Written by: Zi Xinyu
Translated by: timebun
O maple leaves as far as the eye can see, could you help me tell him, that I’m still waiting for him to come home?
In that maple forest, under that tree, it was like a dream.
Following the gentle passing of the breeze, everything vanished into thin air as if it had never existed.
“Jing’er, we’re right in the thick of autumn now. Don’t go outside too much, in case you catch a cold.”
The sunlight was just right at that time, and the maple leaves were still around. A handsome man dressed in white clothing; he’s my husband.
While looking at him, so gentle and refined, I would always smile and speak in a soft tone, “Don’t you see that the maple leaves are just starting to fall? If I don’t sweep them all, won’t our little courtyard be covered in these fallen leaves?”
As I spoke, I took up the broom and was about to start sweeping, when he took a step forward and took the broom from me with a tender gaze, “Let me do this. Just go and rest in the room.”
He would always spoil me in this manner, he wouldn’t let me do any chores.
So I would often think that being able to marry him was all thanks to the good karma I collected in my previous life.
We lived isolated from the world, in a courtyard surrounded and filled with maple trees. When there was nothing to do, I would sit with him in our courtyard and we would chat cheerfully.
He would always say that this courtyard was too desolate, and that we should have more kids to make it more lively.
Each time we talked about this, he would bring me into his embrace dearly, “I’m afraid that you’ll suffer too much, so even just a single child would be fine.”
I would always reply him with a slight smile, “What are you talking about? Why would I be afraid of pain? If I’m able to, this little courtyard will eventually be filled with joy and laughter, and it’s best if we have a whole group of mischievous little brats, frolicking and playing all day.”
After I finished speaking, he would then pinch my nose gently, tenderness and happiness in his expression.
We always felt that we were just a normal family. We didn’t meddle in politics, and we weren’t fighting for positions at court, so our days passed leisurely.
However, I had forgotten that we were born in troubled times, so there was no true leisure to be had.
That year, a foreign country came invading. They took over countless cities, and my country had heavy losses. Many people were left homeless; the whole nation was in a panic.
With the country in a crisis, I then realised that our days of isolation were quickly coming to an end.
I still remember that it was still an autumn day, and yellow maple leaves filled every corner of our courtyard.
I held a broom and gently swept the leaves up, but the more I swept, the more leaves appeared. No matter how I swept, I couldn’t clear them all.
Like the tears on my face.
He was still dressed in white. With a slight smile on his face, he gently placed a jacket around my shoulders, “Jing’er, the country is in a crisis, I have to go.”
I could only smile with tears in my eyes, with words stuck in my throat.
Following the falling maple leaves, with traces of pain in my voice, “Feng Yi, can we just stay here? Don’t go anywhere?”
In the previous years, when we built this little courtyard, we specially picked a quiet maple forest at a nice distance from the city. There were only a few families living in this maple forest, the imperial court probably wouldn’t be able to find us.
Why don’t we hide?
“Jing’er, you know me. I’ve never run away from anything before. Furthermore, our country is in a crisis!”
After pausing for a moment, he continued speaking, “Look at all those people drifting around without a home to return to. If our country falls in the future, and we’re the only ones who still have a home, how can we proudly build up our family?”
I know him, and I understand his reasons.
He was never someone who would run away from his responsibilities, and he was always so kind. That’s why I loved him so.
But I knew that if he left, he would be cast into great danger.
Thus, I lowered my head and remained silent; I didn’t know what to say.
He told me a lot of things that day.
However, I only paid attention to his words when he asked me to wait for him.
He said, “Jing’er. Next year, when the maple leaves turn into a sea, I’ll be back.”
He said, “When the country is stable and the common people live in peace and happiness, when everyone has a home, then we’ll have ours. I’ll come back for you.”
I asked him if he was sure.
He said, “Yes, I’m sure.”
So I sent him out of the little courtyard, with envelopes, rations and water, as well as a single maple leaf.
I said, “This maple leaf is really pretty. Why don’t you leave it by your side to remember me by? When you miss me, then look at it.”
I said, “I’m going to place this maple leaf in this envelope. Don’t forget to send a letter to me as and when you have the time to.”
I was extremely naive back then, I thought that preparing envelopes for him meant that we would never lose contact with each other.
I watched his back as he left, and I stood there until night fell.
“Jing’er, I’m leaving. Wait for me.”
Those were the last words he left before he departed.
And his last action was to pinch my nose tenderly before turning to leave.
With his departure, came the autumn winds and desolation.
In the end, Xin’er from next door found me and helped me back to my room. Her husband had also gone off to join the army. Like me, she was also depressed, like a resentful wife.
She would always try to console me, saying that our men going off to protect the country was something proud of, that I should let go of my worries.
She even said that they would definitely come back soon, and so on. I only nodded slightly, without any words to speak.
Actually, I really wasn’t all that noble, nor was I all that kind. I was just a simple woman, I only wanted to live a peaceful and quiet life with my loved one.
Compared to the national crisis or other things, I only felt that if my loved ones remained safe together with me, I would be satisfied.
I was very selfish.
So I hoped that he could also be more selfish.
