That Village, That Person, That Fool - Chapter 1
Hehua knew that her father had agreed for Liu Fugui to marry her as his second wife. Even though she knew that at 21 years old, with no stunning beauty nor unique traits, this was far from unusual. The problem was that even though she was less than perfect, Liu Fugui was a notorious drunk. His first wife had been beaten to a pulp and resorted to drowning herself in a river. She did not want to jump into an inescapable pit of fire because of this marriage.
She told her father that she did not want to marry such a useless and dangerous man, but all her father did was stare at her. He argued saying she was already 21 and did she really think she stood a chance at marrying a proper man? What more becoming his legal wife?! He said to her, “Your two younger sisters have already married, how much longer do you want to stay in my house? You eat all my food and do nothing?!”
Hehua replied, “I’m not a freeloader! I did work for the family and I’m far from useless.”
“What bloody work do you mean?!” her father exclaimed as his temper boiled over. “The work you do, can it compare to the work a man does? Getting married sooner would be the right thing to do! Dabao is already sixteen, it’s time for him to find a wife soon and if word gets out that his elder sister is not yet married, how on earth will he find one?”
After hearing all this, Hehua was rendered speechless. Although she did not have the strength of a man, all along her family had treated her like a man.
Hehua’s father lost his temper and began another session of scolding, after which he threw a broomstick in dissatisfaction. However, the final nail in the coffin was when he asked her to get out of his house. As she walked out through the door, all Hehua’s mother could give her beloved daughter was a look of pity. Hehua collected herself as she forced on a smile, before she could widen her lips her mother was forced away by her hot-tempered dad, instructing her to help soak his feet in their room.
Hehua stood by the door for a while, then went on to cook lunch for her family as usual, after she was done she placed all the food on the cooktop. Outside she saw her youngest brother, Xiaobao happily hopping about playing with sticks and twigs.
Hehua gestured for her little brother to come to her saying, “The food is ready and is on the cooktop, tell Mother that I won’t be eating, I’m going for a walk outside.”
Xiaobao nodded in acknowledgment, looked toward his sister and asked, “If that’s the case can I have your share of the pastry?”
Hehua laughed and said: “ Of course you can have it.”
This made Xiaobao over the moon with joy, putting on a grown-up air as he tried to nag at her, “Don’t come back too late, we all know the wolf likes to come out when it’s dark.”
Hehua patted his head and smiled as she left. Actually, there was nowhere she could go, she just wanted to get out of that hellhole.
She aimlessly strolled around the village and before she knew it she ended up at the mouth of the village. Here she saw the fool Changsheng sitting on top of a large rock looking randomly into the distance.
She knew that he was waiting there for his grandmother. Every day his grandmother would walk long and far to collect medicine from the foot of the mountain. He would wait here patiently for his grandmother around this time every day, and when she reached he would help her carry her haul back home.
Everyone in the village knew that he was an idiot, Hehua had not talked to him for a long time. But sitting there together, at that time and place, she suddenly felt like talking to someone. Who better to talk to than that naive fool Changsheng?
She walked up to his side, and his reaction was as though he had not even noticed it.
“Are you waiting for your grandmother?” she asked.
Changsheng looked back at her, pausing as he tried to recall who on earth she was. After quite some time he murmured in reply before turning back to look at the entrance.,
Hehua moved to sit beside him, unaffected by his lack of attention. After a moment’s silence, she opened her mouth to say, “I’m going to get married, my father is exchanging me for three belts of millet with Liu Fugui.”
Changsheng said nothing nor did he move a muscle, it was almost as if he had not heard what she had said, he just continued to patiently wait for his grandmother.
Hehua did not mind, she just continued talking to herself: “Liu Fugui is a good-for-nothing drunkard, he even killed his wife… I don’t want to marry him, but my father has already agreed, I know it can’t be called off, once the dowry reaches my father’s hands he will never return it…”
“He scolded me just now, saying that I bring no value to the family, but the matter of fact is that I work for him every single day! Which other girl in this village would do so? They say I’m dark-skinned, it’s not like I was born this way! If it were not for all the work I do I would be just as fair as the other girls in the village…”
The more she talked about it the sadder she got, she paused to take a couple of deep breaths then continued: “ When I was 16 or 17 there was a good man who proposed to me, but my father did not give his blessing, he was afraid that if I left the house nobody would help him… In the last four or five years, Dabao has been able to chip in more, and now he feels like I’m in the way…Do you think I wanted to wait this long? Now everyone says it’s my fault…”
The more she lamented the worse she felt, her eyes started to water with tears, eventually rolling uncontrollably down her face. She did not want to cry in front of a fool, so she quickly brushed them off. Alas, the more she tried to hide it, the more obvious it became and before she knew it her whole face was filled with glistening trails of tears…
Changsheng looked back questioningly at the crying Hehua, then he reached into his pocket and grabbed a handful of peanuts. He showed them to her and after picking the biggest one and putting it back into his pocket he then handed her the remaining ones.
