SHIFANG, Sichuan: Over a 100 tombs stood solemnly, under a gray sky filled with the mild chatter of birds, just a day before Tomb-sweeping Day on Saturday. From the hill one could see Hongbai town, which was devastated by last year's quake that killed more than one-sixths of its nearly 6,000 residents.
Zhang Deqiang, the former headmaster of Hongbai primary school, could not remember the number of times he had walked up to the hill cemetery from his pre-fabricated house at its foothills. Most of his students and colleagues lie buried there.
"I feel much calmer now," the 49-year-old said. But sometimes he became overwhelmed at the memory and wept.
Like when he bowed to touch a plaque that had, at its center, a picture of a lovely little girl in dancing costume. Murmuring to himself, Zhang recalled how he had taught the "vivacious and talkative little thing", nature study.
The girl student was but one among the 159 in Hongbai's primary and middle schools who were killed in the disaster. The town had 738 students during the time of the quake.
It took much time and effort before Zhang and other teachers convinced the parents not to spoil their kids. Today, he believes "the wounds are healing".
But not entirely, and certainly not for 36-year-old Deng Qingyan, who sobbed bitterly 10 km away in Yinghua town, as she made offerings for her daughter, a 14-year-old who died at her school during the quake.
Deng was lost in prayer as the candles flared in the wind, and the paper money burnt; not just for her lost daughter, but also for her deceased classmates.