I slowly walked towards the main entrance with Li Chuan. The chauffeur was already waiting for him.
Li Chuan opened the door of the extremely spacious German car for me and let me get in. He got in and handed the crutches to the driver to place into the trunk. His entire body radiated with a refreshing fragrance.
“I had Xiao Wei order vegetarian for you alone.” He said, “You’ve changed back to eating vegetarian?”
“To contribute to the world environment.”
He laughed lightly.
“What are you laughing at?”
“I had thought that everything about you had probably changed in all these years but only your habit of eating would definitely not change.”
“Have I changed a lot?”
He turned around to look at me, “No, nothing about you has change. How I wish you could have changed a little.”
“How about you? Have you changed?”
“What do you think?”
“You haven’t changed at all either. Besides becoming farther and farther away from me.”
We both entered into silence. We quickly got to Hui Xian restaurant.
Besides a few individuals in the graphics and admin departments, practically everyone else in CGP had cars. Those few secretaries who didn’t have cars came with Director Jiang and Director Zhang’s cars. Perhaps it was because there was abalone to eat, but nearly everyone had notified their family. When we got to the entrance, Li Chuan was stopped by the two executives waiting there to talk to him. I saw Eason and Emma in the restaurant dining room and quickly went over to greet them.
“Sigh, I’m a little regretful. If I had known there was abalone to eat earlier, I would have changed back to being a vegetarian a few months later.” I said laughing.
“Li Chuan really knows how to take care of women. He knew that the women in our translator group are all crazy about seafood. If it was to his preference, he probably would just have pasta. Xiao Qiu, sit at our table!” Because Li Chuan picked up Emma’s shoe this morning, Emma spared no efforts to praise him today.
“Of course, I’ll go ask where the vegetarian dish is placed.”
“I’ll go ask. Ladies, please have a seat. Let the men run the errands.” Eason courteously attended to us.
Those in the translating group either brought their husband and children or their boyfriends. Emma brought Mr. Su who she had been reportedly dating for a month. After Eason instructed the waiters, he sat down right next to me.
I drank a gulp of tea and saw Li Chuan sit down at a table pretty far from me.
Once the dishes were served, the waiters brought out a goblet of Longjing abalone to everyone. A Chinese squash tofu stew was placed by me. The vegetable dish Xiao Wei ordered for me was aromatic and spicy. I ate with great vigor and swept a look at the group of crazy seafood lovers relishing the abalone and lobster. Even Eason was no exception. Afterwards, the husband of Li Sha in the German group started telling racy stories, “It was said that, when I studied abroad in M country, streaking was fashionable. Even 70 year old elderly women wanted to try it. A group of elderly men were playing chess when naked elderly women ran by them. One of the men said, ‘That’s really shocking! Why don’t they iron such wrinkly clothes? The two pockets are even placed outside.’”
The young ladies shook with laughter. I followed inattentively, my interest waning.
Eason observed me in silence, seeming to sense that I wasn’t in a good mood. He asked if I had wanted to go to the observatory to see the stars recently. I said that I had too much translating work and couldn’t at this time.
As I was toasting with someone, I saw Li Chuan eating with extreme refinement as if his appetite had been restored. Everyone was drinking but no one urged him to drink. My heart gradually loosened and feeling that I had been snubbing Eason, I started enthusiastically asking him about general science. After Eason told me a bunch of black matter, particles, and quantum stories, he started to introduce his favorite book to me, “Biography of Physics”. He said that he had read the book more than a hundred times since he was a child and it had inspired in him the dream to become a scientist.
“What is your favorite book?” He asked.
“‘A Dream of Red Mansions’.”
I was a humanities student and, it goes without saying, that books were my favorite topic to talk about. Before, Li Chuan and I would lie on the bed and chat about the books we liked in common, ‘On The Road’, ‘Stepphenwolf’, Shakesphere’s tragicomedies… and wouldn’t go to sleep. Sigh, after lying in bed for so long, I was able to slowly change a once science and engineering minded Li Chuan to an advanced literate man.
“I’ve never read ‘A Dream of Red Mansions’.”
“Have you ever read ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’?”
“No…I’ve watched the tv series.”
“Besides physics books, what other thick books have you read?”
“Does ‘Albert Einstein’s Biography’ count? It’s quite thick, more than 600 pages.”
I looked at him, nearly choking on the eggplant in my throat. How could people be so different from each other?
I saw Li Chuan in the distance from the corners of my eye. He was just about to leave. He politely said a few words to the people around him and then slowly walked to the back exit.
Before I had sat down, I went to the washroom in the back once. The high quality restaurant had a high quality washroom. There were spotless marble countertops with fresh arranged flowers and serene incense. There was a washroom and dressing room dedicated to disabled people.
Thirty minutes had passed and Li Chuan still did not return.
