The family of the man Miss Suyin's daughter will marry sits across the dinner table. Suyin sits poised like a proper lady of the Min family. Her shoulders are pressed back in good posture and her gloved hands rest lightly on her lap.
Her husband Enlai engages in pleasant conversation with the family until the appetizers arrive. She uses her chopsticks to pluck a freshly fried egg roll from a bowl and admires the crispy texture.
Her eyes are set on this roll, which she turns over and over in order to thoroughly inspect how the steam rises from the cracks of the shell. This mock interest continues, relieving her from the pressure of familial pleasantries and allowing her to wander the depths of her imagination.
The upside of this imaginary parallel universe which she has crafted being there is no wedding, no stifling dinner conversation, and best of all her daughter's betrothed is not making corny jokes across the table, but now resides in a box six feet under.
The family's wife Kaiya smiles at her, which she returns politely. Although the corners of her mouth are upturned to create the illusion of a smile, she doesn't speak and pays the watch on her wrist excessive attention.
Kaiya clears her throat. "Miss Suyin, when did you come to the U.S.?"
She stares at her, careful to keep her expression still. Even if the guests are unfavorable, it is important to maintain one's composure and answer adequately and politely. Even if they are a very impoverished family. "I came with my husband after World War II."
"Us as well! Hayato and I were married before the war, and after it ended we decided we needed a change of pace and moved to the U.S. He is actually a Japanese veteran."
"Is that so..." She says, but she can barely hear her own words. Her mind is thirty years in the past, back in their four story house in China. She was twelve years old again, hiding under the bed with her three year old brother Kim.
She can hear the heavy steps of horses thudding across wet pavement as Japanese soldiers storm the village. Some villagers have fled beforehand, but many including their family have heard the warning too late. Afraid to breathe, they listen as the soldiers break into their neighbor's house, kicking over furniture and roughly opening drawers in search of jewelry or money. She covers Kim's mouth to keep him from crying out, because she knows that anyone who is found will be killed, just like the last raid.
They wait until the noises fade, then she slips out from under the bed, hauling Kim with her. She and her mother run around the house, gathering any food and clothing they can find. They pack the supplies into a cloth and sling it over their backs. She takes Kim's hand and with their mother they slip out the backdoor into the night.
"Wait Suyin, we left Grandma!" He says.
"Leave her, she can't run fast enough." She yanks him forward.
As is Chinese tradition, their grandmother's feet have been bound from a young age. Now it is so painful she can barely walk, and is confined to the house. They can only hope the soldiers choose to spare their house tonight.
Their mother leads the way, but it is so dark not even she knows exactly where they are. They weave through trees, eventually reaching a swampy area, where the mud squelches against the soles of their boots as they trudge through. Suyin cringes at every snapping branch, worried that the noise was a Japanese soldier coming to kill them.
"Kim!" She says in anguish as he slips in the mud, making a loud splash.
A light shines over the three of them, so bright she raises an arm to cover her eyes. Looking through the cracks of her fingers, she follows her mother's expression to see the silhouette of a Japanese soldier shining a flashlight at them, standing unmoving across the swamp.
"Miss Suyin, are you well?"
She is brought back to the present, where Kaiya is half leaning across the table, her brows furrowed in concern. The rest of the family's eyes are on her.
"Ah, sorry, I am fine." She says. "So, where will they live after marriage?"
"I was thinking they could live with your side of the family for now. We're still working on the business we own in Sacramento and we don't have much room in our house." Hayato takes a sip of his wine. He stands up and pulls several envelopes from his pocket. "We cannot support them much now but please take this to help pay for the living expenses after the wedding."
He extends an envelope, but her eyes catch onto a strange ruby glimmer. She grabs his hand, twisting it to get a clearer view of the ring on his finger. "You! Were you deployed to China?" She accuses him. The symbol, which has been etched into her mind for decades- A black ring with intricate golden designs weaved around the band. Most of all, the familiar tint of ruby red that shines brightly even in the darkness.
"Suyin, stop it," Enlai says, moving towards her, but she doesn't break eye contact with Hayato.
"Yes, about thirty years ago. Is this a problem? How do you know?" He says.
She can see him racking his brain for faded memories, his eyes focused on a point behind her, straining with thought.
She grabs his other hand, dredged up memories rushing through her and an exhilarating sense of euphoria grabbing hold of her and shaking her so fast she can barely think. "You saved us! O, miracle! It's really you! Do you recall when the Japanese invaded the village 'The Pond With Cool Water'?"
"Ah, no." he avoids her eyes. "There are too many to remember."
"You spared my family all those years ago," she cries. His eyes are still the same steely gray that bore into hers that night, but now forehead wrinkles and eyebags crease his face.
The envelope flutters to the ground. "You were the girl with her brother in the swamp."