Chinese Stories in English
An Enemy Sweet and Cruel
A Bit Hot
There’s a photo in Qin Wei’s wallet. It was taken when she was a high school senior hiking in the Taihang Mountains between Hebei and Shanxi Provinces. She was squatting in the doorway of a family who lived in a mountain village, looking face up at the camera and laughing. Behind her was a wall with cactus plants growing all over it. Nearby several children were squatting like her with bowls in their hands, eating noodles.
She had accepted an invitation from her old friend, Xiao Mei, to go on this school outing during the May Day holiday on the eve of graduation.
During the holiday, Qin Wei had more time on her hands than she knew what to do with, so when Xiao Mei called to ask if she wanted to do something, she immediately agreed. They took a train from Shijiazhuang to Wuhan, and then from Wuhan to Xinxiang. Qin Wei only realized that Xiao Mei was playing matchmaker after they were on the train. Of the ten people in the hiking party, eight were coupled up. She was one of the two singles, and the other was Lao Du.
Lao Du looked like Lu Liangwei, the Hong Kong actor whose stage name is Ray Lui, and talked like him, too. His skin was dark and the corners of his mouth wrinkled when he smiled.
Two people shared a tent at night. The four couples weren’t willing to split up, so Qin Wei had to bunk with Lao Du. They each had their own sleeping bag, of course, and neither touched the other.
Every evening as they lay in the quiet nighttime of the mountain village, they could open the tent’s skylight and see the myriad stars in the sky. Qin Wei, who had always lived in a city, had never seen so many stars. It really was like they were portrayed in cartoons, twinkling and twinkling like blinking eyes. Qin Wei would look at them for a long time, lost in thought: finding a job after graduation, her ex-boyfriend, her parents' expectations and other such things. Lao Du, lying beside her, wasn’t quiet at all. He hummed constantly. He was a pretty good singer, and his gentle humming became a soundtrack for her thoughts.
Years later, Qin Wei would often think of those nights, the myriad stars, the humming, and the boy beside her.
In the end, when all of them were spending a night in one room, Lao Du asked her, “What do you think of me?”
“I think you’re really nice,” she answered.
“So, let’s hook up,” he said.
“Let’s hold off on that.”
Lao Du put his hands behind his head. “OK.”
When the trip was over, Lao Du escorted Qin Wei back to Shijiazhuang. He spent 4 hours in the city: one hour taking Qin Wei to her school, one hour to eating, one hour getting back to the train station, and one hour in a daze waiting for his train to leave.
For days afterward, Qin Wei wondered about the significance of their parting kiss after they’d eaten. Was it to celebrate a love that hadn’t had time to develop? Did those five days count as love? She remembered his embrace; when he’d hugged her, it was as though he was holding a cherished gift. A quiet warmth, just a little bit, had begun to rise from the two of them.
A Bit Cool
Qin Wei could still be called optimistic during the first year after graduation. Her life saw a number of aspirations turned to displays of fireworks sprinkled throughout the night sky, a gorgeous transience and almost perfect radiance. But after some turn-arounds at work, nothing seemed so perfect any longer.
Frankly, her job was all about dealing with people, and Qin Wei wasn’t good that. But what job doesn’t involve working with people? Qin Wei told her troubles to Lao Du on the internet. She didn’t know when the key words describing her at work had become "difficulties waiting on people". Her boss, customers, colleagues, even newcomers she’d led for 3 months, all seemed to be doing their darndest to keep her from getting along.
Lao Du had returned home after graduation as an honored People's Teacher. He thought Qin Wei’s problems over for a moment, then said: “There’s a time to cry and a time to laugh; a time to be humble and a time to be proud; a time for silence and a time to wail; a time to squat and a time to stand. If you just understand how to do the appropriate thing at the appropriate time, you’ll be fine.”
“That’s easy to say.” Qin Wei wasn’t satisfied.
Lao Du said, “You’d be better off here with me. I’ll take care of you.”
“No.” Qin Wei declined the invitation without hesitation.
Lao Du's home was a picturesque town in Hubei Province. Every summer and early autumn, a large number of tourists would go there to float down the river and view the colorful foliage along the shore. Lao Du had invited Qin Wei many times, but she’d always turned him down.
