Li Chuan’s Past (沥川往事) : Chapter 9 5


thicket

What a doozy chapter 8 was. Things slow down a bit here in chapter 9 as it starts the next part of the novel. I have to say, I feel a little sorry for Xiu Yue. He’s trying so hard, and it’s not like he isn’t accomplished himself. It’s just that no one can compete with Li Chuan. Especially in Xiao Qiu’s eyes.

As a side note, I now have an editor who will be going over the previous chapters. So if there are little discrepancies right now, that’s why. Also, apologies, the translations will also be coming a little slower for these next few weeks as I will be traveling. But fear not, I will be back soon enough to bring you more of Li Chuan!

[Chapter 9]

This was the first time I took a careful look at Li Chuan’s living room. I found photo frames of all sizes hanging on the face of one wall. It was all photos having to do with building construction: soccer field, theater, airport, gymnasium, museum, consulate, government office building. The most were skyscrapers. There was also a few houses whose styles were odd beyond description and whose use could not be discerned.

I recalled that he was an architect. What’s the word for architect in English? I thought over the vocabulary words I memorized.

Architect.

In actuality, my first thought of building construction was bricks, wheelbarrows, wood, limestone, and the sparks that would fly from the beams. Also, those bricklayers, in my hometown, squatting on the side of the street, eating meals. My uncle was a bricklayer. Nowadays, he has managed to get the chief labor contractor position. He even helped build our house.

I didn’t want to look at architecture. I only wanted to look at him, his photos, his life. I looked around, searching the walls, the tables, the windows, the door, everywhere photos could be placed. I put the prosthetic leg back into the bedroom because he could only change clothes in the bedroom. The bedroom was spacious, just like the living room. Next to the window was a pure red couch. The floor was made of oak. Everything was spotless. Next to the bed was a small bookshelf with a pile of architectural magazines and a few large architecture picture albums. There were only two books that looked like they had been used often. They probably had nothing to do with architecture.

I picked them up in passing to discover that the book was quite heavy. It had an old-fashioned book binding and pages like that of a dictionary, thin and white but wouldn’t rip after years of use. The name of the book was:

A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu

I heard his steps.

“Do you like this book?” He walked in front of me, asking.

“I don’t know French.”

“What is your second foreign language?”

“Haven’t decided yet.”

“Do you have a goal?”

“Besides English and Chinese, what other languages do you know?” I asked.

“French and German. I can only understand simple dialog in Japanese. ‘Hajimemashite’ and such.”

“I might choose Italian, or Arabic.”

In short, not something that he would be familiar with to avoid being made fun of in the future.

He looked at me, and slyly laughed, understanding what I meant.

“The English name fo the book is ‘Remembrance of Things Past.” You study literature. Should have heard of it before.”

“The Chinese name is ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.”

“Remembrance of Things Past? Mmm, the translation is quite beautiful. On nights you can’t fall asleep, let me read this book to you in French. After the first page, you’ll want to sleep.” He chattered by my ear in a low and firm heavenly voice.

“Really?” I turned around and found him in his bathrobe with his head leaned over and breathe sweeping past my ears, “Why?”

“Because the first page of the book is about a person lying in bed, tossing and turning, unable to sleep.” He looked at me with a teasing smile, “The first two sentences are:
Longtepms, je me suis couché de bonne heure. Parfois, à peine ma bougie éteinte, mes yeux se fermaient si vite que je n’avais pas le temps de me dire: ‘Je m’endors.’

He recited for me in the beautiful and elegant French. It was as if he was sleep talking, causing me to be disappointed and frustrated, yet also stunned. Seeing my perplexed face, he translated it into English,
It says: I have long had the habit of going to bed early. Sometimes, when I had put out my candle, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to say ‘I’m going to sleep.’

“Okay, okay, why don’t you just translate it into Chinese…” His Chinese was also really good!

“I’m not too good at Chinese…I can only read nine-hundred and fifty Chinese characters. My grandfather said that it was enough for me to just know those.”

“What? What?” I loudly said, “The country’s literature is wide-ranging and profound. How can nine-hundred and fifty characters be considered enough?”

“That’s why, I don’t dare translate it into Chinese. I’m afraid you’ll laugh at me.”

“I won’t laugh at you. Promise.” I looked at him, “We have always had low expectations for the level of Chinese of overseas Chinese people. Although, if you hadn’t confessed, I really wouldn’t have figured out that you were illiterate.”

