By Anni Baobei 安妮宝贝 (aka Qing Shan 庆山)
Translated by Linshan Jiang [*]
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright December 2022)
Anni Baobei is the pen name of Li Jie 励婕, who was born in Ningbo in 1974. She started writing online in 1998 and worked as a writer for the online literary portal, rongshuxia.com (Under the Banyan Tree 榕树下), in 2000 (see Hockx 2015). In the same year, she published in print her first short story collection, Goodbye Vivian (告别薇安; 2000), which includes the story I translate here, “Qiyue and Ansheng” (七月与安生). The collection was an immediate commercial success. Since then, she has published dozens of writings, including novels, short story collections, essay collections, and photo collections. She has also worked as an editor of a literary journal, Open (大方), and a translator of picture books for children. In 2014, she changed her pen name to Qing Shan (庆山), reflecting a shift in her thinking and writing toward meditation and religious beliefs. Most of her works have traditional Chinese versions published in Taiwan. In 2007, Izumi Kyōka (泉京鹿) translated nine stories in the short story collection of Goodbye Vivian into Japanese. In 2012, Nicky Harman and Keiko Wong translated three of her short stories into English. Relative to her popularity in the Chinese-speaking world, Anni Baobei’s works have not been widely translated into foreign languages.
Anni Baobei’s “Qiyue and Ansheng” is a coming-of-age story of two girls from their days in junior high school to their adulthoods. Although it seems to be firmly in a heteronormative framework—both girls love the same boy—the story entails “the ambiguity of the homosocial and homosexual distinction in the female-centered relationship” (Wang 2021: 128). Additionally, as this story was published at the beginning of the new millennium when “cyber writing” emerged as a new literary phenomenon, the story shows the “urban fashion of the ‘petty bourgeois’ (xiaozi 小资) frenzy” as China embraced capitalism and globalization (Yang 2006: 121). In 2016, the story was adapted into a film entitled Soul Mate (七月与安生), directed by Derek Tsang (曾国祥) from Hong Kong, which brought renewed interest and expanding popularity to Anni Baobei and her writings. The two actresses in the film, Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨) and Ma Sichun (马思纯), who performed the two female protagonists in the story, won the Best Leading Actress category of the Golden Horse Awards, which made a history to have joint winners. The film was nominated for and awarded by various film festivals.
In this translation, I choose the revised edition published by Tianjin Renmin (天津人民) in 2020, which is different from the earliest edition published in 2000. Anni Baobei has a unique style that makes use of a variety of techniques and literary strategies, the most obvious of which might be her use of punctuation. The author seldom uses question marks; instead, she usually uses commas and periods to enclose a question. Using more commas and periods than question marks in the text, the story offers a sense of monologue for the whole text, and even a sense of certainty sometimes. For example, Ansheng asks Qiyue if she likes a simple life; Qiyue says yes. As readers, we have seen Qiyue express her wish to live a simple life from the beginning to the end, so only an terse confirmation is needed, rather than a long explanation. The story also lacks quotation marks, even though there are many instances of dialogue. It creates a sense of monologue and even of stream of consciousness. The way I deal with this is to render conversations in the present tense, and all other facets of the narrative, including characters’ mental activities and indirect dialogues, in the past tense. In this way, I try to maintain the style of the author, which can convey a sense of strangeness in the reading process. One dimension of its formal style that has changed is its use of periods. In the earliest version, the author used periods almost for every pause, creating a choppy, staccato feeling to the language. Although this is less true in the version I translate here, a sense of simplicity and restraint is still manifest.
Qiyue and Ansheng
Anni Baobei/Qing Shan
Qiyue was thirteen when she first met Ansheng. At the freshmen registration, there was a long line of unfamiliar students. The hot autumn afternoon sunshine dazzled our eyes. Suddenly, a girl turned around and said, let’s go to the sports field and walk around. The girl had a cheerful smile. Inexplicably, Qiyue followed her.
Years later, Qiyue told Jiaming, her relationship with Ansheng was the result of being chosen by Ansheng. And although she had been willing, she could not offer any further explanation about this willingness.
My name is Qiyue. When Ansheng asked her, Qiyue said that Qiyue (July) was the month she was born. It was a hot summer, and for her mother the heat and the difficult birth were catastrophic. But she gave Qiyue a peaceful name. Like a lot of things in the world, people can’t fathom the undercurrents beneath the tranquil surface. For example, in encounters between people, or in their parting from each. But for Ansheng, she said, it only testifies to Ansheng’s own birth. She opened Qiyue’s palm, scribbling simple strokes with her fingertips, with a grin of self-mockery.
That was their first encounter. The autumn afternoon sunshine played on the back of Ansheng’s hands, like a flock of lively little birds flapping their wings and flying afar. She hadn’t told Qiyue that she was a child without a father. Her mother, who gave birth because she was in love with the man, was destined to keep her mouth shut for him for the rest of her life. Qiyue did not tell Ansheng either that Ansheng’s name had left an unmarked imprint in her palm at that moment.
Because of Ansheng, summer became a season full of illusion and confusion.
Thirteen to sixteen were the three years that Qiyue and Ansheng followed each other like shadows. Sometimes Qiyue was Ansheng’s. Sometimes Ansheng was Qiyue’s shadow. They did homework together, ran to the store to look at underwear, and on weekends Ansheng went to Qiyue’s home for meals and sleepovers.
They always went hand in hand in the street. When Qiyue first went to Ansheng’s home to play, she felt that Ansheng was lonely. Ansheng lived alone in a large apartment. Her mother was usually abroad and hired a nanny to live with Ansheng. Ansheng’s room was decorated like a princess’s palace, with a wardrobe full of beautiful clothes. However, it seemed cold because no one was there. Qiyue felt shivers after sitting there a while.
Ansheng turned on the heat and all the lights, saying that she usually did this when she was alone. She was used to it. She took Qiyue to see a tank of tropical fish that her mother kept. Ansheng threw the feed in, and the small fish gathered in the water, shaking like strips of splendid satin. Ansheng said, the water is warm. Yet some fish will cross the cold ocean in schools and migrate to vast places afar. Perhaps there is a home in their hearts. At this point, a serious look passed over her face.
At school, Ansheng was trouble for the teachers. Sharp and rebellious with her words, she was often expelled by teachers because she snapped at them. The young Ansheng sat alone in the open space outside the classroom, the sun pouring down on her unbending face. Qiyue secretly pulled novels and dried plums out of her bag and threw them to Ansheng outside the window. And then she knew that Ansheng would run to her shelter to read.
The shelter was a big tree they had found when they ran to the playing field in the afternoon of the school’s opening ceremony. It was a very old camphor tree, and its leaves let off a pungent scent.
