The Jasmine Flower
By: Adam Zhou | Posted on: January 14, 2018
I watch the blur of lacklustre buildings, gray and bland in its countenance, permeate with the faint ripples of sunlight. As I sit in the bright blue sedan droning through Changsha’s winding streets, nauseated by sporadic humps from the road and the sputtering air conditioner, I think about home. O, how the smiles of the Filipino people touch your heart and how the simple, jaunty conversations can elicit the warmest of friendships. O, how familiar the language is, as is the streets lined with flamboyant, neon advertisements. Each memory reverberates and engraves deeper and deeper into my skull until the very core of the substance is divulged. That is what pains me. That is what builds the mask that covers my face.
I nod, but every movement appears foreign and exaggerated, as the attempt to comprehend Mandarin Chinese seizes any form of thinking. Each syllable interweaves into the next with the most nebulous and intimidating implications. Relatives, only seen before in photographs, are in the car seats behind me. Through the rear view mirror, I could see their arms creasing with a grating tan, their eyes shielding themselves from the world around them, and their clothes sagging with fetid sweat. That stopped me from engaging in introductory greetings, but what I didn’t see was that I am the impeccable reflection to what they look like. I think they see that resemblance. I hope they understand.
Perhaps, they did. They were told by my parents, still in Manila, that I would come to seek solace from the city life and delve into Nature’s open arms. That was achieved. Photographs, taken in full definition, accentuated multitudes of empress trees that rustled to an astray breeze and acted as an aegis to the sun - a bright, gargantuan dandelion. One even caught the flight of a dove, its wings broadened to reveal a sheen of rich cobalt-gray feathers that seemed to perpetually overlap. But now, they are lost, with only a thought to have left behind.
An illuminating maturity was not obtained, however. I realize this even more so now, coming back into the city. An undulating melody is starting to play on the radio as the driver - my uncle - notices an antsy silence. Recognizing traditional folk music and hearing this from my mother’s cassette player countless times in the past, I hum along unconsciously. I don’t know its meaning, actually, only the title “Mo Li Hua,” meaning Jasmine Flower. It doesn’t matter. It never will as long as the mystical charm lingers on and on.
My mother told me when I was five that her most memorable experience in her childhood was watching a Chinese folk opera on the television. The women, adorned with red silk dresses that flowed along with their movements, encaptured her interest. The beauty of it all, hidden from the audience, was however, concealed. Once the mound of makeup that marbled their faces in white was removed, and the pink highlights on their cheeks were rubbed off, would their true charisma emerge. A mask can only do so much as to ploy others.
When my grandmother saved up enough money to bring her to the town’s yearly opera, my mother told me she never could be happier. Even when she was scurried off to the hospital with her parents to check on her grandfather, struck with a minor influenza, her smile never wavered. Later that night, the entire family would sit in the medical lounge and watch the rerun of the opera, before the ultimate finale - etched in itself the song “Mo Li Hua” - would come to a close. Up to this day, the hand written ticket would still be in my mother’s purse, folded and stained.
My cousin, Zuozuo, instantly starts singing along as well, but in tune and with all the Chinese words. Now, through her voice, I can understand each punctuated word, and how the admirer of the flower would look into every niche and cranny, pointing out its fragrance and supremacy over all others in the garden. I catch her eye and we smile. This smile shatters my mask and so I tell them the story about my mother.
The Jasmine Flower was initially published by The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Gallery