By LI LINGLING
HAVING carefully watched over his flock all night, at dawn, Guyu eventually witnessed the birth of three lambs. However, it was hard to say whether he should be happy or worried. Being healthy and sturdy, all of the little lambs would be able to toddle shortly after they were born. Sadly, their mother was only able to feed two of them, with the third one having to be fed with cow milk.
Guyu did not raise any dairy cows. Buying milk for the newborn would be the only choice. But an increase in cost didn’t seem to be very economical.
When faced with dilemma like this in the past, Guyu used to sacrifice the weakest. Nevertheless, the infants this time were all in good physical condition, making it hard to get rid of one of them.
During his moments of hesitation, his neighbor Dongzhi dropped by.
“Would you like a baby lamb?” Guyu asked.
“Can it survive? It looks so tiny.” Dongzhi said, looking at the little lamb.
“Not a problem if you feed it carefully.”
“Then why don’t you just keep it?”
“I have too many sheep to take care of.”
So Dongzhi took the lamb home.
The next day, he came back with the lamb. Guyu thought he did not want it anymore. But Dongzhi told him that he had to look after his father in hospital and asked if Guyu could help him feed the lamb for a few days.
“No problem. Just leave it with me, you go take care of your father,” Guyu reassured him.
Dongzhi laid the lamb down and left for the hospital.
The little one had a good appetite which increased from three bags of milk per day to five. In just three days, the crate of milk that Dongzhi left at Guyu’s house ran out. Guyu had to buy another crate.
Dongzhi did not return from the hospital for three months, until his father recovered.
“Dongzhi, don’t you want to come to see your lamb?” Guyu asked.
Dongzhi came, discovering that his lamb had developed into a strong, fit animal. “It is so grown up!” he was amazed.
“Indeed, and it can eat grass now,” Guyu told him. “You can take it back home. It will be ready for sale in two months.”
“But I have to help my cousin build his house starting tomorrow. Could you raise the lamb for me for few more days until I come back from my cousin’s?” Dongzhi asked.
“No problem,” said Guyu.
After Dongzhi left, Guyu’s wife asked: “Are you serious? You’re going to let him take the lamb back?”
“Of course. It’s his lamb.”
“But it was raised by us.”
“It’s still his lamb.”
“But what about the money we’ve spent on the milk?” his wife continued. “We’ve bought 13 crates of milk, which each costs 35 yuan. If I do the math, that’s more than 400 yuan in total. Who should pay for that?”
“Dongzhi, of course.”
“But what if he refuses?”
Another fortnight passed and Dongzhi was still away. Guyu took care of the lamb with great patience. When grazing his sheep during the day, he would find tender grass particularly for the growing lamb. In the evening, he often fed it with more hay than any other sheep for fear that it would not gain weight. In addition, he often helped the small one to fend off the bullies. In Guyu’s eyes, he should look after the lamb well because it belonged to Dongzhi.
One day, a sheep dealer came to Guyu’s village and took a fancy to this lamb upon first sight. He asked Guyu to name a price.
“How much would you like to pay?” Guyu asked instead.
“600 yuan,” said the dealer.
Guyu denied his offer. The dealer took a look at the lamb again and said: “I can raise it to 700 yuan.”
But Guyu refused again.
“This is a favorable offer,” the dealer said, “I’m paying so much because I’d like to keep it as a ewe.”
Guyu replied: “This is an excellent lamb. It is worth a higher price.”
“You are good at bargaining,” the dealer continued, “All right, I’ll raise it to 800. No more than that.”
Guyu grinned, saying: “Could you give me a second? I need to ask my friend, for it is his lamb.”
He made a phone call to Dongzhi to ask for his opinion. Dongzhi kept silent for a moment and said: “It’s your lamb; the choice is up to you.” Therefore, Guyu told the dealer the lamb would not be for sale until Dongzhi returned.
The dealer left. Guyu’s wife suggested: “Maybe we should keep it as a ewe. Look, how strong it is! It must be very fertile.” But Guyu reminded her that it was Dongzhi’s sheep.
“But he’s never fed it. It’s US who have raised it!” yelled his wife.
“It’s still Dongzhi’s lamb!” Guyu insisted.
Dongzhi finally came back. However, he did not agree to take the lamb back.
“How could I accept it?” Dongzhi said. “Since he was young, I never had any part in raising it.”
“It is your lamb,” Guyu stressed and took the lamb to Dongzhi’s house. But Dongzhi gave it back. The two continued to take the lamb back and forth.
Guyu did not know what to do with the lamb. He would neither keep it nor sell it. At last, he decided to slaughter it, even though he felt as upset as his wife.
He took the meat to Dongzhi’s house. Later, Dongzhi came to give him some money for the meat. Though Guyu firmly said no, Dongzhi left the money resolutely. Looking at the money, Guyu suddenly felt painful. He regretted that he had given the newborn lamb to Dongzhi.
In that instant, their decades of friendship was ruined by a lamb.
LI LINGLING, often uses the pseudonym Tiankongdetian, has received numbers of awards for her published works.