“Aiyah! Aiyah! Listen to me!”
The wanderer stood outside the wooden door, shouting a storm. Summer often brought them out. Green sighed and slipped away from her peonies to attend the problem. She slid the wooden block side-ways and opened the door.
There he stood, the wanderer, all filthy and in rags. He must be one of those who lurked under the temples, absorbing the sutras and the wisdom, believing they were enlightened and tasked by the Lord Buddha to spout prophecies.
“Lady, Lady, tell your mistress not to fall in love with humans!” He hopped from one foot to another, his spittle flying everywhere.
What irony. They were all in human form, even the smelly wanderer. They all wanted to be human. Green smoothed her flowing sleeves and gave the wanderer her best viper glare.
“Nonsense. Go away! Go harass the Lee family two houses down the street,” she hissed and closed the door firmly. The wanderer stuck his hand through the slit. He had black bitten nails.
“Wait, Lady! Listen to me, your mistress shouldn’t go to West Lake! She shouldn’t fall in love. Oh, calamity! Oh, suffering!”
Green wanted to shout something else, something deliciously vulgar, when she spied Lady White emerging from the prayer room. Jie Jie was disturbed at her meditations. Oh, stupid wanderer! How dared he disturb her Jie Jie?
“Mei Mei,” Lady White said. “What is wrong?”
Green shook her head. “Just a wanderer.”
Lady White smiled. Her body shimmered like moving light, her elegant robes the shade of opalescent moons. Green felt self-conscious. Her green robes looked too gaudy, out of place.
“Just give him some silver taels and a steamed rat,” Lady White said, patting Green’s shoulder kindly. She was so much like her father who would do just that and be generous to beggars and wanderers. Green was grateful to Lord White for a reason: he picked her up when she was barely a day old from her shell and brought her home. There she grew up and became a hand-maid to her Jie Jie, Lady White.
Lady White went back into the house. Green heard the qin. Shrugging, she went to the kitchen and wrapped one of the plumb paddy field rats (done to perfection in the bamboo steamer) with a square cloth. She also took a chain of silver taels from the box where they kept extra money.
The wanderer was still there, muttering to himself. He looked up hopefully when Green appeared with the food and the taels.
“Here, take this,” Green said curtly. “Now go away.”
The wanderer looked at his gifts doubtfully, as if they were strange. “Lady, listen. Your mistress is not to go to West Lake. She is not allowed to fall in love! She is not allowed!”
Green had enough. “Whatever my mistress does is none of your business, worm. Go slither off somewhere else.”
She slammed the door so hard that the wood rattled. The wanderer was still shouting: “Aiyah, calamity, calamity! Trouble will befall upon her!”
Of course, the wanderer had to bring up the issue. How did he know anyway? Maybe he had a bit of the bodhisattva in him and knew about their impending trip to West Lake. Green did not want to go to West Lake. She did not want to mingle with the humans. Maintaining this form was difficult enough, chanting the sutras with iron discipline. But Jie Jie had insisted she wanted to. In a moment of soft-heartedness, Green relented. She rued the fact Lord White was no longer around to curb her mistress’s impulses and be the voice of reason. He had died two years ago, a victim of a hunting spear thrown by a human lord.
Green did not want to go, because she would miss her peonies and her sugared crickets. She was sure Lady White would miss her fried scorpions, an indulgent snack she often asked her Mei Mei to buy at the stall when the hand-maid went out to do her marketing. She licked her lips with a slender forked tongue. They had subsisted long enough on vegetables and the occasional rat.
Perhaps, she would try to persuade Lady White, her Jie Jie, tonight again. What could a green viper do to be the voice of reason to a stubborn white python?