After a brief search on the internet, I found out that my laptop was worth over ten thousand RMB. It was this year’s latest model; its second-hand price was also not low. There went my pay cheque for all the translations I did for the past two weeks. But it was not what I was most worried about. All of my documents were saved inside the laptop; ninety percent of it was office documents, pictures, tender letters, and my translation drafts. However, there were also my saved searches, dictionaries, e-books that I liked, downloaded translation softwares, etcetera, etcetera.
I bumped into Li Chuan at the door during lunch. He actually asked, “How is the laptop? Can you still use it?”
“No, it’s a goner.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“I’m planning to buy a used one. But I don’t know what to do about my saved documents.”
“Go buy me a sandwich, and I’ll help you get your documents out of the laptop.”
I jogged back to my office and handed him my laptop that was still dripping coffee, “Thank you.”
I bought a box of salad, a tuna sandwich, and two bottles of water. I knocked and entered Li Chuan’s office. It was the first time I went into Li Chuan’s office since we came back two weeks ago. The office in front of his sat Tong Xiao Wei, his secretary. Tong Xiao Wei used to be Director Jiang’s secretary. But when the head office transferred Li Chuan over here, Jiang Hao Tian gave his secretary to Li Chuan. Tong Xiao Wei was formerly a secretary at Beijing’s Municipal Commission of Development and Reform. She was cute, efficient, and quiet. She never participated in our gossips during lunch. She always went to lunch half an hour later in order to avoid us.
“Hi, Xiao Qiu!”
“I’m looking for Mr. Wang. My laptop broke so I have to trouble him to help me get my documents from it.”
“Go in, he’s opening up the laptop right now. I just came back from buying him a few screwdrivers.”
“Sorry to trouble you.”
“Not at all.”
I went inside. Li Chuan’s office was exactly like how Emma had described it. It was spacious, and a white couch sat on top of a diamond shaped hand-woven carpet. There were also a resting room and a bathroom that were especially designed for him.
My Sony laptop had already been completely disassembled by him. All the parts were neatly placed and organized on his big desk. Li Chuan was using a screwdriver unscrewing one of the parts. When he saw me, he put down the screwdriver, stood up, grabbed the sandwich from my hand, and said thank you. He pointed towards the couch, “Please sit.”
He pressed a button on his office telephone, “Xiao Wei, I also need the T6 screwdriver from Philips. If you can’t find the T6, get PH000, the one with three zeros. Xiao Ding from the sketch department will probably have it. Can you please get it for me?”
I was dumb-found as I never knew that Li Chuan knew how to repair computers.
“Can the documents be taken out?”
“They’re all in the hard drive. I’ll take it out first and then put it into another laptop. It should be fine then.”
It sounded simple enough. I swallowed and quickly said, “I need another laptop? I haven’t bought one yet. I translated half of a draft, and it needs to be handed in today.”
“What rare to find softwares did you install on your laptop?”
“I used Endnotes to write a bunch of my notes. It was version 8.0.”
“Okay, I’ll tell you what I’ll do.”
I opened my eyes wide as I looked at him.
“First, I will take your hard drive out.”
“Second, I’ll take my own hard drive out.”
“Third, I will insert your hard drive into my laptop, and I’ll put my own hard drive into an enclosure.”
“Fourth, I’ll turn on my laptop, boot it using Linux, and read the documents in your hard drive.”
“Fifth, I’ll copy some of the documents from my hard drive into yours. If everything goes well, I’ll unplug my hard drive, reboot the laptop, and you’ll be able to open your documents on it.”
I took a bite of spinach and said, “I don’t know how to use Linux.”
“I need to start it up using Linux first. It will be Windows by the time you use it.”
“But if I use your laptop, what are you going to use?”
“I’m getting a new one. I’ve already ordered it online. It’ll be delivered tomorrow.” Just look at how efficient he was.
He finished his sandwich in two to three bites. Xiao Wei came and handed him the screwdriver. He took out my hard drive and put it into his laptop. He worked on it for an hour. When he turned on his Fujitsu, the screen was blue.
“(English) Oops,” he said, “I still need to download some other programs.”
I ate my salad quietly as I sat on the couch, watching him focused on working on the laptop for another two hours. We finally saw all of my documents, and they were all readable.
“You can use it now,” he closed the laptop’s lid and handed it to me.
Li Chuan’s laptop was the fully equipped kind, so it was a bit heavy.
