|5/8/2017 3:55:00 PM ||Email this article Print this article |
|The Dragon Bride|
By Kerry Xiong
Our eyes lock and I suddenly feel like I am the only girl alive. I feel naked at his stare. His eyes darker than night, pierces through mine. Can he see through me? Read my thoughts?
His skin is fair and clear, from the widow's peak of his hairline down to the round of his chin. His lips curve into a kind smile that makes me want to touch them; to see if they are real. I shouldn't be so curious, but I cannot help it. I have never been so close to a man before. And I am starting to know the feeling of being mesmerized. It is surreal, like I am walking on clouds. All of my thoughts trail out of my head, and I am acutely aware of his close scrutiny of my face; his eyes are unblinking. I couldn't form notions for which to think or words for which to speak. My breathing hastens; I hear his do the same. His warm breath brushes my cheeks, warms the tip of my nose, and tickles every fiber of my being. I want to be modest and look away, but I cannot. I cannot help but stare and yearn and stare and hope - and wonder. His complexion is unlike any I've seen in our town. He must not be from around here. He is not a farmer.
The searing pain at my knees pulls me back into reality. I swallow hard and turn away to break our gaze. A pulse thumps at the back of my throat. It is not long before I realize that it is the drumming of my heart, a rapid beat that makes my throat dry. Though I wish I can get up and sprint away, I cannot muster the energy.
"Miss, you're hurt. Let me help you," he repeats.
I didn't answer. He comes before me, face to face, again. Another look into those eyes and I am told that this is certain. This moment is meant to be. This is my chance at love. But even so, I must not be so daring as to make my feelings apparent. For, I am only a girl, and a farm girl at that. I am a poor country girl, one who is not educated. A small village girl, one who is not fair-skinned, not like he. Not like the girls from where he came. I am not a good match for him. Not even Goua, the prettiest of our sisters, is a good match for him. His skin is unblemished and fair. He is perfect. A breath escapes me as I gather what's left of my self-worth. And I get up to leave at once.
"Don't go," he says. "Not when you're still hurt. Let me help you wash and dress your wounds."
I obey, like a cow at a grass field, eager to eat my way into the field of his heart. He takes a few looks around as if searching for something. Water.
"Wait here," he says. He runs down toward the creek and quickly disappears from my sight.
Why would I dream about him first before meeting him? A bout of terror strikes me and rushes down my spine. Could it be that he is... not human?
Hmong elders say that dreams can tell of one's past, present, or future. That one must follow the signs in order to reveal the truth. But what signs is this acquaintance trying to tell me?
Laboring breaths trail up the hill from the direction of the creek. He's coming back. He jogs toward me, careful not to spill the contents in the folded leaf held in his hands.
Head tilted, I study him as he approaches. He looks pretty human. Just like the next Hmong man at any New Year ball-toss lineup. And he did remind me of the New Year celebration. His attire is shimmering bright; the soft black velvet cloth is embellished with circular gems that shine bright in the sun. He is not of Hmong Green lineage for his pants do not sink and drag. He is not of Hmong White lineage for his clothes are much too ornamented to be so. The embroidery on his collar is of round swirls, like snails or stars. On his head is a hand-sewn Hmong cap that is adorned with a yellow cloth ball at its peak. It comprises a rather peculiar design, bright red and green zigzags running diagonally all throughout the cap. I have never seen that design anywhere. Is he of Hmong Striped lineage? Or, maybe, Hmong Red-head lineage? With my heart affected and mind intrigued, I have to know where he is from.
"I'm back," he says while catching his breath. "Hope you didn't wait too long."
He had folded a large banana leaf into a cone-shaped cup and filled it with water.
My heart drums as his hands hover over the hem of my skirt and my hands jolt to cover my knees. The sudden scathing contact of my hands at my wounds brings a tearing pain that make me shiver. I bite my lip to keep from yelping. My legs hide sheepishly under the umbrella of my skirt.
