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a season of awakening

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Even a single stick of incense can fill up a room as small as this quickly. It’s a good thing Wang Zheng doesn’t have a mortal’s sensitivity to smells or her head would be swimming. As it is, her head feels clear as she sits up and says a prayer in front of her improvised shrine.

The others all have tombs to sweep today, or families to celebrate with. Wang Zheng has neither, so the supply closet at the SID is all hers. Smoke surrounds her as she sits with her head bowed, praying for parents she’s never met.

She’s well aware that if she’s dead, there’s a good chance her parents are too. She can’t help but hope, sometimes, that she’ll come across them one day, alive and well. She wonders what they were like. Did they love her? Were they like Lin Jing’s parents, who send him home loaded down with tupperwares every time he goes to visit them? Or were they like Zhao Xinci, cold and distant, shuttered away in some unknown grief?

Were there siblings, too, and uncles and aunts and cousins running underfoot? Did they all gather during holidays like today, swapping gossip and sharing food?

Did they like her husband?

Her hands around the match falter a little at the thought. Parents, she must have had, whoever they were, but a husband, children of her own… the idea that she could have chosen them only to leave them always makes her shake.

She closes her eyes and inhales deeply, breathing in phantom air with lungs that aren’t really there. Better. She opens her eyes and finishes lighting the joss paper, hoping it will reach the parents whose names she doesn’t know in the underworld.

She bows once more and prays one final time.

“Help me find out who I am,” she whispers, “if I was ever a good daughter to you, please help me. If I have any surviving relatives, guide me to them.”

She wants to say more, but the words dry up. She stands up, takes one final look at the shrine and floats out of the supply closet door. Nothing clings to ghosts: the smells, the smoke and her prayers all stay behind.

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