This picture is exactly how I envision Xi Chen to look while waiting for An Jie’s return to her school dormitory. Dressed all in black, with a stance that is unapproachable and giving off a calm and broody vibe.
When Did You Become So Naive?
The weather in Paris during April is mild and pleasant. Having returned for half a year, my mood had already settled. In the end, I didn’t manage to visit my mother because the state I was in at the time of departure was too terrible. Besides, she probably wouldn’t even want to see me, I haven’t lived up to her expectation from youth till now. So I only made a simple phone call to inform her that I wouldn’t be going to Shanghai, and instead would directly fly to France. Mother’s reply didn’t surprised me. She told me to pay attention to my safety on the way.
I used to work so hard to gain other people’s approvals. Nowadays, I don’t seek to make myself known. I don’t care how many people will like me, or how many people will defend me, I only wish for my own peace of mind.
On a Saturday morning, I carried my painting tools to a suburb area that has beautiful sceneries to sketch. An early styled gothic church is there. During the weekends, many people come to pray. There’s also a well-known, ancient primary school near the church. The school teachers will regularly bring the students out for extracurricular activities. Once, a child ran over to look at my painting, but after one glance he disappointedly said: “Your painting isn’t pretty.” I smiled briefly and restarted the painting. I used my left hand, and started from scratch.
Today’s weather is very nice. It’s currently still early, by noon, there should be a great number of people coming here to have picnics on the grass and to enjoy the sunshine. After finding the perfect scenery, I set up the drawing board and take out the brushes and paint colours. I begin to slowly depict the gleaming sunlight under the golden red sunrise scenery. When I first came to France, I studied French for a year then I restarted to practice painting. Since I began painting at six, I already had the foundation, and I personally liked it as well. However, since injuring my right hand in second year of university, I had to switch my major to the Media field, studying video advertisements. Thus, during the first one and a half year in France, I didn’t attend any painting classes, I had to start from scratch. Television Advertisements and Painting both belong in the same Arts department, so the change wasn’t that significant. The switch in major, besides the regret that I wouldn’t be able to paint anymore, it didn’t cause me too much difficulties. Truthfully, during those first few years, the biggest problem was actually my own state.
When I returned to the dorm in the afternoon, from far away I can already see Mrs. Madan waving at me. Her dry hair was flying in the wind, her sallow face shone brightly under the sunlight. Mrs. Madan waited for me to walk over before telling me smilingly: “Anastasia, my dear. Someone came to find you, same as you, also Chinese. He looks very nice. He waited for you all morning. He’s still here. Go find him quickly, he’s behind the dormitory.”
At this place, I’m not familiar with other Chinese people. Even if there is, at most we’ll just nod at each other in acknowledgement, not familiar to the point that they’ll look for me.
“Thank you Mrs. Madan.” I headed in the direction of the dormitory, wondering who could this person be.
When I saw Ye Lin standing on the lawn, playing on his cellphone with his back leaning against a French Sycamore tree, I was somewhat surprised. He was dressed in all white casual wear, his slightly long hair was cut, and appeared a lot more spirited.
As I walked over, he also lifted his head.
“When did you arrive in France?” When I was close, I opened my mouth first. Even I didn’t expect myself to behave this calmly. Perhaps it’s because I’d finally put everything behind me.
“Oh. For play?”
I originally thought he’d come to France to participate in some fashion activities, but then I remembered that Paris Fashion Week had already ended in March.
Ye Lin stared at me for a long time before faintly opening his mouth again: “Are you free? Have a meal with me?”
“Okay.” I said. “But I need to put my stuff away first.” I pointed at the stuff behind me.
“I’ll wait for you.”
I nodded my head while smiling.
When I arrived at my dormitory, my roommate was tuning a guitar she was holding. She’s from Singapore and her Chinese name is Liang Ai Wen. We pretty much only use Mandarin to communicate.
“Anastasia. Someone was looking for you in the morning. He waited for you all morning.”
I put down the stuff and went to wash my hands in the washroom. When I came out she asked: “You’d seen him?”
“I thought he’d already left. To be honest, he looks really handsome. Is he your relative?”
I didn’t really like this type of probing, but I still irreverently answered: “No.”
“Anastasia, give his phone number to me!” Liang Ai Wen put down her guitar and came towards me. She looked very excited. “Since he’s not your boyfriend, then it’s okay if I pursue him?”
I couldn’t help laughing, but also matter of factly reminded her. “He’ll likely be returning to China soon.”
“Distance is not a problem.” Liang Ai Wen waved her hand, giving off an air of nonchalance.
I didn’t expect her to say that, it didn’t seem like a joke. But ——-“I don’t have his phone number.”
Liang Ai Went glanced at me, she was slightly unhappy. When she left, she muttered to herself: “Ai, dressed in a black suit prince ah…..”
I didn’t understand, Ye Lin’s wore all white, where did the black suit come from? I shook my head, denying some of the guesses starting to form in my heart.
I brought Ye Lin to an Italian restaurant near school for dinner.
“The food here is pretty good.” I said.
“You come here often?”
I smiled. “How can that be, it’s pretty expensive here. I’d worked here before.”
“This period of time, I’m quite busy, otherwise, I would bring you around Paris.” I said truthfully. I’m currently relearning painting, plus I’ll be graduating soon, and my graduation piece still required revision. Also, prior to graduation, I wanted to go on a trip, I’ve already picked the destination, it’s to an ancient town.
“I’m getting married.”
I was slightly stunned. “En. Then, congratulation.”
“Jian An Jie. The last thing I want is your congratulations.” Ye Lin said coldly, his eyes were stubborn.
“But, Ye Lin, the only thing I can give you is a congratulatory statement.”
