She watched until the swan disappeared around the bend, then crossed to the grand Gothic building on the opposite bank.
Two years earlier, when she first arrived in Scotland, Tianyi had been enrolled in Ferguslie Park Public School where she developed a passion for reading. She progressed quickly from primary school texts to books like Alice in Wonderland, and in her last six months had devoured Little Women and To Kill a Mockingbird. Religious observance at the school was a compulsory part of the curriculum and was based on the Christian ethic. Her history teacher, Miss Hughes, also doubled as an instructor of religion and had brought her class to visit the Abbey of Paisley to take advantage of the synergy between her two subjects. Tianyi had absorbed every detail.
Built in the twelfth century, the imposing grey-stone building with tall arched windows and a square tower perched midway along its roof was one of the holiest and most historic buildings in Scotland. After that first visit, Tianyi had come here often to pray for the souls of her family.
She pushed on the massive wooden door that led into the nave and entered.
Her footsteps echoed from the high vaulted ceiling, and she sensed the presence of the Christian God she had learned about at school. The Sunday service wasn’t for another hour and the church was empty save a few tourists listening to the organ music and admiring the intricate carvings on the ancient Celtic cross. Tianyi walked along the central aisle past the choir stalls until she reached the East window depicting the ascended Christ. Her heart sang with compassion. A vision of the loving Father holding his crucified Son in his lap filled her mind, and she knelt to pray. Dear Father; please take my family into your arms. They are not Christian, but they are good people. She did not consider the fact that she had prayed the same prayer to the Lord Buddha earlier that morning as an issue. As far as she was concerned, all deities were joined in spirit, and by praying to more than one, there was a better chance of being heard.
She moved on until she came to the tomb of Marjory Bruce, the Princess of Scotland and daughter of Robert the Bruce, the famous heroic king. As was often the case, the sarcophagus was decked out in wildflowers, and Tianyi added her posy to the floral display. After The Ugly Duckling, the story of Marjory Bruce, who died nearby after falling from her horse, and whose unborn child survived to later become king, was her favorite. It reminded her of the folktales of her childhood in Jilin.
Tianyi sat on a nearby chair, appreciating the delicate colors radiating through the stained glass windows onto the bluestone walls and flagstones around the tomb. It was peaceful to sit here amongst the noble people, warriors and abbots of the past, but the old church also had a dank smell about it that reminded her of the boat.
Her mother had protested the vessel was too small, little more than a wooden fishing trawler, but her father replied she knew nothing of the sea, and the captain had assured him he had made the journey many times without incident. ‘We have no choice in any case,’ he had said. ‘I have paid the money. Either we go now or we stay and starve.’
Her mother gripped Tianyi’s hand so tightly she squirmed. Her younger brother Shiou was hanging on to his father’s coat, wiping the tears from his eyes, and trying to appear brave.
Tianyi thought she would always remember that moment: the despair of her mother, and the resolution that shone from her father’s eyes.
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