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home : arts : arts Thursday, November 23, 2017

6/21/2017 4:46:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride
It is darker than usual by the time I reach home. Chickens do not roam the roads. No sign of village children. The town is already sleeping. Sounds of wild hounds echo in the distant mountains. The songs of crickets soothes my spirit.

I turn the corner and see Mom, Dad, and Goua sitting out front of our home, their arms outstretched before a bonfire. The bright reds and yellows and oranges of the fire, though ravenous, paint the distraught shrivels that lurks inside of me. I made a promise to Touzajer tonight, one that I couldn't retract. Seeing my family now, I am already homesick.

I approach my house. The sound of crackling flames calms me. Though the fire roars, the air here is denser and colder than at the farm. Yet, its anger licks at the burning wooden under it. The crackling sound reminds me of meat over fire after a successful day of hunting. Only, the smell of sizzling meat is absent. In its place is the scent of grilled, bubbly glutinous rice cakes. My stomach grumbles and I lick my lips, both for hydration and also for a taming of the urgent saliva pooling under my tongue.

Goua shoots a wide smile at me as if saying, look what I've got. In her hands are two wooden branches that grasps at a white, bubbling rice cake that hovers over the fire. The bubble is growing so huge; it resembles a redheaded Hmong tribe's cultural hat. Its sides began to golden. I clutch at my stomach as I approach her. "How did you guys get rice cakes?" I ask, watching as Goua blows at her fingers, whipping them to relieve the heat.

"Uncle Na brought them over. They traded their chickens for a fresh harvest of glutinous grains and made rice cakes. So they brought it to share," Goua says. I nod by head, wondering how lucky we are to live near relatives. It is customary that when a family acquires a surplus, they'd share it with their relatives. Goua breaks a roasted corner and hands it to me. I take it, blowing at my fingers. Once I leave this place to go with Touzajer, I'd no longer have this kind of kinship. No more uncles who'd knew me. No more sisters who'd gladly share with me her glutinous rice cake. No more bonfires surrounded by Mom and Dad.

"Why are you so late to get home?" Dad asks in a raspy voice. Before I can answer he continues saying, "We've already eaten dinner and saved you some leftovers in the covered plate."

I bit a piece of the rice cake and begin chewing. Gazing into the fire, I wonder about Dad. I have always thought it weird how dad always asks these questions - about how late I was - but does not expect an answer. It's as if he trusted me whole-heartedly. As if he didn't have single doubt in his mind that I was a good-natured daughter and wouldn't misact. I very well have earned this trust. All of my eighteen years, I have not once argued or questioned Mom and Dad's requests of me. I farm without their asking. I cook breakfast and dinner, feed the pigs, embroidered clothes to be sold to Hmong-Americans. And when the wages come in, I don't ask to keep a single kip. So, am I still this good daughter? Have I misacted by accepting Touzajer's invitation? I swallow the bite of rice cake with a hard gulp. I should feel it escaping down my esophagus but instead, it forms a lump at the back of my throat.

I head inside and enter the kitchen. On a white metal plate is a chicken leg. My chest grows heavy. Though we rarely ate meat, on days like this when we did, Dad always made sure to spare Goua and I the delectable pieces. I let out a deep sigh. Leaving this home is going to be harder than I'd imagined.

"Eat your dinner and then get ready for bed," Mom chides from outside. Mom's voice. Dear precious mom. Days from now, your voice will be but an echo in my memory. I clump a handful of white rice in my hand and bring the plate of chicken with me outside. I want to eat around Mom and Dad as many times as I still could.

The fire eventually died down as all things do. I slip into bed with a heavy heart - a mixture of guilt and uncertainty. If I am honest, I really didn't know what I am getting myself into. I didn't know anything about Touzajer other than what he's told me. I don't know how his house looks like. Or even if his parents would like me for a daughter-in-law. I know nothing. But somehow, I have a feeling that this uncertainty is more than my life right now. And I want to move forward with it. But the pain of not ever seeing Mom and Dad and Goua ever again sent tears to my eyes, burning my nose as they escape my eyelid. Maybe I would see Touzajer tonight in my dreams. Then, I'd speak to him of my apprehension. And maybe, only maybe, he'd say some words to me to put me at ease.

I awake in morning feeling well rested. My heart sinks in my chest as a wave of disappointment rushes through me. I didn't dream of him. The feeling of letdown consumes my mind. Can he hear my internal thoughts even when he is not around? If so, had my thoughts of apprehension yesterday saddened him? I shake my head. That isn't likely. I get up to wash my face and go about my day.

