After saying this, I turned around and left.
I took off all my clothes in the room. I brought each item up to my nose to sniff, to see if it had a nicotine smell. Then, I took another thorough bath, washing with soap over and over again. After I finished washing up, I changed into a white embroidered shirt. It was new, I had never worn it before. I placed the clothes that I had just taken off into a plastic bag and brought it to the laundromat to get dry cleaned.
The dry cleaner wasn’t far from the entrance. The boss’ wife and I chatted. I asked her whether smoking would leave a cigarette smell on clothes.
“Of course,” she said, “if you smoke, or those around you smoke, the fibers on your clothes will all have a tobacco smell. It won’t come out no matter how much you wash it. You can’t smell it yourself, but those who are sensitive to it, will smell it immediately. We always tell those who donate used clothes to us that we don’t want the clothes of those who smoke.”
I listened. My head was about to explode, “Boss’ wife, I don’t want the clothes anymore. Please help me donate it. …Never mind, return it to me. I’ll throw it in the trash.”
I went to the shopping mall and bought new clothes from head to toe. I wasn’t in a good mood, and was using shopping as therapy. I strolled in a few department stores holding large and small shopping bags in my hands. When I returned to the hotel, it was already lunch time. I returned to my own room and inexplicably took another bath. I sat in the bathtub observing my fingers. That’s right…it was a little yellow. It was steeped in nicotine. The most depressing part was that I smoked a pack a day and even if I watched what I ate, I still needed to smoke. If it wasn’t for the fact that I gave two thousand to Lawyer Chen and was hard pressed for money, I would probably have smoked even more. Boo, I didn’t think it was too serious before. I had already abandoned myself to despair anyway. But now, it wasn’t the same.
Just thinking about all this, the urge to smoke came again. My fingers couldn’t help but start to tremble. I had a headache and my fidgety and tired. My lips were dry and I couldn’t sit still. I thought about the designs I needed to translate in the afternoon. I needed cigarettes to help me concentrate. Thinking about this, I touched my purse. Good, good, thank heavens, I still had one more pack. I took the purse and left the entrance, heading to the back. I used to always smoke next to the park entrance. The park was in front of the hotel entrance and there was a lot of foot traffic. It wasn’t good to affect them. At the back, there were two large trash cans, each one as tall as a person. No one wanted to stand there, inhaling the smell of the garbage. It was the perfect place to smoke.
There was an empty area in the back that was actually an abandoned parking lot. I went along the wall of the hotel to the left and heard a boy’s laughter travel through the empty air, “Mister, throw it over here! Here! Here!”
“Come over here a little, look at the ball. Don’t look at my hands.” It was a magnetic male voice, low and firm, yet distinct.
The boy happily shouted, “Ah ha! I caught it! I caught it! Mister, again, again!”
It was that male voice again, “This time I’m going to throw it far. You must run faster.”
“Throw it! Throw it!”
It was Li Chuan, half kneeling on the ground, playing ball with a three year old. The child’s mother stood to the side, smiling and watching.
“Okay A Ji, let’s go home to eat. Stop playing. Mister has already played with you for an hour.”
“No, no, I want to play! I don’t want to eat!”
“Mmm, you can’t not eat. How will you grow up if you don’t eat? How about this, let’s go home to eat and then afterwards, Mommy will take you to the park, okay?”
“Song Xiao Ji! Let’s go home! How many times do I need to say it!” The mom’s voice suddenly changed. Her face changed too.
Finally, the little boy, dillydallying, took his mom’s hand.
Li Chuan picked up his cane and using it, slowly stood up. He saw me and said “Hi.”
I ignored him, walked to the side of the trash bins and stood there silently, waiting for him to leave. Even though I couldn’t control my addiction, my morals weren’t bad enough that I would stoop down to smoking in front of a sick person.
But he wouldn’t leave. Instead he followed me over.
“Are you angry?” He said.
I ignored him.
“Even if you are angry, you should at least pick a place with better air to stand. It’s all trash bins here. The air isn’t good.”
I ignored him.
He took out a black box from his pocket. I looked. It was still that “Ji Xiang Tong Bao” brand candy for quitting smoking.
“I tried it. It’s mint flavored, not bad. …Do you not like to eat candy?”
I took the Ji Xiang Tong Bao and threw it into the trash.
He brought out another box and took out something that was thin, like a bandaid, “This is a patch for giving up smoking. The brand also sounds pretty nice, ‘Hua Yang Nian Hua’. You’ll definitely like to use it. Try one? Okay?”
I snatched it over and threw it into the trash bin also.
I fiercely said, “What else do you have? Take it out so I can get rid of it all at once.”
There was a pile of cement blocks next to the trash bins. It went up a few levels and was around the same height as the trash bin. The trash bin was about as big as a room and needed a special truck to tow it. If someone felt that the bin was too high, he could climb onto the cement blocks to throw stuff away.
Li Chuan picked up a long tree branch from the ground and pulled me onto the cement pile, “Here, Xiao Qiu. Let us see what there is in the trash bin?”
