Vanishing Brides

The bride sought the shadows of the long afternoon as the bridegroom’s village filled with strangers anxious to see who would marry a favorite son.

For hours, the Bengli villagers in China’s Guizhou Province had chopped, sizzled and stirred every part of a slaughtered pig and all the vegetables they could find. It was a sign of good luck when the wedding feast spilled out of the pans to satisfy all of the guests,  most members of the 72 Dong Village Miao.

Wedding Feast

Since before dawn, the rice wine had bubbled in cauldrons and flowed from plastic jugs. By the time the bride finally arrived from Gao Ping, most of the guests were so giddy with baijiu, they missed the bride’s quick entrance, brief appearance and hasty retreat.

“My wife is shy,” the bridegroom said when the girl bolted less than 20 minutes after arriving.

A few minutes later, he jumped on a motorcycle and fled the scene too. We hoped it was to search for the vanishing bride.

Nothing surprised us by now. We were still saddened by the jilted bride from our morning adventure. Our guide, Lee, found her sobbing in a corner after the groom’s family called off the wedding minutes before we arrived. She didn’t measure up, the groom’s parents said. She wasn’t tall enough or strong like an ox. She had already bore the groom’s child after a rendezvous at a factory once owned by Mitt Romney, said our translator.

Always eager to please, Lee located another wedding via his cell phone with its unlikely ringtone from “The Godfather.” Before we headed to the afternoon wedding, he delivered some money to the jilted bride and returned to us with a handful of snack cakes.

The bride,” he said and paused for drama’s sake, “ … The bride requests forgiveness for your inconvenience, and she sends you this gift for your troubles. Let us indulge in their goodness and wish her fulfillment in her journey for joyfulness.”

Rain escorted us all the way back to Bengli where we made up happy endings for the jilted bride. We waited for Bride #2 to make her way up the terraced village for about 90 minutes. She blended in with a small crowd of girls and women carrying fuzzy blankets for what appeared to be a sleepover. Less than 20 minutes later, our photographic deluge sent the bride running for cover into a pig sty.

The grandmother lingered to smile at the photographers and gesture toward the wedding gifts, including a purple entertainment system bigger than a sofa. It cost $400 and would not fit in the bedroom built for the couple.

GroomWe never saw the bride or groom again. Rumor had it that she was hiding out until dark when she and the girls from her village would sleep in the new bedroom. It might be weeks before anything resembling a honeymoon would take place. Firecrackers echoed through the village as people laughed and ate and drank.

The only things missing from the wedding were the bride and groom. After enough baijiu, no one seemed to notice.

Wedding guests

Meet me: Sheilah Bright, a sucker for a story. I've been a journalist for 39 years after first publishing at age 14. Do the math. No, don't. My work has appeared in hundreds of newspapers and magazines. I spent 18 years writing advertising for People and TIME magazine. When I'm not traveling abroad, I bounce along the backroads of Oklahoma searching for some golden story nuggets as a contributing editor for This Land Press and Oklahoma Today.

Feel free to tell me what you think.

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