A resounding slap hit me on the face, echoing loud and clear in my ringing ears. My mother-in-law, Ho Cong's mother, was standing at the gate with my suitcase gripped tightly in her clenched fist.
Her reddening face sneered at me in anger as she carelessly pushed my suitcase down from the steps, paying no heed to the sight of it almost hitting me.
"How dare you have the guts to come back! You have disgraced our family in the cruelest way possible!" She held an accusing finger up to my face as she shrieked, "Get out! Far away, where we can no longer see you!"
My lips trembled in time with the sinking feeling weighing down my chest. I knew that Ho Cong's mother always disliked me.
Ho Cong and I did not have a single wedding banquet ever since we were married, so she had never admitted that I was part of their family.
I gritted my teeth, thinking thoroughly on what my next words would be and opened my mouth in preparation of defending myself, "Mother..."
"There should be a limit to your shamelessness. Just who are you calling your mother?!" She snorted, "Get out of here already!"
"I want to see Ho Cong," I pleaded, unable to keep the tremors out of my voice, "I’ve registered with him, and we are legally married."
"Ho Cong doesn't want you anymore!" Her slightly stout body blocked the door determinedly, effectively covering the view inside so I could not even see whether Ho Cong was there or not.
I turned away, wrapping an arm around me to embrace my shivering self. At this point, it was proving to be of futile effort to waste my energy in engaging in an argument with her. It was unwise to quarrel with a philistine old woman.
"Is Ho Cong on a business trip?"
"Yes,” narrowing her eyes, she proceeded to scorn me, “So what, you sleep around now that he’s on a business trip? You really are nothing but a cheating vixen!" She gesticulated, her pure wrath stifling me.
"Auntie," I murmured, deliberately changing the way I addressed her. If she refused to accept me, I did not want to humiliate myself any further, "Please don’t insult me like that."
"I insulted you? Did you go to the hospital today? Did you see the results?”
I froze at her bombardment of questions. She was correct, but how did she hear of it?
"You have nothing to say, right? If Feng hadn't told me, I would’ve never known. What a brazen woman you are! My son has never slept with you, but you’re pregnant? Who is that bastard’s father?! Tell me!"
A thunder blasted in the sky in time with her roaring allegations. She jolted in fright and let out a mocking laugh, her manic and condescending gaze gauging my curled up form, "God also heard about it and released lightning to signify his incoming punishment for you! You slut!”
She shoved me again and slammed the door shut.
I huddled, quaking as the cold winds ruffled the thin material of my clothes. Tiny water droplets begun its descent; an indication that it was going to rain soon. Sighing, I stood on the steps of this small building and looked up at the dark sky.
Pink lightning flashed once more, striking an ominous, jagged line that contrasted the devouring darkness of the night.
I could not refute what Ho Cong’s mother had said.
In fact, she was right.
I was really pregnant.
The thought permeated my mind and riddled me with a thousand stabs to my chest as I dragged my luggage and aimlessly walked down the street.
Ho Cong and I got married after dating for a year. Even with the long time we have spent in each other’s company, we have yet to sleep together in the same bed.
I had always abstained from having intercourse, and so I never cared when my period was late. I did not know I was pregnant until I went to the hospital today.
I had no recollection of how it had happened.
Furthermore, I was a healthy, human being—not a hermaphrodite, so I could not have possibly conceived by myself.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not figure out the cause of my dilemma.
Another booming thunder echoed across the empty space, followed shortly by a harsh downpour.
I did not run in search for a shed to cover me from the torrent of water soaking me to my core. It was useless, given that fog had encased me in its prison in all directions, and I would only tire myself out needlessly if I were to sprint lugging this massive baggage behind me.
With no set destination in sight, I would still get drenched wherever I chose to go.
I trudged slowly in the middle of the road like an absolute madman, the unforgivable weather accentuating the turmoil of negative emotions churning inside me.
My family was not here, and neither of my parents resided in the city. I had nowhere to go unless I chose to get on the bus to the next town.
As I mused, a car stopped beside me. A man in a pristine suit and leather shoes got out of the car, holding a yellow checkered umbrella in his hand.
He came up to me to put me under its shade and asked with a smile, "Are you Ms. Xia Zhi?"
I nodded mutely in surprise. I did not recognize him.
"And, you are?" I responded in kind, bafflement marring my features.
"Please get in," he politely gestured to the car, "It's raining too much here.”
"I don't know you," I said bluntly, immensely suspicious of his actions.
"I know you don't know me, but no worries. I'm not a bad person."
"Does the bad guy ever say he’s a bad guy?"
His smile did not waver, instead, he glanced at my sopping figure, "You’ve ended up in this kind of shape now. What do you think I’d want from you?"
I met his stare with my own determined gaze. I did not care about what he wanted from me, I still would not get in the car no matter what he says.
Opting to ignore him, I dragged my suitcase as I went on. He followed me slowly with his umbrella, and much to my annoyance, so did the luxurious car.
"Ms. Xia, are you pregnant?" I abruptly halted and looked at him in shock.
How come everyone knew about my pregnancy?
He calmly stated afterwards, "Are you eager to know who the father is?"
Judging from his tone, he knew what he was insinuating clearly.
Nevertheless, I stayed alert, "I don't even know who he is myself. How do you know him?"
He regarded me inscrutably, "Just come with me. Besides, do you have any other place to go?"
I set my jaw at his confident words. I did not know who he is, but what he just said aroused my curiosity.
There was nothing that would be more refreshing now than knowing who the father of the baby in my womb was.
I wanted to resolve this unusual circumstance that I was forcibly thrown in.
I hesitated for a brief while, and when he saw my uncertainty, he took advantage of the situation and asked the driver to get off to put my suitcase in the trunk. He opened the door and politely invited me to get inside.
It was warm in the vehicle, and even though my clothes were wet and dripping all over the seat, the man did not mind at all. He handed me a cup of hot water and softly commented, "You’re pregnant, so please keep warm."
I nodded in thanks and held the cup in my hand, but did not dare to drink a sip from it.
Although he could not get anything from me at the moment, it did not hurt to be more cautious. There were too many perverts nowadays, after all.
I was already unlucky enough as it was. I did not want to attract any more bad luck.
After driving for over ten minutes, we arrived at a garden villa community downtown. I gaped, knowing that every inch of this wide expanse was worth an inch of gold. There was a time when I passed here with Ho Cong before, and he had enviously watched the majestic scenery before saying, "If I could afford to live here, it would be the best period of my life."
I was shaken out of my memories when the car stopped at the door of a three-storey villa with a large garden outside.
The stranger got out and pulled the door open for me. He pointed to the gate and said, "You will stay here until you give birth."
Befuddled, I asked, "What did you say?"
He grinned, "There’s a housekeeper and a younger maid, and they’ll be taking care of you."