I stood up, grabbed all my stuff, and said thanks.
“Do you mind if I give you a ride home on my bike?” he asked with a soft and gentle gaze.
“It’s not far from my home here,” I sniffed my nose and smiled at him, “I can walk back by myself.”
“I’ll walk with you. I’m heading the same direction anyway,” he persisted. He took over my bag and hung it on his bike.
We walked quietly. I wasn’t in a good mood, so I didn’t say a word. After we made a turn on a street, Eason suddenly said, “My sister said that you’re weird.”
“She said that you don’t have any friends in CGP, whether they’re male or female. It’s not that you’re not likable, it just seems like, hm…like you don’t need any friends. As if you’re not interested in the world outside.”
I looked at him surprised. Was this the impression that Eason had on me? Was I this dispirited?
“Not interested?” I defended, “That can’t be! I joined the Vegetarian Society, I go to yoga classes, I hang out at pubs, I dance, I swim, I jog— I’ve been mingling with the world.”
Deep in my heart, I knew I was lying and making up excuses. I might be over exaggerating to say that I had lost my soul after Li Chuan’s departure. But it was definitely not wrong to say that it caused my spirit to hibernate, my senses to go out of order, my ability to social deteriorate, and caused me to lose faith in living.
He turned around and looked at me inscrutably, “I meant your spirit, not your body.” He continued, “You look like you’re smiling, but when you really do smile, you frown as if you’ve just swallowed a cup of bile……”
Eason talked enthusiastically, but he forgot one thing, and that was: people who are troubled do not want others to analyze their troubles.
I interrupted him bluntly, “(English) Stop, classmate Eason! I know you are a researcher, but I hope that you don’t find interest in analyzing me. I don’t want to be particles. I don’t like to be analyzed. Whether I’m happy or not, it’s none of your business!”
I immediately regretted what I said. I never attacked people on a regular day. Who told him to provoke me at a time like this; my mind was completely occupied by Li Chuan.
But he wasn’t mad and said in his usual tone, “Do you know of the butterfly effect?”
“A butterfly that flaps its wings in South America could cause a tornado to appear in Texas. Your drop of tear today may cause a flood in Brazil or it may cause a snowstorm next year. Your happiness is related to the world, so of course it’s my business. We are all interconnected.”
“Classmate Eason, first of all, I don’t want you to turn me into ‘physics.’ Secondly, when you talk about something, can you not use the whole world or the universe as the background? Whether or not they’re related, it’s not for you to say. For example, you and I are not related because I say we’re not. I and someone else are related because I say so. Even if he doesn’t want to be related to me, I will still force us to be related……”
My eyes were already burning before I could finish. I cried, “Who did I offend in my previous life? Why do I have such bad luck……”
I had never talked about myself and Li Chuan in front of anyone in the past six years. I had kept it in myself securely like it was top secret. I never told Xiao Dong as I didn’t want him to be upset. I never told my classmates because I didn’t want them to laugh at me. I didn’t dare to tell my coworkers as I was afraid that they would show sympathy towards me and say, “Just look at how depressing her life is. She’s still so young, but her mom and dad are gone, and she got dumped by her boyfriend.” Ning Huan Huan was my only close friend, but she went to Shanghai after we graduated, and she actually married Xiu Yue, so I didn’t feel comfortable talking to her about it…… But I actually blurted everything out to a stranger today, which goes to show that my willpower had already been used up by Li Chuan.
Seeing that my face was covered with tears, Eason handed me a tissue and asked me something totally unrelated, “Oh right, do you eat lamb kebabs?”
The street was filled with the scent of grilled food, which was so tempting—–
“……No, I’m vegetarian.”
“There are veggies. They have grilled tofu, spinach, and potatoes.”
“Sure, I’ll treat.”
“Okay. Those of us in physics are poor anyway, so we’re used to being treated…”
“Pffff——” I couldn’t help laughing.
We found a spot to sit. The stool was a bit dirty, and just as I was about to sit on it, Eason stopped me. He used a napkin to clean it. He ordered a bottle of beer and ten lamb kebabs. I ordered a plate full of veggies: dried tofu, corn, potatoes, and spinach. We both emphasized on adding “extra spicy.”
Eason loved everything spicy just like me. The spicier the better.
“Aren’t you from Beijing?” I asked.
Eason didn’t look like he was from Northern China, but he spoke Mandarin articulately.
“I’m from Chengdu, but I went to university in Beijing. My mom and dad are both from Chengdu. When people from Chengdu come together, they like to do four things…”
“Which four things?”
“Drink Malatang (hot and spicy soup), play mahjong, watch porn, and talk about young and pretty girls,” he spoke in Chengdu dialect; it was soft sounding, weird, but funny.