Within a few minutes, Ansheng kicked off her shoes and climbed to the highest branch. She hid among the branches like a bird, wiggling her two bare legs and looking into the empty grass of the playing field and the distant horizon. Qiyue asked what she could see. She said, there was a green river, a stretch of field full of golden daisies, a stone bridge, and a long, long railway leading to somewhere. She reached out to her and shouted, Qiyue, come on. Qiyue looked up at Ansheng, twisting her fingers, wriggling yet powerless. She never learned to climb trees with Ansheng.
Finally, one day, they decided to go see that railway. They walked for a long, long time, until the suburbs were enshrouded in dusk, but they had still not reached the field. Along the way, it began to rain heavily, and the two girls took refuge in a deserted hut on the side of the road. Qiyue said, let’s go home. Ansheng said, I’m sure we’re almost there. I swore to walk along this railway that I could see every day. In the heavy rain, the two girls ran forward with one umbrella, their dresses and shoes drenched.
They finally saw the long, long railway extending into the vast distance in the rain and fog of the approaching night. The daisies blooming in the field had already withered away. Rain dripped from Ansheng’s hair and face. She said, Qiyue, one day, I will get rid of all constraints and go further away. Qiyue lowered her head and felt a little sad. She said, how about me. Ansheng said, come with me.
They were sixteen when they graduated from junior high. After exams, Qiyue entered the best senior high school in the city. Ansheng went to a vocational high school to learn advertising and design. Qiyue became a girl who stood out from others in the school, with good grades, a consistently gentle temper, and a beautiful face. She joined the literature club. Although she won prizes in writing competitions, she knew Ansheng’s writing was better. They had borrowed, one after another, sets of foreign novels to read, and their favorite writer was Ernest Hemingway. She knew Ansheng never cared about these activities. And teachers always criticized her writing as unhealthy and decadent.
Without Ansheng’s company, Qiyue felt lonely doing these activities. For the first meeting of the literature club, Ansheng arrived quite early. The classroom where they were going to meet was filled with sunshine and the rich scent of osmanthus. There was a boy writing on the blackboard, and Qiyue pushed the door open and said, excuse me… The boy turned around and said, Qiyue, come in for the meeting. He had such a gentle smile. Su Jiaming was the most handsome man Qiyue had ever seen, either before or after she turned sixteen.
After the meeting, Qiyue could not help asking Ansheng, what kind of man do you like. Ansheng said, I don’t like men. A writer once said that unless you love the man very much, men are simply unbearable. She talked while taking out a cigarette to smoke. Ansheng had started to take part-time jobs. She had long lost interest in studying. She worked for an hourly wage at McDonald’s and as a waitress in pubs to talk to foreigners, and learned oil painting at the Academy of Fine Arts. She could not wait to get out of her lonely life. She only wanted fresh things and experiences. She skipped a month of school to go sketching in the mountains with a group of art students. The school wanted to expel Ansheng for it.
The first time Ansheng’s mother appeared, it was to settle some trouble Ansheng had caused. She also arranged to see Qiyue. She wore a delicate silk cheongsam with wide hems and a pair of little diamond earrings. Her voice was gentle. She said, Qiyue, I hope you two would get along with each other; I have to go back to Britain soon; you have to keep her in check. Qiyue said, Ansheng would love to have you with her, so why don’t you stay. She smiled and sighed softly, not everything can be so free as your children think.
Qiyue did not understand. She only felt Ansheng was lonely. Every time Ansheng was at her home, she didn’t want to leave. They ate and slept together. She liked having warm light and a human voice in the room. Qiyue had a family of four, including her parents and her little brother. Ansheng acted like a child in front of them. Qiyue looked at Ansheng’s mother who reminded her of Ansheng’s room—spacious and splendid, yet with a coldness that penetrated deep into her bones.
That evening, Qiyue was at home having dinner with her parents and her little brother, feeling especially warm. She thought, she owned more things than Ansheng did. She did not know what she could share with Ansheng. At night, it started raining. While editing articles for the school magazine, Qiyue vaguely recalled that smiling face in the sunshine and the scent of osmanthus. Jiaming liked her, and on the weekend asked her to go see a movie. She thought, maybe it would be better for Ansheng if she fell in love with someone.
Late at night, Qiyue heard someone knocking at the door. She opened the door and saw a drenched Ansheng leaning against the doorway, her arms clasped. She had left home. With a blank face, Ansheng said to Qiyue, she took the redeye. Qiyue made hot milk for Ansheng, ran hot water in the tub, and brought her clean clothes. Ansheng came out of the bathroom, lay down on the bed, and closed her eyes without saying a word. Qiyue turned off the light and lay down gently beside Ansheng. Suddenly, Ansheng hugged her tightly and buried her head into Qiyue’s chest, sobbing in a low voice like a wounded animal. Warm and wet tears streamed down Qiyue’s neck. Qiyue hugged her back and said, it’s nothing, dear Ansheng, all will be fine; we will grow up; all will be fine when we grow up.
As she was talking, Qiyue also wept in the darkness.
Qiyue and Jiaming went to see a movie. Walking out of the theater after the movie ended, Qiyue recalled Ansheng’s words that she worked the night shift at a nearby bar called Blue. Jiaming, let’s go see Ansheng. Qiyue had mentioned her best friend to him. Jiaming said, okay. In the night breeze, he held Qiyue’s hand and placed it into his own jacket pocket. Both were quiet and gentle, studious and of good character, so even at their “key” schools, the teachers had no problem with their relationship.
In the distance, they saw Blue’s old carved wooden door. When they opened it, they were showered with deafening music and the choking smell of tobacco. The small dance floor was crowded with dancers; others were playing cards or chatting. Qiyue held Jiaming’s hand and squeezed up to the circular bar. She asked the longhaired bar tender, is Ansheng here. The man looked up, sending an icy look to Qiyue, and cried, Vivian, someone is looking for you. Then a girl burst out of the crowd.
Qiyue could barely recognize Ansheng in the dark light. Her bushy black hair was in small plaits with colorful glass beads at the end of each. With silver eye shadow, purple mascara, and burgundy lipstick, she wore a black lace fitting that tightly bound her beautiful breasts. Ansheng first caught sight of Jiaming and froze briefly. She then smiled at Qiyue and said, let’s drink.
Heineken with ice, Jiaming drank a whole bottle. He asked Ansheng, is it fun to skip classes for a month to go sketching in the wild. Ansheng said, we made fires and boiled coffee in the wilderness, showered in a cold creek, and watched the starry night from our sleeping bags. At that moment, I asked myself, what am I living for. When I was watching the starry night, I thought about how mysterious life is, yet so full of suffering. I didn’t know why I was living. Later, I made an oil painting of the starry night. Dark blue and weeping stars covered the canvas. Someone said he really liked it, but he had no money and asked me if I would sell it for a hundred yuan. I said yes. Why not. It has value in the hands of someone who really likes it. After finishing, Ansheng looked at Jiaming. She said, Jiaming, your eyes are so bright. Jiaming laughed.
