I personaggi si dispongono lungo diverse traiettorie e si incrociano tra loro nella città che non si muove, ma aspetta che le persone nei diversi luoghi partano per andare, apparentemente, insieme.
Cosa è la solitudine ? Una dimensione mentale o una condizione fisica?
Queste persone parlano vivendo entrambe le dimensioni della solitudine, sia il corpo che si isola e poi anche la mente che si nega, quello che li unisce sono i dialoghi del silenzio, le pause che stanno in mezzo che danno il respiro e danno la motivazione del dubbio, di quello che stanno veramente vivendo è perchè lo vogliono o se lo sono imposto?
“But . . . .”
“OK then, I’ll delay things with the owner, and you can think about it for a few days, OK?”
It was probably not something that could be fixed in a few days, but she was unable to admit to this. Mr. Ye was a conscientious intermediary, but now his diligence made her feel trapped and annoyed. If things went well, then it would be the next day. But if things were slower, then it needed several months, and she did not know how long. But when she saw the happy couple raising their heads to peer over at her and she caught their look, she immediately changed her mind and said, “OK, I’ll think about it for a while.”
She hesitated. Basically, which one?
When she reached the cake shop, she stood bemused in front of all the cakes so beautifully decorated, uncertain which one was right. Was black forest gateau wrong? What about chiffon? Or cheesecake? Maybe tiramisu?
But who could decide who was right and who was not? In life, lots of things had no reason, and she had never been given any choice. From the fridge in the kitchen inside, the shop assistant brought out a cake that was already wrapped up. It had always been this flavor and this size, and they always had the same surprise party. It was just a formality, and nobody cared about it.
Soon it would be two o’clock. By now, the office must have noticed that she had gone out and not come back. The party was arranged for four o’clock, but she still could not face going back. In a spirit of rebelliousness, she carried the cake and strolled along the road.
She had tried several times to call the helpline, but it was always busy. She reckoned she must have remembered the number wrongly. But she did not want to go back to the office just yet, so she walked into the toy section of a nearby department store and chose the Dora doll that Xin-xin had always wanted. It was almost two thousand dollars, the amount the three of them spent on food over three days.
When she reached the nursery, the children were playing a game, and several chairs in the classroom were arranged in a circle. The children were singing along to some music while they walked around the chairs holding the shoulder of the person in front. The song was lively and cute, and they were singing happily, unable to predict when the music would stop. They were just singing.
She saw her daughter in their midst. But focused as she was on the game, Xin-xin didn’t see her. She was truly moved by this scene. This nursery was the only place her daughter could make friends. She was just five. How could she leave her all day with her grandma, to do the grocery shopping and watch television?
The game was still continuing. Several times the music suddenly stopped, and then one child who did not get a seat had to leave the group. The circle became smaller and smaller, but Xin-xin was still in the game. She was always good at sports, and even when there were just three chairs left, her movements continued to be agile.
Just as she was pondering over this, the teacher blew a whistle and the music stopped. Xin-xin ran to a chair and was about to sit down, but another child pushed her away and grabbed the seat, causing her to lose her balance and fall down on the soft mats. Then she knelt down in the middle of the classroom in front of everyone.
The teacher rushed forward and helped Xin-xin up, and another teacher came over to her mother and explained, “When the children are playing, you can’t avoid a bit of pushing and shoving. But the covering on the floor is soft, so they don’t get hurt. There’s no need for you mothers to worry.”
The game continued, and the sound of joy rose up. Just three children were left in the circle, none of whom she recognized. Only two chairs remained, and she suddenly felt that this game was actually rather cruel.
The teacher tried to lead Xin-xin over, but she pushed the teacher’s hand away and angrily demanded, “Teacher, he pushed me. How come he can continue in the game?”
The teacher consoled her, saying, “Because you didn’t sit down on the chair.”
When her mother went over and took her hand, Xin-xin looked a bit surprised, but that did not stop her turning round and glaring at the teacher. Her mother also thought that the teacher had not been fair. But anyway, it was just a game. She tried to lead her daughter away, but Xin-xin truculuantly sat on the floor and would not move. She rarely behaved like this, and even when she saw some toy that she really wanted, she was not usually that stroppy. When her mother tried to take her hand, she looked back stubbornly, her cheeks puffed up in anger.
“What’s the matter? Aren’t you happy your mum has come to see you?”
“It’s not fair!”
“It’s just a game.”
Xin-xin raised her head to look at her, and with a questioning look, she said, “Ma, aren’t you always saying we must look after ourselves, and we should never let anyone push us around?”
Suddenly there was nothing she could say. Xin-xin picked herself up and went over to the circle. The music continued as she stood in front of the boy who had just pushed her over. The whole circle froze and everyone looked at her.
“Say you’re sorry.”
“Say you’re sorry.”
The happy music continued, but nobody was laughing any more. All the children were looking at the two of them. The teacher went over to get the boy to apologize, and in the end he lowered his head and said, “Sorry.”
The game was over. She led Xin-xin out into the playground of the nursery. They sat down to have something to drink, and she took the opportunity to hand over the doll she had just bought.
“Wah! A Dora doll! Didn’t you say we couldn’t afford it?”
“Never mind. Don’t you like it, Xin-xin?”
“Then you must be good. This evening, Mummy will come and collect you, and we’ll go out for something good to eat.”
She looked at her watch. It was ten past three.
“OK. I need to go back to work. Please don’t fight with the other children.”
Xin-xin nodded her head. “I wasn’t fighting with them. I just thought I didn’t do anything wrong.”
I didn’t do anything wrong! That’s exactly what she herself wanted to shout out.
She needed to do everything really carefully to ensure nobody found out.