Hehua dried her tears and said: “How can you be so heartless, can’t you see I’m crying?! Give me the big one, I want the big one!”
Changsheng did not say a word instead he used his other hand to tightly press on to his pocket, afraid that she would take it from him.
Hehua stared at him in anger and grabbed the remaining peanuts from his hand.
Changsheng looked at his empty palm, then at Hehua who was now munching on the peanuts, awkwardly he said, “Choose one.”
“The peanuts, I only offered to let you choose one, but you ate all of them.”
Hehua did not know whether she should laugh or become angry at this simple boy, but her mood, in general, felt much lighter. Challengingly, she ate all the remaining peanuts right in front of Changsheng.
Changsheng stared at her, his expression as if he was about to cry.
The look on his face reminded her of a time when she was small, whenever she had been bullied at home, she would wander around the village. And every single time she would come across this simple young boy sitting alone in a corner daydreaming, back then she would scream at him to let off some steam, and Changsheng would never retaliate. After a few times of this scene playing out, Hehua felt bad for doing so. Hence, when other kids used to bully Changsheng she would step in to help him, trying to correct her past wrongs. Even when she was helping him he never used to thank her, he would quietly stand by the side keeping his mouth shut. As if it all had nothing to do with him.
As time passed, people stopped bullying Changsheng, but they also stopped talking to him. Hehua had long forgotten when the last time she had spoken with him was, looking at this expression of his, she could not help but feel a tad nostalgic… Glancing at Changsheng, she continued saying, “Changsheng, how about I become your wife… Do you have three bags of millet at home? Help me return those to Liu Fugui and I’ll become your wife… At the very least, we’ve known each other since we were small, even though you’re a fool, you’re way better than that drunkard Liu Fugui…”
Changsheng raised his eyebrows, slightly disturbed as he replied: “ I’m not a fool.”
Hehua replied: “ You’re not a fool? If you’re not a fool, then tell me what I meant when I said I will be your wife.”
Changsheng was stumped by this question, even after some thinking he could not answer it, so the only thing he could do was resort to repeating the same thing over and over: “ I’m not a fool! My grandmother told me I’m not a fool!”
Hehua bit her lower lip and raised her chin, just like when they were children she said: “ Then your grandmother is lying! You’re a fool! The whole village knows this!” just waiting to see Changsheng’s face turn as red as a tomato.
Suddenly, a voice of a lady came from afar: “ Changsheng…”
Hehua raised her head and looked over, it was Grandmother Si, the sight of which shocked Hehua. Without the piercing air of just now, she darted away, just like a rabbit would evade the cunning eyes of an eagle.
Grandmother Si was Changsheng’s grandmother, she was called that because when her husband, Huo Laosi was alive, they greeted him as such. Thus every person of Hehua’s generation knew her as Grandmother Si. Like most people in the village, Hehua was quite scared of Grandmother Si. When she was small Hehua used to see Fourth Grandmother (with a stick in hand) chase after the kids who bullyChangsheng. Even though she had never been beaten or scolded by Fourth Grandmother she was still scared.
Actually, Grandmother Si was not Changsheng’s real grandmother, she was only 20 years old when she married into the family At that time Changsheng was already walking around on his own two feet. Her age and Hehua’s did not differ that much, in fact, Grandmother Si might have been younger than her mother! Grandmother Si was a foreigner. According to some, she was rescued by Changsheng’s grandfather while he was out hunting, then he married her as his second wife. Changsheng’s parents left this world when he was still really young, and people say that this is why his grandfather married such a young wife. He had probably been worried that in years to come nobody would take care of Changsheng. Then, he passed away when Changsheng was just 10 years old, ever since then it has just been Changsheng and Grandmother Si surviving on their own.
As she watched Hehua run away like a thief, Grandmother Si asked Changsheng: “What did the eldest daughter of the Lee family say to you?”
“Huh?” Changsheng’s head tilted to the side as he let out this sound.
“Hehua, what did Hehua tell you?” Grandmother Si asked.
