The Statue of Buddha Living in Tile-roofed House
It was under the camphor tree at the entrance of the village that my grandfather chanced to meet my grandmother. One afternoon in the early autumn of that year, my then 25-year-old grandfather, as usual, slipped out of the house to enjoy the cool air under the shade of the camphor tree after lunch.
Grandfather was the only son for three generations. As the apple of the family’s eye, they felt he should get married and have children as early as possible to carry on the family line according to the local customs. However, my grandfather, being no more than 1.6 meters in height with a flat pumpkin-like face, a pair of small eyes of garlic chive width, and swarthy complexion, insisted on taking a woman like Xi Shi (a beauty in the late Spring and Autumn period) as wife, which seemed like reaching out and touching the moon in the eyes of others. His refusal of a dozen girls that family matchmakers introduced to him worried my great-grandmother a lot, who, like feeding an ever-hungry group of mice, kept nagging him everyday. But this exerted no effect on grandfather. He was nicknamed as “the sharp-eyed blind,” which meant he was always slowpaced towards everything. Even when dining, he picked up the chopsticks as if spearfishing in a field ditch, waiting for just the right moment to pick up a grain of rice.
The sun burned hot like a stove, and the camphor tree cast a mountain-like shade on the ground. Grandfather bent down to blow away the dust on the black flagstone, dusting it with his sleeves, and then sitting on the stone with a tilted body. The black flagstone was hot.
Almost everything in the world goes like this, what is coming will come at last. After sitting for a while, grandfather felt his foot on the stone got numb. He stretched himself, lifting the other foot propped on the ground to the stone while lowering the numb foot down to the ground. No sooner had he finished this series of actions in slow motion than a girl from the south with a load of firewood on her shoulder entered into his narrow field of vision.
Probably tired, the girl stopped under the camphor tree. She took the bundle off her shoulder. Then she bent down to free herself from under the firewood, balancing the carrying pole with two hands, standing in front of grandfather elegantly.
By judging from her skillful actions, grandfather affirmed that this girl came from the valley, for girls from farming families in neighboring villages would by no means take on such hasty manner.
The magpie perching on the branches had flown away, and the shade of the camphor tree was creeping to the east. Several pedestrians came to and fro in a hurry. When the girl freed up a hand to wipe the sweat off her face, the carrying pole begun to twist, and the stick that served as a prop started to tilt as well. The girl rushed to balance the stick, but it was too late: The girl had had her hands full, and the two bundles of firewood, like two mangy dogs, threw themselves onto the ground in tandem, raising a cloud of yellow dust all around.
The stick under the carrying pole flew through the air, rolling to grandfather’s feet.
The girl frowned at the two bundles of firewood lying on the ground, heaving a sigh. Beneath her thin eyebrows was a pair of grape-like eyes, round and light.
Grandfather felt a heat from head to toe, as if he were drinking a bottle of rice wine. He jumped up from the black flagstone, and for the first time in his life he acted at a lightning speed, striding to the girl while saying, “Take it easy, let me help you.”
The girl was panicking, for it was hard to put the load back on her shoulder by herself. She had seen that grandfather was sitting on the stone but was too shy to ask for help. Now grandfather’s offer of help was exactly what she wished for. In a moment she nodded with
consent, “Thank you!” she said.
Grandfather’s arms and legs were tired and soft, but he strained every nerve to help her uplift the firewood, his both hands supporting the carrying pole while his feet trembled. The girl bent down to stand under the carrying pole and straightened up and the load fell upon her shoulder steadily.
Grandfather delivered the stick to the girl, asking her, “Sell firewood?” His voice sounded like a mosquito’s buzzing.
The girl smiled to him in appreciation, nodding her head, “Yes.”
Grandfather still wanted to say something, but his throat was dry with nervousness. By the time the girl had walked
three or four steps away, he faltered, “Take……it……easy.”
The girl, burdened with a load of firewood on shoulder, walked towards the direction of the county market at a good pace. Grandfather saw her long braid rhythmically swinging on her rounded hips. Her figure gradually faded away, until completely disappeared from his narrow sight.
On the black flagstone, grandfather sat down then stood up again, repeating this five or six times. He kept running through the image of the pretty girl in his mind over and over again. His thoughts raced: Which village was she from? Was she married? Why did she sell firewood alone? Her family should be poor for she was wearing straw sandals, and her family couldn’t be far away from here since she was carrying a whole load of firewood.
Suddenly, an unimaginably queer idea dawned upon him like a streak of lightning: She would pass the camphor tree to go home after selling firewood. So, I would wait for her at here, then I could follow her secretly to find which village she lived in. If she was unmarried, I might ask a matchmaker to propose a marriage. We had cows, land, and a house, and we could prepare more betrothal gifts……we could take this slowly.
Having waited for three hours under the camphor tree, she walked past. He followed her covertly for eighteen li. It took grandfather one and a half hours to follow grandmother to her thatched cottage on the hillside in Xujiagou. Grandmother was just over eighteen when she married grandfather. The men in the village would rank newly- married brides according to five criteria: fair skin, black eyes, plump breasts, rounded hips, and long hair. Grandmother was ranked No.1 for ten years in succession.
The story of my grandparents under the camphor tree was not only a much-told tale in every household in Wanghu village, but also used as a vehicle to tease my grandfather.
(From Literature Port Magazine, Issue 3, 2017)