Li Chuan bought a piece of bread for me and leaned against the railing by the lakeside with me, watching me pull it apart bit by bit to feed the ducks.
After standing there with me for awhile, he pointed to a bench under the shade of a tree and said, “You take your time, I’ll go sit over there.”
I turned around and looked at him. He did look cheerful, but his complexion was awfully pale. His eyes were slightly drooped, looking exhausted. I couldn’t help but think about how he sat in a wheelchair the whole time at the airport. Clearly, he didn’t have the strength to walk. However, he went to line up for a hotdog for me and then walked up and down the hill with me. It was a long way to walk.
“You’re tired,” I said in alert, “let’s go home.”
“No, no,” he shook his head, “I only need to rest for a bit.”
“The chair is so hard, it’ll be uncomfortable for you to sit…”
“Enough, stop arguing.”
I didn’t leave Li Chuan. I went and sat down with him on the long bench. His face was as white as paper. Underneath the dazzling sunlight, it was even faintly green. I held his hand and asked, “Are you alright? Do you need to take medicine?”
“I’m fine.” He said. His cell phone suddenly rang. He looked at the number and picked up.
— Ge (Older brother).
— Uh-huh, don’t worry. I picked her up.”
— I’m not returning to the hospital today. I’m going to walk around with Xiao Qiu. She’s only staying for a day.
— Of course I’ve signed. Herman was not there.
— I’m not tired, Fehn will go with me.
— I said, I’m not going back to the hospital today. Of course, that includes tonight.
— Xiao Qiu is not here. She went to feed the ducks.
— Why are you so troublesome? Don’t have the nurse come. I won’t die from not getting IV for a day.
— Don’t tell. Especially, don’t tell (paternal) grandfather and (paternal) grandmother. Otherwise, you must pay back all the money you owe me.
— Mmhmm, I will be careful.
— That’s right, I want to bring Xiao Qiu to Kunststuben to eat. Don’t you know the boss there? Help me make a call. I’m afraid I can’t get reservations….Tonight at 7. And then we’ll go to Valmann Bar…Yes, Yes, I won’t drink.
— Bye. Tell René hi.
He hung up and said to me, “René just turned on his MSN and made a big fuss over there about whether you had been lost.
I was already regretful to the utmost degree due to my impulsiveness this time. Li Chuan needed to be hospitalized, but would rather interrupt his treatment in order to keep me company. Even if he didn’t mind, his family definitely wouldn’t agree.
I licked my lips and said, “Li Chuan, you had better return…”
He interrupted me, “Don’t worry. Really. Nothing will happen to me.”
At that moment, his cell phone rang again. He took it out, looked at the number, and shoved it back into his pocket without picking up.
After ringing five times, the ringing stopped. After ten seconds, it ran again.
“Li Chuan, pick up the phone.”
He sighed, and then picked up.
— I’m at home.
— Herman called you?
— I have a friend who came from China, just staying one day. I’m going to accompany them.
— I’ve signed. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be so worried, okay?
— Nothing will happen.
— Then what do you want me to do?
— No. I said nothing will happen. I’ll return to the hospital tomorrow night. No, you don’t need to come back. I don’t need a nurse right now.
— Dad, you doing it again!
— I’m tired. I’m hanging up. Bye.
At this, he hung up. I looked at him nervously. Unexpectedly, after a minute, the cellphone rang again. Li Chuan’s face immediately became gloomy.
Following which, there was a beautiful arch in the air.
With a dull sound of the water, the black cellphone disappeared into the lake.
“Li Chuan, listen to me.” I anxiously entreated, “Don’t let your dad worry. I’ll go back to the hospital with you. okay?”
“No.” He sat there calmly with a determined attitude.
The hole was being dug even deeper. I sat there, next to him, in melancholy, silently looking at the jade blue water. I inhaled, not allowing my tears to fall out.
An arm was put over my shoulder. Li Chuan hugged me tightly, “Don’t worry about my dad. My dad is in Hong Kong. The whip may be long…and so on.”
“The whip may be long, but should not be used on the horse’s stomach.”
“That’s right, that meaning.”
“Li Chuan, what is this lake called.”
He laughed once and bowed his head to look at me, “Foolish girl, this is the Zurich Lake that I often told you about.”
“Oh! No wonder it’s so big!” I asked, “Do all your family members live in this region?”
“Mmm. There are also some who live elsewhere. My uncles live in another small town. My (paternal) grandfather used to live in Bern, the French district. Afterwards, for business convenience, he moved here.”
I pretended to yawn with calculation, “Li Chuan, I’m tired. I want to sleep.”
“Don’t sleep. You’re only here for a day, yet you still want a nap. I’ll take you to a cafe to drink Espresso. There a small cafe near here with great taste. You’ll have energy again after two cups.” He remained unmoved.
“I really too tired. Can you go back with me?”
He stood up and took me to the street to get a taxi, “Didn’t you say your clothes were ripped? Let’s go buy some. You like skirts. Spring and summer is perfect for buying skirts.
Fine, everyone has a weakness. This person just won’t let me sleep.
I saw travel pamphlets at the airport that said that Bahnhofstrasse was a shopper’s paradise. Summer clothes have hit the market in April. I could buy a few skirts. If I was lucky, I might come upon discounts. But Zurich, itself, was also famous for being the most expensive shopping district. Even if there was a discount, it wouldn’t be that cheap. If Li Chuan was not by my side, I would have probably strolled all day long to maybe dig up a bargain. But..today…I’ll just leave that be.
