The Irrigation Water Came Gurgling

 Yao Jinwen

Black-brewed Zhao, widowed over ten years ago when she was thirty, was having another sleepless night. Her family's contracted land had cracked because of drought, but there was still not a cloud in the bright sky. If production dropped this year, what should her family of four do except go hungry?

It was a pity that her seventeen-year-old daughter didn't yet know what worry was. Just a few minutes ago she was shouting to her mother, "Don't you worry! late at night the reservoir will let out water. Scabby-headed Xue will certainly give us our full share of water, won’t he?" But now she was asleep with a smile still on her lips. Black-browed Zhao didn't see eye to eye with the implementation of contracted land policy, because she had seen with her own eyes when she was still very young how her grandfather and Scabby-headed Xue's uncle had fought tooth and nail over irrigation water. She would shudder even at the thought of it. Now Scabby-headed Xue was in charge of the irrigation water in the brigade; who could say for sure that he bore no grudge against her?

Black-Mowed Dian became so agitated at the thought that she got off the bed, took a hoe and went out to the field.

Black-browed Zhao used to be called Ah Zhao. After her husband's death, she never smiled and always scowled at others. The old bachelor Scabby-headed Xue could only bury his longings for her in his heart. Thus there spread in the village a popular saying: "Scabby-headed Xue never wept; Black-browed Zhao never smiled."

As she approached the field, Black-browed Zhao heard the faint creaking of a waterwheel and saw Scabby-headed Xue pedalling water under the full moon. His bald head and his greasy bare back were glistening like silver. Wouldn't he have to wait for the water to come late at night like the rest of us if he had not been in charge of the irrigation water? The earlier one got water, the more rice one would reap-who wouldn't like to see his own bowl full of rice?

However, when she came to her own contracted land, she got such a pleasant surprise that for the first time she beamed with joy. Why, water came gurgling happily over her land, glittering like silver. The sweet water seemed to be flowing into her heart. Yet Scabby-headed Xue's own land above hers was still parched with thirst. She looked at Scabby-headed Xue with incomprehension. Tears welled up in her eyes. She plucked up her courage to call him "Brother Ali Xue" for the first tithe.

The waterwheel came to a stop with a creak and Scabby-headed Xue saw Black-browed Zhao gazing at him with a foolish smile. He felt dazed as if she were not the Black-browed Zhao he met day in and day out, but rather Chang Er, the Moon Fairy coming down from the moon. Those black eyes of Black-browed Zhao seemed to be exuding tenderness and love.

"Why, it's you, Sister Ah Zhao? I, I thought your contracted land must have become parched and l was afraid it would be too late if water came at midnight." Scabby-headed Xue became tongue-tied.

Black browed Zhao blushed to her ears and was lost for words, "Your own contracted land also. . ."

"Never mind, I'm in charge of the irrigation water. It would be my fault if anyone's land got ruined because of drought. It's my pleasure to do my job well." Xue felt hot all over his body and hastily resumed pedalling. Irrigation water came gurgling again.

Black-browed Zhao gently picked up the white shirt at the ridge of the field and put it on Xue's bare back, while joining him in the pedalling. Xue threw her a glance of gratitude. Black-browed Zhao said with affection and consideration, "It's midnight, take care not to catch cold."

In the moonlight, the two kept close to each other. She saw the collar of his white shirt was worn out and said to herself, "I must mend it for him tomorrow."

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