I am working on getting my life on track, so you shall be seeing me a bit more often (I hope). Meanwhile, enjoy chapter 5
Xiao Tong also disagrees with what I did, and tells me to apologise to Xiao Ye. I refuse, and the atmosphere is tense, with Xiao Ye leaving from work earlier. Xiao Tong finally comes to me and talks to me quietly “Xiao Ye has been here for two years, you've only been here two months, She is your senior. You should give deference to her.”
“I just asked him to a movie, is it such a big deal?”
“You said you were from the countryside, but you're fiercer than a city-dweller. You've just declared war against Xiao Ye, do you still want to go on?”
“Are you serious? This cafe isn't hers.”
“She has worked here for two years, studied at the university for three. You're a little girl who's only done three days. The Boss' son studies at Nanjing University, in her fathers' department. Her father is the department head. Do you get it now?
I don't say anything more, because I don't know what to. He wants me to flatter her and apologise, but I am incapable of it.
“The problem can be solved very simply actually. This evening after your shift ends, do not go to the movie with him. And then tomorrow, treat Xiao Ye to coffee. In this way you'll be apologising through your actions, she can have no complaints against you.”
Seeing my expression, Xiao Tong sighs, “You definitely aren't from Yunnan, it's more likely your from Beijing... your pride is like theirs'.”
I continue to scoff. Just because I am from the countryside, I can't have a bit of a temper? I really hate it when people judge me according to the stereotype they have of my place of birth. There are several million people in Yunnan, do they mean to tell me that all of these several million people will have the same temperament?
Until midnight Li Chuan quietly sits in his regular spot near the window and types. Xiao Tong carries a coffee to him, and he thanks him distractedly and quickly refocuses onto his laptop. Xiao Tong comes and reports “He's returning his mails... he probably has a tonne of them.”
“Are the emails in Chinese?” I ask.
“French. Once, Xiao Ye saw him and a foreigner sit together, and they were conversing in German, fluently.”
I can't bear it any longer, and frustrated, I ask “Which language department are you both in again?”
“Then how do you know if he's writing in French?”
“Just because I don't know it doesn't mean I can't recognise it at all1. I can still distinguish between French and English.” and saying so, he bowed in mock humility.
“Xiao Ye doesn't study German, how is she able to recognise it?” I persist.
“German has a distinct vibrato, when you pronounce it properly, your entire tonsils vibrate.”
I look at Li Chuan, lost in thought.
“Pity about the bum leg,” muses Xiao Tong, “else he would have been perfect.”
I look at him and ask “Are you also interested? You're not gay.”
Xiao Tong comes back to reality, “He isn't gay either. Nearby there is the biggest gay bar, but he hasn't been there ever. Surely you've heard about it.”
“Yeah, I've heard.” I've never heard about it before, but I don't want to enforce my country bumpkin stereotype any further.
Li Chuan came in at 9, he's been here for three hours already. Normally he doesn't sit here for such long periods of time. By 12, I've already changed from uniform to my clothes, a worn grey sweater. Had I known that I would be going out with him today, I would definitely have not worn this grey sweater, all distorted in the wash, brought from some small streetside stall somewhere.
By the time I get to his table, he has also started packing up. I can see that besides his laptop, he's had a well-used and much-worn notebook out, full of messy schematic diagrams.
We leave together, and outside the wind is pretty strong. I sneeze, and he suddenly stops short and asks me, “Are you cold?”
“Allergic rhinitus.” I reply.
“You're cold.” He arbitrarily concludes, and takes off his coat without a second thought and makes me wear it.
The coat is warm and smells of his scent. My heart starts beating faster, and I blindly follow him into the parking lot till we get to his car. Once there, I lose all of my courage suddenly. I stand still and blabber “Sorry, back there, I seemed a bit muddlheaded and shot my mouth off without thinking about whether it was convenient for you or not. It's pretty late now, so if you want to leave I wouldn't mind.”
“I'm free, ” he replies, “I don't mind at all.”
I continue to blabber off an explanation “The midterms are over, I need to relax till tomorrow.”2
“The best relaxation is sleep.”
“I can't fall asleep, too anxious.”
“It's only a midterm, why so much anxiety?”
“I'm hoping for my mark to be 95%”
“95%? So high?” He looks at me with a faint smile, seemingly very interested in listening to my explanation.
“The first several examinations I had scores around 60%, so only if I score really high on this one will my average go up.”
“Do you think you'll get 95%?”
“I tried my best.”
“Actually, there are many ways to get good marks on tests.” He says as he opens the car door for me.
“Really?” I slide into the car, and he bends over me to fasten the seat belt.
“For example, you could sit next to a really smart classmate, or look at several different answer papers around you.”
“Or you could write the really tough answers on your arms and wear long sleeved shirts.”
“Or you could hide a notebook in the bathroom, and then ask to go during the middle of the test.”
He introduces all these ideas to me in complete seriousness.
“...I understand, you are speaking only of graduating though”
“I am.” He says it without turning a hair, completely unashamed.
“Cheating is a human foible, but it sometimes necessary in order to pass an examination. My goal, however, isn't simply to pass an examination, and that is why I cannot copy others.” I correct him seriously, “Because of this, I have been studying hard for two weeks, resting for only three hours every day. Today, however, is my limit. If I don't watch this movie, I will break down.”
“Such strong spirit should be praised, and we should certainly encourage a child who studies so hard.”
He got in the car quickly, “Which theatre? You'll need to give me directions.
“S cinema, near my school.”
I think for a moment, then confess “I don't know.” All I know is that my dormmates all go there since there's 20% discount for students. This week they're putting on award winning movies.
