I find it crazy that she biked for ten hours to get to Kunming. But it definitely fits Xiao Qiu’s personality, not allowing anything to stop her from doing what she’s set her mind on. She also finally gets a chance to take care of Li Chuan in this chapter. A rare occasion!
The bus station was a white building. It wasn’t too tall. Normally, it was completely packed, but right now no cars could be seen. The fluorescent light shined upon the green walls. Every so often a peddler would detain a traveler. A white-haired elderly man was slowly sweeping up the trash on the ground. I waited for fifteen minutes before a pitch-black Mercedes-Benz suddenly arrived. The backdoor opened and a man in a black jacket got out.
Besides the manholes not emitting steam, I would have thought that I had walked into a scene within the “Matrix”.
I can always spot Li Chuan immediately in the middle of a crowd. He stood out so much and was very unique, he didn’t belong in this city and didn’t belong in my world.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, each house was filled with light. The streets were bleak and void of people.
We faced each other without speaking, embracing tightly. Then he cupped my face and examined it carefully underneath the light, saying, “Your face. Why is it swollen?”
My dad’s hand is particularly heavy. But this is the first time he’s hit me, even though he did occasionally whipped my brother with a belt making him cry in pain. If I was a parent, hitting a child would definitely be a crime. But every person I know has always been beat by their parents. I can only say explain it away as a part of the culture.
“Is it swollen? It doesn’t hurt. Oh, oh, it’s like this. There was a kid who tried to steal my purse on the road. I punched him once and he punched me once. And then I quickly rode away on my bike.” I quickly used my hat to cover up my face.
“Why are you acting out an action movie in broad daylight.” He snorted, opened the door and had me get it.
“What’s to be done about the bike? It’s my brother’s.” Although a bicycle did not match up to a Benz, I also couldn’t just throw it away.
“I’ll get it.”
He placed the completely muddy bike into the trunk of the car.
“Give your aunt a call.” He got into the back seat and handed me a cell phone. “Running away at night, there must be many people worried about you.”
I looked at the time. Seven o’clock had just passed. I got through to Auntie’s phone.
My mother’s sister was four years older than my mother. She didn’t like small towns and, through someone else’s introduction, married my uncle, a factory worker in Kunming. A model worker. When my aunt was young, model workers of factories were all desirable men. Besides trying hard, one also needed a bit of luck to get married to one. Now that enterprises of the government were in a slump, model workers have also been laid-off. My uncle tried a few underground things, hoping to make money, but he didn’t succeed. He then setup a stall to sell belts and underground magazines, he also didn’t succeed. Thus, he simply retired in advance and became a security guard for a shopping center. He was responsible and diligent, learning while working. During holidays he went with a clothing store owner to get goods in Guangzhou. He worked for a while as an assistant before finally opening up a clothing store front in that shopping center. He didn’t strike it rich, but he was able to put food on the table. Plus, my two older female cousins had already grown up. The oldest one, Min Min got married to Shanghai and only came back once or twice a year. The younger, Zhu Zhi went to a night college after graduating high school and was working as a sales representative in a real estate company. Before, when I was in Gejiu, Auntie would come back to pay a New Year call to visit our family and my mother’s brother, father, and mother. Every year, during winter vacation, my brother and I often went to Auntie’s house on the weekends. Dad said that Auntie didn’t have the best circumstances. The home was small, so he didn’t let us trouble them. Every time we went, he would always bring a lot of presents and stayed at most one day.
The phone rang once before I heard my aunt’s voice.
“Hello, who is it?”
“Auntie, it’s me, Xiao Qiu.”
“Ah! You lass! Why did you have an argument with your dad on Chinese New Year’s Eve? Your dad has already called several times.” Auntie scolded me, yelling on the other end. I could feel the spittle over my face from this.
“I just arrived in Kunming. Is Min Min back?” There was noise in the background.
“That’s right, the whole family has come. They even brought Dou Dou. Zhu Zhu and her boyfriend are also here. Come over quickly, we haven’t started the Chinese New Year’s Eve meal yet.”
