Summary: Father and son, together again.
Category: Kung Fu–The Legend Continues
Word Count: 2989
The man in the uniform of the United States Army Medical Corps stood on a small knoll, looking across the valley at the temple rising above the green hillside. Taking a deep breath, he sat down, careful not to look down the steep embankment below his feet. He had been plagued by acrophobia all of his life, and he certainly did not want to succumb to it. Especially now, when he had to prepare for his visit to the temple.
He sat lotus, closing his eyes and uplifting his face to the sun. Even while stationed in France, he had meditated as often as he could, despite the sometimes teasing, sometimes derogatory comments of his fellow soldiers. Meditating had helped him deal with the violence and pain he saw. Even though the war, the conflict he heard being referred to as World War II, had been over for several weeks, he still could not get used to the silence. He found himself expecting to hear mortar shells dropping on the peaceful countryside, or fingering the medical pouch he still carried, preparing to help the wounded and dying.
But now, it was his own pain, and that of his son, which he sought to deal with. The man had returned to his home in China, and found that his wife was gone. She had been kidnapped, and their home destroyed, by members of the Sing Wah cult. His wife was presumed dead. He swallowed a sob, but tried to maintain the meditative state, thinking of his small son, who had watched from hiding while his mother was taken away. A friend who had been away when the former medic’s family was attacked, returned and checked on Su Lin and her son, only to find their house destroyed, and Kwai Chang, alone and alive among the carnage. The villager couldn’t take care of the boy, but he knew that Matthew Caine was Shaolin, so he took the child to the nearest Shaolin temple. The American shuddered, hearing again the villager’s halting retelling of what had happened.
Finally, the former medic had to admit to himself that meditation was not possible. He opened his eyes and took another deep breath, trying to prepare for the coming reunion with his young son.
He gazed at the temple, watching a boy who was sweeping the steps that lead to the temple entrance. That was not his son. The boy was too big.
Wasn’t he? He didn’t have any recent pictures of Kwai Chang. Sighing, he realized that he didn’t really know what his son looked like now. In a crowd of children, he probably wouldn’t even recognize his own son.
The child had been a little more than a baby when his father decided to return to his homeland to enlist. Su Lin had supported his decision, but she refused to leave China. “I will be waiting for you here,” she had promised.
He choked back another sob. Somehow, he had never expected a soldier who spoke fluent Chinese to be assigned to the European theater of the war. He had really thought he would be able to return to China or at least the Pacific Theater, and eventually be able to take care of his family. Instead, he had been in France when his wife was taken and his son was left alone.
Matthew Caine stood and walked slowly across the valley, knowing at the coming moments would not be easy, but they must be faced. He prayed that he would be able to help his son.
When he reached the temple, he used the large brass doorknocker. A young disciple opened the door, and escorted the former medic to the Master of Monks.
“Yes he is here. He is very withdrawn, and has not spoken a word since he was brought here,” the old priest said sadly. “We have tried to talk to him, to help him, but we have not been able to break through.”
The tall American bowed. “I am sure you have done all you could for my son,” he said politely. “May I see him, please?”
“Of course. He is too young to attend classes, so he spends a great deal of time alone. He likes to wander around the temple grounds. He knows not to go far, and always returns at sunset; I’m afraid it’s not so much because he wants to be here as it is that he has no place else to go,” the old monk observed. “There is an area about 200 yards from the rear door of the temple where our apothecary grows wildflowers and herbs for his work. He has taken an interest in your son, and spends time every day showing him herbs and telling him of their uses. When the child is alone, he goes and sits among the flowers, staring at nothing.”
“Did you tell him that I have returned?” Matthew asked softly.
“I thought it best that he be prepared. He just stared at me for a moment, then bowed. He is very polite,” the old priest told him. “But he is, also, troubled. He has had to deal with much unpleasantness in the past months.”
Matthew came out of the temple door, and walked toward the herb garden, thinking that Master Ying had a great gift for understatement. The American searched the grounds with his eyes, and found the area the Master of Monks had spoken of. It was only when he was nearly to the carefully tended plants that he saw a small figure seated among the flowers. The little boy sat very still, apparently watching a butterfly which sat on a flower directly in front of him. He didn’t look up as the tall man approached.
“May I sit here?” Matthew asked. The child didn’t move or speak, but Matthew assumed that it was all right, since the little boy hadn’t said, “No.”
He sat next to his child, but far enough away that his son would not feel encroached upon, and folded into lotus position. He noticed with amusement
that his child’s thin legs were, also, entwined in full lotus.
“Do you know who I am?” the tall man asked, softly.
