Mr. Wu's rather rusty house

 

Mr. Wu thought of himself often. In fact thinking about himself and his place in the world was his greatest indulgence. That is besides playing mahjong. Mr. Wu began trembling with excitement at the very thought of sitting around a table with his friends and listening to the fall and clatter of the cracked ivory tiles. This morning however, Mr. Wu cursed his luck and his empty pockets. He closed his eyes and tried to remember every detail of the marathon game he had played with his friends the night before.

The usual Thursday night game had been played at the house of his oldest and dearest friend Three Ears Chen; part-time fortune teller, full-time money maker. Three Ears loved gambling and especially mahjong, just as much as Mr. Wu and the pair had developed a deep rivalry over the decades that they had tried to outwit each other. Except when speaking to the Gods, Three Ears never gave himself the pleasure of wine.  Mr. Wu, on the other hand thought any day incomplete without a toast or two to his own good self and anyone lucky enough to be in his company. It was so often Mr.Wu’s enthusiasm for a cup or two of warm wine that made his life so eventful and not without incident.

After feeding his goats and weeding his tobacco patch Mr. Wu glanced at his second best watch and smiled to himself, His weekly night of  wagering and banter with his pals was almost upon him. With this in mind Mr. Wu hurried to the cupboard and produced a bottle of Kaoliang rice spirit along with a small earthenware cup adorned with blue peonies. This was Mr. Wu’s lucky cup. After pouring himself a goodly measure he turned to the ancestors table and gave a hearty toast to the departed and asked them to watch over his fortune during the coming evening. So happy did Mr. Wu feel that one cup may have led to three and by the time that he retrieved his beloved bicycle from behind the old pigsty he realized that more care than usual would have to be exercised riding along the dyke that separated his field from that of his neighbor.

Now, first things first thought Mr.Wu, what to do about money? To go to a night of gambling without sufficient funds to last all evening would severely curtail his enjoyment and lose him a great deal of face. Since he had been forced to close down his distilling operation  Mr. Wu had very little in the way of petty cash. Cycling gingerly along in the fading light he tried to weigh up his options. Return to the tin shack he called home and rummage through the back of the goat shed until he came upon the false board in the wall that served as his bank. Mr. Wu quickly dismissed this idea as it was now quite dark and besides he wanted to get to the evening’s revelry as quickly as possible. Option number two was even less appealing to the erstwhile gambler. That would mean cycling  the five miles into Fragrant Orchard Village and attempt to wrestle some of his legitimate savings from that infernal computer machine outside the bank that required so much concentration and effort. That machine knew too much! Too many questions and numbers and time was getting on. More importantly it was his own money and who likes to gamble with one’s own hard earned. No, thought Mr.Wu there was only one thing for it, Madame Rosa Hung.

Little Flower Hung was an ample woman. Loud, buxom and startlingly candid. As a young girl she had gone to elementary school with both Three Ears Chen and Mr. Wu and though she would never admit it she loved the idle goat farmer more than anyone else on Dragonfly Mountain. What it was about the moth-eaten old scarecrow that appealed to her she would never tell but suffice to say that her heart belonged to him.  And Mr. Wu knew it too.  As a teenager Little Flower had left the mountain and moved to Taipei. Little was ever said about her until about twenty years later when she returned driving a car and wearing the latest fashionable clothes. She returned to look after her ailing parents fired up with ambition, money and a new name. Scurrilous busy bodies all over Dragonfly Mountain cast doubt on the way that Rosa had come into her wealth. Rumours abounded that she had been a kept woman or a nightclub hostess. However, little was said directly within her earshot as Rosa Hung was a force to be reckoned with. Madame Hung returned home like a late summer’s typhoon. She remodeled her parents home, brought in electricity and running water and had a telephone installed. She chased out her idle brother’s who had squandered away her family’s wealth and bought her father a place on the local temple committee. With her remaining reserves of money she established the Nine Dragons restaurant and from the night it opened people happily waited to be seated and to be told by Rosa what they were going to eat.

The Nine Dragons lay almost exactly between Mr. Wu’s smallholding and the home of his old pal Three Ears. Chuckling  as he  rode along on his ancient Phoenix and Cloud bicycle Mr. Wu congratulated himself yet again on his good looks and even better good fortune. Just what it was about him that Rosa Hung found so irresistible neither he nor his friends or the whole of Dragonfly Mountain could ever guess. There was however a certain special ‘something’  that allowed him to eat for free and have a seemingly endless line of credit. So, he had to go out with her occasionally, when he could be found that is. And he would have to wear those uncomfortable shoes instead of his usual blue plastic sandals, but it was a small price to pay. He didn’t even mind accompanying her to the Dragon Boat races where they would sit and eat a picnic and cheer along the team sponsored by Rosa’s restaurant.  No, it was all quite worth it. The unwritten understanding was that someday he and Rosa would get married and live out their lives together. The Gods on the other hand seemed to set up so many obstacles to this union that Mr. Wu and increasingly Rosa herself began to doubt whether this would ever really happen. Mr. Wu  was a bachelor, a proud and intrepid bachelor. He liked smoking, playing mahjong and goats.

 Copyright Tony Wilkinson

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