He meets my hesitant eyes. "Please, let me." He nods gently and smiles. "The water's a little chilly," he warns. He pours little trickles over the wounds and my legs retract slightly. A chuckle escapes him. "Sorry," he says as he continues pouring. Water washes away the blood that was starting to stain. Bruise red dilutes down to a light red and runs down my legs, cooling them.
I survey him closely at his careful handle. His hair is glossy black. It is combed neatly over his head, showing that he is well-groomed and well-bread. Half of me wants this moment to last forever. The other is already lost. He pulls up his sleeve and reveals a green handkerchief tied around his wrist. He unties it and brings it to his teeth to make a rip at the center. Then, his hands tear it apart into two cloths. He meets my eyes again with a reassuring smile before tying it gently on either of my knees.
"Try to stand," he says. He hooks an arm at my armpits and slowly raises me. I yelp as I extend my legs, the wounds soaking into the cloths of the handkerchief brings with it a sharp singeing pain. "May I help you home?" he asks.
I nod in agreement. He takes my bamboo pack and lifts it on his back. We make way home.
"Miss, do you mind that I am walking you home?" I shake my head with a grin.
"You do not talk much. Please don't be shy with me."
I shake my head, again. "Sir, I am just humbled by your kindness. I don't even know you and you have helped me so much today. If it wasn't for you, I would still be sitting under the banana trees at the farm with bleeding knees."
He chuckles. "Oh, gee. Think nothing of it. I've not done such a great deed. It is really my pleasure to help such a lovely girl as you." We giggle.
"May I ask you a personal question?" he continues.
"Are you claimed as anyone's lover?"
"Of course!" he says, insistently.
"Ugly as me, no one would stare much less want my hand."
"Oh, don't tease," he says. "Don't give me so much hope so that I may go home and become unwell with many dreams of you." He does not stare at me when he says this and his cheeks are flushed.
"If you really have heart and are willing to have me," I say, "then I shall not refuse you." I finally feel how it is when my heart flutters.
"I am serious beyond all words," he answers. I laugh, my cheeks reddening as I remain under his arms' support.
As the sun disappears at the horizon, I ask, "You've helped me today and I haven't even learned your name or where you're from." He doesn't answer.
"What is your name?" I ask.
"My name?" he says. "It's a terrible name I've been given." He smirks.
"Oh, I am sure it is not so bad," I say.
"My parents are not so skilled in the art of name-giving, and so have only given me the name Touzajer (Tub Zaj Ntxawg). It is not very agreeable to the ears."
"Oh, no, don't say so. It is very nice and agreeable."
I waited for him to ask of mine, but he did not. Perhaps, he is not very interested in me. Or perhaps, I have not yet set a good enough impression. Or worst yet, perhaps, he already has someone in his heart.
We reach the edge of my village. Village children are still outside, throwing tots and playing rocks - usual pastime activities after dinner. "It is nearly dark," I say. "My house is just that way and I can go on by myself from here." I reach out my arms to lift my bamboo pack and onto my back. "Thank you for helping me get home," I say. He nods, gracefully.
"Come visit us in our home," I suggest before turning away. It is the polite thing to say.
"Oh, since it is late, I must be going. But would you mind if I come court you at night?"
My heart dances as I hide my smile. I was wrong. He did feel for me what I felt for him. I nod intently. "I sleep on the left wall of our house. I'll wait for you." I turned away excitedly toward home. After taking only a few steps, I notice the green handkerchief still clinging to my knees. I bend down to untie them loose. I turn back and extend an arm to return them to him, but he is gone. There is no sign of him.
As night settles in, I lay awake with the blood-dried handkerchief in my hands and wait for him. Hours go by. There is no sign of him. He doesn't come. I drift into a deep sleep.
Fog covers the open field in which I am standing. The blood-dried handkerchief clothes are still in my hand. He appears before me like the mist after the fog is lifted. He is wearing the same clothes, and the same smile. "I hope you didn't too wait long," he says, "Yuyeng."
**This folktale has been modified from its original form and contains fictional elements and characters of which is the author's sole creation. Any relation to real people or historical context is a mere coincidence.
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