Authors: Lucy Yam
Bride of the
Copyright ©2011 by Lucy Yam
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author/publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
First Printing: January, 2011
They were playing hide-and-seek in a labyrinth of ravines.
She groped in a dense fog, on the rocky road, through the apparitions of trees.
“Charlene! Darling, where are you hiding? Let’s go home!”
A whiff of cold mist hit her face. Sharon shuddered and woke. The rumbling of engines and the smell of tobacco and the chattering in a strange accent reminded her that she was in a bus in China, on her mission to rescue her sister Charlene.
She sat up and opened her eyes. The bus was still in the endless mountains. A gauzy rain shrouded the
on the roadside. The man who sat next to her had opened the window while she was dozing off. She could see the powder-like mist drifting in through the tiny space and falling on her lap, dampening her jeans. Selfish pig. She cursed silently, and slid the window close with such a force that the loud click started a couple nodding heads around her, including the man next to her. She glared at him to see what he had to say, but he only closed his eyes to avoid her confrontation.
They had been playing the game of open
window during the entire trip
. He was wearing a thick jacket and was probably feeling hot, and would open the window whenever she dozed off
be shocked by
such ungentlemanly behavior, but in China it’s different, especially in a remote countryside…
how could her sister Charlene, who was born and raised in the U.S., get used to the life here? She shouldn’t have allowed her to come at all!
Sharon sighed as she again leaned back against the seat, and stared at the raining scene outside, feel
She hadn’t really rested ever since she had left LA: Fifteen hours of plane, ten hours of train, and now, in the middle of the eight hour bus trip. Charlene was in the back of her mind all the time and whenever she closed her eyes she heard her voice on the phone.
It was shortly after five in the afternoon and she was in her office at Web Genius working on a website upgrading for Pacific Bank when Charlene called.
“What’s wrong, sis?” Sharon was instantly alarmed. It was early morning in China and Charlene had never called at this time.
“Nothing. Just that I don’t know what it is but I can’t seem to get out of bed. My head spins as soon as I try. Has it ever happened to you?”
Sharon’s hands went cold, “No, it hasn’t. You have to see a doctor. Can you call someone to help you right away?”
“I did. My hosts are helping. Urcher brought me the village shaman. He said it was some evil spirit I encountered in a neighboring village. And he did some magic dance for me.”
“Oh dear,” Sharon tried to keep herself calm, but the tone of her voice must have betrayed her.
Charlene said at once, “Don’t’ worry, Sharon. I’m sure it isn’t a serious problem. I’m fine when I lie down. Besides, they’ll fetch the town doctor for me later.”
“Later? What about now?”
“Oh he’s not available now. He sells vegetables in the morning and sees patients in the afternoons.”
“Oh dear,” Sharon rubbed her temples after Charlene hung up.
Sharon called her doctor, Dr. Chang’s office, right away, but couldn’t get hold of him. She left a message on his machine and tried to go back to work. But in her heightened state of anxiety she could hardly do anything. All she could think of was that Charlene was her only family. Their mother had died a couple years ago and their father remarried soon after. Besides, Sharon had more or less raised Charlene and couldn’t bear to imagine her sister suffering at all. She had to go to her. And bring her back if she could. It was a mistake to let her go to that backward mountain village.
When her assistant Jenny, came over to say goodbye, Sharon was booking the midnight flight online.
“Oh good, Jenny, I’m planning a trip to China and I have a few things to tell you.”
“Charlene is sick.”
“For how long do you plan to go?”
epends on her condition. Besides, my sister is as stubborn as I am. But it won’t be more than a month since that’s about all the sick leave I have accumulated.”
“I’m sure it’d be ok with Mr. Yamada if you needed more time.”
“We’ll see. Oh that reminded me. I have to call and let him know.”
Sharon was about to dial the number of her boss when Jenny asked again,
“What about your project? Should I take over it?”
“It isn’t necessary. I’ll work on it when I’m away and I’ll find a way to email it to you.”
“Are you sure?”
The window was open again. Sharon shot a glance at the man sitting beside her, who smiled at her apologetically.
