Just after the Spring Festival* passes, I begin to look forward to seeing the cherry blossoms. I also run to Ueno Park, which is still very destitute, with drifting people, couples, the leaves on the trees all dry.
* Spring Festival/Chinese New Years –> usually early February
In the past, there had also been a person who’d wandered here before. He ate in the wind and slept in the open*; miserable, painful.
* 風餐露宿 eating in the wind, sleeping in the open; braving the wind and dew; living a rough life; judging from context, most likely talking about X-Japan’s HIDE
I’ve originally imagined his wanderings to be as dashing as TOSHI’s* now. A guitar on the back, a cowboy hat, a cigarette. Sitting on a flat lawn or in a clean assembly hall; gently gather, slowly pinch*.
* TOSHI was lead vocalist of X-Japan
* 輕攏慢撚 a line of the poem (Song of the Pipa Player, 琵琶行 ); gently gather, slowly pinch; a method of playing the pipa, which is a Chinese string instrument; probably using it to describe playing a guitar here
I was – am – too naive.
I know that there are many things in this world that are wrong, unreasonable, unwarranted. But I can only tolerate them.
Because I am powerless, I become cowardly meek.
After Kaga’s foot gets better, I go visit him with my condolences.
“What’s this?” He observes the soup in the thermos.
“Dragon meat.” I say.
He stares at me, exclaims, “Are there really dragons in this world?”
I helplessly laugh at him. This is just the snake meat soup I’d asked a Chinese restaurant to make for him. I don’t dare tell him the real ingredients; while it doesn’t really matter if he doesn’t eat it, but it will be a pity if he gets scared to the point of spilling the soup.
At the mention of snakes, I would think of Ouyang.
He once took me to their laboratory. I saw a snake specimen there. He told me there’s a saying, that snakes are our ancestors.
I was shocked, “We are the descendants of snakes? I thought we were descendants of the dragon*!”
* 龍的傳人 Descendant of the dragon –> the name of a popular old song; the dragon was also often associated with rulers of China and used as a symbol of imperial rule; the phrase also has roots in folk religion
Ouyang said, “We’ve all seen a snake before, but who has seen a dragon.”
But a dragon was obviously more impressive, more domineering than a snake.
People are like that, when reality isn’t beautiful enough, they start to deceive themselves, and to deceive others. That’s why Xiao always said, “I can get through this, I want to get my Master’s straight after, I want to go abroad, I can get a passport from country X. I can do it all, I just don’t work hard enough……”
Just like a dying soldier talking about a future victory.
At that time his mental state already had some issues. Only, I hadn’t noticed anything.
Kaga still sincerely drinks down the soup. I think he has figured out what type of meat it is. He is a very considerate boy, this point very similar to Ouyang. But even the most considerate, most gentle individual will abandon what he has been protecting for his own happiness.
People are inherently selfish.
Ever since I’ve found out that Yasutomo’s cram school is across the street from our school, I often see him. Always at night, him by himself, from the near hour-long subway ride to class. We nod to each other, and go about our business.
Once, I arrive back late, having been to another school to find someone, yet I still see Yasutomo standing under the streetlight. His classes have just finished.
He gives me a weary smile. My maternal instinct begins to awaken as I see him slightly shivering from the cold, and so I drag him to the snack alley behind the school.
Being that late, many of the stores have already closed. The lights of the barbecue place are still bright. I drag him inside, sit, and order something.
He is bashful, then looks at me gratefully.
“Do you always go home this late?” I ask. With the social law and order being that bad, he – a tender, young boy – ought not be running about the streets at such a late hour.
“Today’s an exception, I didn’t understand the teacher’s lecture, and after I asked, I got held up.”
I look at my watch and wonder if there still is a later train at this hour.
“If there’s no train, I’ll call someone to take you home.” I don’t trust him by himself.
At that moment, his cell phone rings. He picks it up, his expression changes.
“Something happened?” I ask.
“Dad just got sick.” He gets up, rushes out. I slap down money, and chase after him.
The incident is too sudden.
Heavy snow hinders the travel, so it’s one in the morning by the time we get to the hospital. The man lying on the hospital bed is unconscious in sleep. Having not seen him for half a month, it’s almost as if he has aged so much in the span of a moment.
“It’s a stomach bleed, but it’s fine now. I’ve already informed your mother. She’d gone back to her parents’ house, but she’ll take the early train back tomorrow.” The neighbor says.
Yasutomo stands watch next to father’s bedside, I send the kind-hearted neighbors down.
“You are…..” the couple look me up and down.
I think for a bit, then say, “I’m Yasutomo’s friend.”
After seeing the neighbor off, the hospital nurse comes back to inform me that the hospitalization fees and emergency medical fees haven’t been paid yet. I follow her to pay, and use the gold card my mother has given me.
I don’t know if this counts as filial piety or not, but it’s the only way I can thank him for giving me half my life.
I tell Yasutomo to sleep on the empty bed at the side, he has school tomorrow. I sit on the edge of that man’s bed and look closely at him.
