Please welcome tofudessert! She’ll also be helping me out with chapters here and there. – LilZah
Life will always go on. We’ve caught a glimpse of how Xiao Qiu is coping from her writings to “her diary.” This chapter, we get to more of Xiao Qiu trying to pick up the pieces of her life.
After Li Chuan and I broke up, I sent emails to him at least twice a week, but I never got a reply. On the very next day after he left, I called him once out of despair, but was notified that his number was no longer in use. I called Ji Huan, but he knew nothing. He helped me contact Li Chuan’s office anyway and was informed that Li Chuan was transferred back to CGP’s head office in Europe on short notice; he would finish his current design sketches in Europe. Therefore, he was still CGP’s head architect designer even though it was nothing more than a title. Nonetheless, CGP needed his name to attract business.
Ji Huan said, he only knew Li Chuan based on his profile description posted on CGP’s website because Li Chuan never talked about himself. What he knew about him was not far off from what I got from google: Wang Li Chuan, a young well-known architect designer born in Zurich, Switzerland. He graduated from Harvard University in year XXXX, majoring in architect. He has won the following awards: first place in year XXXX Switzerland’s Youth Architect Designer Awards, gold in year XXXX United States’ P/A Awards, and first place in year XXXX France’s AS-4 Architect Design Awards. His known works include: city C’s national stadium, Province M’s Royal Museum, City S’s football field, and other resorts, commercial buildings, music halls, and exhibition places.
This impressive resume was not the Li Chuan that I knew. The Li Chuan that I knew was someone who drove me home late at night, accompanied me to buy train tickets, and grew sores after being scolded by my dad. Li Chuan always took care of me and never placed himself highly. Furthermore, he would tell me that he was tired when he took a stroll with me while using his cane; he would ask me to fetch him his glass of milk at night when he was sick and couldn’t get up. One night, when I was sipping my coffee in sadness because I had a writer’s block while working on my essay, he actually asked me if I wanted his “sex service.” We made love romantically and I finished my essay in a marathon till dawn. I received the highest mark on it.
That day, when Li Chuan broke up with me in the parking lot, it only took 5 minutes. But it felt like a thousand years to get home from Long Ze.
I was in a daze when I bumped into Xiu Yue on my way back to my room. Two days later, the news of Li Chuan and me breaking up spread all over the dorm. Xiu Yue came and asked if I would accept Sixpence now that The Moon was gone.
I shook my head firmly.
In the next two years, I focused on picking courses and studied like mad. At the end of my third year, I suddenly realized that I had already finished all my required courses. I asked the counselor what I should do and he suggested that I continue to graduate studies. He recommended me to study under Mr. Feng Jie Liang, Feng Jing Er’s dad, the English program’s most respected professor and expert on the novelist D.H. Lawrence. If it wasn’t for the school who plead to his wife, he would have hopped over to Peking University long ago. I had taken Professor Feng’s “Modern British Literature” course before. He quite liked me and gave me a high score, so I decided to talk to him about graduate studies. The old man gave a pat on my head and said, “Don’t bother taking the entrance exam, your English is very good. You’re not going to be willing to recite politics, so I’ll save you from the trouble.” I received my acceptance letter soon after, advising that I was automatically accepted due to my outstanding performance.
As a graduate student, I didn’t need to pay for tuition, but I would only get $225 a month as living support. Even with a scholarship, I still needed to work. My dad stopped sending me money because after my brother had a fight with him, my brother got accepted to Sun Yat-Sen University’s Medical Department. His tuition was twice as expensive as mine, so my dad’s financial burden got a lot heavier. Just like me, Xiao Dong got a job to work after class in order to help pay his tuition and living expenses. My dad sent him $100 a month, which was surely not enough, so I saved up my money and sent him $300 a month, but he gave it back to me. During the winter holidays, I visited him at Guang Zhou. He grew some muscles and got tanned from delivering flowers on bike from the shop he worked at. It made my heart ache, so I insisted on giving him $2000, but on the second day I returned to Beijing, Xiao Dong deposited it back into my bank account not a penny less. He said, “Jie, I have enough to spend. Keep the money for yourself.”
