Our distance was very close, but it still took me a couple of steps. Once I arrived at his bedside, he held my hand and placed it on his chest. Like a spark of lightning, I could feel his heart beating softly from my fingertips. His forehead was pale and a few strands of hair that had gotten wet from his cold sweat lay on top. His face was sunken in and his breathing was faint. He was skinny and weak, while surrounded by the smell of disinfecting alcohol.
“Could you leave, please?” Li Chuan rarely begged me, and had never begged me so explicitly.
“No,” I answered firmly.
It was just as he had expected. He looked at me helplessly, “Rene told you about my illness, didn’t he?”
“What he said, was only the bright side of it.”
“What?” I was dumbfound — bone cancer, MDS, amputation, lobectomy, chemotherapy…yet this was the bright side of it?
“He didn’t tell you that the relapse of my cancer was very high. I’m a Chinese-Swiss mix, therefore, it’s very hard to find a match for bone marrow transplant. My immune system is close to collapsing, so I can’t endure much longer……don’t glare at me, it’s not my fault. I’ve really been very careful. I’ve taken my medicine on time, gotten my regular blood transfusion, monitored my diet, and listened to my doctor. But my condition still worsened. You’d better not have any hopes of my future.”
Li Chuan sounded indifferent as if he was the doctor explaining somebody else’s medical condition. I thought to myself, for someone who had been sick for so many years, gone through cycles after cycles of treatment, and was given the bad news time and time again, how much determination did he need to endure all of this!? And it came to my mind how precious those bits and pieces of happiness that he and I had together were. Li Chuan needed so much love and support, yet he turned me away so insistently. His stubbornness was just unbelievable.
I couldn’t help but complained, “Careful? You called this being careful? You jumped into the garbage bin and wounded your hand. You quarreled with me in the rain. You went to the bar to drink, and even when you were vomiting like crazy, you still insisted on continuing—All of this proves that you can’t take care of yourself.”
“Xiao Qiu,” he probably had spoken too much as he coughed a bit. His gaze darkened, “If my cancer continues to shift to my lungs, I’ve already excised part of my lungs, so I don’t have much choice left. If it’s bone metastases, I would need an amputation. But I will definitely not agree to anymore amputations. MDS will continue to worsen, which is acute leukemia, and has a high death rate. It’s a long wait for a bone marrow transplant. Even if we find a match, it’s not like it’s over. There will be many complications. Do you want to hear more?”
He lowered his head and kept silent for a minute, then he looked at me straight in the eye, “During the treatment, we cannot have any babies. We may never be able to have any. After undergoing chemotherapy many times…it’s possible that…that it would cause you to give birth to an alien.”
I finally understood everything. This must have been the thing that weighed the most in Li Chuan’s mind. I had always told Li Chuan that I liked kids, many many kids, and promised that I would be a good mother.
“If we can’t have any, then we won’t. We can adopt one. It’ll even save me from the pain of giving birth!” As dumb as I was, I knew that every child had to be birthed by a mother. Without Li Chuan, everything would be meaningless, let alone having kids.
“What?” his tongue was tied, “Even after all that I’ve said, you’re not afraid one bit?”
“No, I’m not afraid.”
“I promise you, Xiao Qiu, if you……” He was speaking too fast, so he had to stop to catch his breath. He continued after ten seconds, “If you leave Beijing now, I will put in all my effort to continue living.”
“No, I will not leave Beijing. I like Beijing.”
“Okay, you can stay in Beijing. I’ll go to another city.”
“Wherever you go, I will follow you. Don’t try to ditch me.”
He looked at me miserably and lifeless, his head looked like it was swimming.
“Xiao Qiu,” he caressed my face, covered my eyes, and spoke into my ear with his mesmerizing and charming voice, “You’re only twenty-four. A twenty-four year old girl who’s gleaming with beauty. There are so many guys who would treasure you in the palms of their hands. You don’t need to chase after a near death person like me. Besides pain, worry, and fright, I can’t give you anything. You should have a happy and complete life. An everlasting love, and marry a man who will cherish you for the rest of your life. Or at least when you are bullied by others, he can help you fight back……”
“Li Chuan,” I stared at him, “since you know what ‘Ru Hua Si Yu’ (gleaming with beauty) is, you should stop holding me up, okay? Moreover, I was about to leave. It was you who called me. Therefore, you begged me to stay.”