What the heck was he doing? We both stuck out our heads and looked down.
What would a trash bin have in it?
Egg shells, leftovers, tea leaves, ripped plastic bags, charcoal bits, fish bones, pork bones, dead cat, chicken feathers, duck feathers, rotten vegetable leaves, empty cans, broken toys, furniture with broken legs, scratched CDs, pieces of glass, pieces of wood with nails, packing peanuts, moldy rice, dried bean curd, cucumber skin, rotten watermelon, rotten tangerine, wires, carpentry gloves, maggots, houseflies…
The trash bin was only about half filled, not too full. Li Chuan poked around inside with the branch.
I didn’t know what he was looking for. At least, I wasn’t going to talk.
After poking around for awhile, he used the branch to hook up a huge bag of vegetable leaves. It was riddled with holes. He held it out in front of me.
“What is this?”
“If you continue smoking, in a few years, your lungs will become like this. Aren’t you afraid?”
“What should I be afraid of? This is pretty good.” I said, “What is wrong with it?”
Someone became angry.
He stared at me for quite awhile and said word by word, “Xiao Qiu, it looked like you are forcing me into a dead end. You either quit smoking. Or I jump in from here.”
He had quite a deathly glare!
I blinked, “Jump, go ahead and jump. This trash bin just so happens not to have a cover.”
Li Chuan had mysophobia. It wasn’t normal mysophobia. He showered many times a day. He didn’t like to come into contact with anything dirty. I didn’t believe that he would jump into something so filthy as trash.
I was just thinking this when I heard a plop.
That person really jumped!
“Hey! Li Chuan!”
Li Chuan was wearing a prosthetic limb. He definitely couldn’t do such “jumping” motions. I looked at him, scared speechless. He was still okay. He turned over and sat up, sitting in the trash. He picked up something and threw it at me.
I quickly caught it. Looking at it carefully, I saw that it was the candy that I had thrown away earlier.
“Two pieces each time. Eat it now.”
The case was still new, still in the plastic wrapping. I tore it open and ate the candy.
“Are you hurt? I’ll put you up!”
“I won’t come up!”
“…I’ve already eaten the candy.”
“You swear! Swear you’ll quit smoking!”
“Just saying it doesn’t count! You’ve already said it before! You said it before and still broke it!”
“I never said it!”
“You said it last night!”
“That was a dream. Dream talk doesn’t count!”
“May I ask, who stuck out their foot in front of me and said, ‘Li Chuan, take off my socks!’ Was that dream talk?”
Fainting…speechless…was it that erotic?…super depressing.
“I surrender. I’ll give up smoking. I swear. I swear to the heavens that I will give up smoking for the rest of my life. If I cannot do this, then allow a tiger to scoop out my heart, and be struck by lightening!”
“Throw down your scarf!”
What did he need a scarf for? I took off my scarf and threw it down. He wrapped the scarf around his wrist.
The scarf was dark blue. I saw wetness start soaking it. My heart started thumping, “Li Chuan…your hand. Is it bleeding?”
“It’s not. You can go.”
“I’ll pull you up.”
“You won’t be able to. Go call René to help me.”
I quietly slipped back into the hotel, pretending to be calm, trying not to alarm anyone. I knocked on René’s door and found Ji Chuan also inside. The two were talking in French.
“Mr. Dubois, I need you to help me.”
I pulled him quietly to the back doors and climbed onto the cement blocks. Li Chuan was calmly still sitting his the original spot.
“My god!” René called out, “What happened?”
“Mr. Li Chuan accidentally fell into the trash bin. Quickly pull him up.”
René didn’t say anymore and also jumped in. Standing in the trash bin, he picked Li Chuan up from the bottom and pushed him up. He stayed inside the bin himself, looking around. And then, he proudly held up a paper box, “Hey, look at this you guys. This cardboard isn’t bad. I can use it to make a fake mountain.”
René was tall and strong and quite nimble. He quickly climbed out of the trash bin, “Alex, are you alright?…Hey, this shirt is too dirty. It’s covered in egg yolk. Don’t keep it. Others will laugh at you when you go inside. Here, wear my jacket.” He didn’t say anything else before taking off Li Chuan’s suit and throwing it into the trash bin. Then he took off his own suit and gave it to him. And then, he saw his wrist. His face suddenly changed, “What happened to your hand?”
“It’s nothing. Just a small injury.” Li Chuan looked at me and used a commanding voice to say, “Xiao Qiu, you go back to your room first.”
But the scarf on his hand became more and more wet. A drop came out and dripped onto the ground. I stared at him with eyes wide open, cold sweat starting to appear on my back.
Li Chuan said a word of French to René. I guessed that he was saying that I was hemophobic. Because the French hémophobie was pronounced like the English hemophobia.
René came over and pulled me, “Annie, you must leave here right now.”
I didn’t move. I said, “René, don’t mind me. You take Li Chuan to the hospital right now.”
“Alright. Even though it’s not a serious wound, it still needs to be wrapped. Then, we’ll leave first.” He went over and lead Li Chuan away, leaving me.
