The Chinese Yi customs are rigid with old tradition. In a nationality clinging to times of old, one girl learns to accept her role while still being in control of her life. This is a coming of age story with a cultural twist.
Jade pearls strung along white floss. Colorfully striped skirts and a heavier than normal headdress. Veil covering tear-blurred eyes. Sentimental feelings. Tears stream down her face because she knows that there will be loss in these incoming seconds. Amid the celebration she feels wholly alone. Still, she tries hard to suppress her feelings because she knows that she is but a seed in the wind. These seconds are out of her control.
Mei stares at her red veil as the mute mule trudges terribly on beneath her. She hears screaming, laughter, but it's all white noise. Water targeted to her kidnappers accidentally splashes to her face. She does not flinch. Instead her mind races with rage. It really was no surprise her fake kidnappers came by surprise. Of course her mama and baba had not told her of their preparations. As her baba shouts and screams for her rescue, Mei wonders how many goats he had gained from this exchange. How many beads her mother was given. What is the value of a rebellious girl?
Her kidnappers, boys she once grew up with, are now strong and capable of fending off their pursuers. They shout to run faster through the village, pulling the mule along to an unknown destination. Mei reflects woefully on the subject. To whose household would she be taken to? To whom shall she be mated to for life? Who is to be her husband? Who is she to give the invaluable love-fire to without return? The mule stumbles along a ditch and Mei struggles to keep seated upon its tired old back. How long is a lifetime with one you must learn to love?
As girls scream, falling back, playfully calling for her kidnappers to stop, Mei swallows hard. She shared a childhood with those girls, some now married, some still playing in blissful ignorance. Mei wishes more than anything to return to those thin skirts, the straw dolls, the gentle strokes of a mother and the encouraging pats of a father. She wistfully returns to a world where the only punishment for disobedience was the swat of a spoon. Now that is gone. Ripped from her the moment she was taken in the arms of hired men and placed on the back of a downtrodden mule. There will be no more of that.
The sky shines with furious heat. Sweat begins to pool under her brow where her headdress sits upon her like a weight. Before, there was the urge to slip from the mule's back and tear the veil from her head and the skirt from her waist to toss behind her as she runs from destiny like a nude goddess. Now there is only reality. The colorful crown on her head weighs her down like an anchor to gravity. She has but one choice. She must accept her fate and whatever ugly face might follow. Otherwise far worse consequences would fall upon her family. Otherwise there will be only sorrow. She is in control enough to at least determine acceptance and happiness.
The house comes into view, newly matted with dried rice-stalks. The men laugh for they have escaped her pursuers, faces ash-smeared and hair soaked. From behind the thick veil, Mei realizes what has come. She wipes the tears from her youthful cheeks and takes a deep breath. Childhood now behind her, Mei reaches blindly for the hands that will take her to her new home. Finding rough skin, she slips from the mule and without attempt at grace, walks forward. She is the commander of her happiness, although but a seed amid the storm.
Soon she is stopped. Heart racing, eyes fearful, voice all but gone, the veil is lifted. She looks and sees and behind the red curtain is a face. Unknown. Smiling. Still, not as ugly as she had assumed. The face is also young but old enough to appreciate the beauty of a hemmed skirt. He remains silent, for that is the custom. The girl takes a deep breath. She reminds herself of her inner rebel and smiles. She will not be beaten by her own fate.
Still fighting for control, Mei decides quickly her course of action. She grabs the man's wrists and leans in too quickly for argument. Lips meet. Hers is met with surprise and she knows she has won. She pulls away and still in silence gives the strange face a knowing look. It is replied with one of confusion, sudden understanding, and finally defeat. The face then becomes clear as that of a man who in mind is weaker than his partner. Mei smiles and another celebration begins the next. One tradition to the next. Once more separated in blindness.
Three years in solitude and meditation.
Three years of learning, growth, prosperity and happiness.
Three years more and the strange face once more appears slightly less strange. Slightly wizened, but still no more knowing than Mei.
They greet. At first there is silence. The stranger suddenly remembers but he is too late.
Mei leans in too quickly for words and kisses the stranger as if she had known him all through the three years of separation. His recognition is palpable and their life together has begun. Though their titles are the same as any other, husband and wife, it has always been kept between them their true ranks. For Mei has always been the commander of the fortune she was dealt.
In the customs of obedience, there are holes. In holes, those of wisdom learn to live. And those who live in the caverns of society, learn. In learning there is growth. In growth there is prosperity. In prosperity, happiness. Mei, daughter of the Li family in a Yi village south of the capital of Yunnan, accepts her place in a culture rigid with tradition. Free-spirited Mei learned that to be an adult, one may have to conform. However, Mei, the wife who kissed first, would never have to give up control.