“This is great! Thanks!” I carried the laptop and was about to leave.
“Wait,” he stopped me, “give me back Mia.”
He still remembered his cat!
“Since you like Mia so much, why did you give her to Rene then?”
“Who said I gave it to him? I only let him take care of it temporarily!”
“Okay, I’ll let you visit Mia for an hour.”
“One hour? You’re kidding me. I spent three hours on your laptop. One hour is too little. I should have at least a week.”
“Deal. You can come this weekend. Mia is at my place.”
He asked hesitantly, “Can’t you bring her to me?”
“No. You won’t give her back if I bring her to you.”
I gave him my address, “You can come at nine.”
Meng Meng came looking for me after work. She gave me three pink cards.
“You’re free on the weekend, right?”
“Not in the morning.”
“Not morning, it’s four o’clock in the afternoon. I’ll let you meet three people. The first two are my referrals, both are guys. The last one is Ming Ming’s referral, and it’s a girl. Go take a look. They’re pretty good.”
I opened the cards:
Name: Chen Jiu Zhou
Occupation: General Manager of Fei Xing
Education: Master’s degree
Occupation: Assistant Researcher of Chinese Academy of Science X Department
Education: Ph.D from abroad in Germany
Occupation: professional writer.
Education: Bachelor’s degree
Meng Meng always said that she “cared” about me. As an older sister, she felt that it was her responsibility to introduce me to new candidates. Although she mentioned it many times, I didn’t take her seriously. I browsed through the cards and had a bad feeling about it.
“How come there is a woman?”
“You’re such a great girl, yet you don’t want to be in relationships. Celia suspects your sexual orientation, so she wants you to give this a try. She’s actually passing this one up in order to give it to you. She has dated a couple before and said it was not bad, they were all interesting. She met them online. As for the other two, one of them is a friend of mine, and the other is my little brother. There’s nothing to say about their personalities. How about it? Aren’t I good to you?”
“Maybe next time.”
“How many next times have you said already? You should at least give me some face, and treat my little brother as the one to anticipate. Let’s settle it for Saturday at 2pm then. It’ll be half an hour per person. Otherwise, you’ll be going to pubs anyway, so just take it that you’ll have someone to chat with, it won’t be tiresome. You know the Starbucks on K street, right? That’s the place. I told them that you’ll have a purple chopstick on your head.”
“It’s a hair pin.”
“(English) Whatever. Just don’t forget to show up!”
I nodded my head and put the cards in my bag. I told myself: move on, move…And then my phone rang.
I watched Emma step into the elevator and opened my phone. It was Xiao Guan calling.
“I haven’t heard from you for a long time. How are you?”
“Didn’t I send you an email not long ago?”
“You’re talking about the four words, ‘I got your deposit’?”
“You need something from me?”
“Are you free on Saturday? I’ll treat you to dinner.”
“There’s a Yunnan restaurant on M street. Their rice noodles are pretty good. I’ve been there a couple of times.”
“Sorry, I’ve gone vegetarian, so I only eat vegetables.”
“No problem, Lingbao Temple is just beside it. There’s a Ku Gua (Bitter Melon) Master there who makes pretty tasty vegetarian dishes.”
“6pm. I’ll see you at Linbao Temple.”
I wanted to say something, but he had already hung up.
That was Xiao Guan’s style; he would make arrangements for everything, and would not listen to other people.
I looked at my watch. I told everyone to meet on Saturday as if Saturday was still a few days away. Today is Friday.
I cancelled all of my activities on Friday, including yoga and the gathering with the Vegetarian Society. I found the beauty card from Emma and went to the spa to get a face mask. The spa lady also trimmed my eyebrows for me. I went to the hair salon to get an oil treatment. It took two hours, but at least my long hair was black and shiny, and it was so smooth that I could film a hair commercial with it. When I got home, I lit up a bunch of scented candles and scrubbed my bathroom until it was spick and span. I cleaned and tidied the whole place until it was spotless. I didn’t want any dark circles, so I went to bed early. I woke up early the next day. The sky was still dark after I had taken a bath. I looked at the clock, it had just reached 5am.
I sat on my bed and practiced yoga. I ate breakfast at 6. After breakfast, I had nothing to do, so I gave Mia a bath and dried her with a hairdryer. I took Mia out for a walk at 7. I never felt that morning would last for so long.
