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Are you souled night wind?
Xi Nan

 

Late at night, the room was filled with steam. My chest felt pain. The muddy sky was like a jar of slurry, fading the moonlight out. People on the streets had not yet fallen asleep. Outside the window, someone frivolously laughed, and boys were talking coarsely. For a moment, all those sounds flickered, but soon disappeared in the air, like ghosts shuttling to and fro in the boundless darkness.

I stubbornly faced away, avoiding his eyes. I guessed it did not bother him. Upon my naked body, he moved up and down, rose and fell, like a tireless hunter, like a runaway mustang. I used my hands to scratch his back, and warm sweat dripped onto my fingernails. Suddenly, he accelerated, like a long-distance runner sprinting to the end of the race. More sweat dripped down from his young face, falling on mine. I bit my own lip, striving not to make any sound. I wanted to keep my last dignity.

He came in for the last time and uttered a groan, sounding relieved. He then climbed down from me, and used toilet paper to wipe himself off. I touched between my legs, and felt some wet liquid. He switched on the reading lamp. Everything in the room at once emerged in the orange lighting.

Jie, I called his name, showed him with my hands. Blood.

Don’t be afraid. The corners of his mouth raised slightly. He bent over and slowly sucked the blood remaining on my fingers.

I turned my head to look outside the window. I saw only the boundless darkness. I am not. I said. I am not afraid.


***

Tick tack, tick tack, tick tack, the second hand inside the wall clock jumps three times. It is now four o’clock in the morning. The frivolous city just fell asleep. Even the sound of the wind disappears. The whole city is so quiet. Has everyone fallen asleep now? Perhaps they are also dreaming, having fond dreams, nightmares. No one knows how many people are embracing a familiar body with a lost soul in their beds.

I walk into the kitchen and get myself a glass of water. Then I return to my computer, see a small MSN box jumps out on the screen.

Awake? "FlameOcean" asks me.

Yup.

Waiting for me?

That’s right.

Just as planned. He "smiles".

What time is it over your side?

20:05

Are you seriously in the UK?

Yes.

Then why you can type Chinese characters?

I told you, I am a Chinese student, just studying here. Do you not believe me?

Let’s stick to the plan.

You're so cold.

Isn’t that what we want?

The computer screen calms. Two minutes later, a row of neat small words flash out:

Are you souled night wind, or a soulless lustful body?


***
I sat up in the bed, curled up in the corner. Jie took away the originally white handkerchief under my body, scooped it up in his hands under the reading lamp. The handkerchief was no longer white and pure, now with a small irregularly shaped bloodstain on it, it was dirty and hideous. Jie scrutinized it for quite a while, then turned his head and gave me a smile, showing his good-looking teeth. Don’t be afraid. He said it once again. The kind of hurt you are worrying about will never happen, because we now have become one person. He used his slender fingers to wipe away the tears left on my face. I gently nodded. He then carefully folded the handkerchief and stored it into the wardrobe behind him. Perhaps he would keep it for a life time, I guessed, as it could always tell him that he was the first man ever in my life.

When I was younger, neither Jie nor I had yet come to this frivolous city for university studies. We were still in the little southern town where we were born.

At that time, I was a high school student. Every morning I travelled a long way so that I could reach the only school established in the town. Roads were muddy. There had never been anyone to put concrete or asphalt on them. On both sides of the roads, there was a large expanse of fields. Kids in the town loved to play there and pick fresh bak choi for dessert.

After school, I usually walked through a large base abandoned by the U.S. military after World War II, through the fields, through a junction in the town centre where tricycles assembled, and through the night market stalls which just been set up after the sunset, and then, spent another 5 minutes walking on a muddy path, I would reach home. Dusk, the sunset poured on the faded house left by Grandpa; the wooden door looked decadent in its silent glory. Usually, Mother would recognize my footsteps back home. So she would confidently walk out from the kitchen and loudly shout: Wash your hands and come to eat!

