The mountainside village during the morning was shrouded with fog, the dew was heavy. From the mountain, there came voices of children.

“Shuishui, is your brother’s sickness getting better?”

“I don’t know, Papa still hasn’t called back.” Said the little girl, who was brushing aside leaves and picking up mushrooms.

“Then are you still going to the town to study?” Another little girl asked.

Lin Miao said, “I told my mom I’m not going. Studying in the town costs too much money, I want to stay in the village and go to school with you guys. That way, I don’t have to walk long, either.”

“Yes! Let’s be in the same class!”

The girls became happier as they talked more and more.

After they finished picking fungi, Lin Miao and her friends came back from the mountain, a big chunk of their pant legs wet. They were carrying big bundles of dry firewood on their backs. The firewood was placed horizontally on top of their small back baskets and bundled and secured on the basket with a green vine. The small basket was filled with mushrooms. The black ones were called fire mushrooms, the white ones were called lime mushrooms, and the yellow ones were called saffron milk caps, perfect to be cooked with a handful of spicy pepper and super good for downing rice.

Lin Miao came out without eating breakfast so she was starving right now, her head was filled with spicy peppers cooked with mushrooms she ate before. She would mix it with rice. In a mouthful, there would be spice, the aroma from the saffron milk caps, and the smell of the rice.

As for the other two types of mushrooms leftover, her family didn’t like to eat them. They boiled it when she returned, when they go to the market tomorrow, they can sell it there. The people from the town were not a single bit picky about things like this from the mountain, they paid three dollars and fifty for half a kilo. These mushrooms weren’t light to begin with, they were very heavy after they were boiled and a lot of money could be made from them.

There wasn't much rainwater this year, but it was sunny, there were plenty of fungi in the mountains. Piles and piles of them under the leaves. Lin Miao picked a basket only yesterday, and she carried another basket worth back today. It was as if the mushrooms were busy growing all night.

Lin Miao’s heart was also filled with motivation.

“Shuishui!” Lin Miao’s mom called her from a distance.

“Coming coming!” Lin Miao said goodbye to her friends and ran to her mom, carrying the firewood on her back.

“Slow down!” Her mom said as she took Lin Miao’s little back basket off and placed it on the side.

Only now did Lin Miao notice that there seem to be strangers in her yard.

Her mom tidied up her hair. “In a bit, when you go in, whatever they ask you, you answer them, do you understand?”

Sweat-soaked hair stuck on her forehead. After some tidying, her small face still looked funny. Lin Miao didn’t mind this, she was puzzled at what her mom said. Ask what? Who asks?

And then she was led into the house by her mom.

“This is my daughter, Lin Miao. Her birthday is on February 29,” said Lin Miao’s mother, a bit nervous, “She’s eight years old, healthy, and was never sick. Shuishui, greet the Master.”

Lin Miao obediently greeted, “Hello Master.”

Her eyes were glued to a man wearing a yellow Tang suit and a square yellow hat. It was her first time seeing people like this.

Then, she heard them speak, voice a bit sharp, “She’s it. Pack up, follow me away.”

Lin Miao didn’t quite understand what they were saying. She turned around and looked at her mother, “Mommy, where are we going?”

Lin Miao’s mother knelt down, tears in her eyes. “Shuishui, Mommy is so sorry for you.”

Lin Miao was a bit panicked, she wiped her tears. “What’s going on?”

“Mommy found a job for you.” Lin Miao’s mom said, “Shuishui, Mommy really can’t think of another way. If we still don’t give your little brother treatment, he’ll pass away. That family’s very rich as well, they won’t starve you…”

Lin Miao blinked her eyes, she wasn’t panicking anymore. “If I go work, I’ll get paid right? If I have a wage then we can do treatment, don’t be anxious.”

The village head beside her handed a stack of money to her mom. “Stop crying, it's not a bad thing. So many people in the village wanted to put their children there.”

Lin Miao’s mother took the money with tears flowing down her face and said to the village head and the Master, “May I speak with my daughter alone?”

The two nodded and exited.

Lin Miao hated studying, not only did studying not earn her money, it costs money too. The other girls in the village all studied for a few years in the village, then sought jobs. Only she was forced by her mom to walk through the mountains and go to the town to study. She sat in the last row, surrounded by boys. When she first started, they often pulled at her ponytails and stopped her from going out. Afterwards, when she cut her hair, they laughed at her, so she didn’t want to attend school, not a single bit.

Lin Miao’s mother took her to the inner room. She shoved many pieces of money in her pocket, “Keep this, don’t waste it, mommy is sorry for you.”

Lin Miao wiped her tears, “Mommy, don’t cry. I’m going to work so we can make money.”

“Shuishui, listen to mommy.” Lin Miao’s mother wiped her tears, and said seriously, “When you’re at their house, don’t cause trouble. If someone were to hit you, don’t be arrogant, beg for mercy, ok?”

Lin Miao didn’t understand, but her mom was crying. So, she quickly nodded.

“You have to listen. When it’s the New Year, Mommy will come to pick you up and bring you home.” Her mom squatted on the floor, hugging Lin Miao and crying.

At this moment, the Master knocked on the door, “Didn’t I say that it won’t be bitter there? It would be way better than living here. Okay okay, we have to go.”

Lin Miao’s mother packed Lin Miao’s backpack, squatted, and put it on her back, “You have to spare some time for reading, girls have to read, understand?”

Lin Miao was also filled with the atmosphere of separation; even though she didn't want to read, she nodded anyway.

And then she was grabbed by the hand by the Master and they headed outside.

When they passed other houses, some friends holding bowls peeked their heads out. They were surprised that she was walking with a stranger, so they asked her, “Shuishui, where are you going?”

Lin Miao imitated the village’s adults’ looks when they were going out to seek jobs. With her hands on the backpack straps, she shook it a bit and said in a serious tone, “Children, you guys must study well, I am going to work. I will return when it’s the New Year. At that time I will bring back candy for you.”

The adults in the village all went outside the town to work. When it’s the New Year, they will all return and would buy candy for the kids inside the village.

So everyone loves the New Year, not only are there new clothes and tasty foods, but other families will also have a variety of candies. She and her buddies loved to compare which candy tasted better.

So, Lin Miao added, “I will bring back the most delicious type of candy.”

Her friends looked at her, full of envy.


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