an enchanted alumni night

an enchanted alumni night by Praise L

Kate is glad she did not make it to that alumni night after all on that fateful night of reunion on 2017-5-17. This is the account of what really happened that night of the alumni dinner. After pausing a long while at the bridge watching the swiveling black water thinking about her past life, she drove towards that meeting hall in the city at the other end where the river mouth whispered gently into the ears of the sea.

It was a dark and lonely drive. She stayed occupied in her mind anticipating the scene of the reunion.

“What am I going to say to all these strangers?” She thinks of the old men and women whom she has not met, not in their adulthood anyway. She tries to think of Noel, the only boy in school who owned a motor cycle and tried to court her by daily standing outside Kate’s classroom looking at her.

She was not prepared to meet any of them, especially Noel whom she rejected. While driving and musing to divert her mind to something more meaningful like a poet writing about how he wandered lonely as a cloud, and saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. (William Wordsworth)She also recalled a story about one day a woman decided to plant a single bulb. This single bulb turned into many more and soon she had a field filled with daffodils. The daffodil field had refreshed many tired and wearied hearts and her story motivated others and changed the belief that a small thing was too small to matter.

Why was she not interested in Noel’s courtship? The reason given was she had to travel far and not likely returning.

Yet she returned after decades. This night, like the swiftlets returning to their habitat (dark caves or houses as in the case where Kate was raised) and the fastest speed is 69 mph (111 kph), which was the speed Kate was driving. As Kate chewed over such mixture of data she realized something was not right.

She should have have reached the city of brilliant lights in less than half an hour but she had been driving well over an hour at least! She recalled making one turn towards the beach road shortly after she left the bridge. The sea and the river ran parallel so there was no reason why she had not reached the city. She could hear the monotonous sound of the sea waves on the way and she knew she was on the beach road.

She stopped the car and listened in the dark. It was strangely quiet. There was no street light on this stretch of the road. With her car light she could see a mist rising ahead. He phone went dead and frozen. No WiFi signal. No telecommunication signal. Her car clock was dead. Where was Kate?

Resuming driving she made a decision to turn off to a side lane, seeing a distant gleam of light. Finally, a colonial style house appeared at the end of the lane. To her relief, its door was opened and she was greeted kindly by a friendly and pleasantly looking woman of indeterminable age, neatly dressed in the style of the sixties. The woman was a housekeeper of the beautiful house whose owners were away overseas. She served the weary Kate cups of warm tea with fresh milk, and some freshly baked scones.

This was the conversation which Kate remembered vividly in the aftermath.

“Thank you Ma’am, for being so kind. May I borrow a phone to call my friends? We are supposed to have a reunion alumni gathering.” Kate asked politely after a cup of tea. and scone.

“You are very welcome, Miss Kate, I am afraid we do not have a phone in this house. Neither do I carry a phone.”

“Am I correct in what I am seeing? That wall clock shows a time at 11:55 and it has frozen since I arrived. Perhaps I am mistaken.” Kate tried to sound calmly.

“You are right, Miss Kate, we are living in a frozen time here. “

“My car clock, and phone went dead and none of the communication ways seems to work.” Kate replied.

“Not surprising, Miss Kate. We live in a zone without modern communication.”

Kate’s mind worked like never before. “Am I dreaming? Is this real?” She asked herself silently. Then she looked into the face of a familiar looking young woman looking at her from the opposite wall, with a puzzling look on her face.

Kate stood up and looked closer. It was a mirror and the reflection of a very young woman, like her twin in her twenties. Kate was looking at herself in the 1960s. “Have I gone back in time?” She asked.

The housekeeper answered, “No, you have merely stumbled into a parallel time zone which has been frozen in time. “

“Are there others in this time zone?” Kate asked. Memories of sixties rushed to her like wild mustangs.

“Yes, of course. Whom do you have in mind?” The woman asked.

“Perhaps my high school mates? If that is possible…” Kate made a wish silently. She believed in miracles.

“Why not?” The kindly woman answered as if it was a matter of simplicity and fact. “Just do as you normally would do when on this day as a young person.” She added.

“I was driving, on my way to attend a graduation gathering and that was the last time I would meet with my high school classmates. I flew off the next morning. Something happened. ” Kate reminisced that fateful night.

“Well? Did you have a good time?” The woman asked.

“I never got there. I was driving and lost my way somehow and ended up in a house like this one off the side lane.” Kate looked up and burst out loudly, unable to keep her cool, “It’s the same house, this house!”

“Well?” The woman asked without showing any surprise.

