Feng Mian run through the mandarin orchard that had belonged to her grandfather. She could hear the pounding of the pots as they were getting closer through the rice fields. The people had been possessed by a frenetic frenzy due the words of the Supreme Leader, who had declared war on the four plagues and had declared the sparrows to be enemies of the revolution.
It was spring and the mandarin trees were blossoming; in the branches white flowers mixed with the green leaves. Feng knew of a sparrow nest that was in the hollow of an old mandarin tree. Two small birds had lost their mother and Feng had been feeding them rice grains from the rice fields. She had discovered it two days ago, the day that the Supreme Leader had declared war on the sparrows.
She feared that if the people were to come too close, with their noise and their shouting and their guns, the baby sparrows might get afraid and try to fly. They were yet too young to fly and if they tried, they would fall from their nest a lay there to die.
Feng saw the old mandarin tree. For a long time its fruits had been scarce compared to the younger ones, but his grandfather had not wanted to replace it because he said that it was there where he kissed her grandmother for the first time. The trunk was twisted and full of wrinkles, and though its fruits were few, it produced the most fragrant flowers.
She reached through the opening of the hollow in the trunk and grabbed the nest with the baby sparrows in it. She could hear them chirping nervously as their life was moving. She could also hear the guns and the voices nearer. “The sparrows are enemies of the people; they’re enemies of the revolution; whoever helps the sparrows is an enemy of the people and the revolution”.
Feng did not know very well the meaning of those words. She did not know what ‘revolution’ or ‘enemy’ meant. She had heard her father saying that they had to leave the mandarin orchard soon to move to the city because the orchard and the rice fields now belonged to the revolution. She had heard him say that if they did not, they would be considered enemies of the people.
Feng put the nest inside the sleeves of her blouse while holding it with two hands and run back to the house. The mass of people had come so close that she thought they might have seen her. She held the nest with the two little birds very softly while running without looking back. The old mandarin tree standing there and the guns right on the other side.
They lived in a humble siheyuan. Siheyuan means a courtyard surrounded by buildings. Her family had lived there for many generations. Feng was born there and the courtyard, with a peach tree in the middle and a little pond surrounded by bamboo, was her first playground before she moved to the mandarin orchard. She knew of a hollow in the roof above the room where she slept, and she climbed through the window.
The sky was the same colour as the mandarins when they ripen while the sun was setting beyond the rice fields.
Feng carefully put the nest in the space between one of the wood beams and the roof after slightly moving one of the red tiles. It was in this same place where she had hidden a tooth last year. The two little birds that had been chirping inside her sleeve calmed down when they felt they were put in a firm place. Feng took some rice grains from one of her pockets and after chewing them and wetting them in her mouth she fed the two birds with them. Before climbing back to the room she took a little piece of bred from her pocket and crumbled it through the nest.
That was the last time that Feng Mian saw the two little sparrows. Next morning she and her family left the siheyuan and the mandarin orchard. Her father had been called to the city. The orders were from the Supreme Leader were clear: all farming properties belonged to the people and were to be managed by the people. The people were represented by the party, the party were the people and the people were the party. Owners that opposed vacating their properties and moving to the city to work in the factories faced terrible consequences. The country was going to take a great leap forward.
Feng Mian became a school teacher and only returned for a visit to the mandarin orchard many years later, after the sparrows were declared to be friends of the revolution once again, something that happened too late, as it usually is when someone is declared guilty by mass dictamen. The year after Feng left the mandarin orchard, and after having eradicated most of the sparrows-enemies-of-the-revolution, a plague of insects came and ruined the rice crop of the entire country.
When Feng Mian visited her old family’s siheyuan she found that a colony of sparrows had taken refuge in the roof. Between the siheyuan and the far end of the of mandarin trees field, where her grandfather’s tree still stood, more wrinkled and more twisted, the mandarin orchard was blooming.
Feng Mian sat under the mandarin tree and fell asleep in the woods as the breeze swished through the branches and sang a song with the ever-green leaves.