Book Excerpt

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party

Ying Chang Compestine

Holt Books for Young Readers

Mother picked up a stack of old newspapers from beside

the stove. Carefully, she checked every page before

laying it around a stool, setting two sheets with Chairman

Mao's pictures on the counter. Months earlier, a nurse

had been sent to prison as an anti-Maoist just because

she lit her stove with a newspaper page with Mao's

photo.

I noticed a cloth rice sack in the corner next to some

herbal medicine bottles and folded clothes. "Why are you

packing, Mom?"

Without answering me, she led me to the stool and

raked her hard-toothed comb through my hair.

As each stroke yanked at my scalp, pain shot

through my mosquito-chewed body. I clenched my teeth,

not wanting to cry out. Were we going to a labor camp?

Before knowing that they kept Father in the jail nearby, I

had wished they would send us to his camp, wherever it

was. Now I didn't want to leave. I wanted to be here in

case they ever brought him back to the hospital.

Something cold drizzled through my hair. Within a

second, my scalp burned. "I hope this will kill the lice,"

Mother whispered. Her ox-bone comb scraped against

my raw scalp.

I couldn't bear any more of the pain and the itching.

"You are hurting me!" I shouted.

Mother stopped.

Stiffening my back, I waited for her to scold me for

raising my voice and showing disrespect.

A moment later, she whispered, "Ling, your hair is

too thick. The coal oil can't kill all the lice." She put down

her comb and left the room.

Didn't she hear me shouting? What was she

planning to do now?

Mother returned with a pair of scissors and Father's

razor. "We have to shave your head."

I jumped off the chair. "No! There must be another

way!"

She took a step back. "I don't know what else to do,

Ling. I used up this month's ration. I even emptied the

lamp. If I don't cut your hair, the lice will spread

throughout the apartment." She tilted the blue oil cup,

showing me it was empty. We received two cups of coal

oil each month. Without the oil, we'd have to live in the

dark for the rest of the month. Now I hated myself for

being caught and for falling asleep on the dirty mattress.

Seeing sadness in her eyes, I knew she wouldn't cut

my hair if she could find another way. As far back as I

could remember, she had told me that ladies should let

their hair grow. Ying Chang Compestine grew up in China and now lives in California with her husband and son. She is the author of the young adult story collection A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts, as well as several picture books for children and cookbooks for adults.