After dropping Qiyue off at her doorstep, Jiaming said, Ansheng is not quite a pretty girl, but she is like a plant with a strange and rich fragrance that blooms fearsome flowers.
On Qiyue’s birthday, Jiaming took her out to the suburbs to hike in the mountains. Qiyue said, Ansheng is always with me for my birthday. Jiaming said, of course we can ask Ansheng to join us. Ansheng was very happy to be with Qiyue and Jiaming; they rode battered bicycles to the suburbs. When they climbed to the summit, they discovered a small temple there. The sun was shining and Ansheng wore a pair of washed-out jeans, a white shirt, and a pair of sneakers, reverting to her usual innocent look. Jiaming and Qiyue wore white T-shirts. Ansheng proposed that everyone take off their shoes and sit barefoot on the steps of the mountain path for a group selfie. They happily took the photo and then entered the temple.
It’s eerie here, Qiyue said. She felt a sense of mystery and the unfathomable in this serene temple. She was tired and did not want to climb to the top to see the Buddha statue hall. She said, let me take care of the bags and the camera; you go take a look but come back as soon as possible.
Jiaming and Ansheng climbed up the high stairs and entered the cool, dark hall. Sitting on a prayer mat, Ansheng looked at the Buddhas and said, do they know everything. Jiaming said, maybe. He tilted his head and felt the breeze and sunshine shuttling back and forth under the empty eaves. Then he heard Ansheng whispering, so, do they know I like you.
Qiyue saw Jiaming and Ansheng walk slowly down the steps. She smelled a flowery fragrance in the breeze and felt that this was her most blessed moment. Her beloved man and her best friend surrounded her. Many years later, Ansheng would know that this moment was indeed precious because there would be no more. Nothing can freeze a best moment forever.
Jiaming, the temple is selling jade bracelets. Qiyue said, I just went there alone, and they were very beautiful. Ansheng said, great, let Jiaming buy you one. There are only two left. One is light green embedded with dark green, the other is white with a little brownish yellow. Jiaming said, which one would you like, Qiyue. Qiyue said, Ansheng would also like one. Which one would Ansheng like. Ansheng looked at them and pointed quickly at the white one and said, I want this one.
She wore the white bracelet round her wrist and happily let the sunlight shine on it. It’s really pretty, Qiyue. Qiyue also looked cheerfully at Ansheng as if looking at a child. I remember that the ancients spoke of jade pendants jingling. Is it the case that when you put two bracelets together, a lovely sound emerges. After walking halfway down the mountain, Ansheng suddenly had a novel idea. Come on, Qiyue, bring your green bracelet over here and let me wear them together. Ansheng happily wore the green bracelet that had been removed from Qiyue’s wrist. It was just for a moment. The two bracelets touched each other; the white bracelet broke into two halves and fell to the ground.
The mountain path was sprinkled with fragments of white jade. Ansheng froze. Only Qiyue’s green bracelet was swinging around her wrist. Jiaming turned pale.
Qiyue, I am leaving. Ansheng said to Qiyue, I am going to work in Hainan and then study oil painting in Beijing. In autumn, Ansheng decided to drop out of school and leave the city she had lived in for seventeen years. She said, I’ll go with Pan. Pan wants to shut down Blue. Is he the man with long hair? Qiyue asked. Yes. He is able to mix drinks, play saxophone, race cars, and draw. I like him very much. Ansheng lowered her head and chuckled. A man, you really, really have to love him to bear him.
Can you bear him.
I don’t know. Ansheng took out a cigarette. She had started smoking a lot. Sometimes when she drew an oil painting, she would leave more than a dozen butts throughout the night. But, Ansheng, your mom asked me to keep you in check. Qiyue hugged her. It’s none of her business, Ansheng muttered cruelly. Her existence has nothing to do with me. Ansheng looked indifferent and blew a cloud of smoke. I hate her. The people I hate most are her and my father, whom I have never seen.
Qiyue looked down sadly. She remembered when they ran to the railway in the rain in their childhood. She said, Ansheng, what about me. You will go to university and have a good job. Of course, you have Jiaming. She smiled and said, tell me, will you marry him, Qiyue? Hmm, as long as he doesn’t change, Qiyue said a little shyly. After all, she said, it’s a long time away. Not long, not too long. Ansheng raised her head and looked outside. I’ve never known how far away forever really is. Maybe everything is transient.
The day that Ansheng left, she took a night train. She wanted to save money, and she was used to living a hard life. Pan had arrived in Hainan first, so Ansheng went alone. Ansheng only carried a simple backpack and wore an old pair of jeans and a down jacket. Qiyue felt numb at first and merely stared blankly at Ansheng as her luggage was inspected, her ticket checked, and her luggage placed on the train. She gave Ansheng the group photo she had printed out. It was a great photo, the sunshine spilling over three young smiling faces, full of love. Jiaming was so handsome. Ansheng smiled at Qiyue, putting the photo into the upper pocket of her jacket.
At this moment, Qiyue saw a red thread around Ansheng’s neck. What is this, she said, pulling it out and looking at it closely. It was a small jade pendant, and it was old, with one coner missing. The piece was white, but discolored by light yellow. Ansheng said, it’s just something from Chenghuang Temple to help me ward off evil. She quickly put the pendant back into her jacket. Qiyue, take care of yourself, promise me. I will write to you.
The whistle sounded and the train slowly moved away from the platform. Ansheng put her head out the window and waved to Qiyue. Qiyue felt a sharp pain in her heart and suddenly realized that Ansheng was leaving her for far away. She would not be able to see the Ansheng she had studied, eaten, and slept together with. Ansheng, Ansheng, Qiyue ran with the train. Don’t leave, Ansheng. On the empty platform, Qiyue squatted down and cried.
We should go home, Qiyue. Jiaming arrived hastily and hugged Qiyue. Yes, Jiaming, we should. Qiyue clung tightly onto Jiaming’s clothes, and Jiaming placed Qiyue’s cold hands into her own pocket and buried her face in his arms. His eyes were shining with tears. Jiaming, no matter what, we shall never part, shall we. Qiyue whispered to him. Jiaming was silent, then nodded gently.
Except Ansheng. Ansheng had no home and no one she could rely on. But Qiyue never knew what she could share with Ansheng.
After graduating from senior high school at nineteen, Qiyue went to college to study economics. Jiaming went off to Beijing to study computer science. Qiyue’s university was in the suburbs. She lived in the dorms on weekdays and could go home on weekends. She could still eat her mom’s homecooked radish and pork rib stew. Her life did not change at all. It was peaceful and tranquil. Qiyue tried to make new friends on campus. She had a vague idea about what friends were supposed to be because a lot of girls liked her. Qiyue was a nice and beautiful girl who could get along with others anywhere. They went to dance parties together and kept seats for each other in the library. On weekends, they went to shop downtown and watch movies.