It had been six years, and this was the first time that I really watched the sun rise. The rosy clouds of dawn covered the sky. The red sun floated on the clouds, shining down on the coldness of winter. The city was engulfed in the white haze.
Li Chuan had always been punctual.
He gave me a box of chocolate at the door. When he saw that I was only wearing socks at home, he took off his coat and bent down to take off his shoes. The moment he bent down, he wobbled and was about to fall, so I held on to him, “What’s wrong?”
He stood up while resting one hand on the wall. He lowered his head and panted a little, “I feel a little dizzy.”
“Don’t take off your shoes. Stand here and don’t move, I’ll go get you a chair.”
I grabbed the chair from the living room. He sat down and said, “I’m fine. The snow is melting outside, so it’s quite muddy.” He continued to bend down.
I stopped him, “Let me.”
“It’s okay.” He pushed my hand away lightly and took off his shoes himself.
The entrance was short and the living room was small.
Mia was so smart. She came running over once she heard him. She arched her back, and rubbed against his leg affectionately. I picked up Mia and gave her to Li Chuan. He held up her paws, teased her, and caressed her. He was happy and showed deep love for her. I was jealous as I stood and watched them from the side.
“Do you mind if I speak to her in French?”
“Okay. She probably knows Chinese by now,” he smiled brightly. I had never seen him smile like this before since we came back from Wenzhou.
“Look. She loves it when you scratch her here.” He scratched the cat’s forehead with his fingers. Mia tilted her head back and yawned in enjoyment.
“Her longest yawn lasted fifty-seven seconds!”
“She knows how to do somersaults too. The most she can do is twenty-four of them at once. Like this. Mia, do one for Xiao Qiu to see!” He whistled and Mia did really do a few somersaults. I was mad, yet I wanted to laugh.
“Hm…Mia is so lazy. Xiao Qiu must have been feeding you too much. Otherwise, why did you stop after just a few?” He sat on the couch and frowned at the cat.
“Did you want something to drink?” I asked.
“Water is fine. Thank you.”
While I felt depressed, Li Chuan’s motive for coming became apparent. He obviously only wanted to look at Mia, and only wanted to talk to Mia. I was clearly standing beside him with my willow leaf eyebrows, almond-shaped eyes, long hair resting on my shoulders, and a face of a beauty, yet it seemed as if he didn’t notice me.
I brought him his water and asked, “Mr. Great architect designer, what do you think of the decorations in this place?”
My furnishing was rather simple. The most expensive piece was probably the couch that Li Chuan was sitting on. It was green, made of real leather, a little hard, and a little tall. It was the kind that Li Chuan liked. He stood up and walked to the door. He observed the place from where he was and nodded, “Hm, not bad. If my guess is right, this is Bohemian style, is it?”
Li Chuan also had another habit; he rarely picked out my mistakes, unless I let him. For example, every time I sent him my translations, he would keep them and rarely changed them. He had never sent them back to me. Like in the past, when I spoke to him in English, many of my pronunciations were off, but he never corrected me. But when I spoke English in front of others, many handsome guys would criticize me without holding back. I remember one time, I pronounced the stress part of a word wrong, and he only corrected me privately, “The stress part of the word should be on the second syllable, but it’s okay, I understood you anyway.” This was his harshest criticism. Therefore, I spoke more freely whenever I was with him.
“You can tell?”
“This is my job.”
“Aren’t you an exterior architect designer?”
“I do interior designs too, just not as much and not as well-known as my older brother.”
“Can you give me some suggestions? I want it to make it look better.”
“You really want to hear it?”
“Turn the couch 90 degrees towards this side. Move this table to the right, beside the wall. Put the vase on top of the table. You can put this floor lamp here. There are so many books on the bookshelf, you should put the single couch beside it so that you can sit and read books anytime you want. Wouldn’t it make it more convenient? And also, the four lanterns on the ceiling are spread too far apart, which makes it look like there is no harmony. Why don’t you group them together with two each. It’ll bring more focus and make them look less disorganized.”
I tied my hair up with an elastic and told him, “Go sit in my room with Mia, I’ll reorganized the furniture.”
He was in shock, “You’re…moving them now?”
I nodded, “Yeah.”
“Why the hurry?”
“Not at all. You’re not talking to me anyway, and there’s not really that much furniture.” I looked at him stunned, yet sarcasm was written all over my face.
