Article by Rose English
Li Yi Bai began to make regular visits to our temple home and our friendship deepened. We often ate at restaurants in town, took meals in the company of his students, and during the Autumn Festival he introduced us to his parents and brothers at his family home in the mountains. We went everywhere together on his motorbike; Lili on the tank, Sebastian on the back, me in the middle, my knees pressed against his thighs, my hands on his waist. His scent became as familiar as the sound of his laugh and his gaze, which seemed to fall upon me frequently.
A part of me was reawakening; a longing reentered my life. Sebastian and I had been all but celibate for many years. Our physical relationship was a desert. I began to yearn for Li Yi Bai’s company. The touch of his hand radiated through me, his eyes penetrated me, when we talked I seemed to expand. I had been with Sebastian for 13 years and had never once touched another man.
Sebastian was oblivious to the attraction Li Yi Bai and I had for each other; his own sexuality had retracted so far he’d become blind.
Each time Li Yi Bai and I met I felt his spirit driving deeper until he was present even in my dreams. One morning when I was walking across the school playground after my early tai ji session with Master Zhou, he appeared at my side.
“My students tell me Master Zhou is pleased with your progress,” he said, brushing against me playfully.
“On the contrary, I’m a bad student. I don’t empty my mind, I think about other things,” I said.
“I believe you have interesting thoughts,” he said, brushing against me again.
I was on my way to the internet cafe to send an article. “The internet cafe is so noisy, would you allow me to use your computer for an hour or so perhaps?” I enquired.
“Would now be a good time for you?” he said at once.
“Now would be perfect,” I replied.
I went with him to his rooms on the third floor of the teachers accommodation block. Potted plants lined the balcony outside his apartment. His wife and their 17 year old son were out, his daughter was at university. We sat on metal stools; the floor was concrete. There were photographs of elderly people stuck on the wall above his computer. My heart was pounding. He went to make some tea. The apartment had a small kitchen, two bedrooms and the front room with the computer and a television. The sound of students chanting their lessons drifted through a broken window pane. We sipped our tea and he told me how he enjoyed taking portraits of farmers.
“I drive into the mountains and photograph them in their homes,” he said.
It was the first time we’d been alone together. A phrase formed in my mind, repeated and pressed against my tongue until the words tumbled out, “I need to tell you something,” I heard my voice but it seemed as if someone else were speaking.
“Tell me anything,” he replied, his smile warm and encouraging.
My heart raced and I could feel a pulse in my ear. “Something is happening to me, I seem to be falling in love with you,” I said. There, the words had left my lips and were spoken. He waited until I looked up and met his eyes before replying. “It is the same for me,” he said as he reached forward and took my hands. I was hot, I was cold, my mouth was dry. I slipped one hand from his and sipped some tea. When I put the cup down he took up my hand at once, stood up, locked the front door and led me to the bedroom.
We consumed each other immediately without lying down. Afterwards he made me a pot of fresh tea and left the apartment to give a class. I sat at his computer, detached from myself yet strangely unified. I copied out my piece, emailed it and left the apartment. I walked back across the playground, out of the school gates and onto the main street. Love had never felt so heated; desire had ripped through us both. I observed the townspeople as I passed and realised that I now felt connected to them, they were suddenly accessible, I’d made love to one of them, I’d entered the group, I’d breathed their breath and tasted the taste of them. I was no longer an outsider, I was one of them.