As Jia Meifeng took the offered clawed hand into the decoratively carved marriage sedan, she felt the finality of what was to occur. Seating herself on the cushion, she felt creatures outside lift the sedan and begin their long journey. From behind her crimson wedding veil, Meifeng could not see the faces of the creatures outside, even if she were to push aside the embroidered cloth covering the marriage sedan’s window, the marriage veil would hinder her sight. One thing that she was able to glimpse was the sight of pants and shoes, like something out of the traditional hanfu seen in historical palace dramas.
It was at this moment that a slight shiver raked through her body. From this day on, there would be no internet, no Shanghaiese jazz music, no cheesy dramas, and no friends to argue about boys she couldn’t date. Despite it all, there was a sort of peace to be had. For twelve years, the ending which she had known about would finally come to pass. The only thing that she hoped was that he would be kind. With that thought, she lost herself to the loud music and dancing that accompanied the marriage procession. The horn of the suoda mixing in with the pounding of drums and the loud resonance of gongs. She imagined that unlike the peaceful nature of the inside of a marriage sedan, the outside must be teeming with liveliness and firecrackers as the procession continued on.
At that thought, a frown graced her red rouge colored lips. Surely it wouldn’t hurt for her to at least take one last peak at the home which had shown her such kindness for these past twelve years? At that thought, the sound of her shifu’s voice reverberated through her mind.
“The denizens of Diyu do not follow the same rules and logic which we mortals do. Remember the marriage procession, is a sacred ceremony, to them. Do not do anything which they would deem shameful.”
Sighing to herself, Meifeng knew that she had to abandon the thought and would need to content herself with only listening. Besides she had spent the week with all her closest friends and family from the village. Her goodbyes had all been said and there was nothing left for her there. The Wang whose name she still did not know and the imperial like ways of the courts of Diyu would be her new life. She was sure that everything would turn out well. He was going to be kind and handsome. She could still play her guqin and read her poems, although the loss of her precious jazz music still pained her. Even if there was no modern technology, she would manage. She always did.
With that, Meifeng could feel herself begin to dose. Knowing that this journey would be longer than most wedding processions, Meifeng thought that she could allow herself at least that luxury and accepted the sleep that came.
Feeling the carriage being lowered, Meifeng woke with a start and quickly arranged herself so that she resembled what her shifu had taught her was a real lady, back straight and a solemn expression behind her red veil. When the wooden door of the sedan chair opened a few moments later, Meifeng made sure to keep her head lowered while taking the hand of the person who offered it. This time the hand was smooth and fleshy rather than the slick and leathery hand that had helped her into the sedan.
Mentally, Meifeng released an internal sigh at the knowledge that this person was surely her groom. With that thought she placed an embroidered slipper onto the red carpet. A bride’s feet must never touch the ground. The whole time she walked, Meifeng made sure that her feet moved in small dainty steps that never left the red carpet laid out before her. She did find comfort in the smooth bridal ribbon that the groom also held as the two walked down the aisle into the ceremonial hall.
Feeling a cushion, Meifeng stopped and knelt while she waited for the short ceremony to begin.
“Bow to Heaven and Diyu,” Came the screech of some priest or monk and both Meifeng and her groom bowed towards the priest or monk. Meifeng was told about the changing of “Earth” to “Diyu” in this ceremony, but it was still a little jarring.
“Bow to your ancestors,” the bride and groom turned towards an alter of stone tablets and bowed.
“Bow to each other,” as Meifeng turned towards her groom for the final bow she felt a pang at sadness at the memory of her shifu telling her that they would take out the bow to parents in the ceremony since both her groom’s and Meifeng’s parents would not be present.
After, Meifeng was ushered into a room where she would wait for her new groom to join her at the conclusion of the banquet. Once the servant had finished leading her, he closed the sliding door. When she was sure his footsteps had receded into the distant sounds of the banquet being held, Meifeng breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time since she had left her room in the village, Meifeng lifted her wedding veil, careful not to damage any of her makeup and took a look around.
