Scarring Jasmine-Chapter Five Farewell

04/11/2024 Thursday 50-71F Drizzle

It was a sleepless night.

Bai kept tossing around in bed. Shen complained: “What’s the matter? Why don’t you sleep? Are you still thinking about Wang’s proposal?” 

“Yes, I am. It came too much in a sudden, I still can’t believe it.” Bai admitted. 

Shen chuckled: “The old saying goes: One glamorous lady attracts thousands of men. Jasmine is a good girl, and in her blooming years, certainly she will have a lot of pursuers. How many proposals so far have you received in this year? No less than ten, right? Among them, surely Wang is the best one, probably the best one we can ever expect.”

“Well, in fact there is another candidate whom I have considered for years.” Bai sat up, leaned against the bed board. “But the problem is, his family’s financial situation isn’t that great.” 

Shen sat up as well, wrapped a shawl over her shoulders, then spoke in a casual manner: “You must be talking about Shanyuan. Yes, he is a nice kid; but as you said, Jasmine will have to live a humble life if she marries him. I don’t think it is fair to her. She has much better options.”

“That’s what bothers me. We have known Shanyuan since he was born; his personalities and temperament seem to suit Jasmine very well; plus no doubt that Xue will be a good mother-in-law. While we almost know nothing about Wang’s family except for their significance. According to what I heard from the others, they sounded like a sophisticated family. But will they appreciate our daughter? Will they respect her since she is from a merchant family? I am not quite sure about this.” Bai brought up his concern.

Shen giggled, “Gee, you are worrying too much. Like the matchmaker said, Wang’s family must have thought everything through. To them, they had to consider more things than we do before they took action. They chose our daughter as their first choice; they sent a respectable matchmaker to our house who usually only makes matches between those significant families--All of these have proven that they take us seriously. We are not as rich as them, but we are qualified enough to marry our daughter into a decent family. They are not stupid. In this county, where else can they find a girl better than our Jasmine? Perhaps there are good girls in other places, yet no parents would like to marry their daughter afar. This proposal is a remarkable praise, we shouldn’t think so little of ourselves.”

“Well, let’s see. We don’t have to decide it for now.” Bai stretched his arms and stifled a yawn, “It’s getting late, we shall sleep. Tomorrow I need to go to the shop earlier.” 

The next day Bai stayed in his shop for the whole morning, but his mind was going everyplace fast. Mumei perceived his father’s distraction, so he asked: “Father, you look tired. Why not go home and have some rest? I can take care of the business here.” 

Bai nodded. He rose from the chair and patted Mumei’s shoulder, “Ok, I will take a walk first.”

He paced on the street. Suddenly an idea struck him, he hesitated, then turned into a smaller lane.

It was the lane to Shanyuan’s house. Bai noticed that the trees had begun turning yellow. “Alas, the season changes so soon,” Bai thought, and somehow felt a little melancholy. How many times had he walked in this lane? One hundred times? or even more? The first time Xiao took him here, the purchase of this house was just made. He excitedly showed Bai each room, explaining how he would arrange it and make it his dream home. That day, Bai watched him plant a pear tree in the yard. Even later after Xiao became a big boss, he never changed his house. He told Bai that he couldn’t abandon his pear tree. 

Bai felt that even though they were close friends, Xiao carried a lot of mysteries which were beyond Bai’s comprehension: He didn’t change to a bigger house because he was unwilling to abandon a tree? If so, how could he decide to abandon his own life and family? Rumor had it that he was married once in his hometown in Hubei Province, but he never mentioned it to anybody. He lived in this house for almost six years. How did he pass those lonesome nights in the emptiness? Drinking with the pear tree? 

Then one day a young woman appeared in this house, Xiao introduced her to others as Xue; he called her “Little Peach”. At that time, Xue was only nineteen, sixteen years younger than Xiao. Nobody knew where she came from, and whether Xue was her maiden name or not; but one thing for sure was, Xiao was very fond of her, otherwise he wouldn’t have planted two peach trees in the back yard, right opposite her window. In this pear-peach-treed house, they raised their child and enjoyed the feast given by life, until the day tragedy struck. Xue silently buried all the sorrows and closed the door to her heart—She chose to fade her blossom much sooner than it could have been. 