He understood me and felt a bit embarrassed, “Go ahead, I’ll help you.”
“I don’t need your help.” He was going to faint from just bending down, how could I dare to let him move furniture? But it was indeed a slow process to move the furniture without anyone’s help. There were many movers sitting and waiting for someone to hire them on the street; I just didn’t want to ask them for help in case Li Chuan thought that I felt that his body was not fit enough. I gritted my teeth and moved the couch, the table, the lamp, and the lanterns. Li Chuan was sitting on the chair, and he finally took his eyes off of Mia and watched me nervously.
“Xiao Qiu, can you switch off the lights first?”
“I have to?”
“It’ll be safer to turn it off.”
“But the place will be all dark.”
“It’s day time right now.”
“This is the first floor.”
I refused to turn it off. Just let it electrify me, and see if you, Wang Li Chuan, would take a glimpse of me!
“Why do you have to live on the first floor?” he suddenly asked, “You said before that you dislike living on the first floor the most, and said that the higher the better.”
“This condo doesn’t have any elevators, so it’s inconvenient to walk up and down.”
“It’s not like you’re disabled.”
Speechless…I admit, I had watched too many Hollywood films, so I often dreamt that one day, Li Chuan would come knocking on my door with a bouquet of flowers. He would kneel down in front of me and say affectionately, “Xiao Qiu, marry me!” I obviously couldn’t let him climb up several flights of stairs on his cane, and then kneel down while he was about to faint.
I climbed up and jumped down around the living room for almost two hours, and finally redecorated the place just like how he suggested. I sat down and admired the outcome of my work. Mm, not bad. He was indeed a master (in design); the living room now looked coordinated and organized under his simple suggestions. It looked completely different.
“Sigh, Li Chuan, what style is this called? It’s very Asian. It doesn’t look Bohemian.”
“There are many types of Bohemian style. There’s dandy, there’s Nouveau, there’s Gypsy, there’s Beat, and yours is Zen. Take the strings of beads from the side of your bed and hang them on the lanterns. That’ll make it even more like it.”
Those strings of beads were souvenirs from the pub that was exactly called, “Bohemia.” They gave them out to customers during special events and holidays. I had already collected a box full of them. I hung the beads on the lanterns. They were made of ceramic, so whenever someone walked fast below them, the light breeze would cause them to make a sound from hitting each other.
He pointed to a large long-necked vase in the corner and asked, “This vase looks quite nice. Do you not have anything to put inside it?”
The vase was a gift from a friend. It was half as tall as a person; it was big and deep. I really couldn’t think of what kind of flowers could go in and still have their top showing, so I left it empty all along.
“You can pick up some dead wood, scrape its skin, trim it a bit, and put it inside. It’ll look pretty nice.”
I put on a big coat and went to the woods nearby the area. I picked up a bunch of dead woods and brought them back. Li Chuan helped me pick out which ones to use. He got a small knife from the kitchen and was going to scrape off the dead wood’s skin for me. I was afraid that he was going to hurt himself, so I didn’t let him do it. I used the knife to scrape all the wood clean, I used scissors to cut off the small branches, and finally put them into the vase. Indeed, the finished product did have a dry vine, old tree, crows at dusk feel to it (Ma Zhiyuan poem).
My face was covered in dust after moving the furniture; my nails were all dark after trimming the woods. All the manicure and beauty spas I did last night went to waste. Just as I was about to go wash my face, I saw Li Chuan stand up, caress the cat, and take a look at his watch. He said, “It’s been three hours, I must leave now. Thank you for letting me visit Mia.”
Three hours? Did three hours go by so quickly? How come I didn’t feel it at all? When I thought about it again, it really was, wasn’t it? I spent two hours cleaning the place, used half an hour to pick up dead wood, and another half an hour to scrape them. I was such an idiot, didn’t that add up to three hours?
Li Chuan had already put Mia down on the floor and walked towards the door, looking like he didn’t want to bother me any longer.
I suddenly shouted, “Wait!”
I didn’t think I had such a loud voice; the beads above my head rattled from the sound of my voice. He turned his head to look at me.
I said with my face bleeding red, “You…You…”
I wanted to say, you were only here to see Mia? Couldn’t you accompany me a little longer? I stuttered and couldn’t say the words.
I heard myself scold him fiercely, “(English) You killed everything in me! How could you do that?”