“Illiterate?”

“Mmm, illiterate.”

He promptly picked up my hand.

“What are you doing?”

“Don’t mess around with your hands. It’s time to get changed. A little bit of privacy, please.

I tactfully left. After a bit, he came out, immaculately dressed. His hair was moist, as if gelled.

“We can go now?” I asked.

“We can go now.” He saw the backpack on my back and said, “Why are you carrying such a heavy bag? Let me help you hold it.”

“There’s no need. This bag looks big, but it only contains clothing. You can try if you don’t believe me.”

He lightly smiled and didn’t insist.

“How come there are no photos of you here?” I suddenly asked. Li Chuan was so handsome that there couldn’t ever be enough photos of him.

“I don’t like to take photos.” He said.

“But there are so many miscellaneous photos on the wall.” I pointed to the architecture photos. Of course each one was beautiful, but, when arranged together, it still felt disorderly.

“Miscellaneous?” He stared blanked, never thinking I would use that word. He was forced to explain,”Architecture is a form of art, Classmate Xie.”

I pointed to one of the frames. The building in the picture was familiar,”I heard Ji Huan said that this building was designed by you?”

He nodded, “Do you like it?

“I like it.” I gazed at him and said without batting an eye, “However, I like your body and your face more.”

“My body is handicapped.” His eyes fixed on me.

“I like it even if it is handicapped.” I opened my eyes wide, innocently.

His lips were very close to me. His body was still misty from having just taken a shower. I liked his scent. I stood on tiptoes, wanting to kiss him. He avoided me, “I am also hungry, let’s go quickly.”

Li Chuan doesn’t like to eat spicy food, missing out on a lot of delicious food. But he does like to eat Fried Rice Cakes and also Ants Climbing a Tree. We only ordered three dishes and quickly became full.

Li Chuan said that he hadn’t eaten with such satisfaction in a long time. He was too busy everyday and could only make do with tuna sandwiches.

“The strange part is,” he said, “I also wouldn’t feel hungry>”

“Why do you feel hungry today then?” I asked. Not counting the snacks we had in the dorm room, we had already eaten two meals this afternoon.

“I spent a lot more energy today.” He answered honestly.

“Me too. Because of the exams, I haven’t slept well in a few days.” I pretended I didn’t understand the implied meaning.

“What do you want to do after eating?”

“Go back to the dorm to rest.”

He looked at me with somewhat of an reluctant expression, “Okay, I’ll drop you off.”

“I don’t need you to drop me off. It’s not late. I can ride the bus back myself.” If he drops me off, he’ll definitely walk me to the dormitory. Walking such a long way requires him to use three times more energy than a normal person.

“I’ll drop you off.” He said in an unquestionable tone while paying the bill and taking my backback.

“Then just send me to the school gates. It’s still early, there’s a campus bus that takes students directly to the dorms.”

“No.”

“Then I would rather you park your car at the presidents’ building.” I sighed.

“Good idea.”

He parked the car at the presidents’ building, and walked me to the dorm entrance, “Does your dorm have a phone?”

“No.”

“This is my number.” He took out a pen and wrote the number on my palm.

“Goodbye.” I said.

“Goodbye.”

I laid down once I got to the dorm room. The lower part of my body ached dully. I didn’t want to take a shower. I would rather his scent stay on my body forever. I opened my walkman and was just about to switch to a Faye Wong tape when I saw Ning An An walk in.

“Heavens, you’re back so early?”

“Mmm, I’m tired.”

“Where did you go with prince charming?” She wanted gossip.

“Just walked around a bit.”

“Come on, Xiao Qiu. Be honest.” She poured me a cup of tea, moved a chair over, and sat below my bed, “Everyone says you had the most capability. School has only been in session for two months and you don’t even know your way around here, but you’ve already wordlessly caught a rich husband.”

An An was the only one I could ask for help in this dorm room. Even though I saw everyone else everyday, our friendship was still limited. Xiao Rui liked me, but she was particularly busy herself, occupied with dating, and didn’t take friendships with girls seriously.

“We’re just acquaintances.” I said.

“His origins aren’t common.” Ning An An said with an experienced look.

“I’m not really familiar with his origins.” This was actually true.

“Where is he from?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s the difference between your age?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who are his parents?”

