My Grandmother's Bones
by S.L. Huang
My father was the most haau person I know.
I don't know the English term for it. Haau. It's like love, but it's not. It's like respect, but it's not. American families don't have it. Children love their parents--I know you love me--but being haau, it doesn't exist here.
My grandmother died when I was very young. I used to go with my father to tend her grave. It was not a real grave, of course. In Hong Kong, space is at a premium, so you could only bury someone for a set amount of time, and then they had to be placed elsewhere. After seven years they dug up my grandmother's bones and put them behind a stone in a tall, terraced place, remains upon remains. So many people. Like a condominium for the dead.
My father would go to tend my grandmother's bones. All the flesh had decayed from them by then, and he would take them out and clean them. Very carefully, bone by bone. I remember sitting with him, looking down at the long leg bones and the tiny finger bones, as he sat and cleaned.
Then he would sit with her in the sun, sit with her bones, and let the sun shine down on them.
You know how when you are doing laundry, or soaking dishes, you leave it, you do something else? My father did not leave. He did not do anything else. He just sat, quietly, letting the sun soak in and cleanse the bones.
I sat with him. I remember.
That's what a haau person he was.