Xiao Qiu’s feisty spirit is clearly something that Li Chuan falls for, but it certainly makes things a lot more difficult for him. He tries to be Prince Charming, but sometimes he just runs into a wall with Xiao Qiu. I do have to say, Xuan Yin (the author) really likes to choose random references. I did not enjoy translating the songs/poems…etc in this chapter at all…
I threw all of my energy into the last two exams. Meanwhile, I still continued to work at the café. When I got back every night, two pitchers of filled with hot water were still waiting for me. I thought it was An An being lazy again, making Xiu Ge Ge get it. To my surprise An An said that it was Feng Jing Er who got it for me.
I knew that Feng Jing Er rarely got water herself. It was always Lu Jie who got it for her.
Since she hadn’t left for the evening study session yet, I went to thank her. She appeared tired out, “Ah, why are you being so polite? You get back so late every night and the weather is so could. How can you go without hot water?”
I asked her to thank Lu Jie for me then.
“Lu Jie joined a supplementary foreign language improvement class. He can’t find the time. His water is even brought by me.” She laughed. She always seemed extremely prideful, but for some reason, today her laugh had a bleak overtone to it, “We keep wanting to treat Li Chuan to a meal, but he would never give us the honor. The application letter he helped fix for Lu Jie was really useful, many schools have been in contact. We choose University of Chicago. They agreed to waive the tuition. You know that a school like University of Chicago rarely waives the tuition. Lu Jie has relatives abroad who can vouch for him. Everything is in order now. The only thing missing is the admissions notice.”
“That’s just what you wished. Isn’t that a great thing?” I was happy for her.
“That’s right.” Her tone was unenthusiastic.
“What about you? What do you plan to do?”
“I also plan on taking TOEFL. It’s just that I don’t have reliable relatives abroad and my major is English. I can’t compete like Lu Jie can. It’s probably not likely for me to go abroad.”
“Let Lu Jie help you think of a way after he goes abroad.” I said. I didn’t know anything about going abroad. To me, this kind of thing was like a distant dream. So I could only casually suggest something.
This was the feeling one gets during conversations with someone who wasn’t really a friend. Humming and hawing, with no beginning or end, saying one thing but meaning something different. Feng Jing Er and I weren’t really friends, I was very terrified that I would be indebted to her for her personally getting water for me. It was Li Chuan who helped out, it had nothing to do with me. To have me receive her thanks, was not something I dared to accept. So after speaking to her, I immediately went out to the small convenience shop and bought two thermos bottles. In the future, I’ll carry four bottles at noon. That way, I won’t need to owe anyone.
The thing about Li Chuan buying a jacket for me spread through the whole dormitory floor due to Xiao Rui’s vivid and colorful explanation. I became the lead in those fairy tales. Naturally the two versions that were most widely spread were: A. I was the secret girlfriend of an already married son from a rich family. That, I thought it was real, but in actuality he just wanted something fresh and new to play with. B. I was a prostitute at some entertainment place after school. In order to earn some extra income, I picked up a very wealthy person. The English and Music Departments were infamous for this at our university because once the police had an unexpected operation where they caught seven girls prostituting themselves at a club. They were all forced to quit school. There was one English Department student who could not bear the shame and hung herself. She hung herself in one of these dorm rooms on our floor.
What kind of world is this? When someone is said to be good, others are doubtful. When someone is said to be evil, others might not believe it. One is devoured if one stays silent. Everyone is filled with malicious intent.
It’s true that I was only seventeen years old, but that doesn’t mean at all that I had to wait until I was thirty-seven years old to really understand a man, to understand Li Chuan.
Except during the two days of exams, Li Chuan called me once every day. I could tell he was very busy. He had to go see the construction site, had to have meals with others, had to prepare material, had to alter designs. His schedule was all planned and completely filled. Long distance calls on the cell phone didn’t have very good service, conversations cut in and out. The two of us said one sentence the most, “What did you just say? Say it again, I didn’t hear clearly.” Furthermore, I was also worried that the phone bill cost a lot and wasn’t willing to say too much. After a few words of greeting, we would hang up.
