Spilled Water

Free Spilled Water by Sally Grindley

Book: Spilled Water by Sally Grindley Read Free Book Online
Authors: Sally Grindley
peasant, please, Lu Si-yan.’
    I placed the bowl in the centre of the table, stood back and waited for instructions. There was silence, then Mrs Chen said,
     ‘Where are the hot towels, Lu Si-yan?’
    My stomach plunged. Nobody had said anything about providing hot towels at breakfast time. It was first thing in the morning.
     Surely hot towels weren’t needed when everyone had so recently washed.
    ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Chen, I didn’t realise –’
    ‘We always have hot towels, before every meal. I’m sure I told you. Too late now. We’ll have to do without.’
    ‘No hot towels, Grandma.’ Yimou leant conspiratorially across the table to whisper loudly to Mrs Hong.
    ‘No, dear, not today. Never mind, though. It won’t harm us.’
    ‘What are you waiting for now, Lu Si-yan? Dish out some rice and hand round the cold meats.’
    Mrs Chen tried to make herself appear agreeable, a smile on her lips after she spoke, while her husband sat patiently waiting,
     showing no sign of involvement with anything that was going on around him. I carefully put a spoonful of rice into Mrs Hong’s
     bowl, for which she thanked me, served Mrs Chen and Mr Chen, then bent over Yimou to reach his bowl. He beamed up at me, a
     face of pure innocence, turned towards his father and said, ‘Pretty girl.’
    Mr Chen gave a brief nod. Mrs Chen told him sweetly not to embarrass me. When I passed round the preserved meats, he beamed
     at me again, then leant across the table to whisper to Mrs Hong, ‘Pretty girl, Grandma.’
    ‘Eat your food, Yimou,’ Mr Chen said sternly.
    I disappeared back to the kitchen to fetch the hot dishes. The pieces of beef were stuck together in their glue-like sauce,
     the chicken was blackened in places where it had burnt at the bottom of the wok. I tried to disguise the worst with carefully
     positioned vegetables, but I knew that such subterfuge would not escape Mrs Chen’s eagle eye. At least I had managed not to
     overcook the pakchoi. I carried the dishes through and waited for the inevitable smile-disguised tongue-lashing.
    ‘You may serve us with more rice, then return to the kitchen to begin washing-up,’ Mrs Chen ordered.
    I filled one bowl after the other as before. When I reached Yimou, he suddenly pointed at my hand and said very solemnly,
     ‘Nasty cut? Have to kiss it better.’
    With that, he took hold of my wrist and was about to kiss my finger, when Mr Chen pulled him away and said firmly, ‘No, Yimou,
     you don’t touch.’
    I was sent back to the kitchen then, while Yimou leaned across to Mrs Hong and whispered, ‘Nasty cut, Grandma.’
    I was in turmoil as I scrubbed away at the dirty pans. It wasn’t that Mrs Chen would come in soon to demolish me over the
     dreadful meal. It was Yimou. It seemed I was destined to marry a boy who was as handsome as any girl could wish, but who acted
     like a very young child, though he looked about eighteen.
    I didn’t have time to think about it for too long. Mrs Chen strode in and the expected castigation took place. The food wasn’t
     fit for a peasant. Mr Chen had been assured by my uncle that I was a good cook, so I had better not be there under false pretences.
     There was plenty left, which I was welcome to. Lunch had better be much improved. I was to make a start on it as soon as I
     had eaten and finished clearing up.
    ‘One last thing, Lu Si-yan,’ Mrs Chen said quietly. ‘He is harmless, you will always have a roof over your head, and you will
     never want for money. I think you can count yourself lucky, don’t you?’
    I wanted to knock the sickly smile off her face and scream, No, no, no! I am not lucky. I am the unluckiest girl in the whole
     of China. But I wasn’t expected to reply. Mrs Chen had already gone.
    I fetched the bowls of discarded food from the dining room and sat down to eat, but I had lost my appetite. I didn’t care
     about having a roof over my head – after all, Mother and I had managed without one once upon a

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