Bai arrived at the house. He didn’t knock on the door right away, but looked up. Over the wall, he saw the pear tree lavishly bearing fruit, none of it ripe as yet. It was an old house. Thirty years before, Xiao told him that this house was one hundred years old; and since then, it had aged another three decades. But where was that carefree mysterious man? And where was that plump-cheeked young lady whose name was “Little Peach”? Men built the house, while the house would stand longer than men. Wasn’t it a joke?

Xue received Bai in the living room. “I must apologize for not having come here for a while. How is everything? How is Shanyuan at college?” Bai asked. 

“Thanks for thinking of us, we are fine.” Xue wore a faint smile. Then she walked to a closet, opened a drawer and took out an unfolded paper. She handed it to Bai, “I just received this letter from Shanyuan yesterday; he asked me to send his regards to you and your family.”

Bai quickly read the letter, nodding, then handed it back to Xue. “Very well. I came here today partially about Shanyuan. Yesterday Administrator Wang proposed to my daughter for his youngest son. But to me, Wang’s family is too high for us. People say that one of his brothers is the toast of the central government in Beijing, and his influence here is much bigger than his actual position. I am not sure if it is a good idea to marry my daughter into such a family; In addition, to be honest with you, I am very fond of Shanyuan. I think he and Jasmine may be a good match.”

Xue smiled. She put the letter back in the drawer, then spoke gently: “I appreciate your fondness for my son. He seldom talks with me about his personal affairs, but being his mother, I know he respects you and Jasmine very much. Jasmine is a wonderful girl, personally, I dream to have a daughter-in-law like her. However, I can’t deny the fact that she is too good for our family. You know our finances; Shanyuan paid for college with his scholarship. He hasn’t decided about what he will do after graduation, but for the present if a girl marries into my family, I am afraid we can provide her with no more than daily three meals. Especially in this turbulent era, our small persons’ lives are like drifting duckweed. Jasmine has a tremendous beauty;she needs someone more solid than my son to protect her and give her a stable life.”

Bai let out a long sigh. He walked to the window and set his eyes on the pear tree. He felt so weak and helpless, as if he was still that little dirty child, squatting under the eave of Xiao’s shop. Thirty-seven years slid through his fingers; he had become a grey-templed middle-aged man! But still, some things would never change.

Xue stood by his side, watching the tree: “Time flies. Last time when I watched these pears, they were little and green; now they are almost ready for picking. I will write to Shanyuan later today, tell him about your visit. After all, it matters to him.” 

Bai paced home, found Shen questioning two cooks in the living room: “Why are the soups so salty recently?” 

The cooks knelt on the floor, answered: “Madam, it was the young madam who told us to add more soy sauce in the soups. She complained that they were too plain.” 

Shen raised her eyebrows: “So? Because she told you to do that and you did. Did you ever check it with me? You might have forgotten something, let me remind you—Who is the mistress in this house?!”

Bai frowned. Before the cooks gave her their answer, Bai waved his hand and dismissed them, then turned to Shen: “It is a small thing, why take it so seriously? If you have any issues, discuss with Gao directly. We all should be more careful and mind our behavior. Otherwise, if people heard this, they would laugh at us. Think for our daughter--A good reputation of the family is important to her.” 

Shen’s face reddened. Bai was about to go to his study, but stopped and asked Shen: “Did you tell Jasmine?” 

“About what?” Shen was confused. 

“Wang’s proposal. I just went to Xiao’s house and told Xue about this, as well as my thoughts about Shanyuan. She said that she would write to Shanyuan for his opinion.” 

“But time may not allow us to wait for Shanyuan’s answer.” 

“Yes, I know. I don’t want to act too anxiously. Shanghai isn’t that far. I hope we can hear back from Shanyuan in a few days. I think you should talk to Jasmine as well. You are her mother, it will be more proper for you to find out what she is thinking. After all it matters to her.” Bai said. 

“Ok, I will tell her about it tomorrow.” Shen furrowed her brow in disappointment, “Master, are you serious about marrying Jasmine to Shanyuan?”

“No, I haven’t decided yet. In fact, after talking with Xue, now I have more concerns.” Without further explanation, Bai stepped out.

The following day Shen walked into Jasmine’s room. It was early afternoon. Jasmine sat in bed, quietly embroidering. Seeing her mother come in, she got up from the bed, bowed: “Mother.”

