My big sister

Shanghai was occupied by the Japanese army up until the end of WWII. There were checkpoints throughout the city where sentries stood guard. One was the Garden Bridge over Soochow Creek.

My sister, 11 years older than me, picked me up from school after work (yes, I had to wait until 5 o’clock, always the last to leave school) and went to cross the bridge. As usual, the sentry demanded that we kowtow to him before daring to cross, but Maria was feeling combative that day and refused to do so. The sentry then poked her with his rifle, whereupon Maria flew at him and pummeled his face. The sentry beat her with the rifle butt. I stood there worrying, of all things, about her hat which had flown off her head and into the creek.

Eventually an officer arrived and told the sentry to stand down. He let us go on over the bridge. Maria said nothing all the way home but then shut herself in her room to cry. She was black and blue all over for a week.

She is gone now, but she was a feisty woman. She taught me to dance and to play cards. We sang duets together, and shared passwords and our own language. She was Big Sister through and through.


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