Couple of Mirrors – Chapter 21: There Was Only One Bed
Xu Youyi opens the door to the bedroom, and is surprised to see it looking so neat and tidy that it’s practically sparkling.
‘What is it?’ asks Yan Wei, coming up to her.
Xu Youyi responds by running over and throwing her arms around Yan Wei. ‘Yan Wei, why are you so good to me…’ she murmurs.
Yan Wei’s heart begins thumping loudly. She pushes Xu Youyi away.
‘I’m going to the bathroom,’ she announces, and runs off, leaving a mystified Xu Youyi behind.
In the bathroom, Yan Wei splashes water on her face.
She stares at herself in the mirror. Why does that keep happening? she wonders. Do I have some strange illness? Has someone poisoned me?
In the bedroom, Xu Youyi spies a book next to the bed. It’s Stray Birds, a collection of poems by Rabindranath Tagore. She picks it up and begins leafing through it. Did she leave this book of poetry here because she thought I get be bored? She looks so cold, but she’s actually very considerate.
Yan Wei comes in, wearing a bathrobe and a discombobulated expression. Xu Youyi looks up. ‘Are you all right?’
Yan Wei gets into bed next to her.
‘I’m tired, I’m going to sleep,’ she announces, and pulls the covers right over her head.
Xu Youyi stares at her. She’s so odd… Then she reaches over and switches off the light. If I keep the light on, that might stop her from falling asleep.
In the gloom, Xu Youyi reflects on the events of the day. Now that I’ve severed all my ties with the Zhou family, a storm is going to come tomorrow. Will I still be able to carry on writing? And who was it who murdered Zhang Wan and Chu Huizi?
‘Yan Wei, are you asleep?’ she asks.
Yan Wei, huddling under the covers, can hear her own heart thumping loudly. Should I say ‘yes, I’m asleep’, or ‘no, I’m not asleep’?
Xu Youyi looks over at her. ‘It looks like you’re asleep,’ she sighs.
‘Yes,’ says Yan Wei from under the covers, much to Xu Youyi’s puzzlement.
Xu Youyi reaches over and gives Yan Wei a gentle pat. ‘If you’re not asleep, could you chat with me for a while?’ she asks. ‘My thoughts keep running wild the moment I close my eyes. Besides,’ she adds. ‘Sleeping like that isn’t good for you.’
A moment later, Yan Wei emerges from under the covers.
‘What would you like to talk about?’ she asks Xu Youyi.
‘Ever since I met you, I’ve told you a lot about myself,’ says Xu Youyi. ‘Why don’t you tell me something about yourself this time? Last time, you told me you were an orphan. How did you grow up? And how did you end up running a photography studio?’
Yan Wei is silent for a moment. Do you really want to hear about my childhood? She closes her eyes. All the bloodshed and cruelty, is that really something you could bear to hear about?
She flashes back to her childhood, to a memory of a soldier cracking a whip at her, leaving her hand wounded and bloody. ‘Faster, go faster!’ he shouts, in her memory. ‘If you show the enemy any mercy, that’s only going to cost you your life! A professional assassin doesn’t feel pain, and doesn’t shed tears!’
Finally, she says, ‘I was part of an acrobatic troupe when I was a child. We performed in all sorts of places in order to earn a living.’
‘No wonder you’re so athletic,’ says Xu Youyi. ‘You must have had such a hard time…’
‘That’s all in the past,’ says Yan Wei. ‘After that, I escaped, and became a photographer’s apprentice…’
‘Give me your hand!’ says Xu Youyi suddenly.
‘What for?’ asks Yan Wei.
‘Give!’ says Xu Youyi again. Impatiently, she reaches under the covers and draws out Yan Wei’s hand. There’s a scar across the palm.
‘I noticed this scar some time ago,’ she says. ‘That must have been from when you were a child.’
‘When I was a child,’ she goes on. ‘My mother told me that if someone had a scar, it would be healed if someone who loved them blew on it.’
She blows delicately on Yan Wei’s scar.
Yan Wei stares at her, transfixed. Someone who loves me…
As they drift off into slumber, Xu Youyi asks, ‘Yan Wei, can I hold your hand while I sleep?’
‘Yes,’ says Yan Wei.
A little later, Xu Youyi asks, ‘Yan Wei, can you recite some of Tagore’s poetry to me?’
Yan Wei obliges. ‘The world puts off its mask of vastness to its lover… Her wistful face haunts my dreams like the rain at night… I cannot choose the best. The best chooses me… Once we dreamt that we were strangers. We wake up to find that we were dear to each other…’
It’s the next morning, and newsboys are hawking papers with sensational headlines from yesterday’s press conference. ‘Extra! Extra! Xu Youyi officially announces divorce!’ they shout. ‘Extra! Extra! Xu Youyi officially announces divorce!’
Xu Youyi wakes up to find Yan Wei’s side of the bed empty. Hm? Where’s Yan Wei?
She washes and brushes her teeth, and heads downstairs to find Yan Wei placing plates of food on the dining table. ‘You’re up early,’ she says. ‘You’ve even made breakfast!’
‘Mm,’ says Yan Wei. ‘Come and eat.’
‘Why do you have those dark circles under your eyes?’ asks Xu Youyi anxiously. ‘Didn’t you sleep well?’
‘It was too noisy last night,’ Yan Wei replies.
‘Really?’ says Xu Youyi. ‘But I never snore…’
‘It wasn’t you,’ says Yan Wei. She points at her chest. ‘It was my heartbeat. I think I might be ill,’ she adds, flashing back to her ordeal last night.
‘So you’re saying your heart beats very quickly?’ asks Xu Youyi. ‘Is it always like this?’
‘No,’ says Yan Wei. ‘Only when I see or think about a particular person.’
Xu Youyi smiles at her. ‘Do you have someone in your heart?’
‘Someone in my heart?’ asks Yan Wei, startled.
‘Someone you like,’ Xu Youyi clarifies. ‘Are you in love? Who is he?’
‘She…’ Yan Wei begins, and then they’re interrupted by a cry from outside. ‘Extra! Extra! All the major bookstores are removing Xu Youyi’s books from their shelves!’
Xu Youyi stands up. ‘Yan Wei, why don’t you finish eating,’ she says. ‘I’m going to speak to my publisher.’
‘But…’ Yan Wei begins.
‘It’s all right,’ says Xu Youyi. ‘Whatever will come, will come. Even if I need to start all over again, I have to take the first step.’
‘Then I’ll come with you,’ says Yan Wei.
Please view the original manhua here.
- Yan Wei quotes, respectively, poems 3, 8, 20 and 9 of Tagore’s Stray Birds collection. Translations into English are Tagore’s own.