Scarring Jasmine-Charpter One Fortuneteller

03/14/2024 Thursday 42-76F Mostly Sunny

Six a.m. June sixth in Suzhou, a baby girl was born in Bai’s house. When the midwife called Bai, who was pacing back and forth anxiously, to come inside, and handed him the bundled infant, she couldn’t help praising: “Congratulations master Bai, what a beautiful baby! I am not lying to you; your new girl is definitely the prettiest one I ever saw!” 

A proud smile arose on this strict man’s face: Beautiful or not, he couldn’t tell yet; but it was his second time to be a father, and this time, it was a daughter. Wasn’t it great?

Bai held the infant in his arms, watching her soft pink face. A loving feeling occupied his whole heart. He already had a son, who was four years old; so this time he longed for a daughter. In his opinion, a family would be complete only if it had both sons and daughters-- that was the traditional thought in China. As a traditional man, of course Bai entirely agreed. Men were like mountains, and women were water; men were sun, and women were moon; men should be strong and confident, while women should be tender and obedient—It was the formula that both those wise men who died centuries before and his ancestors taught him; it was the formula that made the world function.

“One more son would be good; but a daughter is even better.” Bai thought. His eyes were still fixed on the infant, “I will hold a big full-month birth party for her; I will show people that we, the Bai family, will treat the son and daughter equally; I will send her to school to receive education, like those modern people do; then I will find a decent husband for her, so all her life she won’t experience any hardship or worry. She will be a lady, respectful and graceful.” Bai made his wishes.

But the first thing that Bai needed to figure out was the baby’s name—He had a few ideas in his mind, yet still couldn’t decide which one to use. To him, none of them was good enough to match his daughter. She was lovely, and precious; the name would be her symbol so when people called it, they could feel her glamour. “I am not in a hurry.” Bai comforted himself, “I have a few weeks to go then I will name her at the full-month birth party.”

At last, the birth party day came. That morning, in the presence of Bai’s mother and Shen, Bai’s wife, their wet nurse dressed her young mistress with red floral embroidered silk clothes and shoes. Shen was delighted, she nodded her head and spoke to her husband’s mother: “People say that the new embroiderer has smart hands. It is true. Look at the clothes she embroidered. She very well earned her reputation.” 

Then she turned to the wet nurse: “A Feng, master should be in the garden right now. Take the young mistress there and let him have a look.”

A Feng obeyed and found Bai in the garden. “Master,” she bowed to him, carrying the baby in her arms, “Madam asked me to show you the young mistress’ new outfit for today.” 

Bai withdrew his eyes from the blooming flowers and started to examine his daughter: Her skin was snow white; her cheeks were plump and rosy; her dark eyes were as clear as deep pools and as sparkling as a starry sky-- and that pair of marvelous eyes were smiling at him. Bai reached out his hands for the baby, “I think it’s ok.” He commented, squeezing the baby’s cheek. However, he was yet unsure about the name. 

The guests began to show up in early afternoon, along with their gifts for the baby such as silk fabrics, gold bracelets etc. Among all the gifts, the most special one was a jasmine tree—It was about six feet tall, planted in a large black ceramic pot. And all over its branches, thousands of little white flowers were blooming, delivering their pleasant fragrance. 

“Gorgeous!” Everyone exclaimed. 

Xiao, Bai’s best friend, the one who brought the tree, explained to Bai and the other guests: “This tree grew in Guangdong Province and was particularly cared for and trimmed by the best gardener there. Its flower season can last from May to November, and each year it can flower at least three times. I was lucky because it just arrived the day before yesterday; otherwise, I would have to come to this party only with one mouth carried on my two shoulders!” 

All the guests and the host laughed. A Feng carried the baby to the tree, and held her little index finger to touch the flower buds, saying: “Young mistress, isn’t this tree lovely?” 

Bai looked at them. Suddenly an idea occurred to him: Why not call his daughter Jasmine? This tree which he received as his daughter’s full month birth gift must be a hint from God. Jasmine Bai, which meant snow white jasmine flower, represented purity, elegance, and humility. “Peony is too gaudy; roses are too ordinary; surely Jasmine is a good name for my daughter, the ideal image of a lady.” 

While Bai was figuring, Xiao interrupted him: “Hi brother, you haven’t told us your daughter’s name. What is it?” 

Bai smiled. He picked a jasmine flower from the tree then handed it to Xiao: “How about Jasmine? I should thank you for your inspiration.” 

“Pretty!” Xiao thumbed up, and put that jasmine flower in the baby’s palm, “Now, it is yours.”

While the men were busy talking, Shen’s sister-in-law pulled Shen’s sleeve and signaled Shen to go with her. They walked to the back corridor facing the garden. 

“I know a fortuneteller; she is very smart.” The sister lowered her tone, “I won’t tell you the details, but the things which she told me did happen later. Your daughter was born on June sixth, it was a double-lucky-number date; and she is a beauty already. Why not invite this fortuneteller to come and find out what her future is? In a family like yours, a girl’s luck won’t be bad; and if you don’t like what she says, then just take it as a joke. But one thing I can guarantee you: Her mouth is tight; she won’t tell others a word of what she tells you.”