It was just bland. Like a river passing by. You could not see what it carried or took away. It was only passing by. But Ansheng. Ansheng was the waves in her heart, painful and raging. That group photo, Qiyue kept it by her bed. In it, the sun was shining, but it was a sunshine from three years ago. The breeze carried a flowery fragrance and she was surrounded by loved ones. Such happy moments were indeed fleeting.
Jiaming would write twice a week and call Qiyue on weekends. He never asked about Ansheng, but Qiyue liked to ramble on to him about Ansheng’s doings. Her address keeps changing, Jiaming. From Hainan to Guangzhou, from Guangzhou to Xiamen. The last postcard she sent was from a small town I don’t know. She may not know where she can stay put, Jiaming said. I’m afraid Ansheng isn’t doing well; she’s so rootless, her life must be very difficult. But she hasn’t asked you to send her money, right. Well, Qiyue, you should know you’re not Ansheng’s pillar. Nobody is. She has the life she wants to live.
Qiyue was still worried about her. Sometimes she dreamed about the railway in the heavy rain. She thought about the moment when she and Ansheng were standing there waiting. Actually, she had a premonition that this railway connecting to distant places would one day take Ansheng away. There were many cherry trees on campus, as well as tall black locust trees. Qiyue thought, if Ansheng was here, would she kick off her shoes, climb a tree, and look out at the fields. Ansheng sat on the highest branch of the camphor tree. Strong wind swirled around the empty playing field, which blew her white dress like a blossoming flower. Ansheng stretched out her hands and cried, Qiyue, come here. Her crisp voice still seemed to echo in her ears. Whenever Qiyue thought of this, she felt a deep melancholy.
Qiyue, I’m studying painting in Guangzhou. I went biking by myself to sketch out in the wilds. The road was bumpy, and I fell off… The raves here are so crazy that I can dance till early morning like a wind-up machine… There is a kind of flower tree with small petals flying in the wind. It’s like a quick shower of gold… I broke up with Pan. I felt I couldn’t bear to be with him any more… I painted ads for others; I brushed billboards on tall buildings, and I nearly fainted from the intense sunshine… I want to go to Shanghai to study because I feel I like that city… I feel I may have to wander forever, but how far away is forever… The end of every letter said: say hello to Jiaming.
Qiyue could not write back or send her anything. Ansheng’s address kept changing. For Qiyue’s birthday, she sent a big bag of dried rosebuds for the first time. Another time, she sent a beautiful embroidered wrap-around skirt made by one of the ethnic minorities. And then she sent her an oil painting that she had drawn herself, showing her naked body with long hair transformed into a fish. Next to the painting, written in small characters, was the line: the sea is cold. Ansheng had been away for three years.
Another two years passed. In her junior year, Qiyue participated in a campus-wide debate. During the break, people chatted about the adventurer Yu Chunshun and his hiking and biking around the world. A boy said nonchalantly, these sorts of people are hypocritical, they seem careless and free on the outside, but they’re actually weak and powerless inside. They can’t adapt to reality, so they take on extremist attitudes of escape. They’re just decadent and weak. Qiyue suddenly blushed, stood up, and said, you don’t know them; you don’t know. They just feel lonely. In fact, they’re more courageous than anyone else. You have no right to mock what you can’t understand. In her anger, Qiyue stammered. She raised her voice sharply. She doesn’t have what you have, but you can’t give her anything. It’s like this world: it doesn’t match our dreams, but we have nowhere else to escape to.
That night, Qiyue saw the teenage Ansheng. She was wearing a white dress and swinging her legs up in a tree. Her long hair and skirt were flying in the wind, and there was her smiling face. But Qiyue thought, Ansheng has probably changed a bit. After all, Ansheng was already twenty-two, just like her. The twenty-two-year-old Qiyue felt herself fatter. Her pretty oval face was now rounder. She was also much taller than before. She missed Ansheng so much.
Just then, the phone rang. Qiyue thought it might be Jiaming. She picked up the phone and it was silent on the other side. Qiyue said, hi, could you say something please. Then a girl with a slightly husky voice spoke. Qiyue, it’s me. Who is this. Qiyue was confused. I’m Ansheng. The girl laughed loudly. I came all the way to Shanghai. Qiyue, ask for leave for a couple of days and come see me. I miss you so much.
When Qiyue’s boat arrived in Shanghai in the morning, Ansheng was waiting for her at the Shiliupu pier. Far off, Qiyue saw a thin girl with two thick braids hanging down to her waist. She wore jeans, a black T-shirt, and sneakers. Qiyue ran over to her. Standing there, Ansheng smiled at her. Her face was flat and bony, with a buckwheat-like tan and a high forehead. Ansheng had never been a beautiful girl, but she had a face with an oriental flavor. Now her face seemed to have stories behind it, showing the vicissitudes of life and a coldness. She didn’t have any makeup on. Ansheng, you look Vietnamese. Qiyue held her, laughing. I like you so much. But you look like a newly dried peanut ready for eating. Ansheng laughed.
Her eyes were black and bright. Her teeth were still white. This was the smiling face of the girl in the tree that Qiyue had once seen. Ansheng had grown up and changed. Only the smile remained.
Ansheng brought Qiyue to the apartment she had rented. She rented it in Pudong with several students who had come from elsewhere to study in Shanghai, and they shared the rent. The rent in Shanghai is so high, Ansheng said. But she made her room warm, with a white cotton comforter, embroidered tablecloths, and curtains. Beside the bed was a glass vase with white calla lilies. Qiyue saw their group photo in a wooden frame. Ansheng said, I couldn’t bring many things with me when I moved. But I had to bring it because it’s the only thing I own. That was when we had just met Jiaming. We were so joyful. How’s Jiaming now, Ansheng asked.
He’s fine, he’ll graduate soon. A company in Xi’an has offered him a job there. He’ll do an internship, working on development. Jiaming must be a man now, Ansheng laughed. Qiyue pulled out the photo Jiaming sent her and showed it to Ansheng. Jiaming was standing in the sunshine wearing a blue plaid shirt. He always looked gentle and clean. Ansheng said, he is the most handsome man I have ever met. It was true before I was sixteen and it’s true now. That night when you brought him to the bar, his looks seemed to silence all the noise.
Qiyue said, And he’s an earnest and honest man.
Marry him, Qiyue. I’ll marry him as soon as he graduates.
But he actually wants to stay in Beijing. And I don’t want to go there. You know, Ansheng, I don’t want to leave my parents and family. And the city we’ve lived in for so many years. It may be small, but it’s rich and stable, good for a simple life.
Do you like a simple life.
Yes, Ansheng. I’m juggling too many things, and I cannot let them go.
