Red ribbons were tied at the bottom
of Ruru’s long black braids. They bounced up and down against her head as
she ran outside. She picked up the bamboo basket and put it over her arm.
"I am going to pick some grapes," she called to her mother who was busy
hanging clothes outside on the wash line.
"That will be good, Ruru. See if you
can pick some kumquats too. You know how much your father enjoys them,
especially when they are ripe. Try not to get covered with juice," she
smiled at her daughter.
"I’ll be careful. I wont be long."
Ruru headed for the woods. The air was humid and warm. It always seemed to
be humid. Ruru wished that just one day it wasn’t damp and hot. Her mother
had explained, ‘When you live in this part of China, this is the way it
Sturdy oaks, enormous elms and
fragrant pines grew not far from her house. It was rare to see grapes
growing this far north, but the valley where Ruru lived was protected from
the cold winds that sometimes blew ferociously in other parts of China.
Ruru pushed her way through the tree branches. Pine needles, pointed, yet
soft, tickled her arms as she brushed by them. She loved hearing the twigs
crunch as she trampled over them. She spotted some grape vines growing up
an old wire fence. She could smell them too. The fruit was fragrant, sweet
smelling and dark purple. The leaves were greenish-brown. She picked
several bunches off the vine, being careful to not make too big of a mess.
She dropped them into the bamboo basket.
As she was picking them she heard a
bird chirping. She looked into the oak tree. It spread like an umbrella,
protecting the grape vines and other shrubs from the weather and
relentless sun. "Hello, little bird. Are you singing for Ruru?" The
nightingale warbled as Ruru continued picking the grapes. "I’m picking
grapes to have later tonight. Do you like grapes?" she asked the bird. It
was perched on an overhanging branch, ignoring Ruru’s questions. "That’s
all right, little bird. You go ahead and sing." After she’d picked half a
basketful of grapes, she said, "Little nightingale, I’m off to look for
some kumquats. Do you know where they are?" Again, the bird ignored her
and kept chirping. "Never mind. I’ll find them myself." She walked deeper
into the woods.
Lush green ferns spread across her
path. They looked like huge fans, curly at the sides and edges. Ruru
climbed through them. Tiny, buttery-yellow flowers grew around the tree
trunks. Ruru saw the kumquat tree. "There you are," she said, reaching for
them. They were ripe, juicy looking, and a beautiful orange color that
reminded Ruru of a stormy sunrise reflecting on the morning clouds. She
picked several and put them in her basket. Ruru was hoping to find some
limes, lemons and oranges but didn’t see any. Satisfied with a full
basket, Ruru headed home.
"Mother, I’m home. I’ve got a basket
of grapes and juicy kumquats." She opened the door and went inside. Her
mother was pulling something out of the oven. "Did you make some almond
"Yes, Ruru. I made them for you and
your father. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll give you some," her mother
said. She took several off the baking sheet and handed them to Ruru on a
small plate. "When you’re finished, go and finish your chores. Your father
will be home soon. I’ve made a pot of spicy lamb and rice and your
"Does the lamb have onions and
bamboo shoots?" Ruru asked.
"Many onions and cabbage. You can
put bamboo shoots on the side of your plate. It smells good, doesn’t it?"
her mother asked.
"Yes, Mother," she said and then ran
upstairs to do her chores.
That night, Ruru and her family had
a wonderful supper. Ruru showed her father the grapes and kumquats she’d
picked. He was looking forward to having some later that night. When she
went to bed, later on, she thought about the grapes that she’d picked and
the nightingale’s sweet song.