Scarring Jasmine- Chapter Eleven Blood-brothers

05/26/2024 Sunday 66-87F Cloudy

In Suzhou, after passing Guanqian street, walk north for another two blocks, then turn left to cross a double arch stone bridge, on the other side is Willow street, a main commercial street in this area. Bai’s shop would be the third one on the right.

Despite the fact that it was a sunny Spring morning, and most of the shops were open, the street was almost empty of people and smiles. An old man pushing his breakfast cart mumbled, “So bad, only three breakfasts were sold this whole morning! Unworthy of my efforts!”

Mumei stepped into the shop. It was a two-storied half stone half wood building—The first floor was the shopping area, divided into three zones: In the middle along the left side of the entrance was a large wood counter. About eight meters further facing the south, a water ink painting hung on the wall, of a deer carrying an old man to a stream for a drink. In front of the painting set a round rosewood table and a few matching drum stools for customers. To the right of the entrance were built-in wood shelves up to the ceiling along the three walls; thousands of fabric rolls were standing on them. The left side was an individual room, where only the VIP customers or someone intending to buy expensive fabrics could be invited. The upstairs was the warehouse, to which a small living area for the employees was attached.

There was no customer in the shop right now. Four apprentices were busy cleaning, and the accountant was click-clacking on the abacus behind the counter. They saw Mumei come in, greeted him with bows, then went on doing their own work. Mumei sat on one drum stool. An apprentice brought him tea. He drank slowly.

Since the relocation of the central government, everyone had thought that perhaps they would have more peace because the head boss was nearer. However, the reality was just the opposite: The battles had been spread almost to their doors. 

After Jasmine’s wedding, Bai caught typhoid and stayed in bed for five months. When he recovered, he handed over his entire business to Mumei. Bai came to the shops once a week and spent the rest of his time at home playing with his granddaughter. Bai always comforted Mumei: “Take the business easy, it is just a bad time for the merchants like us. Be patient, we own the shops and have no rent to pay, which makes us far luckier than most of the others.”

Given the facts, Mumei still felt stressed. He had cut the employees almost in half. In addition to his own family, he had to take care of his grandparents and two uncles from his mother’s side, who once before had been Bai’s main silk partners but later closed their business. So, where was the future?

Two months before, a group of soldiers riding on horseback looted this area. Some of the looters blocked the whole street, pointing their guns at people’s heads, forcing them not to move. The rest ransacked each store. This loot lasted more than one hour, when the police finally arrived, the looters were long gone. 

That day Mumei was in the shop. About half past three in the afternoon four men in the same uniform burst into the shop. Two of them held the guns at the entrance, the other two leapt to the counter, grabbed the accountant and shouted: “Where is the money?” 

Mumei was in the VIP room with a customer. Upon hearing the shouts, he came out to check what happened. Judging by his clothes and manner, one of the men who were grabbing the accountant caught Mumei at his collar: “You must be the boss! Give us your money, quick! Or else I will choke you to death!” 

Before Mumei could give him the answer, another uniformed man hurried in from the outside and whispered something in the threatener’s ear, of which Mumei only heard two or three words: “Administrator”, “boss”, “Wang”—That was enough. 

During that loot, six people were shot dead, more than twenty were injured, and over fifty stores were robbed. Mumei’s shop lost only twenty silver coins, one of the two on this street who bore the least loss; the other shop owner’s nephew was a senior military officer. “That is just life! Even bandits are biased; they only loot people who are small and helpless!” While watching the police carrying away the dead bodies and the neighbors sorting out their damaged shops, Mumei sighed, “We escaped from it because of Jasmine.”

Although Jasmine never told her parents and Mumei her true feeling about her marriage, they all knew that she wasn’t happy. It was easy to tell whether a person was happy or not--The answer could be found from her voice, her eyes, and the expression she wore when she was alone. They felt disappointed, yet still tried to encourage Jasmine. 

Bai told her: “Jasmine, each marriage has its own issues, you need to know how to manage it and be more mature. As long as you do your duties, people won't blame you.” 

Shen talked to her tearfully when Bai was absent: “All women are the same. That’s our fate! I was a daughter-in-law before; I know how hard it is to live with the in-laws. Your grandmother never liked me! Don’t worry, all will be fine. Later once you have your own child, your position will be secured.”

Mumei withdrew his thoughts and took another sip of the tea. A young man came in. One employee welcomed him at the entrance: “Sir. What can I do for you?” 

The man didn’t answer. He pinned his hands behind and browsed the fabrics displaying on the shelves, then turned to the employee: “These are all good, but do you have anything better?” 

“Yes sir,” the employee confirmed, “we do have better ones of all levels. May I know what kind of material or pattern you are looking for? Or what’s your budget?” 

“I don’t mind about the price, nor the materials.” The young man raised his eyebrows, “just show me your best ones. I know that Bai’s shop always has good stuff!”

The employee signed to his boss as an inquiry, after Mumei responded him with a nod, he bowed to the young man: “Thanks for your praise, sir. Please follow me this way.”

He led the young man to the VIP room. Soon the tea was served, and Mumei stepped in. 

The young man saw him and smiled. “I guess you must be the boss, Boss Bai?” 

Mumei bid his fist-and-palm salute, “Yes I am. Hope you are doing well.” He gestured the young man to a chair: “Please be seated. We are honored to serve you in our shabby shop. May I know your surname?” 

“My name is Zhao, Li Zhao. Today I intend to buy some nice fabrics for my sister, who just arrived in Suzhou from my hometown a few days ago. I know nothing about fabrics, so I will rely on you to give me some recommendations. Price is the least of my concern.” 

So, Zhao purchased ten patterns of silk fabric, and made a very good impression on Mumei. Three days later, he came back and bought another five fabrics. He told Mumei that his sister super loved the fabrics chose by Mumei, and she begged Zhao to ask him to recommend a good dressmaker. “I am so sorry to trouble you again.” Zhao said, “I do feel grateful to have a friend like you.”

Another fifteen days went by. According to Zhao, the dresses were done by the dressmaker Mumei introduced, and they fit his sister very well. “My sister asked me to buy you a dinner for all the efforts you made for us. You must accept her offer, whenever you are available. Otherwise, she will give me a hard time.”

Partially considering the business relationship, partially because Mumei also liked Zhao, he accepted the invitation. The dinner was arranged in an expensive restaurant; there Zhao told Mumei that he was a medicine wholesaler, doing business with all sorts of agencies along the Yangtze River. 

Then Zhao asked Mumei about his birthday. After Mumei told him, he looked surprised: “It is amazing! I was born on the same exact day and in the same exact year! I can’t believe it! Perhaps that’s why I always feel so close to you. It is definitely kismet! You don’t have any brothers, nor do I. Let’s drink up this cup of liquor! If you don’t mind, from now on, you will be my blood brother—I will consider your trouble my trouble, your family my family!”

That’s how Mumei got his blood brother. He told Bai the story and Bai commented: “You’d better be careful with this person; you don’t know him that well. In a short time, from a stranger he became your blood brother. Who knows what’s in his mind, and what he wants from you. Don’t be hooked by him.” 

“But father,” Mumei explained, “I know your concern, and I have thought about that as well. Even though we are blood brothers, there is no mutual interest between us; moreover, this is just a private relationship, I am not and won’t be responsible for him or his issues. So what harm can he bring me? He is a nice fellow, generous and straightforward. You should see him in person, father, I think you will like him.” 


Popular Posts