Ansheng smiled. She had been smoking all along and sometimes coughed violently. She touched Qiyue’s face. Qiyue, your skin is so good, but my face has been ruined by cigarette, alcohol, and coffee. In the daytime, I sold apartments, so I had to wear heavy makeup. You see, God gave me a tired face. It’s the weekend, so let’s go to a bar and grab a drink. Ansheng pulled out a black velvet jacket. Ansheng, don’t you wear white clothes anymore, Qiyue said. Now only black matches my empty soul, Ansheng laughed and, looking at herself in the mirror, applied showy lipstick.
They went to a noisy bar in the western district. Ansheng enjoyed the loud music and the crowd. She asked for a whiskey soda, and as she sat with it, people kept coming over to say hello. Qiyue looked at Ansheng. She had a cigarette between her fingers and flirted with a few foreigners in English, laughing together with them. Qiyue touched the ice water in her cup. Suddenly, she realized that a wide river had appeared between her and Ansheng. She knew it was still Ansheng on the opposite shore, but she couldn’t cross it anymore. Qiyue saw her white fingers on the bar, and knew their lives were completely different.
A somewhat older man in a blue shirt and yellow tie squeezed over and said something to Ansheng, laughing. Ansheng responded and came back to Qiyue. How long are you going to stay in Shanghai, Ansheng, Qiyue asked her. I want to make some money in Shanghai. The real estate market has been good recently. Of course, I‘ll also go north, to the Khingan Range and to Mohe County. Qiyue asked, won’t you go to Tibet for inspiration for your drawing. Ansheng said, I have given up drawing. Why, you liked drawing so much. Ansheng said, the painting I sent you for your birthday was the end of it. This cold sea is going to freeze me.
Ansheng drank another glass. How about you, Qiyue, are you still writing. When we entered writing contests in the past, you always won, and my entries were always criticized as decadent and unhealthy. Ansheng laughed, but I feel I was better than you. Do you still like Hemingway. I read his novels during my travels. He gives me a lot of courage. I always wondered what was going through his mind when he stuck that shotgun in his mouth. Now I’m writing, too, on paper, Qiyue. Maybe one day some publisher will publish it. People are forced to throw so many things away. Writing is a way to save themselves. It shouldn’t be taken away.
Another round of noisy music. The dancing crowds were shouting.
I’ve travelled all over the south, the southwest, and central China. I’ve tried all kinds of work. I taught in mountain areas; I drew portraits in the street; I did lap dances in bars; I drew outdoor advertisements. Sometimes, in remote towns, I would get drunk for three days without anyone knowing. I’ve forgotten where my home is. I’m no longer on speaking terms with my mom. I carry my home in my wandering soul. But sometimes the soul is so empty, and sometimes it’s so heavy, Ansheng laughed. She nearly drank an entire bottle of liquor.
Why not find someone who loves you, Ansheng, Qiyue asked. Ansheng said, there’s this guy who’s always wanting to take me abroad with him. He’s the boss of the real estate company I’m working for. He’s going to divorce his wife. Ansheng finished the alcohol in the cup, pushed it toward the bartender again, and asked him for another. She said, this guy is old enough to be my dad. And he’s not good-looking at all.
You can find a good man. A good man? What is a good man, Ansheng tilted her head and laughed. Her voice was hoarse from cigarettes, alcohol, and a cough. “Good” is too broad a word. His money, his soul, his emotion, his body—shouldn’t they all be measured together. You know what, Qiyue, Ansheng came closer to Qiyue’s face. If there were a man just a little bit like Jiaming, I’d be willing. But there is no man in the world who is more handsome and honest than him. We’ll only ever meet one.
Ansheng, you’re drunk. You can’t drink anymore. Qiyue pushed the cup back to the bartender and signaled to him to take it back. No, I want to drink more, I want to drink more. Ansheng threw herself on the counter. Only alcohol can keep me warm. Qiyue, just assume I’m dead. I don’t want to see you anymore. Why do I still miss you after all these years. I don’t want to miss you anymore. I have to leave again. I’m so tired. I cannot stop, Ansheng exclaimed. Qiyue dragged Ansheng out of the bar with tears in her eyes. The wind outside was cold. Ansheng fell to her knees and vomited. Her jade pendant fell from her chest, and the red thread had turned into grayish white. She didn’t even take it off in the shower.
That night, because of the drinking, Ansheng slept feverishly. Qiyue couldn’t sleep either, but wasn’t able to talk to Ansheng. She could only look out at the dark in silence alone. They were still sleeping next to each other, just as they had in their childhood. But Ansheng would never hug her like a spoiled child as she had before, burying her head in her chest, and putting her hands and legs on her. Ansheng curled herself up tightly. Six years, Qiyue thought. So many nights, Ansheng was used to holding herself tightly in the darkness and loneliness. She is not the girl crying in Qiyue’s arms anymore.
From age twenty-three to twenty-four. Qiyue graduated and was assigned to work at a bank. Ansheng left Shanghai and wandered north. Jiaming graduated and stayed in Xi’an to do development work.
Jiaming, come back, will you. Qiyue told Jiaming by phone, we should get married.
Why can’t you come to Xi’an, Qiyue.
I just want a simple life, Jiaming. You, my parents and little brother, a warm home, a stable job, and a steady life. I don’t want to wander. Qiyue suddenly cried in the phone.
Okay, okay, Qiyue, don’t do this. Jiaming seemed bewildered.
You promised me, Jiaming. We will always be together and never part. Do you still remember that.
I remember. Jiaming was silent for a while, and said, I’ll finish my project next month and then I’ll come back home.
Thank you, Jiaming. I know it may complicate things for you, but we need to be together. Life will reward us. Believe me, Jiaming.
I believe you, Qiyue. Jiaming paused and said, Qiyue, Ansheng came to see me.
Is she doing well.
She is not. Very thin and pale. She was going to Dunhuang, passing by Xi’an to visit me, and left in a hurry.
Can you get her to come back home.
I don’t think I can, Qiyue. Well, I have to say goodbye now. Jiaming hung up the phone.
Qiyue’s work in the bank was easy and comfortable. The salary and benefits were good. Her family was relieved. They were only waiting for Jiaming to come back so they could prepare for the wedding. One day, Qiyue’s mother suddenly mentioned Ansheng. She said, that girl has more talent than you, Qiyue. But she has a bad fate. Her mother always liked Ansheng when she came over. Ansheng always had a ready wit, flattered her mother by complimenting her cooking, and acted like a spoiled child. Qiyue also felt that although she was prettier than Ansheng, Ansheng was more charming.
Jiaming had said Ansheng could blossom into a bewildering flower that could frighten people. But Qiyue thought, she’s fortunate. Sometimes, when she was holding a cup of water, sitting in her air-conditioned office, and looking out the window into the twilight, she thought of Jiaming’s phone call and her mom’s radish and pork rib stew. It would be better to be a bland, quiet woman.
