My sister is sitting on the floor sulking. Ignoring my grandmother who is trying to talk to her. Mum has said she can’t come to the park with us because she is too small. I wish she could come with us. I remember the day she was born. I came out of my room and there was a baby in my mother’s arms. She said I would have someone to play with now. I looked at the baby and it was not what I had imagined. It was wrapped in a bundle, bright red cheeks and kept screaming. Mum said I would have to wait until she was bigger before I would be able to play with her. Now she is bigger she can’t come with us.
Our house is old. I don’t know when it was built. My father says his mother’s mother used to live here. One of the rooms recently fell in so now we only have two rooms. A main room where we sit, cook and listen to the radio and a bedroom where we all sleep. The walls are made of stone. Smooth and grey with cracks coming down from the ceiling. In one corner of the living room there is a pot and a small stove where my mum cooks dinner. On the other side opposite is a chair where my father sits and smokes when he comes home from work, listening to the radio or telling me and my sister stories.
In the winter it is so cold, the grey walls make it feel colder. We wear as many clothes as we can. Sometimes wearing all the clothes we own. In the summer it is so hot you don’t want to stay inside, but if you go outside it is even hotter. No escape, even in the evenings the air is thick and humid. Everybody tossing and turning in the same room unable to sleep. When my sister was born my grandmother came to stay too, five of us all sleeping in the same room, sighing, the little red cheeked bundle screaming. I wondered if she would really ever get big.
Now she is one and a half. I am eight and I take her everywhere with me. A friend at school let me borrow her copy of the book Cinderella. It has colour pictures. I’ve heard the story many times but never thought I would be able to read the book. We don’t have much and my parents wouldn’t be able to afford to buy it for me. None of my classmates would either. We’d never seen a book with coloured pictures in before. I begged my friend for days to let me borrow it. Each day she would say no, worried that I would lose it. Eventually she said I could. I ran home and read it to my little sister. Cinderella was more beautiful than I could ever imagine.
After I gave the book back to my friend, I would try to make my sister like the pictures in the book. She still has rosy red cheeks like Cinderella. When my mum was at work I would take her shoes and try to find old pieces of cloth that we could pretend were clothes. She would laugh as I put old rags on her and shoes far too big. I would tell her she looked beautiful as she sat there covered in bits of old rags and cloth. We don’t have any toys because we can’t afford them, food and clothes are more important. My mum and dad work all week just to be able to give us enough food. We play with what we can.
As we walked out the door I could feel her stare on my back. I knew she was angry but I couldn’t persuade my mum to take her with us. If she came mum would have to carry her on her back. I think she is tired from working all week. The park isn’t so far away but I don’t want my mum to be tired either. It’s a hot day, the cicadas are so loud it is hard to hear what my mum is saying as she talks so softly. I can see hats bobbing up and down in the fields as people work. We wait for the bus to take us into the city. I wonder if my sister is still sulking.
I like going to the city. There are some cars on the road and there are more shops. The shops of full of toys and pens and things I would love to be able to buy. Even though I can’t buy them I still love to look. When I go home I can tell my sister all about them. We can make up a game and pretend we have them, like we did with Cinderella and her clothes. In the park there are lots of shops selling toys and games. I can’t wait to see them, I wish I could borrow them for the day like the book but I know I can’t. Each time I come I see a teddy bear, I wonder if it is still there. I am excited to see it.
As we walk into the park my eyes turn straight to the shop. Straining my eyes to see if the bear is there. I can see it. I tug my mum’s hand pulling her over to the shop so I can stand and closer and look at it. It’s not a big bear, it’s not special bear, I just like it. It’s fluffy brown fur and small black nose. It’s two brown eyes stare back at me. The shop owner waves at me, he knows I come to look at the bear every time I come to the park. He says something I can’t hear and he and my mum laugh.
My mum pulls me away and we walk around the bamboo filled park. It’s a Sunday and some people don’t have to work. There are people sitting in the park’s square playing musical instruments. We come across a young man talking to himself in some foreign language. I ask my mum what he is doing and she says he is practicing his English. There are old men playing cards, smoking and drinking tea. All the while I am thinking of a way that I can persuade my mum to buy the bear.
I know that it is a lot of money for her but maybe the man will give her a discount. I tell her that I think my sister will be very upset when we get home. She laughs and says she knows but she was too tired to carry her all the way to the city and back. I say that maybe if we bought her a present back she would be happy again. Mum laughs again, she says she’ll think about it, one of the shops might have something she would like. I smile to myself, now I just have to persuade that she’d like the bear.
As we are leaving my mum tells me to sit on a bench. I watch as she walks over to the shop that has the bear. She talks to the man for what seems like forever. I have butterflies in my stomach. The man points at some other small toys and mum picks them up and looks at them. One is a brightly coloured spinning top. She puts it on the floor and spins it. Please don’t choose that one. She says something to the man and then picks it back up and puts it on the counter. Then she points at the bear. The man takes it down from its shelf. I can feel my heart getting quicker the butterflies even worse. She takes out her purse and gives the man some money and picks up the bear.
She comes back over to me and hands it to me. She says she chose it because she thinks we would both like it. I hold the bear in my arms, looking into his brown eyes and stroking his soft fur. I feel like I am in a dream. Mum takes me by the hand and we walk back to the bus stop. The whole way home I grasp the bear as tightly as I can, scared that someone is going to snatch him away from me. My only toy. I decide that I am going to call him Pang Pang because he is a little bit fat. I wonder if my sister will like him too.
My sister is still sulking in the corner when we get back home. My grandmother laughs as she tells my mum that she hasn’t moved since we left. She looks at me, her lips pouting, her red cheeks looking angrier than usual. I look at the bear in my arms and then back at her. I walk over to her and put the bear in her hands. I tell her it’s for her, and I’m sorry she couldn’t come to the park. She finally smiles as she cuddles the little bear. I tell her he’s called Pang Pang. She stands up and hugs me and the bear together. We finally have a toy we can share together.
Inspired by a special person’s story of when she was a child in rural China. Pang （胖）means ‘fat’ in Chinese.