I only got to know Xiao Shan better during winter break. The English old lady split the class into small groups to act out a scene in a Shakespearean play as our homework assignment for winter break. Each person was assigned into a group was according to our seating arrangement. One group chose Romeo and Juliet, another chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and another chose Hamlet… Xiao Shan and I were assigned to the same group, and we chose Merchant of Venice. At the end of the Spring Festival , every group had to perform in front of the whole class and rated the performance of the other groups.
 Also known as Chinese Lunar New Year when everyone goes home to reunite with his/her family.
I fell in love with the time we used to rehearse our play during winter break. It meant that I didn’t have to stay at uncle’s house. When Spring Festival drew closer, my sense of homelessness grew even stronger. Uncle’s wife always grumbled about the different things that needed to be done for New Year and my younger cousin nagged about needing to buy a new laptop. A few years ago, laptops weren’t such a common commodity as now. My younger cousin already had a Lenovo laptop, but she said someone in her class was using the newest Sony model. So my uncle promised that if she could on her next exam make it to the top 20 of her class, he would purchase one for her.
My younger cousin’s grades had always lingered in thirty-something ranks. Consequently, she pursed her lips in discontent. Uncle said, “Pursing your lips won’t help either. Look at your older sister, she never asks me to buy her random things. I said I wanted to buy her a cellphone but she even declined.”
At that moment, uncle wife’s countenance changed in slight annoyance, so I rushed to say, “Shuai Shuai is still young. She can always use a computer for her study.”
So my younger cousin pulled on my uncle’s arm and in pleading voice, “Dad, see! Even Biao Jie  said so.”
 Biao Jie is an older female cousin with a different surname
[Watching my younger cousin], I could only bury deeper in my grief. Last Spring Festival, I also pulled on my mom and dad’s arms to nag at them. Now, no matter what I desired, no one would buy it for me.
At that time, I became extremely sensitive to my surrounding, and also felt extremely vulnerable. I would rather go out to hide and save myself some heartache.
Most of our rehearsals took place at Xiao Shan’s house. His house was quite spacious and there were no other adults at home besides his elderly grandparents.
Sometimes there were lotus roots stuffed with sweet rice, other times there were Osmanthus sticky cake or Shui Jing Shao Mai (type of translucent pork dumplings)… Everything looked absolutely delicious. Xiao Shan’s grandmother was from the south, so all the appetizers had the gourmet taste of her hometown cuisine. Being the only female in the group, his grandmother was particularly attentive to me, always stuffing me to my fullest.
At that time, I still had not adjusted to the harsh northern winters. The dryness caused my nose to bleed frequently. One day while we were practicing our lines, a fellow classmate screamed, “Oh gosh Tong Xue, your nose is bleeding.”
I lowered my head and drops of blood dripped onto my knitted sweater —a white sweater. The red blood drops on a white surface turned into quite a frightening sight. Being hemtophobic, my body suddenly became really weak and collapsed. In the end, it was Xiao Shan who helped me to the bathroom, messily held up my hair, and used cool water to pat on my neck. His grandmother stood on the side to assist, using a cloth towel to wipe the water dripping down from my neck. As she wiped, she said, “Oh dear, this child! It’s torture to just look at her.”
Xiao Shan’s mildly cool palm used the icy water to pat my neck. As he patted, and patted, and patted, blood continued to drip downward onto the sink. The strong water flow from the faucet created a swashing sound, causing me to feel even dizzier. I just saw filaments of blood being washed away with the water. At every short interval, he would ask me, “How are you feeling? Why is it still dripping?”
His grandmother lightly scolded him for his lack of patience, and then pressed on my hand pulse. After she pressed for some time, she asked Xiao Shao to do it. “You’re stronger. Use some force and press on the pulse tightly, then the bleeding will stop.”
His hand pressure was quite strong, ferociously pressing on my pulse, so hard that my tears almost squirted out of my eyes. He immediately let go when he saw my tears. His grandmother then scolded him again. “How could you use such brutish force? It’s a girl’s hand, very delicate.”
Though I both was bleeding through the nose and crying with tears in my eyes, I had to simultaneously urge his grandmother to stop her scolding. “Don’t mind him. He just wanted to quickly “strangle” my bleeding.”
Xiao Shan then actually broke into laughter. “Strangle….Why does this word choice sounds so strange?”
His grandmother smacked him. “You scamp, you’re even laughing!”
I totally forgot how my nose bleed stopped that day. I just remember I had two cotton balls plugged up my nostrils and then I ate some jujube paste cakes. His grandmother urged me to eat as she said, “Jujube paste nourishes the blood, you should eat more.”
© 2011, JoleCole. All rights reserved.