16 Apple Bobbing…
In the end, Mother went to the hospital by herself, as she wished. Even though I told her my classes were not a problem, that I could graduate with my eyes closed, she insisted that she didn't want me to go with her.
When she came back from the hospital, she was quite casual about the whole thing. She said that the doctors had given her a general examination, x-rays and the like; that the preliminary diagnosis was heart strain; it wasn't very serious yet, but if it wasn't looked after, it could develop into a leaky aortic or mitral valve, which could lead to an increase in diastolic pressure in the left ventricle, leading to a malfunction of the left heart chamber. The doctor gave her a prescription for a cardiac stimulant and a diuretic to decrease the pressure, and urged her to come to the hospital to be put on oxygen whenever she felt it was necessary.
After that, Mother stayed home to rest and took her medicine every day. As her condition began to visibly improve, my concern for her began to ease as well.
After getting to know Yin Nan, I often bumped into him in the cafeteria at noon, and we would sit and have lunch together. But gradually, our relationship began to change in a rather subtle way.
When I first met him, it was mostly his handsome face and engaging manner that captivated me. Seeing him gave me a thrill that quickly overwhelmed me, filling my heart and dominating my thoughts. But this visual stimulation gradually settled down into a stable and lasting affection. He still aroused my passion, but I would think of him in this way only when it was getting close to lunchtime.
It was Yin Nan himself who underwent the subtle change.
Every time I met him he was always sitting in the same place, bent over his food, ignoring me. He never looked up when I approached, until I said, "How's lunch?" or "Here I am," at which point he would suddenly lift his head, pretending he hadn't noticed me, and say, "Hi!"
I say "pretending" because I have plenty of proof that he was adopting a stance to hide his real feelings. It was his fingers that gave him away.
He was always reading some paper or other as he was eating. When I approached, even though his eyes would be focused on his paper, the fingers of one of his hands would be drumming anxiously on the table in a way that had nothing to do with his food or his reading. The closer I got, the faster his fingers drummed. Only when the shadow of my head fell on his paper did those fingers suddenly stop, and curl into a tense, bony half-fist, the fingers trembling nervously. But he refused to look up, waiting instead for me to say something, when he would offhandedly suddenly "discover" I was there.
But his hand quietly and unmistakably revealed his uneasy anticipation. His tense fingers and the studied nonchalance on his face were perfect foils for each other.
I didn't say anything to him about his behavior. These little quirks endeared him to me. I knew that he wanted to see me just as much as I wanted to see him, that he waited every day for my "How's lunch?" I knew that the sound of my voice was all that was needed to make him forget about eating.
After meeting by chance in the cafeteria for a while, Yin Nan and I gradually became close friends, and he was able to relax a bit.
Eventually, he asked me to go on an outing with him one weekend, and I ecstatically agreed.
He wanted to meet me up in my apartment, then go out together, but I thought it precipitous to invite him home like that, and besides, it wouldn't be good with Mother still not feeling well. So I arranged a time to wait for him downstairs.
That winter was unusually mild, and the weekend was gorgeously warm and sunny. At ten o'clock sharp, wearing a cashmere cardigan and carrying a down jacket under my arm, I went downstairs.
Before leaving the apartment I had stood in front of the mirror carefully assessing how I looked. I tried on, took off, tried on, took off a string of things, finally settling on the silver-gray cardigan.
I noticed that my body, which was once as thin as a sheet of paper, and my arms and legs, the Misses Do and Don't of my childhood, once skinny as sticks, had filled out, and that my breasts had been swelling quietly to fullness beneath my blouse. As I looked closely at this young but very beautiful girl in the mirror, I saw her suddenly turn away, and when she turned back again she had taken off all her clothes, or, I should say, they had simply disappeared. Her naked figure was flagrantly bared in the mirror, her deep red nipples glowing as if bathed in sunlight, her smooth white breasts following my eyes like a pair of plump sunflowers following the sun.
I was quite aware of my own narcissistic tendencies, but what followed caught me completely off guard, even shocked me.
I saw my body, frail as a feather, floating lightly toward me from a fog-enshrouded horizon. Whimpering helplessly with tears streaming down my face, I was in the arms of someone who looked exactly like Yin Nan. He was gently caressing my cheeks and my forehead in an attempt to soothe me. The touch of his breast ignited in me an overwhelming desire to be his prisoner. I had never before been embraced by anyone so young, nor had I ever before felt the desire to lose myself like this. I nestled in the mysterious greenish-blue aura of light that seemed to issue from his arms, in the overbrimming vitality of his youth. Yet his youthfulness made me feel uneasy.
Then I heard a voice that sounded exactly like Yin Nan's saying, "You're not at all like the others."
I said, "You've found out?"
The voice said, "You captivate me. You're pure and noble."
