An Old Busker from Hengshan, part 6

   “I guess if we don’t tell you the whole story, you just won’t leave us alone,” the man with the monkey conceded. “Yesterday morning the eight of us were just about to start the trip when Big Apprentice Brother suddenly detected the scent of some great wine from the street. We checked it out, and found a beggar drinking out of a wine calabash. That really piqued Big Apprentice Brother’s sense of wine, so he went over to talk to the beggar, praising his wine, and asking what kind it was. The beggar replied that it was monkey wine, and Big Apprentice Brother asked what monkey wine was. The beggar then answered that monkeys in western Hunan Province knew how to use fruits to make wine. The fruits those monkeys used were the freshest and sweetest, so the wine made from them was the best as well. The beggar had walked into the monkeys’ domain by accident, and the monkeys happened to be away, so he stole three calabashes of wine and also caught a small monkey. See, this is him.” He pointed to the monkey on his shoulder. One of the monkey’s legs was tied to his wrist by a line. The monkey kept rubbing its head, scratching its cheeks, and making faces; it looked very comical. 

The girl looked at the monkey and burst into laughter. “Sixth apprentice brother, no wonder your nickname is Monkey-Six. You and your little friend here look just like twins.” 

   “We are not twins,” Monkey-Six said with a straight face. “We are fellow apprentices. This little fellow is my Big Apprentice Brother, and I am his junior.” Everyone burst into loud laughter. 

The girl laughed as well. “Aha, you are making fun of Big Apprentice Brother. Wait till I tell him about this. He’ll be sure to kick your backside.” “How did your brother end up in your hands?” she asked again after giggling for awhile. “My brother?” Monkey-Six was lost for a moment. “Are you talking about this little critter? Well, that’s a long story. It’s going to give me a headache!”

   “You don’t have to tell me, I can guess,” the girl said archly. “Big Apprentice Brother must have asked for the monkey, and asked you to take care of it, hoping the little thing would make a calabash of wine for him!”

   “Hey, that’s right!” Monkey-Six said.

   “Big Apprentice Brother always likes to come up with these hare-brained schemes,” the girl said. “The monkeys only make wine when they’re in the mountains. Now that he’s caught, why would he collect fruits to make wine?

If you let him go loose to find fruits, wouldn’t he just run away?” After a short pause she continued, “Otherwise, how come our Monkey-Six hasn’t made any wine?”

   “Little Apprentice Sister, you’re being impudent to your senior apprentice brother,” Monkey-Six said with mock sternness.

    “Aha, now you’re flaunting your seniority.” The girl grinned. “Hey, sixth apprentice brother, you still haven’t touched on the real topic. Why did Big Apprentice Brother start drinking all the way from morning to evening?”

    “Right,” Monkey-Six said. “Big Apprentice Brother didn’t pay any mind to how dirty the beggar was and pleaded for some wine from him. The beggar was so dirty that he must have had a crust of filth on him at least three inches thick; lice were crawling in and out of his filthy clothes; tears and mucus covered his face. Maybe there was some drool in the calabash as well….”

   “Stop it! That’s gross!” the girl covered her mouth and frowned.

   “You think it was gross, but not Big Apprentice Brother!” Monkey-Six exclaimed. “The beggar said that only a half calabash of wine was left out of the three. He was not going to give it away to anyone. Big Apprentice Brother took out a tael of silver and offered one tael of silver in exchange for one mouthful of wine.”

The girl was annoyed and amused at the same time. “What a lush!” she spat.

   “The beggar finally agreed,” Monkey-Six went on. “He took the money and said, ‘One mouthful! No more!’ Big Apprentice Brother replied, ‘I said one mouthful, so of course only one mouthful!’ He lifted the calabash and started drinking. Who’d expect his mouthful to last so long that he was able to finish the entire half-calabash of wine in just one breath. It turned out that he used the Qi-Gong26 Master had taught him to drink the entire calabash of wine like a black dragon sipping water from the sea, without ever taking a breath.”

When everyone heard this, they all burst into laughter.

Monkey-Six continued, “Little Apprentice Sister, if you were in Hengyang and witnessed Big Apprentice Brother’s drinking Kung Fu, you’d have nothing but admiration for him!! ‘Spirit concentrates in the Diaphragm, breaths flow around the Forbidden Region, soul floats in the air and rises above the mountains, energy shoots up to the stars.’ His Qi-Gong technique almost reached the pinnacle of perfection and was extremely subtle.”

The girl laughed so hard that she almost fell down. “You big magpie,” she scolded, “describing Big Apprentice Brother in such a mean way. Huh! And you’d better be careful, making fun of our Qi-Gong formulas and scripts!”

   “I am not making things up.” Monkey-Six laughed. “Every one of these six fellow apprentices saw it. Didn’t Big Apprentice Brother drink using Qi-Gong?”  (To be continued)

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