As was to be expected the room gave off a strong ancient Chinese ambience. It was large, the room itself was comparable to the large Shanghai apartment of her childhood. On one side of the room was a large bed, different from modern ones, it was covered by some large strings of cloth. The room was also decorated in the celebratory crimson color of marriage, the same shades as Meifeng’s decoratively embroidered wedding dress. Near the bed was a low table with two stools. On the table was an ancient looking wine jar, the nose of it long and curved like a tea bot while the porcelain-like material was long and thin. Next to the wine jar were two tiny cups, like the ones that Meifeng regularly drank tea in.
Walking around the room Meifeng found a bookshelf on the opposite side of the room. Some of the books held classical titles which she was familiar with, others appeared to come from different time periods, modern, republican era, Ming, Tang, etc. And yet others still looked entirely unfamiliar to her. Picking one up, Meifeng flipped through the pages, glad that her shifu’s teachings would save her from the shame of illiteracy in this new home of hers.
Unlike the modern standard simplified Chinese characters, these were read from up to down, and then right to left and were much more literary than what most Chinese were used to. Luckily, these characters had been her friends throughout the twelve years Meifeng had spent under her shifu’s harsh and strict tutelage. Thinking on today, Meifeng had done everything perfectly and she wasn’t even allowed to participate in the wedding banquet.
Speaking to herself Meifeng said, “My old friends, it’s quite fitting that you would welcome me into my new home.” Moving her fingertip across the books, Meifeng continued, “Now which of you has the honor of accompanying me on my last night as a maiden.”
Humming to herself an old republican era jazz song, Meifeng stopped on a collection of love poems written by women in the Tang Dynasty. Smiling to herself, she sat on the bed, careful not to damage her hair, makeup, and clothes and lost herself to the words written by women centuries past. It was only as she neared the end of the book, that Meifeng felt something was off.
Feeling her heart thump in anxiety, Meifeng quickly got up and put the book back in its place.
“Its okay. Maybe he got drunk or something happened,” Meifeng muttered to herself as she walked towards the door she had entered in earlier.
Placing her ear on the door she had entered, she heard that the sounds of the banquet were much quieter than what they had been earlier.
Meifeng backed away from the door and looked around the room more closely. She spotted two different sliding doors, one next to the bookshelf on the right and another adjacent to the bed, on the left. Going to the one on the right side, she found that it was a bathroom and quietly shut it. She then opened the one on the left and found that it led to a courtyard of some sort.
Looking at the sky Meifeng found that there were no stars nor moon to provide her solace but rather a dark sky that appeared to emit a strange faint light of its own.
Taking a deep breath, Meifeng closed the door. As much as she wanted to go outside, it might look like she’s running away and that was the last thing she wanted. Moving around the room, Meifeng noticed an adjoining door she had missed on her first look. It was in between the bathroom and the bookcase and the door fit in so well with the wall that she had almost missed it. Opening it, she found herself pleasantly surprised.
Inside, rather than the ancient feeling that the main bedroom gave, Meifeng found that it gave a distinctly retro feel like something from the Republican Era. On one side of the room was a record player, and adjoining the record player were three bookshelves, all stuffed to the rim was old records. Scanning them, Meifeng was surprised at all the names she found.
Nancy Yao Li.
These were just a few. Many others also graced the records, some she knew while others she had never heard of. On the other side of the room laid a western piano next to a low table which held a traditional seven stringed guqin.
At all the sight of all this, Meifeng knew that her fears must have been unfounded and that she should return to the main room. The only one alive that knew about Meifeng’s interest in Shanghai jazz music was her shifu and a few close friends. Moreover, the main room held books that interested her. This level of care must mean that something must have happened or that he was just a little late.
Smiling to herself Meifeng went back into the main bedroom, shutting the door behind her, and patiently waited. This time she sat on the bed and decided not to distract herself. She waited even as the first strands of artificial lights peeked in through the door leading to the courtyard, yet not a soul entered her new abode. Even as the drowsiness she had fought crept into her eyes, no one came.
As the last strands of consciousness left Meifeng, her only thought was, There has to be a good reason.