I said, "I'm not the least bit pure. You have no idea what kind of person I am."
The voice said, "I understand you."
I said, "You don't understand me. You have no idea how shameless I have been in the face of desire."
The voice said, "I like your shameless innocence."
I said, "You can't understand me. You're too young. And I am already old beyond my years."
The voice said, "I understand you. I've known you for a long time, and I've never stopped watching you."
I said, "Watching what?"
The voice said, "Your cheeks, your eyes, your lips, your breasts…"
Then I felt his gentle, cool fingertips lightly touching and caressing my face and my breasts…
A feeling of faintness overcame me, and I struggled to open my eyes.
I saw my own hands caressing the naked body of the young girl in the mirror…
At exactly ten o'clock I went downstairs. Yin Nan was already waiting for me at the entrance to the stairwell.
I went a few steps closer and said, "Have you been waiting long?"
He didn't say anything, just gave a secretive little chuckle.
He led me over to an inky black Imperial sedan and, opening the right front door, said, "Jump in."
I was rather surprised, because I couldn't see a driver anywhere, and there was no taxi sign. Feeling a bit puzzled, I climbed into the car and sat down.
By this time Yin Nan had already gone around to the other side, slid into the driver's seat, closed the door, and started the engine.
Watching in total astonishment, I asked him, "The car – did you drive it here? Can you drive?"
Cocky and secretly pleased with himself, he ignored my questions.
Following the sun-mottled streets, the car left our neighborhood behind and moved quickly out onto the multiple-laned Third Ring Road, where it quickly accelerated. We flashed past the roadside shops, trees, and scattered residential buildings. When I saw that the speedometer had already hit 140 kilometers per hour, I began to feel a bit uneasy.
I said, "Don't go so fast. We could have an accident."
Saying nothing, not even turning his head, Yin Nan kept his eyes on the road as we raced along.
I was starting to feel afraid.
I knew that he had carefully planned everything that day to show off his driving skills and impress me with his speed.
So I said, "Okay. You've already scared me stiff."
But only when we were turning off onto a side street did he finally slow down.
It was a small and very quiet road that connected with the city's eastern suburbs. The sun was shining directly into my face, so I cupped one hand over my eyes to block the piercing light.
Then I noticed that he had moved over as close as possible to the edge of the road to get us into the shade. His thoughtfulness touched me.
Dropping my hand, I said, "You needn't worry. It's just that the sun's a bit bright."
He said, "We better stay in the shade as much as possible. With your hand forever hoisted up like that, you look like you're saluting a military review."
I started to laugh. This was the first time I had seen his sense of humor.
We continued to drive. Gradually the city's variety of sights and noisy flow of people fell away, and on either side we began to see fields lying fallow, storage sheds, and run-down cottages that looked a bit like old-fashioned thatched huts.
We conversed very little along the way. I didn't feel like showing my curiosity about such things as his driving or whose car it was. I was totally engrossed in watching his every action as he drove, afraid that I might miss something – so much so that I began to feel faint from eye-strain and had to close my eyes and lean back against the seat and rest for a while before I began to recover. I was as serious as if I were a driving school student studying for my test.
When I closed my eyes to relax a bit, I felt Yin Nan pull the car over to the edge of the road, stop, shut off the engine, then turn to me.
"Do you feel sick?" he asked solicitously.
I said, "No. It's just that my eyes are a bit blurry."
"Then we'll rest for a while," he said, turning on the radio. As coincidence would have it, they were playing a song I loved very much – "The End of the World."
Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when you said good-bye.
This kind of soft-edged sentimentality could no longer stir me to tears. I simply listened quietly, feeling a bit sad.
I opened my eyes and looked out the car window at the golden sunlight streaming after the withered leaves as they raced across the ground. The bright light and the brilliant yellows pierced my eyes like hot flames. My eyes smarted, filling with tears, and I wiped them away with my fingers.
Noticing this, Yin Nan turned his head inquisitively to look at me.
After a moment he said, "You're not crying, are you?"
I said, "Don't be stupid. There's something bothering my eyes."
Then we fell silent, listening quietly to the song.
As we listened, there must have been something that somehow touched me, for I was struck with an inexplicable grief that reduced me to tears, real tears whose flow I could not stem, and the more I cried, the more intense this grief became.
Even today, I still have no idea what was behind those tears. But I do know that they had little, if anything, to do with Yin Nan and me.
For a moment, feeling absolutely dreadful, I turned away from him.
As I did so, Yin Nan very softly put his arm around my shoulder, so softly that it seemed weightless, independent of his body, as if it had no connection with him. It was as if the arm had feelings of its own. But that exploratory action aroused a strong reaction in my body. I was helpless before a subtle force, like an irresistible drowsiness, that kept pulling me.
