Bing Dao ran through his village, down the dirt path, and into his house. “Mother! My school’s doing the lion dance in the village for our Chinese New Year. And I get to be the lion!”
Mother stopped washing the rice for dinner. “That’s wonderful, Dao. But won’t the lion head be too heavy? They’re made for grown men, not twelve-year-old boys.”
“They ordered a special one, and guess what! I can go to the city of Fushan to get it when it’s finished, if Father will go with me.”
“I’m sure he will. Will someone from school go with you too?”
“No, my teacher told me everything that needs to be done. He said that as long as I don’t travel alone, it will be all right.”
“Be sure you remember everything that your teacher told you.”
“Now, Dao, you know you forget things when you get excited. Did you pay close attention and write everything down?”
Dao hated these lectures. He sighed. “Oh, Mother, I’ll remember everything. I don’t need to write it down.”
“I hope not,” his mother said quietly.
Dao pranced around the room, bobbing up and down like he’d seen the lion dancers do. He crouched low and sprang up, thrusting his hands above his head, lifting the imaginary lion head high. “BOOM boom! Chiiing! BOOM boom! Chiiing!” Dao imitated the drums and cymbals and danced to their rhythm.
“Boom-boom-boom-boom-boom!” He wiggled his body and bowed very low before his mother.
She clapped. “You’ll make a grand lion, Bing Dao!”
“Mother!” Dao scolded from the floor, “When the lion bows like this, you’re supposed to give him something.”
“How about a sweet sesame biscuit?”
The lion wiggled all over. He devoured the offering, wobbled his head, and backed away.
Dao waited anxiously for the day they would go to Fushan. This would be his first trip to a city. Now every day he practiced the lion dance. Of course, he studied hard, too—after all, the village lion dancer had to set a good example for the other students.
On the Friday before they were to leave, Dao went to the office to get the money.
“Mr. Gu is away. You will have to wait until next week,” the office worker said.
Dao’s heart began to pound. “But I’m going to Fushan tomorrow, so I need the money now.”
“I thought you were to come last week for it.”
Dao’s stomach felt like ice, and his mouth got dry. “Oh! I—I guess I forgot!”
“I’m very sorry, but he won’t be back before Wednesday.”
Dao walked home with a heavy heart. Mother’s right, I do forget things when I get excited. He groaned. What will Father say? And now I’ll get another lecture from Mr. Gu about remembering things. And I must keep my head bowed and listen. Father says that’s the Chinese way.
Dao’s father was kind. “There’s enough time—we’ll go a week from tomorrow—all right?”
Something seemed wrong about that, but Dao couldn’t think why. “I guess so.” He hoped he wasn’t forgetting something.
Mr. Gu did lecture, and Dao listened with his eyes lowered. He promised to do better, but all the while he was really thinking about the exciting trip ahead.
When they stepped off the train in Fushan, Father said, “We’ll go to the lantern factory first and pay for the lion head; then we’ll locate a van to take it to our village.”
While walking to the factory, they passed more shops than Dao had ever seen. Some sold tiny delicate clay figures and large ceramic vases. Others sold fabrics, dresses, or jewelry. Dao liked the clean smell of leather coming from the shoe shops. He saw lots of other things for sale—candy, dried fruit, vegetables. Some shops sold dried snakes, deer horns, odd bones, and old bark. The spice shops smelled best of all. Their sweet and pungent odors tickled his nose.
When they passed a delicious-smelling noodle shop, Father said, “Your favorite, Dao—rice noodles! We’ll eat lunch here later.”
In the lantern factory, Dao watched the workers making lion and dragon heads by gluing bright silk cloth or paper to wire frames. Above his head hung hundreds of brilliant paper lanterns. Huge red globes, pagoda shapes with tassels hanging from the corners, animals, birds, and fish were also there.
Dao gave the shop manager the order.
“But that head has been sold,” the manager said. “We didn’t think you were coming. You’re too late. I’m sorry.”
“The order says the delivery date was seven days ago.”
Dao’s stomach turned to ice again. He’d forgotten about the delivery date! His teacher had warned him that the factory might not hold it past that day.
“I’m sorry,” the manager said again, “but it’s gone.”
“Can you make another one?”
“Goodness no! There isn’t time.”
“Where is ours? Who bought it?” Dao asked. “I must buy it from them.”
“I don’t think that they will sell it. Mr. Wang at Wang’s School of Dance is the person to ask.”
Father tapped his shoulder. “Come, Son.”
Dao fought back tears as he followed his father out of the factory. “Oh, Father, what if Mr. Wang says no?”
“An ancient proverb says, ‘A sweet gift loosens the tight fist.’”
Bing Dao frowned, thinking about that. “You mean I should buy a gift for Mr. Wang?”
Dao had saved money to buy firecrackers for the New Year. If he had to pay for a gift for Mr. Wang, he wouldn’t have enough for the firecrackers. I can’t ask Father for the money, though, he thought, because it’s my fault. I must pay for it myself. So Dao bought a gift box of fancy cookies because the present had to be very special. It took almost all his money.
At the dance school, Dao gave the gift to Mr. Wang and, with his stomach doing somersaults, explained his problem.
Finally he said, “I didn’t get the money in time, and I forgot about the delivery date. I shouldn’t have been late, and I’m sorry to trouble you, but—” Dao swallowed hard— “may I please buy the lion head?”
Mr. Wang shook his head. “My students are already practicing the dance. How can I disappoint them now?”
“But it really belongs to our school. We ordered it. Please.” Dao sounded more courageous than he felt.
Mr. Wang remained silent for a long time. Finally he said, “Come back after lunch. I must think about this.”
Lunch in the noodle shop was quiet and grim. Afterward Dao couldn’t even remember if it tasted good.
Back at the dance school, Dao found all the students assembled. Mr. Wang said he wanted Bing Dao to explain his problem to the whole school.
Dao looked at the sea of faces and gulped. He tried to speak, but only a creak came out. The faces smiled. He tried again. “Well, … uh … I, uh, came to ask to buy the lion head.”
The smiles disappeared. Bing Dao began to talk fast. “You see, my school ordered it special because I’m not strong enough to carry a hig bion lead … I mean a lig hion bed … I mean—”
Everybody started to laugh. Bing Dao didn’t think it was funny at all. He wanted to vanish into thin air, but he took a deep breath and went on. “My village is depending on me to dance with the lion head for the New Year celebration. I know that it’s my own fault that I’m in such a muddle, but …” He faltered to a stop. Then he saw his father nod and smile. Dao took new courage. “My school got the idea and my school ordered the head. I’m asking you to please help me by selling it to me.”
The room was very quiet. Finally Mr. Wang said, “Bing Dao, you speak the truth bravely.” There was an agonizing pause. The dance teacher turned to the students. “How many think that we should sell the lion head to Bing Dao?”
For an awful minute no hand was raised. Then one went up, and another, and another, until almost every hand could be seen.
“Well, I guess you have the answer, Bing Dao. The lion head is yours.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Wang. Thank you, students.”
On the way home, Father said, “I’m proud of you, Dao. You applied another wise saying—‘Truth spoken gently wins the argument.’”
“Thank you, Father. I learned a lot today. And from now on, I’m going to write things down so I won’t forget.”
“Good idea, Son. Then all you have to remember is to read the list.”
They both laughed.