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《Chinese Tales for Everyone__Real and Imaginary: (18) The Compassionate Ghost》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Tales Real and Imaginary
(18) The Compassionate Ghost

Fisherman Bao liked to tipple his home brew fishing at night. It made waiting for the catch a little easier. He often poured drops of wine on the river bank as an offering to whatever spirit that might be around. One evening, as he performed his usual ritual, a young man appeared beside him. Bao offered him a nip from his wine jar. The stranger thanked him appreciatively. They struck a conversation. The night wore on. Every time Bao hoisted his net it was empty. “Let me go upstream and drive down some fish for you.” The stranger offered as he rose to leave.

Soon, Bao heard the splashing of a school of fishes. He hoisted his net, and was very happy to see it full of gleaming fish.

The following evening, Bao returned to the same spot to fish. The young man was already there waiting. They had much pleasure drinking together. After a while, the stranger introduced himself as Li Rong. Their friendship deepened as they met again and again for six months.

One evening, Li Rong made a sad announcement: “Ever since we met, Bao, we have been close as brothers. But we will have to part tomorrow.”   Bao was too surprised to speak, drown in sorrow. Li Rong continued after a pause: “Dear friend, I must tell you I am a ghost. I had always had a weakness for wine, and I died drowning in this river when I was drunk. Tomorrow will be the end of my karma, and I shall be born again. Bao. If you come here at noon tomorrow, you will see a young mother drowned at the bridge. She will take my place as a ghost.”

Sure enough, the fisherman came to witness how a woman carrying a baby crossing the bridge. She tripped and fell into the river. The momentum of her fall tossed her baby safely on shore. The woman screamed, struggling in the rapids. A moment later, she caught onto a floating log and pulled herself on shore again. Taking up her crying baby, she prayed Buddha most thankfully.

That evening when Bao came to the same spot to fish, he found Li Rong waiting for him. They greeted each other warmly. Li said: ‘We need not part for now as I am a ghost again. We can keep on being friends.”

“What had happened to make this wonderful change? Bao asked elatedly.

“I took pity on her and the baby. I didn’t think it fair to have a life in exchange of two lives suffering. So I threw her the floating log and willingly remained a ghost.”

Fisherman Bao was deeply moved by his friend’s compassion. They carried on as usual, enjoying one another. The good catches had improved Bao’s life, as well as the wine they enjoyed so much together.

Approaching winter that year, Li had to announce their parting again. He said: “The High God of Heaven heard what I did. He decreed that I be a local deity of Wu County, on the other side of that mountain. I would love to see you visiting there and my people. They will be very happy to welcome and take care of you.”

“I will certainly visit you in your new home!” Bao promised solemnly.

Times passed. Bao felt lonely and restless fishing alone. The catch was scanty. The wine tasted bitter when no one came to share. He decided to visit Wu County.

The journey to the south of the mountain took two days’ walking. He arrived at the temple to see a throng of people waiting to greet him.

“You must be Mr. Bao the fisherman,” said an elderly man, “We were given news of your coming in a dream. We welcome you heartily.”

When the friendly commotion had subsided, Bao asked to have a moment of privacy. Kneeling before the altar, he took out a flask of wine from his travel bag. “My thoughts have been with you day and night since your departure,” he murmured, “Now that I see you are settling so well here, I feel peaceful and happy.”

He poured some wine on the altar. Immediately, he felt a gentle swirl of wind touching his ears and heard a faint voice saying: “Bless you, my friend. Stay a few days with my people. When you go home, I shall do all I can to see you have good catches. Just watch for the winds when you cast your net.” Bao had a good dream that night, before he set home the following morning. He was accompanied by a throng of people to the village gate. Just as he stepped out, a wind swirled around him for a moment, and then it was gone.

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Note: This is an English narration of a tale from the book《轉世情緣》. It describes the friendship of a fisherman and a ghost that came to share his drinks, offering him help. The feelings of ghost and man are mutual and enduring in Chinese folk tales.

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