I excused myself to go to the washroom and walked to the back hall. A server happened to be standing there, “Excuse me, Mister. Can I bother you for something?”
“Miss, do you need help with something?” The server very courteously asked me.
“One of my colleague’s health isn’t so well recently and often faints. He went to the washroom and hasn’t come back in thirty minutes. Could I ask you to go in and look to see if anything happened for me?”
I told him what Li Chuan looked like. He pushed open the door, went in, and quickly came out again, “Perhaps that gentleman drank too much. He’s throwing up quite seriously. I asked him if he needed any help, he said no.”
Looks like people often threw up at the restaurant. The server had a calm look on his face.
“Is there anyone else in the washroom?” I asked.
“Can you help me?” I handed him 50 dollars, “Please help me look after him. If he can’t walk, please support him. If his state is critical, I need to bring him to the hospital.”
I stood outside the washroom, guarding the door. It reminded me of when we were eating at Kunststuben in Zurich and he went to the washroom halfway through. It was for a long time and when he returned, he didn’t touch the knife and fork again. I guess he was already throwing up at that time. It was just that he didn’t let me know.
After another twenty minutes, the door finally opened. Li Chuan walked out with his head lowered.
When he saw me, he didn’t say anything. He went straight to the sofa at my side and sat down.
“Li Chuan, you have to go back and rest, or perhaps go to the hospital.”
“Can you get me a cup of water?” He said miserably.
I went to get a bottle of water, squatted down in front of him and poured out a small cup for him. He took out a pill for preventing throwing up from his breast pocket and swallowed it along with water with great effort. He hadn’t even finished swallowing before a “wah” sound come out and he threw it up. I just standing right in front of him and he threw up all over me. Fortunately, it didn’t get on my face.
I closed my eyes. Even though it was Li Chuan’s vomit, vomit was still vomit.
“I’m sorry…” He took out a handkerchief from his bag. I stopped him, held him down on the sofa and handed him another cup of water, “Take your medicine. Sit there and don’t move.”
I removed my outer layer and went to the dining room to look for his chauffeur. I then quietly gave an explanation to Director Jiang. The driver took out a wheelchair from the back seat and brought Li Chuan to the car.
I called René on the road, asking whether Li Chuan needed to be sent to the hospital. He said no, that we could just bring him back to the hotel. The car stopped at the Gang Ao Center Swiss Hotel on Dong Er Road. René was already waiting downstairs for us.
We brought the lethargic Li Chuan into his bedroom. René helped him change into pajamas and Li Chuan fell asleep in a daze.
“Didn’t he say he was only going to work for three hours a day?” René asked me when we returned to the living room, “How come Alex went for the whole day?”
“Perhaps because today was the first day, he didn’t want to leave too early?”
René anxiously paced the living room while holding a cup of coffee.
“René, why does Li Chuan always throw up? He already threw up twice today.”
“Alex has to take a type of medicine every day. That type of medication irritates the stomach, so he always wants to throw up. Furthermore, he is easily fatigued and will become tired even just moving a bit.”
I recalled the white pill he used to take every morning, “Is it the bone strengthening pill?”
“No. But he can still take Phernergan.”
“A type of pill to stop vomiting. It also has side effects. It will lower his blood pressure and he will easily faint.”
I took in a breath of cold air, “Then doesn’t that mean he’ll want to throw up every day? Can’t eat every day?”
René laughed bitterly, “You’re right. Alex is quite tenacious. He’ll throw up, then eat. Eat, then throw up. He eats numerous times a day, so he doesn’t look too thin, right? Otherwise, he’d already have become a skeleton.”
“René,” I said, “I’m quite worried about Li Chuan like this. I’m going to stay here with him tonight.”
“That…Alex won’t agree to it.”
“Alex is already sleeping.”
René thought about it and said, “Fine, I’ll hand him over to you. I’ll return next door to read material. If there’s anything, come knock on my door.”
I walked him to the door and asked, “It looks like Li Chuan’s illness didn’t really get too much better. Why did you guys come back to Beijing? Isn’t staying in Switzerland better? There’s too much work in Beijing and he can’t rest. The required medical treatments probably can’t keep up either.”
“The whole family opposed him in coming, but Li Chuan persisted on coming.”
It was my fault. Li Chuan came back in order to keep his promise. But that idiot! The promise isn’t as important as the person keeping the promise!
I hastily said, “Then, I’ll try to convince him.”
He looked at me and then suddenly sighed, “You don’t need to try, Annie. Li Chuan doesn’t plan on going back to Switzerland. He said that he liked Beijing and will stay here forever.”
When he said this, his voice slightly quivered. It looked like he wanted to something else, but in the end he didn’t say anything and closed the door.
Li Chuan slept peacefully curled up with his eyebrows knit together.