My mother had once said that my eyes looked like his. She only said it once, but I still remembered. It was one of the few times I had ever heard anything about my father while growing up.
As if talking to herself, my mother said, looks like he got married over there……..
I was anxious for Mommy.
And she again said, actually, I’m sorry for you, child. I’m not able to give you the love of a father!
She would always wearily sigh like that, she loved my father, but she also hated his betrayal. The anger formed by the interwoven love and hate allowed her to change into a strong woman, she decided to get power, to get enough strength to protect me, to protect herself, and to protect the little that belonged to her.
But she wasn’t happy at all.
I look at his upright face, am able to imagine the handsomeness of his youth. Mother beautiful as well. But somewhen down the line, the marriage between the princess and the prince has stopped being so blessed.
Xiao, you’ve said before, to cherish family. Then, you must be very happy to see this situation now. I am just like any other dutiful child, attentively watching from the front of the hospital bed.
But what use is this. If we don’t have affection, we don’t have affection. I’m only doing the duty that I ought to do, because he is my legal father.
And you’re in no position to blame me, Xiao, have you ever treasured familial love?
“What have you been doing lately?” He asks.
“What else can I do? Study. Capitalist countries also have exams.”
“Are you still in touch with Ouyang?”
“Oh?” I raise my eyebrows, “Why do you always ask that?”
Xiao smiles, “The money from the band’s gig came down.”
“That’s great, treat us.”
“I’ve already donated it.”
“You’re too kind, you’ll be schemed against.”
“I’ve also composed a new tune.”
Xiao turns to get his guitar, and just like that, he disappears into that sunset.
I chase after him, and Ouyang appears in the dream.
“Xiao is gone!” I panic.
Ouyang draws me into a hug, just like the one from when he’d said goodbye at the airport: “It’s no use, he left by himself. Therefore, we have to take care of ourselves……”
I wake up beside the bed, having felt the man move. When I lift my head, I see eyes that look just like mine.
I move to stand up. Yasutomo’s bed is empty, his backpack is gone, he must’ve gone to school.
“Where do you still feel uncomfortable?” I ask.
He shakes his head, “It’s alright now.”
I tidy my hair and say, “I have class in the morning, so I’ll go.”
“Call the nurse if you don’t feel well.”
“You ……” He hurriedly says.
I concentrate to listen to his words. But he only says that one word, before he again runs out of things to say. It takes him a long while to finally speak:
“Be careful on the road.”
“Got it.” I turn around, the smell of disinfectant from the hospital irritating my nose somewhat sour.*
* 酸 literally sour; but when used to describe a muscle, it describes the soreness of the muscle, when used to describe an emotion, it’s that feeling of wanting to cry; i might change this if i ever come across an appropriate word (i wanted to use ‘teary’ but a ‘teary nose’….i dunno)
I pull open the door, just as Yasutomo’s mother happens to walk over, she sees me, her surprise evident. She’s still carrying her travel bag, as if she has just rushed over from the station.
We bow. And I, in a haste to get back to class, hurriedly leave.
I end up being sleepy the entire day. I’d fallen asleep face down on the edge of the bed last night, and kept having weird dreams. There was also a crink in my neck after I awoke this morning.
And so, after class, I hurry back to the dormitory to sleep, but Kaga stops me as soon as I pass the Third Lecture Building.
“Where did you go last night?” His tone is that of a husband catching his wife cheating on him on the spot. What a pity I’m almost unable to hold on anymore, I’m nodding off even as I walk, otherwise I’ll have told him off for being so nosy.
He grabs my hand, wanting me to look at him, “You were seen with a high school boy.”
Please, you can question me via torture, but please don’t force me to open my eyes. I can take this time to sleep.
“Why won’t you look at me?”
“How did this era come to the point where even men love to care about gossip?” I exclaim.
Kaga angrily lets go of my hand, and I immediately use all my strength to run towards the dormitory. Kaga calls out to me from behind, but I act as if I don’t hear. I have no interest in discussing family matters with anyone, my past is mine alone.
It is night when I wake up, the cafeteria has definitely closed. And so, I slowly make my way to the back of the school to find something to sustain my fragile life.
Then, I see Yasutomo waiting for me at the store.
The reason I say he’s waiting for me, is because he has ordered two portions of takoyaki.
“Thank you for yesterday,” he says, “You paid for the hospital bill, didn’t you? My father and mother felt sorry for you, you are also a student.”
I smile, “I don’t care about the money.”
“Will you……go see father again?” He gently, cautiously asks me.
“Why?” I regret the words as soon as they left my mouth, so I add, “Is his sickness that serious?”
“You’re not going to see him if it’s not serious?”
When I was three years old, I had pneumonia, the fever so high it almost burnt me to death, but he never came to see me.
I curl my lips at him, “What do you want me to do?”
“You hate him?”
I reach out, and knock him on the head: “You read too much comics!”
He stares into the glass of soda.
“Everyone has their own life,” I say, “you should think about yourself.”
“But don’t you feel sorry for him.”
I put down my chopsticks and seriously reply: “As the old saying goes: “A person’s poor situation could always be attributed to his own fault*.”
