The Lady who Loved

February 21, 2018
By , Shenzhen, China

The thick, afternoon clouds dimmed the sunlight. I walked from the busiest streets, brushing past countless sweaty shoulders, to the bay area that smelled like a whole, giant decaying fish. I saw an old lady whom I spent the rest of my day with.
She had a face wrinkled like tree bark, and grey, smooth hair like silk. She wore a thin blue shirt with white flower patterns and brown pants. Unlike other ladies who were intensely gossiping, this elderly lady was just sitting on the sand, smoking a cigarette and gazing into the ocean. It seemed like nobody could understand her, so I wanted to find out why.
I quietly sat down on the soft sand next to her. She did not holler at me to go away. This lady must want somebody to talk to. The waves crashed against the stone edge of the bay and seagulls squeaked at the edge of water and sand. I broke the silence:
“I love the ocean and its vastness. It is so big and mysterious.”
“Yes. I like it when it is peaceful. It reminds me of the days with my husband” Her voice was strained like a broken violin.
“Yes? What happened to him?” I carefully asked in a quiet voice.
“I met him when I was 26 years old,” the lady slowly told the story, “my entire family said that I was too old to get married. I, too, almost gave up until the day I saw him at the bay. He was pulling a ship into the harbor and every pull he gave moved the massive fishing ship by ten meters. Even then, he was smoking a cigarette and it seemed so easy to him. When I boarded the ship, turned and saw his face, I knew he was meant for me. He had eyes sharp as an eagle’s and jaws fierce like a tiger.”
The lady could not keep the wide grin from spreading across her face, adding more wrinkles, yet making her look younger and prettier at the same time. I felt that she just wanted to find somebody to talk about her story, so I kept quiet and listened.
“I started talking to him. I thought he might be the type that looked good on the outside, but was unkind on the inside. Guess what? He wasn’t. He was perfect all the way from head to toe. He was caring and patient and funny. Everything worked right away for us. We held a humble marriage on a raft. Oh, how I would never forget that night. We were on the water, and the sun was setting. He pulled out a golden ring from his pocket. I gasped. Heavy with love and commitment, I put the ring on my left ring finger. It outshone all the sun and stars. And under the orange halo we kissed.”
I drowned in the lady’s story. I could taste sweetness down my throat listening to her. Her eyes were no longer dark and opaque, but bright with hope and memories. She took a drag on her cigarette, as if getting ready for what she was about to say, and went on:
“After about just two years, the pirates came just before dinner. We were cooking in the kitchen and heard yelling outside. Then came the sounds of breaking glasses and metal. Then the gunshots and screaming. My husband ran to the door and told me to stay in the kitchen, but I followed him with a knife in my hands. Something was clearly wrong.
“Three pirates with blue headbands kicked open our door and shouted. One aimed his gun at my husband and the other two started walking towards me. My husband shielded me behind him and tried to fight off the pirates. Even though he was strong, but the pirates outnumbered him and punched him in the stomach several times. The other pirate shot him in the shoulder from afar and sent him down. Cold and barbaric. All I could hear was the ringing in my ears and the thud of his tall body falling to the floor. He mouthed “run” again and again but all I did was kneel by him. The pirates told me to stop screaming, but I didn’t realize that I was. They dragged me out of our house, away from him, away from the love of my life.”
The world seemed to darken and slow down. The old lady’s voice was bitter and dry. The invasion twenty-seven years ago was a pain just to recall. A hundred innocent people died that day. She finished her cigarette, lit up another one, sighed and continued:
“I was taken next to one of the pirate ships, where a dozen of women and children gathered in fear. Yelling, screaming and gunshots surrounded me. Wind gusted through the bay. I will never forget that sunset. It was dark red like dried blood and scorching hellfire, casting its deathly halo over this town of tragedy. Then shells from the military came. The pirate ship next to me was blown into a million pieces in an instant. Innocent people and pirates were killed by ricochets, but I was only deafened by the unexpected explosion. Burning ruins, broken limbs and anguished cries attacked all my senses. I tried to retrace back to our house, only to find it in ruins.
“The military recovered the town eventually, but I was left with nothing. Everything I once owned was gone. I worked at the bay once again, but without him it was never the same. I started smoking. It was the only way I could bring part of his scent back.”
Time slipped by without my noticing. The sun was setting. Everybody on Earth sees the same Sun every day, yet sunsets have different meanings to each person and different sunsets could mean different things. That was definitely a helpless sunset for me. What could we do for people like the old lady? Lost the love of their lives to a sudden war, yet still living to this day. There must be a way.
“Thanks for telling me your story,” I said shakily, still recovering from the lady’s shocking yet real story, “here is my number. You can call me if you run into any trouble.”
I wrote my phone number on a piece of paper and handed it to her. She glanced at it and kept it in her pocket.
“You, young man,” half-lectured the old lady, waving her hand to make me go away, “need to get on with your life. I am going to watch the sun set for the last few times of my life, but you need to get ready for the next sunrise.”
And so I walked away from the bay. Glancing over my shoulder for one last time, I saw the old lady sitting under the orange, setting sun. I clenched my fists and went on.

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