Chapter 1- Silent Love Encounter
Wei Qiming’s new teahouse was kind of interesting.
Meng Xintang was holding a cigarette at his hand. He raised his hand and flicked at the plaque overhead.
“What name is it?”
There were two words on it: 了堂(Liao Tang). The calligraphy had powerful strokes. Traces of Mifu, the famous Chinese calligrapher of the Song dynasty, could be found while studying it. He might brought it from some calligraphy master of the day.
“You have no idea.” said Wei Qiming with a smirk, narrowing his eyes. “Everyone loves to pose as a culture vulture. What I sell here is spiritual delight. The more unconventional and baffled the name is, the more cultural and profound this place is in people’s sense.”
Meng Xintang shook his head and chuckled briefly. The cigarette smoke curved a fine arc from his fingertip. “In fact you just picked a random name as a bluff.” He said.
They jested before entering the teahouse. “Boss.” People shouted at Wei when they were right at the entrance.
They walked around the teahouse. Meng Xintang had to admit that Wei Qiming had made it quite decent; at least it was pretty impressive: a row of square tables with long stools; fastidious match of types of tea and teapots based on their flavors and materials, such as ceramic, porcelain and covered tea bowls and even Peking-style huge brass teapots. What made it the most special was that there was Peking opera to listen to.
Meng Xintang found it novel. He looked around but could not find where the sound came from.
Wei walked him around and kept introducing the place.
“The ground floor is the main hall and the first floor is the private rooms. Here either the furniture or the shouts are completely retro. I dare you that the atmosphere and the bustle in the main hall must be as good as that of the good old days.”
Meng Xintang had stubbed out the cigarette at the entrance, therefore he felt uncomfortable walking with Wei with empty hands.
But Wei was excited. He pointed at a side door and said, “Can you see there? There is an alley beyond it; a group of old fellows preforms Peking opera every day. The music travels here as a natural background music. Perfect.”
Meng Xintang then realized that that place was where he had looked for. He looked through the door with shining light, but could not capture a clear sight because of the bamboo curtain.
“Would you like to sit in a private room or the main hall?” Wei asked.
“Let’s sit in the hall.” Meng Xintang took back his glance and smiled, “For there is opera to hear.”
They sat near a window. As Meng Xintang had no knowledge of tea and couldn’t care less, he ordered a teapot of FBOP out of habit.
“How come do you have time to visit here?” Wei crossed his legs, resting his head on his hand, “Typically I barely get to see you.”
The tea got poured out from the dragon-neck of the teapot with aroma.
“Some problem happened to our project and we were called to a halt. I am on leave these days.”
Wei was astonished, “Something wrong with the project?”
Meng Xintang acted as if it was nothing and nodded. Wei looked at him, feeling weird. Wrinkling his brow, he asked, “What problem could it be to have you workaholic not gone to work?”
Meng Xintang had no hurry to reply. He instead gently took a sip at the tea before putting down the tea cup and praised, “It indeed tastes good.”
“Yeah, you are telling me.”
If a man like Meng Xintang could understand tea appreciation, this teahouse might have been world famous.
Meng laughed to himself and then answered in a carefree way, “I am on leave mainly for having a fight with my high-up other than for the problem itself.”
“Had a fight with the high-up?”
Wei’s mouth went wide-open. To his memories, from the day one he met Meng, Meng had been living as a man in his 40s, always calm and unemotional, never angry or blush at anything.
Upstairs came a young man wearing a cotton cardigan with a towel on his shoulder. Putting his hand on the stair handrail, he shouted, “Boss, a customer is asking for you.”
It interrupted Wei, who wanted to dig out what happened to his friend.
Wei raised his head and made a noise to response, and then told Meng, “Sit on your own for a while, I will be right back.”
Meng waved at him, signaling him to go ahead.
