An Evening Out Pt 2
She took them to the Peony Pavilion, widely regarded as the finest bar on the First Cropship of the White Crane – and one of the best in the Empire. Known for its colourful drinks and famous flaming cocktails, it was the obvious choice.
Though the glow of youth left the girls with little need for Madam Wong’s special cosmetics, they had made a great effort on their hair, pinning it up with ornate clasps of gold and silver decorated with butterflies and birds, or perhaps a dragon’s head. Daisy, opting for simplicity, had decorated her hair with a single elegant feather fashioned from bronze.
Sitting together in qipao of various colours, they quickly drew attention from the men in the room – but this was not an evening for talking to men. They did enough of that at the Lotus Blossom Palace. Tonight was a ladies-only event. Though several men came over to talk to the group, they were soon sent away by the formidable Madam Wong.
The music changed to an old recording of a woman singing about love and heartbreak, about not taking any nonsense from anyone (least of all from men) and about enjoying her life to the full.
‘You ’ear that?’ said Madam Wong.
‘The song?’ said Rosa.
‘That there singer’s an ancestor o’ mine, from way back,’ Madam Wong went on.
Madam Wong looked at Lily. ‘Yep. Her name was Wong Fei. Gorgeous, she was, judging by what images of her have survived. Gorgeous,’ she sighed, wistfully, ‘and talented.’ She shook her head, as if lamenting her own lack of such coveted attributes.
Daisy seemed immediately suspicious. ‘Are you sure she was your relative?’ She narrowed her eyes at Madam Wong, challenging her.
‘Yep,’ said Madam Wong. ‘Goes way back, but do a bit of digging and you’ll find out me and Auntie Fei was related for sure. Course,’ she said, flapping a hand, ‘it was centuries ago, so the stories might have been embellished. A little.’ She looked down, suddenly fascinated by an invisible something she’d found on the table.
Lily and Rosa exchanged a glance. They had heard this story many times before, and always Madam Wong would insist Wong Fei was her Great Great Great Great Great (to an infinite number of Greats) Auntie Fei. None of them had ever bothered to find out how true it really was. The archives were difficult to access, and it was no use trying to disprove Madam Wong’s story in any case. The only thing any of the girls would gain from it would be a sharp tongue lashing (from a woman known throughout the Sphere for the sharpness of her tongue lashings), and a clip round the ear for good measure. And for all they knew, the story she told could be true. Madam Wong was like anyone else – she had to have ancestors, and there was no reason this Wong Fei should not have been among them. So, as always when she told the story, they went along with it; as always, they enjoyed the ride.
A dashing waiter appeared quite suddenly at their table. Addressing Madam Wong, he bowed.
‘Would the ladies like more drinks?’
Madam Wong looked around at her girls. ‘Well, ladies? What do we think? More cocktails?’
There ensued general hushed discussion as each of the lotus girls took another look at the drinks menu and tried to decide among the many options available at the famous Peony Pavilion.
‘I think I’d like a Fiery Strawberry,’ said Rosa, finally.
‘And me,’ said Xiao Mei. ‘Although,’ she glanced up at the waiter and blushed slightly, ‘could I please have a little more mint in it, this time?’
The waiter – whose name, according to the tag pinned to his uniform, was Meng Li – bowed, then pulled out a pad of smart parchment and made a note with a stylus.
‘Could I have a Lilac Bud Sour?’ asked Lily.
‘Ooh, dear,’ said Madam Wong, ‘won’t that clash with your outfit?’
‘I don’t much care for colour co-ordination,’ Lily grumbled, whose qipao was, indeed, a similar colour to the Lilac Bud Sour as depicted by the image on the drinks menu. ‘I’m going for substance,’ she added, with a sly wink at Rosa, ‘not style.’
Once all the girls had made their choices, Meng Li bowed once more, then disappeared back into the crowd.
Also published on Medium.