I looked at my watch, it was still eight. He used to generally go to sleep at midnight. I went to the washroom, warmed up a wet towel, and helped him wipe his face. He moved a bit, turned around, and fell asleep again.
Li Chuan always loved cleanliness. To not take a shower before bed was unimaginable to him. Besides, he threw up twice today. I went to the washroom and changed to another towel. I undid his pajamas and lightly wiped his body. He lied there, motionless, with his brows knit together, looking very fatigued and weak. His breathing was slow and sometimes his finger would suddenly tremble. Sometimes his eyelashes were the ones that trembled as if he was about to wake up. In the end, he didn’t have the strength and his eyes fell heavily back. His calves were cold and it took a long time for me to warm them up with the warm towel.
After doing everything, I switched the desk lamp by the bed to its dimmest setting. I held his hand and silently gazed at him under the dim light. Li Chuan fell even deeper into sleep. His knit brows smoothed out and face became peaceful. It held a trace of a smile, as if he was having a good dream.
At 3am, Li Chuan started tossing about on the bed. I ran to the living room to pour milk. When I got back, he already had his eyes open.
He looked at me and then looked at the clock. He took the milk and asked in astonishment, “Xiao Qiu, why are you still here?”
“I was afraid you would still throw up, so I stayed here with you.”
He raised his head and looked around, “I…threw up again?”
“No, you’ve been sleeping this whole time. Sleeping quite well. You’re drinking the milk too fast, be careful of throwing up again.”
He sat up, but couldn’t sit steadily and had to support himself with an arm. I found a pillow to place under his waist.
“You’ve…been here the whole time?”
And then, he asked something that I didn’t even know whether to laugh or cry to, “What did you do here?”
“I didn’t do anything. Just sat.”
“When did we come back?”
“It’s 3am right now. You’ve just been sitting there for seven hours?”
“Oh course I did some other things.” I smiled slyly.
He hurriedly extended his arm into the blankets and upon finding himself completely clothed, he loosened his breath.
I gazed at him laughing and didn’t say anything. He discovered that he was already changed into his pajamas and said embarrassed, “You took advantage of the weak.”
“You threw up twice today. You must have wanted to change into clean clothes before going to sleep, right?” I placed my face in front of him and shook my head.
He finished the milk in two three gulps. His energy was much better. He lifted away the blankets and got up to put his clothes on. As he got dressed, he asked, “Did you eat dinner afterwards?”
“No, I’m currently hungry right now.”
“I’m also hungry.”
Once he got dressed and put on his watch, he said, “Let’s go downstairs and eat midnight snacks. After we eat, I’ll take you home.”
We took the elevator down and found a twenty-four hour restaurant.
Li Chuan could only drink porridge, the Canto kind. I ordered a vegetarian meal and added a potato soup.
Both of us were hungry and ate silently for ten minutes.
I could tell Li Chuan didn’t have much of an appetite. It took him a long time to swallow. But he ate with effort and poured spoonful after spoonful into his mouth.
After awhile, he finally couldn’t eat anymore. He took the napkin, wiped his mouth and was about to speak when I promptly stopped him, “Don’t say anything, Li Chuan. I know what you want to say.”
“What do I want to say? Tell me.”
“You want to say,” I imitated his tone, “Xiao Qiu, you must move on. That young man sitting together with you today isn’t bad. You and him have chemistry, develop it well.”
“You’ve seen how sick I am now. It’s not that I don’t want you. I really don’t have a choice.”
“How many times have I told you, life cannot be thrown away for a brief period of happiness.”
“Don’t come look for me in the future. Even if you see me die, leave me alone. You and I don’t have any relationship with each other anymore.” I took a bite of the fruit and said, “Isn’t this what you want to say?”
Li Chuan looked at me and said faintly, “Since you already know this, then I won’t say anything.”
“Li Chuan, if your body was healthy, had nothing wrong with it, and you wanted me to leave, I would let go. I’ve already lived for five years. Can I not live for another five years? But, you’re sick. Even though I don’t know why you are sick, as long as you are still sick, I will definitely not leave. I will definitely not stand to the side and watch because you are too important to me. If you aren’t tired of it, you can continue repeating it. It will just go in my left ear and out the right anyway.”
I licked my lips and smiled, “To me, love is a gift. It doesn’t mean that you have it if you can give it. But it’s that you have it if you’ve already given it.”
As he listened to this, Li Chuan kept his head down. His hands trembled slightly.
Afterwards, he brought me home and didn’t say a single thing on the way.
When we got to the apartments, I took a deep breath and said, “Li Chuan, return to Switzerland. Don’t stay here.”
“You’re illness isn’t done yet. There are many people here and you have a weak immune system. The chances of you getting infected is high.”
“Didn’t you say you and I didn’t have any relationship with each other anymore?” He mocked, “Why are you caring about my illness and whereabouts?”