Cutting potatoes into julienne, slicing cucumbers, and dicing eggplants, the rice knives resounded melodiously on the chopping board, while the basins brimming with vegetables were successively filled before me. Glistening droplets of perspiration cascaded swiftly along their natural course. Rice raised his arm, using the aged sleeve to dab at his countenance.
After completing the vegetable preparation, he proceeded to steam the rice. As he scooped up the pristine grains, a serene smile graced his lips. A year later, due to land acquisition and demolition, he lost the ancestral abode that had sheltered him for decades, along with the meticulously cultivated land. Bereft of his cherished dwelling and fertile acreage, Rice also forfeited his long-held identity. He was no longer a farmer. Despite clutching a seven-figure deposit, Da Mi remained apprehensive, for the myriad zeroes etched upon his bankbook seemed to shimmer like ephemeral soap bubbles that might burst into oblivion one fateful day. He deemed it imprudent to rest idly with naught to occupy him. Da Mi fervently believed in the adage that a penny earned daily surpasses the wealth of a noble lineage. While his fellow villagers indulged in car purchases and foreign travels, Da Mi opted to lease a modest courtyard in a neighboring hamlet and secured his inaugural employment at the construction site canteen. Over the course of a year, the calluses on Rice’s hands and the tang of perspiration evaporated, while even his once swarthy visage assumed a fairer and more delicate complexion. During his years as a paddy cultivator, those in his vicinity had bestowed upon him the appellation of “Black Rice.” Now, inexplicably, Rice had transformed into “White Rice,” akin to a fantastical reverie.
The crystalline and dulcet tones of “millet” roused Rice from his reverie. Who was calling him? Did someone summon him? Rice felt a twinge of confusion. In his fifties, he had not been addressed as “Xiaomi” for many years. The individuals who used to call him Xiaomi lacked the vibrant and mellifluous voice he now heard. When Dami turned around, he beheld a pair of radiant young boys and girls standing before him. The one with the honeyed voice was the “confectionery Xishi” from the cafeteria, a petite ponytailed girl. The young man who had just arrived removed his yellow safety helmet, revealing a darling, cherubic countenance. “Xiaomi, Xiaomi…” Xiao Ma, in his twenties, chattered away like a magpie, addressing the young man who had recently entered. Apart from his own kin, Da Mi had never encountered anyone with the same surname. The sound of “millet” burst forth like a cascade of delectable dates exploding in Rice’s presence. Da Mi took a step forward, inquiring expectantly, “Is your surname Mi?” The cherubic youth raised his chin and replied, “Yes.” Da Mi’s excitement soared even higher, and his words tumbled forth incoherently, “Ah, my surname is also Mi, DaMi. My ancestors fled from Guangzhou.”
Following their marriage, Xiaomi became a frequent visitor to the cafeteria, in search of both Rice and Xiaoma. Xiaomi and Dami conversed about the progress of the construction site. The runway had been constructed, the main structure capped, and the facade adorned. As Xiaomi described these developments, Da Mi reminisced about his old home and cabbage patch. Xiaomi mentioned that she would visit Xiaoma once the construction was completed. Xiaomi and Xiaoma exchanged hushed whispers, their laughter only faintly audible to Dami. Xiaomi confided in Da Mi, expressing her intention to marry Xiao Ma once the airport was finished.
After receiving 50,000 yuan from Da Mi, Xiaomi and Xiao Ma vanished without a trace.
Xiaomi claimed that his grandmother suffered from a cardiac ailment and required surgery. He asserted that Da Mi was his only relative in Beijing. He also explained that he worked under a contractor who disbursed wages every six months. Fearing that his grandmother’s health would deteriorate irreparably, Xiaomi vowed to bring Xiao Ma back with him to verify her condition. Xiaomi pledged to repay the debt once he received his salary and also promised to host a grand wedding banquet for Rice upon his own nuptials.
Five days elapsed, and Da Mi’s unease deepened. After ten days, DaMi attempted to call Xiaomi, but the phone was switched off. Fifteen days turned into a month, yet no news emerged. The consensus among everyone was that Rice had fallen prey to a charlatan. Even his wife berated him, exclaiming, “You have been excessively compassionate throughout your life, and not even gratitude can induce you to change.” Da Mi’s fervent heart gradually cooled as he absorbed these reproaches, yet he remained unwilling to surrenderto the notion. How could such an endearing pair of miscreants be swindlers? Nonetheless, the absence of even a single WeChat message proved confounding.
During the holidays, Rice, burdened with anxiety, visited the construction site. After a year had passed, he yearned to witness the fate of his ancestral abode and cabbage patch. He longed to set eyes upon the runway, terminal, and apron that Xiaomi had described. As Rice meandered through the airport construction site, he discovered that the village committee, Lao Qingyang, and the canteen had all vanished. Not a single familiar sight or path remained within the airport’s expanse. Everything had dissipated, and Da Mi ruminated, deciding to let go of the fifty thousand yuan.
Da Mi resolved not to dwell on other matters and instead dedicated himself to celebrating the festival with unwavering simplicity. Just as they were about to enter their abode, the mellifluous cries of “Xiaomi, Xiaomi, come on!” reached Da Mi’s ears. Upon crossing the threshold, he beheld Xiao Ma stuffing meat into Xiaomi’s mouth, while an assortment of gifts cluttered the floor. His wife, standing at the kitchen entrance, held a plate of steaming fried cakes, her countenance exuding a radiant smile.