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Old Wei & Young Wei
p.III

By Robert J. BAUMANN

Grandfather Wei, without much explanation had left me at the gateway of the marketplace with instructions to wait for his return. We had walked the long road to town together and I had surely thought he intended to do this so we might spend time together. I was confused, but with nothing else to do this day, I decided to wait as Grandfather had told me to. Perhaps upon his return he would explain his reason for not wanting me to shop with him.

Our town is a small one. Local farmers bring their produce to town only on the weekends. If you do not shop, you do not eat. Many in the town are farmers but some, like grandfather, are laborers. It was for this reason that our trip to the marketplace was so unusual. Grandmother or mother would have made this trip today, not us.

I took a seat by the side of the road to wait for Grandfather. There was a lovely, large tree that offered a good amount of shade from the heat. I sat with my back to the tree, thinking. I could see all the passersby and I suppose they also had a good view of the lazy, young boy braced up against a tree doing no work and not seeming much to care about what anyone was assuming.

Fang Li and her mother were coming to market. I could see Li's distinctive walk and clothes from a distance. Li was a beauty. She dressed well, went places most others did not go and did things the rest of us could not do.

She carried herself like a Queen, but her manner was always friendly. Her mother on the other hand had known our family for thousands of years. I think her mother must have given birth to Li when she was at least 90. She did not like me... and I did not like her. We never had a bad experience with each other, but if you noticed that Li was pretty you became a dangerous enemy from her mother's point of view. It was funny. Li would never do more than say hello to me, but her Mom behaved as if I was able to steal her only treasure away. I could talk to Li in school, but everywhere else she went some family member often was close by. Most of the times when I'd seen Li it was her mother who had her in tow.

Li smiled and nodded to me, but the mother elbowed her and she had to look ahead and watch the road. She did so, but kept her smile as she walked. Her mother was whispering in her ear and at one point Li put her hand to her mouth and giggled. Mother Fang obviously told her I had many problems and perhaps even listed a few outrageous things to frighten her daughter away. I imagined just what she'd say:

"That Wei boy is bad. He has no education and will never make a good husband. Just look at the road and pay no attention to him. He once walked in front of me on this road and made bad sounds with his mouth. He is rude.

He looked over his shoulder at me and waved his arms behind himself, waving the air toward me. He had made the air foul with his body and he was blowing this at me. Do not laugh, daughter. You want to marry such kind of man?"

I knew this was the kind of thing poor Li was forced to hear. It was possibly worse. I am not even sure what might have gotten her to laugh, but

I'd bet this was the story being told. The real truth was that it had been an accident and that I waved the air to send the bad smell far away, instead I had just looked as if I were trying to break wind in Mother

Fang's face. From that day I think I lost any chance to be able to return Li's smile.

"You dream too much, Wei," I heard a voice say. "He has only dreams. Ha ha.

He is in love," said a second voice. The Liu twins were behind me. Jwo was the taller of the two and Min was the fatter. They both annoyed me.

These classmates loved to torture me as much as Chen did. You would think that in school only Wei was the one to find and insult, wouldn't you? It was almost true. It was the Liu sisters' good fortune that I did not hit women. If it were only possible I would begin with Min. I would probably break my hand trying to hit her big, fat triple chin.

"Wei is like a fly landing on a turd and thinking he has found a treasure," said Min. "No," Jwo said, "Wei knows it is a turd but thinks that it is a treasure anyway."

"Jwo, did you come to the market to sell Min? Ha. Sell her by the pound and you will take home many yen. Too bad there is not a donkey big enough to be able to carry the load home." Min hit me on the shoulder. Girls have so much freedom these days.

"You could not afford to buy her eyelash if I sold her by the pound, Wei. You are poor as mud and not as smart. What do you do here sitting by the road? You look for a wife but find only angry mothers?"

To be continued

E-mail: rbaumann@mindspring.com
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