Sitting in my grandma’s small wooden cottage, I listened to her weave another story about dragons living in the lake. The sun was setting quickly, and my mom was cooking on a wooden stove. Although, my family lives in a small village in southern Asia. I have studied abroad for a very long time.
I recently have returned to stay for the year, taking a break from school. When I was little, my grandma will tell me stories all the time. Tonight, I had begged her to tell me another story. The crackling of the fire woods in the fireplace and the sound of my grandma’s voice was the only sound in the small cottage. My mom was working quietly in the small kitchen area and my father side outside the cottage smoking his tobacco. His head leaned back with his eyes closed but I knew he wasn’t asleep.
“It was only briefly. She took a quick walk across the wooden bridge to the other side of the village. She had told her mother that she will return before the sun touches the horizon. She only wanted to visit a friend who was getting married on the side of the village.” My grandma sat on her chair with a thick shawl wrapped around her shoulder. Her white hair tied up into a small loose bun.
“When she crossed the bridge, she heard someone called out her name. Now, back then, you weren’t supposed to turn unless you recognize that voice that was calling you. If you turned, whatever devious spirit it was—it will snag your spirit and tag you along with them. But she forgot all about it.” My grandma shook her head, disappointed at the girl in the story.
“She heard a man’s voice. It is said that the man’s voice was like a siren, seducing her to turn around. She couldn’t resist and turned her head to look behind her. Her eyes landed on a man, half-naked. He smiled at her and she smiled back. Why wouldn’t she? He looked as handsome as a prince. Immediately, she was smitten.” My grandma continued, turning her head so that she can look at me clearly.
I sat on the floor listening to her, not moving. Everything around me, completely silenced as I focused in on her story.
“The young man tricked her. She followed him that night. When the sun touched the horizon, her mother went looking for her but couldn’t find her. She crossed the bridge to the other side of the village and asked the villagers. Nobody saw her daughter. She walked along the edge of the water and called out her daughter’s name but, again, there was no answer.”
My grandma leaned forward and pinched my cheek, “This happens every few years to a maiden in the village. Some claim they had seen it happened--a dragon that was as tall as the sky. We don’t know exactly what lives underneath that black water but all we knew was that every year, a maiden was taken from the village.”
“Do you believe in it, grandma?” I asked.
She chuckled a little, “The question is, do you believe in it?”
I am not so sure if I believe in it but the idea of dragons living under the lake sounds intriguing. Whenever my grandma tells me a story like this I couldn’t help but be excited.
My father came inside carrying his bamboo tube pipe. He closed the door and slipped the lock on. The door was made up of nothing but sticks but give enough privacy inside the home.
He went into his bedroom before coming out empty handed. He walked over to my mother, they started talking quietly amongst themselves.
I turned back to my grandma, “Have any girls gone missing this year?”
“Your grandma is just telling you an urban legend. It is nothing more, Anna May.” My mother interrupted. She walked to the sitting area that was by the stove, unfolding a wooden table to set up for dinner.
I glanced at my grandma who winked at me. My father came out carrying a bowl of warm noodle soup.
“Go wash up, Anna. We will be having dinner soon.” My father ordered. Although twenty-five, I still listened to my elders. I got up and hurried outside carrying a small lantern.
Our village created a bamboo water system that carried clear water to the edge of the village. I hurried to the fountain. I knew I was close when I heard the small rush of water dripping from the bamboo pipe.
The fountain was close to the edge of the lake and I can hear along with the water from the mountain also the rushing of water.
I sat my lantern on the wooden cap of a clay pot before washing my hands.
The sound of leaves rustling caught my attention and I glanced to my left. Although, it was entirely useless because I could barely see a thing with the light of my lantern.
Deciding that it’s better not knowing, I ended my hand washing and grabbed my lantern, making my way back home.
We ate dinner near the fireplace. Dinner consisted of homegrown blanched vegetable with soy sauce as a dipping sauce, noodle soup, and freshly cooked rice.
After dinner, I helped my mother clean up before heading to bed. I stayed up a little longer with one candle lot as I read a few chapters out of one my father’s poetry book.
It didn’t take long before I fell asleep.
