Chénxīng can no longer distinguish between that which she knows to be true about her past and that which she wishes to be so. The only reliable memories she has are from the orphanage. Those are true whether she wants them to be or not.
Chénxīng knows very little about her mother and most of what she knows was told by the woman who said she wasn’t her mother. Chénxīng doesn’t know how much she can believe. She cannot recall a time this woman wasn’t around and much of what this woman said did not match with the few memories Chénxīng thinks she recalls from when she was smaller.
The story given by the woman who said she wasn’t her mother was that Chénxīng’s mother worked in a factory and left Chénxīng with the woman who was not her mother. Her mother died in an accident at work, so the woman who was not her mother brought her to the orphanage. Chénxīng knows this isn’t true, but she cannot remember how she knows that or what the truth is.
The only story she heard that she does believe is how she got her name. The woman who said she wasn’t Chénxīng’s mother told the man at the orphanage that when Chénxīng was born the morning star was shining through the window of the room in which she was born and her mother named her after it. Chénxīng wants this story to be true, so it is.
Chénxīng does not know for certain how old she is. The earliest memories she has are bits and pieces of life in the house with the woman who said she wasn’t her mother. The woman was not very old, but seemed very angry. She constantly yelled at Chénxīng to stay quiet and not cause trouble.
Chénxīng can remember cleaning around the house, washing dishes, and clearing the table after meals. The woman who said she was not her mother yelled at her to work quicker and to stop singing the songs she heard people from outside the windows singing. It was usually just the two of them, but sometimes, the woman who said she was not her mother would make Chénxīng go into a smaller room and be very quiet and then, Chénxīng could hear other voices outside. She could never identify who they were.
Her most vivid memory is of being taken to the orphanage, hearing the woman who said she wasn’t Chénxīng’s mother tell the official how Chénxīng was born and ended up with her. Since she had no birth records her date of birth was listed as the date she was brought to the orphanage and her age was estimated as four, though Chénxīng knows she was older but again cannot remember how she knows.
After she entered the orphanage, Chénxīng avoided the other children and sometimes fought with them. She became very good at defending herself. The others learned to stay away from her.
One morning, some months after she arrived, Chénxīng heard a small voice crying out in a dialect she recognized from her home province. She followed the sound to the sleeping quarters and discovered a tiny girl crouched against the wall, crying and calling out for her mother. Other children were on their beds, ignoring her.
“Why does no one help her?” Chénxīng asked.
“All she does is cry,” another child said. “We tell her to stop and she doesn’t. She won’t last long if she won’t be quiet.”
Chénxīng went to the girl, and crouched beside her. She touched the girl’s cheek and said, “What is your name, little one?”
“Hû Bâihé,” the girl answered.
“Tiger Lily,” Chénxīng said. “Are you afraid, little tiger?”
The girl nodded.
Chénxīng offered her hand. “We are from the same province. We could be sisters. Would you like to be sisters little tiger?”
Hû Bâihé nodded and took Chénxīng’s hand.
From then on, Chénxīng protected the girl and they called themselves sisters. Chénxīng taught her songs she could remember from when she was younger. They were inseparable.
And then one day, the Americans came.