Stephen Chan

The Late Home-coming Prodigal Son – Chapter 5

A translation from ‘遊子遲遲歸’


Chapter Five       The Secret Shelf


I discovered a secret shelf in my mother’s 5-drawer dresser. There was a secret shelf below the lowest drawer. It was about half a foot from the ground and was completely sealed. The legs of the chest were hidden by the covering panels of the drawer. This was an uncommon design in those days. I also found out that, although my mother locked her bedroom door whenever she went out, she didn’t check the other bedroom door which opened to the patio. That door was only secured by a latch from the inside. Since she never used that door for entry, she never paid attention to it. So I unlatched the door secretly beforehand, and waited till she left the house, then entered her room easily and investigated her secret shelf. I discovered her jewelries, precious stones, and golden necklaces, bracelets, and rings. It was the first time I saw so many treasures that I didn’t know what to take. Finally, I took a pair of golden framed spectacles to a pawn shop for money. They would not accept the item saying it was worthless.


I started to steal those precious jewelries one by one. And soon I took almost half of my mother’s jewelries. All were sent to a pawn shop in Wan-chai (湾仔) district for approximately $180.00 in total. In the late 30s, a person’s monthly living expense was approximately $5.00. With such a large sum of money, I needed to find a way to hide them. I had never been to a bank, and I dared not go there to open an account. None of my belongings had a lock either. Finally I found a simple solution. I drew a snowy scenery picture, framed it and hung it on the wall above my table. All the money was hidden behind the picture.


Yet, with so much money on hand, I did not have the courage to leave home. I had no idea where or how to escape. So I spent it. I often skipped school to go gambling.


A few months later, my mother discovered she had lost many of her jewelries. Of course she suspected my father first, since he was the only person who knew about the secret drawer. She suspected he had affairs with other women and they quarreled a few times. Then she treated every family member as suspect. She was cautious to investigate her children before the servants. Of course I was the first one being interrogated. I was beaten, but I refused to admit. She couldn’t charge me because she had no proof and in fact it seemed impossible that I was the thief. However my secret couldn’t be hidden for too long. One day, I took a five dollar bill from the picture frame and put it in one of my thick English books. My mother, all of a sudden decided to search all my books and found the five dollar bill. This was her proof of my theft. In those days, I couldn’t possibly possess so much money. My parents were furious, and caned me severely. I admitted to the theft and returned all the leftovers, approximately one hundred and sixty dollars. I was locked up in my room, ordered to kneel down to pray and repent. I did not feel remorseful for my behavior, but I did restrain myself for a period of time.


After this event, my mother’s good friends, Mr. Cheng and Mr. Liu from Christian Assembly, pleaded mercy and put in a good word for me in front of my parents. As a result, their attitude toward me seemed to get a little better. Actually my parents did love me, but their discipline method was just too hard for my rebellious soul to understand.


Henceforth I decided to strive for myself. I considered myself not a member of this family. I stayed in this house only to wait for the right moment to run away. At the age of fourteen, I was still attending King’s College when the war between China and Japan broke out. Eight hundred martyrs died in Shanghai, and many young people were anxious and fervent to join the army. I asked myself, “Why do I not return to my homeland to join the fight?” Actually I was seeking an excuse to leave home, but the Lord had a better plan for me. He allowed me to run amok, suffered its consequences, and prepared me later to surrender myself on the altar, to be His servant for the rest of my life.

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