Pomegranate blossom shining red as fire,
Cui E is wearing a flower in her hair.
Young girls wear flowers as they please.
A married lady, I am teased.
With a basket on my arm,
I am off to pick some beans at the vegetable farm.
At that moment, I was supposed to be sitting on the first row in front of the stage closest to Cui. I was supposed to be watching Cui dancing and singing as she performed the local Liuqin Opera. What an experience it must be! Yes, even sweeter than jujubes. Alas, I had fallen in love with Cui. It was because of her that I was here, squatting on the jujube tree, picking fruit for her. I was here so that Cui could have some crispy and sweet jujubes for refreshments.
The only problem was, the tree I was in was not mine nor was it a community tree. It belonged to an elderly man called “grandpa goose.” Everyone in the village knew grandpa goose guarded the tree more carefully than a mother goose guards her babies. Anyone who happened to stop under his tree for any period of time would incur his terrifying stare and abusive words. No one dared touch the leaves, let alone the fruit.
At the moment, grandpa goose must be sitting upright in the central area of the audience, eyes glued to Cui Ying performing on the stage. Yes, grandpa goose is crazy about opera. But while he was enjoying the performance, his jujube tree was left unprotected. The unguarded jujubes were all waiting for me.
In fact, at first I had gone to watch the opera when the show began. Cui E’s husband Chen Shiduo started the performance to the music with a prelude of drums and gongs. The man playing the role of Chen was old and ugly, and sang like a drake. I was so furious when I saw him that I had an irresistible urge to knock him down and replace him in playing the role. In this way, I could be the one performing with Cui Ying.
What made it unbearable for me was that Chen’s script seemed to go on without end. I was so frustrated that I could not wait for Cui Ying to come on the stage. As I was leaving, I glanced over and saw grandpa goose swaying back and forth to the music, totally mesmerized with the performance. What didn’t occur to his mind was that there was a 12-year-old boy on the way to attack his fortification.
As my pocket began to bulge, the sound of the gongs and drums became even more deafening. I thought the tempo of Cui Ying’s dancing must be getting faster, and grandpa goose was becoming even more captivated.
Suddenly without any forewarning, the door squeaked open. In the moonlight, I could tell it was grandpa goose returning home holding his small square stool in one hand. What a surprise! How could grandpa goose have come home at this moment when the performance was just approaching its climax? He must have been planning to catch me red-handed when I least expected it.
I held my breath, hoping that the dense leaves would conceal my thin body, and that grandpa goose wouldn’t see me thanks to his poor eyesight.
Whether he was cutting me some slack or his mind was still absorbed in the opera performance, grandpa goose passed by the tree and walked directly into his room.
I wasted no time in taking the opportunity to climb down. But being that I was so high up in the tree branches, I had to make my way down slowly aided only by the moonlight.
When I was about half way down, grandpa goose came out of his home, carrying a portable mattress. As he walked, he chanted lyrics from the opera.
Grandpa goose sang so joyfully, even singing more energetically than Chen Shiduo did in the opera. The only problem was, grandpa goose’s voice was unpleasant to listen to, even worse than the old and ugly Chen. In the darkness, grandpa goose was oblivious to my difficulty of being stranded up in his tree with a bag full of his prized fruit. I held on to the tree tighter, not daring to make the slightest move. But as time went on, the call of nature became even stronger, making desperate calls on my bladder.
Grandpa goose, unaware however of all of this, stopped under the tree and placed his mattress on the ground right under me. Yes, he lay down and gazed right up at me.
Maybe due to his poor eyesight he failed to see me in the tree. After a few minutes of resting there, he began chanting the lines from the opera.
At last, I could not hold on any longer and began to cry.
Unlike his usual response, grandpa goose said to me in a gentle tone, “Take it easy and come down, kiddo.” After saying those words, he got up from where he was, walked over to the tree, and helped me climb down.
Instead of scolding or beating me, he took all the jujubes out of my pocket and put them on his mattress. Then, he stopped me, took a bunch of jujubes in his hands and put them in my pocket. Finally, he patted me on my rump.
I ran away immediately.
I kept all of the jujubes for Cui Ying.
Early the next morning, I dashed over to the performing stage in the south of the village, only to find the village chief cleaning up the area.
“Where are the actresses and actors?” I asked. “They left early this morning,” the chief replied.
I stood there in amazement, all the while touching with my sweaty hands the warm jujubes in my pockets.
LI SHIMIN is a writer with the Baihuayuan magazine.