Auntie’s home only had one bedroom. How would they sleep with three households? I said, “Auntie, do you still remember Ming Ming? Su Ming Ming?”
“How can I not remember? Your best friend.”
Su Ming Ming was my high school classmate, one of my best friends. After her parents divorced, her mom married a businessman in Kunming. Thus, Ming Ming moved to Kunming. Her house is large and her stepfather was not often home due to business trips. Whenever I used to go to Auntie’s home, I would go stay for a few days at her place for several days.
“I’ll stay at her home for these few days. I’ll come greet you for the new year tomorrow morning.” I smoothly told a lie. Auntie didn’t know Ming Ming’s phone number. “If dad asks, say that I’m fine. I’ll leave to return to Beijing on the sixth.”
“Why would you go to Ming Ming’s place? Stay at Aunties. Just squeeze in with Zhu Zhu.”
“I’ve already agreed on it with Ming Ming. I’ll come greet you for the new year tomorrow. Auntie, I’ll hang up now.”
My auntie was the type of person who was confused in the moment, but as soon as you give her five seconds to think about it she became particularly clever. I knew that if I said any more, Auntie would ask for Ming Ming’s house number. My lie would then be exposed.
I then called up Ming Ming. Ming Ming shrieked when she heard an old friend’s voice. I gave her instructions in very few words and begged her to help me tell a lie. After I finished talking to her, I hung up and turned to look at Li Chuan.
“Perhaps you should have the Chinese New Year’s Eve meal at your aunt’s.” He said, looking somewhat down. “If you dad calls, at least you can try to make amends with him.”
“Li Chuan,” I softly caressed his face, “This is Chinese New Year’s Eve, my dad doesn’t want me, my aunt doesn’t need me. And you came alone to a place far from home. For me, you flew from Xiamen to Beijing and from Beijing to Kunming. The person I should keep company is you. Tonight, even if my dad came here to find me and ripped me to shreds, I would still be together with you. Do you understand?”
He smiled, leaned over, and kissed my face and forehead.
“Oh, you’ve been drinking?” I smelled a sliver of alcohol and his usually ice-cold hands were burning up.
“Just a bit of beer.”
I felt his forehead. It was scalding.
“You have a fever? How high is it?”
“Maybe just a little, I didn’t measure.” He took my hand away.
I was going to say something before the car drove past a small moonlit lake and slowed to a stop in front of completely lit up high-rise.
The sign said: Green Lake Hotel.
The hotel lobby was as big as a soccer field and exquisite couches were placed everywhere. Bamboo were planted behind the couches. I followed him into the elevator and into his room.
It was a suite filled with Chinese and Western elements. It was extremely luxurious and cozy. He helped me take off my jacket and hung it in the closet.
“Did your secretary book this hotel for you?” I asked.
“She booked it. But I also came here because of its reputation. I hear that I. M. Pei designed this hotel.”
“Who is I.M. Pei?”
“Senior Pei Ieoh Ming,” he said, “I particularly like his internal lighting and glass.”
It was clear, I barely understood what he was talking about. He laughed and explained, “Skyscrapers in the city are like giant creatures filling the space. Only glass can conceal them.”
There were three twenty-one inch apple monitors in his office. There was a huge design sketch on another table. To the side there were several empty beer bottles. By the table was his wheelchair. The frame was made out of carbon fiber and was extremely lightweight and portable. It was barely thirteen pounds when folded. The chair cushion was customized for his body. Sometimes, when Li Chuan drew, he needed to sit for a long time. Only sitting in this wheelchair will he not get tired.
I thought about it. Every time he traveled, it was already hard enough for him to walk by himself, and he still needed to bring these things in and out of the airport. It must be especially inconvenient.
“Is your laptop not enough?” I asked, “Why do you still need so many monitors? Does the hotel even supply those?”
“They don’t supply them,” he said, “I don’t like to look at small displays. I bought these all there.”
“But, isn’t it a hassle to bring them when you leave?”
“I’m not taking them when I leave, I’ll donate them to the hotel when I leave.”
