Candied Hawthorns

Vivi Dai July 30, 2021
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On a bleak street of a small town, no one could be seen, except an old man wearing a coarse grey mask, shivering in the cold wind, selling candied hawthorns.
The old man was in fact only fifty-seven years old, but after years of heavy labor, his face was weathered and lined, his back was bent, and his legs continually ached. All of these made him look more than seventy years old.
The old man’s clothes were dull. His coat was grey. His pants were grey. His shoes were also grey. All these clothes were shabby and hung from his form. It was obvious that he had worn them for many years.
However, in this poor old man’s hands were some dazzling red candied hawthorns. There were a total of twenty skewers, each holding eight hawthorns coated in thick hardened syrup. All had been made by the old man’s wife. Squinting because of her poor sight, the wife managed to neatly put the hawthorn berries together.
On the gray street, under the gray sky, the candied hawthorns in the old man’s hands stood out against the bleakness like tiny bright red flames in a black and white picture.
If it had been a normal year, these candied hawthorns would have been sold out in an instant. Today was the third day of the Lunar New Year holiday, the day when the annual temple fair was held. Children would have stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of the delicacy. Adults would have been happy to buy them one or two skewers since the candied hawthorns were cheap and the red color meant prosperity. By the end of the day, the old man would have earned hundreds of yuan and would have cheerfully gone home with a new garment for his wife as the New Year Holiday was the only time they could spend money on clothes.
However, this year, the temple fair had been canceled. Not only that, but there was not even a single person on the street. The old man had a glimmer of hope that there might be someone wearing a mask coming out for a little stroll. After all, this was the New Year Holiday.
Even though the old man had been optimistic, no one came out at all. Not that people loved to stay at home all day long, but they were banned from going out. A horrible pandemic was swooping down like a wild vulture, causing numerous illnesses and death. For safety’s sake, people really should not venture out.
Even so, the old man refused to give up. He crossed his arms against the blowing wind. In his heart, he still had a lingering hope for a miracle. He would feel ashamed to go home empty-handed.
Two people came from far away. Without waiting for the old man to open his mouth to greet them, they raised their arms to show their red armbands. Behind the masks emerged the huffing and puffing reprimand, “Go home! No stalls here!”
It turned out to be the patrol officers from the village safety committee.
“Please Let me stay a little longer. My wife is not feeling well. We really need money to buy some good food…” the old man pleaded.
One officer interrupted him sharply, “Go, or all your things will be confiscated!”
There seemed no chance for negotiation.
The old man was humble and timid, like most people at the lower end of society. He never dared to argue with someone of a higher social status, so he turned around in silence and sadly set off for home, with tears welling up in his eyes.
What shall I do now? He fell into despair. Where can I find money to buy dinner for my wife?
Suddenly, a courteous voice came from behind him.
“Excuse me, how much is a candied hawthorn?”
In great surprise, the old man immediately turned around and replied, “Five yuan.”
Then he noticed five people in heavy ginger coats standing on the street. They were all small and thin, with extremely narrow jaws and the blond hair of foreigners. Their faces were as red as chestnut, their eyes round and shrewd. But the strangest thing was that the masks they wore were pointed high at the tip of their noses, which made them look like Pinocchio whose nose had grown longer from lying.
The tallest one spoke again (Although he was the tallest, he barely reached the shoulder of the old man), “It’s really cheap. I remember it was ten yuan last year.”
“This year is different. It’s not easy for everyone,” the old man couldn’t care less about who they were and hurriedly put on a welcoming smile.
“Then give me ten skewers…”
“Honey, since the price is only half, let’s buy twenty,” the second tallest one said in a gentle voice.
“Mom is right!” the other three small ones said eagerly. “Daddy, please buy twenty! Please!”
“Can you finish them all?” said their father, frowning slightly.
“It is rare for our family to attend the temple fair together. This will be a wonderful memory,” the mother said.
“That’s right. I wouldn’t dare to bring you kids to a temple fair full of people. It’s too dangerous.” The father smiled and asked the old man, “Can I trade three chickens to exchange twenty skewers?”
By that moment, the old man had figured out who his customers were, not to mention the three excited little weasels who had revealed their tails without realizing it.
The old man hesitated, “Well…where did you get the chickens?”
He was afraid that the chickens had been stolen from a nearby farmer.
The Father Weasel immediately saw the old man’s concern. He stood straight, looking at the old man with big crystal eyes, and said solemnly, “We raise them ourselves.”
“We go pick up fallen seeds in the forest to feed our chickens every day. It’s a lot of work!” the three Kid Weasels said aloud together.
“You are great kids!” the old man praised them without thinking.
“We know!” the little weasels said excitedly.
But the old man was still a little hesitant, “Do you know three organic chickens are much more expensive than these candy hawthorns? Actually, one is enough.”
The Mother Weasel smiled, “It’s okay. We have a lot of chickens, but candy hawthorns are only available here.”
Then, like magic, the Father Weasel pulled out three big fat chickens from under his ginger coat and handed them to the old man. The old man also handed all his candied hawthorns to the father weasel.
“Come back next year. I will save some for you!” said the old man holding the chickens happily.
“We will! We will for sure!” the five weasels replied.
Holding the shiny red candied hawthorns, they walked joyfully toward their home in the vast forest.

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