Chapter 2 Let me hear you call me ‘darling’
After I finished tying up various loose ends in the underworld, Yanwang personally placed three seals on the back of my neck, each representing one lifetime in the human world. Once the three seals disappeared, I must return to the underworld and stand guard by the Wangchuan again.
In the envious eyes of other spiritual beings, I donned a white cotton dress and left to the human world.
The human world previously known through books was much livelier than I had imagined it to be, and also more interesting, and also… more dangerous.
On my third day on Earth, on the way looking for Moxi, I passed by a temple and discovered that it was dedicated to the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. I piously went in, thinking to offer my worship. I had only dropped to my knees, yet to finish bowing, when an old yet nimble monk suddenly stepped forth with a razor in hand. He smiled amiably at me: “Amitabha. Benefactor, knowing to mend your wrongs by seeking the Buddha is doing the world a good deed.”
Huh? I hadn’t had time to ponder over the meaning behind his words when his razor had headed straight for my hair.
I was a stone – the Sansheng Stone. From head to toe, the most difficult for me to grow was hair. I had stared at it for a thousand years before it finally made a little improvement, yet this old bald donkey had the nerve to shave me! I huffed and kicked him away. Unexpectedly, this monk was actually a martial artist. He easily escaped from my kick.
He withdrew the genial smile from his face. “What are you intending to do?”
“Baldy, I should ask you the same question,” I replied dubiously.
He sneered. “Demon, I thought you had wanted to follow the Buddha’s way to atone for your sins. It turns out you had come here to stir trouble!”
“Demon? You’re mistaken, I’m not…”
“Hmph, I’ve detected the mustiness of darkness lurking in you from three miles away. Don’t try to slink your way out of this!”
I sniffed left and right, but couldn’t really sense any mustiness on my body. The fish in the Wangchuan were much mustier than I was! This monk did not listen to my explanation. His razor came at me again. My desire to kill began to rise, but Yanwang’s endless reminders that I must never harm anyone suddenly came to mind.
I withdrew my attack, turned, and made a run for it.
The monk kept chasing after me ’round the entire mountain, forcing me to run till I was out of breath. I just wanted to give the bald donkey a punch and send him to an eternal sleep.
All of a sudden, a burst of fragrance drifted to my nose. I had never smelled such a wonderful fragrance in the underworld. My attention was instantly lured away. As I drew near, a red sea of flowers came into sight.
The humans called this season ‘winter’, and they called that glistening substance covering the red petals ‘snow’. But I didn’t yet know the name of these red flowers. After I passed through the sea of scented boughs, I discovered a small courtyard quietly standing on the other side.
Curious, I opened the gate and went inside. After barely stepping into the courtyard, the golden seal Moxi left on my wrist suddenly glowed. My heart drummed as I approached the main house inside the yard. Suddenly, I heard a gentle female voice: “Hush-a-by baby, on the tree top, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock.”
I gently pushed the door ajar and quietly peered inside. A young woman was sitting in bed with a baby in her arms. Upon a closer look, I smiled. That face, that nose, and those lips, wasn’t this a meatball version of Moxi?!
I hadn’t needed to expend any effort at all!
But he was only a meatball at present. He had forgotten his past life and could not yet recognize others. How was I going to seduce him? Or, should I stay by his side and be his guardian until he grew up? I definitely could not let other women, or men for that matter, to take advantage of him while he was still young.
A bellowing shout behind me abruptly disrupted my train of thought: “Heathen, where are you trying to run?!”
Startled, I swiftly dodged to the left, banged open a door, and lunged into the house. His razor flashed by as I saw a handful of black hair falling down in front of my forehead.
I woefully sprawled out on the floor, vacantly staring at that handful of dark hair fluttering down.
The woman’s scream sounded so faraway to my ears, and Yanwang’s reminder was drifting even farther like puffs of clouds in the sky.
I jumped up, gathered my spiritual forces to my palm, and with Wangchuan’s one thousand years’ worth of darkness, I aimed a strike at the old monk. This strike would’ve crushed his brain, but my sanity was suddenly awakened by the crying of the baby.
My palm-strike veered to the side and struck the beam over the door, giving the entire hut three waves of tremor. I somersaulted out of the house. It seemed as though my strike had affrighted the old donkey senseless. It took him a second before he eventually collected himself. He looked at me, then looked at the meatball version of Moxi and suddenly faced the horrified woman and told her: “The red mole on your son’s forehead portends ominous things to come. He is already attracting such evil though he is only a newborn. He will surely be a curse to all those around him!”
The woman was scared livid at these words. She held onto her child, not knowing what to do.
I was furious. “Hey baldy, stop it with your nonsense!” All humans believed in the prophecies of these priests and monks. He was going to ruin Moxi’s entire life with his words.
“Hmph! Heathen, you ambushed me while I was unprepared. I will let you learn a lesson this time!”
The razor in his hand flashed a golden light as it turned into a Buddhist staff and headed straight for me. This monk did not have a high cultivation, but the Buddha nimbus on his staff prevented me from looking straight ahead. What we feared most in the underworld was the Buddha nimbus of the Western Heavens. Overwhelmed, I was forced to retreat.
