Scarring Jasmine-Chapter Three Lady

03/28/2024 Thursday 43-52F Cloudy

Jasmine’s grandmother died one early Spring. That year, Jasmine was seven.

Everyone thought that since the grandmother had struggled through a cold Winter, at least in the following three seasons she would be safe. Thus, on a warm Spring day, per the grandmother’s request, the servants sat her outside her room under the sun. Then they left to do their work; when they finally remembered her and returned, the sun was long gone, and the wind had risen. The grandmother, sitting in her rocking chair, dozed off.

She must have caught cold. That evening, she had a fever; and three days later, she passed away. 

At the funeral, neither of the two grandchildren cried despite what Shen had told them in advance. Shen felt that she had lost face in front of the guests; she took her children to a room, commanded them to kneel down and hold up their palms. Since Mumei was the elder, she used a bamboo plank to beat on his palms first, scolding: “Have you forgotten my words? Now you no more have grandma, why shouldn’t you cry?” 

The plank was so hard that, only after two or three whacks, Mumei’s palms became red. Tears appeared in his eyes, then dropped on his front placket. Shen felt satisfied. 

She then turned to Jasmine, demanding: “Cry!” 

“Wa!” Jasmine burst out crying, as if she could feel the pain on her own palms. 

“Just like that! Don’t stop!” Shen relieved, “Now you two can go back to the funeral!”

Jasmine had never asked her brother why he didn’t want to cry for their grandmother; but to her, grandmother was no more than an old lady who upon seeing A Feng trim Jasmine’s fingernail, would shout: “Stop doing it to that little devil! It will bring us misfortune!” A Feng just smiled and continuing to do what she was doing. 

No-one took grandmother’s words seriously. Sometimes when grandmother was in a good mood, she would walk around in the main house like a boss lady, giving the maids and servants orders. But once they were dismissed, Shen would tell them privately: “Don’t bother, she just feels bored and wants to find trouble!” 

If Jasmine happened to pass grandmother’s window, or coincidentally grandmother saw her in the garden, she would wave her hand and call: “Come here!” Jasmine walked to her and asked: “How are you, grandma?” Grandmother would answer in her usual way: “You must tell your mother that I am still alive! I know what’s in her mind. I spend my time chanting the scripture, but my eyes are not blind!” 

Jasmine didn’t understand why grandmother always complained. Was it because she was too old and weak to attract other’s attention? However, grandmother failed to sense what was in Jasmine’s mind; she squeezed Jasmine’s cheek, blaming: “You little devil, why are you so pretty? When you grow up, every man will want you. The fortuneteller warned us--You will cause troubles to this household, and yourself!”

Jasmine was so fearful when she first heard that. She cried to her mother, who later that afternoon got into an argument with grandmother. 

“Do not call my daughter little devil! She is your granddaughter as well! We are not a peasant family now!” Shen criticized. 

“Peasant? Yes, I am a peasant, my son was a peasant too, so why did you marry him?” Grandmother sneered, “Don’t forget, you were the one who brought that fortuneteller here! If you don’t want people to say it, dare not do it in the first place! My son can marry more than one woman, but he has only one mother!” 

Shen couldn’t win over the old woman, thus she left angrily. Jasmine heard the whole argument in her room and shivered. She regretted having told her mother about what grandmother said to her; meanwhile, she was also afraid that in the future once grandmother saw her again, she might use the cane to knock her head, as she used to do to the wild cat. Therefore, Jasmine tried to avoid seeing that old lady. However, this concern never materialized. On those unavoidable occasions when she did meet grandmother, the old lady only squeezed her cheek, complained about her beauty, and called her “little devil”.

Two months after the burial, Mumei took grandmother’s room as his study. Nobody called Jasmine “little devil” anymore; and the fortuneteller’s words also faded away. Shen felt much more content, even though she was the one that cried hardest at the funeral. 

Unfortunately, Jasmine’s childhood ended that Summer. 

One noon, Jasmine caught a butterfly in the garden. She was so excited, cupped it in her palms and rushed to Mumei’s study to show it to him. To her surprise, there she met her father as well, who was checking Mumei’s homework. Jasmine stopped running right away and stood by the desk holding her breath. 

Bai pretended not to see her. When he finally finished with Mumei, he turned to Jasmine, asked: “What’s in your hands?” 

“Father, it is a butterfly. I just caught it on the jasmine tree.” Jasmine opened her palms but found the butterfly dead. “It is dead.” Jasmine murmured, looking at it with a great sorrow. 

