The Little Boy and the Great Dragon
”Young sir? D-Dinner is ready.” The boy was lying on his bed, his back to the door and the meek servant hovering between it. After receiving no reply, the servant ventured into the room, and one step later was face down on the floor, clutching at his knee in pain. The boy rolled over snickering at the poor man as he struggled to stand up. “Yes, funny indeed, sir,” the servant said through his teeth. He untied the rope from the bedside table so it wouldn’t be a danger for him and rephrased his words, “The Lordship and Ladyship are expecting you. I must return to prepare your seat, sir.” The disgruntled servant made his way out of the room, made strong and righteous by the self-reminder of his loyal duties.
The boy had been making a bracelet using his aunt’s pearls when he was interrupted. He harboured a large grin on his face as he carried on what seemed to be his greatest accomplishment. Jewellery was this little boy’s pride and joy. He yearned to decorate the young necks and arms of both the poor and the rich ever since he saw his late mother adorned with emeralds and rubies at parties. He believed that, like his mum, every young maiden should feel coveted and beautiful as they wore them.
But in this house, this dungeon, he couldn’t pursue this dream of his. He was the son of a lord, as well as his mother’s child, and his life’s plan was already written for him.
‘It would not bode well for the son of a lord to allow commoners to think themselves on his level.’
The boy sighed as he carefully placed the bracelet on the table. If only, he thought to himself.
His bedroom window rushed open with the force of the cold winter's wind. The tinkling and cheer of music and laughter exploded in his ears and the boy’s eyes perked up wondering where such a foreign sound could have come from and what it was. His window was so high up and far out of reach that you would wonder how he ever had the courage and strength to scale up both his mammoth mattress and his towering table to see what was outside. His little hands were soon grabbing hold of the window still while his eager brown eyes gaped open at the sight below.
Red. Crimson. Burgundy. Mahogany. Scarlet.
Just a few of the colours that exploded in his mind. The bright colours danced and convulsed like fire sprites, gayly twisting in the moonlit night.
“Sir!” The boy whipped his head round so suddenly that he felt the consequent pains trickling down his neck. The bright colours receded from his sight as the dark colours of his room and that of the pain coerced to kick them away. He looked a little frightened and sad as he scurried down from the table.
‘It would not bode well for the son of a lord to take part in barbarian festivities.’
The boy rushed past the servant, not giving him a second glance as he ran down the stairs towards the second dining room. As he approached the room, he instinctively slowed down to a stately walk, as was taught him at too young an age to not have become second nature. Unfortunately, the latter qualifier is often misunderstood and only truly reveals itself in such occasions, as the boy teetering awkwardly towards the dining room table. One of the manservants standing at the door followed the boy to his chair and pulled it out for him.
The table already sat two other people. One-- a man with broad shoulders, dark features and a deep look in his eyes that made one spill even the beans they did not know they had every time you looked into them, whether you were hiding anything from him or not. The other-- a woman that looked nothing like the boy, sat in an invisible cloud of perfume and make-up. Her bright red-lipped mouth pursed up as she observed the boy struggling to eat his hot soup.
Silence was all they heard, in between the civilised quiet clink and clank of cutlery and plates before the little boy cleared his throat and spoke up. “Father? May I go and observe the Chinese New Year Festival?” Those lights had taunted him every year, and while they had not reached him as deeply before, they seemed to have ignited him anew with the hope that he could get approval from his father to see them in person.
There was a loud clank of metal against the china and the boy looked up to see his father’s eyes boring into his skull as he was glaring at him. “How many times do we have to tell you?”
The boy looked down at his food feeling foolish as he droned, “It would not bode well for the son of a lord to take part in barbarian festivities…”
“It would not bode well for the son of a lord to allow commoners to think themselves of his level...”
“So the answer is?”
“N-No…” he hesitated. He struggled to keep his tears behind as he stared at his soup, a yellowish pasty substance swimming around the white china bowl.
“May I be excused, sir?” The Lord grunted his approval for the sake of his peace and the little boy left his tasteless soup on the dining table with his hunger and his dreams unsated.
After a disappointing yet inevitable mealtime with his Lordship and Ladyship, the child slowly trudged his way up the stairs to his room. Upon entering the unlit space he could see colourful lights dancing upon the wall from the celebrations just outside his house, and could feel a sob arising as he knew he couldn’t participate…
Or could he? The little boy grinned from ear to ear as a plan was composed in his head. The Lord and Lady would soon be occupied with endless meetings! That would give him the freedom to sneak out of the mansion and follow the Chinese Dance across the roads.
He giggled, proud of his plan, and bubbled as he fetched himself a cloak and put his winter boots on. From his nest egg, he took five gold coins and carefully filled his money pouch, adding some of the jewellery leftover from his artwork. He went to his bed and stuffed pillows and books under the duvet.
