Juhua (Manna) Liu’s Story

by Juhua (Manna) Liu

The Birthday


The weekend, I think that I’ll sleep in, But I can’t. My internal clock has settled the older I get.

It’s a typical Saturday morning. I sit in front of the desk. Through the window, the sky is a little gloomy. Maybe the BC fires are still burning. A few weeks ago, the gloomy smoke crossed The Rocky Mountains into Alberta. People joked, “Smell! BBQ everywhere. Everybody will be a smoked sausage.”

Now, so early, nobody is on the street. A red roof capping a white wall is far from my apartment. The young people celebrated the big game last night. They are still in their sweet dreams.

Quiet! It is so quiet that I could only hear the air blowing. Edmonton is a baby in a cradle rocked by the wind. The baby has not been waked yet.

Gradually, the sun attempts to shine through the heavy clouds. Once in a while, a ray of sunlight filters through the clouds. It’s soon covered by another cloud. The sunshine and clouds are two naughty boys playing a game.

Slowly, the entire city wakes. A white car is on the road; a tall man is walking by, talking on the phone and a woman with short hair is running on the sidewalk. A typical Saturday morning, though still a little gloomy.

“My heart is smiling.” The words were from my daughter when she described her happiness to me run through my mind, keeping pace with the jogger.

Since I got a phone the call from the flower shop, news that my daughter is going to send me a bunch of flowers for my birthday from Toronto, my heart hasn’t stopped smiling. My first flowers for my birthday gift.

The sun cracks a ray though the window, a small knife across the desk shadows. I am grateful that my dear daughter has learned her mother’s favorite gift. Grateful she has learned people need spiritual nourishment too.

The heat of the sun cuts my eyes. Friends have made plans for my party. A farm, in an enormous field of yellow canola. We’ll eat noodles and wish me longevity.

The sky is of the deepest blue. Clouds are shifting; some gather, a flock of chatting sheep; some a clenched fist; one drifts like a long-haired, beautiful lady.

Suddenly, tears. I miss my mom, in heaven now. Gone two years on the day she gave me life. I am wondering if she is a cloud. Is she looking at me? Is she saying what she would usually say? “Today is your birthday my dear daughter, I wish you happy birthday!” My eyes clear and the woman in the sky is gone. Just clouds now.

My daughter is old enough to buy her mother flowers. People are growing up; time and tide are passing. Most people think a birthday means getting old. The thought of the party made me wince. I never wanted to have a birthday party. I never wanted to be old!

My thoughts drift to Sherry, my friend. I told her about that time I dared to joke with a police officer on the street while he was working. Sherry said seriously, “I have discovered two people in your body. One was born in China, the other one was born in Canada.”

A jolt, like lightning. That is why I always feel awkward. Realization. There is another young body hiding in me, a young Canadian-Chinese girl. Maybe I’m celebrating the wrong birthday.

The girl will be fourteen years old! Canada has given her a new life. I use her eyes to look through the window again. Through the girl’s eyes, the clouds become sheep and woman reforms. Everything is wonderful. The girl smiles; she always smiles at others. It doesn’t matter. The girl does not understand what the adults are saying or thinking of. She’ll do what she wants. Others might have felt embarrassed, but she just feels free.

Newborn calves are not afraid of tigers. A Chinese proverb, I heard that when I was young. Maybe from my mother. Quiet settles over me despite my excitement. I squint my eyes and will the clouds into a tiger.

It becomes clear. I am the cloud, everything. Growing. Expanding. Drifting. Reforming. I am digesting the world, ethics, morals, education, cultures, languages, foods, many things conflict and threaten to pull me apart. I need my daughter to teach me the Canadian ways.

Yes,there another me hiding in my body in my new country.

Most people have one life. I’ve lived two, here in Canada and the other across the ocean. Another country, another life.

Fourteen is young for a person, and 150 years old is a young for a country. We are both celebrating a birthday. Obviously, we have a lot to learn. What will shape us? Languages? Cultures? History? Secrets left to uncover?

My road ahead is still longing, and uncertain. Where should I go in my new life? And how should I go? I wish my mother were here to guide me.

Sherry’s voice again, “Be yourself. When something happens, the adult needs to help the young girl.” The old me needs to help the young me.

The wind rattles the window and the flock of sheep are no more. What will they be next?

My phone is ringing. Someone’s knocking. Roses arrive at my door, a cloud of citrus perfume. They smile at me, fragrant and green. They are singing to me,

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to Canada….”


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