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home : arts : arts Wednesday, November 22, 2017

7/7/2017 3:39:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
The Dragon Bride

By Kerry Xiong

The clad wooden beater that crashes on the shaman's brass drum thunders like the reverberating noise of cymbals. Its continuous blows send tingles to my fingers as I lay on my bed, still and exhausted. I have never noticed before how enchanting this noise is. Each boisterous beat fills the room with shaman aura in waves; waves that seem to travel the walls and enter my room; waves that penetrate my skin and morph my mind anew - a meager attempt at waking me from the hallucination of Touzajer. But I do not wake. Not from the thought of his words; the memory of his smile; nor the feel of his touch. I refuse to be enchanted.

But the choice seems not mine. On my left wrist is a cloth bracelet twisted from threads of white and red. The string is similar to the ties from the shaman's gong, secured around my wrist as a protective barrier. Peering out through the entrance of my room, relatives chatter amongst each other. The men watch the shaman's procession as the women come in and out of the house, busy in their task of preparing for the shaman's dinner. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins.

They all must assume that my spirit has abandoned me; that my body is vacant like an empty shell. But I know they are wrong. My spirit remains. My soul is intact. I even feel it catching in my chest. In truth, it is my heart that is absent. The same heart that I have given to Touzajer and to Touzajer only. With it gone, I am drained of energy and health and motivation.

I am not sure how long I've been out, but I am wearing different clothes now. My legs feel limp as if I have not put them to use for many days. And my feet are cold, my body feverish.

The slivers of light that creep in from outside my bedroom wall makes it hard for my eyes to stay open. I feel like a soulless ghost who has lost all things that matter to her. Yet, I cannot roam like one. I am not dead yet. And with that truth, I am also not with Touzajer. Why wasn't he successful in taking me? I bite my lip to hold my rage. And then sink into bed bringing the covers over my head, settling into the faint darkness that is not nearly dark enough.

A gentle hand nudges my sleeve. "How are you feeling?" asks Goua. She knows I am up. But I do not answer. Do not reveal my face.

She jostles me again but doesn't say anything. Then after a while, she whispers, "Tell me about him."

I turn to face her but wince at the strain it puts on my neck. "How do you know?"

"C'mon, Yu. Why do you think I've been coming home from the farm early with Mom and Dad lately? I know that you have a lover."

My heart deflates. So all this time, she knew. How could I have been so stupid and try to keep this hidden?

"I saw you," she says.

"Saw me what?"

"At the farm. That one day when I'd left early to start on dinner. When you were supposed to pluck pig greens, but came home empty-handed. He helped you when you'd hurt your knees didn't he?"

"You saw all that?" I say with a calculated face.

"No," she says in a tease. But I saw the green-gold sash around your knees when you came home that day. I have never seen you with a sash that beautiful before so figured it must have been from a man."

I don't answer. Memory of the cloth filled my mind with thoughts of him on that day. It seems like only yesterday when we first spoke. And now with the shaman's protection, I am not so sure I'll be seeing him again.

My face must have frowned for Goua asks, "You okay?"

I shake my head and a tear rolls down my cheek. I should hide it, but it's no use. Not in front of Goua. Her face softens. "What's wrong?"

I shake my head again and sniff before mumbling, "How long have I been out?"

"Three days now," she says. She studies me before asking, "What happened to you?"

I contemplate that question myself.

Before I could answer, she says, "You were laying by the green pond at the farm when we found you. You weren't breathing, as if you'd just drowned. Did something happen between you and your lover to make you do this?"

It didn't take long before I'd realized what Goua was saying. She'd taken my unconsciousness for a failed attempted at suicide. I want to scoff and scowl at her. Did she take me for that type of girl, one who would die for a man? But in truth, had Touzajer and I been successful, I would be dead right now. Who was I kidding?

"You don't understand," I say. "It's... it's complicated."

"Well then, tell me!" Her face twisted in concern. "Don't you trust me anymore?"

I sigh, "Of course I do. But I'm afraid that if I tell you, you would have no choice but to ruin my plan. You wouldn't understand." I say not meeting her eyes.

"Try me," I hear her say.

In the afternoon, the shaman prepares for his leave. He speaks to Mom and Dad outside my bedroom before gathering his compensation - a live chicken and a leg of pig meat. Sounds of dissipating footsteps trail out of our home. Shaman and his assistant have left. Just then, Mom enters my room.

"Daughter," she says. "Shaman says you cannot work hard and must not leave home for a period of three days. You must follow these orders if you are to get well."

"Why?" I ask.

"It is a spell that he's appointed onto and on our house. As long as you carry out his words, you will become better without a doubt." My heart sinks at those words. Three days without seeing or hearing from Touzajer? That seems too much for me to bear.

"What about farming?" I ask, a scant attempt at leaving the house, but I nonetheless had to try.

"You don't worry about that now," she says, her expression warm. Lines did not form at the corners of her eyes as they usually did. She looks younger this way. Why wasn't she calm more often? She continues, "It's due for rain any day now. So Goua, your father and I will finish up weeding the grass." Mom's face softens as she spoke. It was the warmest expression I have seen from Mom in years. She was not a woman of soft words and to see her in such a calm mood as now feels unnatural. But it suits her.

I nod in agreement.

She exits my room and I rub my temples to ease the throbbing. Mom pops back in. "And one more thing, don't cut off the shaman string on your wrist until after the third day."

Rain didn't come. Not during the first day of my stay. Goua, Mom, and Dad all packed up with their hlau and banana leaf-covered lunches and headed to the farm as I sat in the open doorway and watched them fade down the open path lined with tall grasses. I wait like this, spirit wound tight with hope, wishing that Touzajer would appear before me. But there is no sign of him. Not even in my dreams. Even though I try so hard to will him into my thoughts. He doesn't appear. The shaman's powers are unquestionable. By locking my wrist with the protection, Touzajer cannot reach me.

When the day grows dark, I silently wish for change. For an opportunity that is out of my control, something that will push me out this door. For I dare not overstep Mom and Dad. Not after the pig and chicken sacrifice they made for me; for my health. The clouds beyond the horizon seem to hear my plea as they move along smoothly toward the direction of our farm, the same direction of Dragon Pond. Rain, do you hear me?

My fingertips are sore by the third day as I continue to embroider the sev that Mom has instructed me to design. It is a Hmong clothing article that will be sold to Hmong-Americans. We save these until the rainy season when we do not visit the farm as often and then embroider the complete fabric before sewing it down as the final design. "What's this pattern that you've designed?" Mom had asked me the day before. I had not given her a straight answer, because she wouldn't have liked it. It is the pattern on Touzajer's shirt, the dragon scale design. I've already embroidered all the scales on the outer frame, a selection of bright reds, forest greens, blush pinks, and royal gold. Prince gold. Dragon Prince gold.

The cloth is white to begin with, but with each poke of the needle, in one cloth hole and out another cloth hole, a pattern the color of my thread is formed. It only takes four of these needle-maneuvers to create a leaf. I ignore the cramp at my fingers and furiously sew the leafy patterns beside the scales. Prick. My needle, still strung by thread, hangs down the white cloth when I abruptly let go. A dot of bright red blood emerges at the tip of my thumb. And I realize what had caused my startle - thunder. Roaring angrily in from above. I finally look up to see grey skies glaring back at me.

The sun is setting. The day is soon to end. There is only one thing on my mind. Touzajer. With sundown, the day ends and the shaman's spell is sealed. I am forever protected from him. We'd never meet again.

I drop my paj ntaub and run out the door down the open path toward Dragon Pond.

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