With an excited yet stifled laugh and a lively yet controlled skip, the boy left his room and traversed the mansion floors, avoiding the bataillon of servants, until he reached the back door.
Why have I never done this before? he kept asking himself as every step he made away from the mansion brought him closer to his hopes. It took only two turns from the house to come to the streets with all the lanterns, masks, the vendors… He stood still, all at once frightened and in awe at the sight for the second time. His eyes journeyed through the spectacle, now coming across some street urchins enjoying sweets they’d bought with the one bronze coin they had. He hesitated to take a step but soon found himself awkwardly shuffled down the street towards them, with his eyes fixed on the ground.
“Want one?” The boy looked up to see a little girl with short brown pigtails and a face flecked with freckles. Her hand was outstretched towards him, its skin dry, dirty and flaking, its nails uneven and brown with soot, holding two small shiny spheres: one rose and one indigo.
“May I really?” His voice came out coarse, he’d never spoken to a ‘commoner’ outside of the mansion before.
“Of course! We’ve ‘ad our fill.” She smiled showing a row of misshapen yellow teeth. The boy held himself back from grimacing and bowed slightly as he took the pink one.
In the dark, he was no longer the son of a Lord, condemned by rank to never taste life. He was…
As he popped the sphere in his mouth, he held his cheeks and opened his eyes wide in amazement. The sweet sugary taste of the sphere and the mellow aroma of the strawberry fruit mingled on his tongue and he rolled it from side to side so that every taste bud could share this. Before he knew it, the tiny confectionary had melted away to nothing, leaving only a sticky sensation upon his lips.
He had to give something back to this girl, this girl who had shared such luxury with him without hesitation, without checking his background, retracting before his voice, even if he could not quite do the same at her sight. So he dug in his money pouch and fished out the pearl bracelet he’d made just that day.
“Here. For you.”
The boy draped the bracelet around her still outstretched arm and clasped it shut. The little girl’s eyes sparkled at the richness that was set upon her skin and her eyes filled with tears.
“It’s beautiful… But too rich! Where did you get this? I mustn't, no I mustn't have it!” She proceeded to remove the jewels and return them but the boy pressed them back into her hands. “Every maiden deserves to see their beauty in the light of such adornments. Thank you for the sweets.” He turned and walked off in the direction of the Chinese Dance while the little girl bobbed her head rapidly before showing off her new treasure to her friends.
The boy took his time walking towards the procession. He wanted to drink in his surroundings; to etch the sights around him in his memory forever, to taste and smell the delicious food and drinks made by the ‘working man’, to hear the laughter, boom and tinkle of people, fireworks and erhu and guzheng music, to feel the night breeze ruffle through his hair.
Everything was bright and loud and exciting.
When he finally reached the part of the street where the Dancer, the main treasure of the procession was, he had started moving. Crowds of people were standing at the pavements watching and cheering as he danced across the street. The dragon was alive.
The boy pushed his way through the crowd to see better and when he finally made it to the front, his mouth dropped in amazement. All other sounds were drowned out by the loudness of the myriad of colours in front of him.
The dragon was huge! He was twice as tall as him and ten times as long. His head was fitted with yellow and orange flames and its eyes were painted bright red and amber. The neck was adorned with a long silver ribbon that looked like it would fly off with any wind and at any moment. Its snake-like body was wine-red and cherry with streams of black and gold. His body jiggled and curved, jumped and swerved as he performed for everyone.
The boy followed the dancer along the fronts of the crowd, never taking his eyes off of the Great Dragon. Sometimes he’d trip, sometimes he’d bump into someone, but every time he got up, shake himself and continue.
His heart was pounding; he wanted to run, he wanted to fly, he wanted to escape this place.
He imagined himself hopping on the Great Dragon’s back, him shaking himself to life and them soaring into the sky, leaving everything dull and bleak behind.
He reached out, moving closer to the dragon, wanting to feel the heat and warmth of the mythical creature as it came to life in his mind, when large hands grabbed his shoulders and arms and pulled him away.
He let out a cry as these hands took him away; took him away from the colours and creativity and back into the dampness and silence of the richer streets. The dragon and the colours surrounding it faded away into the distance, the dark greys and browns bleeding back into view.
He was back at the mansion once again; he looked up to see the stately building he grew up in, the windows staring down disapprovingly at him, the door, a gaping lion’s mouth and the his Lordship, the slithery tongue that would pull him back into the darkness.
During a year of severe punishments and rules drilled into the boy’s head so he could learn from his mistakes, he forgot all about the Great Dragon.
One morning, he was sat at his desk writing and rewriting the words ‘It would not bode well for the son of a lord to allow commoners to think themselves of his level’ and ‘It would not bode well for the son of a lord to take part in barbarian festivities’ when his open window started to flap in the wind.