Scarring Jasmine-Chapter Ten Opera

05/18/2024 Saturday 55-69F Drizzle

A young man was swaggering on the street, followed by a tall muscular man.

“Today is a good day!” The young man exclaimed. Indeed, it was a good day for him: This morning he just gave his rival a good beating; afterward he met an old acquaintance in a restaurant. There the liquor was good; the dishes were good; that acquaintance paid the bill and respected him as “Big Brother” which made him feel particularly good. Several years before, he had to call that guy “Boss”, and relied on the “Boss” to assign him and his “brothers” some legwork to do so they could make a few coppers for their stomachs. Now the former boss called him “Big Brother;” what a great achievement!

It was always good to meet an old friend in a new place—Yes, theoretically he was still a newcomer to Suzhou since he had been here for only six months. However, he and his “brothers” had already gained a space for themselves with their capabilities and intelligence. Wasn’t it another great success?

A man in this world must use his own fists to earn his name. Old money, new money, all was bullshit; he ought to have faith in himself! This thought excited him, therefore he wanted to recite something literary to express his feeling, just like those big shots did. However, his limited vocabulary didn’t support him to do so. After searching his brain all around, at last a word jumped out of his mouth: “Awesome!”

The evening glow had burnt the whole sky a brilliant golden red, which made the pink poster pasted on the outside wall of an opera extraordinarily noticeable. Since he was unable to read, he slowed down, and listened attentively to the talk coming from the big crowd gathered in front of the poster:

“These plays are Little Ninth Phoenix’s real stuff, will you come?”
“Even if I want to, I can’t. I just checked two minutes ago: All the seats were taken except for few expensive ones which were canceled by somebody. No doubt the performances will be excellent, but I prefer no trouble from my old woman.” 

After hearing that, the young man turned to his companion: “Tiger, have you ever been to an opera before? Do you want to have some fun?” 

Tiger showed a sullen face: “Big Brother, it’s not for our sort. Those guys overpaint their faces, drag their tones to please those sophisticated people. It’s too boring. We’d better go and look for fun somewhere else.” 

The young man shook his head: “You are wrong, Tiger; you should consider yourself sophisticated too. Fake it until you make it. Today I am in a very good mood, let’s go and take a look. If it isn’t that amusing, we can leave whenever we want. Go book two seats for us; I want the best ones!”

The young man’s name was Li Zhao; in his industry people also called him Jade-Faced Zhao. In fact, Zhao neither liked this title nor his name: Jade-faced, it would make others underestimate his abilities but attribute his achievement to his appearance; and Li, which meant separation, wasn’t a good character itself. He believed that he deserved a better name. Perhaps Dragon Zhao since he was the big brother of Tiger, Leopard and Wolf? This name wasn’t bad, just was too close to that of one heroic general who lived in the three-warring-kingdom Era—Zhao didn’t want people to mistake him for that general. Certainly, he would create his own legend. Therefore, the best choice for him right now was to accept his current name until one day he found a perfect one. 

Zhao and Tiger entered the opera and took their benches right opposite the stage. The performance hadn’t begun yet, but most of the seats were already occupied. It was Zhao’s first time to come to such a place, so he looked around with great interest.

It was an old-fashioned, two-story wooden building: The stage was at the back center of the main floor; starting from ten feet away along its three sides, square wood tables and benches were lined for the audience. The upper floor, which was supported by strong wood poles, functioned as boxes for ladies and their families.

Zhao wandered through the audience in the boxes, then he caught sight of someone: It was a lady, sitting on her seat looking lonesome. Her face was very beautiful-- the most beautiful that Zhao ever saw. It seemed that someone was speaking to her; she lowered her head, listened, then responded with a smile—What a fragrant smile! It could wake up the frozen river and melt the snowy mountain; it was like willow branches stroking the spring pond, and like lily’s breath creeping into a summer dream…Zhao’s heart leapt.

“Big Brother, the performance begins.” Tiger nudged Zhao with his elbow, spoke in a low tone, “Don’t keep staring at that woman. She is married.” 

That was true. From her hair style and dress, Zhao could tell that she was a married woman. He was curious about her family; thus he switched his eyes to the others sitting in the same box. There were five more people around the table. She sat almost at the end, but the seat on her left was empty. Next to her on the right was a small-faced woman, who also could be considered pretty, but her eyes appeared too shifty. “A smart ass!” Zhao thought. On the right side of that small-faced woman was a middle-aged woman, seeming to be in her fifties. She dressed expensively, yet there was always a smile on her well-maintained face. “She must be the mother. She smiles too much in public, so I bet she seldom smiles at home.” The next was a high cheek-boned woman. She wasn’t that pretty but wore a dignified look. Someone told Zhao before that “high cheek-boned women admire power”, so he quickly passed her and moved on. The man next and opposite that beautiful lady was in a grey suit. He kept glancing at her, but every time his glances would be deflected by the small-faced woman who intentionally cleared her throat as a reminder or warning. Zhao snorted out a chuckle. The last one was a good-looking gentleman, whose seat was closest to the hall and facing the stage. “He must be the head of the family, or the eldest son. But since there is no communication direct or indirect between him and that beautiful lady, he cannot be her husband.”  

When Zhao was figuring, a young man came into the box and sat on the left side of that lady. She gave him a quick glance while turning her head slightly toward him. However, that young man didn’t respond to her. He took a sip of tea, then turned directly to the stage. He and that good-looking gentleman were very alike, but he was a much finer, and somehow effeminate version. Even though people called Zhao “Jade-Faced”, Zhao had to admit that this young man was extraordinarily handsome, and it was a great pleasure to watch him pair with that beautiful lady.  

Zhao felt a twinge of envy for that couple. He secretly examined them, “Interesting!” He wondered, “How can a man look so awesome yet cold? Like a pine tree covered under the snow. Why isn’t he happy having such a fabulous wife?” Zhao shifted his eyes to that lady again—Now he could fully understand her lonesomeness. The more he looked at her, the more admiration he had for her. He knew that this time he was caught, and nowhere he could escape to. 

“Tiger, wake up!” After the last act, Zhao shook Tiger awake, then spoke in his ear: “Go follow that lady and find out who she is.” 

Tiger wiped off the saliva from the corner of his mouth, widening his eyes: “Big Brother, are you serious? There are pretty women everywhere; why are you dwelling on this married one? Plus the fact that she and we are two different species; didn’t you see her family? They are upper-class asses.” 

Zhao rose from his seat, smoothed out the creases on his grey gown with his hand, then turned his face to Tiger wearing a charming smile: “Tiger, do you believe in kismet? I do. I think I was meant to meet her here today. She is the pot on which I decide to make my bet; and a married woman can divorce. From my observation, she is neglected by her husband and family, so she isn’t that important to them. Do what I told you and let’s see!”


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