Chen Wei threw his socks, school uniform, and Math exams across his room. But not the golden dragon amulet he found while exploring at the botanical garden that afternoon. He made sure nobody, not even the school janitor, was watching when he pocketed it. He thought it had magic powers like those he saw on Wansapanatym. He wiped it clean with his shirt and wore it like a necklace.
Chen Wei had a terrible day in school but there was nobody at home he could talk to about it. His parents were away again for some business trip in Cebu and he wasn’t sure when they were coming back. His aunt Betty stayed at the house, but they seldom talked to each other during the day; most of the time, after she would finish doing all her household chores, she would go outside and chat with the neighbors. She loved to talk about the latest showbiz buzz.
He could care less about telenovelas. He was worried how he would tell his parents about the red marks he got on his recent Math exam and the number of times he was listed as tardy on the class record. He was always worried about something related to school.
The day after, he again arrived late for class. He knocked on the door before he entered the classroom, wearing his cub scout uniform and a yellow kerchief about his neck. Chen Wei had chubby cheeks and a red birth mark behind his right ear. He smiled at his classmates shyly and went quietly to his seat.
But that was not his day, either. Little did he know, his classmates had connived to embarrass him by volunteering him to represent the class to compete in the Chinese storytelling contest in February. When Mrs. Chua-Hua asked who their class representative would be, they pointed their fingers at Chen Wei.
“No! Please, not me.” He cringed. But, no matter how he protested, it was decided. The only thing he could possibly do was to do it.
That same afternoon, Chen Wei dropped by the faculty office to pick up the piece he was supposed to memorize.
“Don’t worry, Chen Wei. We’re here for you. I’m here to guide you. Think of this as a challenge, you know, to prove to yourself that more than your skill in drawing, you can do a lot more. Your classmates volunteered you because they believe in you. And I’m confident that you can do it. I know you can,” said the teacher.
“But, siensi, I’m afraid I might not be able to do it right,” said Chen Wei.
“Don’t be. Breathe in, breathe out. Follow me. Breathe in, breathe out. That’s it. Just relax, Chen,” said Mrs. Chua-Hua. “Read your piece tonight, memorize the first few paragraphs then see me tomorrow after class. Let’s see what I can do to help you. Good luck!”
Chen Wei Finds His Ally
After dinner, he prayed and touched the golden amulet on his chest before reading through the piece. “Cher un tu pao te siyaw ma-i. I tian chong wo, tian chi hen row, i cher ma-i tsai ye ti pao lay, paw qi…” He read the story aloud then read it again and again. After a few hours of reading the story aloud, he had memorized almost half of it. Soon, he had memorized the whole story and delivered it effortlessly in front of the mirror. It was like magic.
Usually, by nine o’clock, he is already fast asleep. But that night, he wondered why he wasn’t sleepy. He was so fully awake that he even had time to review his Math lessons. By three a.m., he finally fell asleep.
Good Things Start To Happen
The following day, he woke up early and arrived at school early. His classmates were surprised to see him doodling on the white board as they arrived. When he noticed them, he greeted them a nice morning. Curious, they started gossiping behind him.
That morning, their Math teacher gave a surprise quiz. Chen Wei topped the quiz. His Math teacher, happy with his performance, shook his hands and congratulated him. His classmates cheered for him and it made Chen Wei proud of himself.
That afternoon, he visited Mrs. Chua-Hua in her office to show her what he had memorized so far. He touched his amulet on his chest awhile before he entered the faculty room. He delivered his piece so well and effortlessly without even looking at his copy.
“Very good, Chen Wei! I’m impressed. See, you’re good. Are you sure you still need my help?” joked the Chinese teacher.
That night in his room, he found himself staring at the dragon amulet he was wearing.
“Everything good that happened to me today is because of you. Papa was right when he told me that amulets bring good luck. You are indeed my lucky charm,” said Chen Wei. He kissed the amulet. “I wish my parents would come home. I miss them already. And I hope they miss me, too.”
Two days later, Chen Wei’s parents arrived. He dropped everything and raced toward their front yard where he saw a Maligaya taxi stop outside their gate. “Auntie! Auntie! They’re here,” shouted Chen Wei. His parents brought him lots of pasalubong from Cebu and that made him very happy.
In the evening, on the dinner table, he told his parents about the contest he was joining. They looked at each other, surprised, because they have always known their son as shy and timid in school.
“Wow! Your Mama and I are so excited to watch you perform on stage, son” said his father. “By the way, when is the contest?”
The Chinese story-telling contest may have been approaching, but Chen Wei wasn’t nervous. “As long as I have this dragon amulet with me, everything will be fine,” he confidently told himself.
In the succeeding nights, he practiced in front of the mirror to see if he was doing it right. Sometimes when he wanted to have an audience, he would simply go in his parent’s room or in the kitchen, where his aunt Betty was washing the dishes. And although his aunt Betty couldn’t understand Mandarin, she obligingly clapped her hands when Chen Wei ended with a bow.
“Bravo! Bravo!” said aunt Betty. “All right, here you go. Finish your milk before you go upstairs. Sleep early, ha. Or else, you’ll be late for your big day tomorrow.”
“Wish me luck, auntie,” he said.
“Of course. I’ll pray for you tonight, Chen. Don’t worry,” she assured.
The Real Lucky Charm
The next day turned out to be a challenge. Hours before the contest, Chen Wei couldn’t find his amulet. He rummaged through his closet, his study table, and school bag but it was nowhere to be found. He panicked; his face flushed red from trying hard not to cry. His father’s car was honking outside and he needed to hurry up. He had to let go of his good luck charm.
In front of hundreds of people and four judges, Chen Wei stood proudly on stage. But the orange lights were straining his eyes and the words he used to know by heart were slowly slipping from his memory. His good luck charm was lost, and he felt naked before his audience.
Chen Wei tried to calm himself. Breathe in, breathe out… Breathe in, breathe out… There was a long pause before he began.
But, the moment the title of the piece rolled from his tongue, everything followed, flowed, like water released from the floodgates. “Cher un tu pao te siyaw ma-i. I tian chong wo, tian chi hen row…” Chen Wei recited his piece without hesitation, as though he were simply performing it before Mrs. Chua-Hua at the faculty room or in the kitchen where he would end with a bow and hear claps and cheers. And he did. The auditorium roared with support as he concluded.
The dragon amulet was not his real lucky charm, after all.
Chris David F. Lao is taking up BA English (Creative Writing) in UP Mindanao.