July 23, 2012
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I still remember the look on my mother’s face when I left. Well, I guess I didn’t really leave, more like I was sent away. My parents sent me from Migfe to Hong Kong in 1904, when there was famine and drought. During that time women were treated as slaves and property. I understand that my parents were trying to protect me and give me the best chances I could, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt when they abandoned me.
I was just eight years old when my parents smuggled me onto a trading ship headed for Hong Kong. The journey was long, I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember how tired, hungry, cold and thirsty I was. It was even worse than the famine in Migfe. I remember flashes of the first couple days, not so much, but I remember more after I met Sam. He was kind to me. He helped me out on that ship. He gave me food, water and helped to keep me alive. Sam was like my big brother and he even took me in when we got off. Sam was an orphan and he was travelling to Hong Kong to find his Aunt and Uncle, in the hopes that they would take him in. He was only 12 when I met him, he was probably just as scared as I was, but he never showed it. I guess he felt sorry for the dark haired, tiny eight- year old girl who was alone and had no money, so he let me stay with him when we got off the ship.
It took us six months and eight days before we were able to locate his family. It was a miracle we managed to survive. I never would have made it if it weren’t for him. He stole food and clothes for the both of us. I owe him my life. Anyways, when we found his Aunt and Uncle, he convinced his that I was his little sister. I don’t think they believed him since he was tall, blonde and had blue eyes and I didn’t, but they took pity on me and took me in. They were the nicest people I had ever met. They treated me like their own and never complained, even when they barely had enough food. They never blamed me or asked me to leave.
That was six years ago, they both died in 1910 leaving Sam and I alone again. We managed to scrape by for the first few months after they passed away. I got a job sewing and washing clothes for the wealthy and Sam went to work in construction, building the structures that I’m sure will stand for the next hundred years. We tried to make it work, however Sam got tired and angry and he wanted to go to America and make his fortune there. He was convinced that he could find gold and jewels, even though I told him that they must have all been found by then.
“Come with me,” he said to me before he left.
“I can’t, I’m sorry,” I whispered to him, with tears dripping down my face.
“Why? What’s holding you here?”
I honestly don’t know why I didn’t go with him. I just couldn’t leave the place where I was accepted and loved for the person I was. I regretted the decision as soon as he walked out the door, I should have listened to him and gone. Maybe I could have been happy and I could live out my dreams of becoming a world famous singer. But I didn’t go with him, I stayed and I would have to live with that decision for the rest of my life.
It’s now 1913 and I’m still in the same position I was in three years ago. I’m still sewing and washing clothes, but more importantly I’m still struggling and alone. My daily routine is the same: wake up, work, eat lunch, work, eat dinner, work, sleep. I don’t have enough food for breakfast, but I have learnt to survive. The highlight of my week is when my friend Mary comes. She always gives me good business and is never rude like some of my other regular customers. One time she even treated me to coffee and it was the best thing I had ever tasted.
I was singing while I was working, like I always do since I find that singing while working makes it more bearable. I felt like I was being watched so I turned around to find Mary staring at me.
“Oh, hi Mary.”
“You sing beautifully,” she said awestruck.
I was a little embarrassed since it was the first time anybody except for Sam had heard me sing and it must have showed on my face since Mary said, “Don’t be embarrassed. It was excellent.”
“Thanks,” I replied.
“Why do you do this? I mean with a voice like that you could be making records.”
“I don’t think that will ever happen.”
“Why not? You have an amazing voice and I bet that many people, including me, would want to hear it.”
“I can’t. I have the business to run and besides who would record me.”
“I might be able to help with that. It’s a little stuffy in here, do you want to take a walk with me?”
I agreed and soon we were wandering through the village and before I knew it we were in the woods. It was the first time Mary had been outside of the city and the beauty of the forest awed her. I smiled at her expression; it made me happy to see her face willed with wonder.
“I still find it hard to believe that you have lived here for almost 25 years and have never been here before,” I said to her as we wandered through the trees.