“That…isn’t that too wasteful?”
“It’s not wasteful if I can use them to create good renderings on them.” He winked, “What’s that one saying? Job something, tool something.”
“To do a good job, an artisan needs the best tools.”
“Right, that saying.” He leaned against the wall, looking at me.
“When did you get to Kunming?”
“When you dad yelled at me, I figured you had run into problems. So I came the next day.”
“Then,” I said, “you’ve been here all alone, by yourself, for half a month.”
“I had a lot of work to do anyway, a lot of drawings to draw. Living anywhere is more or less the same.” He shrugged as if it was nothing.
I took a bath and came out. I didn’t have clothes to change into, so could only put on his shirt and shorts. In the mean time, he ordered dinner. I wolfed down the food and completely cleaned it up. I didn’t even know what dishes there were.
“What do you usually do on Chinese New Year’s Eve?” He hugged me from behind and kissed me.
“After the New Year’s Eve meal, I would go to my maternal grandmother’s home to watch CCTV’s New Year Gala.”
“I don’t want to watch TV. The TV’s too noisy. Let’s read a book together, okay?” He said with an erudite attitude, “I have Hamlet in my bag.”
Li Chuan wasn’t normally so down. Something must be up. I thought his face felt hot. His breath was very hot, and his hands were warm. So, I said, “What Hamlet? Look at you babbling like this. You must have a fever. Let me take you to the doctor.”
“I don’t want to see the doctor. The doctor is ugly. You smell so good after the bath. I just want to look at you.” He had me sit on the bed, took a towel and dried my hair strand by strand.
I reached for his waist and undid his belt, kissing him through his clothes. His stomach was scalding. His entire body was reacting rapidly.
I lifted my hands to undo his shirt buttons, “You’ve stood for so long, aren’t you tired? Sit down.”
He restrained my hand, “What’s wrong?”
“My body has an allergic reaction and has a lot of sores on it. Don’t look.” He eventually said.
It gave me a scare. I pushed away his hand and lifted up his shirt.
I sucked in my breath.
Numerous sores were on his body. Each one was as big as a coin. Besides his upper torso, they were also on his arms and legs. I took off his shorts and discovered that there were two on his injured area. One in the front and one in the back.
“There’s so many! Have you seen the doctor? Have you taken medication?” I became worried.
“There’s a doctor in the hotel. He’s even a famous doctor. I am allergic to many medications and can’t easily take medicine. He gave me a type of ointment to rub on three times a day. I thought there were bugs on the bed at first. They changed the room for me and I was still getting the sores. I thought, this is a five-star hotel. The bedding must have been sterilized, so I didn’t bother them again. Perhaps I’m not acclimating to the environment.”
“Did you get these sores before?”
“I have hypersensitive skin. But,” he said, “I did get similar sores before once. It started suddenly. I got them all over my body in one night and it lasted for several days. They then disappeared suddenly and I couldn’t find a single one. I was still in college then and didn’t feel like seeing a doctor.”
“I made his sit down on the bed, “Then, do you remember what you were doing that time to get this kind of allergic reaction?”
He thought about it, shook his head, “I was participating in a Shakespeare reading club that time. A couple of us students frequently read poems aloud together. Then, the school setup a cultural festival. The club members eagerly signed up to perform a play segment. I wasn’t there that day and they also signed me up. I found out later that it was a huge student festival and the play was going to be performed in the large auditorium of the school. I was to be Hamlet. There were going to be more than a thousand people in the audience. I got extremely nervous and got the sores the next time.”
I couldn’t help but want to laugh, “Li Chuan, from the first time I saw you, you were a very self-confident person. You’re good-looking and you voice is pleasant. I can’t believe you would get nervous.”
After saying this, I remember something and quickly asked, “That’s right. At that time, did you have one or two legs?”
He looked at me and without hesitation answered, “You still have to ask? Would I have been nervous if I had two legs? Plus, my classmates suggested that it was better if I didn’t use a cane. They said that if I could ski with one leg, then I could walk with one leg.”