He sighs heavily, “You've been in Beijing so long, and you've still not watched a movie?”
“I do!” I defend myself, “I watch the bootlegged copies. Near campus is a dvd store, they're much cheaper.”
He suddenly accelerates.
“Could you slow down a bit? If you drive this fast you're more likely to be in an accident.”
“This is called fast?” He pays no heed to my warning, and instead asks “Aren't you wearing your seat belt.”
“My heart can't take it.”
“You have a heart condition?” He slows down instantly.
“No I don't! I just get nervous, ok?”
“Which movie is playing tonight?” He asks as he accelerates, changing the topic intentionally so that my attention will be diverted.
“Which movies do you like?”
“Your luck is good! Tonight they're playing Silence of The Lambs... LI CHUAN! Please slow down!” I have no clue why I just called him Li Chuan to his face as if we had been close for years. My mouth just keeps on embarassing me.
“In order to watch the movie, your heart needs to warm up.” is all he says.
For the rest of the ride I am quiet due to my nervousness, and soon we arrive at the campus. He circles around the campus, and finds the theatre quickly. We get down together and make our wat to the hall, when I turn to him and say “Wait here, I'll get the tickets, drinks, popcorn and wings.”
“Your job hours are over,” he replies, “there's no need for you to reprise your waitress role. Wait here and I'll get everything. What do you want to drink?”
I stood near the pillar and watched him buying the tickets and popcorn, and quickly followed him. Since one of his hands is occupied with his cane, he only has one free hand. The theatre room is really small, only seating around 10 people.We had planned to sit in the last row. The stairs are cumbersome, and he slows down considerably. He first steps up with his left leg, then scooches forward and slowly lifts his right leg to the same level. I regret suggesting the last row, but don't say anything now to save his pride.
By the time we get to our seats, the movie's started already. I immediately start munching on the chicken wings he had bought earlier. This is why I had wanted to sit in the last row. So that I could munch my food without worrying about disturbing anyone else.
He sips on his bottled water, and asks “You haven't had dinner yet?”
“Nope.” I want to add that it's because his speeding made me so anxious that I forgot about everything, but I don't.
“You work in a cafe, how come you don't eat? Don't you get coffee breaks?”
“Everything's so expensive, what should I eat?” I have speedily finished a chicken wing and quickly start on another. “These wings are pretty delicious, want one?”
“Then have the popcorn”
“I don't want to eat,” he says lightly, “It's all yours.”
“How can you not eat anything while watching a movie, and a horror one at that?” I wonder out loud. After a while, I whisper to him “Listen carefully, this next dialogue is my favourite.”
Onscreen, Hannibal is speaking: “First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek? ...No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don't you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don't your eyes seek out the things you want?**”
I imitate the way Hannibal speaks, right down to the way he moves his lips.
He turns to look at me “So all your speaking practice comes from here.”
Onscreen, the dialogue continues “......Terns? Mmh. If I help you, Clarice, it will be turns with us too. Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case, though. About yourself. Quid pro quo. Yes or no?**”
Li Chuan turns his head to look at me. I look back at him, and remember our talk in the car, how it was quid pro quo... “...If I answer your question, you have to answer mine...”
The rest of the movie I was basically covering my eyes with both hands. Now and then I looked through my fingers and imitated the dialogues, but the rest of the time my eyes were covered. Even though I have watched this movie dozens of times, never have I been able to actually watch it from start to finish.
Even though I'm not looking at his face, I know that he's lauhging at me.
By the time the movie finishes and we get out, it's almost dawn. Although I decline incessantly, he persists in delivering me to my bedroom.
On the way home, I wonder “You know, even though I have watched this movie many times, I always never manage to understand one thing.”
“Considering the fact that you were covering your eyes most of the time, I'm amazed it's only one thing. Aren't movies supposed to be a visual art?” he retorts drily.
I continue, “Why must it be a moth?”
“You want to listen to my explanation?”
“Do you have an explanation?”
“The moth is a symbol for life cycles and reproduction. The moth produces very many eggs. These eggs undergo many metamorphoses to get to being moths. They have different identities throughout their life, alluding to the identity problems some characters have.”
“But why place that moth in the corpse's mouth?”
“That corpse is a woman. What is the most fundamental biological difference between men and women biologically? You're a language and literature student, you should be able to put two and two together quickly.”
“Then, Li Chuan, what did you study?”
“At first, Economics. Then architecture. Quid pro quo, in the cafe, why were you in a bad mood today?”
“Cos I quarrelled with someone.”
“Did you win or lose?”
“On the surface, I won, but in fact, I lost. I am from the countryside, I tend to be very easygoing, but here in the city, everyone is uptight and everyone minds your every action.”
“So you're unhappy here?”
“Only if my midterm score is lower than 95%.”
“Why are you so hellbent on that 95%? Is it seriously that important?”
I turn to look him in the face “I have an identity problem.”
1 Ok, so he actually uses a saying over here, which roughly translates to “Just because you haven't eaten pig, can you claim to have not seen a pig either?”.. which basically comes down to what I translated above.
2 Ok, so full on confessional, I actually translate in a very rough translate-proof method while half asleep, so I forgot whether this line was “I have a midterm tomorrow” or the above version, and I can't find my original doc, so yeah. For what it's worth the nothing changes much. You have been flying with Tired & Lazy Moya Airlines.
** Anything with that is actual English that was in the book and therefore not my department hehehe :3
This was the chappie that won me over, tbh... Until now, I was all, meh, he's too perfect, she's too perfect. But here, we get into the details of the bum leg and the dry quips and Li Chuan finally has more personality! And our leading lady has a spine, and practices her speaking English by memorizing horror movie lines... characterisation, we have some XP