Friday, November 13, 2015

Till Death Do Us Part - ch3

Translator: ayszhang
Proofreaders: coolostyne, happyBuddha, m@o, Marcia, ying


Apparently, Shen Liangsheng had been joking when he had told Ch’in Ching to introduce his full name next time. The night after the show, he asked Secretary Chou to search through the staff records at Sheng Kung. Chou did not disappoint either, delivering the information he had obtained to his boss’s desk by the next afternoon. Not only did it include Ch’in Ching’s name, age and class schedule, it also contained his family background, education and past social interactions.
Shen Liangsheng skimmed through it. While he did want to get this man into bed, he didn’t have any plans for the long run. There was no need to delve so deeply.

His plan was to get this man, but he could not rush since it might backfire on him if he pushed too hard. Shen Liangsheng was of the opinion that, although the man did show some reluctance to befriend him at first, he did not harbour any dislike, judging from careful observation of his reactions. Hence, Shen Liangsheng had purposely left the theatre that night without notifying the man. It was not unlike casting a line into the water, a line that took two weeks to reach Sheng Kung Girls’ Secondary in hopes of catching the man after his lessons and inviting him to dinner.
Sheng Kung was situated on Yich’ing-li in the French concession while Shen Liangsheng’s office was on Bristow Road in the English concession. The two were not far from each other and were easily accessible by motor car. The lessons had not finished when he arrived, and he parked across from the gates. He rolled down the windows and lit a smoke, planning to wait for him in the car. After a cigarette, however, he changed his mind and headed into the school.
Noticing the sedan, the gatekeeper let the well-dressed gentleman in after only a brief questioning. Shen Liangsheng had Ch’in Ching’s schedule, so finding the classroom in the moderately sized school ground did not prove difficult. He stopped by the windows and peered in.
He had been wondering while puffing on the cigarette earlier how the man would look on the podium. Now that he was looking right at it, the sight was close to his imagination but also a bit off.
It was mid-September, but the Indian summer was especially noticeable, leaving the weather hot and humid. Ch’in Ching had the black-framed glasses sitting on his face as always but was dressed in Western attire. Due to the heat, it consisted of only a white collared shirt and black dress pants. His shirt was not buttoned up completely, and the sleeves were rolled up to the elbows. The tucked-in shirt accentuated his slim waist and legs. Shen Liangsheng’s gaze lingered on the figure standing on the podium with a textbook in hand, lecturing about what might have been a work in Classical Chinese. As for which piece it was, it was beyond Shen Liangsheng, for his mastery of the Chinese arts was far behind that of the English. All that was going through his mind was that, like this city of which he had been an inhabitant for four years, the man was a distinctive blend of the East and West. The ancient incantations coming from his mouth didn’t seem at odds with the imported fashion on his body.

Shen Liangsheng was not directly by the windows, but once one girl’s eyes wandered and caught sight of him, she would tap on the girl in front of her after a short moment of surprise. Like dominoes, this quickly spread through the window-side rows, and soon none of them were listening to their instructor any longer. All they would do was sneak glances out the window.
At this point, Ch’in Ching could no longer pretend not to see Shen Liangsheng. He nodded at him with a light smile and then tapped the book against the podium.
“Focus, girls,” he warned.
Unfortunate though it may be, the smile had not disappeared in time and made it sound more like a suggestion than a warning. What it did succeed in doing was to alert the rest of the students who had been paying attention to divert it out the window.
The students were not interested in the lesson, and the teacher’s mind was not entirely on it either. Ever since Shen Liangsheng left without a peep, it was as though his heart was a kite flying in the air. On the far end were his museful ideas, swaying unsteadily far from solid ground.
Although no farewells were exchanged, he had been of the opinion that Shen Liangsheng would come for him again. And thus, the kite had flown higher and higher, his spirits riding along the wind into the crisp, autumn sky.
However, after a week without any news, it occurred to him that the man could have merely said it in passing. They belonged to different classes after all. The fact that Shen Liangsheng had been enthusiastic meant little, and he most likely forgot about this matter afterwards. And thus, the wind current died down, and Ch’in Ching’s heart, drifting along weakly, threatened to take a dive.
If the person in question had happened to be a lady, Ch’in Ching would have thought this to be a wrong love at the wrong time. But instead, it was a man. Ch’in Ching could only ask himself one question: You wanted nothing to do with him at first, and now you want to be his friend this badly. What’s going on in that head of yours?

