The lineup in front of Madam Xie wasn’t anything special, just a few young women and men, eager for love, and a few older stragglers, anxious for it. Over the years, she had picked up a certain perceptiveness, the ability to read the ambitions in people’s eyes and the fears etched into the lines of their face. Looking on at this group, she concluded that the boy on the left was the oldest born; he was struggling under his parent’s unrelenting expectations, and he was only here in a sad attempt to appease them. To his left, a girl who had never been one to believe in love but was just here for the heck of it. To her left, her friend. All and all, there were about 7 in the room with her, all fresh, new faces, and yet, she felt as if she had seen them all before. Their stories had been told to her by others over the years.
She jabbed her finger from one to the other, painting lines in the air, tying these strangers together, proclaiming they would fall in love. Maybe they would, for a short time, but it wouldn’t last. It never did.
“Did you hear?” whispered Annachi to her friend. “Meng ran away with that boy, the one from the other village. She’s so hopelessly in love.” The gossip spread like a wildfire, a chatter that was interminable. Meng ran away with that boy…Meng ran away with Li.
Madam Xie rose to sunlight streaming through her window. Her bones ached as she pulled herself out of bed. For a moment, she thought that perhaps her reputation had caught up to her; maybe today was the Monday no one showed up, but alas, as the clock struck twelve o’clock, 5 others knocked on her door. She wondered why they bothered. After all, of the 174 matches she had made in 40 years, not a single one had resulted in a lasting relationship. That was the goal after all.
“How could you?” Meng shouted at the boy she loved. “How could you cheat on me?”
Li didn’t meet her eyes.
“I trusted you!”
“Trust is the foundation of a successful relationship,” Madam Xie said to the new couple. The girl was much to closed off, she decided, eyeing her crossed arms; the relationship wouldn’t last even a month. “Once you lose trust in each other, you lose everything you build on that foundation. Understand?”
They nodded as if they did.
Madam Xie knew that they didn’t.
What did one do once they had lost everything? Meng didn’t know. But the shame- oh the shame- it burned. It was the heat of a thousand suns, scorching her insides. She was embarrassed, disgusted, repulsed, that she had run away from home, left everything she knew behind, her mother, her father, all for the sake of some boy. Some stupid boy who she followed like a moth to a flame, who she let push her around like the moon with the sea. She had been dumb and she had been blind, and now, now she didn’t know what to do. She made her way home, and upon her arrival, she was mocked. Where was Li? Where was the boy she had ditched them for? What had happened to the grand life she had declared she would live? Meng cracked. “Li,” she said, “is dead.” And she left it at that. Nothing more, nothing less. It stuck.
There was a knock on the door. When she opened it, Madam Xie found herself looking at a woman and a man, both in their mid-30s.
“Can I help you?”
The woman nudged the man’s side. “See,” she hissed, “I told you she wouldn’t remember us.”
The man chuckled awkwardly. “You matchmade us 5 years ago. I’m Chen and this is Wei.”
Madam Xie stared at the couple in front of her, uncomprehending. Finally, she hastily said, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you two, but I’m sure you learned something from it all.”
The two looked at each other, then burst out laughing.
“Oh no!” Wei giggled. “It worked out perfectly. We’re here to invite you to our wedding!”
The lie went further than Meng ever wanted it to. Soon she became an icon, the tragic widow of the village. Stories of her passionate love spread and the very thing she had been shunned for was now the only thing anyone seemed to want to talk about. Her childhood friends pestered her endlessly, begging her to help them find men of their own. She relented. It only went downhill from there.
Madam Xie blinked. “You’re kidding.” She looked between the two. “Right?”
Chen blushed. “No. Sorry, can we come in?”
Madam Xie opened the door wider, and they made their way to the living room. “I don’t understand,” she said once they were seated. “You didn’t break up?” It made no sense. Chen was humble and shy; Wei was loud and obtrusive. Their flaws were each other’s pet peeves; they were each other’s worst nightmare!
Wei launched into the story of their history, how they had feuded constantly, but in the end, they had settled their differences, building a strong relationship in which they both acknowledged their shortcomings and work on bettering themselves.
Meng’s friends all got married. They were happy, and she was not. She tried to be happy for them, she really did, but her bitterness got the best of her. News of her matchmaking skills traveled, and soon, people arrived at her doorstep every Monday at 12 for their chance at finding love. She was given the title Madam Xie.
“The wedding is in two weeks,” Chen concluded. “We would love it if you could be there. After all, we wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for you.” He smiled at his fiance.
Madam Xie stared. Ever since she had started this career, she had sought to set people up with their worst counterparts. Love, it had seemed to her, was a foolish thing to pursue, a bomb that blew up in your face when you least expected it. She had wanted people to try it, realize it was a waste of time, and move on. She had wanted to spare them from the anguish she had felt, but now she realized she had been wrong, and as she looked on at their faces, bright with the light of love, she realized that she had seen the look in their eyes before. In her own, all those years ago.
Love, she realized, was worth any and all the pain it came with.