This is a history of Mr. Kong.
It is 539 years before the common era, and Mr. Kong is visiting with his friend Yen. He is only 12 years old so he is not a great sage yet.
Mr. Kong sees his friend’s sister-in-law, Xue, collecting the leavings of Yen and Mr. Kong’s meal. Then he frowns.
“Ah,” he says.
Xue stops in her work. She looks at Mr. Kong. There is a horrible shame on her face, but she speaks with respect: “Yes, Mr. Kong?”
“You are collecting food for your mother-in-law,” says Mr. Kong. “Aren’t you?”
“Yes,” says Xue.
“Your finger is cut,” says Mr. Kong. “You are bleeding in the rice. I would chide you for your carelessness but I think you cut your finger with intention.”
“Please understand,” says Xue. “It is the request of my mother-in-law, Weng, who is very ill.”
Mr. Kong stands up.
“Forgive me,” he says, “But you must have misunderstood. It is good to show loyalty to your parents, but bad to feed them your blood.”
Xue works her mouth for a moment, considering and discarding several things to say. “I understand, Mr. Kong. I will take this to her without further bleeding and ask how I should proceed.”
But Mr. Kong’s curiosity is peaked. He says, “I will accompany you.”
And so he does.
“Forgive me this intrusion, dear Weng,” he says.
Weng coughs weakly. She shakes her head.
“Ah,” sighs Xue. “I have foolishly put blood in your rice, dear mother. I had thought you wanted it but Mr. Kong has corrected me. Now I do not know how to proceed.”
She passes the bowl of rice to Weng.
Weng glares at her.
“Stupid girl,” says Weng. She looks at Mr. Kong. She coughs. Then she says, “The chit is a miracle girl, Mr. Kong. Her blood heals all ailments. But now she has become stupid and cannot put the right amount of blood in my food. That is why I am so sick.”
Xue looks at Mr. Kong for help.
Mr. Kong frowns. Then he bows.
“I have misjudged this situation,” he says. “Though it is not my place, perhaps I could help her?”
Weng laughs a little. “You’re respectful,” she says. “You’ll make it all right by helping her.”
So Mr. Kong and Xue take their leave of Weng.
Mr. Kong draws Xue aside.
“You must respect your mother-in-law,” he says. “This is filial piety. To feed her the wrong amount of blood is not correct.”
Xue’s face is frozen. She shakes her head a little.
“Have you lost a necessary measuring cup?” suggests Mr. Kong, kindly.
“It does not work any more,” says Xue.
Mr. Kong hesitates.
Mr. Kong’s brow furrows.
“A righteous daughter heals her mother-in-law when she’s sick,” Mr. Kong points out.
Xue’s teeth are grit tightly together. Her hands clench and unclench fists at her sides. She looks down.
“I do not know how to do that,” Xue says.
Then Mr. Kong hears it.
It is not a sound, precisely, nor is it a feeling. It is an absence. It is an absence that hisses softly through the world.
It is because he is Mr. Kong and not someone else that he hears it.
It is because he is Mr. Kong and not someone else that he sets aside his chastisement of Xue when he hears that sound.
“If you do as your parents think best,” is all he says, “then who can criticize you?”
The sound is a mourning sound, thinks Mr. Kong.
It is the Fourth Kingdom of the world. The Third Tyranny has broken, and the gods are cast away.
Mr. Kong is one of the first men in that Kingdom to ask himself: Are we responsible for the miracles we cannot work?