It was a pity that he had not gotten to the bottom of that question by the time he was actually faced with the man standing outside his classroom, basking in the glow of autumn. The man was still the same sparkling gem against a background of cobble, and Ch’in Ching felt that perhaps he had no need for an answer.
The minds of both the lecturer and the listeners had wandered elsewhere. Fortunately, only about ten minutes remained, and Ch’in Ching managed to finish his lesson as the dismissal chime rang.
“Don’t get too out of hand. There is a test next week so be sure to review at home. Don’t come crying to me when you flunk it.”
Ch’in Ching reminded as he tidied his materials, but the students were not listening at all. The girls quickly surrounded the podium in a frenzy.
“Mister Ch’in, Mister Ch’in, is that gentleman your friend?”
“Is he a movie star? How come I’ve never seen him in anything?”
“C’mon, tell us his name, Mister Ch’in.”
Ch’in Ching taught middle school and the girls had grown very close to him. They could get very noisy and unruly after class.
“Why don’t you ask him yourself if you want to know so badly?”
Ch’in Ching lost the facade of a schoolmaster, too, after class, and didn’t find anything wrong with taunting a girl ten years his junior.
The poor girl took another look at the man outside. Sure, he was good-looking but also a tad bit intimidating. She pursed her lips and answered honestly, “He scares me.”
“Pfft!” Ch’in Ching couldn’t stop his laughter. He tapped her head lightly with the book. “Serves you right.”

Shen Liangsheng waited patiently as Ch’in Ching joked with the students. When the latter finally escaped, he nodded a greeting.
“I was in the neighbourhood, so I dropped by to grab a meal with you.”
“Really? You were in the neighbourhood?” They had only met twice, but already he felt close to this person. Ch’in Ching jokingly asked as he led the way to the staff room, “Are you sure you didn’t come just to see me?”
“That too.”
Hearing this, Ch’in Ching peered over only to find nothing revealing on Shen Liangsheng’s face. He couldn’t work out the verity of his statement, so he continued in a casual tone, “Then it would be my honour. Since you treated me to opera last time, Master Shen, allow me to do the same for you. Though I must warn you, it won’t be much considering this awkward time of the month. I only hope it will be enough to please you.”
“Why, of course.” Shen Liangsheng didn’t refuse the offer since the exchange would naturally lead to more interaction. This wasn’t some fille de joie with whom he could do as he pleased. It would take a few more dates to bring in the home run.

Soon, they had arrived at the destination, and Ch’in Ching immediately spotted someone sitting at his desk. With a round face, small eyes and a smile resembling the grinning Maitreya Buddha in the temple, it was none other than the idler, Hsiao-Liu.
“Well, well, well. Look who’s finally done with his lessons!” Hsiao-Liu did not teach at Sheng Kung, but he came often to visit Ch’in Ching. Now he was sitting at Ch’in Ching’s desk drinking tea and reading the paper as if he were at home.
“Well, well, well. Look who the cat dragged in.” Ch’in Ching grew up with him, so he was not going to hold back. He snatched his cup back and took a sip from it. “I’d show you the way out, but I don’t have time for you today, lad.”
Shen Liangsheng had not followed him in but only stood by the door, hands clasped behind his back. When the person with whom Ch’in Ching was engaged in conversation looked over at him, he returned a polite nod seeing the face to be familiar.
“Jesus. I let my eyes off you for a few days and this is what you bring home?” Hsiao-Liu asked in a hushed voice after blinking furiously. He wasn’t told about the second encounter with Shen Liangsheng and thought he was seeing things when the businessman appeared before him.
“Quit acting so suspicious,” Ch’in Ching responded as he sorted his things. “I’ll tell you about it later. Like I said, I don’t have time today. Say hi to mom for me. I’ll go back for dinner on Sunday.”
“C’mon, mate! Why is my ma first on your list? You should be looking out for me!” Hsiao-Liu’s brows furrowed. “It’s Wang-shih’hsiung’s night, but he ate something bad yesterday, and it’s been diarrhea the whole day today. He can barely get a word out, let alone stand. We’re all countin’ on you to save the day!”
“But there’s Lee Hsiao-ch’üan.”
“No, he can’t make it. He has another show. Ch’in-hsiung, please, O Mighty One, there’s no time to waste. Say yes!”