The dining table was also made of white wood. Those pictures of fairies I used to draw in my childhood were stubbornly left on the desktop. One leg of the table had been somewhat rickety, often making funny and tired sounds. It was right there, on this table, where I had eaten during the first eighteen years in my life. Facing the table, there it was the wooden door of the house. Through that door, as a kid, I quietly speculated the numerous colors of the sky: gray, dark blue, orange, pink... I looked at the sky, and I thought that I might never leave this place. I belonged here.

If only Jie had not later determined to go to the big city for his studies; if only I had not determined to follow this boy who was the first and only one that kissed my eyes.


***

Are you souled night wind, or a soulless lustful body?

Which one you wish?

For a long while, the other side does not respond. Then, he suddenly sends over a sly "smile", and without a word, he goes offline.

I reach for the glass, drink the water left in it. I copy the chat history and forward it to Nana. Almost at the same time, Nana responses with an email, with only one sentence written in it: are you mad?

I stare at the screen, feeling a little dizzy. Outside the window, the sky gradually reveals a trace of light. Cleaners begin their jobs of the day, making regular sweeping sounds. This is so much like the scene when Jie proposed to me: same morning, same sky, same room… At that time, when he asked me to marry him, was he trying to show me the hope when the sun was about to rise? Was it because he could not bear the anxiety and guilt in his own heart, so he rushed to show me the ring?

The mobile phone shrills and breaks the silence of the dawn.

Are you mad? Nana shouts at me again, this time on the phone.

I’m perfectly calm.

You are a crazy woman!

If you say so.

You know what, I actually understand what you’re feeling, but I’m just saying…

I interrupt her, I’ve made up my mind. And I believe that’s the only way.

How about Jie?

I pause for a while, but I know the answer. Jie is exactly the reason why I am doing so.

I hang up the phone and open the wardrobe. The handkerchief is still quietly lying at the same place where Jie put it more than one year ago. I tensely hide it under a folded coat, and then stand in front of the wardrobe, not knowing where to start. In the end, I wear only a black undergarment covering my chest and stomach, and a pair of light-washed jeans with holes all over. On the outside, I put on a black woolen coat to go with the outfit. I stand in front of the mirror, examining my own face, trying to put on all kinds of expressions, pretending that I am a playgirl who does not care a thing.

I turn around. Cold sweat mushrooms on my spine. I can’t breathe. My brain needs oxygen. My right hand suddenly begins to shake violently, making me angry and embarrassed. I use my left hand to hold it still. I take a deep breathe. Finally, my heart beat restores to normal. So I open the little suitcase, pack up my toothbrush, towel, cosmetics, perfume, as well as the return air tickets. That’s all I need to take. I won’t stay long.

***

Right in the wooden house where I thought I would never leave, mother had more than once told me that a girl's fate is always based on her chastity. Mum believed in chastity, believed in “female virtues”, just like other women in the town.

I was told that only if a girl dedicates her own virginity to her husband on the night of their wedding, and be faithful to him alone ever after, she could harvest a happy life. In order to give me some examples, Mother told me stories from a book written by ancient scholars called Women Preach. In the book, it is said that in ancient times, if a woman’s hand was unintentionally touched by a strange man in the street, she would chop off her own arm when she returned home, so as to keep the innocence of her body. I understand why Mother told this to me. She wanted me to have an “innocent body”, so that I could “live a happy life”; because if I do not live a good life, I not only will hurt myself, but also those who love me. To say so, I have evidence.

When I was fourteen, there was a girl called Ju in our town. She was several years older than me, had dark, long hair and charming eyes. When she smiled, her eyes squinted, like two bright crescents, which were surprisingly appealing. Ju really liked me, and often came to Grandpa’s house to play with me. Sometimes she took me to the fields to fly kites. We ran in the fields, laughing and shouting. I used to call her “older sister”.