One time, a group of travelling French students came to the bank for some paperwork. Qiyue saw a girl with a braid, wearing a pink undershirt. She wasn’t wearing a bra and her shapely breasts were visible. In a small city full of petty people, a local girl would never do this. But Ansheng was always like this. Just like how thirteen-year-old Ansheng would kick off her shoes and scamper up the tree. She reached out to Qiyue and said, Qiyue, come on. Qiyue did not know how to climb trees. She simply looked up at bird-like Ansheng perched in the tree. Maybe she had made the choice subconsciously. She would rather leave Ansheng alone in the tree.
It was partly out of inability and partly out of fear. But there was one more part—she knew exactly what she wanted.
Autumn was approaching. Qiyue started to see wedding dresses with her colleague during lunch breaks. One store after another, Qiyue touched the soft dresses full of lace and pearls, her heart filled with expectation and sweetness. But Jiaming did not call to inform her when he was coming back. Even when she called him, only a voice message responded. For years, Jiaming had been such a gentleman and had never made Qiyue so confused and doubtful like this. Suddenly, Qiyue had some dark premonitions.
She called continuously and thought Jiaming would eventually pick up the phone. One night, she heard Jiaming’s deep voice from the other side of the phone. He said, I am Jiaming. Jiaming, why don’t you come back home, Qiyue asked. Qiyue, sorry. Jiaming seemed to be a little bit drunk, slurring his words. He said vaguely, give me some more time, just a little bit, a little bit of time. Jiaming, what are you talking about. Give me a little bit more time, Qiyue. Jiaming seemed about to cry and hung up the phone.
Qiyue froze for a while. She met this man when she was sixteen and had waited for him for eight years. But he dared to ask her for more time right before the wedding. She could not lose him. Qiyue asked the bank for leave and bought a train ticket to Xi’an. Qiyue, what happened to Jiaming. Mother worriedly glanced at Qiyue, who was packing her clothes. Mom, I’m going to bring Jiaming back.
Qiyue boarded the train. The train rushed through vast fields day and night. This was the first time Qiyue had travelled so far. She had always lived in her own city. The only exception was when she went to Shanghai to see Ansheng. But Shanghai is a nearby city, not too far away. Isn’t it a blessing that at least one person doesn’t need to leave home. On the train, Qiyue heard different accents and thought, Ansheng traveled so far and what did she see. It reminded her of the fields and the river when she climbed the tree. Although the views afar were beautiful, none of them were home.
In Shanghai, Ansheng was drunk. She cried and asked Qiyue to forget her and not to miss her. She was thinking about letting go of the last emotional tie and leaving alone. At the age of seventeen, she was the one who saw Ansheng off from the train station, leaving the city for good. She knew Ansheng’s loneliness and poverty, but what could she share with Ansheng. She could never answer this question. In the shaking and dark train car, fragments of memories flashed before Qiyue’s eyes.
The smiling face of Ansheng in the sunshine. She says, let’s go to the playing field. The camphor tree spreads its pungent scent. Ansheng’s white dress like flowers blossoming in the wind. Crying in the darkness, Ansheng looks like a wounded animal. Ansheng’s white jade bracelet broken. She throws her body out the window and waves on the leaving train. Letters in Ansheng’s childish script. Qiyue, I rode my battered bicycle and went sketching in the wild. It was bumpy, and I fell off… Qiyue pressed her face to the train’s glass window, weeping gently.
Finally, the train stopped at the Xi’an platform. Qiyue got off, feeling tired, her face pale. She immediately took a taxi to Jiaming’s dorm. Her heart suddenly beat quickly. Following the address she had, she went up to the fifth floor, but the door was locked. Qiyue knocked, but no one answered. It was eight o’clock in the morning. Where would Jiaming be. Qiyue threw her luggage aside. She squatted, holding her aching head.
She seemed to hear Jiaming’s footsteps. Qiyue looked up and saw Jiaming walking up the stairs holding a packet of traditional Chinese medicine. A girl wearing black clothes and with long hair stood by his side. She leaned on Jiaming with her face pressed against his shoulder, looking languorous.
Qiyue stood up slowly and stared at Jiaming. At this moment, her mind was in a state of sheer numbness. Qiyue, Jiaming exclaimed, startled. The girl turned around with her long hair slipping across her face. Dark eyes, a high forehead, and white teeth.
If not Ansheng, who else could she be.
Qiyue followed them into the room in a state of total blankness. Her luggage was still in her hands. For the moment, she hadn’t recovered from the shock. Jiaming’s room was clean. There was a glass vase with calla lilies in clear water. A nightgown was hung on the bed—black lace—that’s Ansheng’s. Jiaming accompanied me to the hospital in the morning. I came back from Dunhuang and was sick. Ansheng poured a cup of hot water for Qiyue and smoked a cigarette.
Qiyue looked at Jiaming. Jiaming didn’t look at her. Jiaming, aren’t you coming home? Qiyue, I can’t go back. Jiaming’s gentle yet determined voice. Qiyue remained silent. The fear and anger made her body shake audibly. She slowly walked up to Ansheng, tears running down her face. Ansheng, I never know what you want. I keep asking myself what I can take out and share with you. Ansheng said, I love Jiaming. I want to be with him. The blood rushed up through Qiyue’s body. She slapped Ansheng with almost all her strength.
Midnight in the street. Ansheng, Qiyue heard her own despairing voice vibrating in the chilly wind. She walked for too long and searched for her too far. With regret and anxiety, she felt as if she were facing an imminent breakdown. She squatted down on the road. Jiaming held her up. He said, Qiyue, sorry. Jiaming, who do you love, Ansheng or me. Why don’t you tell me. Jiaming silently held the sorrowful Qiyue. He just held her tightly without a word.
Ansheng left without a penny to her name, so she had to stay in Xi’an. With her personality, she wouldn’t commit suicide. So she could only go to the bar again. They searched every single bar. No, None. Qiyue, you go back first and get some sleep; I’ll search for her, Jiaming said. No, I must find her, Qiyue forced back tears. She saw her fingerprint on Ansheng’s pale face and the grief in Ansheng’s eyes. She laughed faintly, pushed open the door, and ran out. She didn’t know why she treated Ansheng like this. She had never been angry with her. Because she was poor, Ansheng didn’t have the things Qiyue had. It was like this when they were young, and the same after they grew up.
They saw Ansheng by a store window. She was not drunk, simply curled up on the stairs wrapped in a coat, cigarette ashes and butts scattered everywhere around her. How cold, she said. Looking at them, Ansheng smiled faintly. She looked quiet and lonely. Let’s go, Ansheng. Qiyue dared not hold her hand, only speaking to her with her head lowered. Ok, let’s go. Ansheng threw away a cigarette butt. Jiaming, she turned around and called his name. Jiaming, carry me back home. I am frozen. Jiaming carried Ansheng, who was curled up in his arms. His face pressed against Ansheng’s cold hair.