“I dont’ know.”

Ning An An stared at me, “Hey, how come you don’t know anything? If this is called dating, you’ve even started out wrong.”

She must have watched too much Cantonese dramas. She was Beijingese, but spoke Cantonese slang in Mandarin.

“We’re just strangers who came together by chance. There’s nothing serious, there’s no need to ask about his family background.”

“He’s not from an average family. Just look at his manners. You can’t instill such manners in even a few generations.”

I agreed with that point completely.

“What else do you know about him?”

“He is an architect. Used to study economics. Graduated from University of Chicago.” I said, “Even all this was gathered by you guys.”

“Of course we would ask the important questions. What is his income?”

I couldn’t help but laugh, “I don’t hand him his wages.”

“Has he treated you to a meal?”

“Yes.”

“Which restaurant? What rating? This will say a lot. The seafood restaurants on East Street have appetizers that go for two-thousand yuan.”

“We’ve gone to a Yunnan restaurant, all the dishes were inexpensive.”

“Have you gone online and googled him?”

“What is google?” Internet cafes were too expensive, I’ve never gone.

“Using his name as the keyword will come with all the news regarding him. If you don’t have time, I’ll do it for you. Which three characters are his name? He must have already been attracted others’ attention by having such a promising future, at such a young age, with such good looks.” She took out a pen to take note.

“Not telling you.”

“Where does he live? Where he lives can also say something.”

“I don’t know, we only meet in the café.” Just thinking about what I did at his flat today made me not dare tell her the truth, to avoid her from continuing her questions.

“Does he have a car? What model is it? You must know that in Beijing, architects have high salaries.”

I covered my head with the blanket, “Please spare me, An An.”

“In order to know yourself, you must also know your enemy.”

“Last question.” She said, “Why is does he have a limp?”

“Born with a disability.”

“Can’t argue with nature, as long as it can function, that’s enough.”

“An An, stop asking.” I lifted the covers, “Let me sleep. I am really tired.”

“Wait, last question!” She pushed aside my covers, “Has he asked for your number?”

I nodded.

“Yay!”

That night, for the entire night, I couldn’t fall asleep. His scent and my passion, kept reappearing and flashing in my mind.

Li Chuan, I love you. But I don’t want to understand you. The more I understand you, the farther I will be from you.

Life returned back to normal. I went to class in the morning and the café at night. When I saw Xiao Ye, I felt a somewhat guilty inside. I knew what was love and could understand her sorrow. I know how rude I was and could understand her anger.

I said, “Hi!” to her.

She looked at me coldly and turned her body.

Xiao Tong came over to greet me, “Xiao Qiu, come speak over here.”

I changed into work clothes and followed Xiao Tong into the side office.

“Xiao Qiu, from today on, you only need to work until eight o’clock at night. If you want to change to the morning or afternoon shift, I can tell the other managers.”

I was a student and wouldn’t be able to come for the morning or afternoon shifts. This meant that my income would at least be halved.

I guessed the reason, but still wouldn’t give up and asked, “Why?”

“By the wishes of the general manager.”

“Xiao Ye said something, right?”

“The boss wanted to you to leave. I had to fight for these three hours of work time for you. Miss, learn from your mistakes. Making a little still counts as a little. We don’t look down on any money.”

I knew Xiao Ye’s intentions. Li Chuan now usually appeared in the café at nine o’clock.

I didn’t say anything and continued working. At eight o’clock, I punctually got off work.

I got back to the dorm at eight thirty and saw the Ge Ges in 301 packed into the room.

“Oh, why are you back to early today?” Feng Jing Er said.

“Studyies and safety are important. I’ll get off work early from now on.” I said, setting down my bag. I found that I still had my work clothes on and felt embarrassed to change in front of this group of males.

“Someone has already brought your hot water.” An An swept a glance at Xiu Yue.

“Thank you.” I had originally warned against An An helping me get hot water. Who know she would quickly share the work with someone else.

“It’s rare for you to come back so early, come dancing with us.” An An said, “You’ve let Xiu Yue go alone every time. That’s not good.”

“Ok, I also want to relax a bit.” I said, “I’ll go change my clothes.”

I went to the bathroom to change clothes. When I returned to the room, only Xiu Yue was left.

“They left first, I was waiting for you. Guys have to pay and girls are free, but they need a partner.”

