Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: rain (10/17/05)
- TITLE: The temple festival (East Asia, 1897)
By Suzanne R
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The little woman stood in the doorway, hands on hips, fire in her cheeks and tears in her eyes.
“I’m a man. I’ll do as I please.”
Indeed, young Baobei’s mother could not physically restrain him. She had been equally unable to send him away last night. She had ordered him to join his father out in the fields, to sleep there, to guard their crop … to stay out of mischief. He had refused to go.
His father was an hour’s walk away, the neighbours unsympathetic. With her delicately bound feet, there was literally nothing she could do to restrain the headstrong boy.
Baobei … her precious one … was determined to enter the enemy’s lair.
The lanky boy hurried down the narrow dirt laneway to the edge of the village. Standing under the blue sky, fluffy clouds on the horizon, next to rippling fields of ripening millet, he rolled a cigarette. It didn’t look like rain, he mused. He was surprised. But rain was certain.
His friends found him standing nonchalantly, puffing contentedly. Determined to overcome his family shame, he worked hard to be the toughest of his peers.
The boys had officially entered manhood. Yet like 13-year-olds anywhere, they jostled and teased one another as they almost … but not quite … ran to town. To run would suggest that they were excited children. They were far too mature for that.
The happy explosions of firecrackers grew louder each step. Rounding the corner of the dusty road, they joined the masses of people coming from every direction, converging on the town square. Their nostrils hungrily inhaled the pungent yet delectable smell of ‘stinky tofu’. The atmosphere reminded Baobei of his mother’s bubbling pot full of dumplings.
Brightly coloured fabric, black cloth shoes, aromatic spices and woven baskets were displayed on the ground. Women haggled over miniscule amounts of money, storing up both provisions and stories to last until next year’s Temple Festival.
Baobei and his friends hardly noticed the sellers. It was the exhibitions of strange people performing impossible feats that attracted them. Baobei’s favourite was the glazed-eyed bare-footed man who ran up and down the tower of very sharp blades which protruded from a central wooden pole. Baobei’s eyes were as round as the dates which grew in their orchard.
The music started. As one, the mass migrated towards the Temple stage.
Even without amplification, the high-pitched wavering voices of the young opera performers carried clearly across the audience of thousands. They reenacted a traditional tale, appeasing the gods and asking for rain. Spellbound, the boys gazed open-mouthed at the gruesome masks and elaborate actions.
In the midst of his reverie, Baobei was suddenly grabbed by rough hands. Like the opera, it seemed surreal. Yet the pain in his shoulders convinced him that this was indeed reality.
His family’s disgrace had caught up with him. The oft-repeated words of the district magistrate to a so-called ‘uncle’ who had recently and unsuccessfully appealed for justice rang in his ears.
“If you are a person of the Qing dynasty, then why are you following the foreign devils and their seditious religion? You didn't pay your opera money when requested by the village and you were beaten.”*
Baobei gritted his teeth and steeled his spirit. He was a man now.
The voices came thick and fast … as did the blows from sticks, hands and boots. He was dragged away from the crowd, down a narrow alley. Onlookers, even his friends, quickly averted their gaze, feigning ignorance of the boy’s peril.
“Your family paid no opera tax. How dare you show your face?”
“Your father sniffs the flatulence of foreign devils.”
“Do you refuse the rain the gods send? Yet your family provokes the gods to anger by worshiping a foreign God.”
“You betray your culture.”
Dark clouds covered the moon. The Christians huddled by the village entrance, praying and watching, wringing hands, crying and praying some more.
Baobei’s mother gave a cry of both relief and fear as her husband and brother emerged from the darkness. Between them, they supported a moaning mutilated mass of flesh.
But he was alive.
Heavy raindrops pounded on the roof. His mother forced the nutritious millet porridge through Baobei’s torn lips. Mistaken for fever, Baobei’s face burned with shame as he listened to his mother’s mumbled prayer.
“Father, you have spared my boy’s life. Save his soul too, I beg.”
The characters are fictional, but the setting and the magistrate’s quote is factual. http://www.illuminatedlantern.com/cinema/features/christianity.html#2 19 October 2005.
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