Sunday, January 3, 2010
Suey lifted the flap cautiously to see if the familiar stone road was in sight. Now that she was a married woman, being seen by strangers was not such a taboo anymore. Out of habit, though, she carefully hid her face out of sight. The daily market was over, and people were walking home with fresh produce and meats in their baskets. Just like her, they were going home.
Only she didn't have grocery with her. She turned to see her travel companion, Hoi, her husband of three days. His eyes shined like dark onyx, with a hint of something exciting that made her face warm. She looked away so he wouldn’t find out that she was secretly wanting him. Boldness in a woman was unbecoming.
She had left home on short outings when she was a girl. Her mother had taken her to a temple several times to beg the gods with generous offerings. They failed to perform the miracle her mother had asked them. She remembered first the disappointment, then the bitterness she felt every morning she looked into the mirror.
She had also gone to the temple of the marriage goddess like so many other girls. All the travels were done with her securely tucked away in the covered horse carriage. Other girls from poorer families walked to the temple, but they always had fans or handkerchiefs to cover their faces if any men were around. They prayed feverishly for good husbands, and in exchange they promised to return with more offerings. She remembered how little hopes she had when she prayed. With her cleft lip she was sure the matchmaker would never find a husband for her.
Her bitterness was gone now. Hoi turned out to be better than she had imagined before the wedding. He was kind and a little shy. Although this was only the third day they had been together, she could tell he was not the tyrant she heard from the stories the servants used to tell about their husbands. Sometimes the beatings they described made her wish she could stay at her parent’s house and never marry.
The sound of the horseshoes clacking on the cobblestone told her she was near home. Her heart started beating with happiness. How she had missed her mother and her maids! A part of her wished she had never married, and stayed in the warmth and protection of her parents forever. Her husband extended his hand to help her dismount, and the touch of his hand pulled her back to reality.
The giant stone lions stood on both sides of the gate guarding the mansion looked happy to see her as well. They walked up the steps to the threshold of the main gate, and she could see her parents walking toward the gate to welcome them – the newlyweds. Her tears flooded out without warning, and she collapsed on the stone ground on her knees. Hoi followed her, kneeling to his in-laws and called out: “Mom, dad.” Her father said in a pleasant tone, “Do get up, my son. Do get up.” If he was emotional to see her, he did not let on. She knew he was behaving the way it was expected of a master of the house.
Her mother pulled her up and put her arms around her. She saw her mother's watery eyes and told herself to stop crying. This was supposed to be a happy occasion. Together they walked through the courtyard and arrived at the main hall. A big round table had been set up in the middle of it, and now the father said to the servants, “Tell the kitchen to start serving lunch.” The housekeeper replied, “Yes, master.” and disappeared. The young guests freshened up in the water basins offered by the servants. Suey looked at her mother. Somehow she seemed so familiar and yet different at the same time. Just like the house - it was her home and now it felt like a strange place. She could tell there were many questions her mother wanted to ask her, but couldn’t. She had so many things to tell her mother, too; but she couldn’t.
She and Hoi were seated at the “top seats” that were customarily reserved for distinguished guests. She felt like a complete stranger in her own home. Her siblings and their spouses were there for the happy family event. Knowing what little she knew about men now, she had a difficult time looking at her brothers and her sister-in-laws. She held hands briefly with her maids - the two who were sent home on her wedding night - and refrained from crying by forcing a tearful smile at them. The maids did the same, and they stood behind her for the rest of the meal.
She had dined in the main hall before, during important family gatherings such as New Year, her parents' birthdays, and several festivals every year. Those occasions were always accompanied by banquets in the main hall. She could only imagine what was going through Hoi’s mind. She was sure he had never seen such a house or being treated in such a manner before, but he behaved respectfully so far.
They dined in pleasantries and laughter, with endless dishes served throughout the meal. She had a chance to be with her mother after the meal, when the men stayed in the main hall to talk, and the women retreated to the back quarter. The smaller children all begged, and received, candies from the new bride, and were now playing in the courtyard.
The first question her mother had was:
“Is he being nice to you?”
“Yes, mom. He seems to be a nice man...” She replied shyly. The other women in the room laughed, and her face turned red.
She couldn’t tell her mother how he was taking advantage of the privacy of the horse carriage, and had been caressing her wrists all that time, sometimes venturing up to her upper arms in the sleeves. She knew she should have stopped him – they were, after all, at a public place; but she couldn't and didn't. How could she tell her mother that her body weakened at his touch, or that she enjoyed his caress and wanted more, or that the “big event” her mother warned her about had not happened yet, but she almost looked forward for it to come?
They both were inexperienced in the newly found pleasure of the flesh, and they both were still exploring each other in small steps. Her mother warned her about the intrusive and painful nature of the big event, but she never told her daughter that a man’s hand could ignite her body with such desire that she was terrified by her own yearning for him.
Her mother saw the blushing on her face, and understood more than Suey's simple answer indicated. She held her hand and said gently, “It will be alright.” Suey's anxiety over the inevitable event was somehow eased a little by her mother's soothing voice.
They left shortly so they could reach her in-laws’ house before it turned too dark. She waved to her parents from behind the opening until they disappeared from her view. Hoi held her hand while she wiped away her tears.
She was going back to her husband’s home. It would be her real home from this day on.
(The old custom dictates the newlyweds go back to the bride’s home on the third day of the wedding.)