As the dishwasher carried the swill down to the pig pen at the rear of the restaurant he glanced back and saw his uncle, head in hands, the very picture of misery. Pai-Phong was a good boy and gentle of spirit and it troubled him to see his uncle in such a state. He walked over to the kitchen steps and bent down to console his relative.
‘ Don’t worry fourth uncle, the boss told everyone to ignore you tonight and not to listen to your tales, but especially not to lend you any money ……she was very keen on this…no money for Wu’
Mr Wu possessed that keen rural shrewdness that could never be taught in school and his mind raced with the seemingly endless possibilities as to why Rosa would be saying things like this to her employees and his nephew. He did not owe her any more than usual, in fact he had forgotten how much he had borrowed from her, but he was equally as sure that she hadn’t forgotten. Was she being courted by another, a more suitable match for a woman of business? Was that sour faced old matchmaker trying to fill her mind with ideas of rich elderly suitors with few demands or children, just waiting to be called to the underworld? Was she planning to move back to the city and was unable to tell him that it was no place for a country bumpkin such as himself? Mr Wu was in turmoil and he questioned his nephew with growing anxiety.
‘Where is she tonight? Who was she with? Had ‘Ten Percent’ Lin the matchmaker been round today? Was Rosa looking happy or sad…..or neither? What was she wearing when you saw her? Had she received any telephone calls? Mr Wu’s head was spinning as Pai-Phong answered in the negative to all of his queries. Mr Wu stood up and stretched out his arms to the evening sky and cried ‘Rosa, Rosa where are you? Rosa my sweet dove, come back to me’ tears streamed down Mr Wu’s face as he lamented his plight and swore his undying love for the plump gourmet, though as he turned away and unbeknown to his nephew he let out a satisfied chuckle. ‘That ought to do it’ thought the goatherd. Wherever she is hiding she will be aware of my love and the shocking way she is treating her poor official suitor.
The last remaining diners were leaving the Nine Dragons and Mr Wu’s performance on the kitchen steps did not go unnoticed. Such displays of lovelorn sincerity were seldom on display on Dragonfly Mountain and tonights’ would be the topic of market stall and doorstep conversation for the coming days.
After announcing his intention to seek an early reunion with his ancestors ( a claim that Mr Wu thought even perhaps a little extravagant) he resolved to make his way to Three Ear’s house. However, the whole of Dragonfly Mountain would be aware of his predicament and though he couldn’t really be bothered either way he did not want to be burdened with explanations as to why he had been screaming in such a loud and undignified manner so early in the evening.
So the lovesick bachelor had to make a very difficult decision: walk straight through the village and along by the school and over the temple bridge to his friend’s home with the guarantee of being accosted and asked to explain his outburst, or, to head off directly into the bamboo grove that nestled behind the Nine Dragons, then cut across the graveyard and climb over the back wall of Three Ear’s house and make his entrance unseen? This was indeed a dilemma as like most Taiwanese people he was none too fond of the dark but horror struck at the thought of going into a graveyard at night.
The effects of past earthquakes meant that many of the impressively constructed tombs had been shaken and twisted askew and here and there the broken edifices lay open to the night sky, their occupants given free parole to wander the cemetery. This troubled Mr Wu. You see Mr Wu did not like ghosts. Well, he had made a pact with the dead many years before: ‘you don’t bother me and I won’t bother you’. But look here, he was quite obviously contemplating a bit of bothering. As Mr Wu walked up the lane that led to the graveyard he was still undecided if he would take the shortcut and risk the displeasure of the departed. However, he had felt lucky all day and he was determined not to waste the opportunity of relieving Three Ears of some money. There was also the other business with Rosa. He could live without her, that wouldn’t be a problem, well not a big one, but he would miss the small luxuries that came along with being the beau of Dragonfly Mountain’s most successful female entrepreneur, most importantly not having to gamble with his own money and the other more specialised benefits that overcame a man who mostly lived alone.
Upon reaching the stone slab bridge spanning the irrigation canal that served as the western entrance to the graveyard, Mr Wu began the inevitable process of trying to talk himself out of going through with his foolhardy scheme. For every reason he came up with not to continue onwards, the thought of having Three Ear’s money in his pocket ultimately outweighed every suggestion. Finally, Mr Wu made the irreversible decision and ghosts be damned ( and Rosa too, he added as an afterthought) he would cross the cemetery by the middle path which was the most direct, though most precarious route. The last time that he had been inside the graveyard was years before to lay his father to rest, but that was in a different part and anyway more than seven years had passed and his bones were long scraped clean and resting comfortably and hopefully at peace in a brass ossuary in the charnel house at the foot of the mountain.