I was conscious as Dr Chou Tao-hsiang operated on my eye. I could hear the sound of the operating instruments and Dr Cho speaking.
My right eye had been in a bad condition for more than three years. When I went to Taiwan’s Tri-Service General hospital in Taipei to get my eye examined I was almost blind. The doctors discovered that I was suffering from keratitis, that is, inflammation of the cornea.
“You could have got it from towels, or from swimming-pools,“ they told me.
“I’m a swimming instructor at an army officer’s school,“ I replied.
“That probably how you caught it,” they said.
About a year later, I learned that only the transplantation of cornea could get my sight back to normal. When I told my wife, she said nothing but showed me her savings book. She was illiterate, but from the book I knew with surprise that she has managed to save about 500 Taiwan dollars after several years of hard work.
“If this is not enough, we try to get more, “she said. “You are not like me. An illiterate person is blind though he can see. A man who can read needs both eyes.”
Informed Dr.Chou that I was ready to have a corneal operation. A month later, he phone me that there was a man who had just died. Before he died, the doctor said, the man had told his family that he would allow any part of his body to be transplanted to anyone who needed it.
When Dr Chou told me of the operation and hospital expenses, I agreed, and the following day I entered the hospital. I was extremely lucky. People waited for years before a cornea became available, and I told my wife how thankful I was to her for making the operation possible.
After the operation, as I was wheeled out of the operating room, my daughter Yung put her lips close to my ear and said, “Everything went well. Mother wanted to come, but she was afraid.”
“Tell her not to come,” I said. “But she need not worry.”
I was 19 years old when I married on my parent’s orders. In those days it was still customary that marriages were arranged merely by the parents; the children had to obey their orders absolutely. My father and my wife’s father were close friends and had promised that if their wives gave birth to a boy and a girl, the children should be married.
I had never seen the girl who was to be my wife until the very day she was brought to our house. She came with her face covered by a veil. After bowing to heaven and earth, we were led to the bridal bedroom. When at last I lifted the red brocade of her bridal veil, I received a great shock. Her face was much uglier than I had imagined. My dream broke to pieces. She looked like an old woman of 40, although she was still 18 years of age.
I fled my mother’s room and cried all night. My mother told me that I must accept my fate. She praised my new wife as a kind-hearted, hard-working girl. But nothing she said reduced my anger and disappointment. I did not want to share a room with that ugly wife, and I did not speak to her. I stayed at school. When the summer vacation came, I refused to go home until my father sent an uncle of mine to fetch me.
My wife was cooking supper when I arrived, and she raised her head in a smile when she saw me. I walked right past her. After supper, my mother persuaded me to have a talk with her privately.
“Son, you are being cruel to her,“ she began. “Her face is unattractive, that’s true, but she does not have an ugly hearth. “
“No, it must beautiful, I said angrily. “ I wonder how you and Father could have made me marry her.”
My mother’s face grew pale. “She is an extremely good girl, understanding and patient,” she continued. “She has been in this house more than six months now, and she works from morning to night in the kitchen and on the farm. She has not said a word of complaint about the way you have treated her. I have not seen her shed a tear. But she has a heart. Do you want her to live like a widow although she has a husband? Imagine what you would feel if you were she!”
My wife and I began to share the same bedroom, but nothing changed the way I felt. She always kept her face down and spoke softly. When I disagreed with her, she would raise her head to show me that she was sorry and to try to give me a smile of obedience, then she would quickly lower her head again.
In the thirty years of marriage that followed. I seldom smiled at my wife and we never went out together. In fact, I sometimes wished her dead.
Yet my wife proved to have more patience and love than anyone I knew. After graduating from the army training school, I held a low income was hardly enough for aur daily life. The baby was often ill, and we had to spend more on medical expenses. When my wife was not looking after the household, she worked with some rich family or helped drag fishing nets with some fishermen to earn a little extra money. I was often away from home, but I knew that I needn’t worry about our two children or household with her looking after everything.
AFTER THE operation, my daughter Yung brought me a transistor radio to occupy the long hours while the bandage remained on my right eye. But I had plenty of time to think, and my thoughts kept returning to my wife. I was rather ashamed of telling her not to come to see me. Frankly speaking, I didn’t want the people in the hospital to know that I had an ugly wife.
When Dr Chou removed the bandage from my eyes, I was afraid to open it. The physician said that the corneal operation was a success and within a week I would be allowed to go home.
“Mother is making your favorite dishes to welcome you home,“ Yung said when she came to fetch me.
“She is a good wife and a good mother,” I replied. These were words I would never say before.
Yung and I climbed into taxi. She was strangely silent all the way home. As I walked into the house, my wife was coming from the kitchen with the plate of food. “You’re back,” she said very softly, without raising her head.
“Thank you for letting me see,“ I said.
She walked past me and put the food on the table, her head still bent down. Standing against the wall with her back towards me, she began to weep. “It is enough to hear you say this, “she said between sobs.
Yung came into the room in tears. “Tell him, Mother!” she cried. “Let father know that you gave the cornea for his eye!” She shook her mother. “Tell him!”
I grabbed her by the shoulders, and looked closely at her face. Her left eye was covered with a light-brown patch!
“Why…why did you do it?” I cried shaking her hard.
“Because… You are my husband, “she answered. I held her tight. Then I got down and knelt at her feet…..