The stars are twinkling in a moon-lit sky. Fireworks are showing off their beauty one after another.
My mother and I are pushing my father in a wheelchair through a boisterous crowd. We intimately talk and joke with each other. My father raises his head in a childlike way from time to time, pointing at some glowing lanterns and excitedly asking casual questions. With sounds of gongs and drums in their ears, people take their parents and children out to the street. Everywhere is a happy family picture. Cool breezes of the night join the cheerful crowd, playing with smoke from many street vendors’ stoves.
Perhaps drawn by the sound and joy, my father has been beside himself and suddenly he rises from his wheelchair. Carelessly, he falls down on the muddy road which is wet and slippery after a drizzle. People quickly gather around him like ants around food. Somebody, who could be me, my mother, or anybody in the crowd, suddenly utters a wild cry, “Bleeding! He is bleeding!”
Dark red blood floods the ground around my father. My mother bows down, lightly moving my father’s face toward her. My father opens his eyes, smiles, and says to me, “It is really bustling!”
Then he slowly closes his eyes. Frightened and fearful, I scream, “Dad!”
With cold sweat all over my body, I woke up from the nightmare. My tears kept coming down my face in the dark. There was a gathering in front of a temple nearby. It seemed to echo my nightmare, celebrating the Lantern Festival with the fast and incessant playing of Chinese wind and string instruments.
I was sequestered from the outside world that night, to maintain the secrecy of the exam questions I was preparing for selecting military reserve officers. In the sequestered building there was a dinner party. A riddle-solving game after dinner was the most fun. Then there was karaokee in the dining room nicely decorated by everybody who had to be there for the holiday. It seemed to distract us from our sense of loss for being away from home. I sang along with everybody else, trying to forget a promise I would never be able to fulfill in my life. When we were getting slightly drunk, the microphone was in a colonel’s hand. He had been drinking and laughing more than anybody else. He put his glass down and staggered to the center of the dining hall. He announced, “I’m a revolutionary soldier!”
Everybody died laughing, thinking he was totally drunk. We guessed he had drunk a fair amount.
“I have to take orders and be loyal to my country,” continued the colonel.
Everybody cheered again. He lowered his head. His hands were still holding the microphone but quivering. He almost murmured, “I was just told this evening that my mother passed away today.”
The shocking announcement terrified and silenced the whole crowd. Everybody was now sober. He said with tearful eyes and a trembling voice, “I can’t leave this place now. I have to be responsible for my work until it’s done…A few years ago, when my father passed away, I was on duty in Tokyo. I couldn’t go home for him, either. I’m not a filial son. But as a soldier, I have to choose between my country and my parents. I cannot but…So, tonight I’m going to sing a very sad song.”
His song stuck in his throat a few times. Then the sad melody, covering deep grief, flew intermittently into the dark night until he couldn’t help but end it with painful crying, covering his tearful face with his hands. I realized partying and drinking was just a way to cover up the pain, extreme beyond description. My pain, which I had tried to hide for the Lantern Festival celebration, was coming out in a flood of tears, too. Last Lantern Festival was when my father came to Taipei to seek better treatment for his broken arm and leg. Through a window, we saw a crowd near Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. It was a bustling and joyful scene. I had tried everything I could to borrow a wheelchair for my father, but I didn’t get one. I promised my father that I would overcome any difficulty in order to take him to a boisterous and impressive Lantern Festival celebration next time. When this year’s Lantern Festival at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall was on TV, I saw lanterns up high as stars, traditional handicrafts in eye-catching displays, and a crowd as delighted as people in the prosperous society described in the Chinese classic Dreamy Splendor of the Eastern Capital. But my father was gone as if he had flown away on a crane. I, who came from his flesh and blood, would never see him again. Isn’t this the utmost pain of life?
That night I wept in bed, with my pillow and blanket all wet. I had a dream. It began with the splendor of the stars, the moon, and fireworks. But it ended with heartbreaking tears and blood as a nightmare. Did my father come all the way from another world into my dream, just for this festival he had wanted to attend?
My father enjoyed boisterous gatherings and splendid festivals all his life. He also liked to decorate life with hobbies such as gardening, bird keeping, sports, and traveling. After he retired, he loved to visit friends and looked forward to his children’s every visit. Even when he was in poor health, he would struggle to go to a friend’s funeral with a cane and argue with my mother, who was against the idea. My mother was afraid that going to a funeral would exhaust or even depress him. But he felt upset about not being able to pay the last tribute to his friends.He grudgingly complained, “It shows how good a friendship is, when the friend is dead. Whether one’s funeral draws many people shows how popular this person is. If you don’t even go to see this person for the last time, what kind of relative or friend are you?”
He told us to record all the funeral invitations he had received for him. He said, “Later, when I pass away, you must send funeral invitations to these people.”
Seeing that we were astonished, he slowly explained, “That would make it boisterous. If nobody comes to my funeral, people will laugh at me and say I’m not popular. I hope my funeral will be as boisterous as your youngest uncle’s, with crowds as big as a mountain or an ocean! His funeral looked great, very enviable! Don’t think that my friends died and their children won’t come. Just invite all of them. Those who know courtesy will come.”