So for the last year I have been writing, editing, tweaking, sweating, dreaming, writing, editing, tweaking some more….and finally I can introduce to you the fruits of my efforts (and those of the team behind me).
I do hope you will be in love with this family as much as I am.
The Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters
Having survived torture and imprisonment during China’s Cultural Revolution, Benfu escaped to find love with his compassionate and beautiful Calla Lily. Together they build a fulfilling life around the most menial of jobs—Benfu’s work collecting trash. As he sorts through the discards of others, he regularly discovers abandoned children. With unwavering determination, he and Calli spend decades creating a family of hand-picked daughters that help heal the sorrow and brighten their modest home. But all is not perfect and when crisis threatens to separate their family, Benfu—or possibly his band of headstrong daughters—must find a way to overcome the biggest hardship yet.
Inspired by a true story, and set against the backdrop of a country in transition, The Scavenger’s Daughters is a sweeping present day saga of triumph in the face of hardship, and the unbreakable bonds of family against all odds.
The Scavenger’s Daughters is Available for pre-order NOW at Amazon!
And…..Coming in December 2013…
Book Two in the Tales of The Scavenger’s Daughters,
Scroll down for a Sneak Peek of The Scavenger’s Daughters:
Beitang City, Wuxi, China, 2010.
On a cloudy day in early January, Benfu stood outside his house and held the red pail under the spigot, waiting for it to fill. Today was a good day; when he pumped the handle the old pipes didn’t moan and rattle too much before deciding to cooperate. But he didn’t mind it so much either way—like him, the piece of iron was ancient but stubbornly kept going. And anyway, they had a history together and if a man could feel affection for a thing, then Benfu absolutely did. A silly fondness, but there all the same, for it was the very same temperamental water spigot that had been the matchmaker that brought him and his precious Calli together so many years before.
When the water reached the top, he pushed the pump handle down and carried the pail across the street to the old widow’s house. Quickly he filled the tins for her chickens and used the last of the water on her pot of herbs hanging in her window box. He looked at the chicken droppings and considered cleaning it up, but that was a task Widow Zu usually took on and he didn’t want to deprive her of that joy. And anyway, nothing was worse than the smell of chicken dung on a man’s hands.
Chuckling, he returned to his yard across the street, got on his bike and headed out for the day. Twenty minutes later, he pushed his rusted three-wheeled bicycle slowly up the steep hill and turned the corner. Around him the streets were coming alive. Morning vendors were opening their stalls and stacking displays of fruits and vegetables, sweepers cleaned the sidewalks, and early commuters bustled to work. As he strained to push the bike, the cars, electric scooters and other bicycles rushed past him. Most paid him no attention, for he was just one of many laborers out at the crack of dawn trying to get an early start to the day. With his weathered brown face and deep wrinkles he blended in, but unlike some of the men his age he passed who were doing their morning Qigong exercises or sitting at makeshift tables’ playing cards, Benfu still had a job to do. Even though he had lived on earth for over six decades, he could not retire.
He struggled the last few feet, listening to his water canteen bumping against the metal bar it was tied to and thought about how much the city had changed over the years. At least his side of Beitang City—Old Town Wuxi as some called it—still kept some of the old charm, while new Wuxi had grown with businesses and even many foreigners coming in to make their mark. Benfu was a transplant—he’d been sent to Wuxi as a teenager by his parents to escape the danger of Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. It was for his protection, they’d told him as they cried and bid him goodbye. What they had thought would be a better life for him was a time of trauma and hardship. And though he’d never intended to stay for so long, fate had intervened and Wuxi had become his home. But that was long ago and he’d survived many more hard times since then. Times that were better left unspoken of, times that made a day like today feel like child’s play.
At the top of the hill, Benfu mounted the bike again and with shoulders bent over the handlebars to add more weight, he pedaled slowly. He was already tired and that irritated him. He’d always been known to be bigger and stronger than most, but for the last year he just couldn’t shake the cough and heavy feeling that had enveloped him. Passing the line of street breakfast stands, he winced at the sudden squeaking from the rusty back wheel of his bicycle. As it began to bump and turn haphazardly, he hoped it would last the day, at least until he could ask his daughter to take a look to see if she could repair it. If she could, that would save him some valuable coins that he could avoid paying the local repairman. He was lucky to have the transportation, and the three-wheeled bike was fitted with a makeshift cart on the back, allowing him a way to haul things home without carrying them in a basket on his back as he’d done for years before.
