Sing Lin skips down Fish Alley, seeking fresh shrimp for Master’s supper.
She swings her wicker shopping basket with a frivolous hand, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. The city air is ripe with the odors of raw sea creatures and sandalwood incense, of the mouthwatering scent of peanut oil smoking in someone’s hot wok.
A mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu, not on most days. Certainly not on a day as fresh and crisp as this, with sunlight sparkling high above and a cool west wind from the sea. A day which Cook would have gladly savored for himself.
A lucky day.
But Cook has injured himself. His ankle has swollen up like a bundle of newspapers left out in a night rain. Cook took a wrong step into a pothole on Jasmine Avenue, and now he cannot step at all.
Cook had seized her skinny arm as Sing Lin had knelt over the wash basin, scrubbing the sheets for Master’s bed. He flung her to her feet and said, “Here, you lazy girl, go get two pounds shrimp for Master’s supper, and make quick.”
“Yes, Cook,” she murmured.
Sing Lin had washed her hands and face, and retied her queue, and smoothed the wrinkles from her black cotton sahm. And she set out with Cook’s coins and her wicker shopping basket, her young heart bobbing with innocent joy. Shrimp is double good luck because, first, here she is, out of the house in such a long time. And because, second, Master will let Cook give her one spicy fried shrimp with her usual supper of boiled rice and greens. “You the shrimp girl, anyway,” Cook joked in his dour way. “Master bought you for ten pieces of gold, plus five pounds shrimp.”
Two more skips and a hop and a jump, and Sing Lin finds herself among the peddlers of Fish Alley. They are, one and all, clad in blue-denim sahms. Yet all are not alike in the throng of blue tunics and trousers, a truth that even Sing Lin’s eyes can discern. The ones wearing jaunty felt fedoras have taken to the new ways of the city. The ones in embroidered satin caps have not. And the ones who cannot escape their lot in life no matter where they flee to wear the flat straw cone of peasantry. They are, one and all, men. There is not a woman in sight, unless Sing Lin peeks at her own reflection in a shop window, and even she’s not a woman, not yet.
Master employs many men just like the fish peddlers in his drayage business along the waterfront. Once she overheard him talking to Cook. They are not, of course, human beings, Master had said. They are oxen to be led by a ring through the nose. Later, lying on her straw pallet in the pantry, Sing Lin had wondered for a long time what Master must think of her.
Now she glimpses the longing and the bitterness in the fish peddlers’ eyes and something else, something strange and disturbing. Anxiety casts a shadow on her happiness, and she is only too aware she does not belong here. After all, a mooie jai just doesn’t skip down the streets of Tangrenbu. It’s not a proper thing. Not on any day.
Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Mason.
Daughter of the Tao is free exclusively on Kindle!
Published in Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn (HarperPrism), which included stories by Charles de Lint, Karen Joy Fowler, Robert Sheckley, and Ellen Kushner.
Daughter of the Tao
5.0 out of 5 stars
a beautiful novella! April 23, 2012
By Mark Abrams
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
The characters in this little book jumped off the page and you really cared what happened to them. It is a rare talent that can do that so well! This was a compelling tale of a girl sold into slavery as her culture allowed. I found myself hooked from the very first page as I followed her through the twists and turns of her life. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a character-based story with a touch of magic and fantasy to it!
From the author of The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, on Nook and Kindle, Summer of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on Nook and Kindle, and The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book) on Nook and Kindle.
Visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, forthcoming projects and more. And on my Facebook Author Page, on Amazon, on my Facebook Profile Page, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
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