“Why not, huh?” he asked her. “What’s the big deal?”
“Been there,” she answered. “More than once.”
That evening Qin Wei told Lao Du the indescribably bizarre story of her life. It was enough to make anyone sob. Her biological mother, after giving birth to her without benefit of marriage, had sent her to the people she knew as her parents. Qin Wei was probably twelve years old when she found out. She overheard her grandmother and her aunt chatting about it, and it struck her like a bolt from the blue.
For a long time afterwards, Qin Wei nagged her adoptive parents about finding her mother. It broke their hearts. After she graduated from high school, her parents gave her a photo and a train ticket, and agreed to let her go see her birth mother. Her mother was only thirty-six that year, and was married to a man in Hubei in the same small town where Lao Du was now living.
Qin Wei was already wise to the ways of the world by that time, so she tore up the photo and train ticket. She told her adoptive parents, “You’re my real father and mother, not that woman.”
But while she was in college, she secretly went to that town several times. Each time she had merely looked at her mother from a distance. That woman had carried her for ten months before giving birth, and in her veins flowed the same blood as her own. They shared a similar appearance and body type, and even walked in exactly the same manner.
The woman had opened a small restaurant. She had another child and was living happily with her small family. She’d forgotten that she had another daughter, or maybe she’d been pretending all along that she’d never had her. Qin Wei didn’t bother her and never introduced herself.
When she finished explaining this to Lao Du, Qin Wei asked him, “Do you understand me now, why it’s better that I don’t go there?”
He said he did.
Then he said, “So, what if I go where you are?”
“Don’t,” she answered. “You have your own life to live.”
That was in the dog days of summer, but to save electricity, Qin Wei didn’t turn on the air conditioning in her room. Only a light breeze blew across her cheeks, drying her tears. She wiped them with her hand, but could only feel a slight coolness where her tears had been.
A Bit Farther
Qin Wei was depressed for a number of days afterwards. One of her possible futures had been ended because that night's frank discussion. From then on, she and Lao Du might as well be separated by the highest mountains and the deepest seas, only able to exchange pleasantries over the internet. That’s how it was right up until the tail end of August, when Lao Du paid her a surprise visit.
It was the third year after they’d met on the trip to the Taihang Mountains, and two years since they’d last seen each other. Lao Du was as dark-skinned as ever, but wrinkles showed when he smiled. While they were having supper together, Qin Wei tried as hard as she could not to show how happy she was to see him.
She asked him why he’d come. He said, “I wanted to see you.”
Lao Du’s eyes were shining and his teeth gleamed when he smiled. A wonderfully obvious look of bashfulness began to form as they gazed at each other. It seemed as though an invisible spider were making silken threads in the air between them, wrapping them up and tying them tightly together.
As before, some warmness arose between them when they embraced, but their lips were still slightly cool when they kissed. Qin Wei felt Lao Du heart beating, thump-thumping fiercely. He was not a literary young man, but the words he spoke were artistic enough: “I was really afraid I’d never hold you again.”
Luckily it was a weekend. Qin Wei wanted to go with Lao Du for a walk around Royal Park, but he wouldn’t go anywhere. They nested in the small flat that Qin Wei rented with a roommate. Like lovers the world over when they first fall into the river of love, they stayed stuck together like glue. If they’d been able, they would have spent all their time hugging and kissing, and exploring each other’s bodies.
Lao Du didn’t look at all old while he slept, more like a curled up baby begging to be loved. He kept cuddling up to her in his sleep, extending his arm to wrap around her tighter and tighter.
Qin Wei was shocked to realize that she loved him. All along, he had not been the only one waiting to be together like this; she had been waiting as well.
On the last day of August, Lao Du boarded a train to go home. Qin Wei stood on the platform watching him get on and take a seat by the window. At that moment, the train window had turned into a picture frame, and Lao Du was a smiling, talking photo. Like the photos in Harry Potter’s magical world, the movements would repeat for eternity: Lao Du’s mouth forming the exaggerated but silent words, “I love you”.
The train finally started off, moving slowly into the distance.