But suddenly one day, mother didn’t allow me to play with Ju anymore. Even her name became a taboo in our house, as if she had never existed. I knew what happened. She was pregnant.

Ju’s boyfriend had denied everything. One morning, he just packed up all his stuff and left the town forever. People in the town began to call Ju a "loose woman". They shouted at her, spat at her, and threw shoes at her.

There was one night, I was lying in my bed, trying to sleep. Suddenly, I heard the mournful sound of weeping at the window. Was that Ju? Now I will never find out. The very next morning when people got up, they saw that Ju’s boyfriend’s name was written in blood all over the streets in town. I later heard that cleaners used more than a month to get the writing off. And Ju, she had already jumped into the well in front of the man’s house, stopped breathing.

Not long after, Ju’s father used two towels to hang himself in their own living room. Ju's mother then remarried, went far far away. No one had ever seen her again.

That night, when I lost my virginity in pain and silence, I lied to Jie.

I was afraid.


***

The aircraft slowly taxies on the runway and finally stops at Heathrow Airport. I get out from the plane, walk to the crowds and get my luggage, then rush out from the green channel.

At first sight, I recognize him, a Chinese man wearing a dark blue checkered shirt. He has facetious and dark eyes. He looks calm.

He stops a taxi, helps me to put the luggage into the boot. Then he takes a seat, silently sitting beside me. As the car moves forward, sporadic small shops and bars on the roadside come in and out of my sight, I somehow turn my head to look at him: he is not looking at me at all, but looking straight ahead, with a slight smile on his face. His fingers are slender and clean. They are rhythmically tapping his knees.

Where am I? I suddenly get confused. Around me, there are only strange people, strange sky, and strange company. Again, I can’t breathe. My brain needs oxygen. Cold sweat mushrooms on my spine. But I know I have to do this. Any weakness or regret is not allowed. Outside the car window, clouds are rapidly flowing in the gloomy sky. Withered yellow leaves are dancing in the fierce wind. Suddenly, the car stops sharply. We are in front of a tall building.


***

That day, when I suddenly appeared at the door, I had apparently startled both Jie and that girl. In fact, I did not mean to do it. Everything was just a coincidence. I wish I had not appeared at the wrong place in the wrong time. Sometimes, to be lied to for a lifetime is also a lucky thing. What makes me sad is the feeling that, after daybreak, we have to be awakened from those fond dreams.

Later that day, Jie said this to console me: When bodies intertwine, they need only company, not love. But my darling, why could I not understand your words? So I ran to the bars in tears, and I saw drunks flirting, saw those hands casually resting on strangers’ hips… I ran into the streets, saw couples embracing each other, but with apathy on their faces. I then told myself, all these might be what you had called as "company". But, in my mother's life, she had only dedicated her body to my father. Her body did not seem to need any company. Even among those three years, when father rarely came home, mother had never tried to seek any company for her body. All she did was to let her body growing old in loneliness. She followed a man, gave him her virginity, and from then onwards cut off all relations with others, silent and forbearing, so she forever harvested innocence.

But you then said to me: Love is a matter between souls, not bodies. I was puzzled, as I do not know where to look for your soul. I cannot smell it, cannot see it, cannot touch it. Is it flashing in your deep and beautiful eyes? Is it hidden in your slight smile? Are you souled night wind, or a soulless lustful body?

Darling, please do forgive me. I did not intend to give you any trouble. I just didn’t know how to accept all this.


***

Night swallowed everything. The surrounding cold air makes my chest hurt. The dark blue sky is like a witch's dreamland, mysterious and alluring. Downstairs, someone frivolously laughs, someone is playing loud hip-hop music. For a moment, all those sounds flickered, but soon disappeared in the air, like ghosts shuttling to and fro in the boundless darkness.