“What! You…you can ski?”
“Trust me,” he said, “one might need two legs for dancing, but one leg is enough for skiing. Before, I would go to Switzerland every winter to ski. I even skied last year. I feel powerful and free on the snow-covered slopes.”
“Classmate Li Chuan, you…you don’t want to live anymore!” While listening to him, my heart pounded like crazy in both envy and adoration.
“How about you return to Switzerland with me. I’ll teach you to ski.” He tightly embraced me, “Over here, I have to wait until you’re twenty-one before marrying you. In Switzerland, eighteen is old enough.”
As he spoke, he started smiling very happily.
I grasped his hand, “I understand now. My dad scolded you and you became nervous, so you got all these sores over your body. This is called pressure. Ge Ge, I”ll make you some lemon tea. I’ll apply the medicine for you, and give you a massage to relax. Okay?”
He said in the low voice, “There are condoms in the bathroom. Let’s do something more substantial.”
Li Chuan refused to take off his shirt, saying that the sores covering his boy affected the beauty. Against the thin layer of clothing, our bodies came together tightly, grinding softly, and becoming submerged in desire. We reached climax while tangled together tightly. At that moment, his body tightened and he lightly shuddered in my embrace.
We split up to take a bath. He obediently sat on the bed, allowing me to apply the medication.
After I finished applying medicine, I reported, “Thirteen in the front, fifteen in the back. There are twenty-eight sores total. In order to prevent infection, you can’t wear your prosthetic. Also,” I looked at the thermometer, “You are running a fever, thirty-nine point five. Having sex at this time, Mr. Wang you are seriously burning in lust.”
I went to the pharmacy downstairs to get fever reduction pills and cotton swabs for disinfection. After taking the medicine, he fell into a deep sleep. At midnight, he wanted to get up. I held him down, “I’ll go get it.”
I found the fridge, took out the milk and inspected the expiration date. It had been expired for a day. I could only put on my clothes and go to the information desk to ask where to buy milk.
“Miss, can I help you with something?” The personnel was busy on the phone. A security guard walked over to say with a serious and alert face.
I suddenly realized that the clothes I was wearing were from when I rode the bike in the morning. A pair of jeans covered with yellow dust and a skin-tight black fleece jacket. My hair wasn’t combed and was in a mess. I looked like a young girl who had slipped up in life. In this dazzling lobby, I looked like a dejected street rat in the eyes of the security guard.
But, who was I? I loved to study, loved to work, loved life, loved Li Chuan. I was a beautiful flower of my homeland!
Thinking about this, I stood up straight and with a proud look glanced disdainfully at him, “Excuse me, where can I buy fresh skim milk?”
The security guard didn’t pay attention to this at all and asked in return, “Miss, which room do you live in?”
“The hotel has twenty-four hour service. You can ask for anything through a phone call.” He looked over me and said in a sneering voice. How can a guest not even know about this?
“Oh, really? Then, I’ll go back and make a call.” I turned to go. He stopped me.
“Miss, can I see your ID?”
“I didn’t bring it.”
“Follow me.” He said rudely, not even saying “please”.
I was secretly nervous inside. I wasn’t of legal age yet and wasn’t married to Li Chuan. How could we stay in a room together? If we were caught, it would be hard to explain.
I could only follow him to the front desk.
He asked the personal, “Xiao Qin, what guest is staying in room 709?”
That person looked it up on the computer and gave me an unexpected answer, “It’s a young lady, Miss Xie Xiao Qiu.”
The security guard looked me you, “You are Xie Xiao Qiu?”
Another personnel was on the phone on the side. Hearing my name, he quickly came over to smooth things over, “Don’t misunderstand. Don’t misunderstand. Miss, I’m sorry. Lao Cai, I’ll explain. It’s like this. A few hours ago, 709’s Mr. Wang called and said that his girlfriend was going to move in tonight. He was going to move next door to 708. All forms have been taken care of.”
The security guard was stared blankly for a bit and then suspiciously asked, “How come it’s a new guest but an old room?”