Some things had a higher priority. Ch’in Ching knew he had to do this but felt bad towards Shen Liangsheng. He went up to him with an uneasy expression, contemplating how to proceed.
“I am truly sorry, Young Master Shen, but could I please borrow him for just one night tonight?” Hsiao-Liu knew that Ch’in Ching did not know how to start, so he walked over too, explaining. “It’s really an emergency. They say ‘saving a show is like saving a fire,’ and I’m this close to being burnt alive. There’s no other way. I’m so, so sorry.”
“Um, Mister…?”
“Liu. Liu Pao-hsiang. Just call me Hsiao-Liu, Young Master Shen.”
“Mr. Liu. There is no need for apology. I have no urgent business with Mister Ch’in anyway.” Shen Liangsheng did not seem too bothered. He continued politely, “Since saving a show is like saving a fire, please allow me to be your chauffeur.”
“Oh, no. We couldn’t. That’s too much to ask of you, sir. No.”
“Oh, but I insist, Mr. Liu.”
“Aw shucks. Call me Hsiao-Liu, please. I feel downright horrible making you say ‘mister.’”
“Please don’t. I’d like it if we both eased up on the politesse.”

The pair’s back-and-forth left Ch’in Ching hanging awkwardly on the side. Once in the car, there was no stopping Hsiao-Liu. He could only sit there listening to his friend tell the driver practically everything about themselves.
“Say, why don’t you save the talking for the stage?” Ch’in Ching interrupted at last, impatient with his friend sitting with him in the backseat.
“No way. You’re the star of the night after all.” Hsiao-Liu waved his hand dismissively as he turned his attention back to Shen Liangsheng. “You don’t know, sir, how brilliant this fellow is at crosstalk. My dad’s always been comparin’ me to him. Yet he ups and leaves the stage to be a teacher. My dad put blood, sweat and tears into training him. I can’t even begin to describe how upset he was.”

Shen Liangsheng had not carefully read the files that Chou prepared. He only vaguely recalled that Ch’in Ching’s parents had both passed away and that his father was a crosstalk comedian. Now, thanks to Hsiao-Liu’s talkative nature, he learned how both men’s fathers studied under the same master, which generation of performers they belonged to and how many other fellow pupils there were in the line of work.
Ch’in Ching was sure that Shen Liangsheng would have no interest in the topic, but hearing the man converse smoothly with Hsiao-Liu made him think differently. The man may have had a lofty appearance, but he wasn’t the persistent and pretentious rich socialite that Ch’in Ching thought he was. He was more of an experienced businessman who was clever and well-rounded, a jack of all trades.

The Lius owned a teahouse, conveniently named Liu’s Teahouse, in Nanshih. It was not a large venue but enjoyed fame in the local scene.
Shen Liangsheng brought the car to a stop at the front. Hsiao-Liu disembarked first, and Ch’in Ching was about to do the same when Shen Liangsheng turned around.
“When does the show start?”
“Eight.” Ch’in Ching added apologetically, “But I need to read through the script first. I’m terribly sorry. I promise this won’t happen again.”
“Save a spot for me. I’ll drop by later.”
It took Ch’in Ching a moment to react with a raised brow. “Please. You don’t seem like one for crosstalk.”
“What, you won’t eat with me, and now you won’t let me enjoy crosstalk?”
“Of course not,” Ch’in Ching chuckled. “Be my guest.”