Shen nudged her to sit down: “Take some rest, you look too thin. If you feel bored at home, go out and have some fun. Or go visit your two uncles.” 

Jasmine shook her head: “Don’t worry mother, I am fine. I like to be at home. I just want to finish this embroidery.”

Shen sighed, patted her hand on Jasmine’s: “The day before yesterday, a matchmaker came, and brought us Administrator Wang’s proposal for his youngest son. Wang is very wealthy and highly respected. They heard your name somewhere and someone must have seen you before. Wang’s son Yu is three years older than you, a college student in Beijing. I heard people say that he is a quite handsome young man, as quiet as a girl, which is just like you. Your father told Xue about Wang’s proposal yesterday, perhaps soon Shanyuan will also know it. Now tell mother, how do you think about this proposal?”

Jasmine blushed. Shen pushed again: “Nothing to be shy about. It is your marriage, as your mother I ought to know your opinion.” 

Jasmine muttered hesitantly: “Mother, why did father tell Aunt Xue about this? It is too embarrassing to bother them with this kind of private affair.” 

Shen smiled and held Jasmine in her arms: “Because your father considers them our family. You also should respect Shanyuan as your elder brother. Wang’s family have a lot of influence; we need such a relationship to secure your father’s business. In addition, they have relatives working in the government here and there. In the future when Shanyuan graduates, for certain we can ask their favor to find a good position for him in the government. Isn’t it a good plan?” 

“But mother,” Jasmine interrupted Shen, “Shanyuan told us on the Lantern Festival Day that he wanted to go to Europe after his graduation.”

“Well, if that’s the case, it will take him at least several years to come back. He is five years older than you, then he will be near thirty. I always hear others say that those foreign ladies are very pretty-- they have a high nose, blue eyes, and snow-white skin. It will be fun to see Shanyuan bring a foreign wife home.”

Jasmine became silent. Shen read her face with a great interest, “So how about Wang’s proposal? I don’t think your father and I have any problem with it.” 

Jasmine stood up, hesitated. Finally, Shen heard her daughter say: “Mother, I will rely on father and you to make the decision.”

A satisfied smile rose on Shen’s face.

Six days later after dinner, Bai received an unexpected visitor. It was Shanyuan.

“Shanyuan, it is you! What a surprise!” Bai asked Shanyuan in. “Please be seated.” Shanyuan thanked him, put the basket he held in his hand on a small table, then sat next to it. 

Shen passed the room and overheard someone talking inside. She snuck to the rear window, and peered through it.

“I met your mother a few days ago,” Bai spoke, “She said that you were at college.”

“Yes, Uncle Bai, I was. I received my mother’s letter yesterday, for fear that it might take too long for her to receive a letter back from me, I asked for two days’ leave from school and just arrived home this afternoon. Here are some pears in the basket, they were freshly picked from our tree this evening and are our first harvest of the year. My mother hopes that you will enjoy them.”

“Your mother is always so attentive. Please give my thanks to her.” Before Bai finished his words, Shen stepped into the room. She exchanged some social talk with Shanyuan, then sat down.

“Please forgive my unexpected visit, I thought it might be more proper for me to come in person.” Shanyuan cast down his eyes, “My mother told me about uncle Bai’s last visit, I am very grateful. Next June I will graduate from college; hopefully then I will find a post in Suzhou.”

Shen couldn’t help asking: “But last time you said that you would go to Europe.” Bai scooted a surprised glance at Shen.

Shanyuan smiled: “Yes, that was my original plan. In fact, last week I received an acceptance from a university in Paris with full scholarship. But now I have changed my mind--I will stay.”

Bai stood up, paced back and forth in the room. At last, he stopped in front of Shanyuan: “The wars have been lasting for years among those warlords. Someone can rise overnight, but also can be dumped the next day. Now the southern revolutionary troops are marching toward north, who knows when we folks will have peace! Taxes, inflation, rebellions… We all are struggling. Take my business for instance: In general, it is always better than most others; however, these few years the turnover in my three shops has shrunk more than one quarter, and the profit has dropped nearly by half! Listen to me, son: This is a bad era for we anonymous folks. You are an intelligent young man; you will be wasted here. Some life-changing opportunity will only appear once in your life. Go pursue your dream, learn something that can enhance yourself or help others. If you are happy to stay there, it is also ok. Don’t worry about your mother, we are here and will take care of her. Any issues please just let us know, we will be delighted if we can do something for you.” Bai returned to his seat, scratching his head with his fingers and proceeded, “About Jasmine, after a thorough consideration, I have accepted Wang’s proposal. I think it is a good decision for both of you.”

