The turmoil in Tian'anmen Square that summer, which was causing a sensation around the world, had become fanatical and violent, stirring the hungry winds of discontent into a fierce storm that left the city shedding silent tears. The fledgling trees and the grass along the roadway may be beaten and bent by the blazing sun or the slashing rain, but before too long they begin to sway, then slowly straighten up again.
We had been keeping to the house for a number of days, but could still hear an unbroken chorus of fierce and rabid shouting coming from the streets. There was a forest of green uniforms rooted like trees in every street and alleyway. Like the leaden gray sky overhead, these stiff uniforms had been around from ancient times. Present in every age, every region, they penetrate all time and space. Perhaps this is the nature of things. Every time it rains, every time the wind blows, the slight est movement is passed from one point to another until it is everywhere and every tree, every blade of grass becomes a soldier.
I could sense that something was astir.
The afternoon of the day prior to my being struck by that pointless bullet, I still wasn't aware how serious the situation had become. Standing looking out my window, I saw that the light of the sun that summer had changed, and now cast everywhere an air of destruction. Under that sun, down on the street, I saw a group of leather-booted young soldiers shouldering rifles, their belts cinched tight around their thin waists. Moving through the crowds like a neat little troupe of children, swinging their arms with drunken fanaticism, they were part of a chaotic scene that one couldn't, but had to, believe…
I was both enveloped in this atmosphere and apart from it.
That night of flames had not yet released me.
Ho's death had left me feeling empty and almost paralyzed these past several months. I simply couldn't believe that a close and intimate friend could be taken from me without a word. I was immobilized by some kind of mental block or breakdown. It was as if I had walked into a distorted mirror where time ran backward…
I kept seeing Ho's crimson body lying on that big bed, looking like a huge dissolvable colored medicine capsule. An empty rocking chair beside the bed creaked back and forth imploringly, as if longing for a trusted old friend to come and sit, still its vexation, and make life normal again. Ho was earnestly beckoning me to come and sit beside her, one hand covering her seared brow, the other extended toward me. Standing apart from her, my breath quickened with fear, I couldn't bring myself to go over to her. I looked down to see that my watch, its strap, and its case had all disappeared, but the hands were still going around. I said, "Ho, you're dead, dead. It isn't you that I see. What do you want from me? Please don't frighten me, I can't come to you." But when I stopped talking and looked up at her again, her face had already shrunk to a third of its normal size. Coughing up pink-colored spittle, she continued to shrink until all that was left of her was a little heap of her thoughts and a single arm still extended toward me. As I cried out a silent No, no, I found myself back in the world of reality.
Sometimes she would suddenly appear from some totally unexpected direction, the front of her skirt dancing in defiance against the summer wind. She would come into view from around a distant corner or emerge from a subway station, threading her way through the crowd. I would follow her with my eyes to where she stopped and stood on the opposite side of the street in the shade of a ghostly looking scholar tree, watching me. She would be holding a bouquet of shimmering fresh flowers that sparkled with the dew of her tears. They would be so beautiful that the lawns, the chestnut trees, and the wedding-cake houses in the background would fade into obscurity. Such an enchanting bouquet of fresh flowers of grief, such an enchanting young widow! Were they perhaps for her own grave?
Ho would be about to work her way over to me across the traffic-thronged street, but the endless flow of vehicles would block her way and also block my line of sight. I could do nothing but wait as they crept by like a line of snails. When at last there would be a break in traffic, I would not be able to see her. I would stand there, dumb as a wooden chicken in the middle of a cacophony of car horns and bicycle bells, blocking the traffic, Ho's image having vanished completely…
On that stifling afternoon, I was standing there looking out the window because I knew that Yin Nan was out there somewhere in those seething crowds in Tian'anmen Square, although we hadn't seen each other for over a month and I didn't know exactly what he had been doing. Now he was my only friend and comfort, and I was worried about him.
