spoon, so as not to lose any of the flavor. He smiled at me as I watched him. He was so gentle and patient, taking his time to unfold each twist of the dough and reveal the meat inside. Sister walked by and remarked that my friend was handsome, giving me a little wink. I had never been so happy. I felt like touching Bi and kissing him on the cheek, but I did not know how and my face burned at the thought.
Grandfather must have seen. Suddenly he asked, “Xiao Bi, what is your favorite dish at home?”
“My favorite food is chicken dumplings, but the best food of all is the Huang He carp. My father and I go to the river and spend all day catching the biggest fish we can. When we get home it is soaked in fresh water for three days to wash the smell of the earth away. Then it is cut into pieces: one fillet is fried and the other is cooked with a sweet-and-sour sauce. With the head and tail we make a tasty soup,” Bi told Grandfather proudly.
“It sounds wonderful. Maybe if we visit one day we can try it,” Grandfather replied.
“I hope so.”
“I am sure Feng hopes so too,” Grandfather said, which made me blush again.
I said nothing but continued watching Bi. When we had finished, the three of us walked to the front door and he left us. We watched him walk away down the street.
“I think my own father, your great-grandfather, must have been like this young man: simple but brave, ready to speak his mind,” Grandfather commented. “Bi may succeed one day, like Great-grandfather, who came from the countryside and became a captain in the Imperial Army, commanding a troop of men. What do you think?” He looked down at me and smiled. Without waiting for my response he returned to the house, leaving me on my own.
I stood watching Bi walk away from us and dreamt of how he and I would meet again in the future.
A week later I came home to find Ma and Ba arguing. This rarely happened as Ma would normally give her husband face outside their bedrooms and generally, in turn, he would not openly contradict her priorities. Their marriage was a clumsy dance of conflicting and sympathetic convictions and demands, with each person responding to the other’s actions in silence. But this time I could hear them shouting from the street outside the house. The absurd volume of their quarrel was a clear indication that they seldom fought with each other this way. They were standing just inside the courtyard, clearly unaware of all that was going on around them. Ma was very angry, so much so that she was nearly crying. Her hands shook at her sides and wisps of hair had fallen from her bun. I had never seen Ba so aggressive. He kept raking his hands through his hair and glaring at her, breathing hard.
I stood quietly watching them, frightened by their ferocity. Ma turned and saw me.
“Feng, go to your room!”
I stood still.
“Ping, take Feng to her room . . . or to her grandfather,” Ma ordered the maid.
I moved slowly as she led me away, trying to hear as much as possible. Once Ping had led me to my room I quickly returned to the balcony to try and eavesdrop further.
“We will have the wedding!” Ma looked at my father, her eyes demanding his immediate agreement. “We cannot miss this opportunity. How could you even suggest that we should stop it? We must make the date earlier so she can still go through the ceremonies . . . The doctors have said as much.”
“No. The doctors said she should have a proper examination. They said that if we must go ahead, then it would be better to bring it forward, so that her condition is less noticeable. And it would be better for her health that way, too.” Ba talked slowly, trying not to shout again. He looked down at the ground, maybe hoping that when he next looked up Ma would suddenly agree with him.
“Exactly! Exactly what I said. We should bring it forward.”
“Only if we want to go ahead with it.”
“After so many years, how can you consider anything