* 可憐之人必有可恨之處 saying; when a person is in a poor/bad situation, and this happens over and over again, there might a reason behind why it repeatedly occurs; it may be due to the person’s own mistakes
“To put it like that, then you still hate him.”
“I used to hate him, but hatred is just hatred, and I should just live.” If my life now is full of deep water and scorching fire*, I would’ve been boiling with rage when I saw that his family was well-off. But now, I go out with a BMW, vacation in a villa, things ain’t what they used to be, and I have long forgotten the pain.
* 水深火熱 idiom; deep water and scorching fire, an abyss of suffering
The only thing I’m looking for is a psychological balance. If not, how come the commoners never envy the emperor, but instead are jealous of their neighbors? And besides, I didn’t come to Japan to settle the score with him.
“I can see that you don’t like Japan. So therefore you hate Father?” Yasutomo asks.
I see him wearing a Japanese school uniform, speaking Yamato kotoba*, and eating Japanese sushi. His father has even changed his last name, so he probably won’t talk to him about that type of “white clouds thousands of miles away, people follow the flowing water and things“* nostalgia for his homeland.
* 大和語言 Yamato kotoba; words that are native to the Japanese language
* 白雲千裏萬裏，人隨流水東西; from a poem (谪仙怨) from the Tang dynasty; described how on a sunny day, with the setting sun low on the horizon, some friends are heading away in a lone boat on the river; and oh how melancholy that was! The poem goes on to describe the scene. Therefore, in context, a description of longing for one’s homeland.
“My meeting with father was outside the plan.” I simply say.
He gives up on his campaign. After all, how can twenty years worth of feelings be cultivated in a few days?
He looks at his watch and says, it’s time to go, in order to wait for you, I’ve even skipped class today.
I smile. As long as you know what you’re doing, it’s not wrong to break the rules once in a while.
“Can we still meet in the future?”
“Who knows? I’m here, can’t run away.”
Yasutomo lifts his bag, stands up, and when he reaches the doorway, he abruptly turns, and says:
Actually, you’re a good person.
I hate that type of grudging evaluation, but I’ve heard it more than once.
Xiao has said it before, that you’re a very good person.
And who again, said I was no good?
He gave a cute smile, and asked: Do you know how far away forever is?
“I don’t know,” I was distracted, waved my hand, “I’m busy, go find Ouyang to play.”
“Ouyang is annoyed that the girl he likes doesn’t like him.”
“Tell him to find another one, women who don’t like him are blind. He doesn’t need to find someone with that disability.”
“Why don’t you go and fall in love?” Xiao asked.
“Love is too complicated.” I laughed.
Xiao said, “But you at least have someone to love you, as for me, I have nothing at all.” He said it as if life really had no meaning.
Damnit, we have to turn in three designs tomorrow.
“The lucky ones are pigs, the unlucky ones are people.”*
* 幸運者做豬，不幸運者做人 from the Hong Kong movie 天若有情 (A Moment of Romance, 1990, starring Andy Lau); those who are lucky have a good life, those who are unlucky need to work hard
“You’re really such a happy pig.” Xiao laughed, his face beautiful, his smile beautiful.
“I’m a Socrates who thinks too much.”
It was already so painful for people to survive in this world, always so hard to perfectly fit ideals with reality, and humans themselves were also creatures more difficult to serve than God. Therefore, it was necessary, to laugh.
“You and Ouyang and the guitar, that’s the life I want to live!”
I put down the work in my hands, looked at him.
If his parents had heard what he’d said today, he would never be able to show up in this school again. A school where two bad students influenced their son, was a school that could no longer be studied at.
Xiao looked indescribably weird; in the past, whenever he had some strange thoughts, yes, that sort of feeling. The sunset shot in through the window, dyed everything red, Xiao just stood there among all that red, and smiled at me.
I would remember that scene for the rest of my life.
You know what? I said, “Over the past half an year, you’ve been a little different from before. You’ve been thinking about things without a head, without a tail*, depressed, restless. I’ve known you for almost two years, and you’ve never been like today, not even complaining about anything!”
* 莫名其妙 idiom; unable to make head or tail of it, unfathomable mystery
Is that so? He said, This is me complaining.
I said, Xiao, you’re not normal today. You’re hiding something from us, aren’t you?
Yeah. He innocently laughed, I never lie, it’s only that I can’t tell you guys. You guys will spoil it.
Is that so? I looked back at the computer again, you always have your own way of phrasing things.
Xiao stood silent behind me for a long time, gazing at me. But I was so focused on my computer, I didn’t even know when he’d left.
Everything has a warning before it happens, only that…it’s often ignored.
I went to bed at six in the morning, having been busy rushing the designs until dawn. I don’t know how long after, but the phone suddenly started ringing, screaming, as if it was trying to tear me apart.
“Who is it?” I asked, my voice loud.
Ouyang’s voice, his tone strange, reached my ears through the handset, and it took nearly a century’s worth of time for my brain to piece together the meaning of the words.
He said: Xiao committed suicide.