Meng Xintang took his time having tea after Wei left. He had been dedicated himself to his busy work. With a limited hobby for leisure and nothing big and special to pursuit in life, he spent most of his time in the laboratory where he had been working on the project day after day with limited connection to the outsiders. Now sitting in a teahouse drinking tea and listening to people’s daily conversation and gossip, he surprisingly felt a sense of having returned to a peaceful reality.
The idle chatter, the sound of footsteps coming and going, and the music of the opera over the side door, all these sounded intriguing to Meng Xintang.
He couldn’t understand what was singing by those old fellows but found it quite pleasing to the ear. In a music interval, he tapped on the table and thought to himself, “I will be on leave for some more time, wouldn’t it be a good idea to go to an opera show someday so as to properly experience the culture heritage of my country?”
The music stopped. Those guys were probably chatting about something interesting as gales of laughter drifted to the hall. It was very strange that there was a voice of young man amid the sonorous laughter.
Strange to his thought, he kept wondering.
The tea cup had been emptied three times.
When he was preparing his fourth cup of tea, a whistling melody struck up. Every note of it took him unexpectedly.
All of a sudden, Meng’s hand trembled and the tea was tipped over the table. In a panic, he accidentally pressed his last three fingers on the short brass teapot which was non-insulating, and that resulted in his fingers getting burned.
A man in his 30s got hurt when pouring tea, what a man.
The dulcet melody was still floating in the air, captivating enough to have his mind so drifted away the pain of his fingers.
Frowning and murmuring, he then decided to put down the teapot and got up, leaving behind the water on the table without cleaning up.
Looking for someone by the sound was a likely occurrence only in old-fashioned dramas and books.
During his walk to the side door, the melody had changed its tune from one long-lasting note to frequent notes, short and equal, making him wonder what fingerstyle was used.
In between the melody, Meng had stopped in front of the side door. Through the sunlight shining through the chinks of the curtain, he could only made out some vague figures. The melody then returned to the haunting tune as its beginning. At last, Meng lifted his hand and removed the last barrier in front of him.
The bamboo curtain lifted up, scaring away the stone-pecking birds on the steps.
Around the round table and stone stools were several greying elderly, some were sitting and some standing. Among others, there was a young man holding a pipa really stood out. He was wearing a pair of grey sport shorts and a long-sleeve white T-shirt with no patterns but some beautiful shadow of the leaves on it. He was holding a rosewood pipa in his arm. Meng could only see him in profile from his angle.
When he was playing the most compelling part, the strings vibrated too fast to be seen as he strummed them rapidly.
Not until the last note ceased did Meng manage to collect himself. But then he felt empty as if something in the chest was missing. It was the cheers that make him feel he was still alive.
The young man got up and passed the pipa in his arm to a girl who was standing aside him, “It is a good pipa. Don’t worry, it is worth the price.”
He turned around so Meng couldn’t see his side view but a straight back and symmetrical shoulders.
That girl had a few words with him then sat down with the pipa in her arms, seemingly wanted to be an audience. The lad picked up another pipa which seemed to be more beautiful than the previous one from the stone table. He sat down and started to strum the strings. All instruments were then struck up. It was so lively as if it was some kind of opera carnival. Someone sang along with them.
Of no doubt Meng had never heard of the opera and he was too distracted to listen, for his attention totally got fixed on the man who was playing pipa.
A verse finished, and Meng heard the lad playing pipa laugh and shout at the old man who was standing in the center singing, “Gu, I think it’s better for you to pick another song.”
Everyone started to talk, exchanging their opinion for quite some time. Finally, it ended up with someone saying, “How about you give us an aria.”
The lad smiled with his head tilted to one side, putting his left hand on the strings.
This time only the sound of pipa could be heard. That man, who was sitting not afar from Meng, waved his head gently and sang in a clear and beautiful voice.
This time Meng heard it very clearly.
“No matter how tempting fame and fortune are,
I refuse to adrift in this earthly world
but in my dream.”
He was still smiling, with an air of untrammeled freedom.
Suddenly there came sparkles. It was just the beginning of summer but Meng was dazzled, as if by the glow of midsummer.
Translated by Livie