“Yes, I had a rather quiet and pleasant time drinking tea and eating scones. After that I drove home as it was rather late and long passed the party. I never got to say goodbye to them. And we all grew old separately.” Kate spoke calmly as she thought about that night of missed appointment. Then she remembered that she received a rose before she boarded the plane. There was no card. She never knew who the sender was.

“Do you want to live that redeemed time with a different outcome or would you rather go home now?” The woman seemed to be able to give her a choice.

Kate thought for a moment. Just a moment with a tiny bit of a glimpse of what could have been. Then she said resolutely, “I wish to go home.”

There was no further conversation. Kate and the woman said goodbye and she drove back to her sister’s house safely and swiftly. When she reached home her digital equipments and the car clock were all functioning perfectly and it was exactly midnight as she walked into the house.

She flew off the next morning. Her former classmates sent a message through Pretty Flower and said they had a nice time, though they wished they could have seen her. Being old and easily tired, they all went home shortly after the dinner. They sent their combined best wishes for a safe and good journey. She received a rose before she boarded the plane. There was no card. She never knew who the sender was.

Praise, 2021-11-18

a hermit-traveler’s snowy November 2019

20191122

Two years had passed since one November up a mountain lavishly painted with snow. It was a new experience for a hermit and yet a traveler in life for decades. The snow came just as notified through the weather forecast on the internet. Nothing really changed when it came and the locals above the city of the clouds lived as usual. The traveler was somewhat caught in surprise but the priceless Canadian “chauffeur”, a fellow traveler like the hermit-traveler was not shocked. To her it was really nothing because she came from the snowy and colder part of Canada. She was well prepared with all the normal preparations for her sturdy land rover, and her trailer home, hardware and software. They went to school as if nothing happened. Some students were deterred by closures of roads, and the school had to suspend the penalty for no-show of the students. But not this brave woman from Canada all equipped with her amazing driving skill. So the hermit traveler went to school as usual snow or no snow. What a memorable day riding/gliding on snow and seeing many cars in ditches as well, while praying real hard not to slide into the ditches as it seemed the norm to join the rank then.

Looking at the old photos, priceless memories returned and said, well done my friend! Yes, well done, my dear friend across the distance in the colder and more extreme-weathered land. It is comforting to know that you and your loved ones are together, staying healthy and well, holding onto your dreams and visions.

2021-11-02

Past squares #15. A traveler’s day including an orphanage outing.

taken on 2014-11-04 an orphanage

I can remember that day. I was with several tourists. Someone wanted to see an orphanage and so we were brought there. It was part of the travel package. We saw the lake, the dam, fishermen, flowers at roadside, colorfully painted schools, a boy who drew a pair of glasses on his face, toothless kids with wide grins, noodle making, weaving, and then an orphanage, before we went on to a bullock cart ride into the fabulous sunset on this landlocked backwater village in between two famous cities. What I remember most are the faces of the children, those with parents and those without. I do not remember sleeping that night, in the mosquito netted bed.

Becky’s past squares 2021-10-15

the hermit poet lauds “cheers” to himself

taken 2019-10-07

《a poem inviting an old friend to come over for a drink, written while climbing the Orchid Mountain in autumn》

Amidst white clouds of the Northern Mountain, the hermit lauds “cheers” to himself,

Gazing afar, overtures a higher climb, his heart yearns with the parting geese.

Enfolding dusk arouses a faint sorrow, yet the crystal clear autumn mount stirs up high spirit. 

Buoyed up by returning villagers in twos or three, strolling at the beach, some resting at the ferry,

Painted on a clear horizon backdrop of trees as intricate as shepherd’s purse,  gleaming sandbar laced with celestial white moonlight, 

(the hermit asks,) 

When will you, (my friend), bring over your wine and get drunk together on this Double Ninth* festive mountain?

Poem by Tang Poet Meng Hao Ran 《a poem for ZhangWu, written while climbing the Orchid Mountain in autumn》

The above English version is my attempt to “translate” (not entirely) a Tang Dynasty poem from a poet to his old friend, inviting him to come over for a drink up the autumn mountain. I have tried to capture the spirit of what he had intended and it is not a literal translation.

*the festival falls on 2021-10-14 this year.

北山白云里,隐者自怡悦 ~唐朝诗人孟浩然《秋登兰山寄张五》

北山白云里,隐者自怡悦。

相望试登高,心随雁飞灭。

愁因薄暮起,兴是清秋发。

时见归村人,沙行渡头歇。

天边树若荠,江畔洲如月。

何当载酒来,共醉重阳节。

2021-10-10