My days were monotonous. I woke up at 5 to start reciting my vocab. Other than going to classes or to work, I stayed in the library. Every Monday, I was determined to stop writing letters to Li Chuan, but when weekend came, I couldn’t resist going to the internet café to check my inbox. Whenever I saw “0” new mail, it was like motivation and I couldn’t help but write him another letter. In the first two years, I would ask how he was or what he was doing in my letters, but gradually, I only wrote about myself. Sometimes I wrote about what happened in school such as, “This semester, I chose four courses and they are Reading, Verbal, Writing, and Shakespeare. I got a really high mark on my essay on D.H Lawrence last semester. I expressed openly in class that I could not believe how Lady Chatterley made Clifford suffer so much, which made my professor mad.” Sometimes I wrote book reviews such as, “I went to the library and borrowed a super difficult book, ‘Lotus Sutra’. It took me a week to finish, but I couldn’t understand a word of it.” Sometimes I wrote about food and weather, “Beijing is so dusty and windy this year, so I bought a big scarf,” or, “Remember the thicket? There is a pool there now. There’s also a Hunan restaurant beside it and their Simmer Fried Meat is delicious.”
I felt like I wasn’t writing letters, but rather, I was planting a clump of spring grass in my email box.
Pain of parting like the grass in spring, they sprout all around us, wherever we roam. (From the poem ‘清平乐’ by Li Yu. There are many ways to translate the line in the poem…)
In these three years, I rarely went home due to school. I only went back for a few days during Chinese New Year. Dad and I did not talk to each other for a year. In the end, I told him that I broke up with Li Chuan. He didn’t say anything right away, but later he asked if I was heartbroken. I told him it was all in the past now. I turned my pain into motivation and got a scholarship every year.
During the summer of my first year in Graduate school, I got a phone call from Xiao Dong before the holidays, “Jie, come home to see Dad. Dad is very ill.”
My dad was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. After being sent to the hospital, the school staff thought Xiao Dong was a doctor so they called him first. Xiao Dong had actually only completed first year in medical school, so other than panic, there was nothing else he could do. My dad fainted in the classroom and was in critical condition after being admitted to the hospital. In the next few days, he had to rely on medicine to sustain his life. The school sent cheques in the first few days, but soon after, they told Xiao Dong that the school could no longer support dad’s hospital fees. The doctor advised that the chance of curing this illness was miniscule. Besides receiving a heart transplant, there was no other treatment.
I asked Xiao Dong how much a heart transplant would cost.“$200 thousand for the surgery fee. The survey is high risk. Even if it is successful, you will have to spend thousands every month on anti-rejection drugs,” Xiao Dong frowned.
“Can…Dad still talk?” at a time like this, I had even forgotten how to cry.
“He did wake up once,” Xiao Dong said, “I didn’t tell him his condition. His heart felt stuffed and couldn’t breathe. He probably knew that his condition was not well, so he asked to see you.”
“Xiao Dong, go research and find the best heart surgeon in China. I will get the money to help dad complete a heart transplant.” I hung up the phone and immediately dashed to Long Ze Garden, Li Chuan’s flat.
I still had the keys to his flat.
I opened the door and just as usual, not a speck of dust. The flat’s maintenance fee was rather expensive, so there was always someone cleaning the place every day. Everything was the way it was when Li Chuan left. My heart felt stuffed, but there was no time to reminisce or be upset.
I found the letter on the coffee table and dialed the number on it. After two rings, a man’s voice said, “Hello, Chen Dong Cun’s law firm.”
“I’m looking for Mr. Chen Dong Cun.”
“Hello, I’m Xie Xiao Qiu.”
“Oh, Miss Xie, it’s been a while,” he actually remembered me, “Is there something that I can do for you?”
“I need money,” I said frankly.
“Could you come by my office? It’s not quite convenient to talk about money over the phone.”
“May I ask where your office is?”
“You know where Long Ze Garden is, right? Our law firm is on the second floor, unit 204.”
I let out a breath of relief. How convenient, it was right below. I went down and found the place. A bald middle-aged man greeted me and guided me to his office. He was obviously very experienced in the industry, otherwise he would not be able to afford renting an office at a first-rate place like Long Ze Garden.
“Miss Xie, I need to see your documents to confirm your identity.” He was from Beijing and seemed like he graduated from the Language Department as he spoke perfect Mandarin.
I handed him my identity card and student card. He nodded and took out a wooden box from the safe. He then took out a cheque book and asked, “Miss Xie, how much money do you need?”