The next morning, I joined the village boys and girls by the edge of the lake. Wearing a t-shirt and shorts, we swam in the lake and played a game of Marco Polo.
“Marco!” I shouted with my eyes closed, tiptoeing in the lake.
“Polo!” The kids screeched. I heard the splashing of water and knew a few kids have dived and swum away.
I heard a voice that was a lot closer to me and so I turned towards that direction.
“Marco!” I called out again after a few minutes.
“Polo!” The kids laughed and snickered.
Again, I heard the same voice except it was a lot closer. Grinning, I swam more in that direction.
“Marco!” I called for the third time, knowing very well that I will catch him this time. He just needed to speak up one more time.
Something soft and light brushed against my cheek almost as if someone ran their lips over them. My stomach clenched, and my eyes flew open. The kids were giggling behind me and I have somehow managed to go deeper into the lake. More so then I have intended. I looked around me but saw no one.
Frowning, I turned and swam back to shore. The kids were laughing hard. My neighbor’s boy, Samuel, walked up to me.
“You were totally off.” He said, still grinning.
Frowning still, I turned back to the center of the lake. I could have sworn I heard someone in that direction. It sounded so close.
“I thought I heard somebody over there,” I mumbled.
“We can’t go that far out. The elders in the village want us to stay close to the shoreline.” He replied.
After that, I took a quick wash in the lake, still feeling eyes on me. I got out of the lake and grabbed my towel that was sitting on a bed of grass. Opening it up, I wrapped it around me and threw another furtive glance back at the lake before walking home.
That night, my mother was making fresh tofu in a pot while my father again smoked his tobacco outside. I changed into a knee-length cotton nightgown and wrapped a shawl around me before stepping out of my bedroom. I walked over and sat in a small wooden stool next to my grandma.
“How was school?” My grandma asked, leaning forward to brush my hair. I sighed and turned so she will have easier access.
With my eyes closed, I replied, “It was okay. I missed you guys though.”
My grandma chuckled, “We missed you too, child. The house wasn’t the same without you. How much longer do you think you will be studying for?”
“It shouldn’t be that much longer, grandma. I’ll be home to stay soon.”
She exhaled, “You know you have surpassed the marriageable age, Anna May.”
I snorted, “We aren’t in the old age, grandma. I don’t need a man-”
“Yes, I understand you are culturally blended, but your roots are still here. You should have gone and married at age fourteen but here you are twenty-five and still unmarried.” My grandma lectured.
“What your grandma is saying is that you’re an old lady now.” My mother said from working at the kitchen stove.
I opened my eyes to look at my mother, “Hardly. Why in America, I am still considered very young.”
My mother and grandma laughed at my reply and my father, although his eyes were closed again, the corner of his lip lifted.
“The village leader here has a son who is also studying abroad. Just this morning he stopped by and asked about you. I believe he means to ask your hand in marriage.” My mother told me this news.
“What?” I pulled up straighter but winced when my grandma yanked my hair back so that she can brush it.
“His son is an educated man. If you marry him, it will bring us good fortune and great respect.” My mother continued.
“So, is that what I am to you all? Cattle for you to sell?” My voice rose along with my outrage.
“Maya, leave our daughter alone.” My father grumbled from the front door.
“Don, I am not saying she should. I am just telling her that this has always been tradition. That there might possibly be a marriage proposal in the near future. If the village leader approaches you regarding your daughter’s hand in marriage, will you be able to say no to him?” My mother directed the question at my father. “I have no problem, keeping my daughter near me. I’m more worried about you.”
“We will worry about it when the time comes.” My father opened his eyes and looked at my mother, ending the conversation there.
We ate our dinner meal without further talk about marriage. After I finished, I excused myself to my room. Laying down on my bed, I looked up at the ceiling. Little slits of moonlight slipping through. I can’t see myself marrying the village leader’s son. He was a decent looking man and I remember going to school with him. Girls were crazy over him because he was rich, and they knew he will be able to provide for him, but I never saw that as an attribute I needed in a husband.
Sighing, I turned over onto my side and willed sleep to take over. However, sleep this time came differently. This time, a handsome man that looked godly beautiful entered my dream. He was so breathtakingly gorgeous that he literally took my breath away when he pulled me in for a kiss.