After exams, I slept for several days in the dorm room and then headed to the train station to line up to buy a ticket back to Yunnan. It was already high traffic time for traveling home for Chinese New Year. (This period is known as Chunyun) There was a long line at the ticket window. The Beijing train stations started selling tickets every morning at eight until five in the afternoon. What usually happens is after the ticket window is opened for less that ten minutes, the tickets would be sold out. The first day, I didn’t know the inside scoop. I went in the morning and didn’t get a ticket. When I asked around, everyone who managed to purchase a ticket had been lined up since the evening before. The station surged with people, causing me to be homesick. I immediately returned to the dormitory, and got enough water and rations. I picked up the book that Xiu Yue gave me, “The Moon and Sixpence” and joined the insane line.
I waited in line overnight. I had finally endured until dawn and the ticket window opened. Everyone lined up in front of me would get one ticket per person. There were only around ten people in front of me before the ticket window with a clang closed and a sign was posted, “All tickets sold out for today.” I quickly asked a older man who had gotten a ticket about his experience. He said, “How can waiting a day be enough? I’ve waited for three days. I almost didn’t get it today.”
I belonged to the type of people who had stoicism in the face of hardship. Who became braver the longer a war went on. I went to a kiosk to buy a cup of Nestlé instant coffee and drank it in one go. I took out a towel and toothbrush, went to the bathroom to tidy up and then returned to the ticket window in high spirits. I began a new round of lining up. I had just gone to the bathroom for ten minutes and twenty more fellow villagers had got in in front of me. Unbelievable.
While in line, I had already finished reading “The Moon and Sixpence.” In the last few pages, there was a bookmark stuck in. There was a part of a song written on it:
Over these years I have been by myself
The wind has passed by The rain has gone by
There were tears There were mistakes
Still remember what was intended
After being truly in love will one understand
There will be loneliness There will be memories
There will always be dreams There will always be you in my heart
Friends walking together through life
Those kind of days no longer exists
One word One lifetime
One love in life One cup of wine
Friends never have to be lonely
A word of “friend” you will understand
There are still injuries There are still hurts
Still need to leave Still have me
(The lyrics are from a famous 90s song, “Friend”, by Emil Wakin Chau)
Xiu Yue had really good penmanship. He was the champion of the penmanship competition at our university. He said that he had wanted to work at a café, but no one wanted him. So he could only go to a university for the elderly to teach. He sighed, saying that the elderly had great enthusiasm. He hoped that he could be like that one day, to go learn something, not because of money, not to make a living, not because of anything.
Besides Faye Wong, I liked Emil Wakin Chau the best. This song was one that I actually really liked, but Xiu Yue wrote it out for me in such earnestly that I felt that I had to give it a lot of thought. Although I was still young, I was not interested in this type of secretive student romance. I remember watching the Japanese movie, “Love Letter,” with the Ge Ges in 301. It was a long film and everyone was silently shedding tears, and couldn’t help but sob. Only I was indifferent. Only men who didn’t have the courage would do such deliberate and methodical thing. Love was present progressive, not past tense. It was an imperative phrase, not an exclamatory phrase.
The strong incandescent light in the train station illuminated the hall at all times. I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. In the afternoon, I ate a steamed bun, asked the older uncle behind me to save my spot and took a nap on a chair on the side. By night time, my energy wasn’t very high and could only drink coffee as if my life depended on it. The older uncle asked me, “Student, where is your home? Is it Kunming?”
“Doesn’t that mean you still have to go on a bus after getting off the train?”
“It’s around eight-hundred yuan for a round trip, right?”
“Why did you attend school so far away?” He saw that I was dressed like a student.
“Couldn’t do anything about it. Grades were too good.” I said.
He was just about to continue the conversation when my cell phone rang. I looked at the time, it was already nine-thirty at night. Another day had passed.
“Hi, Xiao Qiu.” Li Chuan said, “Are you already sleeping?”
“No, I am attending a night studying session.” I didn’t want to tell him about buying a ticket to save him from worrying.
