Band 6 Belonging Creative “A Prosperous New Year”

“I hate it!” I cried, my tiny feet again slipping on the aged, moss stones that made the steps near inaccessible.
“We’re nearly there, then you can see.”
Around me voices I could no longer recognize laughed, a throng of shadowy faces drifting in and out of uncertain memoirs.

Dangled between two sets of strong sinewy arms, I was strung like a baby monkey, leaping two, three steps at a time towards the escarpment.

Then a lone bronze head emerged on the horizon, breaking the monotony of the MinQing Mountains.

The path snaked past the crest and into a deep valley where a massive bronze Budhai had sat since the Song Dynasty. With a squeal, I pulled away from the arms, giggled and skipped down the steps, leapt from stone to stone with a chorus of worried, frantic voices behind me.

Down near the Budhai a photographer barked orders at fidgeting families, directing them to smile.

“I want to sit on the belly!” I demanded.
“Don’t you think you’re too old for this?” father mused.

But then a strong set of arms lifted me from behind and elevated me to the smooth bronze belly of Budhai, and I vigorously rubbed its tummy.

“Please bring us another year of prosperity and safety, Lord Budhai…”

~*~*~*~*~*~

“Gan Bei!”
Rancorous laughter erupted around the room, the buzzing of conversations ever escalating. It was the first complete Lin family reunion in MingQing since the year 2002.

“Come here and pay your respects…”  Father commanded.

Impatiently, father motioned me to come forward. His hands gripped my shoulders tightly, as if warning me to behave, before pushing me in the direction of a mahogany table where two occupants sat. In front of me, an elderly petite Asian woman, eyes crinkled in happiness, wearing a traditional red Chinese mandarin jacket nodded sagely.

Beside her sat grandfather; his eyes disapproving, he measured me from head to toe, as if wondering how my dad managed to conceive two daughters but no son. Father nudged me again and whispered…

“Pour them tea”

The tea set on the table was made of clay, Chinese calligraphy embellished on the sides. A ring of traditional Chinese teacups, made from the same brown-yellow clay complimented the set. There was no kettle. I was at a loss. My faced flushed as I fumbled with an empty cup.

~*~*~*~*~*~

I awoke to the frantic clucks and squawks of Quan – the pet rooster my cousins had introduced to me when I arrived a week earlier. It had been in the family for a year, and haunted the dreams of every inhabitant at 5am every morning.

“Get up! They’re going to kill Quan!” My sister shouted.

Fearful yet curious, I made my way downstairs, tentatively looking into the courtyard. Next to a sink, father was holding Quan firmly upside down, positioned above a rust-red pan.

My cousins all stood to the side, beaming with excitement about the death of their so called ‘pet’. Father held Quan in a chokehold with expert ease. Quan blinked serenely, as if accepting his fate with dignity. With a masterful stroke, Quan the Rooster turned into a ‘DIY organic free range chicken’.

Thick oozy blood collected in the pan as father nodded approvingly.

“Chicken blood soup tonight.” He noted, before turning towards our horrified, disgusted, and pale faces. “Very Lucky!” He announced, as if to disarm our revulsion with a well-placed Chinese dictum.

He turned to us, hands covered with gore. We ran.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Cubes of blood floated in my soup of longevity noodles.

“Finish your soup!” Father ordered.
Distressed, I stirred my bowl.
Beside me, in a large clay vessel, Quan’s head poked emotionlessly out of the clear broth, beak open in silent protest, as if daring me to eat him.
“Eat it quickly, before it gets cold.” He commanded again.
I took no heed of the growing annoyance in his voice.
Beside him, grandfather said something in Chinese and father blushed in shame.
With agonizing slowness the banquet drew to a close, and Grandfather announced it was time to head down to the local temple to pray for good luck and prosperity.

~*~*~*~*~*~

“Was the soup that bad?” Father asked, his voice more amused than angry.
“It was good…” I tentatively sent out my feelers to sense his mood, and feeling safer, stated more evidently, “but there was no way I was going to drink Quan’s blood.”
“Well… Quan was an important part of the family you know.”
“Then why did you kill him?” I asked incredulously.
“Because Grandfather wanted to give you girls prosperity in the new year,” father answered with a knowing smile, “what better luck than the blood of a healthy, robust rooster?”

We walked down the familiar pathway, but I found it still difficult to reconcile with the middle age practices of our family. We returned here barely once a decade – why was father still so ingrained in the inane, violent mysticisms of this place?

“I know Grandfather has trouble showing it…” he continued, “but he loves you very much. He even gave up Quan, his favourite alarm clock to bring you guys good fortune.”

We arrived at the temple, illuminated by the hundreds of lanterns symbolic of luck and prosperity. Father lavishly purchased ncense and charms for the whole delegation, greeting the monks jubilantly.

“Remember coming here ten years ago?” He asked.

~*~*~*~*~*~

There was a photographer barking orders for pilgrims to take positions.

The smooth belly of the Budhai looked as if it would make a perfect photo opportunity.

“You’re definitely too old for this now.” Father commented.
A frail hand took my shoulder, and I turned to see a bemused Grandfather.

“And I am definitely too old to lift you now…” He muttered.

Instead, I turned in his arm and locked it within mine, linking three generations of the Lins – Grandfather, father, my sister and I.

A camera flash

“Please bring us another year of prosperity and safety, Lord Budhai…”

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