The Difficult Path

Grace Lin

Read time: about 2 minutes

This is the second story from the collection called Flying Lessons and other stories from diverse authors compiled and edited by Ellen Oh. (We’ll put up our review of the first story soon!)

This particular story started beautifully with a woman, a daughter of a scholar, selling her child for money but she will give her daughter to the Li family only upon a promise that they educate her.

Cover: The Difficult Path

“A girl! Learn to read! What a waste!” is Mrs Li’s reaction. But she is in a desperate need for a slave and hurriedly swears on her ancestors that she would teach the girl to read and write. After six years of forgotten promise on 6th birthday of the narrator the incense sticks in the Li House refused to burn even after putting it under high flame. The house comes to a standstill when it is declared that the ancestors are angry with the Li couple and that they have disregarded a promise made on their name.

Mrs Li immediately remembers the promise after realising it was the narrator’s sixth birthday that day. She hurriedly bargains with the teacher who taught her son to teach the girl too. The teacher dismissed the offer saying he would have charged more since it is a girl he had to teach but he would do fine with the salary of two male children.

I had no memory of my mother, but hearing how she had dared to make demands of the formidable Mrs. Li on my behalf always made me feel a sense of pride. Despite my mother’s poor circumstances, she must have been spirited.

Thus begins the teaching of the narrator alongside the prodigal son of the House. The learning hours are the best time of the narrator’s day rest of which she spends scrubbing the floor and emptying the chamber pots. She enjoys her lessons to the fullest dreaming about the ocean beyond the secrets she still has to discover. Until the lessons stop and she has to accompany the family to a trip to the temple.

There is a last bit of the story that I will leave for you to read. The story is beautiful and tells you the importance is education and how it can save you. The plight of the girl has been beautifully portrayed.

It is a treat for the bookworms!

She opened the chest and I gasped. Books! Hundreds of books! I put my hands on them reverently. Poems of Li Po. The Classic of Music. Spring and Autumn Annals.

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Flying Lessons and other stories

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH