The water has always been a constant comfort to me. The gentle, rhythmic lullaby of the warm waves lapping against my sides was the only mother I needed. Yet, the cogs of time cease for nobody; all children must fly the coup someday. Then, one’s heartbeat would stutter and fail, finally descending into the eternal silence nobody has come back from.
The Dragon is the only mystical creature in the Chinese zodiac, revered for its mastery over the heavens. Be it rain, sleet or snow, whether the clouds gathered in lazy wisps or angry clump, the dragons bent the weather to their fancies. The Duen Ng Festival is a tradition that persisted through the ages; from the times when the majority of people still relied on a more agrarian lifestyle, wishing for a merciful rain for a bountiful harvest, to mourn the betrayal and despair of the loyal minister by his country, to remember the loss of a brilliant man. I plan on carrying out this legacy proudly.
The carefully crafted boats are vessels for a dragon’s spirit; only when the eyes are completed, will the dragon truly descend and propel the year forward with good fortune and cheer. I could feel the shallow incline of sand rubbing against the extended length of my sides; I could almost taste the white-fringed lace of sea foam rolling relentlessly, playfully splashing my snout. Murmurs of excitement and anticipation from the surrounding crowd rose to a roar as I heard the telltale plodding someone in front of my face. The people fell into a revered silence. My teal wood heart seemed like it would burst out of the front of the brow of the boat.
The wet slurp of the naiads grabbing at the heavy garments of the figure became unbearably close. A huff of tired breath, a creaking of bones that gave away his age became apparent.
Infernal itching and scratching on both sides of my eyes, a sudden bright beam of light piercing my vision – I could see! For a brief moment of narcissism I couldn’t help but admire the azure, slightly metallic paintwork. A lovely gradient encompassing what looked like every shade of blue in the universe covered my chest, presumably painstakingly done with eternally patient, gentle brushstrokes. A pair of heavy, silver horns curled elegantly back. I imagine them framing the drummer – my ‘heartbeat’ – in a halo bestowed upon him by the gods. Little red ribbons trailed in the water as whiskers. Amusement bloomed up in small puffs. Such mischievious beings, humans. I felt the urge to preen (even though I didn’t have limbs), observing that I had stolen the brunt of the attention of the crowd. The eyes of a dragon could also see the hue of emotions. Never have I ever seen such an array of vibrance worthy of challenging the Aurora.
The minutes blurred into hours as I took in my surroundings slowly. Before I knew it, a rude sort of burping sound shattered my wonder into fragments of surprise and indignance, and my replacement legs – paddles, drove into the bay with a steady, determined beat. They propelled me forwards, my slimmer body slicing through with an incomparable elegance. Cutting through the water so smoothly, listening to the unceasing drumbeat, my blood was boiling, bubbling with the desire to show off my crew, to win this competition. As a dragon, momentary victory seemed trivial to any of us, but being plunged into the midst of the action, it was hard not to be riled up. Streamers in a myriad of colours trailed from the railings, preventing a number of the overenthusiastic audience from keeling over into the water. Local fishermen and hawkers were grinning from their own boats; the sweat gleaming on their suntanned mugs dripped into the glimmering unknown, disrupting the tiny sparkles of sun. Life had not been merciful to these people, yet the hardship of toiling in the ocean had licked them into hardy, tough people, with a sense of wisdom that was lacking these days. Simple phrases that conveyed more about respect, mindfulness and gratitude were much more effective than the elaborate prose and useless posturing of the so-called ‘educated’ sector.
Yet, the closer I looked , the more questionable side of things rose to the surface. I could see dulled, tired eyes of a pair of parents standing behind their squalling children, melting, red-faced in the sweltering heat. The children were hollering, spurned on by the flashy appearance of the boats. One of the little girls tottered too close to the side, teetering on the worn rocks. If I had facial expressions, my face would’ve been drenched un immediate alarm. But her mother merely yanked her back unceremoniously, pushing her face close to her child’s and shrieking about her ungratefulness, her carelessness. Her frayed temper lashed out again and again, hurling needlessly cruel words at the pour soul. Dark, violent black from the adult struck chords of navy in a small field of white in the child. As I watched, a tiny bloomed of blood welled up in the child’s heart. That stain would only grow……
I shook off the image vigorously, trying to get it out of my mind. But the bout of unpleasantness had only begun. A sweet old woman whose age was belied by the folds and wrinkles in her face and hands was selling a small pile of rice dumplings. Her frail form trembled with the effort of pushing the cumbersome wooden cart forward. A dim glow of violet stemmed from her. Numb, stagnant grey tinged with revolting swamp muck revolved around her in a suffocating ring. Bystanders were deliberately looking away, disgusted by the doddering figure stripped of her dignity. Miraculously, a flower of pink blushed in the old woman’s mind. This was a stripling of hope, stubbornly hanging on despite the ugliness around it. Lead weights, the heaviness of Atlas holding up the sky – what was this feeling? Exhaustion? Despair? These words are too superficial, unable to put a finger on the exasperation that such beauty could only be seen against a backdrop of thorns.
A flash of crimson distracted me from the depths of these dire musings. The finish line was near! The desire to win, the accumulated apprehension at the prospect of winning gave me one last boost of energy. I willed the winds to propel us forward, for the multitude of celestial beings to take away the rowers’ fatigue. An air chrysalis separated us from the rest of the world – the only thing that mattered was the nearing goal. One last surge, and the deafening roar of the crowd gave us all a definitive answer. The bugle of victory sounded, and my visage was the face of triumph.
As a horde of fishermen rushed forward to haul my salt encrusted torso back onto the shore, the residual shot of euphoria crawled sluggishly through my mind. The whirl of overwhelming information I gleaned had thrown me into a kind of sensory overload. My tired eyes landed on a pair of polished designer shoes. Dragging my view upwards, an impassive face with a wide forehead stepped casually onto the pebbles. He leaned forward, allowing me to get a clear view of his greasy pompadour, accentuated with tacky bright slacks and an appalling polka-dot shirt which didn’t do much to conceal his lardy middle. Rage and indignance churned unpleasantly in my mind, but the fat hand overwrought with rings extended to the drummer. A handshake of congratulations, I suppose. Perhaps I’m paranoid from the race.
There was a crackly, crinkling sound next to my ear.
An ungodly amount of bank notes was shoved into the captain’s awaiting hands.
Sniffing, snuffling. Grisly snorts of murky chuckling among the men. Suddenly these weren’t the honorable companions who had brought us to victory. The true driving force was a sour shade of citrine and piss – greed. Greed was the lever and greed had set the rhythm of my stale hear.
If I could see my own emotions, the blank white canvas would seethe with a rioting field of red hyacinths would’ve been smothered in a bed of dead autumn leaves, finally giving way to yellow carnations.