch with their allowances. At such time, Zhu is all alone in the classroom. He will takes his book out and read quietly as if the book can distract his hunger. Zhu says he eats twice a day, breakfast and supper, he is used to it. He does have allowances sometimes. When grandpa’s plum trees come to fruits, he will climb up the trees to pick plums and sell them on market. “I can sell over 10 yuan a day, and use the money to buy salt and bean oil.” says Zhu, “people won’t bargain with me.”
When asked why doesn’t he buy snacks when he has the money, Zhu says: “ Grandpa won’t have anything to eat at home, I can’t eat.” He says so with tears in his eyes. Walking hours between mountains and enduring hunger at noon, this is school life for the 10-year-old boy Zhu Honglei.
3 pm, school’s dismissed. Zhu rushes home more hurry than coming to school. Because he knows there is a 70-some grandpa waiting at home for him to make supper. After supper, Zhu sits at the kitchen doorway, doing his homework before sun goes down. Just because of this kind of persistence and diligence, Zhu Honglei moves from bottom in the class to above average.
Finishing homework, Zhu will stand at the doorway staring at the sunset. Rice reserve is about out, corn harvest gets only couples of kilograms, pumpkins in the field haven’t been ripe, eggplants and carrots are still small. But Zhu says: “I will guarantee grandpa’s fullness even if I eat less.” He is already shorter than his peers due to malnutrition.
The image of mother is fading in Zhu’s memory, though he remembers clearly the best food he eats is the cake mother brought on his 5 years old birthday. “There is cream, really sweat, and flowers and jujubes.”
As for father who abandoned the family, Zhu doesn’t hold disappointment and grudge as grandpa does. He still hopes that father will show up at the front door one day.
Zhu fumbles around his closet, and takes out a letter he wrote on an exercise book. He reads: “Dad, I miss you and mum. Can you come back and take me to mum? Grandpa is sick and needs to go to hospital. I can’t sell enough fruit to pay for that. I hope you can earn money and come back early. I will study hard, don’t worry about me. I will take good care of grandpa.”
Zhu Honglei doesn’t know what to put in the “TO” blank, so he saves the letter in the closet.