Unfortunately, the train station started broadcasting, “Next train from Chengdu to Beijing 1394 has arrived. Pulling up on platform five. Pulling up on platform five.”
“Why is it so loud, is this where the night studying session is?” At that moment, he started being suspective.
I quickly changed the subject, “Hey, how are you? Were you busy today?”
“It was okay. Turned in the last piece of the design today. It turned out that Xiao Zhang’s computer had a virus and I spent a whole afternoon restoring his data. Now I can finally take a breather.”
The broadcast started up again. It was to look for a person, “Tao Xiao Hua’s parents, please come to the train security station after hearing this broadcast. Your son is currently looking for you.”
I hurriedly asked, “Who is Xiao Zhang?”
“My resident consultant.”
“Hey, Li Chuan, is there milk where you are staying?”
“No, but there’s a store not far away. I already bought several bottles and put it in the fridge.”
“Don’t buy too many all at once. Check the expiration date carefully. Expired milk can’t be drunk.”
“I’ll remember it.”
At that moment, the station broadcast came on again. He finally said, “Xiao Qiu, where are you really?”
“Train station, lining up to buy a ticket.”
“It’s so late, tickets are still being sold?”
“They are no longer being sold, but I have to line up. Otherwise, I won’t be able to buy it if I go in the morning.”
“What?” He said, “You have to line up overnight?”
“What are you afraid of? I often watch movies overnight. Please, I have a really good novel with me. I can pass the time quickly.”
“Xiao Qiu,” he said, “go back to school right now. I will make a call to my secretary right now to book a plane ticket for you.”
“Don’t!” I cried out loudly, “I’ve already been in line for two nights. It’s almost my turn. I will resent anyone who makes me fail at this last moment!”
“If you insist on riding the train, I’ll have my secretary book a train ticket.”
“A ticket can’t be booked now. There aren’t even tickets at the station.”
“Can’t be booked? I don’t believe it.” He said. “Let me try, okay? It’s to Kunming, right?”
“Ok,” I became edgy, “Classmate Li Chuan, stop. I don’t want you to spend money on me. Buying a ticket is my own thing. Also,” I thought of that eight-thousand yuan jacket and added, “in the future, you are not allowed to buy me anything exceeding fifty yuan.”
“It takes thirty-nine hours to get to Kunming by train. It only takes three hours by plane.” He didn’t understand me at all and was online while on the phone.
“Do you know how many human traffickers are at the Beijing station? Female graduate students are even sold by them into the mountainous regions.”
“No means no.”
I hung up. I turned off the phone. Li Chuan’s disregard for money attitude provoked me. Li Chuan, you have money and can accomplish anything, right? I purposely don’t want your money.
I turned on my walkman and played Faye Wong’s disk. I didn’t know why I like Faye Wong. She was relaxing, languid, calm, and followed one’s heart. Every little detail was about the state of mind and desires of a woman. In short, her voice was filled with an urban flavor.
I waited in boredom while listening to Faye Wong’s voice. There was nothing to do, so I could only read “The Moon and Sixpence” another time. I read until dawn and discovered the I disliked Maugham, the author of the book, more and more. The older Kunming uncle yawned and said to me, “Little girl, what good story are you reading? Tell me about it, I’m so tired, I really can’t take it anymore.”
“Uncle, see if you think this part is saying the right thing.”
I explained it to him, “If a woman falls in love with you, until she possesses your soul, she will not feel satisfied. Because women are weak, they have extremely intense desire to rule. They will not resign until they control you completely. A woman is petty-minded and is disgusted with the abstract things she doesn’t understand. She only thinks about materialistic things, so is extremely jealous of vigor and dreams. A man’s soul roams in the farthest reaches of the universe, but a woman wants to confine it in the financial tent of the household….To people who have fallen into this snare of love, the difference between men and women is that a woman can go on a date all day long while a man can only do it now and then.”
“My god, what you said really makes sense. My wife is like this. What book is this? It’s saying what’s in the bottom of my heart.” The uncle said while drooling.
