“There’s nothing to be done about that. Ever since Alex got sick, his whole family been very cautious. Actually, in contrast, Alex is quite independent. But once he gets home he can’t be. He has his grandfather and grandmother watching over him and a crowd of people surrounding him, afraid that some mishap will occur. Naturally, Alex would escape to China whenever he could…Was he independent in Beijing?”
He was not only independent. It was practically the other way around. When he was in Beijing, Li Chuan always took care of me. When we stayed together, he would get up to make breakfast. I had been doing all the housework since I was young because my father wasn’t very good at daily chores. He could leave dirty dishes there for several days and would never make his bed. Home was always a mess, rather like a doghouse. My (maternal) grandmother said that my dad’s family in Shanghai had a housekeeper. Besides studying and teaching, he didn’t know how to do anything else. Even to borrow a hammer required me to go knocking on others’ doors. Thus, I had depressingly believed that once I was married off, I would still not be able to escape from being the housewife. I never thought that I could experience days of being taken care of by another. I was quite confused at the sudden feeling of happiness. When I told Li Chuan about it, Li Chuan felt sorry for me for quite a long time, saying that I had suffered too much as a child that even God felt sorry for me, so he intentionally sent him to take care of me. He would definitely take good care of me for my whole life. I didn’t take these words to heart at that time. Ever since my mom passed away, I secretly believe this one truth, that even the people closest to you will ultimately leave you and be gone forever.
Sure enough, Li Chuan had just said those words for two months before he also disappeared from me.
The first half of that year, my mood was like a car going over the mountains, fluctuating sharply. I was tormented by joy and grief.
In this world, only Li Chuan could make me the happiest, and only Li Chuan could make me suffer the most pain. There was no one else would could accomplish both.
Thinking about this, I suddenly asked René, “Do you think Li Chuan and I should be together?”
René immediately replied, “Of course, you should! But Annie, I have to tell you, Alex is a particularly stubborn. Once he makes a decision, he doesn’t turn back. Even a stubborn old man like his dad will somewhat avoid him. Alright, I have to go check on the soup I’m making. I’ll come back in a bit.”
I sat on the chair, looking at the empty screen, thinking about what René said before. My heart was obviously empty, but it also felt like several thousand kgs were weighing down on it with nowhere to fall to. It only felt like, as I sat there, everything behind me was a bottomless black hole. And my task was to obstruct this tunnel and not let Li Chuan slip through the middle of it and disappear in front of me.
Could I block it?
Li Chuan must have been very sick in those five years. He must have been bedridden for a long time. He couldn’t even use the computer himself and needed someone else to read to him.
What was his illness? I didn’t have the courage to guess anymore. Perhaps he had already made many rounds to the gates of hell…so he didn’t want to tell me because he didn’t want to be a burden to me.
An eerie feeling fell over me, making me ice-cold from head to toe. I had run to the kitchen to pour a cup of hot water to warm myself.
When I got back, the screen was flashing again. René was back, “Where were we just now?”
“At Li Chuan being stubborn and Ji Chuan being (English) bossy.”
“It’s not really (English) bossy. Ji Chuan just has quite a lot of ideas that are often better than others, so he always wants to have others listen to him.” He probably became aware of how many bad things he had been saying about Ji Chuan that René quickly tried to remedy.
“That’s right. Ji Chuan is really good. I quite like him.”
“Then, Annie, why don’t you come to Switzerland?” René asked.
“Come to Switzerland when Li Chuan gets out of the hospital okay? I’ll transfer you to the Swiss headquarters and give you the same amount of pay as Li Chuan.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. A few years ago, when I was with Li Chuan, Li Chuan repeatedly asked me whether I was willing to go on vacation with him in Switzerland. It didn’t matter whether it was a long or short vacation. I didn’t agree to it a single time. I was a bit embarrassed to meet Li Chuan’s family. Actually, Li Chuan had his own home. But from when he spoke normally, it seemed like he was very close to his relatives. During Chinese New Years he would go visit his paternal grandparents, his maternal grandparents, his father’s older brother, his father’s younger brother, his (maternal) uncle, his (maternal) aunt, and going to bars, traveling and skiing with a whole bunch of his cousins. They were very important in his life…I was a bit scared off by it.
“I…am a foreigner….I’m not used to it. Plus, I don’t know how to speak French or German.”
“Everyone in his family knows how to speak English. Plus, the older generation can all speak Chinese.”
“Um…I’m also a little afraid of meeting the older generation.” I was suddenly reminded of a line from “Pair of Peacocks Fly Southeast”. [Chinese poem about a wife who vowed not to remarry and drowned herself after the mother-in-law cast her off. The husband ended up hanging himself.]
“Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. There are very few girls in the Wang family. The older generation is all very loving towards the children, especially the girls. Especially the girl that Li Chuan likes. They can’t wait to love you.”
René said this like I was already the daughter-in-law of Li Chuan’s family. I couldn’t help but be depressed again, “Don’t say anymore, René. Li Chuan and I are already (English) over. His health is not good right now. I don’t want make things difficult for him. He wants me to be over him. I will be over him.”