“How much can you give me?” I asked unsurely.
“Whatever you decide.” He glanced at me, “Or you can take the cheque book and use it whenever you want.”
“$250 thousand.” $200 thousand for the surgery and $50 thousand for medicine.
He wrote the amount on the cheque, got me to sign it, photocopied it, and gave me the original. I looked at it and saw that Li Chuan had already signed his name on it in advance.
I put the cheque in my bag. Chen Dong Cun asked, “Miss Xie, you don’t want to complete the transfer of ownership for the two condo properties as well?”
I replied, “I don’t need those properties. I only need this $250 thousand, which I’m borrowing from him. I will pay him back later for sure.” I wrote my “IOU” as I spoke and stuffed it into his hands.
Chen Dong Cun took the piece of paper with a smile and put it inside the box, “Miss Xie, anytime you need money, just give me a call.”
He sure was a veteran lawyer; he spoke without emotions, knew what was appropriate and didn’t push back.
My dad’s heart transplant surgery was done in Kunming. His condition did not permit him to be transferred to a better hospital. That day, thirty specialists observed him for four hours. The surgery was a success, but my dad’s body showed severe signs of rejection. Xiao Dong and I were notified that our father was in critical condition almost every day. We didn’t lose hope and continued to care for my dad. Dad fought for his life but he still left us after twenty-five days. We knew that the surgery was high risk, but even after the funeral, we could not accept the fact that dad left us so quickly.
That summer, plants grew prosperously and the sun burned like fire. All of a sudden, only Xiao Dong and I were left in this world.
“Jie, are we orphans now?” Xiao Dong asked.
“Don’t we still have each other? Thankfully, mom gave birth to you as a second child.”
My little brother was born because my dad forbade my mom in getting an abortion. As a result, my dad lost the chance to get a promotion at school and it took him much effort to add my little brother to our family registry. We found our dad’s bank book in the drawer. His total savings was $20 thousand, which was probably our entire family’s fortune. We used the money to find our dad a decent cemetery.
In this long summer holiday, Xiao Dong only stayed for half a month before he returned to school. I, on the other hand, was in complete exhaustion, so I continued to stay in Ge Jiu to gather my emotions and prepare to face the unknowns of life. In July, my high school friends asked me to join their gathering at our school to visit our teacher. I tried turning them down as I wasn’t in a good mood, but they said, “It’s okay for others to not come, but if you, our top student, don’t show up, Teacher Xiong will be upset.”
I helplessly rode my bike to Nan Chi High School. Auntie Zhang, who guarded the front entrance, could recognize me, my brother, and obviously my dad since he was a teacher at the school. Due to having a second child, he was demoted to a lower grade village high school. Auntie Zhang waved at me as I approached, “Xiao Qiu! You’re here to visit on your summer holiday?”
“Yeah, a class reunion.”
“I heard about Teacher Xie…” she caressed my face, “Sigh…he was such a nice man, yet he passed away so soon.”
The moment she mentioned my dad, my eyes became watery. I lowered my head and tears fell to the ground.
“Ah, it’s my bad. It must have been tough for you to get through, yet I brought it up again,” she reached for my hand and stuffed an apple in it.
I ate the apple as I waited for my classmates at the front door.
After a while, Auntie Zhang suddenly asked, “Oh yeah, a few years ago, someone came looking for you. I told him your address. Did he find you?”
My hands shook, “Who was looking for me? Auntie, do you still remember what he looked like?”
“How could I forget, he was just too handsome. The female teachers were immediately mesmerized by him. But it looked like he couldn’t walk very well.”
I pretended to be calm and asked further, “Do you remember when he came?”
“hmmm…I think it was about three years ago, after the winter holidays but before Chinese New Year. He even asked if there was a place that sold Nan Chi school souvenirs and I said, ‘you think this is the Forbidden City Museum in Beijing? What souvenir? There is only a stationery shop at the front door that sells paper, pen, and other things,’ and then he asked if the street that the front door faced was called Xi Men street.”
You really shouldn’t remind a heartbroken person of sad things. My tears began falling again.
So it turned out that Li Chuan was here before, here in my hometown.
“He asked if I remembered you. I said how could I not, I remember her whole family. Xiao Qiu was a mischievous student who always got punished by her teacher. Who would have thought her grades were so good that she became our top student.” She thought I was still upset about my dad so she quickly talked about something more relaxed.
