Stephen Chan

The Late Home-coming Prodigal Son – Chapter 10

A translation from ‘遊子遲遲歸’

Chapter Ten     Lice and Diphtheria

I started to have lice after living on the street for about two weeks. I didn’t know how these little creatures migrated onto my body, but they certainly added a lot more stress to my poverty state. When I was small, I remembered watching beggars on the street, removed their smelly clothes to pick lice. I never imagined that one day I too would become such a miserable sight. What a shame!

Lice are parasites live on the human body. They lay eggs in between the threads of clothing. The warm body temperature is perfect for hatching, and they multiply rapidly. Their bodies are transparent and their red bellies bulge after a full meal of human blood. It is very difficult to kill them, unless their bodies are torn apart. The only effective way of killing them is to remove all infected clothing and soak them in boiling water for about twenty minutes. But I was wearing my only clothing which was infected; how could I take them off?

For awhile I tried to join the army, but ended up following some ad hoc soldiers for a few days, and managed to earn a few rough meals. Then I met a guerrilla sergeant, Mr. Wu. He told me many interesting stories about their fighting activities. I was impressed and sought after him daily, hoping to join in for training. I followed him for a few days, went with him eating at restaurants but never saw him pay any bill. Those restaurant owners all seemed to know him. His companies appeared like underground drug dealers and gangsters. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to leave him. During that period, it would be two days before I had another meal, and I had no place to sleep either. If I followed him, at least I wouldn’t be hungry. I was completely lost, no ambition, no destination.

Just when I was contemplating to leave Sergeant Wu, I became ill. I had a very sore throat, and could hardly drink or swallow anything. At that moment, I met my brother’s friend on the street. He did not know that my eldest brother had come to Kunming too. It was a very hot day, so he invited me to his office. He gave me a glass of water, and saw that I had trouble swallowing. He checked my throat and sent me to a doctor immediately. The doctor diagnosed me with diphtheria, and could suffocate any moment had I not been treated. I was unaware of my high fever, only attributing my discomfort to the heat of the day. I took a dose of antibiotic, and for a few days, this friend allowed me to sleep in his office at night so I could go to the doctor for injections during the day. Thus I passed through another life threatening peril.

This nice friend reported my condition to my brothers. So my eldest and second brothers tried to contact me and made up with me. Actually I had no real conflict with them, I was just being stubborn, unwilling to be depending on my family, and very unteachable. I finally did reconcile with my brothers, but still refused to go home. In fact, I was at my wits’ end. All my close friends would not be able to help me anymore, because they were only teenagers. Even if they wanted to, their families would not sympathize with me. But I have already made up my mind to live on my own. Whether I was lucky enough to succeed in life or starved to death on the street corner, never would I go back home to be a dependent.

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