And so it begins. There’s considerably more of Li Chuan in this chapter which makes me happy. The relationship between them is definitely a slow start. In fact, I’m still a bit confused on where exactly the two of them started actually liking each other. I can’t quite tell what Xiao Qiu feelings were in this chapter. Was it just to get back at Xiao Ye, or did she really want to spend time with Li Chuan? I mean…spending time with him is never not a good thing…
The actual English in this chapter is also a little iffy. I left it all in, though was very tempted to change it…
Because Li Chuan agreed to go the movies with me, Xiao Ye ignored me for the whole night. Even Xiao Tong tried to have less contact with me to avoid Xiao Ye becoming angry at him. The stalemate continued until Xiao Ye got off work. She got off an hour earlier than me. Xiao Tong strolled over and quietly said to me, “I was trained by Xiao Ye. She’s been here two years and you’ve been here two months. Think it over, if something happens, whose side would I be on.”
“It’s just asking someone to go to the movies. What can happen?”
Xiao Tong shook his head, “They say you are a countryside girl, yet you are more ferocious than city people. You are declaring war on Xiao Ye by doing this. Do you not want this job anymore?”
I sneered, “Is it that severe? It’s not as if she owns this café.”
Xiao Tong said, “She’s gotten rid of three others before. One girl only worked for three days before being tattled on by her. The boss’ son studies at a university in Nanjing in the department of her dad. Her dad is the chairman of the department. Do you understand now?”
I didn’t say anything. Because I didn’t know what I should do. To have me suck up to her was unthinkable.
Xiao Tong said, “Actually, this conflict can be easily resolved. You just have to work an extra night shift tonight and not go to the movies. Treat Xiao Ye to coffee tomorrow, apologize, and promise not to interfere with her matters. Using this method of admitting your guilt, I bet she won’t continue complicating matters.”
Xiao Tong sighed, “You really don’t seem like someone from Yunnan. Your temper is worse than a Beijing person.”
I continued to sneer. It’s true I’m from the countryside, but does that mean country folk can’t have tempers? I hate it when others bring up my birthplace to explain things all the time. There were tens of thousands of people in Yunnan. Is it to say that none of those tens of thousands of people had tempers?
All the way til twelve o’clock, Li Chuan motionlessly sat in the seat by the window typing. Xiao Tong brought him coffee once and he hurriedly said a word of thanks before his eyes quickly returned to the computer screen. Xiao Tong came over and said to me, “He is replying to emails. It looks like he has a lot of emails to reply to.”
I asked whether it was Chinese emails.
“It’s French. Once Xiao Ye saw him sitting with a foreigner speaking extremely fluent German.”
I couldn’t help but ask, “What is your second language?”
“Then how do you know he’s writing in French?”
“Even if you’ve never eaten pork, you must have seen a pig run. I can still tell the difference between French and English.” He mockingly took a bow.
“Xiao Ye has also never studied German, how does she know he was speaking German?”
“German contains vibratos. When saying something, the whole tonsil will vibrate.”
I looked over at Li Chuan’s back, becoming lost in thought.
“It’s too bad his leg isn’t good, ” Xiao Tong said thoughtfully, “otherwise, he would be perfect.”
I swept a look at him and laughed, “Are you also interested? You aren’t gay are you?”
Xiao Tong suddenly thought of something, “Perhaps he is gay. Have you heard of the Joyous Wolf on the other street?”
“What Joyous Wolf?”
“It’s the largest gay bar nearby. There are even security guards in the bathroom to prevent people from messing around.”
“I’ve heard of it.” I’ve never heard of it, but didn’t want to seem like a country bumpkin.
Li Chuan had come at nine o’clock and had already sat there for three hours. Normally, he barely ever stayed this long. Clearly, it was because he was waiting for me. At twelve o’clock, I changed out of my work clothes and put on a grey sweater. If I had know Li Chuan was coming, I wouldn’t have worn this sweater. It fit well when it was new, but after washing it once, it had changed shape, becoming a windbreaker. It was like I had bought it from a street stall on the ground. Carrying my bag, I walked to him. He had already stood up and was packing up his things on the table. I saw that besides the laptop, there was also a notebook on the table. It was old and appeared to have been used for a long time. On the page it was opened to a sketch that was too disarrayed to make heads or tails of.
We walked out of the door together. The wind at night was really cold making me sneeze. He stopped and said, “Are you cold?”
“So you are cold.” Without another word, he took off his jacket and handed it to me.
The jacket was still warm, carrying the slight smell of his cologne. My heart beat like crazy. I hung my head and blindly followed him to the parking lot. Once we got to the car, I suddenly lost my courage, halted, and said to him, “Sorry, earlier I lost my head and didn’t consider asking you whether you had time at night, whether you minded seeing a movie so late at night.”
“I have time.” He said, “I don’t mind.”
I continued to explain, “Tomorrow is my mid-term exam, I wanted to relax.”
“The best way to relax is to sleep.”
“I can’t sleep, too nervous.”
“It’s only the mid-term exam. Is it necessary to be this nervous?”
“I want to average a ninety-five.”
“Ninety-five? That high?” He looked at me with a shadow of a smile, waiting for me to explain.
“The past few times I tested a sixty. My average can only go up if I get a high score on my mid-term exams.”
“Then, are you able to get a ninety-five?” He asked.
“I’ll try my best.” I made a fist with both my hands as if getting ready for a fight.
“Actually, there are many ways to get a high score.” He opened the door for me.
“Really?” I slid into the car. He leaned over to fasten my seat belt.
“For example, sit next to a classmate with really high grades and take a few peeks at his paper.”
“For example, copying the hard words onto the inside of your sleeves.”