Slowly I let myself go and leaned against his shoulder.
When his hand felt my response, its strength returned and it grasped my arm, its fingers squeezing me. Then his other hand encircled me. But his movements were extraordinarily gentle. There was no unrestrained lust, but there was an impassioned and uneasy curiosity. Perhaps it was because he lacked experience, perhaps he felt awkward, but for a long time he was content simply caressing my arms, my neck, and my cheeks, his actions all highly restrained. I noticed that he was struggling to keep his breathing normal. He didn't want me to see him suddenly lose his self-control.
We continued like this for a long time, until finally he slipped his hand down over my breasts and began undoing my buttons.
He did this very slowly, like a general who was all confidence leisurely leading his troops to retake territory that had been momentarily lost, with none of the impetuosity of a young man blind with passion. His shy dignity stirred me, deeply filling me with a tender warmth as I helped him undo the last few buttons. I felt a breath of cool air touch my breasts. Glancing up into the rearview mirror, I saw one of my ripe, young breasts bob into view, joggling in the sunlight, like a plump, firm apple bursting with juice. I watched as one of Yin Nan's hands moved to touch it ever so lightly, then quickly covered it with my sweater as if he were afraid that someone else might be furtively watching. Then the hand fastened every single one of the buttons on my sweater, ceasing its movement only after it had pulled my collar closed as well. But it didn't move away from my breasts. It was as if it was only resting for a moment, as if it couldn't bear to have such a good show end too quickly.
I say this because the subsequent scene bore it out.
After pausing for a while, the hand began undoing my buttons afresh. When the "apple" bobbed into sight in the rearview mirror again, the hand touched it tentatively, then covered it with my sweater again. It seemed as if he were intoxicated with this kind of fleeting but deeply prized visual and tactile gratification, as if he didn't want to let unbridled desire ruin the feeling of aesthetic appreciation that I had stirred in him.
When I recalled this scene after I had gone home, it still moved me deeply. It seems to me that the feelings involved in this kind of innocent behavior run much deeper than those generated by undisciplined self-indulgence, whether you look at it from the physical or psychological point of view. I found myself irresistibly drawn back to that scene again and again, with every detail played out in slow motion out of fear that I might at some point forget something. For a long time, I steeped myself in naive, romantic reveries, longing for my life to unfold.
That day, we stayed there in the car for about an hour. Finally Yin Nan, with an unexpected, almost reverential seriousness, placed a very light but very long kiss on my left earlobe, then pulled away from me, and sitting there behind the wheel as primly and sweetly as a little boy, he started the car.
We drove along the bare winter road between the fields. In front of us, patterns of sunlight danced on the black pavement, beckoning us onward. Holding the hand Yin Nan had put in my lap, I immersed myself totally in the pastoral scenery around us.
As we drove he repeatedly turned to look at me, his eyes lingering affectionately on my face and my body. He would stare at me a while, give a little laugh, then focus his attention on the road again. But after a moment he would turn to look at me again, the desire in his eyes like fingertips exploring my body.
I was afraid that we might have an accident if he continued like that, and finally, unable to contain myself, I said, "You mustn't look at me all the time. You'd better watch the road."
He didn't say anything, but he gave a little laugh, then didn't look at me anymore. But his hand again slid from the steering wheel into my lap and cupped itself around mine.
We were silent again for a long time, the only sound the faint noise of the car as it moved along the uneven road, like a boat on an undulating sea.
The rural scenery swept past my eyes. The piles of gold-colored straw, the withered, bare trees, the farming villages dotting the vast landscape, and the waving fields of winter wheat all had a wonderful appeal quite unlike anything the city could offer.
At last, unable to contain myself, I said, "I love the countryside."
Yin Nan said, "You mean the scenery?"
I said, "It's not just a matter of enjoying it from afar. I would love to live in the countryside."
"Living in such a place would be peaceful, all right. Nobody'd know who you were," he said.
"I don't want anyone to know who I am," I said.
Yin Nan hesitated for a moment, then said, "You're saying you'd like to be a hermit? Whatever for? We're young – the world is calling us."
I said, "It's too exhausting to live among people, and too dangerous. Living in China is like being dropped into a monstrous labyrinth. To get through it, it isn't knowledge, talent, or intelligence that you need; it's something else. I can't handle it."
"You're right on. If we want to achieve anything of significance in life, aside from accumulated knowledge, to survive we have to learn to recognize opportunities and to ignore what other people think. I've just been reading up on this. They say that in Japan the final training for anyone who wants to do something significant in life, whether in business or politics, is standing on the street and shouting, 'I'm a scumbag! A bastard!' Think about it. What can you do to a person like that?"