On top of this, my mother was now in a different hospital suffering ongoing respiratory problems because of her heart condition. All these things coming in concert left me crushed with a deep anxiety.
Yin Nan had just called me from a public telephone booth, to say that something extremely urgent had come up and he had to see me. From the tone of his voice and the fact that I was to meet him in an abandoned warehouse we had chanced upon one night after seeing the movie The Unrequited Love of a Man and a Spirit, I knew that this was to be an unusual and secret meeting.
Over the telephone, I could hear the clamor in the background and the wail of an ambulance as it went past.
As soon as I put down the telephone, I rushed to the abandoned warehouse.
Half an hour later, I was standing in front of its rust-encrusted, half-open door. Through it I could see straw, iron plate, used lumber, empty paint cans, and scraps of plastic, and everywhere everything was coated in dust. There were no windows, and the darkened interior opened before me like the gaping mouth of some huge monster about to devour me.
I felt my way in warily. I shuddered as the dank air brushed my skin, imagining a sea of rats and insects overrunning my feet. But I couldn't see a thing. The biting odor of oxidizing metal invaded my nostrils, and I took out my handkerchief and covered my mouth and nose.
My eyes eventually adjusted to the darkness, and I could see where I was going. I groped my way toward a long wooden bench sitting on top of a heap of straw at the far end of the warehouse. It was there that Yin Nan and I had kissed each other passionately.
At last I heard something shuffle.
I stopped and called softly, "Yin Nan, Yin Nan?"
Out of the shadows, I caught the fleeting glint of a row of snow-white teeth, like a flash of lightning on a rainy night.
I knew those two rows of lovely, regular teeth, as neat and stirring as an impeccable, white-uniformed guard of honor.
If you took a group of men and women and covered them completely, leaving only their teeth showing, I would be able to pick out Yin Nan immediately.
Those teeth suddenly flashed again, this time from out of a different shadow, in a different place.
I said, "Yin Nan, it's me, it's me."
It was silent again, then a dark form shot forward and I was caught in his embrace.
I still couldn't see his face clearly, but I could hear the familiar pulse of his urgent, rough breathing at my ear and feel the warm fragrance of his country-fresh breath on my cheek. He was thin as a starved horse, every bone in his body thrumming with tension, like overtightened lute strings.
I said, "Yin Nan, you're so thin. What's happened?"
He didn't answer. His entire body was shaking as if he was out of breath from running in place. In fact, he hadn't moved a muscle and was still clinging to me desperately. Maybe it was his mind and his blood that were racing.
I said, "What have you been doing lately? Why haven't you come to see me?"
When at last he spoke, there were tears in his voice, tears I had never heard from him before. "Niuniu, I haven't been able to tell you…"
"Tell me what?"
"You've just had that fire in your building, your mother's back in the hospital again – it's enough. I'm afraid you can't take any more, that you'll worry… I've been down in the square…"
He didn't answer me.
Finally, he said, "Niuniu, I'm going to… go away."
"I have to… go…"
"No! No!" My voice was raised. He pressed his lips on mine, kissing me to still my words. I bent my head backward to escape his face, saying quietly, "You can't leave me, you can't say you're leaving and then just go."
"Niuniu, I… love you, love you beyond all measure… but there's no other way, I have to leave." His tears fell on my cheeks, my lips – salty – sour.
In all the time that we had known each other, this was the first time that Yin Nan had ever used the word "love."
For the past several months, I had been feeling almost choked to death by the pressure of events in my home and outside. Now, hearing him manage to get this word out at last, I could no longer contain my feelings. The sluice gates were opened and a tumbling flood of tears gushed forth. I clung to him saying nothing, afraid that in the midst of my sorrow over losing Ho, I was losing Yin Nan, the only close friend I had left, as well.
He eased away from me slightly, and as his own tears fell, his lips and tongue brushed my cheeks, kissing away one by one my huge tears, as if he wished to drink down my sorrow.
"I love your… tears," he whispered.
We cried a long time, but our tears eventually subsided.
