The Story of Lifen…..
How long had Lifen been riding in the wooden, barred cage on the back of the horse-drawn carriage? It had been many days, and she was still wearing the same bloodstained clothing from her father’s accidental death.
The day she awoke in a pool of his blood, saw her treasured hairpin stuck in her father’s chest. She considered leaving it behind but it was a cherished gift from Mo Yuan from their wedding night. Therefore she held back the urge to vomit and pulled it from his heart.
Her single mistake of returning to her home changed, shaped and altered her destiny entirely. Consequently, in less than 24 short hours, Lifen went from being Mo Yuan’s wife to a murderer, and then human payment for her father’s extensive gambling debts.
In retrospect, she blamed herself for her misfortunes, and she should have followed Mo Yuan’s instructions not to leave their home. Her life’s turning point.
Lifen’s day started somewhat as usual but Mo Yuan, her husband had been gone for two days. However, he promised he’d return before the end of the third day. Lifen baked his favorite mung bean moon cakes, and sat on the front steps in the process of waiting in anticipation for his return. She never questioned her love for Mo Yuan but during the two days without him, she realized just how much she loved him and how significant he was to her life.
She couldn’t live without him because Mo Yuan had become her life. While staring at the white pillowy clouds above in the vast blue sky, and Lifen offered a prayer of absolute gratitude to her mother in heaven. Blessed was she that he came into her life, educated her, married her, made her a woman and showered her with his love.
She begged in earnest to be pregnant with a honeymoon baby and giggled giddily, rubbed her flat stomach. She fantasized about being big, round pregnant and anticipating Mo Yuan’s first baby.
Lifen pictured a big family and hoped their many children would be as intelligent, and attractive just like their handsome father. For the first time in her often dark, depressing living, she felt infinite bliss and genuine happiness in her life.
But the moment was bittersweet because Lifen longed for her dead mother most during her joyful times. It was a genuine sadness and real grievous misfortune that her mother never had the chance to meet Mo Yuan. She would never see how much he cherished, adored, loved her and fulfilled her once lonely existence.
Still, proudly she would tell her children about her mother’s grand sacrifice giving birth to her, and giving her life in exchange for her daughter’s. She wished she had a small keepsake reminder of her mother or anything to show her children. Lifen yearned, ached for something that was remotely related to her, and suddenly recalled the smooth cotton infant outfit made by her late mother.
She’d made it by hand. Stitch by stitch on her sleepless nights during her pregnancy with Lifen. According to her aunt, she was a night owl and often kept her mother awake kicking her all night long.
The layette, Lifen wore it as a baby and often slept with it as a child, because it was the only time she felt close to her deceased mother. Now hidden in her room at her father’s home and it was the single item made by her mother. She wanted to dress her and Mo Yuan’s baby in it because she was already convinced, she was currently carrying her new husband’s child in her stomach.
If only she could sneak into her father’s residence without him knowing and retrieve the precious treasure. How wonderful would that be? Yes, she mischievously smiled and determined to make a quick stop at her old home.
Lifen knew it would be dangerous to run into him but it was early afternoon, and her father was NEVER home during that time of the day. However, she was wrong and he appeared abruptly, attacked her and she killed him in self-defense.
She awoke in a cooled puddle of his blood, ran to her best friend’s house but before she could explain the situation, the money lenders came to collect Lifen’s father’s outstanding debts. Upon hearing of his death, they took her instead since he’d used her as collateral in the gambling hall. Dragged away was she at that very moment. She didn’t even have the time or a chance to leave a note, or message for Mo Yuan before being hauled away.
Lifen spent an imprisoned day in wait with other girls her age, and some younger before everyone was bound and lead into the carriage. They were all slaves in transport to their brand new homes which they discovered to be a cat house. Now, she was to live in a bordello as a prostitute instead of Mo Yuan’s wife.
The Forever Blooming Hibiscus Brothel
They threw all the girls in a storage shed on the extensive grounds of the Forever Blooming Hibiscus Flower House. The full storage area held many musical instruments, provocative clothing most fitting for a courtesan and elegant silk bedding in high piles folded neatly.
For days nobody spoke to the confined girls. They brought them basic foods such as rice balls three times a day with water. On the third day of confined solitary, without explanation they came and retrieved one girl after the other. Lifen was last.
