Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Golden Snake

If you had told Nikki Cho two months ago that she would be standing in a phone booth in downtown Beijing, calling a man she had never met, she probably would have called the cops. Two months ago, Nikki was an 8th grader at Washington Middle School, counting down the days until graduation. Her summer plans included lounging by the pool, chasing boys, and getting ready for her first year of high school.

Nikki graduated Salutatorian in her class of 500, behind her best friend Jenny Jenkins. Nikki's only 'B' grade came in gym class, what she considered to be a pointless class. She had dreamed of being a veterinarian since she was five, when a veterinarian saved her cat's life by cutting out a golf-ball sized tumor from Sylvestor's stomach. Getting an 'A' in gym class was not a requirement along the way.

Nikki Cho spent her first day of summer vacation as planned. She woke up around 10am, watched cartoons while eating a bowl of cereal, then she called Jenny to meet up at the pool. They sun-bathed all afternoon while checking out the high school boys from behind their tinted sunglasses. 5 o'clock rolled around and Nikki headed home for dinner.

As soon as she stepped into the dining room, she knew something was wrong. Her mom, dad, aunt and uncle were all seated around the table. Her mom's head was in her hands, and a wadded up napkin was on the table in front of her.

"What's wrong, mom?" Nikki asked.

Everyone at the table, except her mom, looked over to Nikki.

Her dad exhaled deeply and said, "Nikki, pack your things. Your grandmother is very ill. We leave tonight."

"But.." Nikki started to say, but her mom interrupted: "Please Nikki."

Tears were streaming down her mom's face. Nikki wanted to argue, she wanted to say that she was old enough to stay home by herself, but her mom's plea silenced any thoughts of complaining. She went upstairs and started to pack.

From Nikki's recollection, her mom's mom lived in China somewhere, and had to be at least 90 years old by now. She came to visit when Nikki was in 2nd Grade, but the only things Nikki could remember about her was that she was really old, she smelled like flowers, and that she bought Nikki lots of candy everyplace they went. She was also Nikki's last living grandparent.

The Cho family arrived in Beijing a day later and rushed to the hospital. They arrived at the hospital and Nikki barely recognized the lady lying on her death bed. The old lady looked like she was already gone. After her grandmother spoke with Nikki's mom and dad, to Nikki's surprise, her grandmother said that she wanted to speak with Nikki alone. Nikki didn't know what to do, but her parents nodded and exited the room.

"Nikki, my only grandchild..." Sun-li said with a strained smile.

"What Grandma? I can barely hear you."

Nikki's grandmother motioned her to come closer.

"I don't have much time left. I want you to have this," she said as she produced a small jewelry box from underneath her bed sheet.

"Don't say that, Grandma. You can beat this!" Nikki said, refusing to take the gift.

Her grandmother strained a smile and said, "This is one battle I cannot win. Please, take this."

Again unable to refuse a 'please', Nikki reached for the gift.

"Open it."

Nikki looked at her grandmother, then inspected the box closer. The engraving on the outside of the box was amazing. The gold engraving formed a two-headed snake, whose body wound its way across all sides of the bright red box. Nikki unlatched the box, expecting to find a necklace, or possibly a watch--maybe even an old wedding ring. To her surprise, she found a tightly rolled up letter, bound by a pink cloth ribbon.

She looked up at her grandmother.

"Please... read."

Nikki looked back down at the letter and gently pulled at the end of the pink ribbon. It easily unwrapped itself from the scroll, which kept its tightly rolled form. She unrolled the letter and began reading:


My Dearest Nikki,

I struggle to write this letter, because I know how much change it will bring in your life. The last thing I want to do is bring you hardship, but the decision is not mine to make.

You may find this hard to believe, I know I did when my grandmother told me, but you are the last descendant of the legendary Sin-ha family. I had never heard of the name either, but let me tell you now. The Sin-ha family has kept the secrets of China's past for thousands of years. Secrets that rulers new and old have killed to keep buried. History is written by the winners. History is not always the truth. But the truth can sometimes bring more pain and suffering than you may think possible.

My dearest Nikki, as I said, the decision for you to follow this path is not mine to make--it is yours, and yours alone. I do not wish this path upon anyone, especially you, and especially at this wonderfully innocent time in your life. But knowing you, and knowing the your blood, I know you will be able to walk the path.

Here is a number to contact if you so choose. He is trust-worthy and will help answer any questions you may have.

Your loving Grandmother,
Sin-ha Sun-li


Nikki couldn't believe it. She looked up at her grandmother's face. Sun-li had a smile on her face, a tear on her cheek and closed eyes.

"Grandma?"

No answer. No rise and fall of her chest. No eye-lid fluttering of a dream. No movement at all.

--

The Cho family stayed for the small funeral, attended by unfamiliar faces to Nikki, but all extended friends and family. It rained on the day of the funeral, but other than the rain, Nikki couldn't remember much else from that day. Her thoughts were all over the place. She had trouble believing the letter she had read, but she couldn't understand why it would be fake.

The time between Sun-li's death and the funeral was a blur, and Nikki mostly remembered watching anime on the hotel television, and over-hearing her parents' calls to friends and family about the funeral. They had been in China for a week, and were leaving for home this afternoon. Nikki hadn't told anyone about the letter, even her parents. She desperately wanted to talk to somebody, but didn't know who to trust.

Nikki finally decided that she would find a pay phone and call the number from the letter. She borrowed money for the phone call from her mom, under the guise of buying a souvenir for Jenny. She walked a few blocks from the hotel, then hopped into a phone booth and shut the door.

"Hello? Who is this?" a voice grunted on the other end of the line.

"My grandmother told me to call this number..."

"Oh? One minute." he said.

"I am on a pay phone."

"What's that?"

"I am on a pay phone, I don't have much longer than a minute." Nikki said.

"Oh. Hmm. OK, what do you want?"

"I was told to call this number if I had any questions."

"And?" he said.

"And what?" Nikki said harshly.

"I am waiting for your question."

Nikki stayed silent for a few seconds.

"Still waiting." he said.

"Is it true?" Nikki asked.

"Is what true?" he responded.

"What my grandma told me?"

"Well, that depends who your grandma is, and what she told you."

"She told me that I could trust you."

Silence on the other end of the line.

"Are you still there?" Nikki asked.

"Yes. Your grandmother was a very amazing woman, but you are not ready to follow in her footsteps. Calling from a public phone was not a very wise choice. Go home and come back when you are older." the man said, then hung up.

Nikki was stunned. She didn't know what to do. Should she call him back? He probably wouldn't answer. She walked straight back to the hotel, steaming from the unnecessarily harsh treatment on the phone.

She walked into the hotel room with her hands in her pockets.

"Well?" her mother said.

"Well what?"

"That was pretty quick, what did you get for Jenny?"

Nikki cursed to herself, then felt the bright red jewelry box in her pocket. She pulled it out and showed it to her mom.

"Oh, I thought this looked neat."

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2 Comments:

Anonymous sharpres said...

And that's it?

6:45 PM  
Blogger meanhappyguy said...

Was enough writing for one afternoon! Hopefully I'll continue the story in the future~

6:50 PM  

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