“No wonder you insist on staying single. As long as no one controls your life, you’ll continue to play around.”
“Yeah, this is a very good way of living. I suggest you try it.”
“But,” I took a bite of tofu and asked a very practical question, “how do you deal with your physiological needs?”
He was drinking his beer and almost spouted it, “Physiological needs?”
“Yeah, as in……hm, you know?”
“I know? Oh——that. For the sake of keeping this living style, I can only sacrifice it. Just like you have to sacrifice eating meat in order to be vegetarian.”
It was my turn to choke, “Is that…easy?”
“It’s not easy……but I can endure it. Even when it’s hard to, I just need to endure it longer and it’ll be fine, right?”
“Is it because you guys in physics don’t get a lot of chances to meet girls that meet your eyes?”
“That is true. There aren’t a lot of girls in physics. If there are any, they are usually quite ordinary, but even so, they are usually taken by others very soon.”
“Even someone as talented as you can’t find one?”
“I was already taken by a girl when I was in high school.”
I asked feeling strange, “Does that mean you had a girlfriend before?”
“Mm.” He answered, “I took my girlfriend with me when I went abroad, but after a year, she fell in love with a Japanese man. In order to marry him, she aborted our baby.”
He didn’t show a lot of emotion. He explained as if he was telling a joke. I was a bit shocked, “How could that happen? How long were you together?”
“Eight years, since high school.” He drank a mouthful of beer, “After eight years of relationship, it was all wasted.”
“How come you’re still so happy?” I was amazed by him.
“What can I do besides being happy? Should I jump off a building? Jump into a river?”
“Sigh, Eason, I think we should shake hands,” I really held out my hand and shook his.
“What, you were dumped too?”
“I guess you can say so. We are in the process of being (English) over.”
“Let’s eat,” he said, “There’s nothing we can do about love. You should try and shift your focus to your mouth.”
“You mean like food therapy?”
“Yes. Let me recommend you something that is exactly for healing people who are lovelorn.”
“What is it?”
“Beef jerky,” he said, “I’m serious. Those jerkies are especially tough to chew…Like you’re chewing your enemy’s flesh. If you don’t believe me, give it a try. I’ve recommended it to many people.” [壮志饥餐胡虏肉 Chewing your enemy’s flesh refers to a Song poem by Yue Fei called ‘Man Jian Hong.’ The full verse basically says that the person has such a great aspiration and will drink the enemy’s blood and eat the enemy’s flesh.]
I laughed out loud.
After eating for almost an hour, Eason walked me home. I said to him, “Thank you for walking with me.”
I took out my keys, turned around to open the door, and Eason suddenly said, “We have a gathering on Saturday. A lot of professors and family members will be there. Would you be able to come (English) cover for me as my girlfriend so that the Chair of the union doesn’t start asking me questions?”
I thought that his request was reasonable and maybe I would also need him to “cover” for me in the near future, so I answered, “Yeah, sure.”
There was a big Chinese parasol tree beside my front door. Before I entered my home every time, I would gaze from the bottom of the tree all the way up to the sky, and then from the sky to the roots of the tree. That was my one and only eye exercise that I did every day.
I opened the door and saw Mia on the bed, dipping her head dozing off. I went to the kitchen to wash yesterday’s dishes, which was one bowl. I found my cup, and poured out yesterday’s tea. I gave Mia a bath, and used the hairdryer to dry her. I then turned on my computer and started working on my translations as over-time. I had been worrying about Li Chuan every day for the past week, so it was hard to stay focused, which delayed my work. I worked hard in front of the computer for two hours and was completely exhausted. After taking a shower, I lay on my bed, listening to the classical music playing on the radio. I stared at the ceiling with many thoughts troubling my mind, so I couldn’t sleep.
The shorter hand of the clock gradually pointed to 3am. I got out of bed to look for some sleeping pills. The bottle was empty; I finished them all and had forgotten to buy more. I started practicing yoga in the living room, but it made me become more awake, so I decided to put on my workout clothes and running shoes, and went outside for a jog. I would be able to sleep after getting tired from jogging.
The front of my building faced a road that was well lit. Cars occasionally passed by. There were a 24-hour night club and internet cafe on each side, and it was a very safe area. Jogging was the best way to fight insomnia. I jogged around the area, panting to catch my breath, and then the phone in my pocket rang.
It was an unfamiliar and long number.
Which lunatic would call me in the middle of the night?
Whether it was a prank or someone deliberately calling to disturb me, I pressed the end call button directly.
After a minute, the phone rang again. This time, I felt irritated, so I opened my cell phone and scolded, “Hey, Mister, can you pay more attention to the number you’re calling? Can you take a look at the time, it’s 3am in the morning!”
The other end was silent. After a while, a soft voice came on, “I’m sorry, it’s me, Li Chuan.”