In the interior of the bordello, the scent of jasmine incense infused the air and she noticed immediately. The insides were red and the floors, railings crimson also. There were many lanterns overhead. The chambers lined up neatly in a square formation, and a large decorative pond in the middle of the courtyard. The sounds of laughing, drunken conversations and bodily pleasure echoed in the air, made all the hairs on Lifen’s body stand on ends.
A courtesan and servant lead her to a spacious room decorated most elegantly. At the far end sat a senior courtesan woman who relaxed on many beautiful satiny thick pillows. She heavily rouged, made up and dressed in an exquisite silk dress in the bright color of peonies in bloom.
In her thick silvery hair braided up do. She wore many expensive looking gold hairpins that moved and dangled, when her head shook subtly due to her advanced age. The long wooden pipe in her hand blew constant clouds of gray smoke that billowed and puffed overhead. Her scarlet painted mouth sucked on the jade piece of her wooden pipe, and made smacking noises every time she inhaled.
Lifen noticed the two other courtesans closely resembled the older woman, and they were possibly her daughters but everyone called the senior female member Madam. They threw terrified Lifen in the center of the roomy chamber, and the old woman scrutinized her as if she was looking at an object instead of a human being.
“Girl, are you intact? Are you pure?” The woman demanded in her hoarse, raspy voice in between sucking on her pipe.
She was in tears, Lifen wrapped her slender arms around her waif body protectively and urged in despair, “Please, I’m married so I shouldn’t be here! I can’t be here. I’m a proper married woman. I can’t allow anyone else to touch me but my husband!”
Sharply she exhaled in frustration, the senior courtesan shook her head in pure annoyance so the many gold pieces danced, caught the candlelight as she complained bitterly, “How many times do I need to tell them I only want virgins! The virgins bring in more money for their defloration!”
“This skinny girl is nothing but flesh and bones! Her face isn’t bad but it will cost me more to feed her than what she’ll ever bring in for the house. If they aren’t virgins at least bring ones with some generous breasts or curves!” The woman reprimanded furiously.
The senior Madam gave Lifen a visual once over, puffed at her pipe and ordered nonchalantly, “Strip her down so I can see her bare and check to see if she’s lying about not being a virgin! See if she’s been torn or not! She wouldn’t be the first to lie about such a thing!”
To the reaching hands, Lifen screamed when the other prostitutes came to hold her down. She opposed, fought them desperately and hid, crouched behind the small desk in the corner of the room. The older woman sighed, signaled with a subtle head nod and a young man appeared out of the shadows.
Forcibly he pushed, held Lifen down on the desktop and began to tear off her clothing while she screamed hysterically. The force of his hold on the back of her head was such that it split her lip and fresh blood ran down her chin.
There wasn’t anyway she could resist the large brawny man. At a total loss because overpowered was she physically. Lifen defeatedly sobbed as she planted her forehead on top of the desk, and suddenly saw the writing before her eyes. From that quick look she gathered it was a detailed ledger with records of the guests, and the services they received.
She yelled aloud, “Your books are wrong! Not a little bit but in the hundreds and thousands! If you’re keeping track of them yourself, your mathematics are off but if not, you’re being deceived and robbed! You’re being cheated and tricked out of thousands! The written data of monetary amounts and services don’t match in the entries!”
Suddenly curious, the woman raised her hand to pause the man from removing Lifen’s clothing. She intently scrutinized her with a narrowed gaze and uttered in a tone of mockery “Ridiculous! Girl, are you telling me that you’re literate? That you can read and write? You claim to know some mathematics too, do you? How can a simple country farm girl like you be so educated?”
The woman laughed but it was more like a dry hacking crackle when Lifen answered breathlessly, “My husband is a Shifu! I can read and write. I’ve done all the books for my father on the peach farm since I was a child!”
The Madam’s penetrating gaze studied Lifen keenly before she commanded, “Girl, bring that book and read everything from the start. If I even suspect that you’re lying, you’ll receive 20 lashes before I throw you back into the shed!”
Her soft voice trembled as she did as instructed when the woman ordered her to read the whole ledger. Lifen stood shaking while dressed in only her slip and read the entire book from beginning to end.
To be continued…..