Benfu passed the cigarette store and for a moment he fought the sudden craving that overtook his thoughts. His wife had finally got her way when he’d stopped smoking a few years before, but there were days he could almost taste the sweet tobacco, he wanted it so badly. A welcome distraction, he heard his friend call his name from where she perched on the next front stoop, peeling peanuts. His mouth watered at the sight of the treats in her bowl. He would have liked to be able to bring some peanuts home to add to their own simple dinner. Occasionally the woman saved a small bag behind her to hand over to him, but not today. He had many friends in the neighborhood and one had even complimented him long ago by telling him he was a big man with an even bigger presence. He didn’t quite know how he had a big presence but it had sounded nice. Always known to be soft-spoken and one to choose his words wisely, when he had something to say others usually listened.
“Zao, Benfu. Cold day, eh?”
Benfu raised his hand to the woman and smiled. “Good morning to you, too, Lao Gu. Yes, very cold. But don’t worry, spring is coming soon!”
These days he was so used to being cold that he no longer thought much about it. At least there hadn’t been any snow this season—saving him the trouble of carrying his load when he couldn’t get the cart through. Sure his cough was worse in the cold, his old joints ached, and his gnarled hands cramped from the hours spent wrapped around the handles, but instead of dwelling on it he chose to focus on other matters. Matters like finding enough discarded items to earn enough for a day of meals for his family and if he was lucky—enough to put some savings toward their monthly rent bill. But first, his self-imposed obligation needed to be fulfilled for the day.
“Zhu ni haoyun, Benfu.” She wished him luck and went back to peeling. No small talk was needed because there wasn’t anything new to discuss. They’d been passing each other for the last fifteen years and only stopped to catch up every month or so, unless either of them had news worth interrupting their chores. The woman was widowed and Benfu had known her husband back in the hard days. But those were times they didn’t talk about.
Benfu continued with his cart and hoped his morning would be uneventful. He didn’t wish to find anything out of the ordinary as he turned past the block of buildings. He really didn’t. He always wished to find nothing except trash. But sometimes something other than trash found him.
Now in the alley between two buildings, he guided his bike around soiled refuse bags and a line of jumbled bicycles, then heard the first mewl coming from a pile of boxes. He hoped it was nothing but a new kitten, strayed from its mother. That would be the best scenario, for Benfu could help it find the rest of the litter and then go on with his day as usual. But the closer he got to the huge pile of trash, the more that hope faded. He’d heard this same sound before and he scolded himself that he should have known the difference from the start.
Sighing, he stopped the bicycle and climbed down. He walked over to the pile of cardboard boxes. Lifting them carefully and tossing them aside one by one, he dug down until he finally found the right one. As he paused to look at the labeling on the side of the cardboard, a couple at the end of the alley stopped and pointed at him, then moved along.
Gently he picked up the box and carried it to his cart. He carefully set it on top of the pile of trash he had collected on the way over. Opening the two flaps, he peered into the box and immediately connected with tiny dark eyes.
“Aiya,” he muttered softly, so as not to scare her. The baby was very young—maybe only a few hours or possibly a few days. She lay in the box fully unclothed save for a scrap of a red shirt with frog ties and a few balled up newspapers scattered around her. Benfu wrinkled his nose as the smell of urine wafted up from the soaked box. He noticed her umbilical cord still hung from her tiny button, already turning dark from the lack of sustenance running through it. From the weak sound of her mewling and the mottled color of her skin, she didn’t have much time left.
Faster than most would think an old man could move, Benfu struggled out of his worn red overcoat and laid it on the ground in front of him. He then lifted the infant and set her on top of it. As he knelt down to wrap the material around her, he ignored the throbbing in his knees and rubbed her tiny feet and hands. He counted under his breath as he quickly massaged each petite toe and finger. While working to get the blood running in her body again, his eyes met hers and held.
With the surprise of being suddenly discovered, she had quieted and serenely stared up at Benfu, her dark eyes twinkling at him. She was beautiful, this one was, and he wondered what sort of ailment she might have that would have prompted her parents to relinquish her to a new fate.
“Hello, nuer. I’ve come to take you home. Just hold on and we’ll get you all fixed up. And we’ll add one more scavenger’s daughter to the world, yes we will.” He wrapped the coat all around her, making sure to double the sleeves around her icy feet. He gently laid her back in the box and after checking to make sure he had made a sufficient tunnel through the material for her to breathe through, he closed the flaps again. Looking around, he hoped the remaining cardboard would be there when he returned, but for now he needed to hurry.
Turning the bicycle around he shivered from the sudden gust of wind that blew through his clothing. He climbed aboard and slowly began to pedal, willing the stiffness in his knees away. As he picked up the pace and began his journey home, he sighed and looked over his shoulder again at the box his newest treasure was nested in. He ignored the nervous fluttering in his stomach that reminded him how hard it would be to feed one more hungry mouth, and instead gave thanks to the Gods that he had found the baby girl before it was too late.