“Well, it’s not like my father would let me leave the city. It’s hard enough convincing him to let me deliver the laundry to you. He can be very overprotective.”
I knew that was true. Mary’s father was the mayor and so he was always afraid that one of his opponents would kidnap or hurt Mary.
“Anyways, we were talking about you. I could help you, you know. My father has connections everywhere. I’m sure that he would love your voice and get one of his friends to come see you.”
“That’s really sweet of you but I couldn’t accept that. It’s too generous. I could never pay you back.”
“You don’t need to pay me back and besides do this for me.”
“For you?” I wondered aloud.
“Yes for me. I would love to hear your sing. That would be you paying me back.”
She looked at me with her doe-eyes and I found my resolve crumbling.
“Alright, I’ll do it.”
“Good, you won’t regret it.”
That’s how I found myself knocking on her door the next day. Her house was huge. I could fit about 50 of my tiny shacks into her house. Well, I guess technically it was her parents’ house, but I still thought of it has her house.
“You made it,” she bounded towards me out of nowhere and enveloped me into a huge embrace; “Let me introduce you to my father.”
The mayor was in his study and it seemed like he was in a meeting, but Mary just went in anyways
“Sorry to interrupt, Father,” she said apologetically to him.
“It’s no problem, we were just finishing up anyways.”
He shook his colleague’s hand before his acquaintance left.
“This is the friend I was talking to you about.”
“The singer?” he asked.
“Yes, you should hear her, she’s incredible.”
“Well then let’s hear her,” he said to me while ushering us into his study.
I was incredibly nervous performing in front of the mayor. I knew that this would probably be my only chance to impress him. I closed my eyes and let the music flow through and out of me. Before I knew it I had finished the song. I opened my eyes to see a huge smile on Mary’s face and a nod of approval from her father.
“Mary’s right. You do have a beautiful voice.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“I can imagine it now. You could be a world famous singer.”
I blushed. I wasn’t used to such compliments.
“Come back in a few days and I’ll introduce you to a friend of mine in the music industry.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said to him on my way out.
I was thrilled at the mayor’s comments and praise. So thrilled that at first I didn’t notice the soldier standing at my front door.
“Can I help you?” I called to him while I was walking towards my house.
“Are you Sam Wong’s family?”
“Yes, I’m his adopted sister.”
He handed me over a pink telegram and my world shifted.
“This can’t be right,” I whispered to him.
“I’m afraid it is, Miss.”
“No, Sam’s not in Europe. He’s in America. It is not possible that he died in the Balkan war. He’s in America,” I mumbled with tears streaming down my face.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but the next thing I knew was that I was inside sipping some Chinese tea. I should have gone with him. I should have listened to him. If I had gone I might have been able to convince him not to enlist. I don’t even know why he went to Europe since he was so set on making his fortune in America.
I must have fallen asleep because when I woke up Mary was knocking at my door. I went to open it to find Mary’s face beaming with joy.
“Aren’t you excited? You’re performance went wonderfully. What’s wrong?” she asked taking in the expression on my face.
I tearfully explained everything to her. How Sam left for America. How he enlisted and died in the Balkan war. She cried. I cried. She enveloped me into another huge hug and she let me cry on her shoulder.
“You can get through this. I’ll help you,” she whispered to me encouragingly.
“Come on. Let’s go.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Home,” she replied.
She did take me to her house and into her room. I don’t know why, but she took me in and helped me get through Sam’s death. Mary was my support system. She was my rock. She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. She even helped me get through the pain and use it in my singing. I did use my emotions when I performed in front on the mayor’s friend. She was with me every step of the way and here I am. I’m about to go on stage for the first time and sing in front of a crowd full of people who have paid money to come see me.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the wonderful, extra-ordinary Jane Dean.”
I guess life works in mysterious ways. Who knows what would have happened had I decided to follow Sam. I might have been able to save him. He might have still decided to enlist. I’ll never know. I’ll just have to live with my decisions.

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