For example, hiding your notebook in the bathroom and then pretend to go to the bathroom.”
He presented all of this in dead earnestly.
“I understand now. That’s how you drifted to graduation.”
“You can consider it that.” His face didn’t change color at all, not in the least bit ashamed.
“People who cheat merely do so to pass a test. My goal isn’t to just pass a test, so I can’t copy from others.” I solemnly corrected him. “That’s why for a whole two weeks, I’ve been studying really heard. I only slept three hours everyday. Today was the limit. If I don’t watch a movie, I will break.”
“Such excellent spirit, a child who properly studies must be encouraged.”
He quickly got in the car, “Which movie theater? You direct.”
“Ping An Theater, it’s near my school.”
“Which street is it on?”
I thought about it, “…I don’t know. The classmates in my dorm room all go there to watch movies. It’s twenty percent off for students. They are showing old Oscar winning films this week.”
He sighed and said, “You’ve been to Beijing for this long and you’ve never gone to see a movie?”
“I’ve seen video showings. There’s a video hall near the school. It’s cheaper.”
He drove at lightening speed again.
“Can you please drive slower? You’ll get into an accident driving like this!” I yelled.
“Is this called fast?” He ignored me, “Isn’t your seat belt fastened?”
“My heart can’t take it.”
“Do you have heart disease?” He slowed down.
“No. I get nervous, ok?”
“What is the movie tonight?” He started accelerating again, changing the topic so I wouldn’t notice.
“What types of movies do you like?”
“You’re in luck! Tonight is ‘The Silence of the Lambs’…Li Chuan! Please slow down!”
I don’t know why I blurted out “Li Chuan” as if I had called him that for many years. As soon as it came out, I was a little bit embarrassed.
“In order to watch this movie, your heart must be warmed up.”
I got annoyed and stopped speaking. In the blink of an eye, we arrived at the school. He circled around the school campus and quickly found the movie theater. We got out together and entered the theater. I said, “You wait here, I’ll go buy tickets, soda, popcorn, and roasted chicken wings.”
He said, “You’re off work right now. There’s no need to be a waitress. You wait here, I’ll go buy the tickets. What do you want to drink?”
I stood next to a pillar watching him first buy tickets and then go to buy popcorn. I quickly followed him. He depended on a cane to move around and only had one hand to carry things. It was really empty with barely ten people sitting inside. We had planned to sit in the back. The steps were really shallow and he walked very slowly. His left leg went up first, then dragged the unmoving right leg up. Once it was dragged up, he had to stand firm before moving onto the next one. I regretted saying I wanted to sit in the back row. If I was to change my mind now, I was afraid he would took offense. I could only patiently, slowly walk up behind him.
At last, we reached the last row and sat down. The movie had already started. I also started to eat the chicken wings. The purpose of sitting in the last row was so that no one else could hear the loud sounds of me chewing.
He took a sip of his bottled water and asked, “Did you not eat dinner?”
“No, I was busy trying to catch a bus and forgot.”
“The café must have food, right? Don’t you have coffee breaks?”
“So expensive, how can I afford to eat that?” I quickly finished a chicken wing and started eating another one, “The chicken wings are delicious, do you want one?”
“Thanks, but no.”
“Then, eat some popcorn.”
“I’m not eating.” He said faintly, “It’s all yours.”
“How can that be? Not eating while watching a horror movie.” I whispered. After awhile, I quietly said, “Listen carefully, the next part is my favorite.”
The Hannibal in the movie said to Clarice Starling, “Principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?”
“…No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?”
I imitated the way the actors’ mouth moved. Exactly the same.
He turned to look at me, “So your speech was trained from this.”
After a short while, the actor continued, “Terns? Mmh. If I help you, Clarice, it will be “turns” with us too. Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case, though. About yourself. Quid pro quo. Yes or no?”
Li Chuan turned his head over again.
“What is it?”
“Have you discovered that this line rhymes?” He said.
“Where does it rhyme?”
“Quid pro quo, yes or no?”
I recalled the first time I was in the car with him. …”If I reply to your question, you have to answer my question.” …Quid pro quo…
For the rest of the movie, I basically used both my hands to cover my eyes. I’ve seen this movie ten times. I can recite the lines, but I have yet to watch it without covering my eyes from start to finish.
I didn’t look at him, but knew he was laughing at me.
After coming out of the theater, it was already the wee hours of the night. Even though I declined until I was parched, he still brought me to the door of my dormitory.
Along the way, I idly said to him, “You know, even though I’ve watched it so many times, there is still something I don’t understand.”
“You kept on covering your eyes. There must be a lot of parts you didn’t understand. Didn’t you say a film is a visual work of art?”
“Why did they have to place a moth? Why?”
“Do you want to hear my explanation?”
“Do you have an explanation?”
“The meaning of the moth is rebirth. When moths are born, they are caterpillars. Later, the moth will go through many transformations. Didn’t that Bill have an identity problem the whole time?”
“But why did they have to put the moth over the mouth of the corpse?”
“That’s a female corpse, right? What’s the difference between males and females? Reproduction, right? The meaning of this connection should be the expertise of humanities students like you.”
I stopped walking, looked at him and asked, “Then, classmate Li Chuan, what did you study?”
“Economics, and then I switched to architecture. Quid pro quo. Why were you in a bad mood at the café today?”
“I had a quarrel with someone.”
“Did you lose or win?”
“On the surface I won, but in actuality, I lost. I am a country person who is used to living a free and unrestrained life. Now, in the city, I suddenly have to be mindful of everything.”
“Then does that mean you are not happy here?”
“Unless if I get a ninety-five on my mid-term exams.”
“Why does it have to be ninety-five? Is it that important?”
“I have identity problem.“