I looked at him in anger and gloom.
One good thing about the train station is that it offered hot water all day long. At dawn I went to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth and then got another cup of coffee. I looked at myself in the mirror of the bathroom, and saw my disheveled hair and gloomy complexion. My skin had not only lost it’s luster but had a faint blue look as if I was a female ghost from Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.
It was already seven-thirty by the time I got back. I turned on my cell phone. It showed that I missed six phone calls all from the same number, Li Chuan.
The uncle also picked up his energy and was reading the People’s Daily newspaper.
“Girl, talk to me some more to help me stay awake. That’s right, aren’t you in the English Department? Recite an English poem for me, okay?”
I was startled and looked at the huge luggage he was bringing, “Uncle, you are an educated man!”
“You probably couldn’t tell. I am an accountant.”
“Then I’ll recite two poems for you.” I first said it in English, and then recited the translated text by someone famous for him:
“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid.”
The uncle laughed out loud saying, girl, you’re really quite something! Quite amusing.
I got into it and recited another section to him:
“How should I your true love know.
From another one?
By his cockle hat and staff,
And his sandal shoon.”
(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)
The uncle laughed even harder and said, “Girl, you are truly a god. You can even recite poetry. You must be reciting about him.”
He pointed behind me.
I turned around and saw a handsome man standing not too far from me.
He had on a hat and held a cane. He was only missing straw sandals.
The uncle said, “Hey, girl, enlighten me. Who wrote that poem? It’s quite appealing. I’ve already remembered it from you just reciting it once. Next time I’ll tell it to others as a performance.”
I didn’t open my mouth and heard a familiar voice answer for me.
Seeing Li Chuan, I felt a bit guilty. He wore a leisurely outfit and had on a straw hat, looking like he had just returned from vacation in Hawaii. I didn’t know it it was just my misperception, but though Li Chuan was severely handicapped, he still always appeared so bright and neat. So natural and elegant.
“How are you back so quickly?” I asked despite knowing the answer. He clearly took the early flight this morning.
“I called your phone. You had it turned off.” He said cooly, “Do you know how worried I was?”
“No way, Ge Ge.”
“Did you sleep here these past two days?” He swept a look around at the chaotic crowd, looking up and down. A village auntie was looking at a mirror and picking her teeth, another woman had bared her chest and was breast-feeding her child without any apprehension.
“I only took a couple naps.” I said, “Waiting in line is a lot easier than taking an exam.”
“Wait here, I”ll go buy breakfast for you.” He put down his bag and was about to leave.
“Hey, hey, how about you stand in line for me and I’ll go buy it. This place is rather complicated.” I stopped him. The train station was so disorderly and there were no handicap installations. Everyone was in a hurry while dragging their luggage. If someone bumped into him, it would be troublesome.
“Why don’t we go eat it together.” He walked over to woman in line in front of me and spoke in a pleasant and captivating manner to ask her to keep my spot for me. That woman stared at him without blinking, nodding with all her might, nearly becoming foolish.
I said in my mind, Li Chuan Ge, please don’t be so enticing, okay?
He dragged me to ride the elevator to the second floor, found a café, and got me a dessert. I told the waiter, “Excuse me, the bitterest coffee.”
He looked at me for a long time and signed, “Xiao Qiu, I concede to you.”
“I’m almost there in line. Really! I will definitely buy it today. I have a real accomplished feeling!”
“If you still can’t buy it today, then listen to me and take the plane home.” He said seriously.
“No!” I was reluctant to admit a mistake. My whole body was like a noodle leaning against his body. He embraced me and said in a low voice, “It’s a public place, shouldn’t we try not to be a disturbance?”
“Why do you always have a nice smell?” His chin was on my forehead. I sniffed his neck, it had great sex appeal.
“It’s probably the scent of the shaving cream.”
“So, what scent is it?” I said in a daze.
“Lavender. How do you say it in Chinese.”
“It has a classical name, lavender. Isn’t it especially beautiful?”
“Mmm, I learned another new word. Being with you increases my knowledge a lot.” He touched my nose.
