I was watching a local opera on the village’s Willow Stage. Mom spotted me among the crowd and dragged me out.
At that moment, the last thing I wanted to do was leave. While mom tugged at my black cotton-wadded coat, I struggled to resist, all the while trying to still catch a glimpse of the opera.
On the stage, Cui Ying was about to make her appearance. Cui waved her long sleeves and began to sing. Her figure was dainty and slender. Her voice was mellow. The character she played was Cuier, the heroine of Having Noodles, a classic in the repertoire of the Liuqin Opera.
Liuqin Opera is also known as Lahun Tune, which is loosely translated as soul-enchanting tune. Cui was most enchanting. Her every move and slightest facial expression stirred up endless emotions inside of me. As a 12-year-old boy, I had fallen in love with 20-year-old Cui. Go ahead and laugh at me, but I was smitten.
Mom didn’t let go of me when we got out of the crowd. I thought I was in trouble and would be on the receiving end of a scolding and beating. However, unexpectedly mom whispered in my ear, “Go and get the three heads of black Chinese cabbage in the vegetable plot. Your uncle is visiting us for lunch. I am going to get some sesame oil,” she added.
Her words were like two shots: one shot of sedative and the other a stimulant.
I left the stage area with the shovel mom had given me, reluctantly leaving Cui’s enthralling singing and dancing behind. Of course, what mesmerized me even more was the black Chinese cabbage in our vegetable plot.
It was early spring and the weather was still chilly. Almost no vegetables grew besides the field of black Chinese cabbage which somehow survived the the harsh icy winter. I knew there were three healthy heads of cabbage covered by a plastic sheet at the far side of the fence. I also knew that they were exclusively reserved for entertaining my uncle. I knew something more: the reason mom reserved the three heads of cabbage for him was that he would give my family a goat.
When I brought the three heads of black Chinese cabbage home, mom had also come back with the sesame oil. I noticed five gleaming eggs lying on the hearth. “Dear uncle, hurry,” I whispered to myself, eagerly anticipating the meal mom would prepare.
The sun rose overhead, and mom had hot steamed buns ready. Then, she said to me, “Your uncle is supposed to be on his way. Let’s begin to cook the black Chinese cabbage.” I was so excited that I merrily bounced around the courtyard three times.
Mom is a deft hand when it comes to cooking. She cleaned the cabbage and broke the eggs into a bowl. As the burning firewood heated the pan, she poured in the oil and the eggs. The cabbage followed and the aroma drove me crazy.
As the colorful dish made with three heads of black Chinese cabbage and five eggs was served on the table, I ran to the gate repeatedly to check if my dearest uncle had arrived or not.
To our surprise, Dachai, one of our neighbors, brought a message that my uncle was not going to be able to make it.
The news upset mom, and she walked around the courtyard in circles with me, muttering, “Why couldn’t he make it?” Then, she walked backward in another three circles and said to herself, “The three heads of cabbage were grown by myself, but the five eggs are loaned.”
Watching mom trudging around the courtyard, I thought to myself, “As uncle cannot make it, it means my entire family could enjoy the delicacy of the three heads of black Chinese cabbage and five eggs.”
At that moment, a village chief ran into our house and gasped, “We made a mistake in arranging lunch for the troupe performing in our village. One performer is coming to your home for lunch.” Hearing that, mom was surprised and delighted, as if she had just received a blessing. She said happily, “Ok, ok. A dish of black Chinese cabbage and eggs is ready.”
I hid behind the door, and was so angry I could have bitten off an ear of the village chief. “If they sent one of the guys carrying the sedan chair, all of the cabbage and five eggs would be eaten up,” I thought to myself.
After a while, the village chief showed a performer in. Guess who it was? Cui Ying, the opera heroine that had mesmerized me. I thought it was planned by God. Cui’s elegant demeanor had me transfixed and each word from her mouth flowed into my ear like a glass of wine. I soon felt intoxicated.
Cui sat down at our dining table. I was about to sit beside her, when I was stopped by mom. She whispered, “You cannot go inside. You are a boy, and she is a lady.”
I didn’t follow mom’s logic.
After an exchange of greetings, Cui picked up the chopsticks but was stopped from eating by a noise from the yard. Just in time for lunch, my dearest uncle rushed in.
Ushering him into the room, mom asked my uncle to join Cui. I followed him in, but was once again stopped by mom. “Children are not allowed to eat with adults,” she ordered.
To my delight, when they left, I found the dish had not been touched.
LI SHIMIN is a contracted writer of Baihuayuan magazine.