“I did?” He scrunched his eyebrows, “When did I call you?”
“The night after I resigned.”
“I didn’t call you that night,” he shook his head without a doubt.
“I didn’t,” he said, “I definitely didn’t.”
I showed him my call log, “Is this your number?”
He looked at me, then at the phone, and said while feeling stumped, “I really didn’t call you. I wasn’t feeling very well at the time and wanted to call Rene. Just as I pressed the key, I felt like vomiting, so I left my cell phone and went into the washroom. I was still not feeling well after I got back, so I spawned over the table and fell asleep. I didn’t know what happened after that.”
I opened my mouth, but was at a loss for words from the shock, “This means that you dialed the wrong number?”
His eyes were frozen like ice, “I’m afraid so.”
“Let me ask you, Rene starts with ‘R,’ and I start with a ‘X,’ how many letters are between them?”
“In my cell phone, you are ‘Q,’ for Qiu.”
I fetched his cell phone and opened the phone book. My name was indeed set as ‘Qiu,’ which was just one above Rene’s.
My anger subsided a bit, “Classmate Li Chuan, can’t you be more romantic? If not, shouldn’t you at least give me a romantic memory?”
“I think it’s best to know the truth.”
He answered my questions the way he should, he breathed like he should, but his hand that was holding mine slowly lost its strength and fell in my palm like a piece of rock.
“Get some rest,” I lifted his waist to put a pillow underneath, “Let’s talk after you get better.”
He closed his eyes, breathed quietly for ten minutes, and then suddenly said, “How about this, if I survive, let’s be together. If I die, you must promise me to (English) move on quickly. This……can’t be too hard for you, right?”
Oh! Li Chuan! My face blushed as I nodded my head desperately, “I promise you!”
He tilted his head sideways and fixed his gaze on me, “You won’t back out on your promise, right?”
“I promise! If you die, I will (English) move on right away, get married within two years, and never become a widow!”
He smiled lightly; it was comforting yet had a tint of sadness in it, “Xiao Qiu, I’m tired. I want to rest now.”
In the following three days, I accompanied Li Chuan every day. I would leave after he had fallen asleep, and come back before sunrise and before he wakes up. He probably felt that I was a lost cause after that day we spoke; Li Chuan rarely spoke after that and let Xiao Mu and I take care of him like he was an infant. After lying in bed for ten days, his arms and legs became thin and he would feel dizzy when sitting up. The doctor advised that there wasn’t much progress in his illness, and said that the infection made more damages to his health, weakening his immune system even further. Besides blood transfusion, he also needed red blood cell and platelet transfusions. In the hour or two of the day when Li Chuan finally did not need any transfusions, I would take him out to the garden for a stroll in his wheelchair and get some sunlight.
Xiao Mu and I helped Li Chuan to exercise his joints every day while he lay in bed. We moved his arms and legs carefully as instructed by the nurse. Li Chuan refused my help, but I ignored his request, so all he could do was frown while reluctantly letting me help him. He wouldn’t let me help him to the washroom even when the doctor tried to urge him to reconsider, but he wouldn’t budge from his stubbornness; only Xiao Mu was allowed to help him. Xiao Mu carried him onto the wheelchair, and hung his oxygen bottle, intravenous drip, and nasogastric tube behind it. When Li Chuan finally made it to the washroom, he fainted in the very next second. All the nurses rushed inside and carried him back onto his bed; they crowded over and worked busily around him until he woke up. When he spotted me, he was expressionless, but distress and anger could be seen deep down in his eyes. Although he still spoke to others politely, his voice was soft and almost inaudible; anyone who heard him could tell that he didn’t want to be bothered.
I knew in my heart that Li Chuan refused my help because he would rather die than let me see all of this. Therefore, whenever the time came, I would go to the cafeteria myself to get a coffee and let Xiao Mu take care of him.