For the first time, the little boy moved, looking up at the man and nodding slightly. He turned his gaze back to the flower without saying a word. As the master had said, the child was polite, and had acknowledged a direct question.
The American studied the child’s profile, trying to see something of the boy’s mother or himself in his son. It was only when the child faced him, looking at the stranger who was his father, that Matthew saw the strong resemblance to himself and to the first Kwai Chang Caine. Still, the former medic could see Su Lin in their child, too. He relaxed, returning the unwavering, accusing gaze of his son steadily, noting the hazel eyes that
suddenly reminded the former medic of his own father.
“I am your father,” Matthew said, unnecessarily. He needed so say something; he always found talking easier than listening, but he was at a loss to know what words to use to reach this pain-filled child, who had turned away from him again…
The boy nodded again, but he didn’t look at his father this time. His gaze remained fixed on the butterfly.
“The war is over, Son,” Matthew explained. “I came back to find you and….you. I will find us a place, perhaps another temple. Would you like that?”
Kwai Chang shrugged, still looking at the butterfly.
“I won’t leave you, Son. I’ll take care of you…” Matthew offered helplessly, unable to penetrate the wall of pain and anger his son had built. “I know it isn’t easy, Son. When I was a little older than you are now, my father left me and my mother. He said he needed to fight his demons alone. My mother and I were left on a small farm by ourselves. Sometimes I was afraid he was never coming back. But he returned to us, at peace with himself. We left Kenyon Springs and moved to St. Louis. He never left us after that. He taught me, as I will teach you, until I came to China to study at the temple. I never saw them again….”
As Matthew talked, the small form beside him had tensed, sitting stiffly and not even pretending to watch the butterfly any longer. When the priest finished speaking, the little boy silently unfolded and stood up. He turned away from the man, and started walking slowly up the hill….
The American looked at his son helplessly. What had he said, now?
”Would it be all right if I walked with you? ” Matthew asked, almost desperately. Again the boy shrugged indifferently, tilting his head a little, still walking away from the temple. Hastily, the man got to his feet and followed.
Matthew let the child lead him, following an invisible path up the hillside. The priest continued to talk softly, telling his son how much he had missed him and that he would not have left if he had thought there was any other choice.
The erect little figure in front of him relaxed slightly but continued walking; the pace had slowed somewhat. Matthew hoped it was because the boy was listening to what he had to say. He kept his eyes on that small form above him and to his right, not paying attention to where he was walking.
Abruptly, Matthew found himself stopped at the edge of a steep drop-off on his left, and made the mistake of looking down at the bottom of the cliff, many feet below him.. A wave of nausea and dizziness flowed over him. One of his feet slipped in the loose earth, and, he wavered on the edge of the abyss.
Above him he heard a high pitched scream of terror, “Father!!!” A small hand grabbed his and held on. After an eternity of fighting for balance, Matthew righted himself, and took two faltering steps away from the edge, before sitting down abruptly. He looked at the hand that clung so tightly to his, then at the white, tear-streaked face of his son; the boy’s hazel eyes were enormous with fear….
Without warning, the trembling child threw himself into his father’s arms.
Gently, but securely, Matthew held his son, pressing the boy’s head against his shoulder, and patting his back soothingly. For once, the man didn’t say anything, just held Kwai Chang tenderly and rocked back and forth, offering
comfort and solace to a child who needed it so badly.
Finally, his son calmed, and the tremors in the small body slowed, then eventually ceased. Matthew continued to hold him, stroking the boy’s shaven head with a hand that almost engulfed it. “We should go back, now,” the Shaolin said softly, noting that the sun was almost gone. Kwai Chang’s arms tightened around him, and with a mental shrug, the man stood, still holding his child. He walked carefully back to the temple, pressing the little boy against him, and murmuring words of encouragement and love into his ear. Just before they reached the temple door, the younger Caine squirmed out of his father’ arms and walked in by himself. But, he held tightly to a large, warm hand, as if he were afraid to let go.
At the evening meal, Matthew noted that his son ate very little. Afterward, while Kwai Chang was herded away with the other boys, the tall man was shown to an unused cell, where he found that a clean robe and clothing had been left for him. The comfort of the clothing soothed him, and he discarded the scratchy uniform, hoping never to have to see it again. He looked at the bedroll, which beckoned so invitingly. But, remembering how his son had kept looking back at him while the child was being pushed out of the dining room by the boys behind him, the American wanted to check on the boy before going to sleep.