The staff member said, “It’s like this, Mr. Wang said that he wanted to give the room with the lake view to his girlfriend.”
“Sorry, Miss Xie.” The security guard gave me an overly cautious apology. Then had me wait while he attentively went to the restaurant on the second floor and brought me a case of skim milk.
I returned to the room, the dim light was on. Li Chuan stared at me with large eyes in the darkness.
“Why did you go for so long?” He said, “I forgot to tell you that you can just make a phone call.”
After drinking milk, I took his temperature again. Thirty-nine point five. It hadn’t gone down a bit. The bed sheets were all moist with sweat.
I changed his clothes, changed the bedsheets, went to the fridge to get ice, and then took a towel to help him lower his temperature.
“Go to sleep. I’m ok.” He said in the dark. His voice was a bit hoarse. But his hands gripped me tightly as if he was afraid I’d slip away.
“Li Chuan, you better not get sick. You get sick for half a month at a time.” I sat at the bedside, sealed up the ice in a bag and wrapped it in a towel to press onto his forehead. He tossed and turned in bed, unable to sleep.
After who knows how long, he asked me in a daze, “Why haven’t I heard the New Year’s bell ringing?”
“What ringing? It’s already four in the morning.”
“Then let me wish you an early happy new year, Classmate Xiao Qiu.” After saying this, he flipped over again. I quickly stuffed a pillow underneath this waist. He finally fell asleep.
Li Chuan sleep straight through till ten o’clock before opening his eyes. As for me, I slept three hours after his temperature fell. In those three hours, I had a bunch of dreams. It was about Li Chuan every time. His person was sleeping next to me, yet I still dreamt about him. I was wary of myself, perhaps I’m a little too horny.
Finally, I fell asleep completely. When I opened my eyes, I saw that he had finished taking a bath and sat on the bed in his bathrobe looking at me.
“What did you dream about? You face is smiling like a flower.” He said while beaming, “Let me report two pieces of good news to you. First, my fever has gone completely down. My temperature is normal, thirty-seven point one. Second, the sores are gone. They’ve come and gone without a trace, as if I’ve never had them.”
Who needed him to make a report? I already examined his entire body before I went to sleep. I sat up and added, “Third, the two spots on your waist are still there. You shouldn’t wear your prosthetic.”
“Can you not talk about my sore spot?” He said softly, “I’m sorry I caused you to not get any sleep. I swear I will take good care of myself and work out. Actually, I get rarely get sick.”
“Me too,” I said proudly, “I can eat, can drink, can sleep, can play, can pass each day in happiness.”
After breakfast, Li Chuan went with me to a shopping center nearby to buy a change of clothes and shoes. I bought Auntie and Uncle their favorite glutinous rice tea. I bought a toy for Dou Dou and makeup for Zhu Jie. Li Chuan brought me to the dorm gates of my uncle’s factory. He took his crutches, got off the car, and opened the door for me.
I grasped his hand and didn’t let go, “Go see Auntie with me, okay? It’s easier to talk to my aunt than my dad. She will definitely like you.”
He thought about it and said, “Next time.”
He dropped me off at the door, stood underneath a tree, and handed all the gifts I bought to me, “Don’t stay for too long. Come back after you finish your meal, okay? I’ll take you around Kunming.”
“Ge Ge, do you mean I’ll take you around or you’ll take me around?”
“I’ll take you around. You might be a Yunnan person, but when you are in Kunming, you can’t tell what direction you are in.” He said.
I nestled in his embrace, unwilling to leave.
“Go, go early and come back early.” He reached our and fixed the belt on my jacket.
“Okay.” I was reluctant to part with him and raised my head to look at his face.
He lowered his head, and kissed me softly on my forehead. Then he nudged me and said, “I think, it seems as if we are being watch.”
I turned my head and saw seven people, all in a row, standing near the gates, watching me with large eyes. One of them was a middle-aged woman holding a huge vegetable basket with a huge fish inside.
The Benz was parked right next to them.
I raised my hands and said hi to everyone, “Auntie!”