Shen was shocked to hear that. She cast a suspicious glance at Bai, then turned her eyes to Shanyuan. She suspected that she saw a slight tremble of this young man’s face, or perhaps it was just a twitch given by her eyelid.

After a short break, Shanyuan replied, trying to hide the upset tone in his voice: “Uncle Bai, thanks for your good advice, I appreciate it very much.” He rose from the chair, supporting himself with one hand holding on the small table, as if without doing it he would fall. “Uncle and Aunt Bai, it is late, my mother is still waiting for me. So, good night. Stay healthy and safe. I look forward to meeting you soon.” 

“Ok, come to see us often, Mumei also misses you. Wait a minute,” Bai called to Shen, “Go ask Jasmine to see Shanyuan off. Hurry!”

After Shanyuan and Jasmine walked out, Shen turned to Bai, a touch of smile shining in her eyes. “You didn’t really accept Wang’s proposal, or did you?” 

Bai withdrew his eyes from the direction of the door, “Of course not. I don’t know whether I did right or wrong, but it will be a pity for this young man to be buried here. He is a jewel; he deserves a brighter future.” 

Jasmine walked a few steps behind Shanyuan. She felt awkward and strange. She couldn’t understand why her mother suddenly called her to send off Shanyuan; and her father was there as well, who normally didn’t like her to go out at such a late hour, not to mention going out with a man.

She glanced at her clothes, which was a long white dress that she used to wear at home, and the black piping of which along the sleeve hem was worn. Her mother kept pushing her thus she had no time to change the clothes; her hair must be in a mess too. She reached out her hand to smooth the fuzz and found a lock of hair falling off from her pin. “He must have noticed that.” Jasmine thought. It would be too embarrassing to re-pin her hair while walking with a man, although his back was to her. Worn clothes, fuzzy hair, it was terrible to let Shanyuan see her like this…Jasmine wrung a handkerchief in her hands, feeling full of regrets.

Shanyuan stopped at a small stone bridge, pinned his hands behind, and looked up to watch the moon. Jasmine stopped too, remaining five-foot social distance from him. It was a dustless night. The full moon hung low in the east, looked pure and clean, as if right after a hot bath.

She heard him exclaim: “What a beautiful moon!”

A transparent sheen of mist rose over the water; somewhere crickets were chirping, singing the praise of this moment. They both were touched. At the corner of Shanyuan’s eye, Jasmine’s white dress dissolved in the moonlight, and her pure face was like a pearl, or another moon. Just one hour before, when he crossed this bridge, he was so excited yet nervous. He thought that finally he could approach his dream--A dream which he had never forgotten since his childhood, a dream that kept encouraging him to move forward so one day he could jump over the gap between him and Jasmine. But at the end a dream was a dream, she wasn’t his.

“Miss Bai, please allow me to say goodbye here. Be happy.” Shanyuan bowed to her, then walked down the stone stairs, heading toward the other side of the street. Jasmine didn’t talk the whole way; she didn’t even have the courage to look at his face. Now he was gone, leaving her standing alone on the bridge. Watching his back drawing further until it was completely blended in the night, Jasmine felt that something was uprooted from her world. She wished him to turn back; yet if he did, what could she do? 

Jasmine wandered on the bridge; she was reluctant to leave. Suddenly a man’s figure materialized in the direction from where Shanyuan had disappeared. “Is that him?” Jasmine’s heart tightened. Then that figure came closer--It was Mumei just returning from the shop. 

Mumei was surprised to see her. “Jasmine, why are you here? Are you ok?”  

“Yes brother,” Jasmine gave him a forced smile, “I am here watching the moon.” 

“It is too late, not good for a girl to stay alone. Let’s go home.” Mumei said and crossed the bridge.

Jasmine followed him. When she turned at a corner, she glanced back at that moonlit bridge. It stood silently, without a soul there.


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