“Wait for me a bit.” I put on makeup. Heavy makeup. Deep red lipstick, thick eyeliner, and dark blue eye shadow. I put my hair up, showing a bit of my neck, and then spayed some perfume on my neck.

It was type of cheap perfume, the scent stung the nose a bit. An average person would get a headache after smelling it for more than ten minutes.

“Why like a panda?” Xiu Yue was a bit frightened.

“What about it, don’t want to dance with me anymore?” I looked at him with distain. If it wasn’t for the fact that he carried my hot water for me, I wouldn’t even give him the time of day. Xiu Yue sprung up, with a great movement, threw me out and then pulled me back in, even stepping on my foot.

“I am Sichuanese, pandas are what I like.” He said, giving me a book.

I saw it was Willam Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence”.

“Have you read it?”

“No.”

“I read the Chinese version. It’s a great story. Actually we can form a reading club, meet regularly, and discuss the books that we like.” The impression I had of Xiu Ye was that he made the most of everything, always having a plan. I looked at him. Among the Ge Ges in 301, his looks stood out, he studies were at the top, and his advisor was the president. He had a future. It was only because he studied philosophy and also came from the country side like me was he treated only as a friend by the girls in the dorm room. If they had a heavy lifting job to do, they would send him. They would often send him to get hot water. He was the easiest to talk to amongst the Ge Ges in 301, the easiest one to accept a task.

“Let’s talk about it later.”

The school’s dance hall was lousy. As I danced, I kept on thinking about my halved income. What to do about the cost of living? What to do about my tuition? What to do about the tuition for my brother next year? What to do about my dad’s hepatitis? My dad never let me worry about his health, but the medical treatment in the village was limited. I sent medicine from Beijing home to him. One bottle costs seventy-five yuan. I never told him how much it cost, just said it was around five yuan a bottle.

I finished dancing absentmindedly with skill. With head lowered, I feigned complete devotion to studying and took the chance to avoid the awkward conversations with Xiu Ge Ge. In the middle, we changed partners, and I danced with each Ge Ge at least once. Only Lu Jie made fun of me, “Miss Xie, you are made up very unusually today.”

“Really, how unusual.”

“Your eyes and lips are drawn so darkly.”

“In the Tang dynasty, this is called ‘Crying Makeup’. Understand? It’s a style, a retro style.”

“When can we go out to eat together? Feng Jing Er keeps saying that it’s not easy for you in an unfamiliar place.”

“Why did you think of to take me out to eat?”

“Your Wang Ge Ge sent an email today agreeing to help me fix my application for studying abroad.”

“You guys are still more competent. I don’t even know his email address.”

“How about the Nine Taste Pavilion on West Street at seven o’clock this Saturday night? Invite Wang Ge Ge.”

“Invite him yourself if you want, I’m not coming.” I smiled. What a user.

I danced with Xiu Yue and the others until the dance finished. We left and went to drink soy milk in front of the gates. Lu Jie, An An and the others wanted to go watch a film, leaving just me and Xiu Yue behind to slowly walk back. A light rain had just passed. The night wind was prickling with water. In the darkness of the night, I saw a figure in white standing far off in the distance next to the entrance of the dormitory.

My heart skipped a beat.

When we reached the entrance, the figure said, “Hi.”

Hi.”

And then that figure shook hands with Xiu Yue, “Classmate, what is your name?”

“Xiu Yue.”

“Classmate Xiu Yue, thank you for dancing with Xiao Qiu. Thank you for bringing her back.”

There was an aggression between the two, but the stronger one won. Xiu Yue’s face instantaneously paled and couldn’t help but take a step back. He lifted his hand and looked at his watch, “Xiao Qiu said she was tired and wanted to rest early.”

“Don’t worry, I will take care of her.” He said with a steady smile.

And then my hand was gripped by that figure.

“This late, you guys…are still going out?” Xiu Yue said with a bit of a tremble in his voice.

“We’re just going to walk on campus.” That figure smiled.

Li Chuan’s hands were always ice-cold as if he was a cold-blooded animal. We slowly walked through campus without a destination.

“Xiao Qiu, I’m sorry that I can’t dance with you.” He said softly, “But I want to see you happy.”

I turned around and looked at him, “Li Chuan, were you waiting outside for me this whole time?”

“I didn’t wait long.”

