My silly old mother was almost killed today.
Fair warning, she gave us. Sunday afternoon was the superstitious rite. Take the believers and drown them, I commented, but Mother took my joke seriously. For sure, death is symbolized by going under the water, but then new life is experienced as the believers come up again, she explained. Never even been swimming, my ma, and here she was asking to be pushed under. And wanting us to watch.
And then she really over-stepped the boundary of sanity.
She was born in the year of the monkey. This is the seventh time she’s seen the year of the monkey. That’s what we mean when we say ‘bennian’. Everybody knows that old people should always wear a red cord around their waist to ward off the evil spirits who are eager to take their lives. Add to that the fact that this is her bennian, and it is surely even more vital to keep those meddling ghosts at bay. Complicate matters by voluntarily stepping into a pool of water and allowing yourself to be pushed under. Whatever was Ma thinking? On top of it all, when she removed her sensible shirt under which she was wearing a white T-shirt along with new white trousers, I realized the awful truth.
She’d removed the red cord.
The religious people were singing about welcoming the wet ones to the family. Ma had only just set food into the pool of water set into the stage.
I knew that it was up to me to save her.
Throwing self-respect aside, I pushed through the mass of hot bodies, dodging swishing hand-held fans, and leapt up onto the platform like no self-respecting middle-aged woman should do. “Get out of the water, Ma,” I begged her. “Don’t you value life?”
I don’t like to admit it, but near to sobbing I was. We Chinese don’t express emotions well, but I knew, just knew, that without a red cord, my mother would be whisked off to a watery grave by the spirits.
The people had stopped singing. Ma squeezed my hand and whispered into my ear. “Jesus is the strongest spirit of all, and He has already saved me.”
Religious waffle. Thankfully, I’d come prepared. Just in case of dangerous spirits at this religious rite, I had worn a red cord around my own waist. Fumbling, I removed it and handed it to Ma. She tried to refuse, but the distinguished looking gentleman in the water with the wet gown just smiled and quietly said to my mother, “She means well. God knows your heart. Do what you wish, but put your trust in your Lord.”
Did I ever feel belittled. And yet what was I to do? Drowning, pneumonia, shock resulting in heart failure, slipping on the wet floor, any means could be used to snatch her from us. And with my daughter’s baby due any day, those spirits need to be kept far from our family. Angry, I was. Thoughtless, she is. Selfish. And us both in a position of acute embarrassment to top it off.
My petite little mother stood in front of the older man, the water up to her chest. “Wang Nainai, do you believe that Jesus alone has saved you? Do you put your faith in Him alone for eternal salvation?” The crowd was quiet.
That timid little lady, my mother, stood in the water, calm, and spoke with a confident, firm voice. “I do.”
“Wang Nainai, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
He put one hand forcefully over my mother’s face, and with his other supporting her back, she was submerged. I instinctively lurched forward. A religious freak grabbed my hand and held me back. I watched helplessly as my dear old mother struggled to stand.
With a smile broader than any I’ve ever seen on my ma’s time-worn face, she moved towards the steps. Helping hands pulled her out of the pool, and another lady threw a towel around her. The horrible lady who had restrained me now pushed me towards my mother. From behind me, the crowd started to bellow out happily in song, “Welcome to the family.”
Family? She’s my family. And, if she gets through these next few days without developing pneumonia, thanks to my watchful eye and the red cord I providentially had brought that day, perhaps, just perhaps, she’ll live a while yet.
My mother was saved today.
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