“Come here.” Bai called. Jasmine walked to her father. Bai picked up that dead butterfly and threw it in the wastepaper bin. “Jasmine,” the father spoke, “you just had your seventh birthday; you are a big girl now. No more catching butterflies, ok? I am planning to send you to school this Fall; meanwhile, I have found a tutor for you. She will conduct your manners training, as well as teach you other merits that a lady should have. She represents me; you must listen to her and learn humbly from her!”

Jasmine was shocked. She didn’t know whether she should feel excited or not, but one thing for sure she should do first was obey: “Yes father. I will.”

Bai left. Jasmine found the butterfly’s dead body in the bin and put it back in her palm. Then she asked Mumei: “Elder brother, is school an interesting place to go?” 

Mumei gave Jasmine a significant smile: “I can’t tell. Girl’s school should be different from mine. You will find out yourself.” 

Jasmine buried that butterfly under the jasmine tree.

Thus, that Fall Jasmine entered the best girl’s school in Suzhou; and on weekends, she took home classes from her tutor. Unnoticed, another ten years had gone by. As Bai hoped, Jasmine grew up into a real lady. At school, she was a good student—She never went to her classes late, nor forgot to do her homework, nor had any unhappy relationship with other girls; at home, she was a good daughter, sister, and mistress—She obeyed her parents’ will completely and without question. Not one ill word could be expected from her mouth, and she treated the servants and maids with a kind heart yet the dignity of her position.

In other’s eyes, Jasmine was flawless: She had the most charming face in this county and held a high reputation--Quiet and polite, elegant and empathetic. Her feet weren’t bound which granted her more freedom; she received modern education, but seldom socialized in the latest girls’ fashion. She loved staying home, reading, embroidering, and sometimes playing Guqin, a traditional seven-string instrument. 

Bai was highly delighted. She didn’t fail him; she was even beyond his expectations. “She deserves the best husband.” Bai thought. 

Along with Jasmine’s growing age, Bai started to think about her marriage. No doubt Jasmine’s beauty was her ace, which could make any man on the street stop walking and become lost; beside that beauty, she was obedient as well. Perhaps she was too obedient-- Bai worried that she might be at a disadvantage in her future marriage. “She should marry a man with strong character; a man who cares about her but not her face or dowry.”

But was there such a man? Bai’s answer was positive. In fact, more than ten years before, he already had an ideal son-in-law. The pity was, in recent years, that young man’s family’s fortune and position had declined significantly.

“Should I marry my daughter to him?” Bai kept asking himself. 

On the one hand, yes, that young man still was a sophisticated man; one year later, he would graduate from college in Shanghai. So regardless of what profession he would choose, feeding a family shouldn’t be a problem; in addition, Bai, as the father-in-law, could always support him. However, on the other hand, Jasmine was the only daughter Bai had; what bothered him more was that she was too gorgeous to marry into a declined family. 

Bai thought: “If that’s the case, she will be wronged and wasted. As a father, shouldn’t I do my best to help my daughter gain a more prosperous life?”

Jasmine was Bai’s priceless masterpiece; she was polished almost solely by him. Therefore, it was Bai’s great responsibility to marry his daughter well. A girl was different from a man: Whatever a man did would be excusable; his mistakes and losses could be compensated. While a girl’s youth lasted only few years; her future relied on men. She couldn’t afford to make even one small mistake or else, she had to carry that blemish for her whole life. 

Perhaps that was why Bai didn’t feel any particular difficulty to arrange Mumei’s life or marriage. At the age of fifteen, Mumei started to get involved in Bai’s fabric business; after graduating from high school, Mumei right away took the second leading position in Bai’s shops. 

Privately, Bai admitted that Mumei was a good son, a good manager, but lacked the sharp eyes of a good businessman. Some talent you could only get from God. Bai accepted it. After all, what Bai already had was enough for Mumei to handle, to live a comfortable and easy life; the son really didn’t need to be as smart and work as hard as the father. When Mumei was twenty one, he got married. The bride, Gao, was chosen by Bai. 

Somehow Bai was disappointed about this marriage. Gao was the niece of Bai’s acquaintance; and that acquaintance begged Bai’s friend to make this match between Mumei and Gao. Considering all three parties’ faces, and that Gao was also from a decent merchant family, Bai agreed. But Mumei didn’t like it—He fell in love with a street vendor’s daughter. 

That was Mumei’s first protest against his father. Bai was angry; his authority in the family had never been challenged beofore. Thus, he locked Mumei in the study for seven days; and paid off someone in the police to make up excuses to eliminate that street vendor from the area. 