I didn’t think that the fight between the monk and me would last very long. I was a stone – patience was my best virtue. I had believed that after our fight tired him out, he would eventually back off. By that time, I would come back to stay with Moxi until he grew up. I didn’t expect the human monk to be more stubborn than I thought him to be. Demon slaying was his lifelong mission, and perhaps I was the most powerful ‘monster’ he encountered in his life, he ended up considering killing me as the ultimate mission of his life.
Our battle transpired for nine full years in the human world.
In the end, it wasn’t that he gave up on killing me, but that my old acquaintances, the two brothers of Black and White Guards of Impermanence came to beckon his soul away…
I was hiding so wretchedly in the mountains at the time I chanced upon my acquaintances again. When I saw them drag the bald donkey’s soul away, I hugged their long hanging tongues and wept in joy. At the same time, I made sure to tell them to ask Old Meng to give this monk some extra soup so that he would become a half-wit in his next incarnation and live a life of misery.
After finishing off the monk, I primmed and preened my looks that hadn’t been primmed and preened over the last nine years. Then, crossing thousands of miles through mountains and streams, I found the small courtyard I had met Moxi in the past.
After nine years of living in the human world, I finally learned that the red fragrant flowers were called plum blossoms.
Even so, I had no idea the timespan of nine years could turn such a beautiful plum forest into this withering state.
I slowly neared the small courtyard as the golden seal on my wrist flickered again. I hadn’t stepped past the gate when I saw a dirty child holding a much taller broom sweeping the barren yard. The rustling sounded so dreadfully bleak.
The child seemed to have realized someone was entering. He suddenly turned around.
What I saw were a pair of clear eyes and a red mole between his eyebrows. My heart clenched up, my hands trembled, and the candies I bought for Moxi fell to the ground.
“Who are you?” He walked up to me.
I squatted down to be at his eye level and saw my own reflection in his clear eyes. I rubbed the dirt off of his face with my sleeve and told him, “My name is Sansheng. I’ve come to seduce you.”
He stared at me without saying a word, letting me use my sleeve to wipe his face. I took notice of his raggedy clothes and the bruises on his hands and neck. I seemed to recall his mother wasn’t an impoverished person nine years prior. How did she let Moxi become this way?
“Where’s your mother?” I asked him.
His direct answer surprised me. Hadn’t mortals always cared a great deal about life and death? He… maybe he was still too young to understand life and death. That was the only explanation I could come up with.
“Since your mother has passed away, everything is up to you now. Remember, as of today, I have successfully seduced you.”
He remained silent as he watched me. I scratched my head; talking to a child was proving to be a very difficult task. Moreover, the child in question was somewhat reticent and withdrawn to begin with. I decided to use a simpler language to explain to him.
“In other words, I am your wife from now on. In accordance with the rules of the mortals, I am your child bride. But this isn’t important. What’s important is that no one can ever bully you again now that I’m here.” His eyes lit up. I patted his head: “Let me hear you call me ‘darling’.”
He was silent for a moment. “Sansheng,” he repeated my name.
“…Fine,” I gave up, “call me Sansheng then.”
I would come to remember the way he called my name again and again that day, calling me until I answered him. Much later, I learned there had also been a time when he called his mother over and over again to no avail.
Moxi was originally the God of War from Heaven. Although he was only in the mortal realm for his tribulation, he should still be a cultured and civilized man, and so I thought to send him to school.
Not far from where we lived was a small town. There was only one academy in this town. The teachers at this academy knew of the old monk’s prophecy that Moxi would grow up to be a curse to all those around him, and so they were reluctant to welcome him into their school.
I told Moxi to carry a pot of gold coins and circle around the academy. Eventually, the teachers accepted him.
I helped him tie his hair on the first day to school. He looked at me through the reflection in the bronze mirror; in his eyes was a flicker of apprehension. I gently said to him, “You’ll be living here in the mortal world for some decades more. It’s not a very long time; I’ll make sure peace follows you in life. But I hope that you’ll become a responsible person and lead a brilliant life through these decades. Literacy is a must. Listen to your teacher while you’re at school. Although I wouldn’t call them sages, they will still conduct themselves with propriety in front of their students. Study hard!”
When he came back in the evening, there were some injuries on his face. A red mark here, a blue mark there. “Did you get bullied?” I asked.
“Did you fight back?”
He shook his head.
I dressed his wounds and asked, “Where does he live, the one who bullied you?”
Fatty Wang was the son of a landowner in town. His family was so wealthy that even their backyard was enormous. I looked on in total glee. After I lit a fire in his family’s woodshed, a southerly wind timely blew by and flamed it into a big fire. Half of the sky blazed red.
Feeling that the scene was rather spectacular to behold, I led Moxi to a good viewing place and pointed to the towering flames from Fatty Wang’s house as I told him, “Laugh all you want.”
Moxi looked at me thoughtfully. “Sansheng, my teacher said we should return misdeed with virtue.”