A Bit Closer
In the end, how long can a long-distance relationship last? Qin Wei didn’t want to put faith in any magazine or internet analysis. She wanted to follow her heart. Through daily phone calls, video connections every night and seeing each other once every six months, they came to understand almost every detail of one another's lives.
This way, loving but still free, coming to understand but not interfering with each other, was really nice. Qin Wei told her love story to her friend Xiao Mei, who had just gotten married. Xiao Mei was green with envy. She said that married life was like being bound hand and foot and not daring to think about loosening the bindings even a little.
Qin Wei felt good, too, living life in the golden sunshine. The key words describing her at work changed from "difficulties waiting on people" to "very cooperative."
One day Qin Wei got a phone call from Lao Du. After saying hello, he handed the phone to someone beside him. It was a woman, and Qin Wei immediately tightened up when she heard her voice. The women asked something about an English lesson, probably on behalf of her child. Lau Du, a teacher himself, had told her that his girlfriend’s English was better, so she was calling to ask her.
It was a simple English lesson, but Qin Wei couldn’t for the life of her think of the answer. She said, “I don’t know. Sorry.”
The woman handed the phone back to Lao Du. Qin Wei, her voice trembling, asked him, “What were you thinking of? Why do this to me?”
Qin Wei ended the call and turned off her phone. Lao Du hailed her on the Internet over a hundred times that evening but she didn’t answer. He sent her text after text saying that he’d just wanted to do something for her. After he’d come home from visiting Qin Wei in Beijing the first time, he went to the small restaurant three times a week to eat, so he’d been able to socialize with and get to know the owner well. Since he was a teacher, he could occasionally help the boss's son with some problems. He also took it on himself to volunteer as the boy's tutor for only a small fee.
“She’s your mother, Qin Wei, and I thank her for giving birth to you. The boy is your brother, so he’s my brother, too. I wanted to help them, but I did it because of you, you know.”
Qin Wei’s whole body shook so much that she almost couldn’t breathe. She shut off her computer and lay down in bed, crying silently. She didn’t sleep at all that night. He’d gotten her tangled back in this after all, in a past she didn’t know about and didn’t want to know about. Who gave him the right? What made him so arrogant?
The sweetest lover is also the cruelest enemy.
She didn’t want to forgive him. However, she evidently felt that that night, when he’d hailed her crazily and she hadn’t responded, was also when they’d been the closest. He’d touched the softest tissue in her heart, stinging her, alarming her, pulling her back and brutally turning her in the right direction: “Look, these are things you have to face. There’s her, and there’s also me.”
A Bit of the Good Life
She lived several days in a fog, like a zombie, and eventually asked for some time off work. She got on the old familiar “N” train, the one Lao Du had ridden. Qin Wei had never been on such a fast train. The time had never flown by so fast.
Lao Du met her at the station. He said “I'm sorry” over and over while he hugged her. She caressed his face and said, “Let’s go. Let’s go see her.”
She was a little older, but still lively, and her mind seemed sharp enough. She complemented Lao Du for having such a pretty girlfriend, even more beautiful than her photo. She didn’t realize who Qin Wei was, but took her hand and spoke to her for a long time.
She told her what a fine man Lao Du was, and said she should hold on to him and not let go. Qin Wei nodded her head.
She said she envied the youngsters, but that her husband was good to her, too. In fact she’d gone a little deaf in her left ear, and when her husband noticed, he’d comforted her by saying, “From now on if I have good news I’ll speak into your right ear, and for bad news I’ll speak into your left ear.”
It wasn’t easy running their business, she said, and they had some problems. With a husband like that by her side, though, it really was a good life.
Qin Wei nodded and told herself, “Good. When I get the chance, I really want to speak into her left ear and say, ‘Mom, it’s me.’”
She knew she’d never give herself that chance. She wouldn’t interfere with the life this woman had now, would never let the husband who loved her so much know that she had such a past. Her mother was happy now, and that was a great happiness for Qin Wei as well. If the whole world were in a flower, one moment of seeing her smile as she spoke of these things would count as an eternity.
At supper, the woman continued to speak Lao Du’s praises. After supper, Qin Wei held Lao Du’s hand tightly. “For the rest of my life,” she thought, “I’ll never even think of letting go of him.”
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