The other side quickly type a kowtowing emoticon, “Annie you must not be (English) over with Li Chuan. Our whole family is begging you!!!”
I suddenly felt that the other person’s tone was a little fishy, “Hey, are you René?”
After a short pause, a line of text popped up in the chatbox, “I am Ji Chuan. René is washing the dishes. He won’t use the dishwasher. Such a (English) Helpless DIY. How can you not rule by might towards this kind of person?”
Older brother Ji Chuan!!! My mouth hung widely open. I was shocked, “You…when did you come on?”
“I’m just kidding. René had me come and take a look, to see if there was any new news. I just came on. Xiao Qiu, add my MSN.”
The portrait changed to an owl with a personalized signature of: “I’m not bossy. I just have better ideas.”
I quickly typed, getting straight to the subject, “Ji Chuan Ge Ge, can I go to Switzerland now to see Li Chuan?”
The other end paused for a long time, and then afterwards a line displayed, “We are all hoping for you to come. But Li Chuan will definitely not agree. He doesn’t want to see you during this time.”
Seeing me not reply for a long time, Ji Chuan sent another line of text, “If Li Chuan were willing to see you, he wouldn’t have left you six years ago.”
Ji Chuan proved himself to be Li Chuan’s brother.
I chatted with René for an hour and learned a lot about Li Chuan’s past. I chatted with Ji Chuan for half an hour. Ji Chuan didn’t reveal a bit of anything that Li Chuan didn’t want me to know. We chatted about Switzerland’s climate and scenery.
Ji Chuan suggested that I call Li Chuan once a week. He said that Li Chuan definitely wanted to hear my voice, but his health is still not very stable. He was very weak and couldn’t speak for a long time. When it was severe, he still needed to depend on a ventilator.
Honestly, after experiencing the death of two close family members, I was already quite immune to fear. Li Chuan’s situation reminded me of the month before my father passed away. At the time I received three critically ill notifications a day. Every time they tried to save him, Xiao Dong and I would guard outside the operation room, staring at the clock on the wall. Watching time and life pass away by the second. After a month, our spirits had already been tormented to exhaustion. We were already numb to fear. We only knew to follow the doctor’s advice and take care of the patient, trying our best to conform with the treatment procedures. Sometimes, when I saw my father strenuously struggling on the sickbed, neither living or dying, I would even secretly think to myself that if I were him, I might as well die. Perhaps it would be a relief.
The week after I chatted with René, I had nightmares every night. When I woke up, I couldn’t fall asleep again. I started taking sleeping pills every day. And then I used fierce exercise to divert my attention.
On Saturday, I went to the gym and found that, because my teacher had taken a sudden leave of absence, the yoga course for this semester was ended early. What took over it was Latin dance. Therefore, former members of the yoga class all entered into the Latin dance class to learn Cha Cha from a handsome male instructor from the Physical Education department. It was said that this change didn’t make anyone unhappy. Instead, everyone’s enthusiasm increased. They could exercise while checking someone out. Really, what could you have against it?
When I was a senior in university, I took Latin dancing for a bit. At that time, our school was holding a Latin dance competition. Because I was the head of sports in the student union, I was assigned to represent the English department with another guy. In order to rank, we found a senior Latin dancing teacher to choreograph for us. We practiced day and night, continuously. In the end, we got second place. The champions were masters in the Physical Education department. We conceded defeat.
After so many years, I had already forgotten some dance steps. But because I often went to the dance hall, I would occasionally get up and show a move.
The gym that I went to was the largest gym in our district. There were triple the number of people in Latin dance class than yoga class. There were many more university students. And there were many more male students.
That Saturday, I entered the classroom after changing into my exercise clothes and saw someone. Someone tall standing in the corner with both of his hands in his pants pockets, with his head down, as if he was a little uncomfortable.
At first, I suspected that I had stepped into the wrong classroom. But those mothers were all chatting in a corner in the classroom. I definitely didn’t walk into the wrong one. And then I suspected that Eason had walked into the wrong classroom. A physics Ph.D dancing Latin dance was a bit funny.
“Hi, Eason!” I went up to greet him.
When he saw me, he was a bit embarrassed, “Hello, Xie Xiao Qiu.”
“How come you have time to come here?”
“I followed my instructor here.”
“Your instructor? Who is your instructor?”
“It’s that person…”
My eyes followed the direction he was pointing to. “That person” was our Latin dance instructor. Eason explained that he was originally under Teacher Ding at Haidian (district) gym. Now this side wanted Teacher Ding to come and teach. Since he had only just taken the class for a month at the other place, he didn’t want to change teachers, so he followed him here.
I blinked my wide open eyes, “You…are learning Latin dance?”
“Is it very strange?” He knew what I was thinking, yet his expression was unperturbed.
He licked his lips and explained, “Us in the Physics department are always being said to have very developed brains with simple limbs by other people. I want to balance that…”
“There should be many ways to balance it, right? Such as mixed martial arts class, kungfu class, tennis class, fitness class, swimming class, golf class, bowling class…”
There were so many manly classes. Yet, he didn’t go to them and came here instead.
He faintly smiled, “Mmhmm, I go to those classes. But I also like Latin dancing.”
