Cuilan, a widow who lived with her daughter, had a crush on Ma Cheng, a widower who lived with his son. The two families lived in the same village. What a great union it would be if the two single parents were to marry!
Cuilan sent a matchmaker to Ma’s house to propose marriage on her behalf, but the matchmaker returned with news of rejection. When asked why, the matchmaker balked at giving an answer. Cuilan became impatient and hammered at her to tell the truth. The matchmaker then said, “Ma Cheng said he dares not marry you because you are too tough and sharp for him.” On hearing this, Cuilan got mad and said to herself, “The more scared of me you are, the more determined I will be to wed you!”
Cuilan and her daughter were running out of rice, but she was too busy with farm work to go to town for it. She needed someone to buy her a sack of rice from downtown. Just then, she spotted Ma Cheng riding on a bike toward her. She stopped him and asked if he was going to the market. When he said yes, she asked him for help to buy her rice. Because he had rejected her marriage proposal, Ma Cheng felt awkward about seeing her face-to-face and was at loss what to do. “Won’t you even help me with something as small as that?” Cuilan blurted out when she saw him hesitate. Ma Cheng gave immediate consent but rode off as quickly as he could.
Cuilan latched the gate of her house from inside and left for the fields from her backyard. When she came back at noon, she noticed her gate had been tampered with, and she knew Ma Cheng had stopped by to deliver the rice. Cuilan washed her hands, changed into clean clothes, debated about going to Ma Cheng’s house for the rice but opted not to go. After lunch and a short break, she went back to the fields to work. In the evening, right after she was done with supper, she heard knocking on her door. It was Ma Cheng calling her by her name, but she did not respond. When the knocking stopped, she took off her clothes and went to bed.
Early the next morning, Cuilan arrived at Ma Cheng’s house and called for him through the perimeter wall: “Ma Cheng! Ma Cheng! Did you go to my house last night?” She was so loud that all her neighbors in the vicinity could hear her. As she stood there waiting, Guifang, another widow who was Ma Cheng’s next-door neighbor, came out of her house. She turned back with a darkened face at the very sight of Cuilan.
Guifang’s reaction made Cuilan believe what the matchmaker had said. Guifang, who also took a fancy to Ma Cheng, was probably also part of the reason why Ma Cheng refused to marry Cuilan. Because Guifang’s extended family didn’t want to see them married, Ma Cheng and Guifang’s relationship kind of got stuck. Ma Cheng did not come out of his house until Guifang was gone.
“I tried twice to deliver the rice to you yesterday, but you were not at home.” Ma Cheng said.
“I worked in the fields all day yesterday and I spent some time at Aunt Wu’s house for a while after dinner.” Cuilan said.
Ma Cheng then delivered the rice to her house without further delay.
After breakfast, Cuilan went to work in the fields again and met Aunt Wu there. “Since when have you been dating Ma Cheng?” Aunt Wu asked curiously.
“Stop that nonsense, Auntie!” Cuilan said.
“Come on! Everyone knows Ma Cheng visits you at your house!” Aunt Wu said.
Cuilan smiled without bothering to debate or defend herself.
Soon after that, relationship between Guifang and Ma Cheng hit the snag, as the former accused the latter of being deceitful and covetous of another woman.
Cuilan was delighted, but in Ma Cheng’s presence she looked as if she wanted to see him get along with Guifang. She told him if Guifang was suspicious of her, she would be happy to talk to her and clarify everything. Ma Cheng said there was no need. “The more you explain, the more you will need to explain.” he said.
Before the summer was over, Guifang got married and moved to a faraway place where Ma Cheng could no longer see her. Disillusioned, Ma Cheng often stared blankly at the compound where Guifang used to live. Cuilan simply left him alone and made no effort to comfort him.
As fall arrived, all villagers got busy harvesting their crops. Cuilan was no exception. When she was done harvesting the beans and was about to reap the sorghum, her scythe broke. She therefore went to Ma Cheng’s house to borrow one from him. As soon as she entered his premises, she heard someone sobbing. It was Xiaodong, Ma Cheng’s son.
Left by himself, Xiaodong got so hungry that he attempted to make a bowl of instant noodles for himself. During the process, he knocked over a thermos bottle and his hands got scalded by the spilt hot water.
Cuilan picked Xiaodong up and dashed to a hospital. Ma Cheng did not get there until the doctor had already finished dressing his son’s burns. Ma Cheng, who hated to see the boy suffer, tried to hold him, but Cuilan pushed him away.
“What kind of a father are you? How could you allow something so terrible to happen to him!”
With these words, she took Xiaodong in her arms and darted out. Ma Cheng trailed behind them and tried several more times to take hold of his son, but Cuilan wouldn’t let him.
Cuilan took Xiaodong to her own home. When Ma Cheng tried to get in, however, she stood in his way. When evening came and Ma Cheng returned to fetch Xiaodong, the boy didn’t want to budge. “I like auntie’s food better.” he said. Ma Cheng tried to stay for a while, but Cuilan again rejected him. “You can’t come in at this late hour.” she said.
Xiaodong enjoyed living with Cuilan so much that he didn’t want to leave any more. Ma Cheng’s repeated attempts to have him back all ended in failure and he blamed his son for his bad behavior. Cuilan responded by saying that the father behaved even worse. When she was about to close the door on him, Ma Cheng protested. “Why do you keep shutting the door on me?” he asked. “You don’t have a free pass through my door.” she replied. Ma Cheng was so shocked that he left without another word.
That very night, a matchmaker sent by Ma Cheng came to ask for Cuilan’s hand in marriage on his behalf.
Cuilan smiled from ear to ear.