Nanshih was known to be the lawless zone, filled with a mixed lot. It was a place Shen Liangsheng seldom visited. He took a look around while searching for his meal. Bright and bustling, it was busy but in a different way than the concessions.
It was close to eight o’clock when he returned to Liu’s Teahouse. Ch’in Ching was likely backstage rehearsing and Hsiao-Liu was nowhere in sight either. There was, however, a quick-witted clerk waiting by the entrance who greeted him.
“My good sir, you must be Master Shen! Come right in, please!”
Shen Liangsheng was met with a room full of noise, louder than the busy streets outside. Every table was taken. Not only were some patrons standing, some even brought their own stools. The business was simply wonderful.
The teahouse was too small to have private rooms, and Ch’in Ching thought Shen Liangsheng wouldn’t appreciate the crowd and the smoke. He reserved a table not by the stage but by the windows. The evening breeze gently whistled past the solitary Shen Liangsheng and a pot of lungt’uan jasmine. It was not top-quality tea but was especially fragrant.

The performance began at eight o’clock sharp. Hsiao-Liu and Ch’in Ching walked onto the stage together, both in long robes. One tall and one short, one fat and one skinny – their presence alone was enough to induce a few laughs.
First up was the play, Tilit’u, about a man asking for directions. Ch’in Ching had the first line.
“You dun sound like yer from ‘round here,” he recited in Tientsin Mandarin so accurately that he seemed to be a different person from the schoolmaster who spoke standard Mandarin.
“I’m from Peking,” Hsiao-Liu followed, sounding like a Peking native.
“And what brings you out here?”
“Came a-looking for someone.”
“Who’s that?”
“My brother.”

As the piece went on, it was Ch’in Ching’s turn to give directions to Hsiao-Liu. He delivered over a hundred place names with a clear and nimble tongue, with just the right intonation and pauses, attracting a thunderous round of applause.
Despite the cheers and whistles from the audience, Ch’in Ching knew he was nervous. It wasn’t for fear of making a mistake – he had learnt this piece since he was a boy and memorized it far too many times to make any major errors – but because Shen Liangsheng was sitting amongst them. He felt nervous for no reason whenever his eyes wandered in his direction.
But then, Ch’in Ching saw him smile.
The man sat alone by the window with a hand propping his head and the other holding the tea cup to his lips. His lashes fluttering and his lips dancing upward, he drank the jasmine tea that Ch’in Ching had picked for him.
It was no more than an instant, but Ch’in Ching could have sworn he smelt the faint aroma of jasmine. He immediately felt peaceful, no longer on edge. All the praise in the teahouse couldn’t compare to that soft smile about the man’s lips.

Afterwards, Ch’in Ching performed a lengthy monologue. He skillfully planted the foreshadowing and executed the jokes, entertaining everybody in the house.
Shen Liangsheng did not smile again, but his eyes seemed to twinkle with amusement. He simply listened – not applauding and not cheering – just listened while sipping tea that had begun to cool.
Ch’in Ching occasionally shot glances at him before looking away, treating him like any other patron. Curiously enough, he had the most ridiculous notion that the room was filled with dummies, like the mannequins in department stores. The only person who was real and alive was that man by the window, and the piece that he was performing was solely for the ears of that man.
He even thought, for a split second, that as long as that man was keen to listen on, he was more than willing to continue telling him stories – one after another, each one as delightful as the next.

It was well past ten when the show came to an end. Ch’in Ching had lessons the next day so Shen Liangsheng drove him home.
Ch’in Ching did not live far from the teahouse. It took but two minutes by car. The engine had not even warmed by the time they arrived, and the two did not share many words during the ride.
They stopped on the road, the car unable to fit into the hut’ong that made up the old part of town. Ch’in Ching told Shen Liangsheng to stay in the car, but the latter still got out. The two walked shoulder to shoulder into the alley.

There were no streetlights in this tiny alley.
It was autumn, after all. No matter how hot it was during the day, the evening was still chilly. Ch’in Ching only wore a dress shirt and could not help rubbing his arms.
“It’s fine. We’re almost there anyways.”
The next thing he knew, he was in Shen Liangsheng’s arms, though not like a lady. His arm was simply wrapped around his shoulder.
If he had to say, it wasn’t over the line – when Ch’in Ching was in school he had even slept in the same bed with his good friend during the coldest nights, let alone an arm around the neck – but he still struggled a little.
“What? You don’t expect me to give you my jacket, do you?” Shen Liangsheng teased as he pulled the other man closer. “I’d be more than willing if it were a mademoiselle. But you? No thanks.”
“Wow, Master Shen. I didn’t take you to be the superficial type.”
Ch’in returned the banter after coming to the conclusion that there was nothing to feel uncomfortable about.