In a taxi, she brought back home three rather heavy cardboard boxes. Although her mother should be at home, she couldn’t ask her to help. When she got them in, at first she left them by the door, while she planned how to move them one by one to the rooftop.
Xin-xin was about to finish at school, so she had to act quickly.
The setting sun was already too low to shine onto the stairs, so she turned on the lights. When she lifted the boxes, she wedged them against her stomach, and then one by one she carried them up to the rooftop on the fifth floor. Worried about making a noise, she moved slowly and carefully, like a snail, letting her sweat soak through her clothes. While she was doing this moving, one of her neighbors came out, and seeing how hard it was for her to lift the things, asked if she needed any help.
“There’s no need. It’s just a few household things I don’t need.”
“Oh! So you’re taking them up to the rooftop?”
“Hmm. I’ll put them there for the time being. In a couple of days, I’ll get the junk collector to take them away.”
“It’s going to rain tomorrow. Don’t let them get wet.”
“I know. Thanks.”
The neighbor went down, leaving her to deal with the heavy cardboard boxes on her own. After more than half an hour, she finally finished moving them all. The sky was already completely overcast. Her whole body was aching by the time she came downstairs and reached the door to her apartment. She wanted to go in, have a shower, and change into clean clothes, but remembering that her mother was at home, she held back.
Standing outside the door of the apartment, she called, telling her mother she would take Xin-xin out for a meal that evening so they wouldn’t be back for dinner. Not caring about the smell from the sweat covering her body, she caught a bus. When she got off the bus, on the way to the nursery, she called the lifeline once more. It seemed she was unable to accept things like that and just give up. This time, unexpectedly she got through. She heard the welcome ringing sound, once, twice, but then in her shock she cut it off.
Wouldn’t it be better if the line were always busy? That way, she could call again later, and maybe the next day as well. Or perhaps just today, her final day at work. It seemed like she preferred waiting for an answer but actually not getting one.
Her daughter was already waiting for her by the entrance to the nursery, and a teacher was with her.
“Sorry I’m late. I was held up at work.”
“It doesn’t matter. She was alone, so I stayed with her. I’ll go now.”
Xin-xin was holding the Dora doll tightly in her hand. Her mother asked her what she wanted to eat. She said anything would be fine. The two of them took a taxi to a department store. This was the third time she had taken a taxi that day, and she regretted that, but never mind, it was only for that day.
They walked into a western-style restaurant offering a buffet, the kind of place her daughter had never been to before. There was a whole spread of food on the table, including sumptuous vegetables and countless ice-creams and deserts, and next to it was a structure with a constant stream of chocolate emerging from the top, a sight that made Xin-xin gasp in delight.
“Mum, can we eat all these things?”
“Yes, as much as you want.”
Xin-xin happily walked to and fro in front of the food, gazing at the steaks here and deserts there. In the past she would have stopped Xin-xin eating too much junk food, but today was different.
“Is today Mummy’s birthday? Or . . . is it Children’s Day? Hmm . . . maybe Christmas?”
“None of those.”
“Mummy, why aren’t you eating?”
Of course, she knew that this was a buffet and that she was paying for two people even if she did not eat. What’s more, she had not eaten such splendid food for so many years. But she simply had no appetite.
She forced herself to go and get a cup of coffee, waiting for Xin-xin to try as much food as she wanted.
“Are you already full?”
“Was it good?”
“Delicious. It’s a pity grandma couldn’t come.”
She laughed but did not answer. She did not know how to make it up to her mother. But if her mother had come this time, then she would have found out about everything.
Had anyone in the office noticed her absence?
When she reached her office building, still carrying the cake, she turned round and left, as she had thought of one place where she wouldn’t be rejected.
The idea had suddenly come to her: in this world there was only one person who had never turned away from her – her ex-boyfriend. When they were together, no matter how silly the demand she made of him, he would always do it. In front of him, she had total authority, and it seemed there was nothing he would say no to. After three years together, she felt he was just too weak, never willing to say no to a woman, even though the person she was talking about was herself. Many times she felt it was not real love, as he was simply her slave. Especially when, as soon as he heard that she was pregnant, he suggested that, following the instruction of his mother, they should get married. She wanted to test his limits, just one time to see him get angry and shout at her, or look sad and cry out bitterly, or merely to show some bitterness and sigh with a groan, like the way she felt now. She just hoped he might express the usual range of emotions of a normal human being. But when she showed him her six month pregnant belly and deliberately provoked him by suggesting they should separate, after a slight suggestion of annoyance, he thought for a moment, then nodded and said, “Okay. I respect your decision.”
She had no way out. Her partner collected his clothes and other things and left as if nothing had happened. It seemed like everything he had agreed to do was just out of obedience to her.
Five years. So many times she had woken up during the night, lonely and hopeless, wanting to telephone him. Maybe he would be willing to come and be with her, or at least listen to her. But she never did it, and she was worried that if he agreed, she would once again come to despise him.
But now it was herself she did not respect.
It was simply impossible for her to accept anything bad that happened to her, and as soon as something bad did occur, she would lean against her partner’s chest so as not to be rejected. She wished someone would reassure her, “It’ll all be fine.”
The alternatives were to despise herself or to have nowhere to turn. She selected the first option.
Still clutching the cake, she caught a taxi. Seeing as she had decided to go ahead with it, she did not worry about saving money by taking a 15-NT dollar bus journey. She gave the address of his office, as she guessed he would still be working in the same place. She sat in the visitors’ room. The receptionist asked what her purpose was, and she pointed to the cake and said the person had done her a favor and she was bringing a token of appreciation in the hope of directly expressing her gratitude.
Her emotions were turbulent. Had he changed after all those years? Did he still miss her? Was he now married?
Translated by David and Ellen DETERDING 戴德巍、陳艷玲