Chinese Stories in English
Buying a Lottery Ticket
Taking every opportunity to gamble on the lottery is a time-honored tradition in our village. The Aviation Tickets are naturally very popular. Now hear this: They have a jackpot of five hundred thousand!
My sister started a cooperative to buy a ticket. The buy-in was two silver dimes. I checked my fortune in the I Ching, and the signs were auspicious, so I put in four dimes. Me and Sis spent some time figuring, and it turned out we were still short 9.40 of what we needed to buy a ticket, so we set out separately to drum up some business.
"Five hundred thousand, five hundred thousand! Fifty people sharing, each gets ten thousand! Two dimes gets you ten thousand!"
The whole village went crazy. Even the dogs got used to hearing "Five hundred thousand!" They would wag their tails and wouldn't jump out to bite the leg of anyone who said, "five hundred thousand", even if it was a stranger.
After a full week of doing this, we'd gotten the ten dollars together. I was the largest shareholder. Grandma only had five cents, but she went in with two of my aunts to scrape together enough for one share. They also set up an account book.
Where should we go to buy the ticket? We'd have to consult the I Ching again. Sis didn't trust my cast from Zhuge's Financial text, so she spent five coppers to have Blind Man Wang cast from the text Spirit Before the Horse.... It came out "lee northeast". Of the four lottery ticket outlets in the city; Lee Chengji's is in the northeastern part of town, so that was definitely the meaning; we should go to Lee Chengji's to buy the ticket.
However, Lee Chengji's is the smallest of the four outlets. They only sell cigarettes and kerosene. They might swindle us out of our ten dollars, maybe by selling us a fake ticket! So we gave Blind Man Wang another five coppers and had him make another cast. "The northwest would be OK, too," he said, crooking his finger, "and not only OK, but even better than the northeast!" Heng Xiang Ji is in the northwest, and it's a big business. Sis's red satin quilt had been purchased there when she got married.
Who should go buy it? That was another problem. Since I was the top shareholder, many people said I should make the trip. But my astrological sign is the "cow", and this was the Year of the Chicken. We had to find someone whose sign was "chicken", and it had to be a male, too, since females are despondent.
The third son of the Li family was the only one born in the Year of the Chicken. We couldn't find any of the others who would normally be around – they seemed to have had second thoughts. We would worry too much if we sent the Li's third son by himself, so we decided to send two highly respected fellows with him for protection. On a day we picked as auspicious, the three of them went into the city to buy our ticket.
When they came back with the ticket, the next question was, who should hold it? It's a special feature of cooperative enterprises in our village that nobody trusts anyone. After discussing the matter for three days and nights, we settled on my grandma. Old age didn't necessarily make her moral, but she wasn't very agile afoot, so she wouldn't be able to sneak off with the ticket.
No one slept well until the day of the draw. Speaking for myself, when we won the jackpot – how could it not be us – I would get twenty thousand. How should I spend it? I'd buy a small house, sure, and then I spent half the night thinking about the location, style and layout.
No, maybe I wouldn't buy a house. Maybe starting a business would be better. So I spent the other half of the night thinking about the shop's location, form and type, and how to make money, and how to expand once I'd made the money.
The stars in the sky, the froth at the riverside, they all looked like silver dollars. The birds singing early in the morning, and the insects chirping at midnight, they were all saying "five hundred thousand." If I happened to nod off for a bit with my hand resting on my chest, I'd dream that a pile of foreign dollars was pressing down on me so that I couldn't breathe!
I made it a point to buy a set of bone tiles so I could cast my fortune at any time. If it was a bad cast, I'd say forget it and cast again! So I always ended up with a good cast – my fortune was assured.
Then the lottery started. The numbers for the first five prizes were printed in the newspaper, and the number we'd memorized wasn't among them. My house, my store... all gone, like the sweat of my brow.
The sixth and seventh prizes were left. How could we not hit the sixth prize at least? I cast my bone tiles again, and the signs were good. The sixth prize was five hundred, and I could get a few large pieces of ramie cloth to make shirts – not bad.
While waiting for the sixth and seventh prizes to be announced, I went over the first five prize numbers in my mind, and thought about how the prize winners ought to spend their money. I couldn't avoid being a little envious, but I thought and thought until I thought that the winners' good fortune might turn to tragedy. Maybe they'd burn up with their money, so maybe it was a good thing that I hadn't won; naturally I wouldn't necessarily have met that fate if I had won. But no matter how I looked at it, I still had a bit of a lump in my chest.
When the sixth and seventh place winners were announced, we were left out again. Then we realized that the tail-end number had played a joke on us as well. It was a "two", and ours was a "three". And that was all she wrote!
Sis and I had started this thing, you know! Grandma asked us for her five cents back, and we had to give it to her. And once we'd covered her loss, the rest of the people weren't inclined to just let their dimes go.
Sis has been sick for the last couple of days. She has this talent for getting sick when she wants to. So it was left to me to give each of the others back their twenty cents. Once I had, Sis got better. As for me, I had a really sweet night's sleep last night.
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