“Really?” Shen was interested. 

“Yes, don’t you trust me?” the sister questioned, “Rumor has it that the newly enthroned little Emperor’s future Empress would be born this year and in this area. Do you know why? Because it is a chicken year, and chicken also represents phoenix. Is it possible that perhaps your daughter will be the Empress?” 

Shen burst out laughing and gently beat her sister-in-law’s back with her fists: “I know that you are teasing me, sister. I almost believed you!” 

The sister also laughed. She escaped to the door and winked at Shen: “I am not joking, but that fortuneteller is absolutely incredible! She is in Suzhou these days; you can find her at Guanqian Street, everyone there knows her.”

Obviously, Shen remembered her sister-in-law’s words. Two days after Jasmine’s full month birth party, while Bai wasn’t home, Shen sent one servant to Guanqian Street to look for that fortuneteller. She was curious: As her sister said, the girl in this family would be far luckier than those poor ones; plus, a beautiful face was always a rare asset—In spite of the fact that Jasmine was only one month old, her prettiness was already well-known among the relatives, friends, and neighbors. What would be waiting for such a special girl from such a decent family in the future? 

The fortuneteller was led to Bai’s house. She was a gray-haired woman and looked in her sixties. Both of her eyes were half blind. After offering her a seat as well as tea, Shen dismissed the others. 

“Your Wise,” Shen spoke, “people told me that you know everything, you can predict what will happen in a person’s life. My baby daughter was just born last month, I would like to ask you a favor to tell me a bit about her future.” 

The fortuneteller replied modestly: “Madam, people overpraised me. God pities me since I am a poor old woman who has outlived her sons for too long; so every time whatever comes from my toothless mouth, He lets it happen. I can’t only say good things, everyone has some sort of bad luck. I tell people about it first, if they listen, if they can be more careful, then they will avoid it. I hope that I am doing something good for them.”

“Please don’t worry, Your Wise. I fully understand. I will keep your words in my mind and use them to guide my daughter.” Shen got the fortuneteller’s point immediately. 

“So,” the fortuneteller opened her mouth again, “May I know the young mistress’ birth time and date?” 

“The date was June sixth; her birth time was around six o’clock in the morning.” Shen answered.

The fortuneteller closed her eyes, calculating with her fingers. “Well, six should be a lucky number, pity that there were too many sixes involved here.” 

Shen rose from her seat, and asked anxiously: “So is her luck bad?” 

The fortuneteller shook her head: “No, I can’t say that. But what I have seen hinted by God about her is confusing. Do you mind taking the young mistress here and let me have a look at her?” 

Shen walked to the window and called: “Qiu, quickly, ask A Feng to bring Jasmine here right away!” 

“Yes madam!” someone answered from outside.

Around five minutes later, the fortuneteller heard some footsteps clacking on the floor and drawing nearer. Then A Feng appeared at the door with a young maid, Jasmine was sitting on her arm. Shen eyed A Feng to take Jasmine to the fortuneteller; A Feng complied. 

The fortuneteller widened her eyes to read Jasmine’s face, finally turned to Shen: “So far as I can tell, the young mistress will be quite a beauty. But she will have a few troubled years after twenty, which will cause an impact on the family as well. After that, she will live a long and stable life.”

This answer wasn’t what Shen expected. “Is there any way to avoid those troubles?” Shen proceeded, “And what does ‘a long and stable life’ mean?” 

The fortuneteller wore a confused look: “That’s what puzzles me. From the will of God, to eliminate those troubles, the young mistress should either not cut her fingernails, or cut up her face. However, these two conditions all sound impossible to execute. I have checked twice, the answers are the same so it mustn’t be wrong. About ‘a long and stable life’, everybody’s standard is different, I am sorry that this is all I know.”

Shen sat stunned in her chair. The fortuneteller stood up and bade goodbye. Shen thanked her, meanwhile handed her a few silver coins as reward. Everyone left the room except for Shen, who sat back in the chair, tucked one arm to rest her head, wondering. 

Sometime later, Bai entered the room. He found Shen sitting there deep in thought. “What’s the matter?” He asked. 

Shen was drawn back from her thoughts to reality. She raised her head, looking at Bai, and spoke slowly: “Just now a fortuneteller came to our house, and per my request checked on Jasmine’s fate. She said that Jasmine will be in trouble after twenty, and the whole family will be involved. The way to break that curse is either not cut her fingernails or cut up her face.” 

“That’s ridiculous!” Bai scolded, “How can you believe that! You women always think too much! Jasmine is my daughter; even though I am not a rich man, where I am now will be enough to support and protect her. What kind of misfortune can she bring us? The fortunetellers are full of shit; they randomly make up stories and sell to those who are not strong inside. Keep away from them. It is late, I am hungry, go fix dinner!”

Shen didn’t argue. She hesitated to the door, then stopped for a moment as if she had something else to say. But eventually she left without any more words.

Dusk crept into the house; the room was shadowed. All of a sudden, Bai heard a baby’s cry—It was Jasmine’s. She must have been startled awake from her dream.


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