Ch’in Ching still resided in the house that his parents left behind, a single unit near the end of the hut’ong. They trod along rather slowly. It was not a long walk, but it was too dark to see the path beneath.
Shen Liangsheng held the other man, feeling his warmth. Although his shoulders were bony, they were the shoulders of a man, without the weak, feminine dependency.
Yet, somehow, this man succeeded in arousing his desires. He had originally planned at least several more dates before getting down to business, but now he found that he couldn’t wait that long. He even had the urge to pin the man against the wall this very instant, strip his pants off in this dark alley and fuck him from behind until he cried and begged for mercy.
“What’s wrong?” Ch’in Ching inquired after he felt Shen Liangsheng’s grip tighten. He glanced over and saw nothing due to the shadowy surroundings.
“Nothing. Stepped on something is all.”
“Oh. I’ll grab a flashlight for you on the way out.”
“It’s fine.”
I’ll let him off this time. But only this time.
  While he told Ch’in Ching white lies, he began to contemplate how to get him to surrender without a fight next time.

Shen Liangsheng let go of Ch’in Ching when they finally made it to the gate and passed a paper bag he had been holding in his left hand. “I wasn’t sure if you had time for dinner, so I brought you some snacks. Remember to heat them up.”
“Oh.” Not having noticed the bag, Ch’in Ching faltered before taking it.
“And you have yet to tell me your name.”
“Hm?” When Ch’in Ching realized what he was referring to, he retorted, “Don’t tell me you don’t know already.”
“That may be, but it doesn’t count until I hear it from you.”
“Ch’in Ching. Ching as in chü ching hsing chien.”
“You could have simply said ching as in kung ching.” Shen Liangsheng wouldn’t have known which proverb he was talking about or what kind of story was behind it if he had not researched beforehand.
“I believe you are in need of some schooling, Master Shen,” Ch’in Ching taunted before asking needlessly, “What about your name?”
Liang as in liang shui. Sheng as in ch’u sheng.”
A bowl of cold water, born at the wrong time. What an auspicious name.”
“Hey. Watch it.”

The two chatted on for some time by the entrance until it finally came time for goodbye. Ch’in Ching unlocked the gate only after seeing Shen Liangsheng disappear into the darkness. He pushed the gate open and shut it behind himself.
There was only the weak creak of the rusty gate, yet Ch’in Ching was sure he could hear the footsteps receding into the distance. First, he realized that he had forgotten to find a flashlight for him and then, that he had forgotten to tell him to drive safely.
He held the paper bag against his chest. The contents inside had already cooled, but his chest felt warm.

This man was by all means good to him and treated him as an equal. As this thought surfaced, his heart felt a rush of heat. The cozy warmth relaxed his mind so much so that he felt like a lotus floating idly in a lake being slowly swept by the breeze.
As he swayed along with the currents, a thought suddenly made its way into his head.
This man was so good to him that it seemed suggestive.
He hurriedly pushed it back as though avoiding something. Hence, the second half did not make it into this world.
This man was so good to him that it seemed suggestive, and he clearly didn’t mind.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _

Chinese interpretation of the Maitreya Buddha, usually the image of a round-faced, round-bellied, cheery man.

A traditional "single unit" housing in a hutong neighbourhood in Beijing. Instead of a complex of several buildings, these only had one building.

Traditional way of greeting.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
Links for more information:
Nanshih (wiki in Chinese)
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
ayszhang says: Happy birthday to me :D My last year as a teenager... but also the second year as a part of this blog! I'm so grateful for all the awesome people on this site, both the group and the readers. Looking forward another great year with you all <3

Previous chapter
Creative Commons Licence
Till Death Do Us Part - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

No comments:

Post a Comment