Article by Rose English
It was four days before I saw Li Yi Bai again. My initial elation gradually drained to disappointment when after two days I’d neither seen nor received a single message from him. The morning I’d returned from his apartment I’d written a poem for him; I carried it round like a talisman. By the afternoon of the fourth day I felt slighted and alarmed. I had to see him. Sebastian was due to give a lesson at school after lunch; I asked him to find Li Yi Bai and tell him that I needed to speak to him about the article I’d sent from his computer. Sebastian, as far as I could see, suspected nothing.
When Sebastian returned to the temple he said Li Yi Bai would be waiting for me on the waterfall road near the school gates at 5:30pm. I went to the meeting place. He was there on his motorbike and I climbed on behind him. We drove up the narrow lane, past the waterfall and into the hills to the pool where the children swam. The pool was deserted now. We clambered over the smooth rocks and sat looking down into the water. He was quiet and relaxed.
“I expected to hear from you or see you, waiting has been painful.” I said.
“I wanted to visit but I was afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Afraid to make trouble.”
“Trouble for who my friend?” I said with a feeling of rising irritation.
“Trouble for everyone…”
“In my culture if you make love to a woman and then don’t contact her for four days it would be considered rude.”
“Of course I wanted,” he said quickly. Had any eye or lip ever been formed with more seductive power, I mused?
“Are you a rake Li Yi Bai?” The words lifted in the air and landed squarely between us. Hopelessly possessed I chose to ignore my instinct.
“What is a rake? I do not understand your meaning”
“A rake is a man who loves women like a bee loves flowers.” He appeared startled and somewhat injured by the suggestion.
“Even if I wanted to be this kind of man,” he said slowly, “ I have no opportunity to behave in such a fashion in our Chinese town in our Chinese society.”
“You told me your wife is always accusing you of sleeping with other women, you said she beat you with her fists and chased you up the street shouting about the restaurant lady not long ago!”
“My wife is a suspicious woman; her nature is my deep burden and sadness,” he replied. His voice caressed, his black eyes bored into me. Within a couple of days of arriving in town the very first time I’d met his wife she’d been unfriendly to the point of hostility. It suited me to believe him.
“I am not a possessive person but in any society a man needs to make contact quickly with a woman after he’s made love to her or she will consider him a rake!” I flared.
“How beautiful your anger is,” he said quietly, “ I wanted to come,” he continued, “how can you imagine I did not, of course I want to be with you, every minute I want to be with you!”
I withdrew the folded poem from my camisole top and handed it to him. He read it to himself and he read it out loud. “If only we had met when we were young,” he said.
I looked at him closely, regarded his handsome face framed by a jaunty sweep of black forelock and my anger dissipated. We smiled at each other tenderly. He removed his jacket, placed it over our hands and beneath it our fingers entwined safely concealed from any hidden eyes.
We struck a plan to meet the following Saturday in Xi’an. To avoid suspicion, I would take the bus out of town early on Friday and he would follow after school ended at lunchtime on Saturday. I told Sebastian and Lili that I was going to the Xi’an library to do some research on Chinese society. My lies, like my thoughts, were playful and inventive. Checking into Xiangzimen hostel, I took the grand maisonette suite, the one that used to have a sitting room and an upstairs mezzanine with a huge bed.
I waited for Li Yi Bai on Saturday evening beneath the Bell Tower in the archway leading to the Muslim Quarter. He materialised suddenly from the crowd and for a moment we stood before each other blinking in disbelief. He said he was certain no one from our town could possibly be in Xi’an so it was perfectly safe for me to take his arm. We stepped out together from the arches. I felt like a panther strolling through a night club; pedestrians parted and eyes widened at the spectacle of our mixed race, middle-aged union. One man was so mesmerised he walked straight into a lamp post. We laughed, we felt invincible, we were full of joy.
With his free arm folded, holding my hand tightly and with my arm tucked though his we walked here and there as we pleased. We stopped at a restaurant for dinner then continued on to the fountain in City Square. We rented roller skates and joined the throng circling the fountain. He’d never skated before and stood on rigid legs, allowing himself to be towed along by me. After a few circuits he began experimenting with his own movements and suddenly his legs whirled in the air he and landed with a thump on his back. Every woman will notice how a man responds to pain and, when I discovered no trace of self-pity in his reaction, I wanted him even more. When he was able to breathe again I helped him onto the edge of the fountain where he sat, smiling and smoking his cigarettes watching me as I circled, linked hand to hand within a chain of reckless skaters spinning ever faster round the fountain. It was nearly midnight when we returned to our Xiangzimen suite.