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One Story About Canned Mandarin Oranges

Today, I’d like to tell you a story about canned Mandarin oranges 橘子罐头 (jú zi guàn tou).

Whenever I go back to my younger days, I always revert back to the same story. The one where childhood left me with the deepest memory: The story of the tin can of oranges.

When I was a child, it was very difficult to see oranges in that remote mountain village in the north of our country, let alone eat one. However, there were canned oranges at that time, but most people were reluctant to eat canned oranges. They only gave them as valuable gifts 礼物 (lǐ wù) to relatives or friends who came from afar. Whenever I see canned oranges in the grocery store, I am repulsed and only gulp in dismay.

One night, a guest came to my home. My mother said that it was my father’s comrade in arms. They had not seen each other for more than ten years. Father was ecstatic that night and spent the rest of the day entertaining the uncle. They smoked cigarettes 抽烟 (chōu yān) and drank water for a while. After a while, Mother cooked fried cabbages. Father took out a bottle of aged wine from the cupboard, which he had been reluctant to drink for many years. They talked while drinking.

After a while, Dad went into the kitchen and said to his mother, “a dish is too shabby. Can you please go and buy a can of oranges? “As soon as I heard it, my saliva flowed out, and soon my mother came back with a jar on credit. She opened the lid in the kitchen, and suddenly a sweet smell rushed into my nostrils.

canned orange
canned orange

“Mother, I would like to eat 吃 (chī) it,” I said coquettishly as I grab the corner of my mother’s coat.

Mother seems to be in a bit of a quandary, she put the can on a plate. She replied, “If I let you eat the orange, I won’t be able to serve it to the guests.”

“Son, wait for your father and uncle to drink wine, you eat the rest, they will soon drink up and be too drunk to eat..” Mother continued. 

I was sucking my fingers as I stare at my mother, who was walking towards the main room with the plate.

It suddenly occurred to me that my mother dropped a few drops of juice on the chopping board when she poured the can. So I lay on the chopping board and finally found the two drops of orange and fragrant juice. I carefully approached the drop with the tip of my tongue, licked it, tasted it for a while, and then went to lick the second drop.

It’s the sweetest juice I’ve had since I was born, except for breast milk. It’s amazing.

At that time, my father was very strict with me. When the guests came, he didn’t allow me to get close to the wine table. I thought, if I got close to them, maybe that uncle would put an orange petal in my mouth, but I didn’t dare.

It was very late. My mother took me from the kitchen to the main room, took me to bed and let me sleep first. My father and the uncle were still drinking, but I wish they would finish drinking immediately. However, they seemed to be doing a lot of reminiscing.

To my relief, they haven’t moved a few of the canned oranges on the plate.

My mother took off my clothes, covered my quilt for me, and quietly said to me, “when they have finished drinking, I will wake you up and give you the plate. You can eat all of them. Go to sleep first.”

Mother patted me on the head and went to her housework again.

Dad’s wine table is not far from my bed. There is a candle in the middle of the table, and the room is filled with yellowish light. But I think the orange petals on that plate are even brighter than the candlelight.

I couldn’t sleep, so I tilted my head to watch dad and that uncle drink.

The uncle put an orange petal in his mouth and said, “it tastes good!” I was a little dismayed.  I thought “Uncle, there are many cabbages on another plate, why don’t you eat them?”

After a while, I fell asleep. In my dream, I was about to eat the oranges in the tin can, but I was snatched away. I reached for it and woke up suddenly. My pillow was wet with saliva. They were still drinking. But there are not many orange petals on the plate. I prayed in the bed, uncle, you must not eat the oranges anymore, please.  . The uncle didn’t move the orange petals for quite a while, he seemed to be lost in thought, so I prayed again in the quilt.

When I woke up the next day, it was clear. My first reaction was the tin on the plate, the fragrant orange petals, and the sweet water.

When my eyes strayed to the plate on the table, I was completely disappointed that there were no orange petals left. Despite my patience, prayers, and yearning for the orange, I wasn’t able to eat some. I felt tears running down my cheeks. I cover my head and dry them.

When I passed the wine table and saw a little orange juice on the bottom of the plate, I couldn’t wait to pick up the plate and pour it into my throat. It’s so sweet! Finally, I licked the bottom of the plate with the tip of my tongue.

I found that the mother who was preparing to make breakfast looked at me with tears streaming down her eyes.

On the side, my father advised her: “after selling cotton, buy more cans, let him eat enough!”

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