But he still left.
About two months later, I received his first letter. The contents of the letter were cheerful and lighthearted, setting my mind at ease.
“Jing’er, I’ve already entered the army. Don’t worry too much about me. The brothers who entered the army together with me are all very kind. We have not reached the frontlines yet, so we can’t help feeling a little melancholy. I hope my dear wife can set down her worries. I’ll be back.”
I smiled a little, and the worry in my heart did lighten.
Like I had eaten some celestial pill, I felt light and airy. It was fine as long as he was safe and sound. As long as he was safe and sound.
I carefully kept the letter and returned to my room. My meals that day tasted exceptionally delicious. I ate a few bowls at once, feeling the food warm my heart and soul.
After that, when another two months had passed, I received another letter. As expected, he was also thinking of me constantly.
“Jing’er, the world outside is extremely wide. When the war ends, I’m definitely going to bring out out here to see for yourself. We’ve already reached the frontlines now, and I’m afraid that danger lurks around every corner. I won’t be able to send letters as often from now on. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”
This time, I clenched my fists tightly, and could no longer feel the same excitement as before.
My heart felt stifled, I could only hope that he would really remain safe.
I cooked a meal, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat much. At least I managed to eat something.
He’s definitely coming back.
That was all I could tell myself.
In the flames of war, from an early age, we were both already left alone. When we met, we started relying on each other.
Until we formed this family together.
From being a lone couple with no one to rely on, I was the only one left now.
I waited for his letters every day, day after day, month after month.
About four months later, I finally, finally received his next letter.
Joy rose from the bottom of my heart and emerged as loud peals of laughter.
I smiled with tears in my eyes.
Because the first words in that letter were: We’ve won.
I could only smile wordlessly, tears streaming from my cheeks.
Feng Yi, you said that you would come back.
I’ll wait for you.
That day, the entire nation was filled with joy. The sound of firecrackers going off could be heard all over the country.
Even in a place as remote as ours.
Xin’er from next door had already shifted a stool over to the entrance of her home, waiting day after day for her husband to return.
With a faint smile, I kept myself busy everyday, toiling.
I cooked plenty of dishes, and even specially bought some meat from the city.
Day after day, night after night.
I was also waiting for him to come home.
It was said that it takes about a month to reach here from the borders, so for this past month, almost every household has been decorated with lanterns and banners. Even though the new year had already passed, they were still celebrating.
I thought about him day and night.
How will he react when he sees me?
Perhaps he might hold me tight in his embrace.
Perhaps he might pinch my nose tenderly, and then ask if I missed him at all.
I thought in bliss, and I continued thinking and thinking.
Thus, that day, when the entire city was welcoming their returning men, at the entrance of almost every household, sat either a beaming wife, or elderly folks or children, all with wide smiles.
They were probably people who had received letters, right?
Or perhaps they were wives who knew their husbands were coming back?
Lots of husbands are coming back.
How nice, how nice.
I sat quietly at my door. I sat there for a long, long time.
Until the men of almost every household had returned, and the noise of firecrackers bursting rang out everywhere. Until the sun set behind the mountains.
The moon peeked out into the night.
That faint moonlight shone on my body, and the autumn wind picked up; maple leaves fell gently to the ground.
It’s autumn again.
Feng Yi, how could you make me wait for so long?
“Jing’er, what are you doing sitting out here?”
Xin’er spoke up suddenly. Her face was radiant with happiness and joy. Just now, I saw with my own eyes that her husband had returned home.
I was really envious.
After thinking so, I smiled faintly, “I’m waiting for Feng Yi. I’m afraid that he won’t be able to come back in if the door’s locked.”
When I finished speaking, my expression dimmed, leaking out a few traces of grief. As tears filled my eyes, I slowly shut them.
Sure enough, whatever will be, will be.
Only to hear her say, “Jing’er, are you having a fever? Feng Yi has already passed away on the battlefield. He’s already sent back his last wishes, no matter how long you wait, he won’t be coming back.”
In that instant, tears fell like rain from my eyes.
As if all my hopes had been destroyed, as if I had awoken from a perfect dream, and following that, was harsh, cruel reality!
I gently stroked my rounded belly, but smiled with tears in my eyes yet again.
“I was deluding myself.”
I already knew.
Of course I knew.
Why did you have to remind me?
Why did you have to burst my bubble of fantasy?
How could I not know?
That letter I received that day. I simply have to think about it, and the words pop into my mind like they were etched into my very core.
The first sentence was: We’ve won.
But the next sentence was…
“Jing’er, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to come back to see you… and our child.”
The dam broke and tears flooded my cheeks once again.
Feng Yi, you once said…
That everyone would have a perfect home one day.
That became a reality.
Right now, the common people are living in peace.
Their families are happy and blissful.
But as for me…
I don’t have a family anymore.
I’m still waiting for you to come home.
How hurtful of the maple leaves, how could you forget to come home?
TL Note: Feng Yi (枫亦) has the word maple in his name. It also sounds like ‘feng ye’, which means maple leaves. Her last sentence refers to him, using the maple leaves as a metaphor for him.