Sharon let him have his way as they had entered a different valley and the sky was clear.
She gazed at the scenery beyond the mountains. There were patches of blue hidden among the green pines. She knew that it must have been the Lugu Lake, the lake that the place was named after. Shortly after she saw a sign on roadside with a picture of Moso women in bright costumes. A line of bold letters read: Welcome to the Kingdom of Women.
Yes, Kingdom of Women. That familiar phrase had caused so
in her ever since Charlene had mentioned it two years ago. She would do her Ph.D. dissertation on the Moso, an ethnic minority of China, who had a peculiar marriage system called “walking marriage.” Married couples wouldn’t start new households. The man would “walk” to his wife’s house at nights while living with his own family during the days. It was a matrilineal society, so children of a marriage belonged to the wife’s household. Charlene, who studied anthropology at UC Berkeley, was thrilled by her discovery of the Moso of China from an article. She was even more excited when she found out that the Moso were in Sichuan, the province that their parents were from. She had made up her mind when she informed Sharon that she would be going to that mountain area which had just been opened to tourism not long ago, and had barely enough supply of electricity.
Sharon was devastated. “You don’t know what China is like, sis, even in the cities, the living condition is bad. And we’re talking about a mountain village. When we lived there, there weren’t even indoor bathrooms, not to mention showers, outhouses were horrible, you cannot imagine how they were like…”
Sharon was hoping to scare her sister, who was very much spoiled in that respect. Charlene had had a hard time sharing an apartment with two other girls when she was getting her undergrad degree at
. Her roommates did not have the habit of cleaning up the bathroom after they had showered.
But Charlene was undaunted by the prospect of visiting outhouses. “I’ll get used to it.” She said, looking like a martyr willing to die for her cause, which was to study the Moso before they were converted by the majority Han.
Sharon reluctantly turned to their father for help, but he only reminded her that she had been the one who supported Charlene’s decision to major in anthropology when he had insisted she studied business management. He had almost disowned them both when Sharon paid for Charlene’s tuition and living expenses. How had she lived through the past ten months? Sharon refused to remember. Although Charlene had never complained about the living conditions and had told her vaguely that she was staying at a village five-star hotel and that she was provided with everything she needed, Sharon knew she was saying that so she wouldn’t worry.
Well, at least there were telephone services so she could talk to Charlene at least once a week, for there was a constant worry in the back of her mind that one day Charlene would get sick and there would be no competent doctor over there to cure her. Sharon felt cold at that thought.
“Beautiful,” the man next to her said, “have you been here before?”
“No.” Sharon had no interest to start a conversation with him.
But the man didn’t take the cue, “It’s my third time. You’ll like it here. The Moso are hospitable, and beautiful, men and women alike.”
Sharon nodded slightly. Charlene had told her that.
The man was determined to impress her. “You know that they walk-marry? Moso men are lucky. They don’t have to take care of their own children.”
“I don’t see anything good about it.” Sharon said coldly and shut her eyes.
The man did not speak again.
Sharon knew what he was looking for in the Kingdom of Women. Charlene had told her that besides scenery, tourists frequently visited the place for romance. Romance, Sharon thought with a cynical smile, the word belonged to the same category as Santa Claus did. She had read romance novels fervently in high school and had dated a couple of men actively since college. But never once had she met someone who had everything a true romance hero possessed. The great lovers were often promiscuous, while the faithful types were often boring. Jason, her first love from high school, was handsome and fun-loving, but he was on the flippant side and they broke up after she had seen him with another girl. Douglas, a lawyer client of hers, was successful, dependable, but he lacked humor and charm. Even so, they dated for two years and would go on dating had he not proposed to her. She had made it clear in the beginning that she had no interest in marriage, but still her refusal had hurt him badly. She had decided to put off the dating business for awhile…and that was five years ago. She wasn’t interested in short-term liaisons, but couldn’t find a man interested in noncommittal long-term relationships. And now she was approaching thirty-two. Ah, perhaps a Moso man was what she needed, she thought, and instantly brushed the idea aside. She didn’t intend to stay long in this backward region.