"So it's like you're saying that ultimately it's the person who has no sense of honor, who turns his back on friends and family, who gets ahead. But do you know how much that person has to bear in his heart?"
"That's exactly why I say we have to learn this lesson."
"But why exhaust yourself like this? It's far better just to hide."
"Oh, is that so? Well, it's different for a man. You can hide yourself away out here, but I can't hide. I have to get involved."
In all the time we had known each other, this was the first time I had seen the determination that lurked beneath his shyness.
A bit surprised, I watched him for a while, then said, "Of course. Of course I understand that."
He turned to me, and as if he were trying to get away from some unpleasant line of thinking, he abruptly switched the thread of our conversation. "All that stuff is so boring. Why waste our time talking about it? Mmm, do you know…" He turned away from me again to watch the road.
"Do I know what?"
He didn't answer me directly. He stared at the road ahead, increasing our speed.
"Do I know what?" I repeated.
He said softly, "I… like you."
I didn't quite know what to say, so I didn't say anything.
"Like you… an awful lot. Don't you know?" he added.
"Of course… I know."
I don't like it when two people always want to talk about their relationship. I think a relationship is a natural thing, not something you talk into being.
So I shifted the direction of our discussion. "How come you never told me you knew how to drive a car?"
"There's lots of things I haven't told you," he said, as he took his driver's license from his shirt pocket. "Look, I passed my driver's test last summer during the holidays. It's my big brother's car. He doesn't know I took it today. He's got lots of money. It's just that he doesn't have any real goal in life. So he's pinning his hopes on me."
I said, "That's a heavy weight to carry. I get the feeling that you want to do something big with your life."
He didn't say anything. He just turned to me with the shy little smile that I had come to love so much.
"You're a bit of an enigma," I added.
It was already quite late, and feeling a bit hungry, I began checking out the restaurants we were passing.
Yin Nan said, "When we get into town, we'll look for a nice place to eat."
"With your brother's money, too?" I asked.
"If he wants to support me, why shouldn't I take it? I've got lots of ideas. Maybe you'd call them dreams, but even if they are, what's so bad about that?"
He gave a little laugh. "Lots of them. You – you're one of my dreams. I don't know how you feel about it, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm not just one person anymore – you're part of me."
We were already in the city, and the car slowed down as we threaded our way along the street jammed with people celebrating Spring Festival Eve.
I lingered on his words, "you're part of me." It was as if I was unaware of what was happening on the street outside. They were like flames, a numbing drug that intoxicated me. I felt a new kind of strength welling up inside me.
We found a place to park, but before we got out of the car, Yin Nan, as if suddenly emboldened, grasped my shoulder eagerly, and pressing his cheek against mine, said in almost a whisper, "Would you like to be with me always?"
Although it was a question, it was obvious that he didn't want an answer, because he immediately enclosed me in his arms and placed that firm, sweet mouth squarely upon my own, preventing any reply. Like a big, lovable frog, he sucked in my fragrance, his breathing hoarse and desperate with excitement.
I could feel the sharp metallic beat of his heart penetrating into mine through the interstices between his ribs, which were pressing into my breasts like so many powerful fingers. That huge and ardent chest opening itself outward was like a large country bent on expansion, eager to annex, or more precisely, to welcome or accept a small country.
He mumbled incoherently as he ran his trembling hands over my back. I felt his fingers and gradually his entire body begin to tremble, and the tighter he embraced me, the more awkward and tense he became. I knew that only genuine love could stir that kind of awkwardness, excitement, that kind of restraint and tentativeness.
We embraced so long I felt faint.
At last, we got out of the car.
The strains of some strange kind of flute music drifted toward us, mingled with the rustle of the barren tree in front of us. Beneath it, a blind man with sunken eyes, his whiskers ceaselessly flapping, was lost in his playing. Expressionless, his bones grinding, he swayed to the tuneless music that floated upward through the branches and power lines into the yellow evening light to be carried away by the wind. That music, like piercing light, left you feeling lost and uncertain.
Facing the sun, he played the flute wildly, then shouted in a hoarse, dry voice, "I have come from a faraway place – far, far away. I have seen, I have seen the clouds of war drifting upon us… many people sticking out their young tongues… their eyes as bright as dazzling stars that have fallen to earth… "
He tore his shirt to shreds and threw the pieces on the ground to be blown away by the wind. "Look! Many, many young tongues have been scattered on the ground like this, on the ground where they continued their song… their eyes rolled away and were crushed like grapes…"
As we passed him, he suddenly "caught sight" of us, and he seized Yin Nan's hand. A strange light shot from his eyes. "You've only got half a head… "
Then he turned to me, "You've only got one leg… run! Run…"
"He's mad." Frightened, I pulled Yin Nan along with me as I fled.
Behind us, his cries grew more and more desolate and terrifying.