As I heard Li Chuan’s voice while I was jogging, I forgot to watch the crossing signal when I got to an intersection. A car came from behind and immediately braked. The driver shouted, “You slow idiot. Did your man die [aka trying to commit suicide]?!”
I quickly returned to the sidewalk to wait for the red light.
“It’s so late already, you’re still outside?” Li Chuan had clearly heard the Chongqing driver’s scolding. [The insult was a specific Chongqing dialect phrase]
“I……” I swallowed, “was jogging.”
“I saw that you were still online, so I thought you hadn’t gone to bed yet.” He then asked, “you finished all your sleeping pills?”
“You’re outside running late at night? Do you not know how unsafe it is? Go home immediately, do you hear me?” He must have caught his breath as he suddenly sounded harsh.
I wanted to tell him that it was none of his business. I wanted to ask who I was to him, and ask why he’d care. But I immediately thought, Amitabha, I, Xie Xiao Qiu, shall not argue with a sick person.
“I’m jogging back home right now.”
After coming back from Wenzhou, Li Chuan was determined to sever all ties with me, so he never called me. I was truly surprised that he called me this time. I felt overwhelmed by his blessing. It was my good fortune. I was depressed by it but I could not help but feel gratitude.
I rushed back home, opened the metal door, sat on my bed, and spoke into the phone without getting a cup of water first to relieve my thirst, “Li Chuan, what are you looking for me for?”
“Are you feeling better?” I was still out of breath, “Are you able to talk longer now?”
“A lot better.” He paused, and then said, “I just need the breathing machine once in a while, just once or twice. Don’t listen to others, it’s not as serious as you think.”
I admit, regarding breathing machines, it was best not to browse too many images on it.
“Li Chuan…” I asked, “are you in a lot of pain?”
“Where would I feel pain?”
“Did they…plug a tube——”
He immediately interrupted me, “No, I’m not in pain. Don’t have such a wild imagination, okay?”
“Is there anywhere else that you feel uncomfortable?”
“No,” he said, “I’m quite comfortable right now.”
“Are you…lying quite comfortably in the hospital, hm? Li Chuan, is this what you want to tell me?”
“Mm. I’m usually very busy and don’t have time to rest. Now I’m getting a bit of a break, so don’t worry about me,” he said casually.
“I’m sorry to take my anger out on you. Was I very loud? Did I sound mean? Are you mad?” I was a goner. I turned completely into cheesy romance novel mode and lost all my temper.
“Xiao Qiu,” he said word by word, “don’t ever say you’re sorry to me. You have nothing to be sorry about towards me.”
“Then how come you’re—— Why are you calling me then? Are you calling to comfort me?”
“I just wanted to tell you that everything is well, and for you to not worry.”
“When can you leave the hospital?”
“A little while longer.”
“Then it means that you’re still sick.”
“Xiao Qiu, stop dwelling on the topic, okay? Think of happier things.”
“You’re sick and yet you want me to be happy? Who do you think I am?!!!” I raised my voice.
“……” He didn’t say anything.
“Li Chuan, say something!”
“……Continue to (English) move on, do you hear me?”
I felt that he must have gotten a lot better, otherwise, he wouldn’t be so fierce and sounded annoyed. I thought, maybe I should argue with him.
It was best not to.
“Sure, I’ll go find a guy tonight.” I was mad, “That Ph.D guy had just walked me home. I’ll call him right now and ask if he wants to be with me tonight. The two of our skinny bodies lying together feel so boney anyway.”
“I want you to (English) move on, not mess around. Do you want to get AIDS?” He started putting me down again.
“Li Chuan,” I said to him seriously, “give me five years, okay? Let me take care of you. I only want five years. If you still want me to leave afterwards, I will leave and definitely not cling onto you.”
He didn’t say anything for a long time.
“I’m sorry,” he said faintly, “I’m very sorry……I don’t have five years to give you.”
The tears flowed out of my eyes. I yelled at him with a tearful voice, “Then stop caring about me! I still have to go outside to jog!”
“Wait, don’t go!” He said, “I have a way to make you fall asleep. Lie down first, with the blanket over you.”
“……” I sniffed my nose.
“Stop crying. Have you lied down yet?”
“I’ll read a paragraph from ‘A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu’ to you.”
“Li Chuan, I want sex……”
“I’m in Zurich and you’re in Beijing, how can we have sex, Miss?”
“Mentally…Why don’t you read me an erotic novel?”
“No, that will only make you more excited……”
“Wait till I’m asleep before you hang up then……”
“Okay. Close your eyes, I’m going to start reading.” Li Chuan’s low and sexy voice read, “(French) Longtemps, je me suis couché de boone heure……”
It was like magic. I fell asleep within a minute.