Early November, I was admitted into the hospital and sank into a cycle of losing consciousness.
After Xiao Huan sorted out his company matters, he watched over me by the bedside, never taking a step away.
“Are you tired!”
Whenever I was conscious, I would always ask him this.
“I’m not tired!” And he would always smile. His hair was dishevelled and I knew that apart from returning to the company for urgent matters, he would spend his remaining time at the hospital to watch over me.
We didn’t talk much, and every time I woke up, I would flash him a smile. He would kiss me on my forehead and gently run his fingers through my hair. Then, I would fall back into my coma, with a weak and waning strand of consciousness.
In the hospital, a lot of nurses admired me. I had become the most fortunate palliative patient they cared for. I had the wholehearted devotion and protection of a perfect husband. They would constantly tell me, “Madam Xiao, your husband treats you so well. This life of yours can be considered well-lived.”
However, I was afraid that others would say that about me, because that would signify that no one would feel regrettable about my passing. So many observers have come and gone. They would lament that everything I’ve attained and achieved in the end was a form of perfection. And this made me feel uncomfortable. Human emotions are frigid, and constantly make me frightened. In the event that I do not die, how would everything around me collapse? That was truly frightening!
Just like that, love became my obsession as I counted my gains and losses. Especially when the epilogue drew near, it became even more uncertain.
No one knew that whenever I regained consciousness, I would always feel different emotions. Sometimes, I would feel blessed; sometimes, I would feel forlorn, as well as unwilling, helpless, reluctant, and even indifference. Such indifference was one that a dying patient would have, a cage that retracted from the realm of reality. It was an indifference akin to flashing a smile at the multitude of mortals without a care.
And this indifference would only disappear the instant I looked at him.
When I saw him, I only wanted to smile
When he saw me, he would want to kiss.
To him, between a man and a woman, the happiest thing they could do was kiss. To help each other mutually during trying times and to reassure each other.
He said, such were men.
One day in November, I regained consciousness once again, but this time, I was especially alert. There was a rarely seen rosy glow on my face. I sat against the headboard of the bed and opened the windows. A gust of autumn breeze blew in, awakening Xiao Huan who had been asleep by the bedside.
He abruptly lifted his head and saw me resting against the headboard, smiling at him.
He blanked out for a long time before finally saying, “You’re awake!”
“Mm, I want to eat something!” I said.
He blanked out once again. When I saw him, the corner of my lips slipped into an involuntary smile. “Mm, I’ll go buy something for you! What do you want to eat?”
“Anything…, just buy me porridge! I’d rather not have greasy food.”
I reclined on the bed, before patting the empty space next to me. “Come back soon!”
“Mm!” He turned around to take his leave.
I liked his back view the most – it was valiant. When he wore that white fur coat, there would be tuffs of fur on his collar. Whenever he turned his head, he would always purse his lips and the veins on his neck would stand out even more. At the same time, his eyes would become even more profound. His eyes were always like this, and it gave off the impression that he had everything in control.
I watched him depart, before slowing closing my eyes to await his return.
However, before I could settle my emotional state, I heard a loud ruckus outside the door. Following which, the sound of a dispute rang in my ears. “Mr Xiao, Xiao Li is new here and is ignorant about how things work. But he had good intentions. Furthermore, this is still a hospital. Please calm down sir! Let’s not argue!”
After that, there was silence.
Click, the door opened.
“What happened? I sat up. Xiao Huan was the one who came in. His fists were clenched and his face was ashen as he sat down by the bedside, visibly upset.
Xiao looked at me. Then, he suddenly grabbed my hands. He only used one hand to hold mine, he applied some pressure, released, and then applied more pressure. Then, he used both hands to grab my hand and applied pressure again. “Does it hurt?” He asked.
I nodded my head. “It hurts!” To be honest, I was already numb to sensation.
“How did Dr Li offend you?” I asked him.
He shook his head and refused to say.
“Where’s my porridge?” I asked him again.
“I’ve asked a nurse to buy it for you!”
“…” I leaned in his embrace and buried my hand into his sweater. He trembled.
“Are my hands cold?” I looked at him.
He shook his head. “Not cold!”
My hand slid onto his waist and with a tug, I pulled out a corner of the sweater. On its surface, a small cloth strip was stitched on its surface. It had already curled up. I reached out my other hand and unravelled the strip. Three words were embroidered – Cheng Si Ying.
When he saw it, his face twitched – he was probably melancholic again. But during this period, we had already gotten used to it.
Such memories were painful. Hence, he only blinked his eyes without saying a word.
I picked up a small scissors that was lying on the coffee table next to me. I held it towards the cloth strip and with a snip, I cut off my own name, before closing it in my fists. He knitted his brows, “Why did you cut it off?”
