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Spring Once More chapter 5
(Traditional Chinese cover scanned by Dairytea)
There is a wise saying that goes— a contented mind is a perpetual feast. Likewise, the discontented are often starving.
I, Ma Xiaodong, had been a regular guy requiring minimum maintenance. Now that I’ve suddenly become a prince in a literally a brand new world, I should be dancing and celebrating this new life. But honest to god, I really can’t bring myself to be in a cheerful mood.
In the blink of an eye, a good five days in the prince’s manor has flown by.
Life over the past five days has been so good that I couldn’t complain even if I tried. When I open my eyes in the morning, my slightest cough summons a gaggle of attendants. One dresses me from the waist up while another attends to points south, while yet another slips my feet into my shoes. Then comes the one who rinses my mouth, then the one who combs my hair, then the one who wipes my face with a nicely wrung out towel. After that, I will finally be helped into my robes.
Hedonists would say that I am in bliss. I on the other hand can definitely say from the bottom of my heart: How depressing is this?
I’m my own man, yet I live under the scrutiny of dozens. Even going to the latrine means I am followed by servants whose sole job is to pass the paper. Wouldn’t you say it’s depressing when someone else know better than I do the exact number of times per day that I sneeze, go to the toilet, pick my nose or scratch my ears from the moment I wake till the moment I sleep?
And don’t get me started on the food here. I assumed some other material needs might not be met, but as long as I got three square meals a day I would be content. But who knew that once the emperor heard that his little brother was alive, he would send an imperial physician to check my pulse. The old fogey narrowed his eyes and stroked his beard for a while, and I immediately saw that he was up to some funny business. And whaddaya know? The physician declared that the yin energy in the young prince’s body had yet to be dispelled and prescribed light meals to nurse my body back to a healthy state. He pulled out a piece of paper, in bold and reckless calligraphy, dashed off a list to be given to the kitchen. And that’s why I’ve had nothing to eat but green leaves and radish skin for four days.
At last, on tonight’s menu is shark fin soup. The moment the bowl is served up, my eyes widen. It only took me two lives to finally be able to taste this delicacy I’ve dreamt of so often! But it looks like I won’t be enjoying my gourmet meal in peace as the usual coterie of servants is already swarming: one in charge of taking the food, one scooping rice, one ladling soup, and another wringing out towels and wiping my mouth. So considering my current image, I point gracefully to the soup bowl with my chopsticks. The soup ladler works fast while I open up that extra compartment in my stomach. I drink to my heart’s content and somewhat manage to make up my four-day deficit of oil and fat.
After I wipe the shine off my lips, I order my servants to pull a chair so that I can admire the twilight scene from the walkway. The manor of Prince Tai is a classical, grand complex with tall gates and vermillion walls. The elegant, curved roof ridges are numerous and overlapping. These divide the many courtyards and quarters, while exquisitely decorated walkways connect them. The railings and posts are carved with flowers, and the rising cornices are brilliantly painted. According to hearsay, even the placement of the pond, the rock formation, the flowers and the hardy banana in the garden are all meticulously planned. I spent the last five days bouncing between my main quarters and inner main hall, but the whole time I had my eyes on the moon gate at the end of the inner court walkway.
A short gust of wind blows over me. I survey my surroundings, and a bizarre sense of emptiness fills my being. These days, I’ve felt especially melancholy once night falls, especially when it comes time to bear lanterns, and the servants go around lighting the candles.
The most pathetic thing about humans is that we only know to cherish something after we have lost it; we only understand its value after we part from it. I once found the thirty-watt fluorescent bulb in my shitty, three-hundred-yuan rental to be an eyesore. Now, I would gladly exchange half of the Tai estate for a twenty-watt incandescent.
The night deepens, and the air is chilly. The candles have been lit. The agitation inside me is becoming stronger and stronger. It’s been five days! I have been repressing it for five whole days. Every part of my soul is shouting with all I have: Let me take a drag!
Cigarettes and alcohol are men’s loyal lovers for eternity, and for me, they are my life. Throughout all those splendid early mornings, all those idle hours, and all those lonely nights, it was the unending trail of smoke that accompanied me, faithfully, consoling my very soul. I am this close to giving myself twenty good ones across the face. If I had known that there wouldn’t be any tobacco in this shithole, I would have gladly gone to America and enjoyed my life as a sixty-something-year-old even if only for a few more years. At least I could smoke authentic Habanos and watch television in the glory of thousands of watts with an arm around my pin-up Hollywood mistress.
I look towards the heavens and swallow my drool. Exhaling a deep sigh, I shift my focus to the end of the walkway.
“Your Highness,” Xiao-Shun prompts from behind me, “the cold wind brings dampness. Perhaps it is time to retire to the quarters.”
An idea pops into my head. Television, light bulbs or cigars are all too far-fetched for this era, but the prince has at least one thing going for him. I sigh again, “The night is long, and with but a sole lantern and cold sheets, it is difficult to fall asleep by myself alone.”
Sharp lad that he is, Xiao-Shun immediately grins, and his mouthful of yellow teeth bursts into my vision like a jumble of pomegranate seeds. “Your Highness has not summoned any night companions these days. Shall I call for one tonight?”
I do not respond. Moments later, Xiao-Shun draws close to my ear. “May I know which one Your Highness would like?”
Which one? OMG, there’s more than one! Just as he finishes speaking, Xiao-Shun smacks his own mouth. “This servant deserves death for forgetting that Your Highness… Your Highness, this servant shall go according to custom and fetch the sticks.”
Drawing sticks! Emperors of the past flipped tiles to decide which chamber to visit for the night, and yet the little prince decides to draw sticks. It’s quite an innovative idea. I like it.
Xiao-Shun is quick on his feet. Before I know it, he has already brought a bamboo container in which there are at least twenty or so bamboo sticks.
Oh, the evils of feudalism... I comment ruefully from my historical pedestal.
My mouth cannot help going dry as I extend my hand into the cylinder to mix things up. Then I calmly draw one. Heavens bless me. Please let it be a beautiful lady. Xiao-Shun holds the lantern up and draws closer: Number Two. Below is a painted blossom, as well as two characters: Ruoshui.
 Yin represents negative or feminine energy while yang represents positive or masculine energy. Yin as a qualifier also signifies anything related to the netherworld.
 This signifies his eagerness to explore the rest of the manor, especially the other quarters.
 Common critique on the imperial times since the communist era.
 Literally “like water.”
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Spring Once More by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.