Suddenly, his hands gripped his head and laughed. “You really don’t care about me anymore.” He watched me. “You don’t have to worry that I’ll continue to crazily pester you. I admit defeat! I just wanted to come see you. Before when I wanted to come find you, I couldn’t. Now, I have the ability to come, but it’s already too late. Say, isn’t life too funny? My parents are both alcoholics and gamblers. My sister, I’ve mentioned her to you a few times before, she is seven years younger than me, very obedient and understanding, but she has been sick since childhood. That year, when you came and told me that you were going abroad, I had thought, how much would it cost to go aboard? Five hundred thousand? One million? Yet, at that time, I didn’t even have fifty dollars on me, and still owed others tens of thousands.”
“I didn’t know….”
“Of course you didn’t know. I wasn’t incompetent to the point that I’ll go to my girlfriend to cry about my poverty.” He grabbed hold of a waiter that was passing by. “Bring me a bottle of wine. I’m very happy today, I need to celebrate. This is the first time I’m sitting here with the person I love, sharing a meal together in France.” He said everything in Mandarin, I had to assist in apologizing to the waiter.
Ye Lin wouldn’t loosen his grip. “Bring me a bottle of wine, don’t you understand?”
I went to his side. “Enough, stop fooling around.”
“I’m not. I just want wine to celebrate, is that not okay?”
I had no choice but to request wine from the waiter. After, I had to watch as he drank cup after cups of wine. When he reached the half way point, I stopped him: “That’s enough.”
Ye Lin was leaning against the table. “I feel uncomfortable. An Jie, I feel very uncomfortable…. Right now, I have this feeling like you’ve grown up, but I’ve still remained in my teens. That time period before you left…..” When he got to this point, his volume decreased. There was no movement for a long period of time, like he’d fallen asleep. I couldn’t control myself from touching his forehead.
Like this, we sat here from noon till night. Occasionally, he would say a few sentences, but most of it seemed like it was meant for the teenage me.
He said: “An Jie, let’s go for a walk in the playground.”
He said: An Jie, when the teacher comes, wake me up.”
My purest few years were spent with him, I’ve never regretted it. Except, he and I both understand that ultimately, in the long river of time, we’ve missed each other. Even if back then I had reasons that were beyond my control.
With the help from a waiter, I managed to get him inside a taxi. Luckily, he had on him the room card to his hotel room. By the time I left Ye Lin’s place, it was already early morning.
When I returned to the school dormitory, I saw someone standing in the hallway on the first floor.
Is France so popular right now? Everyone is coming here! And it’s in the middle of the night. But then I thought that if it was him, it’s not that strange.
“You’re back?” He said. His tone was calm.
I walked directly to the stairway by the hall, completely ignoring him.
I didn’t want to see him, I didn’t even want to think about him. He’s a part of my unbearable memories. He had witnessed every single one of my embarrassing departures.
“Exactly how long do you plan on being so willful?” The voice from behind was relaxed.
What does he mean by willful? If he didn’t want to deal with any willfulness, then what can his behaviour of coming all the way here be considered as? Is he here to watch a joke or add insult to an injury?
“Why do you only know how to flee every time?”
Regardless of how much I didn’t want to care, his words still successfully managed to touch a sore spot. He knows very well how to make me suffer.
I turned around to face him. “Xi Xi Chen. What exactly do you want?”
I never cared about him, but often, his attitude forces me to have to face him. “People must know when to stop, I’ve already stopped disturbing you, so I trouble you to stop disturbing me as well!”
When I closed the dormitory door, I exhaled a long breath.
I briefly washed myself and got into bed. In the dark, I heard Liang Ai Wen speak: Let’s talk?” She didn’t wait for my reply before turning on the light. She flipped over and sat up, causing huge movements. “I saw him again this afternoon.”
This time I finally confirmed, the him that she is referring to.
“I talked to him briefly. Ai, he’s so cold. But based on his gestures and clothes, his status shouldn’t be too bad. He seemed to have also sprayed on some perfume, but I couldn’t tell which brand.” Her tone was getting more and more excited. “In the afternoon, I meet him downstairs. The only asian living in this dormitory is you and me, so I knew he was looking for you. Because, you know, your appearance looks alright. I went up to ask if he was looking for Anastasia Jian and it turned out to be true. I told him you already left early in the morning. He said it was fine. After, he sat by the stairs under the stairway to wait. Originally, I had thought this person really admired you, but when night was approaching, I saw him again. Mrs. Madan was telling him that you’d left with another man. He didn’t say anything so I thought the relationship between you two shouldn’t be anything. Oh, does he have a company here in France? I heard him talk on the phone mentioning some of the topics discussed in the afternoon meeting. Anastasia, are you listening? I’ve said so much, shouldn’t you also share some information that you know?”
“I’m not familiar with him.”
“His name, career status, those you should know?”
“Anastasia, you’re such a bummer.” Once finished, she turned off the light and turned her head to sleep.
In the dark, I tried very hard to clear my head so I can fall asleep faster, but even after half an hour, I still wasn’t sleepy. I turned on the light near the head of the bed to do some light reading. I grabbed the French dictionary that was placed on top of the drawer, the book was already heavily damaged through frequent uses. Looking back on the first two years here, whether it was while walking on the road, or going to the cafeteria to eat, I would absentmindedly be memorizing words.
“Hey, if you have the lights on, how can I sleep?”
I looked at her, she’d been playing on her cellphone this whole time. “When you go to sleep, I’ll turn it off.”
“Okay, then I’m going to sleep now.” She turned off her cellphone and looked at me.
I didn’t argue with her, and turned off the light. After several years of living away from home, in regards to people’s cold attitude, I’m already used to it and have learned to not care.
Even families are like that, much less people who are non-related.