I stubbornly face away, avoiding his eyes. I guess it does not bother him. Upon my naked body, he moves up and down, rises and falls, like a tireless hunter, like a runaway mustang. I use my hands to scratch his back, warm sweat dripped onto my fingernails. Suddenly, he accelerates, like a long-distance runner is sprinting to the end of the race. More sweat drips down from his young face, falls on mine. I bite my own lip, striving not to make any sound.

I no longer want to talk about any dignity. I’m just sad and determined.

He comes in for the last time and utters a groan, sounding relieved, and then climbs down from me. I touch between my legs, feel some wet liquid. He switches on the reading lamp. Everything in the room at once emerged in the orange lighting.

On my pale fingers, there’s no longer any ugly shaped bloodstain. All I see is only guilty body fluid. He walks to the desk, grasps a lighter and lights a cigarette, then casually picks up the dark blue checkered shirt on a chair to wipe his body. Surrounding me, there isn’t the familiar steam. Outside the window, clouds are rapidly flowing in the gloomy sky. Withered yellow leaves are still dancing in the fierce wind.


***

If my innocent and clean limbs are making you embarrassed, I would soil my body.

If that ugly bloodstain is turning into chains and walls surrounding you, I would dress up like a flirtatious hooker.

If I destroy my safe castle would allow you to see the colorful and charming sky, then let me stand under the fierce sun and heavy snow, smile, and watch you run happily.

You asked me: Why would you want to occupy my body? Therefore, since then onwards, a possessive instinct has forever left me. I pray for our souls’ integration in that invisible realm.


***

You look nervous. He throws the dark blue checkered shirt onto the floor.

I haven't done this kind of thing before.

Then why now?

It’s just the time has come.

Why choose me?

You know, on that day when she was about to leave for UK for further studies, Jie told me he was going to give her a farewell dinner… but they end up lying on my bed naked… She should be in this country now.

Therefore you have found a Chinese man studying here and sleep with him… kind of revenge, huh?

It’s not like that. I shake my head. She later wrote a letter to the Jie, mentioned about the British gloomy sky, mentioned the beer, mentioned the fierce wind… I just wanted to come and see it myself for once.

I close my eyes. I just thought it could be easier if I do this with you. Your experience is so much like hers.

Emmm… He raises his eyebrows, exaggeratively nods his head. He wouldn’t understand.

So, how many times have you done this? I don’t really want to find out, but I’m out of words.

Well, I don't actually remember. He casually says.

Aren’t you afraid that your wife will find out one day?

She understands. He easily smiles at me. Desire and feelings are totally different kinds of things.


***

That was the only conversation we’ve had in real life. I don’t even know his real name, only remember that he’s got a user name called “FlameOcean” on the internet.

Half flame, half ocean. Half desire, half love. Half body, half soul.

After that day, I have never seen him again.

Before departure from Heathrow, I sent an international text message to Nana: I think I could now understand Jie’s words. I've already separated my own soul and my body.

I switched off the mobile, and the aircraft soon started taxiing on the runway. Everything outside the window rushed into my sight, but soon disappeared… Then suddenly, the plane gave a lurch and flew into the clouds.

The strong air-conditioner in the cabin was making me feel cold. I asked for a blanket from a young airline hostess, used it to wrap myself up, but it didn’t help. Was it my body that was feeling cold or my soul? I couldn’t tell.

The very next morning, I returned to that familiar city in southern China. Right on that evening, I became Jie’s wife. On our wedding banquet, Jie drank down a lot of wine. In the end, he was drunk. His eyes got muddy, his smile got sluggish. Then from where could I look for his soul? Are you souled night wind, or a soulless lustful body? That question I wanted to ask him had since then never been mentioned. Perhaps, all this has become insignificant, as in that unspoken secret, I'd already separated my own soul from my body, just like what Jie claimed he’d done himself.

I have become Jie's wife. Perhaps I already have his soul.


***

If my innocent and clean limbs are making you embarrassed, I would soil my body. If I destroy my safe castle would allow you to see the colorful charming sky, then let me stand under the fierce sun and heavy snow, smile, and watch you run happily.