The taxi unexpectedly stopped in neither a large nor small ally.
“This is Bahnhofstrasse?”
“The one we just passed with lots of banks and stores was Bahnhofstrasse. This isn’t, but it’s still really close. The good clothing stores are all in the alley. The men’s and women’s clothes in this Salvatore Schito store isn’t bad. I often buy leather shoes here.”
We walked in and Li Chuan sat down on the couch. A warm and pretty shop assistant patiently helped me choose clothes. She could speak English fluently. I tried on two dresses with amazing speed and under Li Chuan’s suggestion, I then tried on two pairs of leather shoes and a purse. In less than thirty minutes, we came out with large and small bags.
“Why are you so fast when buying clothes every time?”
“Because you pay.”
“How come, when we were in Beijing, you would haggle for vegetables for half an hour over a few cents?”
“Because I like to.”
A certain person had nothing to say.
“Don’t get in the car so quickly. There are still several more stores ahead. Follow me.” Li Chuan pulled me, wanting to continue going forward.
“I’ve already bought everything I need. I don’t want to stroll anymore.”
When I dragged Li Chuan back to the car, his face was already filled with fatigue and couldn’t go on anymore. But his plan was completely packed: First go to the cafe to drink coffee. Then visit an art gallery, a cathedral and the Rietberg Museum. Have dinner in the evening and then go drink at a bar afterwards. Listen to jazz…When the car started, after going a bit on the road, he was already asleep, leaning on me. I took the opportunity to take out the address that he had written for me earlier and asked the driver to take us home.
The half asleep Li Chuan was half pulled and half dragged into the bedroom by the driver and me. He fell headlong onto the bed and was fast asleep. Seeing him sleeping so soundly, I also became sleep and simply lied down beside him and dozed off.
Li Chuan closely cuddled me like before. In my sleep, I heard him groan. He curled his body up and pant lightly while pressing on his wounded disabled body with his hands. After the surgery, Li Chuan always had severe aching in his bones and relied on painkillers to mitigate it. More than ten years had passed, the pain had become chronic. Even though it wasn’t as often and severe as before, when it did flare-up, half his body still convulsed with unbearable pain. This happened several times when Li Chuan and I were together. Usually he would get up in the middle of the night to take painkillers and sleeping pills. Then, he would go rest in another room. Painkillers were not particularly useful. The effects of hot compression was better. But each time it flared up, Li Chuan wouldn’t let me know. It was only after I had been woken up by his tossing and turning could I help him. Him who was dripping in cold sweat.
I went and warmed up a towel in the bathroom, laying it out on his slightly trembling waist. I saw that his eyelids were gently moving, seeming as he wanted to wake up but his sleepiness was too heavy. He turned over a few times on the bed and then fell into a deep sleep. In the haze, he couldn’t find where I was and vaguely called out, “Xiao Qiu…”
“Sleep, I am here.” I stroked his face.
He peacefully fell asleep.
The Zurich lake was a blue color in the sunset. At the end of the horizon was a slice of red light.
A dim desk lamp was on in the room. It was really quite all around. You could hear the sounds in the distance. In this strange place, with such a familiar person next to me, I couldn’t fall asleep. I looked at Li Chuan in deep thought, thinking about his illness and about how we didn’t have a conclusive future.
Tomorrow, we had to separate again. Li Chuan snuggled tightly against me in his sleep. From the start, he had been holding onto my hand. I knew how much he longed to be together with me.
Several hours passed in disappointment and absent-mindedness.
Suddenly, ringing came from downstairs.
I took off my pajamas and put on the t-shirt with a Beijing opera mask on it. I casually put up my hair into a ponytail and went downstairs to open the door.
A thin, tall, elderly man stood on the veranda. In his hand was a cane. He had a head of gray hair. He looked very energetic and had on exquisite clothes with an out of the ordinary presence. I couldn’t help but think that he must have been very handsome when he was younger. He still had such elegance even at this old age. There was a tall young foreign woman standing next to him. She had maroon colored long hair and in her hands was a case.
He must be an important relative of Li Chuan’s.
I was a bit nervous, and my voice couldn’t help but tremble, “May I ask…are the two of you looking for Li Chuan?” I asked in English.
“Yes.” The elderly man said quite nicely, “Is he at home?”
“Mmhmm…he is sleeping. Please come in, I’ll go wake him.”
The two came into the room, but the room was dark. I looked everywhere for the light switch.
“It’s here.” The elderly man turned on the light for me. The room immediately brightened as if it was daytime.
I move to the stairs to go call Li Chuan, but the elderly man suddenly stopped me, “Since he’s already sleeping, then don’t wake him up.”
I felt very uncomfortable and a little bit wronged. I was a guest, yet I had to entertain guests.
The elderly man very willingly sat down on the couch and crossed his legs. He used his eyes to indicate for the young woman to sit down after him. I cast a glance upstairs. There was no sounds of movement. Wah…I was going mad. When will that Li Chuan wake up.
“(Old) sir,” I sat upright, “may I ask what your name is?”
“My surname is Wang,” he said, “I am Li Chuan’s (paternal) grandfather. This is Miss Eleanor. May I ask who you are…”