Yin Nan said, "I have to leave in half an hour."
I said, "Do you really have to go? Is there no other way?"
He shook his head. "I can't wait any longer. I've got to get out of here."
Again, we locked in a tight embrace. His heart was pounding like a war drum against my breast.
Clinging to his shoulder, I said, "But – where will you go? When?"
"Late tonight. Lufthansa, flight 721. Ten hours to Frankfurt, then a connecting flight, 2410, to Berlin."
There was some kind of skylight or opening in the roof of the warehouse through which a desolate, eerie thread of sunlight angled its way. Up near the ceiling it was a turbid yellow in color, but as it penetrated into the darkened warehouse, it slowly deepened in tinge, to brush obliquely across Yin Nan's face, lending his cheeks the color of rice straw.
In the half-darkness, the black lacquer glitter of his big eyes, filled with a heart-wrenching hopelessness, never left my face for a moment. I raised my hand to gently touch the lids of those eyes that made me think of the faint fragrance of ink-dark flower buds. He was leaning lightly against my shoulder, his head bent over me, so that I could feel the heat of his breath on my back, as if it were being gently massaged with warm milk. My arms were wrapped around his shoulders. I could feel his weight and his warmth as he pressed against me, his chest flattening my breasts. In the gloom, I could feel the heat of his groin tight against my thighs. I could see the shadow of his head inclining slowly toward my bosom.
I said, "Yin Nan, I want you… to remember me."
He said, "I'll always remember you."
I said, "I want your body… to remember me."
I felt his body tremble slightly, and a tremor in the pit of his stomach seemed to answer a silent call from deep within my body.
I took him by the hand and led him to the battered old wooden bench on the heap of straw.
Yin Nan seemed suddenly like an obedient little sick boy who had to have everything done for him. I motioned to him to sit down. I slowly undid my jacket, then took off my clothes and spread them on the bench. I took his head in my hands and made him slowly lie back. I pushed down his knees, straightening out his legs. He seemed almost awkward under my hands, but he offered no resistance to my will. His breathing became agitated and his long, delicate hands hung down helplessly on either side of the bench.
I touched his face lightly, his eyebrows, his ears. Slowly, lingeringly, my hands moved behind his ears, around his neck. I slid them under the neck of his undershirt to explore every inch of his back.
I felt a tremulous shiver run down his spine as he moaned my name.
I bent over him as I gently undid his clothes and his belt. He was like a willing, eager prisoner, letting me do with him whatever I wished. His eyes were half closed, his head turned to one side, his soft hair hanging down.
At last, he lay there hot and naked before me. This was the first time I had actually looked at the naked body of a man, and caressed him like this. His rib cage arched upward splendidly. In the gloom, his pale skin glowed like clear crystal.
I don't know if other women remember their first loves like this. But I cannot forget how in that abandoned warehouse the soft, white radiance of his body emerging from under his rather dirty clothes actually left me feeling faint.
I squeezed a space to sit on the bench beside him and, twisting over him, I let my fingers flow like water, unceasingly, over every curve and hollow of his tense frame.
His body, stretched out in the murky shadows like a reef submerged at one moment in passion, at the next in anxiety, could do nothing but wait helplessly as those hands rolled ceaselessly over him like waves, touching his hard hips, his thighs, his groin, and that fatal private place.
At last, I bent my body over his head, and cradling it in my hands, I lifted him gently until my breasts were touching his lips. I bumped them back and forth against his mouth like two sweet, ripe pears. A strained and aching moan escaped him as he opened his mouth to accept them. His arms jerked upward around me as he pulled my body and those sweet, pendulous pears down against him. His entire body was trembling violently as he desperately, blindly sought the way.
I took hold of him, and gently guided that lost and hungry lamb into the sweet pasture of its yearning…
Ah, his love! So young, so vital!
Our half hour was too soon over, and it was time to bid each other good-bye.
