Translator: CKtalon Editor: CKtalon
After a long while, Fangzheng decided to return to take a look before bidding Yang Hua farewell. He truly could not appreciate such programs.
But at that moment, Fangzheng saw a figure run into the woods in an apparent rush.
Fangzheng followed the figure out of curiosity and upon scrutiny, he realized it was Fifth Zhao.
Fifth Zhao was holding a box. When he reached the other end of the forest, he took out its contents reverently and placed them on the ground. It was surprisingly an ancestral tablet!
Then Fifth Zhao plopped to the ground in front of the tablet. He kowtowed loudly while wailing. “Mom, I have been unfilial. I performed those obscene skits again. I have insulted our ancestors. I know that by doing so, I won’t deserve to be placed in the ancestral grave in the future, but I really have no choice. I need to live too. Sob!”
Having said that, Fifth Zhao broke down on the spot. He cried as tears gushed down his face as he began kowtowing incessantly.
Fangzheng’s heart winced for him upon seeing this.
To put it nicely, Fifth Zhao was the leader of a troupe, and to put it even nicer, he was a kind of boss. But to put it plainly, he was in fact an artist who peddled his art. He earned his keep and supported his family and subordinates through his skills. He, too, wished to put on a good performance, but he was unable to go against the demands of the market. All he could do was meet their demands. Although he seemed happy onstage, he cried offstage. There was just too much sadness behind his smiles.
Meanwhile, Fifth Zhao’s wife came and knelt beside Fifth Zhao. She patted him on the shoulder. “I knew you would be here. You always find a secluded spot to cry after performing such obscene acts. Don’t cry. Blame it on us having cheap lives…”
“Back when I roped you into this profession, we agreed to perform only orthodox skits, the nice things from tradition, but… I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. It’s been so many years and you have already said so numerous times. Onstage, be your Fifth Zhao. An elderly senior once said that when we perform Two-people Rotation, we have to wear two sets of masks. One mask is utterly shameless. Once on stage, all scruples should be ignored so as to satisfy the audience. The other mask is tenacity.” When she said that, Fifth Zhao’s eyes were already red. What she said might sound easy to do, but it went against the very core of their nature. When they acted skits that disgusted them and acted as clowns for the enjoyment of people, they felt upset even though they were paid to do so.
Fifth Zhao said, “He also said that dreams when placed in front of reality are like a pane of glass in front of a truck. It’s useless, but I can’t accept it. Two-people Rotation is such a nice performance. Why must we go down this path?”
“It’s not something you can change either. Stand up. Er’zi and company are holding down the fort, but we still need to replace them after they’re done with their performance,” said Fifth Zhao’s wife.
Fifth Zhao sighed and got up.
When Fangzheng saw this, he went forward and pressed his palms together. “Amitabha.”
This Buddhist proclamation gave Fifth Zhao a fright. When the couple saw Fangzheng, they blushed instantly. Fifth Zhao said embarrassedly, “Venerable One, sorry about what I just—”
“Amitabha. Patron, This Penniless Monk saw how filial you are. However, This Penniless Monk does not agree with what you said, which is why This Penniless Monk decided to come forward to chat with you,” said Fangzheng with a smile.
As the couple looked at the white-robed monk who had a smile as warm and radiant as the sun, the discomfort they felt vanished without them realizing it. They felt a lot more comfortable. Fifth Zhao knew of Fangzheng. He often did performances in the neighboring villages, so it was impossible for him to not know such a famous character. However Fifth Zhao had never been to One Finger Monastery, nor had he ever seen Fangzheng in person. He had seen Fangzheng for the first time while onstage, but this was now his first time meeting him face to face at such close proximity.
Fifth Zhao’s wife said, “Venerable One, we were just letting out some steam. You—”
“Patron, don’t worry. This Penniless Monk will not tell anyone else of what he heard today.” Fangzheng knew that if Fifth Zhao’s words were to spread, they could be used by detractors. Fifth Zhao’s career would soon be finished.
Upon hearing Fangzheng’s promise, the couple heaved a sigh of relief together.
The trio then sat down on the ground as Fifth Zhao sighed. “I swear that although what I said doesn’t sound nice, the truth is that… Reality is as such. It’s not only limited to me. I know many Two-people Rotation performers who are in the same predicament. They also wish to perform something nice, but no one wants to watch that. As you saw, people like that kind of—”
“Patron, This Penniless Monk saw it. However the both of you cannot escape the blame of causing the present-day development of Two-people Rotation either.”
“I…” Fifth Zhao wanted to retort Fifth Zhao but noticed Fangzheng’s calm and peaceful eyes. He could not thicken his skin to retort.
Fangzheng continued. “In the past, opera singers were considered low-class, but once some of them became somewhat known in our northeastern regions, they would soon become famous in a wide area, especially the really famous ones. This brought glory to their ancestors. But look at you. You are a famous performer in the area, but you can’t even enter your ancestral grave. It is just like the most common saying This Penniless Monk has heard about this: A Two-people Rotation performer in the family will not enter the ancestral grave after death! Although you are earning from your trade, you have lost simply too much.
“If locals deem Two-people Rotation as such, how would outsiders view it? Probably even worse than low-class, right?”
Upon hearing this, Fifth Zhao fell silent. He lowered his head as he scratched it forcefully. He asked bitterly, “Is there a solution? I know teachers who have insisted on performing proper acts, but even they are unable to continue performing despite having been famous in their heyday. To survive, we can only abandon our dreams. That is reality.”
Fangzheng smiled and looked up into the sky. A swallow happened to land on a branch.
Fangzheng said, “Patron, what do you see?”
“A swallow,” said Fifth Zhao’s wife subconsciously.
Fangzheng smiled and asked, “What characteristics do swallows have?”
Fifth Zhao was perplexed as to what Fangzheng was getting at. But he still replied, “It’s a migratory bird.”
“It’s indeed a migratory bird. In winter, it will fly south. What happens if it does not fly south?” asked Fangzheng.
“It will freeze to death.” When Fifth Zhao said that, he trembled as he smiled bitterly. “I’m that swallow which is about to freeze to death.”
Fangzheng shook his head and pointed to a tree sparrow. “Then why doesn’t the tree sparrow freeze to death?”
“It grows a coat of feathers during winter to resist the cold,” said Fifth Zhao’s wife.
Fangzheng nodded. “That’s right. Tree sparrows grow a coat of feathers in winter to beat the cold. That way, they do not need to migrate from their home. Although tree sparrows are small and not as pretty as sparrows, they know how to protect their own homes. They refuse to fly away regardless of the situation. They are in the same situation, but they make different choices. This leads to a completely different life. This Penniless Monk did not like the chirping of tree sparrows when he was young. It was noisy, and tree sparrows looked ugly. However, there were no birds during winter due to the snow. So at that time, when occasionally the chirps of tree sparrows could still be heard, they sounded like heavenly chimes to This Penniless Monk. Their chirps made it sound as though the world had come alive again.”
“Venerable One, what is the meaning of your words?” asked a perplexed Fifth Zhao’s wife.
A glint flashed in Fifth Zhao’s eyes as he looked at Fangzheng.