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The Little Mysterious Shop



         She carefully packed up her school bag. School was over for the day, and outside the entrance the sky was rapidly darkening. The air felt moist to Pei-ying, but she did not feel like returning straight away to her small-detached home. Rather, she felt restless. Perhaps she would take a longer walk home and look at shops on the way. She had a fascination for finding new places, even if she did not necessarily buy anything. She just enjoyed looking in at shop windows, and finding new and interesting things to look at. A tall. dark-haired Chinese girl of fourteen, she was sometimes teased for her curiosity, and for habit of buying the strangest small trinkets, or souvenirs, or indeed anything that she felt had a story attached to it.

         So she set off in a different direction to her normal path. She walked along looking carefully at the shop windows she passed, sometimes pausing to look more closely at something that caught her eye. She strolled on, gradually moving into an area of small streets, darker, but with smaller and more interesting shop windows, some containing bright, shiny fabrics and beads: others containing exotic food and spices, wrapped in colourful papers, that never seemed to give any idea of what they contained. This was the kind of shopping that she really enjoyed.

         As she turned a corner into a small dark street, she suddenly saw it. Just ahead, on the right-hand side. She stopped in surprise. It was like no other shop she had seen before. It’s shop window was small and square, divided into small rectangular panes of glass. They were rather dirty, but from inside the shop came a warm yellow light, enough to see some mysterious packages on a shelf just inside. She looked inside, rubbing one of the glass panes to try to see further. But it all still looked mysterious. At one side, there was a small wooden door, with a little round window.

Pei-ying hesitated, and then suddenly decided to go in and have a real look. She pushed the door open. Immediately, there was the loud tinkling of a bell hung just above the door. She looked up, startled, and then gasped. The inside of the shop was lit by several small light-bulbs which only gave enough light for her to see. But what she saw!

         It was a treasure-house! Everywhere she gazed, wonderful gleams of light reflected from so many different things! There were oriental dolls in ceremonial  dress, wonderful and mysterious pieces of furniture, their shelves crammed with metal and plastic toys, carved and diamond-encrusted  boxes, hundreds of jewels, necklaces, bracelets, rings, plates, dishes, cups, kettles, teapots, chairs of every size and description, little tables, their tops inset with ivory, and so many strange wooden objects, whose purpose she could only guess at. Above her head, there hung from every part of the ceiling some of the most beautiful fabrics she had ever seen: sashes, scarves, belts, dresses, furs, and even shoes of silk and velvet, tied in pairs above her head. They fluttered gently in the warmth of the light-bulbs above.

         She began to wander through this maze of things, though with some problems, because everything was so packed together, that she could hardly see the floor. Never had she been in a shop like this! One could stay here forever, she thought. There were so many marvellous things to see!

Something caught her eye. It was standing on one of top shelves A small doll, about nine inches high. It was dressed in a red kimono, with a blue sash around its waist. It’s dark hair was pinned up in an oriental style, and it wore little dark shoes on it’s feet. ‘It’s just like me,’ thought Pei-Ying. Then she heard a noise from the back of the shop. It sounded just like soft carpet slippers. It was.

         In one of the spaces, appeared a little man. He was bald, clad in an old furry dressing-gown, and he wore a pair of little round glasses on his face. But his round face was smiling. ‘Hello, my dear. What can I do for you?’

‘I’m sorry to disturb you,’ said Pei-Ying, shyly. ‘ but I was so curious about your shop. I have never been here before, but I was so excited about finding it. Oh. you have so many wonderful things! I had to look around’.

‘Of course, of course,’ beamed the shopkeeper. ‘But I have the feeling that there is something you like. Can you tell me what it is?’

Yes, please. The – the little doll up there’. And she stool on tiptoe and carefully brought it down.

The little shopkeeper looked at her with a strange expression on his face. ‘I can understand why you would like it. But I have to say this: I don’t buy or sell things’.

Pei-Ying’s heart sank. She wanted the doll more than ever, but she did not even know the reason why.

‘Can I give you something for it? Oh, I have no money!’

The shopkeeper looked at her kindly, but said nothing. And then, only then, did Pei-Ying have an idea. She bent down and rummaged in her bag, drawing out at last a long red, embroidered sash. ‘Would you be willing to take this? It does mean a lot to me, but I feel that I could offer it to you’.

She looked up, and saw the little man’s face wore an enormous smile. He took it from Pei-Ying’s hands and examined it. ‘This is a wonderful thing. This is, is it not, your christening sash?’ Pei-Ying nodded.

‘This I will certainly accept, but not for the doll’. Pei-Ying’s face fell. ‘Don’t worry, my dear. For this, I will give you two dolls’. He reached up and brought down another doll, of exactly the same size and dress, but this time it was a male doll. He shuffled over to the back of the shop, and came back a few moments later with a box wrapped in brown paper. ‘Here you are, with my great pleasure’.

‘Thank you so much!’ cried Pei-Ying. ‘This is so good of you. May I come back and look around again?’

         The shopkeeper paused, with no expression on his face. ‘Perhaps, if I am still here. But you must go now. I an about to close. But one thing I want to tell you. Look after those dolls very carefully. You will find out why in time to come. You will know.’ Pei-Ying opened the door, hearing the cheerful ring above her head. ‘Goodbye, and, and thank you’. The little man smiled and said nothing. Pei-Ying went home, and placed the dolls carefully on the shelves in her bedroom. What had the shopkeeper meant?

It was five years later. As much as Pei-Ying tried, she was never able to find the street or the shop again. But she had other things on her mind. She was engaged to be married to Ming-Ling, who she had known from school, and they were both going to university together to study English literature. They had both had supper with her parents, who were now rather sleepy. Pei-Ying had told Ming-Ling about the dolls and where she had got them. She could see that he did not ever quite believe her, but he admired the dolls and was prepared to humour her. So when she suggested a short walk to try to find the little shop for one last time, he didn’t mind.

         They walked down to their old school and then into the small streets that Pei-Ying entered earlier. Suddenly, she remembered where the street was ‘Come on! She shouted, ‘I know where it is!’ They ran down hand in hand along one street, then another. ‘Around this corner!’ panted Pei-Ying. They turned the corner and looked. Both of them stood still. On the right-hand side of the street was nothing but a high brick wall There was no sign of any shop ever having been there. They walked back in silence, Pei-Ying’s eyes pricking with tears. Back at her parents’ house they went upstairs to look at the dolls again. Ming-Ling felt sad for Pei-Ying, and walked over to the two dolls.

         Then he paused, and looked again. There was something strange about the girl’s left hand, and the boy’s right. They were curled, almost as if they were clasping something, but the hands were open. Ming-Ling picked up each doll and stood them next to each other. Pei-Ying came over to look. Ming-Ling changed the dolls around, and then Pei-ying gave a gasp. As her fiancée moved the two dolls nearer, their hands clasped. They stood together hand in hand. Pei-ying and Ming-Ling clasped hands also, an, for a few moments, both couples became mirror images of each other – the two young people and the two little dolls.

Pei-Ying whispered: ‘The shopkeeper. He gave us a gift for the future. He knew. He knew!’

Frank Jackson (11/07/07)