He froze his step. He stared at me. He wanted to say something, but he didn’t. He then walked towards me. Just when he was about to speak, I interrupted furiously, “Right now! You’re not allowed to say a word! Wang Li Chuan, I want you to kiss me immediately!”
He looked at me in shock. I could only hear myself breathing quickly.
“I’m sorry, Xiao Qiu.” He opened his arms and hugged me tightly. He murmured in my ear, “It’s my fault.”
“Don’t say you’re sorry. There is no need for apology between us. Kiss me! Right now!”
But he only kissed my eyes lightly, gently, as a token, and soothingly. His love was once so ardent. My heart shattered into pieces again.
“(English) You must move on.”
“Remember your promise.”
“(English) No!” I said aloud, “Go! Go back to Switzerland! Don’t ever come back! I never want to see you again!”
“You were the one who asked me to come back!”
“Yes, I wanted you to come back. What I want is you, as a living person, not as a spirit!”
Every time he was hurt, he would be silent. I saw glitter deep in his eyes for a second before it disappeared. His eyes were deep like the bottom of a waterfall. They were so deep that you couldn’t see where they ended. Even his soul was buried deep down inside. Instead, I reflected in the pilpul of his eyes like a ghost. I looked crazy and mad. At that very moment, I really wanted to strangle him and strangle myself.
“If I’m going to die tomorrow, would you…would you still treat me like this today?”
He didn’t say anything. He grabbed my hand and placed it on the right of his body. I stretched out my fingers like a starfish to feel what used to be his leg, but now was a hard and cold prosthetic leg.
“I’m not living. I’ve never been. Xiao Qiu, do you really love me so much? Was six years not enough for you to come out of it?”
“No, not even a thousand years would be enough! I don’t want to come out of it. Why do I have to come out of it?!”
“Can you grow up a bit? In your lifetime, some things just have to go, and you have to lose it. (English) Let it go!”
“I don’t want to lose you!”
“Yes, you’re afraid of losing me, but you already did. You have to face this outcome.” He then said, “When you’ve read the best novel, have seen the most handsome man, or have arrived in the prettiest city, you would say to yourself that you’ve already seen the best in the world. You would believe that you would spend the rest of your life with them. But after a while, something happens, and you read another book that is even better, meet a man who is even more handsome, and go to a city that is even prettier. A new life will start again.”
He continued talking with a painful smile, “Don’t be afraid of the outcome. The outcome is just a mirage. All endings represent a new beginning.”
“No! Don’t make excuses! You and I can only have beginnings and no endings. There will never be an end. If there has to be one, there will only be one. That is you and me living happily ever after!”
“(English) You are so damaged!” he twisted my shoulders and scolded, “You stupid woman! Why do you not understand what I’m saying? What is in your head? Water? Grass? (English) Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”
“I am stupid, you didn’t know!?”
He was panting hard. He was very angry. His face was red.
“Okay,” he let go his hands, “as long as you promise me that you’ll move on, I’ll do anything you say.”
“(English) Kiss me, make love with me! Now!”
He took a deep breath and let out a long sigh.
We didn’t know what to say anymore, so we stared at each other nervously.
It felt like a century had passed before he said, “Turn off the lights. (English) Stupid woman!”
We hugged each other silently in the dark. Li Chuan’s body was very weak, yet I was rough out of anger. I squeezed his hands and wouldn’t let him move; I scratched him with my nails whenever he tried to push me away. He yelled at me in French, so I yelled back at him in Yunnan dialect. We were like two fierce beasts fighting on the bed. I felt a bit guilty, it was the first time I bullied Li Chuan, and bullied him for being disabled. Near the end, I heard Li Chuan sigh in the dark. He grabbed my hand and attempted to stop me:
“(English) Are you making love with me? Or are you killing me?”
“(English) You stupid!”
In the end, we lay on the bed in exhaustion as we panted. Everything was in pieces. I didn’t know if it was my victory, or if I had been completely shattered by him. I only knew that my face was covered in tears. Both my tears and sweat dripped onto his body. I let go of my dignity and begged him continuously. I begged him not to let me go and not to leave me. I told him everything would be alright. He turned his body, caressed my face lightly, and just like in the past, he kissed me gently and affectionately. He called my name one after another: “Xiao Qiu, Xiao Qiu, Xiao Qiu, Xiao Qiu…”
He then said, “(English) You must move on.”