SIDE STORY 2
I finished writing “Li Chuan’s Past” with my spare time. On the day of release, I was invited to the bookstore for an autograph session.
Although Li Chuan read the first couple of pages, he admitted: one, his knowledge of written Chinese was limited and he was too lazy to check the dictionary, so he basically didn’t understand much of it; two, the parts that he understood made him blush, so he refused to read further.
“Do you mind that the book is titled ‘Li Chuan’s Past’? It sounds as if you’re…hm…no longer with us.”
“No, I don’t mind.”
“Maybe I should give the male lead another name instead of calling him Li Chuan.”
That didn’t seem right; Li Chuan was a private person. I felt that it was strange.
“Why is it okay?”
“If you ask my dad, he will tell you that my ‘Li’ is not written like that. The correct pinyin used on my passport is from the Wade–Giles system. You made up ‘Li Chuan’ yourself.”
“What? What?” I jumped up. After all this time and being married for a year, I had been writing my husband’s name wrong!
“Yeah,” Li Chuan smiled, “The first time you wrote my name was when you stayed at Long Zhe. You left me a message that wrote, ‘Li Chuan, I’ve gone back to the school. No need to send me off.’ You wrote ‘Li’ with the three dots on the left. Honestly, I didn’t recognize the word at the time and it was in simplified Chinese as well, so I had to go look it up in the dictionary.”
“Which is the correct ‘Li’ then?”
“Heh Heh, I’m not telling you. This is an advantage I’ll save for life.”
Li Chuan came with me to the bookstore. I told him that I was afraid of meeting the readers, so he said he would accompany me; he would sit far away to watch over me.
I dressed formally and sat there giving autographs. There were many people at the bookstore, but I was done signing after ten minutes. When I lifted my head, I saw another long line up in front of me; everyone in line was holding a copy of “Li Chuan’s Past.” How strange. I was the author, but no one was asking me for an autograph.
I asked a girl who seemed to be in high school, “May I ask……Whom you are waiting to get an autograph from?”
She looked at me, nodded, and then shook her head.
I smiled quickly at her, “Um……I’m……actually the author. Really. I’m the real deal.”
She shook my hands politely, opened the book cover, and gestured for me to sign it. She then ignored me and continued to wait in line.
I was completely humiliated. I stood on the tip of my toes and saw that the line-up led straight to the entrance; it was so long that I couldn’t see the end of it.
“Excuse me, what is this line-up for?” I asked politely.
“We’re waiting for Li Chuan ge ge’s (‘big brother’ — honorific) autograph.”
Oh my God! That was simply putting the cart before the horse! I was flabbergasted.
I walked to the front by following the line-up; I indeed saw Classmate Li Chuan sitting at a table and signing for a young girl. He said as he signed, “Hope you don’t mind me signing in English, my Chinese is not very good, so I don’t want to embarrass myself.”
The girl’s face turned red and giggled; she even had tears in her eyes, “No, not at all, Li Chuan ge ge, I’m so happy to see you living so well!”
“Hm…..Did you guys get tortured by us adults in the novel?”
I bunch of people crowded around him and nodded their heads viciously, “Yeah, yeah, yes. We shed until we had no more tears left!”
“Li Chuan ge ge, may I ask if you really only have one leg?” another girl asked timidly.
“Yeah,” Li Chuan said patiently, “Do you want to check it?”
He saw me just as he finished; he lowered his head, “(English) Oops!”
He then raised his head and said to everyone, “The author is here. Please give some respect and ask her for an autograph, alright?”
Everyone finally shifted their focus to me.
After we left the bookstore, Li Chuan suddenly told me to stop at a quiet street. He fetched an antique looking wooden box out of his bag, opened it, and grabbed the book inside that was even thicker than my novel. The book looked more intricate than mine, but still looked like a book, yet it was the size of a sketch book.
He gave me a kiss and put the book into my hands, “Today is our birthday. This is your birthday present.”
The cover said: (English)“Letters to Xiaoqiu”
There was a Chinese letter on the first page:
“Hi Li Chuan,
The marks came out for my midterm exams. I did pretty well, I even got 86 on my worst subject, Reading. What do you think? An An and I went to the small restaurant at the North entrance and had beef noodles. I put in a lot of cilantro. It was delicious. I went to self-study at night and brought a cup of concentrated tea with me. I finished reading the last book of ‘Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.’ That’s right, I didn’t actually study, and only wanted to relax.
Below was his reply in my translation.
“Hi Xiao Qiu,
You did so well on the exams. I’m very proud of you. Beef noodles restaurant at the North entrance? Is that the one that we went to before? I still remember that you said that their beef soup was white, clear, and rich in flavour.
I’m sorry, Xiao Qiu. I couldn’t say anything to you on the day we separated. I could only run away quickly. I felt that I was really a coward. I took one of your pillows with me. It still had a tinge of your scent from the night before. Even now that I’m in the hospital, I’m still using it. It makes me feel as if you’re still by my side. My surgery is tomorrow at 10am. My family has all gone to the church to pray for me. It’s good that you’re not here and that you don’t know, so that I don’t need to see you be sad and heartbroken. You’re still going to wish me luck nonetheless, right?
I read it from start to finish; even after my emails ended, he continued writing. They were his long confessions in mostly English with a bit of Chinese.
I looked at him silently; I was touched deeply.
He caressed my face and said softly, “I actually replied every one of your letters. I didn’t have the strength to write, so I secretly recorded them in audio. When you stopped writing to me, I still continued. I didn’t tell Rene, but I had already gotten used to it.” He held my hands in his palms and continued, “I originally planned to send you these with my will, so that you would know that there was once someone in this world who loved you deeply.”
I embraced the book tightly and giggled, “Did it never come to your mind that if anything happened to me, it would likely be due to you? If I really died, it would probably be because I died after being angered by you.”
Li Chuan stared at me. His gaze was deep and focused as if he was looking at his own reflection in my eyes, “Xiao Qiu, after the surgery, I didn’t dare to look at myself, and never took any pictures. I didn’t have a dressing mirror at home either. I thought that all beautiful things had left me, and only death and deterioration awaited me. Isn’t this how things are? If you hold a hammer in your hand, everything else will look like nails. But,” light shone on his watery eyes, “you showed me the beautiful things in life that I hadn’t seen for a long time. I was so beautiful in your eyes.”