The following day, Ansheng caught a high fever and went into a coma. Due to her excessive drinking and constant wandering, her body was frail. Jiaming sent Ansheng to the hospital, and Qiyue prepared to return home. Qiyue and Jiaming sat silently in the waiting room. Jiaming, take good care of Ansheng. I will, Jiaming lowered his head. I love you so much, Jiaming. Qiyue looked at this man with tears. I feel I have never told you this before. Yes, you have never told me before. Jiaming also held tears in his eyes. He reached out his arms and embraced Qiyue. You are both such good girls, and you two are like the same person.
I will arrive home on November 24. I will wait for you for a month. Jiaming, I will not call you anymore. If you come back in one month, we will get married. If not, we are done. I will not harbor any resentment toward you. Jiaming looked at Qiyue; Qiyue’s expression was solemn. She said, Jiaming, think carefully; think thoroughly about Ansheng and me, about whether to stay in Xi’an or return home. You have only one choice.
Qiyue took off the green jade bracelet on her wrist and gave it to Jiaming. You keep it. Since we were kids, Ansheng has always known what I like. I’ve always doubted that she actually wanted this green bracelet.
Qiyue went back home, and she didn’t tell her mother the truth. She only said that Jiaming had to deal with some business. Qiyue went to work calmly, but her heart was aching. It seemed that the slightest thing would trigger bitter tears. But she restrained herself in silence. She had lived a smooth and peaceful life since childhood. This blow was too great. But Qiyue thought she finally had an opportunity to grow up.
The weather turned colder day by day. It must be covered with snow in the north. She suddenly realized how deeply she was in love with Jiaming. She asked herself, if Jiaming didn’t come back, could she meet another man and marry him. This seemed unimaginable. From the age of sixteen, she had been used to the handsome and gentle Jiaming, his clean appearance, warm hands, and stiff hair. There would never be another man who could make her fall so helplessly in love like this.
Christmas was coming. The shop windows started to arrange Santa Claus and Christmas trees with beautifully decorated letters by colored canyons. After work, Qiyue hurried away in the chilly wind of the twilight, wrapped in her coat. In the crowd, two girls about thirteen were hand in hand, bending toward the window and looking at the Christmas gifts on display. The two heads with their thick black hair pressed closely against each other.
One girl said, I like this flannel bear so much. The other said, I like it too. One said, let me ask my dad to buy it, and we can play with it together. The other said, sure.
Qiyue thought, they can share the flannel bear. What else. If they encounter something they can’t share, would they turn against each other. The friendship between teenagers is like a butterfly, brilliant yet blind. But Ansheng was her first love.
By December 24, Jiaming had still not come back.
That night, colleagues invited Qiyue to attend a Christmas party at a hotel. Qiyue agreed. Her face made up, she wore a new rose-red cloak and black boots. Her colleagues were surprised. Qiyue, who always appeared as a good girl, suddenly became open and passionate. One colleague in the bank was recently promoted to section head. He was an honest and clever man who had always liked Qiyue. They drank some wine together that night, and Qiyue was very happy. He mustered up courage in wine, walked in front of Qiyue, and invited her to dance. Qiyue accepted his invitation. This man had a good education, personality, and family. Still, just over thirty years of age, he already had a slight beer gut and wore thick glasses.
He said, Qiyue, at Christmas, there will be a new American blockbuster; may I invite you to come with me. Qiyue smiled, what is the name of the movie. Jiaming’s handsome smiling face flashed past her eyes. She thought, she had to live on. She needed a simple and stable life, even if she had to change to a plain man. This was her rational and pliant attitude toward life.
At one o’clock in the early morning, her colleagues drove Qiyue home. Qiyue got out when they were still quite a distance from her place.
She wanted to walk home slowly to clear her dizzy and aching mind. Tiny snowflakes fell from the sky. Southern winters were often like this, suddenly light and gentle snowflakes would float down. Qiyue closed her eyes and tilted her head up, feeling the cold snowflakes rapidly melting into tiny droplets on her face. She spread her arms in the chilly wind and gently twirled her body. She thought, Santa Claus, have you started delivering gifts yet. Do you know what will make me joyful.
A person suddenly hugged her. Qiyue didn’t open her eyes because she smelt the familiar scent of the man and touched his short and stiff hair. That wide hug was so warm and secure. I took the train back. Am I still on time, Qiyue. Qiyue didn’t speak but hugged him firmly. She pressed her face tight to the chest where the heartbeat came from.
In the spring, when she was twenty-five, Qiyue married Jiaming. They held a simple wedding ceremony. Qiyue finally wore a white wedding dress. Yet, on the wedding day, a cold drizzle floated down like endless tears. When Qiyue got out of the car wearing the white dress, she stepped into a puddle. Pink-white cherry blossom petals were falling everywhere.
After the wedding, they led a simple and quiet life, just as Qiyue had imagined and planned. Jiaming set up a software development company, and business was smooth. He was also a considerate and family-oriented man. Qiyue’s mother cared about her and asked them to come back home to eat instead of cooking their own dinner. Qiyue liked returning to her mother’s home because they ate together. The warmth of family enveloped her.
Jiaming didn’t say much about Ansheng. He only said that she went to Beijing after her recovery. And then, she went to Canada with the boss she met at the Shanghai real estate company. That middle-aged man who could be her father. Qiyue could still remember Ansheng’s indifference when talking to him. But she thought Ansheng had made her compromise. Jiaming and Ansheng made these choices. She liked to be chosen because it created less of a burden for her. From this point on, Qiyue and Jiaming carefully avoided the problem of Ansheng.
But Qiyue still missed Ansheng. On a rainy night, she suddenly woke up from a dream. She sat up and rolled out of bed. Jiaming also woke up in shock and asked Qiyue in the darkness, what are you doing, Qiyue. Qiyue said, someone is knocking on the door. Nobody, Nobody is knocking on the door. Really, I heard a voice. Qiyue hurriedly opened the door, only to find chilly wind and heavy rain. Qiyue leaned against the door and stared blankly.
She didn’t tell Jiaming. She thought about the teenage Ansheng, who was helpless and lonely, her body soaked to the bone. Ansheng stood in front of the door, cradling her own arms, and told Qiyue indifferently she had left home. That night, her sole parent had left her. Qiyue had the premonition that Ansheng was coming back.
In autumn, a letter from Canada fell into Qiyue’s hands. Ansheng’s childish writing hadn’t changed. She said, Qiyue, the autumn here is so chilly. My old illness seems to be returning. The most important thing is that I am pregnant, and that man doesn’t want to be with me anymore. I don’t want to lose the child because it is Jiaming’s child. Jiaming looked at Qiyue, and Qiyue was silent. She maintained that silence for three days. And one night, she went home and told Jiaming that she had written Ansheng and asked her to come back home. Qiyue said she would die of disease or hunger abroad.