I didn’t have anything else to say. After awhile, I looked for something to say, “Latin dance is quite nice.”
“That’s right,” he said, “the instructor just told everyone to find a dance partner earlier. Since we know each other, can you be my dance partner?”
“Um…um…” I was looking for an excuse.
“Don’t worry, I won’t step on your feet.” He looked at me sincerely, “I’ve learned it before. I’m not at beginner’s level for this.”
“Oh…okay.” It was hard to say no.
The music started. It was a passionate Latin love song. The instructor said that he wanted to have everyone listen to the music and dance to the music as we wished, to warm ourselves up.
I asked Eason, “You said that you weren’t at beginner’s level. Then what level are you at?”
“I once represented the school in a competition before.”
I drew a huge breath, “Then you should at least be in an intermediate class.”
“The instructor said that from what he could see by the sign up sheet, there are quite a few people who were at intermediate level. So everyone can dance as they wish right now and he’ll observe first before splitting the class. Starting next time, this time slot is for the intermediate class. The next class will be for the beginner’s level.” He said this slowly. Looks like he was very close with Teacher Ding.
“Oh…it’s like that.”
Without better option, I started dancing with Eason.
After a few steps, I was dumbstruck.
Even though Eason’s level couldn’t overtake the level of skills that the champions of my school that year had, his skills were evenly matched with mine. He even knew the extremely complicated movements. His waist and thighs twisted and kicked with precision.
The problem wasn’t here.
The problem was that during the entire time we danced, he continuously looked at me with a smile that was also not a smile. His expression was ambiguous.
I wasn’t the only one who became foolish by it. All the females present also became foolish.
We didn’t prepare at all, but we were very harmonious partners. At the climax of the dance, he even lifted me up and then threw me out, playing out a dangerous ballet movement.
The music was still playing and our waists were still twisting when the alarm on my watch suddenly sounded.
At this time, today, I had arranged to call Li Chuan.
I apologized and dropped Eason there, running out of the gym. I took out a telephone card and entered in a long line of numbers into my cell phone.
“Hi.” A pleasant male voice.
“Xiao Qiu, how are you?” His voice was still very soft. It was even a bit hoarse. However, it sounded a bit more energetic than last time.
I immediately relaxed a bit.
“Very well, you?”
“Are you still using a breathing machine? Li Chuan?”
There was a moment of silence on the other end. His voice was clearly displeased, “Who told you I had to use a breathing machine?”
My head expanded ten times it size with a buzz. What time was it that this person, who didn’t even have the strength to speak, would still be trying to keep me in the dark? He still didn’t want me to know. How long was he going to keep me in the dark?
For no reason, I got angry. My voice immediately got louder by several degrees, “Li Chuan, seeing as how I never told you a lie in all the years we’ve known each other, please tell me the truth. Okay?”
Before my last words had fallen, I was already scared by the aggressiveness of my own tone. Sure enough, on the other end, Li Chuan said a very vague syllable as if he wanted to say something but was unable to say it. Only the sounds of difficult breathing could be heard.
Afterwards, there was only sounds of a call having been hung.
We weren’t compatible. We truly weren’t compatible. If Li Chuan meeting me wasn’t a natural or man-made disaster, what else could it be? Wah…I am a jinx. I subdued him again!
My brain was completely blank. Flustered, I punched in numbers on the phone. Cheap international calling cards required inputting thirty some numbers. In my confusion, I dialed incorrectly three times in a row before getting it right.
This time, the nurse picked up and said in stiff English, “Mr. Wang needs rest. Please call again after a while.”
“Wait!” I called out loudly, “Was Mr. Wang alright just now?”
“Oh…he was in front of the phone for a long time. I reckon he was was a bit tired. We are currently giving him oxygen. Nothing will happen to him.”
The phone had already hung up.
I sat, disappointed, on the flight of stairs.
The moon drifted between the treetops.
The night air was very warm. It must already by spring.
I hugged my legs and sat on the ice-cold slate. I sat there thinking about the years that had passed away. Both at a loss and gloomy.
I asked myself over and over again, without Li Chuan, could I continue living? Without Li Chuan, would life still have meaning?
The answer was that without Li Chuan, didn’t I live for six years? Without Li Chuan wasn’t my life still very rich?
Why was my heart still so heavy and so depressed?
For a whole six years, I had never laughed as much as I liked. Really. Even if I went to see a lively comedy, I would still cry. I would think that I was the most ridiculous person in the world. It was wistful thinking. My heart wouldn’t die. I knew that I was looking through a rosy view, but I still cut off my means of retreat.
The streetlight flickered and cumin smell floated in the air.
I held in my tears in my eyes and sat on the steps for staring blankly for a long time. My legs gradually felt somewhat numb. I was just about stand up when someone suddenly patted me on the shoulder.
I turned around to look. It was Eason.
“Hi, this is your clothes and your bag. Class is already over.”
I like that Li Chuan’s family, René especially, all love Xiao Qiu. I just wish Li Chuan would stop being so stubborn and allow Xiao Qiu to go see him. It’s not like keeping her in the dark like that is doing her any good. Hold her there and she might really move on….to perhaps Eason?