It was a small town where there were many Diaojiao houses, i.e. stilt houses, built along the stream. Formerly known as Ganlan houses, this kind of folk residence was said to have been designed to keep out vermin.
It was fun for people in the stilt houses to overlook the mountain and river landscapes enveloped in clouds and mist. The pillars and walls of these houses, row upon row of these houses, were mostly made of wood. The uneven cobblestone pavement of the streets added an antique feel.
At the entrance to this small town, there was old, thick rattan branches twisted around a rock.
Located in the mountains, the town had little traffic. With old cows leisurely grazing in the countryside, it seemed that time had stood still here; only footprints after footprints on the paths reminded people of the passing of days. As the only place without highways for a 100-mile radius, the town was so secluded that even the wind seemed to have a hard time penetrating the wall of time to bring in some freshness from outside.
In this small town lived a butcher, with thick arms and a round waist, who butchered a fat pig every day. After scalding and dressing the pig, he carried it to the city to sell, walking dozens of miles.
Somehow, his pork always sold well. He never charged high prices, nor did he cheat customers by skimping on weight, so his pork often sold out in less than two hours. Then, he would buy wine and daily necessities such as oil, salt, firewood, and rice, and go back along the mountain road. Of course, he also carried back things that people in the town asked him to buy, like oil or salt. These commodities were always wrapped and marked in envelopes.
Although he looked rough, he was very careful and never made mistakes. Moreover, he was quite strong, so he never got tired nor complained. Therefore, he was popular, and people in the town allowed him to kill their pigs. Day after day, he led a comfortable life.
The butcher had a table for slaughtering pigs that was handed down from his ancestors. It had short legs and a wide top. Although the table was cracked, bloodstained, and too old to show the wood’s quality, the butcher liked it very much because it was convenient to use.
One day, an old man came to the town dressed similarly to the local villagers. Wearing a blue shirt and a pair of traditional welt shoes with cloth soles, he, with long silver whiskers, looked like a sage of moral integrity. It was said that he was a traditional Chinese doctor who went back to his ancestral home to visit his relatives, and occasionally treated people in the town.
For some reason, he was interested in the butcher’s slaughtering of pigs. So, this old man lingered in the town for several days. In order to earn a living, the butcher did the slaughtering quite early, usually before dawn. As soon as the sun came up, the old man came and fixed his eyes on what the butcher was doing. Seeing this, the butcher laughed and said: “Excuse my poor skill. I’m not very professional.”
The old man said, with a smile: “You have done an excellent job and you are a nice guy. However, I didn’t come here to watch you do your job.”
The butcher was surprised: “Then, what are you looking at?”
The old man answered: “Your table.”
The butcher was confused. Then, the old man offered to buy the table. The butcher said: “It’s just a broken table. If you want it, take it.” The old man said: “I will thank you on behalf of the patients, and buy you a new table. I will come and take this old one away in seven days. You can still use it in the meantime.”
Seven days later, the old man came, but found that the butcher had bought a new table. The butcher said to him: “Since you need a table for the patients, how can I let you spend money on it. I will give you this new table.” Shocked, the old man asked the whereabouts of the old table. The butcher said: “I split it, and I saw a giant centipede hiding in it.”
Looking up to the sky, the old man sighed: “The people here are so simple and honest. I am ashamed of myself.”
Then, the old man said to the butcher: “The centipede was lying in the table for decades, and it fed on pig’s blood every day. It is more than 100 years old. You will find that there is a bead in its abdomen, called a Dingfeng Bead, which can cure hundreds of diseases. I was so selfish and afraid that I would be overcharged by you that I did not make this clear. Who knew that the Dingfeng Bead would be destroyed this way? Can there be any use of this new table for me? How can I heal the world and save people with my narrow mind? This is really embarrassing! I’ve been busy with my job all my life, but it seems I still lack professionalism.”
With these words, the old man left, laughing.
From then on, people often said that the butcher had lost out on a great fortune. Without any regret, he would just smile and say: “What is meant to come will come. What is meant to go will go. What is meant to be will always find a way.” He simply enjoyed his busy life butchering pigs and selling pork every day.
In contrast, the old man, upon hearing the comments, looked up to the sky and sighed: “I seek something that does not belong to me. Not only do I lack professionalism, but I have also been reading the classics and pharmacological books in vain. Even a butcher is better than me.”
So, the old man threw out his license and stopped practicing medicine.
Selected from Chinese Flash Fiction, compiled by China Flash Fiction Society, and published by New World Press.