My heart was still beating wildly. I sat down and took deep breathes. After sitting for a minute, I thought I was feeling better and stood up. I got off the cement blocks and then ran into René again.
“René? Didn’t you accompany Li Chuan?”
“Alex went to the hospital himself. He didn’t let me go with him.”
“Annie, Alex is not a child. He was worried about you and wanted me to come and see if you were okay.”
“I”m okay. I was just a little dizzy earlier. I’m fine now.”
René took out a long blue tube that he was holding and handed it to me, “These are the design sketches that Alex wanted me to give you. He wants you to finish them as soon as possible.”
René and I walked towards the hotel together. After going halfway, I suddenly stopped and asked, “René, why is Li Chuan anemic?”
“He has always been anemic.”
“Is it severe? Was he born with it?”
“Alex told me to tell you that if you ask these type of questions, you are committing an offense by digging into his personal matters.”
“Then what happened with Li Chuan’s car crash?”
“Car crash? What car crash?” His deep blue eyes bulged out, looking at me.
“Oh…that car crash. Mmmm, you’ve seen it. It was pretty serious. He nearly died.”
“What year did that happen?”
“The year is was seventeen.”
“And then afterwards?”
“He said that he studied economics and then architecture. It would take eight years for both. He graduated when he was twenty-one.”
“Alex went to college when he was fifteen. He studied two years of economics, the stuff happened, and he switched to architecture. He was a young genius. That’s how it was.”
“Then…six years ago, he was suddenly transferred from Beijing. What was the deal then? Family crisis? Economic crisis?”
He thought about it and then repeated what he had said before, “Alex told me to tell you that if you ask these type of questions, you are committing an offense by digging into his personal matters.”
“Then, which hospital is Li Chuan going to right now?”
“I don’t know.”
After he said this, I knew that I could not get any more information out of René. Besides, we had also already arrived at the entrance of the hotel. René said that he had to go make the model. I returned to my room and called Li Chuan’s cellphone.
No one picked up. He must have screened me again. I couldn’t be at ease and went to the service desk to get the address of the closest hospital. I got a taxi and went to find Li Chuan.
When I got to San Ren Ming Hospital doors, I called Li Chuan’s cellphone again. This time he picked up on the first ring.
“Which hospital are you at? Is it San Hospital?”
“…Yes. I’ve already seen the doctor.”
“This quickly? No way!” This hospital was really big and there were a lot of patients. It seemed like it would take a long time to wait in line.
“I said I was a foreigner and showed them my passport. I said that I couldn’t wait and had a pressing matter. So, they put me as priority.” Li Chuan said that neither urgently or slowly.
“Which floor are you on. I’ll come find you.”
“Where are you?”
“San Hospital’s entrance.”
“Mmm, I already see you.”
I looked left and ride and saw Li Chuan sitting far away on the couch of the waiting room. He waved at me.
I walked to his side and saw him sitting there impeccably dressed. His wrist was wrapped in a layer of white cloth. It was clear that he had taken a shower before going to the hospital.
“Does the doctor say it’s serious?”
“It’s not serious. It’s just a small wound.”
“Has the bleeding stopped?”
He hesitated and then said, “Uh-huh.”
“Then why are you still sitting here.” I examined his face. His complexion was pale. “Do you not feel well?”
“Surgery is on the third floor. I couldn’t find an elevator so got a little dizzy walking up and down.”
I sat down and asked, “Do you need water?”
“Don’t just next time, okay?” I gazed at him, my heart aching.
“Will you still smoke?”
“I won’t smoke anymore. I won’t smoke even if you beat me to death. I’m being completely sincere, okay?”
He laughed lightly, yet his complexion was more and more pale.
“Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“Li Chuan, your complexion isn’t very good. Let’s go see the doctor again, okay?” I became more and more worried as I looked at him. I couldn’t help but grip his hand.
“We’re already here at the hospital anyway. Seeing the doctor twice is the same as seeing him once.” I continued to try to persuade him but he pretended to take up a newspaper and pulled his hand out of mine.
“Not going to see one. I’m fine. I’ll be okay after resting a bit.”
At this time, his cellphone rang. Evidently it was Ji Chuan calling. He first said a few words of Chinese, and then the two started arguing in French right afterwards. I must say that even if French was used for swearing, it still sounded pretty. But as for what they were arguing about, I had no clue. And then, I saw Li Chuan hang up abruptly and lean against the back of the couch wearily. It hadn’t been five minutes before Ji Chuan quickly walked towards towards me. The two faced each other and continued arguing. It was still in French. After arguing for awhile, Li Chuan didn’t have the energy to pay him any heed anymore. Ji Chuan was still saying:
“Abruti!” He retorted.
“Débile!” He swore again.
“Idiot!” He retorted again.
“Imbecile!” He swore again.
Alright, this was a good opportunity to learn French. All the words to swear at someone was here.
After a while, Ji Chuan came over and said to me, “Annie, go back first, okay? I have things to talk to Li Chuan about.”
I nodded and got a taxi outside.
Afterwards, I didn’t see Li Chuan for three days.