A boy in the clothing of a student stood hesitantly in the doorway of the cubicle where Matthew knew his son to be. “Forget it Yen Lo, he won’t appreciate if you go in there,” observed one of the other boys, some of whom were standing in the doorway of a nearby cell. “He’ll wake up in a minute, then cry himself to sleep.”
The man could hear choked cries from the spartan room, and asked anxiously, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Kwai Chang,” one of the boys said matter of factly.
“He’s having another nightmare, ” the boy by the door told the stranger quietly. “He has them just about every night.. Master Cho put him in a cubicle by himself, because he was disturbing the rest of us.”
Matthew smiled at the boy in Kwai Chang’s doorway. “Thank you for your concern, but I will care for my son,” he said quietly.
The boy stared. “You’re Kwai Chang’s father? But Li Wan told him you weren’t coming back…” Matthew noted that one of the children in the nearby doorway silently withdrew into the boys’ room, but, at the moment, his concern was for his child.
“Li Wan was wrong. Please tell him I’d like to speak with him later,” Matthew ordered, as he pushed past the boy and went into the bare little room.
His son lay on a thin mat on the floor, tossing and muttering to himself. “Mother!! Please, Mother, where are you? I can’t find you…..” His cries grew louder, piercing his father as surely as a knife blade.
Matthew knelt by the mat, lifting the struggling child into his arms, and holding him firmly. “Sh! Son. It’s all right. I’m here. I have you. No one is going to hurt you.”
Matthew’s soft words and gentle caresses calmed the distraught child, and he finally lay still, cradled against his father’ shoulder. “Sh! I won’t leave you, Son. You are safe.”
The fear in his son’s voice shook Matthew, breaking his heart. “Safe?” the high-pitched voice said softly, while the boy’s clouded eyes searched his father’s face for reassurance.
“Yes, Son. You’re safe.”
A look of shame came into his son’s eyes, and his lips trembled, “My mother went away,” he said softly. “She told me to hide in the crawlspace, when… when those men came. I heard her crying, but….I did not….I did not help her.” He drew a long shuddering breath, carefully averting his eyes from those of the man who held him. “They took her away. . . I am sorry, Father,” the child confessed miserably.
Matthew was silent for several moments. Unable to stand the waiting any longer, the boy looked up through half closed lids, his hazel eyes veiled by impossibly long lashes. His father was crying; the tears coursed down his cheeks, but he made no effort to stop them.
Uncertain as to the cause of his father’s hurt, the tenderhearted child wriggled out of his grasp and stood beside him putting his arms around the man’s neck. “It’s all right, Father, please do not cry. I am here, I will help you,” he whispered. He kissed the tall priest’s cheek gently, and rubbed a small, soft hand across his father’s face..
“You did nothing wrong, Son,” Matthew finally managed to say. He cupped the small face in his hand and smiled, unable to believe that he had fathered such a child. His other arm came around the thin body, and pressed it against him. “Your mother wanted to protect you. You were wise not to leave your place of hiding. If you had revealed yourself, I would have lost you, too.” Suddenly awash in his grief, Matthew gathered his son into his arms and held him, crying into the child’s neck. It was several moments before he realized that a small arm was wrapped around his neck and that his son’s hand was patting him gently. Sitting more upright, he grabbed the hand and held it to his lips, smiling through his tears at his serious offspring.
“We have each other, now, do we not?” the little boy asked, still not sure of his father.
“Yes, Son, we’ll always have each other,” the priest promised, both giving and receiving comfort by making the statement. “But, right now, we both need to rest. I will see you in the morning, Son.”
Matthew leaned over, laying his son on the mat and preparing to stand.
Mutely, the boy fisted his hand in the robe his father wore, and held on, looking at Matthew intently. Sighing, the tall priest scooted the small form over on the mat and lay beside him, gathering the child into his arms and pillowing the small head against his shoulder. Kwai Chang turned in his father’s arms, curling the fingers of both hands into the material of the Shaolin’s robe, holding on tightly. He lay with his eyes closed, but his body was stiff, as if he were determined to stay awake so that his father wouldn’t slip away.
Smiling to himself, the priest gently and rhythmically rubbed his child’s thin back until he felt the muscles relax, and felt soft regular breaths on his neck.
He thought the boy was sleeping, but as he himself drifted toward much needed rest, he heard a small voice say, “I love you, Father.”
“I love you, too, Son,” Matthew replied, caressing the boy’s soft cheek. “Now, go to sleep,” he ordered sternly, softening his words by a gentle kiss on his sleepy child’s forehead. The priest lay awake for a long time, trying to find the strength to be both father and mother to the small bundle who lay so trustingly in his arms.