Swerving to avoid one of the many potholes that lay in wait for the distracted cyclist, Mr Wu could see the electric sign for the Nine Dragons blinking into life through the descending evening mist. He would have to be creative when asking Rosa for his stake money as he had used all the usual excuses many times over and he doubted that she would be unaware of the game at Three Ear’s house, so he resolved to tell her the truth, or rather a version of the truth that she would be happy with.

 

Long before he could make out the faces of the diners through the steamed up windows Mr Wu could hear the clatter of plates and crash of pans and the accompanying raucous din that signified the happy chaos of contented diners. What hit him first though was the deeply pungent aroma that seeped unctuously from behind the ornately carved doors. The warm glow from the Kaoliang had been replaced with a hollow empty feeling and Mr Wu realised that apart from a steamed bun at breakfast he hadn’t eaten all day. Straightening his lucky blue cravat Mr Wu resolved to have a light dinner before pushing off to Three Ears.

 

 

Mr Wu opened the impressively carved doors and attempted to make a grand entrance befitting the paramour of the owner of such a successful establishment. However, few people even bothered looking up from their noodle bowls and only Taxi Driver Chao engaged him in the ritual dinner time exchange.

 

 

“Have you eaten your fill Old Wu”? Asked the taxi driver whilst reclining in his chair, the perfect picture of a happy and replete customer.

 

 

“No, not yet” replied Mr Wu somewhat distractedly as his gaze swept around the restaurant trying to locate the proprietor.

 

 

“Well better you hurry up then or there will be nothing left and you will have to go back to your tin house and cook one of your goats” This caused much amusement to those within earshot and though Mr Wu smiled and played along he placed Chao’s name on his list of people who needed dealing with. The list was quite long now and included a healthy cross section of the population of

DragonflyMountain. Mr Wu could be a very petty little man and he prided himself on the fact that he could remember all 54 names on the list and the nature of their transgression. Make that 55 names.

 

Entering the noisy kitchen by the side door Mr Wu almost got run over by the old woman who pushed the steam cart around the restaurant enticing hungry diners to eat more whilst waiting for their orders to arrive. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going you foolish yokel” shouted the old woman as Mr Wu sidestepped neatly out of her way. “Me, a yokel?” Exclaimed Mr Wu indignantly. “You have never been off this mountain in your life and all your children have six toes”. The old woman just gave Mr Wu a withering look that suggested that she knew something he didn’t. Indeed that was the general feeling of the atmosphere in the restaurant. Though he seldom got the respect of an independent landowner and a gentleman of means he rarely encountered such deep seated scorn and indifference to his presence. Something was afoot and

Rosa not being there had something to do with it.

 

Looking around Mr Wu saw his cousin’s boy Pai Phong washing dishes at the large stone sink tucked away behind the fish tanks. “Hey Little Phong where’s the boss”? Mr Wu could expect nothing but servility from the vacationing college boy as it had been he who had secured him his temporary employment. However, Pai Phong did not even bother looking up and simply muttered “No idea”. This simply wouldn’t do! Now even family members were trying to belittle him and pimply teenagers at that.

 

 

Rosa Hung had been watching the unfolding events from behind a tapestry screen set aside from the main kitchen. She watched as Mr Wu became even more distracted than usual. He questioned both diners and staff as to the whereabouts of his sweetheart until finally after receiving not one satisfactory answer he sat on the back step of the kitchen head in hands and sulked. Mr Wu cut a pathetic figure as he sat moping and feeling sorry for himself. Where could she be? Why did everyone else seem to know something he didn’t? What would be for dinner now and more importantly how would he get his stake money for tonight’s game?

 

 

Rosa knew exactly what was going on inside Mr Wu’s strangely shaped head. And she had no intention whatsoever of bringing a premature end to this comedy of errors. In fact she quite enjoyed watching the tormented upstart writhe and squirm. There was no way this time that she would provide the grubby smallholder with his gambling money, instead she would use this opportunity to get a commitment from him regarding his intentions towards her. Tonight she would have her revenge and perhaps recoup the financial investment she had made in the goat farmer by having him publicly declare his love for her and announce to all who could hear that a date had been set for the nuptials.

 

 

Not too far away from where Mr Wu was feeling confused and rejected his dearest friend and confidante Three Ears Chen was trying to fix the leg on his kitchen table. He looked around the dingy grease streaked room and made sure that he had enough beer, rice wine and tobacco for the evening’s wagering. More importantly Three Ears fixed his stare upon the unopened bottle of Kaoliang that sat next to the rat trap. The bottle virtually assured Three Ears of waking up the next day richer than when he went to bed.

 

 

Three Ears and Mr Wu had known each other longer than anyone could tell, certainly longer than they could remember. They had just always been together. As children they were neighbours and classmates, as young men they did their military service together and as older and more responsible citizens they liked to wager every penny they had on games of chance – together. It was not that they were competitive or had an intense rivalry, rather it was just that each of them loved to take the others money. They especially liked to take their winnings down to the Venerable Turtle and buy drinks for people that the loser did not care for.

 

 

Now, Three Ears was considerably wiser than most people on

DragonflyMountain. He understood the game of life better than most and if truth be known he exploited this knowledge for his own advantage. He wasn’t particularly proud of this behaviour but ends had to be met and bills had to be paid and what was left could be placed on the altar of destiny. Three Ears knew how to read people. It was as though he could look inside their minds and see what they were thinking. He especially could tell what was going on inside the vain and slightly slow moving mind of his old pal Mr Wu. You see Mr Wu was a very vain man. He loved to listen to stories of himself where he was the main player, the protagonist or even the villain. He could talk endlessly about his exploits and achievements and Three Ears would encourage this self-indulgence. As an intermediary to the Gods – albeit of an amateur status – Three Ears tried to steer clear from wine women and song and only very occasionally could he be tempted to a small cup of warmed mead from his friends. However, Three Ears had known for many years about Mr Wu’s weakness for drink, a weakness that had made Three Ears considerably wealthier over the years of their mutual acquaintance.

 

By attaching some whittled down chopsticks to the kitchen table leg Three Ears now had a level playing surface for that evening’s game of mahjong. He wiped the stained sheet of plastic that passed as a table cloth but merely redistributed the grease smears into different shapes and patterns. In the centre of the table Three Ears placed the ancient mahjong set resplendent in its camphor wood box. Glancing up at the orange plastic clock on the kitchen wall he guessed that it was almost seven as the minute hand had long ago disappeared but he had become remarkably accurate all the same.

 

 

 ‘Where was Mr Wu?’ thought Three Ears. He is usually the first one here, always keen to assess the amount and quality of the alcohol and food if the budget stretched that far. Only with the slightest of concern did Three Ears set to the table the four mismatched Formica chairs for the evening’s players. Along with Mr Wu there would be Happy Lin the radio repair man and Mr Zhao the squirrel catcher. Mr Zhao thought himself a very competent mahjong player and took the game extremely seriously, whereas Happy Lin just loved to get out of the house and away from the incessant talking of his one-legged wife.