As we separated from our last burning embrace, I felt the unaccountable rush of a winter chill sweep over me. The open pores of my hot skin shrank shut at its touch.
With the approach of our last moment, I began to tremble uncontrollably.
Yin Nan had his hand on my shoulder as we made our way out of the warehouse. As I moved toward the door, I kept thinking that in another hour that hand would be reaching out in the blue empyrean, making its way westward to Europe, to that city of profound speculation and philosophy, Berlin. Never again would I be able to touch him. The heat I could feel at that moment from the hand on my shoulder would have dissipated within less than a minute, perhaps, of his last good-bye.
I very clearly remember the weather that day. It was as gray and listless as the exhausted faces of people on the street, who had endured more than a month of tortuous summer temperatures. To pull up my spirits, I began hoping that Yin Nan would suddenly change his mind or that something unexpected would occur, making it impossible for him to leave me so soon. Even just a day would be good.
Only at the very last moment, when his back finally disappeared at the end of the street, did I give up this hope.
By the time we parted, the light had already started to fade, so I set off toward the hospital where Mother was convalescing.
Again my silent tears began to flow. But I didn't know whom I was shedding them for, because I was quite aware that our relationship had not been so long or deep-rooted that it was to be cut forever into my soul. But after Ho's death, this young man with whom I had shared such intimacies was the only close friend I had left. Having departed, he was to become a memory that I would cling to desperately, a lifeless cloak that I was to invest with vitality. This "cloak," which from the moment of Yin Nan's last good-bye would never again be real, enclosed an image of him that was to become ever more perfect. All those intimacies obscured in shadow because they were too private were wrapped up, locked within that perfect, shining, inviolate outer "cloak." It took on an eternal radiance that had a more lasting allure than the actual person. This sudden, unexpected termination of our love gave it an enduring beauty, like the eternal beauty of the living flow arrested in marble.
Of all the ways that human relationships can end, this is the most moving.
It was for this that I shed my tears.
At last, I lifted my head to look in the direction of the airport, and sure enough, I could make out a silver-gray object that looked like a huge kite floating against a blue backdrop, dancing at the end of an immensely long cotton string that I held in my hand. Little by little, I pulled it in until it was directly above where I stood.
As it came slowly toward me, its shape became clearer and clearer.
Eventually I could see that it apparently was not an airplane, but not until it was very near did I realize that it was a person. And what was strange was that it was not Yin Nan. The person soaring up there like some huge bird was myself.
There on the ground was the real me holding a kite string, controlling another self-same me up there in the blue…
One summer many years later, to my total surprise, I once again encountered this fleeting illusion, which had been very much like a scene from a film.
In the hottest part of the summer of 1993, when I quite by chance saw the Italian movie 8 1/2, it seemed like the gods had arranged this meeting with Federico Fellini, the film's eccentric director, who had created the same illusion.
Again, in the summer of 1994, I embraced the work of Ingmar Bergman, another male who was to infatuate me, when I saw in multitrack sound his films Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal.
But all of this happened later.
They and I lived in different, mad ages, but for a fleeting moment our minds had shared the same visions.
… I think it was also on a bright summer day. An old man dreamed that he was walking on a quiet, deserted street in a strangely desolate city. His shadow was outlined by the sunlight, but he felt very cold nonetheless. As he strolled down the broad, tree-lined street, the sound of his footsteps echoed uneasily from the surrounding buildings.
He felt strange, but he had no idea why.
While he was passing an optometrist's shop, he noticed that there were no hands or numbers on the big clock on the store's sign. He took his watch out of his breast pocket and checked the time. But the hands of his very accurate old gold timepiece had also disappeared. His time had run out; those hands would never again indicate time for him. He held the watch next to his ear to check that it was still ticking, but all he heard was the beating of his own racing heart.
Putting his watch back in his breast pocket, he looked up at the optometrist's sign, only to see that the big pair of eyes on it had almost totally rotted away. Frightened out of his wits, he turned around and started walking in the direction of his home.