Night comes again. I watch the sun go down as I wonder about Touzajer. The pain of keeping this secret hidden inside of me makes my palms itch. I long to tell Goua or even Mom, but what if they restrict our relationship? Touzajer is only a spirit even though he says he is a prince. And I know what would happen when a human marries a spirit. They themselves become a spirit, which means... death. Though Mom chides often that at eighteen years, I have become an old maid and must marry as soon as I find a man, I am certain she wouldn't be so excited to hear that the man I have found is not human. To die for a marriage? Mom and Dad would NOT be for that. Despite that I am. No one would understand me.

The third day rolls on by and there is still no sign of him. Neither in my dreams nor by the dragon pond. My heart grows heavier. Have I become one of those maidens that have been stood up by a man? Lied to? Except, I am lucky I have not yet given him my body. Otherwise, I would be done for.

The next morning scoots along. Again, nothing. Before I leave to the farm that morning, I break some branches the length of my fingers and lodge them behind the bamboo bulge on my bedroom wall. One. Two. Three. Four.

The days that have gone by are enough to count. And if I didn't keep track of them, I'd soon forget how long we've parted. I stare into the distance now; the skies swirl into a murky blue. It is already due time for rainy weather. But somehow, the rain is late this year. It understands my sorrow, the rain. It holds still and does not fall from the sky, its appearance, slow-coming; like the love that has exited my life, slowly and painfully. Like Touzajer. I say a silent prayer. Touzajer, don't trick me. Maybe, just maybe, he'd hear me.

Fog fills the atmosphere. Its color is a faint green behind the backdrop of pitch-black darkness. I cannot tell if I am at the farm or at home, but the coldness of a dirt ground stuns the soles of my feet. I know that I am on solid ground. I know that this is a dream.

My name echos. "Yuyeng. Yuyeng." It's a male's voice. Though, it's not Touzajer. The voice is deeper like that of a husky man. Or a god. "Yuyeng. Yuyeng." It calls my name without stop. I reach my arms forward to find my way. I feel nothing. Not even the fog that has now gathered into thick clouds; they merely pass through the cracks between my fingers. I need support, direction. "Yuyeng. Yuyeng." I trail after the voice, my head swiftly turning from this side to that to follow its echo.

A tingling at my fingertips shocks me. It feels like touching the surface of a prickly bitter melon. I stumble back, a sharp yelp escaping me. The prickle quickly grows into a swift grasp as a pair of hands with thick fingers laces with my own. He pulls me into his grasp and my arms fold against his chest under his tight hold. Touzajer! It is him! That was his voice. Tears sting my eyes. The thought that I'd forgotten the tone of his voice, between the long absence, pains me. He pulls away to study my face. "Why the tears?" His voice is gentle and inviting. His grasp is firm and his presence, warm.

I sniff and wipe my nose with the back of my hand. "Where have you been?" His large hands cup my cheeks and his thumbs wipe under my eyes. He wears a caring smile. "I've been away to arrange for our marriage, my love. Tonight is the night I'll take you with me."

I sniff again but this time, I feel a smile forming on my face. He matches my smile along with a faint chuckle as he notices my contentment. My cheeks heat up and I bury my face into his shoulder. His long fingers smoothens my hair.

We part as his hand lifts up my chin, my gaze locking with his. His dark eyes peer deeply into mine as if reading my thoughts. Then, he leans in, the wide of his chest towering over me. Providing warmth. Love. Passion. His head tilts to one side, his nose inching closer. I close my eyes and lean in, following his lead. His lips brush on mine; they are lusher than I'd imagined. His breath is warm and sweet, like cane sugar. He parts his lips and I feel the tug of his teeth on my bottom lip. Though my eyes are closed, a sparkle of light fills my senses. His lips consume mine, urgent and eager. My chest rises and falls, all against his chest. He notices and hugs tighter around my back, pressing me hard against his arching body. My breath catches, but I ride the high and part my lips against his. And for a moment, just a moment, we merge, his breath on my breath. Then, Mom's voice. "Yuyeng!! Yuyeng!! Wakeup Yuyeng!!"

My eyes slice open. A blurry Mom hovers over me. My forehead is drenched and I am laying on my bed, in our house. I suddenly cough deeply and fight for breath.

"She's awake, husband!! She's awake!!" Mom yells, looking behind her. My vision comes into focus and I stare around to orient myself. My heart leaps. This cannot be. The noise of the shaman's gong thunders throughout our home. The shaman's bells ring against my ear. Touzajer wasn't successful in taking me.

**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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