THE 18TH GOING WEST BOOK FESTIVAL.
Well I must say, this was the first I'd been invited to participate in the above, and forgive me for blowing my wee trumpet, I was very successful as a speaker. Had the house in laughter throughout the 45 minute session. What it takes to become famous!!! I don't know if I would advise it, but of course I lie. I loved every minute of this festival and would love to do a hundred more.
Another thing that's happening since I last blogged is the America's Cup Race in San Francisco. Now, I know most people in the US or UK or anywhere else are not interested in this Rumble of Rich Boys. But we, the NZ taxpayers, forked out $36 million to challenge it and all of us are very involved. Many of us might never have got on a boat except the Inter-Island Ferries or the the Waikheke Island ferries, but suddenly, we've all become expert sailors and are using sailing jargon. Of course, I am able to lay claim for a bit of knowledge as I used to own the TE AROHA a historical schooner which we used around the Hauraki Gulf here in Auckland and had personally done a season in the Ladies' Races out of our Squadron. So at least a know what a gyp is, or a halyard.
Now for those not in the know about this particular race, it originate on the East Coast of the USA over a hundred years ago and the US had always won---- until along came Sir Peter Blake, our very own super yachtsman who brought it to NZ. And it's been in our blood ever since. For the Blake campaign, we all bought red socks and are still wearing them, at least the diehards are, when they watch the races. You see, Oracle USA is basically Larry Larsen, the billionaire. But Team NZ is the entire country of 4.300,000 people. So we are all rooting for a victory especially as we are a country of sailors. Sailing is part of the national psyche.
And NZ needs only one more win before getting it back here to Auckland. It's been a biting, nerve-wrecking thing to watch. The giant cats are so huge, so state of the art science. They are the equivalent of rockets on water. The technology on them is absolutely the best ever. Anyway, I shouldn't rave on about this because it might be boring for non-sailors. For those interested, you can google it. I've now decided that strong, masculine men do light my fire.!!??
Anyway, to continue with the story of THE CONNECTION. I wasn't able to do it last month as I got rudely interrupted by someone or something since forgotten. But I do hope you enjoy it. For those who have just come on the blog, you can read back serials.
Soon Chingmei’s food ran out.
There were many villages scattered across the valleys where she exchanged work in the fields for food - work normally done by men. At each place she stopped the stories were similar to Lungshan. The men had been taken and none returned.
When the day finally came and she saw the curving monument looming on the distant mountains, her spirits lifted. She walked faster. It took most of the day but she reached the wall just as the sun was sinking. It cast shadows across her path like a demon looking for a soul.
Thousands of wooden shacks cluttered the hillsides and thousands of men worked cutting and chiselling stones out of the mountains. Above the din, the shouting of the work commanders and the occasional crack of a whip mingled with the neighing of horses as mounted soldiers rode back and forth.
Exhausted, Chingmei slumped weeping to the ground. How could she hope to find her husband and father amongst all these men? Her clothes and eighth pair of shoes were in tatters, her calloused feet bled but her resolve was still strong. She decided to rest for the night and in the morning she would begin her search for Honglun and her father.
Chingmei rose with the sun.
She stopped a passing guard. “Sir, can you show me where I can find the men from Lungshan? They came three years ago, three hundred men in all.”
“Be gone, woman, who is to know where anyone comes from?” He strode away.
Dispirited, Chingmei walked on further. She walked over many hills. Late in the afternoon she found a man who knew the way.
‘Sister, see that large gate over there? The men you seek are just beside it.’
She ran to the gate. She shouted the names she knew. Faces turned, tongue-tied, these ghosts of her beloved kinsmen. Finally one found his voice. “Hong, Hong, your wife is here!” From a distance, a skeletal figure with sunken eyes, cracked lips and sinewy arms held stiffly apart, moved towards her. The sight of the advancing man appalled Chingmei but she recognised her husband and rushed to him.
‘At last, at last,’ she sobbed. ‘Where is Father?’ Her legs, weakened by her arduous journey collapsed under her and she fell to the ground.
Honglun knelt beside her, clutching her thin shoulders with his bleeding fingers. Tears rolled down his leathered cheeks.
‘Chingmei, your father died on the march here as did mine,’ Honglun said. ‘We had to leave them where they fell. There were many others who died that way. Only the young survived.’
The life had gone from his eyes, the fire from his belly. In despair Chingmei looked at the men around her and her hopes died with the realisation that few would return to their homes.
“Honglun, we have a son,” Chingmei said.
She saw a spark of light in his eye.
“Hey! Get back to work, you lazy pack of mules!”
Several guards descended upon them.
A whip lashed the men’s backs. With yelps of pain they dispersed back to their work. Honglun held Chingmei, ignoring the order.
The head guard, flanked by others came towards them.
“Ha! What have we here? A woman!”
He flicked her hair from her face with his whip and studied her with a toothless sneer.
“Please! I came only to find my husband.”
“Well, and you have. Ha! But you’re no good to him here, lady. However…” he leered.
She cried out as they tore her from Honglun’s arms. With a bellow of rage, Honglun leapt at the guards. He was struck on the head with a cudgel. ‘Put him in the Wall!’ The guard shouted to the other workers. ‘You! Wall him up, do you hear? Or you will all be walled up.”
Chingmei watched in horror as the men of her village dragged Honglun’s unconscious body towards the Wall. They lowered him inside and tied him against one of the wooden supports then proceeded to stack blocks of stone around him.
“This is how we bury the dead, sister,” a guard laughed.
As the stones slowly piled higher, Chingmei heard Honglun moan.
“He’s not dead! Let him go! Please let him go! Please.”
She struggled to free herself. But the guard gripping her arm held tight.
The men stopped.
“Continue! Or you join him inside!” ordered the supervisor.
A hush fell around them as other workmen in the vicinity were attracted to the commotion. Honglun fixed his eyes on Chingmei as his friends piled on more stones. Then he started bellowing.
Chingmei cried out. ‘I love you, my husband!’
“What’s his name? What is our son’s name?” called Honglun.
To be continued.