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home : arts : arts Monday, September 25, 2017

6/5/2017 4:26:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride
I have fallen again on the dirt ground. A grimy blotch marks over my knees and the edge of my palms. The scabs at my knees rip open. But that is the last thing on my mind. What troubles me most is the sight of him. Touzajer.

I fight to catch my breath. Peering at the green pond ahead, I realize how lucky I am to have only fallen. It could have been much worse. I could have stumbled straight into the green, murky waters here and drowned. I couldn't swim. I would have surely died.

Would I really have died? With water like that, shooting and flowing ever so gently into the air as if it had a mind of its own, perhaps I would be safe. Maybe I, too, would have had the support of the splashing stream of water under my feet, suspending me in the air, much like how Touzajer is standing right now.

I do not come to my feet to see the magnificent scene. The water truly is alive. It spews a thick bridge-like stream in the air under Touzajer's feet and carries him to land right before me. He sets his feet on the dirt, one foot after the other, like slowing down from a jog. The rhinestones on his garment glisten in the light of the setting sun. It reminds me of the pond, its surface always galloping slowly and sparkling in daylight. But right now it wasn't day. It was evening - the only time I ever do see him in human form. It's like he cannot appear during the day. This is not normal. Was this the only way our love would carry on?

"I have seen you before," I echo his message. "Your wore the scales in the caves in my dream. Was that you?" I wasn't purporting that he was monstrous. But from the looks of his face, he may have thought I was.

He takes a few eager steps forward and extends a hand. "Let me help you," he offers, dodging the question.

His voice is ever so soft, like feathers of an angel. His lips curl into an expectant smile like he is smitten and happy to see me. And I truly feel no different. My heart seems to leap in and out of my chest, fluttering yuj yees just as my given name implies. His hands are masculine, with round palms like that of a welder. Except, his complexion is fair. Not sunburnt. My hand in his, I notice how well groomed his fingernails are, a rare trait of countryside men. Men around here tended to leave their nails long for the purpose of handiwork or for use in personal hygienic tasks. But his cleanliness only makes sense. He is not a countryside man. Touzajer is not from around here. He is not from around anywhere according to what I know. He isn't human.

My heart is disappointed by that fact. I'll never be able to show him to my parents. Or speak about him to Goua, my younger sister, while we compare our mates, her Meng and my Touzajer, as sisters do. No. I will not get to have any days like this.

Sadness seizes me deep inside my chest and writes itself on my face. But I take his hand anyway. And they are warm, as a man's hand should be. He squeezes my fingers and pulls me off the ground. Strong and capable. We are within arm's length now, but I do not feel the same closeness to him now than before. Maybe it is my tampered heart, feeling so many things at once: confusion of who he is, fear of the unknown, anxious at my self-professed devotion to him.

"I don't think I know you," I say. "Was it really you? Last night in my dream." I feel my brows furrowing. His does not frown nor grow uncertain. His smile widens and my spirits lift.

"Yes that was me," he confirms. "I don't want you to be scared of me because I am not like you. I am only of dragon descent. You saw me once when you were only a girl. You were carrying an umbrella across the river, miles away from your farm. Do you recall?"

My heart immediately sinks as I ponder the thought. Hmong elders advise not to carry an umbrella overhead when crossing the river because dragons and river beasts will see you and take your spirit with them to their world. Had I been taken since that time when I was young?

I look up. A grin flashes at his face. It is as if he heard my thoughts because he is nodding. "I was still just a little boy that day," he says, "just as you were a little young girl. You were with your mother. You glimpsed at me in the river as my scales glistened. You even chased after me thinking that I was a gold cloth."

The memory rushes into my head now more clear than ever. Mom and I were going somewhere, the location I can't place. But the sight of the golden coil under water, I can recall. It had spread out so thin, it appeared like a young lady's sash. I raced after it to pick it up but slipped and fell right as it uncoiled, revealing itself as a rough-scaled eel. I hadn't known then that it was a dragon.

"You remember now," he says. His hands grasp at my elbows and I relax. "Since that day," he continues, "I returned to the river and also to the green pond to see if we'd ever cross path."