When Mumei regained his freedom, he could not find that girl and her family’s booth. He became ill. One month after his recovery, he married Gao. It wasn’t his choice—Financially he depended on his father, and mentally he wasn’t courageous enough to disobey.

Gao was a superficial woman who couldn’t get along with anyone in Bai’s house, in particular Shen, her mother-in-law. And for whatever reason, she was jealous of Jasmine, even though Jasmine was harmless to her. 

Mumei never liked Gao. As time went by, he came back home later and later. Bai could force Mumei to marry a wife but couldn’t force him to love her. Gao sensed her husband’s neglect right away. In fear of her parents-in-law, she had to suppress her annoyance, and became more insecure. 

“Well, I was too careless about my son’s marriage,” Bai sighed. That made him all the more determined to look for a perfect family for his daughter, “I will keep an eye on that young man; but meanwhile I shouldn’t close the door to the others.” 

Without knowing Bai’s plan for her, Jasmine lived a simple yet positive life. She loved her family, including her new sister-in-law; she loved to go to school, there she could learn something no-one ever told her: Where she was living wasn’t the center of the world, in fact nowhere could be the center because the earth was round. Not everyone was like her, black haired and yellow skinned, some of them were blond, some were tan colored. They lived in their own land, speaking different languages. More than eighty years ago, her country was forced open by the Western invaders. Since then, the once before richest nation on earth and its folks were in extreme poverty. She knew that her life was comfortable because her father was a successful businessman, and she lived in a peaceful city; but elsewhere in her country, people died from endless famines and wars…

She learnt eagerly, deep with sympathy; she became quieter and humbler, and started to daydream about the outside world—She had never left her hometown; the only person she knew who had travelled was Shanyuan Xiao.

Thinking of Shanyuan, the light in Jasmine’s eyes softened. Shanyuan’s father Xiao and Bai had been very close to each other for many years; Shanyuan and Mumei were good friends. Because of these relationships, Jasmine knew Shanyuan very well. They used to see each other either in Bai’s house or on the street. And every time they met, Shanyuan would bow to her first, then speak: “Miss Bai, long time no see. How are you?” His voice was soft; his slightly slanted eyes, twinkling under that pair of thick eyebrows, were like Spring pools set by the mountain.

How long hadn’t she seen him? She calculated. Yes, about ten months. Last time she saw him was on the Lantern Festival Day; she came out with her family to watch the lanterns, and they met on that crowded street. He wore a long grey gown, looked thinner, taller, and more handsome. Shen invited him to come to the house for some sweet rice dumplings, but he declined. Jasmine felt a little disappointed because during that whole conversation, he didn’t speak to her at all, which was understandable—Her mother, brother, sister-in-law all were there, and the street was noisy. Even if he could find a chance to talk with her, what did she expect him to say?

He carefully arranged his own life. It was that day Jasmine heard him say that he planned to go to Europe for further education once he graduated from university in Shanghai. She still remembered those words; in fact, she remembered everything concerning him. Shanghai, university, Europe, all sounded like a dream. Only one year away, he would be on the other side of the world; while she, where would she be? 

She worked hard at her schooling; she hoped that she could follow his path and enter a college in Shanghai as well. In that case, their worlds wouldn’t be so far apart. But would her father agree?

She had never said anything to her father about college. It was too luxurious a dream, not because of the expense, but because she was a girl. Nobody ever discussed her future with her, but she did see her father turn down quite a few marriage proposals to her by excusing: “She is still too young. I won’t consider her marriage until she graduates from high school.”

So perhaps her college dream wasn’t impossible. This thought encouraged her; she spent more and more time on her studies. Her mother complained: “Gee, we never expect to have a female scholar in this household, why do you take it so seriously? Relax, dress yourself prettier. To marry a good man is our goal.”

A good man. If there was a man who could be considered good, then it had to be Shanyuan. She blushed. She had received a lot of love letters from her classmates’ brothers and friends; sometimes even strangers stopped her on the street and handed her letters, but she read none of them. She was reluctant to admit that she was really looking forward to a letter from a man called Shanyuan, yet she was also afraid to receive it. Her marriage wasn’t her decision. She should avoid any intimate personal relationship with a man, even though he was her family’s friend, and honorable. 

Whether fortunately or not, she never received such a letter.

Jasmine sighed. She walked to the mirror and took off its silk cover. From there she saw the fairest buddha’s face: The eyebrows were shaped like crescents; the eyes were glittering ponds after a rain; the lips were two pieces of the most delicate peach blossom petals; and the thin pale cheeks bore a touch of rosy.

She wasn’t a “little devil” at all as her grandmother used to call her—She had completely transformed into a glamorous lady.

Where was her he?


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