I wiped my tears and smiled at her, “He was a friend from Beijing.”
“Maybe he was delighted to hear what I said so when my grandson crawled over, he gave me 300 Yuan to buy candy for my grandson.” As a result, Auntie grandma remembered Li Chuan very well.
This unexpected chat reminded me of the things in my heart. As a result, I didn’t talk during the gathering and only drank until I was drunk. I woke up in a pool of vomit. Li Chuan hadn’t contacted me for three years. Why was I still thinking of him. Why did I keep sending him emails? Anyone with eyes could see that it was unrequited love. I was dumb, stupid, and hopeless.
I wanted to love someone but was out of luck; I wanted to hate someone but there was no reason.
I wanted to escape but there was no place to go; I wanted to fall to the bottom of the pits but I didn’t have the guts to.
I simply continued to be a good student.
After dad passed away, I was mentally and physically tired. I didn’t write a single email to Li Chuan for three months. But after I returned to school, I couldn’t resist going to the internet cafe. My inbox still had “0” new mail, so I wrote him a super short letter, “Hi Li Chuan, my dad has passed away. He was diagnosed with a severe heart disease and needed surgery. Therefore, I borrowed 250 thousand Yuan from you. Once I start working, I will pay you back in installments. You probably don’t use this mailbox anymore, but I still want to say, thank you for helping me out at such a critical time like this. I thank you very much. Xiao Qiu.”
Two weeks after the email, Professor Feng called me one day. He said there was a letter for me, but the address was to “S University English Department.” He kept it for me as a result and asked when I could come by his office to get it.
I was a little scared of Professor Feng because he liked me a lot and had hinted many times that I should apply for Ph.D. However, I had already grown tired of learning and made plans to finish graduate school and start working as soon as possible.
Li Chuan spoke fluent Chinese and recognized many characters, but he said he didn’t know how to write a lot of them. He said it was because his grandpa taught him traditional Chinese and he felt that it was too complicated and had too many strokes, so he didn’t have the interest to learn it. As expected, the writing on the letter was in traditional Chinese. The characters were indeed written very roughly but at least all the strokes were there and were in good proportions so that they were still legible. Most importantly, the “yan” character that made up the left side of my surname, “Xie,” was written in simplified Chinese, which was what I taught him. Actually, the character would have looked the same in handwriting.
Although there was no return address, it had a Switzerland stamp. I opened it anxiously and found a delicate card in it. It had a light scent of lavender, a light purple background, and white hand-painted lilies. There were no words, no footnotes. Nothing.
It meant, he had received all of my emails.
I held the card in my hand with my heart feeling heavy. The secretary of the program asked, “Xiao Qiu, do you collect stamps? Are you going to keep that stamp?”
I was still engulfed in my own emotions, “Oh, what? Stamp?”
“Yeah, my son collects stamps. Kids don’t understand anything. They just like things from abroad.”
“Here, take it. I don’t need the stamp,” I handed over the envelope.
“Ah, the card inside smells so nice, you sure you don’t want it?”
“No,” I smiled, “if your son likes it, you can give it to him as well.”
I went to an accessories store that day and got five ear piercings. On top of the two that I had already, I now had seven; three on the left and four on the right. The guy who did my ear piercings said, “Sigh…a good and pretty girl turned delinquent.” I then went to another store and got a gold belly ring.
I threw away all the clothes that I liked and bought a bunch of stockings. The fishnet kind. I spent an hour putting on makeup every morning, using purple and black for eye-shadow to make my eyes look so dark that you couldn’t see where it ended. I usually wore either a leather jacket or a vest to show my belly ring. I felt that I was very sexy. I liked skirts that were bold and had thick fabric. I learned how to smoke and became more and more addicted. I often went to the pub on the weekends and got drunk. Guys would touch my body while they gave me a hand. I would laugh and said I didn’t mind.
Ever since I received Li Chuan’s “greeting” card, I never wrote to him again.
Two years later, I graduated a year early due to my exceptional scores. My teacher was reluctant to let me go.
I submitted my resume to five translation companies, and all five of them invited me to their interviews. I chose the one that was the largest, the most experienced, the strongest, and the best in the city: Jiu Tong Translation company.