Jiaming said, Qiyue, sorry. Qiyue shook her head and said, there is no right and wrong, Jiaming. Don’t repeat this. Actually, I always wondered if you made your own choice to come back or if Ansheng did. Jiaming said, I don’t want to answer this question.
One rainy night, Qiyue went to the airport to pick Ansheng up. Jiaming was working overtime. The flight from Beijing was delayed, and Qiyue waited in the hall for a long time. Finally, there were crowds at the exit. Qiyue stood there, holding an umbrella. And then she saw Ansheng. Ansheng carried simple luggage and wore a black coat. Her body was bloated. Her long hair had been cut, and what remained was messy. Her face was pale and bony, only her eyes were still black and bright. She saw Qiyue and smiled faintly. Qiyue, I am back.
Ansheng, you are back. Qiyue ran over and held Ansheng, tears falling. You are finally home. Yes, finally home, Ansheng said gently and pressed her face to Qiyue’s neck. Her face was cold. They two held each other tightly in the airport terminal. Ansheng was seventeen when she ran away from home. Exactly eight years.
Ansheng lived in Qiyue’s home. Qiyue’s mother didn’t know Ansheng had Jiaming’s baby, so she treated Ansheng as she used to. Qiyue and Jiaming decided to keep the secret from everyone. Ansheng went to the hospital. For the baby’s sake, she gave up her entrenched addiction to cigarettes and alcohol, but she was still sickly and weak. Qiyue cooked nourishing traditional Chinese medicine for her every day, the scent of medicine filling the room. With free time at home, Ansheng potted a lot of plants. She usually sat alone on the balcony in the sunshine, looking at the sunlight and the flowers. Jiaming walked over and gave her a cup of hot milk. She smiled at Jiaming and said, thanks. Jiaming didn’t say anything but gently stroked her short hair.
One day, Ansheng told Qiyue that she was writing. She had kept writing, one character after another, on paper. Ansheng said, I am not sure if this book could be published or not. I don’t hold any ardent expectations. But I want to leave something behind, since I am already so poor. Qiyue said, what are you writing. Ansheng said, some stories about wandering, love, and fate. One month later, she sent a thick stack of paper to a publisher.
Ansheng’s body became even more bloated. She had to ask for help from Qiyue in the shower. She never took off her broken pendant. The thread was worn because she had worn it for so long. They used to have a shower together when they were young. At that time, their bodies were as pure as flowers without any scars. But now, Ansheng’s body had changed. It had a lot of spots on the back and the chest caused by cigarette butts, as well as scattered scars from cutting her wrist. Qiyue did not ask and just gently rinsed them with water.
When Ansheng heard Qiyue’s tense breathing, she smiled and said, does it look scary. I knew before I left that this body would be full of scars. I used to loathe it. I only wanted to torture it and crush it because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be Qiyue and had to remain as Ansheng. Qiyue has many things, but she can’t give them to me. Ansheng has nothing and in the end won’t get anything. Now, I finally know I have transformed, like a snake that sheds its skin. A new life will come out, fresh, clean body and soul, all new. And the old can decay. I am very grateful that Jiaming has given me a new life.
Qiyue, Jiaming is the man we love. I also love you, Qiyue.
They returned to their alma mater and took a stroll on the playing field. The place where the camphor trees were had been replaced by a new building. Ansheng said, there used to be an aromatic scent. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath as if she still stood under the thick shade of the tree. However, she was no longer the barefoot girl in a white dress who climbed quickly up the top branch. The old days had gone forever. Only the railway remained, still crossing over the field and into the distance. Ansheng said, when I was young, I was curious to know where it would lead. Now I finally understand there is no end.
It was a cold winter night in the south when Ansheng was sent to the hospital. The position of the fetus was wrong. It became serious. The lobby of the hospital was empty, sometimes with some footsteps hurrying by. Qiyue sat on a wooden chair in the lobby and pressed her fingers together, feeling nervous. She heard Ansheng screaming. She suddenly felt Ansheng was going to die. When the doctor put Ansheng on the gurney and sent her the delivery room, she threw herself onto Ansheng and wouldn’t let go. Ansheng, you have to be alright. Qiyue held Ansheng’s pale face. Ansheng’s hair was shining in a wet luster because it was soaked with sweat and tears. Ansheng turned her face and whispered, I feel I am dying, Qiyue.
No, Ansheng. You must give birth to Jiaming’s child. You love him so much. Yes, I love Jiaming. I really love him. Ansheng’s tears were falling down the corners of her eyes. The only thing I don’t know is whether to continue wandering or to stay. I really have no idea. I cannot hurt you anymore, Qiyue. I must be what you regret most in your life. When I asked you whether to go to the playing field that day, you shouldn’t have followed me.
For the first time, Qiyue saw Ansheng’s bright eyes dimming like a bird folding its wings. Tired and quiet. She cannot hear the cold wind. I feel my sin is too deep. The time has come for judgment. Ansheng’s eyes slowly turned toward the glass window. Dark sky of the night blowing cold wind. Ansheng murmured in a low voice, I don’t know how far is forever. I never know. She was dazed. She said, that night, I told him that I was leaving. Because I love him, I will wander for him till I am old and then dead; I will never come back. He gave his jade pendant to me and said, my soul is in it. I follow you. But I am too tired to walk anymore. Ansheng’s face showed a faint smile.
In the early morning, Ansheng gave birth to a baby girl and died of a difficult birth.
At the age of twenty-six, Qiyue had an adopted girl. She named Ansheng’s baby Xiao’an. She believed it was the new Ansheng. As Ansheng had said, it was a fresh, pure soul and body, and the old body could decay. Xiao’an had a pair of bright black eyes. Qiyue took her to Jiaming’s family, and Jiaming’s mother liked her very much. Holding the baby, she said we should give the little baby a gift. Jiaming, where is your jade pendant that you have had since childhood. Although one part is missing, it can be used to ward off evil. Both Jiaming and Qiyue pretended not to hear it. That pendant was cremated with Ansheng.
Qiyue always looked innocent. Sometimes, people who do not know the truth or the essence of things are happy, while people who pretend not to see the truth and the essence are blessed. But some other people are exceptions, such as the girl Jiaming encountered in the bar. Through the noisy music and smoke, she smiled to him, Jiaming, your eyes are bright. She touched the bottom of people’s hearts but never told them whether she liked the green or white bracelet. She did not know how to hide and had nowhere to escape.
In the temple of the deep valley, they looked at the Buddha. She sat behind him and asked gently, do they know I like you. He turned around and looked at her. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him. The dark and cold temple. The sunshine and the wind traveled back and forth under the open eaves. At that moment, life turned into a banishment.
Half a year later, Ansheng’s book was published. The title was Qiyue and Ansheng.
Qiyue and Jiaming lived a simple life. They didn’t have another baby.
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[*] Linshan Jiang is Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. She received her Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies from University of California, Santa Barbara, where she also obtained a Ph.D. emphasis in Translation Studies.