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Chapter 3– A Taste of Sun
Mei walked along the street, following the pace of the villagers who milled in front and behind her. Her eyes fell everywhere, drawn to and fro by sights, colors... smells. She didn’t notice the figure following behind her, taking care to stay just out of sight.
A woman behind a cart to her left waved in Mei's direction. "A pretty kerchief for a pretty girl?" The woman pointed at the squares of fabric dyed indigo, green, yellow and red. "For yoursweetheart!" She called again. Mei watched as a pair stopped by the kerchief stand. The girl, hair tied in two braids, gazed intently at a red kerchief. The boy standing beside her gazed, just as intently, at the girl. Mei smiled to herself.
As Mei watched the young lovers, the man dogging Mei’s footsteps watched her through narrowed eyes. He watched as the bare footed girl walked past the ribbon vendor and stopped before a fresh fruit stand.
The man following Mei was named Sha.
And Sha had a taste – and an eye – for expensive things. His parents had left him a small fortune when they died, but years of gambling and drinking – coupled with a distaste for honest work – meant that Sha’s fortune was much depleted. Sha attributed his plight to bad luck.
But perhaps his luck was about to change… Sha squinted his eyes at the barefooted girl. What a strange wench, he thought to himself, wasn’t she dressed in fine rich silks just a moment ago?Sha rubbed his eyes, still bleary from sleep and drink. Last night, Sha had stumbled into an abandoned shack to sleep off a drunken stupor. When he’d awoken, he had noticed that strange girl standing just feet from his hut. Sha didn’t know how she managed to change her dress from light silk to dark linen… but he meant to find out. At the very least, a wench with silks was a wench with silver. Sha licked his lips and moved closer…
但是也许他马上就要转运了！他站在暗处眯着眼注视光着脚丫的小妹，心里开始盘算起来: “这小妮子有点奇怪啊，”他想道，”她前一分钟不还穿着绫罗绸缎吗？” 沙揉了揉眼睛，怀疑自己是不是看错了。昨天晚上他喝多了，于是就跌跌撞撞地走进了一个废弃的茅草屋，在里面睡了一觉。而他第二天清晨一醒来就发现这个奇怪的姑娘站在离自己不远的地方。沙不明白她是怎么把自己的衣服从高级的丝绸变成常见的麻布的，但他准备把真相探索个究竟。不管怎么说，这小妮子既然穿得起丝绸，就一定有不少银子。沙一边这么想着，一边舔舔自己的嘴唇，一步步向前逼近。
As Sha plotted, Mei looked at the fruit laid out before her, marveling over the riot of colors before her. Her gaze slid over orange mangos which smelled of sun before coming to rest on some lychee fruit. The bumpy skin of the small orbs was the color of dusky rose. Some of the fruit still clung shyly to branches and leaves.
The old fruit vendor squinted at Mei, his eyes half hidden under folds of crinkled skin. With a sun browned hand, he plucked a lychee from its bushel. He placed it into Mei's palm, indicating that she should give it a try.
Mei held the rose dusted fruit and sniffed. A light scent – fragrant like spring. She broke open the lychee's shell like skin to reveal fruit flesh of translucent white. "Almost like jellyfish" she murmured to herself with a small smile of surprise.
She popped the fruit into her mouth.
Liquid tasting of honey and jasmine, with just a splash of lilacs filled her mouth. It was like tasting sunshine threaded through a clear mountain stream. Mei closed her eyes, savoring the taste ... Opening them only when naught but a dark smooth pit remained. She carefully removed the seed, tucking it into the folds of her sea-foam gown.
Such magic in a thing so small!
From her pocket,she then retrieved a cream white pearl, perfectly round and perfectly smooth. Pearls were common in the sea – Mei and her sisters would sometimes twine them into their hair. They were small trinkets, easily forgotten.
Mei handed the pearl to the fruit vendor, a small token of gratitude for his gift. She regretted that she had nothing more valuable to give him in exchange for this taste of sunshine. The old vendor reached for the pearl, eyes widened in surprise.
Chapter 4– “Spring Chicken”
A short distance back, Sha’s eyes widened as well. He had seen the pearl too.
Sha bit into the fleshy ball of his thumb with yellowed teeth, and then bared those teeth in an oily smile.
He moved to follow Mei as she began to walk away. What a lucky day to have found a pretty girl with expensive baubles. Sha liked pretty and expensive things. Why he couldn’t wait to –
Sha walked straight into the gnarled end of a wooden walking cane, hard. He stumbled, nose smarting from the impact. He blinked angrily and saw, to his confusion, a small white-haired woman tottering about before him.
“Oh dear fellow”, she croaked cheerily, “I do beg your pardon!” She swung her cane as she gestured, the end catching him squarely in the jaw. For such an old woman, her blow packed quite a punch.
“Ai-yah!” yelped Sha in surprise, as much as pain.
The old crone squinted up at him, one eye milky with cataracts. “Did you say something, young man?”She leaned forward on her cane. Sha leaned back by instinct.
“My old eyes are not what they used to be. Not a spring chicken anymore, as they say!” The crone cackled loudly. Sha stared at her, incredulous. And then he remembered: the girl!Sha whirled around, but she was gone. He swore loudly and turned on his heel to leave.
He needed a blasted drink!
Behind him, the old woman leaned on her cane and watched him leave, a small smile playing at her wrinkled lips.
Chapter 5– A Gift in Return
Mei had found a quiet spot and was examining her lychee seed. She wondered if she could bring it back to her sisters, after her 12 moons on land were done. Perhaps she would plant it in her gardens under the sea. She wondered if it would grow…
"Maiden" came a voice from behind her, soft and rasped with age.
Mei turned to look behind her, and saw an old woman with snow colored hair. In her wizened hands, she held a pair of modest cloth slippers. They were small and made of sturdy black linen. On their sides, someone had embroidered a pair of small white fish. Delicate white thread made the fish come alive, their bodies slender and supple. The fish tails flowed behind them, reminding Mei of the water gowns she and her sisters wore.
"A gift for your generosity" the old woman smiled up at Mei, nodding to her bare feet.
“That fruit seller will not need to sell his wares for a year, after your gift”, she continued with a chuckle, as Mei looked at her in confusion.
"Mei", the old woman spoke again, "you will eat with me tonight. Come, take my arm and walk with me. You won’t mind terribly if I lean on you a bit? My old bones…” She smiled helplessly up at Mei. The series of commands were given so skillfully, so endearingly, that Mei found it impossible to refuse.
It was only much later, that Mei realized: she had never told the old woman her name.
To be continued in Pearl (Part 3)