“It was an ugly embroidery!”
“Give it to me!”
“Give it to me!”
“…” He was angry.
“I will give you something else in memory of me!”
“What is it!” he asked.
“Let me think about it…”
“You still need to think!”
“Mm, I still need to think…” I said.
At this moment, another gust of autumn breeze blew in. Our hair was ruffled in the wind, just like flowing water.
He was deeply attached to me, and I was ready to take my leave.
“How did Dr Li provoke you? He’s been taking care of my health for such a long time, if you lose your temper like this, it will only make me look ungrateful!” Once the wind had ceased, I asked in a whisper.
“He spoke nonsense!” His tone revealed his unpleasant mood.
“What did he say?”
“He said…” he closed his eyes. “He said that your condition is deteriorating and that you may pass anytime. He told me not to leave and that if I needed to buy anything, I should ask the nurse!”
I chuckled. “So this is what it’s like to be at the end of the tunnel. I have always been very curious. But hey, it doesn’t feel like anything special!”
Xiao Huan didn’t say anything. What else could he say.
I probably looked extremely ugly. But it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t remain this ugly till the end. Xiao was at my side, never taking a step away. As long as I lifted my head, he would kiss me unconditionally. It was bitter sweet.
At times like these, I felt at peace, relaxed, pain-free. As it turned out, this was just the final radiance of a setting sun.
The day I truly departed was the 23rd of November. It was late autumn, the season of separation.
That day when he received Xiao Bei’s phone call, I woke up. It just so happened to be noon, the doctors and nurses were all not around. Inside the room, it was just me and him. I heard him tell Xiao Bei, “It’s still the same…, it won’t… ah, she’s awake. Do you want to speak to her?”
The other side of the line seemed to have plunged into silence.
“Oh!” When Xiao heard her finish speaking, he said, “That’s fine! Up to you.” Then, he hung up the call.
“Was Xiao Bei on the line?” I asked.
“Mm, she said that she was in the middle of doing some medical investigations. She’ll call back in a while.”
I smiled and said to him, “Let’s open up the windows.”
He held my hands and grasped them tightly. Then, he shouted towards the door, “Nurse! Nurse! Open up the window!” He was very fierce. During this period of time, he was constantly like this. Hence, when the nurse on call walked in, her face was twisted in anger. She could only hold back her temper as she pushed the windows open roughly. Then, she glared at him furiously before stomping out.
“What a fierce nurse!” I said.
The back of my hand suddenly felt cool. He had been nibbling at my hand lightly, leaving rows of teeth marks. Then, he replied, “We should just ignore her.”
I gazed out of the window. A beautiful assortment of yellow and withered leaves were drifting to the ground. Suddenly, I realised that passing was also a form of beauty. It was a painful form of beauty. I turned my head and said to Xiao, “Why didn’t I study harder in my younger days? Now that I’m older, I’m such a dummy. I truly have so much to say to you, but I don’t know where to start from!”
He raised his head, his eyes bloodshot.
I retracted my hand from his grasp and buried it in the blanket before choosing a posture to lie in.
He blanked out for a moment. “Are you cold?” As he said this, he attempted to close the window.
I closed my eyes. I said, “When I was young, I once read a poem. I don’t remember it very clearly, neither do I know who wrote it…”
As I spoke, I felt very fatigued. I have no idea if I managed to finish speaking. Whatever it was, I was simply very tired. As I spoke, I looked at him, until, I could see nothing. I fell into darkness.
At this time, I was still thinking. My words, did I manage to say them all?..
Alas, I would never know…
If I left you behind in the mountain range,
I would want to return,
Traversing the twisted forest,
Transforming into a lark
To return to your side!
If I drifted away from you at sea,
I would want to return,
Streaking across the savage billows,
Turning into a seagull
To return to your side!
If I get lost in in the prairies,
I want to chase after your footprints,
Transforming into a deer
Treading the mountains and the waters,
To return to your side!
I departed your side, with your hand in mine
I can only say to you:
In this lifetime,
My hope is that you forget me forever!
The leaves have fallen and I know spring will return again soon. Then, it will no longer be my season.
Xiao Huan, I truly wanted to ask you. In this life, how warm was spring to you…
T/N: This would be an appropriate time to quote the prologue once more.
The array of the setting sun filters through the window bravely,
Rosy clouds coalesce to form an extraordinary orbit —
They say, after a person dies, their spirit would pass by,
And have a final glimpse of the world they’ve left behind…
I’d like to think that this novel was a recount as Si Ying took a final glimpse of the world she left behind. It ends abruptly, and I really wish that there were epilogues we could read on from Xiao Huan’s perspective. But such is the finality of death, there are no second chances. I really like catharcity’s comments on this subject.