The road got darker as we walked. There were no lights. It was as if we walked into a thicket. I lead Li Chuan through the thicket as if there was a wild animal pursuing us. He held my hand tightly, when he was unable to see the direction we were heading, he said, “Xiao Qiu, we got lost didn’t we?”

In the middle of the thicket, there was a patch of lawn where the moonlight shinned upon. I found that I had found a fitting spot and stopped by a tree. He pulled me into a hug. My back leaned against the trunk of the tree with both legs tightly wrapped around his waist, kissing him from top to bottom. The branches shook and the droplets left from the rain came down dripping on my head and his face.

He concentrated on kissing me, the tip of his nose massaging my cheek. His warm breathe among the ice-cold rain. The universe intertwined between our lips. I thought to myself, I had to remember this moment. Eleven forty-nine. Cream colored sweater. Blue patterned skirt. Black low-heeled leather shoes. Subject: “Passion of the Thickets”, “Campus Blossoming”. The weather was cold, our skin stuck together became somewhat warm. Li Chuan was wearing a white collared shirt without a jacket. The mud on the tree trunk smeared on my clothes. Li Chuan asked me if I had a handkerchief.

Just at this time, I heard footsteps. Hurriedly, we tided up ourselves at lightning speed. Unexpectedly, a ray of light aimed over towards us, lighting up my face.

“Stop! Campus police.”

Li Chuan pushed me, quietly saying, “Run!”

Originally, I didn’t need to run, but we were in an awkward situation and looked highly suspicious. If we were caught, even if we weren’t doing anything, it was hard to explain. I broken into a run and saw someone quickly following. Then someone blocked the police, grabbed hold of him. He couldn’t be shaken off and they started wrestling with each other. I didn’t think about it and rushed back. Li Chuan had fallen on the ground. The build of the police was nearly like Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was using his leather boots to kick Li Chuan. I rushed forward pelting him with two slaps, yelling, “Stop! Stop! You stop!”

That police stopped his foot and grabbed onto my arm., “Little girl, you have quite the nerve! What department are you guys in?”

“Our department doesn’t concert you. We were chatting here, how did we offend you?”

“Chatting? Hmph, you think I don’t know what things you have been doing?”

I sneered, “Take me in. I’ll say you were attempting to rape me. Look, I have your fingerprints on my arm.” Then I ripped off a button from his jacket, “I have your button in my hand.”

He laughed in anger, “You think I’m afraid of your little game? I’ll spare you for today. Seeing how much nerve you have, I doubt that guy will dare do anything to you. If you want to do things, go get a hotel outside. This is the woods of lovebirds. There are always patrols here every night.” Finished speaking, he left. I knelt on the group and gently pushed Li Chuan.

“Li Chuan, Li Chuan!”

He lay on the ground without moving.

“Are you hurt?” My body started trembling uncontrollably.

“I’m fine.” He sat up with difficultly. He face was horribly pale.

“Sit here and don’t move, I will go find someone to take you to the hospital.” I knew he was hurt and couldn’t move.

He held onto me, “No need to send me to the hospital. I can walk by myself. You…lend me a hand.”

I helped him up and handed him the cane. He took the cane and asked, “That person…did he hurt you?”

“He only pinched my arm.”

“Let me see.” He examined my arm under the moonlight. He looked for a long time without speaking.

“Is it far from the parking lot?” He asked.

“Not far.”

We took a long time before getting to the parking lot. He wouldn’t let me help him, using great effort to walk forward. In the middle, he couldn’t help but stop twice. He was clearly not injured lightly.

“Li Chuan, Let me go with you to the hospital.” I said.

“I’m fine, don’t need to go to the hospital.”

“Then let me return to your flat with you and take a look at your injuries.”

“No need, I can handle it myself.” He looked at me dully, “Sorry, I’m letting you go back to your dorm by yourself. I can’t accompany you.”

“Li Chuan, no. Take me with you. I’m worried for you.” I felt my voice contained a bit of a sob.

No.” He said, “Goodnight. I’ll come find you in a few days.”

I turned around and heard him call out to me. He handed me his shirt, “Change into my shirt. Your sweater is dirty. Your classmates will make fun of you if you go back like this.”

He had on a white muscle shirt, exposing his fine body.

“Goodnight.” I looked at him, eyes glistened with tears.

“Goodnight.”


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