At a street corner, he at last saw another person standing with his back to him. He rushed over and bodily spun him around, only to discover that under the floppy brim of his hat there was no face, and as his body turned it collapsed as if it were nothing more than a heap of dust or wood shavings, leaving an empty suit of clothes crumpled on the ground.
Only then did he discover that everyone along that tree-lined street that connected with the city square had died. There was not a living soul… A hearse clanked by, its wheels rumbling loudly as it lurched along the rough street. Just as it reached him, the coffin fell off as three of its metal wheels rolled over, and clattered down beside him. As he was looking at the coffin, its lid sprang open. There was not a sound or a breath coming from it. Curious, he ventured slowly over to it. As he did so, an arm suddenly shot out from those splintered planks and clung to him desperately. Then the corpse slowly arose. He stared at it transfixed. The corpse standing there in the coffin in a swallowtailed coat was himself.
Death was calling…
The Seventh Seal:
Overhead, the dull gray sky was dead as the vaulted ceiling of a tomb.
A black cloud stood motionless on the horizon as the curtain of night began to fall. A strange bird hung aloft, severing the air with its unsettling cries.
The knight Antonius was seeking the road back home through fields littered with corpses in a pestilence-ridden land.
He surveyed the scene around him.
There was a man standing behind him all dressed in black, his face an unusual ashen gray, his hands hidden in the deep folds of his cloak.
Turning to him, the knight asked, "Who are you?"
The man in black with the ashen face said, "I am Death."
The knight: "Have you come looking for me?"
Death: "I have been watching you for a very long time."
The Knight: "I have known this – it is your way."
Death: "This is my territory. Are you ready to 'set off' with me now?"
The knight: "My flesh is a bit frightened, but I myself don't give it much note."
Death spread open his black cloak to enclose the knight.
The knight: "Wait a moment."
Death: "I cannot delay your time."
The knight: "You like to play chess, don't you?"
Death: "How did you find that out?"
The knight: "I have seen it in paintings, heard it in people's songs."
Death: "You are right, of course. I am an excellent chess player."
The knight: "But you're not necessarily better than me."
As he spoke, the knight carefully laid out a chessboard on the ground and started setting up the pieces. Then he said, "The condition is this – as long as I am in the game you must let me live."
The knight extended two closed fists to Death.
Death let out a burst of wild laughter as he held up the black pawn in his hand.
The knight: "So, you will play the black?" Death: "Is it not most appropriate for me to do so?"
The knight and Death sat down rigidly, facing each other across the chessboard. Antonius hesitated for a moment, then moved a pawn. Death countermoved.
An intense heat surrounded this desolate field, which was immersed in strange mists. In the distance, crowds of people were dancing their dance with Death, and Death was dancing his fatal steps with each of them.
Death concentrated on his game with Antonius, determined to take him away. Eventually, Antonius lost, and Death carried him off…
But there is a chronological discrepancy involved in all of this. On that oppressive early summer evening when this unbroken string of strange scenes flashed through my mind, I had not yet seen these films.
That evening, as these anticipated scenes were unfolding in my mind, I was walking along that tree-lined street behind the square. It wasn't very far from the hospital where my mother was convalescing.
At that point, an ill-omened wind from above seemed to press down upon the street with an anxious disquietude. The depressing sound of my footsteps on the street, now trapped in twilight gloom, seemed to mark the respite that precedes the onslaught of a storm's main force. Their sound brought me back from the unreality of those illusionary scenes that had held my mind.
The overturned object at the corner of the street looked like a dead mare, her belly swollen with foal. Its smoldering fragments gave off a stench of burning rubber that filled that tree-lined, peaceful street with the nauseating smell of war and floated upward to clog the translucent twilight sky above the city.
The smoke floated up like curling wisps of incense above an altar toward a silent, unanswering heaven.
It was at just that moment that the stray bullet, with complete disinterest, came out of nowhere to pierce my left calf on one side and exit from the other.