When Thursday arrived, Li Chuan suddenly asked me, “Is ‘Yong Zheng Dynasty’ really good?” Li Chuan couldn’t do anything except lying in bed, so he was probably bored out of his life!
An idea sprang to mind, “You want to watch it? The DVDs are just at my apartment. We can watch it right from the laptop! I’ll go get them! Let’s watch it together. I can translate parts that you don’t understand for you!”
He gave a big nod, “Yes, I want to watch it.”
I grabbed my purse, caught a cab, and headed to my apartment.
The second day after Li Chuan went to the hospital, the landlord called and asked me why my luggage was still in the apartment. I asked Rene to help me pay for another two months of rent. I didn’t realize until I opened my suitcase that I had already boxed the set of DVDs and my books and mailed them to my Aunt in Kunming. I took my laptop anyway, called a cab, and went to the shopping mall to get a new set. Luckily, “Yong Zheng Dynasty” was a popular series, so it was sold everywhere. I also bought some other TV series, put them all in one big bag, and headed back to the hospital excitedly.
When I opened the door to room 407, Li Chuan’s bed was empty.
I immediately went to the nurse on duty to ask where Li Chuan went. She said Xiao Mu probably took him out to the garden for a walk.
I went downstairs to the garden. The garden was big and there were a lot of people. Many patients were accompanied by their families or nurses to bathe in the sunshine. Li Chuan had always been very easy to spot, but I couldn’t find him after searching high and low. Maybe I missed them just as they made their way back to the room.
I took the elevator back to 407, but the room was still empty. The nurses also started to panic this time round and asked, “It’s time for the patient to take his intravenous drip. How come Xiao Mu still hasn’t come back yet?”
Another nurse asked, “Could they have gone to the activities room?”
The rehabilitation activities room was on the second floor; there were people playing cards, chess, and watching TV; it was a place for patients to enjoy themselves, but Li Chuan was like me and never liked being in crowds.
Although I was certain that he wouldn’t be there, I still went with the nurses to check. He was indeed not there. After checking, the nurses said, “Could they be at the washroom on the first floor?”
That was a possibility.
Perhaps Li Chuan needed to go to the washroom on his way back. Even with Xiao Mu’s help, he still needed to take a long time. We checked every washroom, but he was still nowhere to be found. Realizing the urgency of the situation, we all looked at each other with our face pale.
We rushed back to the on-duty counter to look up Xiao Mu’s cell phone number, but found out that Xiao Mu didn’t have a cell phone and only had a pager. No matter how many times we paged him, we did not get a return call.
Someone said, “There should be a patient sign in and out record. Hurry and go check.”
We dashed to the hospital’s reception counter and looked up Li Chuan’s sign out record. In the reason box, it wrote, “Going out to shopping for 15 minutes. Patient Wang Li Chuan and caretaker Mu Xiao Zhu.”
It was in simplified Chinese, and one incorrectly written word; it was definitely not Li Chuan’s writing.
The nurse stomp her feet and said, “Shopping? What do they want to buy?!”
I called Rene’s cell phone; it rang five times before it was picked up.
“Rene, is Li Chuan with you?”
“Li Chuan? How can that be possible? I’m at the central library.”
“Li Chuan is missing!”
“What? That’s impossible! He can’t even walk right now!”
“Xiao Mu is also missing,” I briefly explained in a tearful voice.
“Continue looking for him. I’ll come right away.”
Directors Jiang Hao Tian and Zhang Qing Hui of CGP also came.
“We’ve searched everywhere in the hospital, but there’s no sign of him,” I said, “The nurses have sent others to look for him in the shopping mall.”
Jiang Hao Tian nodded, “Xiao Qiu, don’t panic. I called Xiao Mu’s roommate. He said he didn’t know, and Xiao Mu hadn’t talk to him about anything suspicious.”
“Could he have been kidnapped?” Rene asked while he was on the phone. His forehead was covered with sweat.
“Xiao Mu is a very trustworthy person. Otherwise, I would not have introduced him to you. I pay him quite well for taking care of my dad at home and what you pay him to take care of Mr. Wang is even higher than he had expected. He definitely won’t do anything to lose out on this opportunity. If he really did kidnap Mr. Wang, he would have left a message for ransom.”