“Do you also read Shakespeare?”
“I even read books like ‘Remembrance of Things Past.’ Clearly my literature knowledge goes very deep.” He said in confidence.
“Then let me say another part for you to see if you know the source.” I made it difficult on purpose, prepping my voice, “Listen. ‘I became anxious when I saw him. At first I intended to let him become anxious but could not resist the delicate features of his face coming towards me. The soft, sincere, sweet sound of his voice freely came over. The tenderness of the secret lover freely stuck over. The fire in my heart moved first. Lust spread everywhere.” (From others investigations, it seems like it’s actually from an ancient Chinese book.)
My warm breathe blew on his neck, he blushed a bit, “This must be from a pornographic novel.”
“A novel by a gifted scholar that can be compared to Shakespeare, right?”
“You are right. Why don’t we do it according to its meaning tonight?” He finally stopped caring about being a disturbance and softly kissed me.
After eating breakfast, we returned together to the line. It was finally my turn, “Miss, please give me a K471 ticket to Kunming.”
“K471 is all sold out, there’s only T61, express train with air conditioning.”
“Okay, I’ll take a hard seat.”
“There are no more hard seats.” There was an expressionless face inside the window, “There’s a hard sleeper, middle bunk, 558 yuan. There’s a soft sleeper, bottom bunk, 890 yuan.”
It was two hundred yuan more than a hard seat, I hesitated.
“Do you want it?” The ticket seller got impatient, “If you don’t want it, then give it to the next person.”
“I want it, I want it.” I went to fish out my wallet. I felt around and cold sweat came out.
“My wallet!” I was about to cry, “My wallet is gone!”
Thinking about it now, when I went to wash my face in the morning, I was bumped into by a short man. That person didn’t apologize and quickly hurried away.
Li Chuan stood on the side, looking at me with a smile in retaliation, “Miss Xie, did you lose your wallet?”
“Someone stole it!” I glared at him.
“Then should I buy this ticket?”
“Lend me money, I”ll return it to you.”
Li Chuan walked to the window and said to the attendant lady, “I’m sorry to waste your time, Miss. Really sorry. It’s just that she has lost her wallet and can’t purchase the ticket.”
The lady unexpectedly smiled at him, “It’s all right. How about this? It’s not easy to line up, let her go home and withdraw some money and come back. I’ll save her a ticket. What do you say?”
“You are too good, thank you. There’s no need, we’ll think of another solution.” He dragged me out of the ranks, took out his cell phone and made a call, “Xiao Ding?”
— It’s me, Wang Li Chuan.
— I need a round-trip ticket to Kunming. Leaving tomorrow.
— It’s not me. The name is Xie Xiao Qiu. ‘Xie’ of thank you. ‘Xiao’ of big and small. ‘Qiu’ of autumn.
— She’ll sit in whatever cabin I would sit in.
— Return trip period to be decided within three months.
— Identity card number?
I told him my ID number and he repeated it into the phone.
— Please get send someone to bring the ticket to my loft this afternoon, okay?
— No need to go up. It’ll be fine to just give it to the security guard.
— Yes, I’m back temporarily. I’ll return to Xiamen tomorrow afternoon.
He hung up and looked at me.
I was still looking for my wallet, feeling everywhere, until I was convinced that my wallet was truly lost.
“How much money did you lose?” He asked.
“No telling you.”
“Money is merely a worldly possession. As long as you didn’t lose the person, then it’s fine.” He squeezed my shoulder, comforting me.
We took a taxi back to the school. I got my ATM card and took out more money, and then I packed my luggage at great speed and returned to Long Ze Garden with him.
I fell asleep on the taxi. When we got to the building, I forced myself awake and was dragged into the elevator by Li Chuan. Then, I impatiently fell onto his bed.
“Li Chuan, I’m tired. If you want to do it, you can help yourself.” I opened my eyes to say.
He helped me take off my shoes and undress. Then he stuffed me into the blankets.
“Sleep well, I’ll take you to the airport tomorrow.”
His voice was filled with tenderness.