“Moxi, you should learn to differentiate. Your teacher was obviously lying to you. It’s okay to listen, but don’t take everything to heart.”
Moxi listened to my words, then slowly issued a ‘hahaha’ sound.
Life in the human world flew by in the blink of an eye. Moxi was fast approaching his coming-of-age at twenty years old.
Under my very careful education, it was no great surprise Moxi grew up to be a gentleman as gentle as jade. His face and figure did not differ too greatly from the time I met him in the underworld. Because his godlike bearing was uncommon in the human world, and combined with his extraordinarily intelligence, he soon became well-known in this small town.
However, “fame kills people, blubber kills pigs.” There had to be a reason why this saying stayed in circulation for as long as it did.
It was a sunny and balmy morning when I was reclining on the divan to read a newly released novel. It was a love story about a couple who had made it through the rough of times and it came with detailed ooh ooh ah ah passages. I was right at the climax of the story when Moxi stepped in from outside. He picked up the cloak and robe I had casually tossed on the ground and put them away, gave me a cup of water, then said, “It’s not good to lie around all day. You should also go outside for some sun, Sansheng.”
I took the cup from him. My eyes did not leave the book as I perfunctorily said, “Sunlight is like poison to me. It offers me no benefit.”
But he wouldn’t take my words. “It snowed this morning. The plum blossoms in our compound are blooming very beautifully. Let’s take a walk to look at them.” I looked at him and saw a shiny ray of hope in his eyes. I placed the book that was getting to the ooh ooh ah ah part down: “All right, I’ll come with you for a walk.”
Happy, he softly smiled.
We held hands and took a stroll around the plum forest. He didn’t lie to me. The plums were blossoming quite beautifully today.
“Moxi, you know I love the view of these red plum blossoms and their fragrance in the glistening snow, but do you know why?”
He thought for a while. “It’s probably because your temper is very similar to this plum.” I paused amid walking and looked into his eyes as I shook my head, smiling wordlessly.
He didn’t really get it, but he left me to my perusal of his face. Gradually, a hint of a smile appeared: “Sansheng, do you like looking at me?”
“Yes.” I used my hand to measure the distance between his head and mine. He was now a full head taller than I was. I tilted my head in thought: “Moxi, let me hear you call me ‘darling’.”
His ears suddenly reddened.
“You’re fast approaching your coming-of-age,” I said. “I think this child bride should finally be promoted after so many years. Just choose a date and marry me, won’t you?”
Ruddiness spread from his ears down to his cheeks, his Adam’s apple slightly undulating. After a long while, a dash of chagrin emerged in his eyes. “Sansheng, you’re, you’re always…” He did not yet finish his sentence when I suddenly heard someone’s voices from beyond the plum forest.
Ever since Moxi acquired a little fame, there was always someone coming to look for him. I’d never said a thing, but they interrupted our marriage conversation today. My face deflated. I was quite unhappy.
The voices of those who came were becoming louder and louder. Moxi had also faintly caught onto them. “Sansheng, it seems someone came to visit, let’s go back to the house.”
I hummed an answer and went back into my room, continuing to read my book. Moxi went out to the guest hall to receive his guest.
Approaching noon, Moxi saw the guest out and then came into my room. He sat down without speaking. I reclined against my chair and also did not speak; my patience had always been great. He finally couldn’t win against me.
“It was the governor who came by today.”
“He… he told me to go the capital to become an official.”
Perhaps my indifference was making Moxi a little lost. He carefully studied my face. Seeming to have made up his determination, he said, “I want to go.”
I quietly turned to the last page of my book. The love story had a happy ending. I then turned around to look at Moxi. He was intently watching me. I sighed, “A man should have ambitions. It’s an official that you aspire to be, not a thief… albeit fundamentally, there’s not much difference between the two. But I will admit that the Imperial Court is one of the places to chase your ambitions. I’ve always hoped that you can be triumphant in life. Now that you are in possession of both talent and opportunity, you should be brave and go. Why are you looking at me?”
Moxi shook his head. “I’m not becoming an official for any ambition…” His cheeks flushed ruddy. “As you said, I’m almost twenty. I’ve, I’ve always thought to have a talk with you about our marriage one day.”
I held the cup, frozen on the spot.
His smile was utterly helpless. “But Sansheng, you are always a step ahead of me.” He added, “I want to have a family with you, but as a man, I cannot let you take care of me for the rest of my life. I want to bring you happiness using my own ability.”
“Sansheng, will you wait two years for me? After I succeed, I will come back to marry you.”
I couldn’t say ‘no’.
At that moment, I wished I was an ordinary girl. I wished I was waiting for him to come home and call “Sansheng” to me from the door.
However, he wanted me to wait two years. I was originally a very patient rock, but I just couldn’t bear it this time. After a night of tossing and turning, I suddenly sat up in bed.
I knew he wasn’t there, but I still wanted to call his name, as though he would appear in front of me if I’d only call out to him.
I called to him thusly three times, but I received no other answer besides the rustling wind outside. I could not fall asleep again, so I simply rolled out of bed, and without packing anything, I left the house in only a white robe straight to the capital to find my husband.