"Yesterday, in my dream, you said that you were the lone ghost deer. Is that true? Can you take many forms?"

"Yes and no. That day at the farm when you fainted, it was my first time taking human form. But I could only manifest as our ancestral spirit form, the white deer, in front of you because, well, I... I was afraid."

"Why?"

"I was afraid that you wouldn't want to see me."

I bite my lip. "Well I'm seeing you now aren't I? What's to fear?"

He releases my elbows. His hands return to his sides. He crosses them. "You are not scared of me now, because I have flesh and bone like you. But once you see the real me, you might not accept me." I bite back, not knowing how to respond. How can that be true - me, scared of him? Can one be scared of the person they love, just because he wasn't human? Besides, I have seen many a things scarier than him in my lifetime. But I must not confess that to him. In actuality, I wasn't so sure I'd be so brave as to not flinch once he took dragon form. Based on Grandpa's stories, dragons were long and coiled and finned, like an eel out of water. And they had a strong tough armor, scales made practically out of polished metal. They can appear in all colors. The little dragon I'd seen that day was gold.

"You're the Golden Dragon?"

He nods his head. "I am the Prince of Dragons, youngest son to the Golden Dragon King." He speaks with conviction, but he doesn't smile now. He seems reluctant and does not meet my eyes.

My heart sank. Does he instill so little trust in me? Why wouldn't I accept him? This man is the most exciting thing that has ever befallen me. The thought of possibly not seeing him ever again was too painful. I couldn't have that happen.

"I took your hand yesterday, didn't I?" I say reassuringly. He meets my eyes and my knees weaken for the hundredth time. I want to shy back; I've stunned myself with my own confidence and candor. But I wear a smile anyway. Like Grandpa and Grandma once were, I want a chance at happiness? Like Goua and Meng will be. Or like Mom and Dad still are. I want to live a life with someone who loves me. But was I too hopeful? Touzajer has not even revealed his true feelings to me yet. I must not forget that I am only a girl. I shouldn't be the first to speak my feelings. "Yesterday, you said that if I didn't take your hand, it would sever our tie and we wouldn't see each other again," I say.

"Yes. You invited me that night. And in the dream, it was my time to invite you. Had you not taken my hand, I wouldn't be able to find my way back to you."

I stare into those dark eyes. Closer now, he had thick long lashes that curled up, brightening his double lids. Beside his left brow is a mole. Even as a human, he had flaws. But I loved each one of them.

"You took my hand," he says, "and now our tie has been made. Our fate sealed." He hesitates before saying, "Will you give me your hand? And come with me to my world? Our world?" He shifts a brow, waiting for me to respond.

I look down at my shoes. "I yet do not know how you feel about me."

A sigh of relief escapes him followed by a light chuckle. "If I didn't love you, do you think I would spend my entire adulthood scavenging the river and sea, not taking another's hand until this day?" He takes my hands in his. "You are my first. My one and only."

I look away briefly to hide my flushed cheeks. A grin forms on my face. I squeeze his hands and he squeezes back. "You, too, are my first. I have not known another man before you."

"I know," he says, confidently.

I shrink back. "How? Who told you?"

"Ever since we met at the river, you've been in my dreams. My father, the king of our land, has made arrangements to make you my wife. Yuyeng, you and I are soul mates." His eyes twinkle as he spoke. "That is why men of this town cannot court you."

My whole life has been devoid of affection all because I am promised to Touzajer. How very chilling. He is more powerful than I thought. But it is as the Hmong proverb goes: Born as a girl, daughters will eventually have to cross their parents' doorstep over into another family's and become their daughter-in-law. That saying has reached me now. And I must accept my fate. "Yes," I say, my voice almost too cheerful to make sense. "I will go with you."

He pulls me toward him and my chin hooks at his shoulder, my ear against his ear. "Wherever you go," I say, "I will go with you." I hear a smile forming on his face.

"We must be together," he says. "We were meant to be together. You mine and I yours."

**This folktale has been modified from its original form and contains fictional elements of which stems solely from the author's imagination. Any relation to real or imagined people and historical context is of mere coincidence.

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