“Ohh… her.” Changsheng looked down as he started to recall his conversation with Hehua: “ Are you waiting for your grandmother… I’m going to get married soon, my father has approved of Liu Fugui as my suitor… Liu Fugui is a useless drunk, he killed his wife… I don’t want to marry him, but my father has already accepted his dowry of 3 bags of millet… Changsheng let me be your wife, help me return the 3 bags of millet to Liu Fugui, then I can be your wife… you are a fool, the whole village knows that you are.” Changsheng repeated every single one of Hehua’s words to his grandmother.
Grandmother Si’s brow crinkled slightly after hearing this.
Changsheng said: “ Grandmother, I’m not a fool, what does it mean to get a wife?”
Grandmother Si did not answer him, she just turned her head in the direction that Hehua had run toward, her expression as if she was planning something.
The next day, Hehua’s father asked Dabao to take the three unopened bags of millet and return them to Liu Fugui, this was the first time in forever that her father had returned something he had received. Her father was someone who hated to get the short end of the stick, and he managed to wrangle an even bigger dowry from Grandmother Si, half an acre of arable land.
When she found out that she was marrying Changsheng, Hehua was dumbfounded. She could hardly believe her ears when she heard that Grandmother Si had used half an acre of arable land in exchange for her as a granddaughter-in-law. So much so that she forgot to be overjoyed at having escaped the death pit of Liu Fugui, nor did she feel anxiety at spending the rest of her life together with a fool. All she could think about was whether she was really worth half an acre of arable land. With such a luxurious dowry, Grandmother Si could have found a much younger and prettier wife for Changsheng, heck she could have found two.
Ten days later, Hehua and Changsheng were wed together. There was no extravagant marriage ceremony, no red flowers strewn, no beating of drums, or a flower bridal chariot, just an old villager blowing a horn. Hehua wore her mother’s wedding gown, and with a small wrapped pouch was led out of her house by Changsheng. With her veil over her head, she could not see a thing all she heard was the ruckus from the nosy neighbors surrounding them. Occasionally there would be a cheeky child would run up to her, bending their knees to look up at her from underneath the veil.
The two of them walked from Li Household near the Eastern part of the village to the Huo Household by the Western part of the village. When they entered the courtyard, the crowd then dispersed. Grandmother Si was known for being a bit of a hermit in the village so no one came to partake of the celebratory wine, nor was anyone invited. Apart from Hehua’s own family, the only other people present were the teacher-doctor Master Zhou as well as two neighbors.
Hehua was the newlywed bride so she did not eat with them, Grandmother Si brought out a small portion of vegetables and rice to the table in the bridal chamber, before Hehua could even react in shyness or gratitude she had already left. Hehua had never been married before and did not know the rules, she told herself to hang on a bit longer as she should appear more reserved. However, she had not eaten anything since morning, and by now she was extremely hungry. In a few moments, her hunger got the better of her, and all the rice and dishes disappeared within three big mouthfuls.
Outside, the new groom Changsheng was so preoccupied with burying his head in the food that he ignored everyone else. Hehua’s father had never really thought of him as much, so when he failed to greet him as ‘Father’ his irritation doubled. Thus, this meal was a quick one to pass. Xiaobao was still reluctant to leave his sister and wanted to stay a bit longer but Hehua’s father had other ideas and with a kick of his leg, he dragged the wailing Xiaobao home.
After all the guests had left, Hehua brought the empty bowls outside and offered to help Grandmother Si tidy up the house.
Grandmother Si remained silent but acted as if Hehua was her granddaughter-in-law from long before, letting her wash up. On the other hand, she called for Changsheng to come into the house for a talk. After Hehua finished washing the dishes she went to sweep the courtyard and split some firewood. All of these tasks were like what she used to do back at home, so she hardly felt like a newlywed at all.
When it was time to go to bed, Hehua felt a tad uneasy, she purposely stayed outside the bedroom for a long time. Only when Grandmother Si nagged at her did she squirm her way inside.
In the room there was a large earthen bed, two sets of futon were on each end, and there was an awkward large space in the middle.
Changsheng pointed at the futon and said: “ This one is mine and that one is yours.” After saying that, he did not even spare her a second glance and slipped under the covers.
In a daze, Hehua stood there for a while, then she blew out the candle and still clothed, snuggled into bed. Listening to his relaxed breathing Hehua guessed that Changsheng was fast asleep, only then did she let herself relax.
It had not been as awkward as she had imagined. Although upon closer thought, Changsheng was a fool, he probably did not know what it was to consummate a marriage. In that case, Grandmother Si must also not be eager to have any great-grandchildren soon.
Hehua let out a sigh of relief, and after slowly undressing in the dark, she calmly fell asleep.
( T/N: Thanks Chan & KinGiGe for PR-ing)
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