Proofreaders: happyBuddha, m@o, Marcia, ying
Till Death Do Us Part ch 5!
Hearing no response, the girl tried again.
Three days had passed since that night, and the two did not make any contact. Ch’in Ching went on with his daily routine – eating, sleeping and teaching – but from time to time, that man would pervade his thoughts. For instance, the chime had just struck and his mind wandered again as he tidied his materials. He thought back to a day not long ago, the same day of the week, the same class. He had reached the last section of Former Red Cliff Rhapsody when he saw the man outside his window…
“Sir… There’s something I wanted to ask you.” Ch’in Ching turned his attention back to the girl slouching against the podium with a paper in hand. She continued hesitantly, “You didn’t write this comment, did you?”
“Which?” Ch’in Ching had gone home and straight to sleep that night with a disconcerted mind. The lesson was first thing the following day, and he handed back the papers that Shen Liangsheng had graded without checking them over. It was only a quiz that would not be counted towards the final grade, so he thought it wouldn’t matter even if it was wrong.
“This one here.”
The girl raised the paper up to eye level. Ch’in Ching was quite amused when he had read its contents. It turned out that the girl had not paid attention in class and did not know the answer to three-quarters of the questions. Feeling embarrassed of herself, she tried to appeal with a comment at the end of the examination:
“I’m sorry, Mister Ch’in. I promise I will listen to your lectures and review properly. This will never happen again.”
Shen Liangsheng’s feedback was interesting as well, responding to her message in English:
The words were short and to the point, and the cursive letters flowed neatly like their author.
“Why? Do you think this is a false accusation?” Ch’in Ching could not say that he was not the one who marked it, so he chose not to answer the original question.
“I just knew it wasn’t you.” The girl had no fear of her teacher, even dropping honorifics. She giggled, “If it were you, you’d probably say something like ‘The sun and moon passes by; time doth not wait for us.’ You wouldn’t write English.”
“Congratulations on your brilliant observation. Since you understand that, you should put more effort into your study and stop fooling around.”
“You’re changing the subject, sir.” The girl had not given up on her original quest for gossip. “Who wrote this? Was it a friend?”
As expected, she received nothing but silence from her teacher.
“Was it the one who came to the school looking for you last time? The really handsome one?”
“Why are you asking me this?”
“Then it’s true!” The girl slapped the table with glee. “I had better keep this safe so my children can have it as heirloom!”
A kid was going to be a kid. Ch’in Ching shook his head with a smirk while she skipped back to her desk and packed her things. He stepped out of the classroom with his documents under his arm and into the dazzling autumn sun. This time, however, there was no one waiting for him. He didn’t want to admit, nor think about, the sudden disappointment that he felt. Instead, he fled to the staff room.
Some chit-chat with his colleagues seemed to help him get a hold on himself. When he had just strolled out the school gate, however, he stopped dead in his tracks and backed away. He recognized the car parked across the road. He knew the man behind the wheel, too.
He had just been absentmindedly thinking of this man, but when said man actually showed up, he could only think of escaping. He turned tail and fled through the back entrance. As he walked he asked himself, if he has those intentions and you want none of it, then you should tell him exactly that and never see each other again. Why the heck are you hiding?
Ch’in Ching thought, because he had only appeared for a second and the students had just been dismissed, that Shen Liangsheng couldn’t have possibly spotted him in the crowd from his car. The truth, however, was the exact opposite.
Shen Liangsheng had been smoking in the car. His eyes were half-lidded from the fumes, hiding his emotions. He chose not to go in looking for Ch’in Ching to give the teacher some room, and to observe his reaction to seeing him.
That Ch’in Ching would take the back door did not catch Shen Liangsheng off guard, but he did not chase after him either. The man was running away from him – when he reached this conclusion, the turpitude inside him began to stir.
Shen Liangsheng always had the upper hand in the arena of love. Even when he had neither money nor power, women gave him their complete loyalty, and he was the one who could end the relationship when he wanted to do so.
Although he had no serious feelings towards Ch’in Ching and his actions were far from decent, Shen Liangsheng didn’t feel guilty at all. Rather, he believed that Ch’in Ching was thinking too highly of himself, rejecting his pursuit.
You can run but you can’t hide.
Shen Liangsheng patiently finished the cigarette and squashed the butt in the ashtray.
I promise you, Ch’in Ching, that you will one day come begging for me.
That day, Ch’in Ching ate a quick dinner after returning home. He sat at the desk, trying to prepare for the next day’s lessons, but his mind would not let him. First, he wondered how long the man continued to wait at the school. Then, he thought maybe he should have been straightforward with him so he wouldn’t waste any more time.
His hands kept busy, too, while his mind was whirling. He flipped through his book and stopped once again at Former Red Cliff Rhapsody. He stared at the classic that he could recite off the top of his head and thought of the time does not wait that Shen Liangsheng had written. He let out a sigh.
It was such an insignificant thing, but Ch’in Ching remembered it so vividly. He had been analyzing the line “but only the clear breeze over the river and the bright moon between the mountains, when the ears catch one it creates sound, and when the eye meets the other it makes colour” when he saw the man. He turned his head, and there the man was, standing outside the window, so charming that he outshone even the sun.
Now that he thought about it, he found that he had been hiding from this man, not only today, but ever since the beginning.
Perhaps humans had an instinct to approach good and avoid harm. He had a feeling that this person should not be tempted, and now this prophecy seemed to have been fulfilled – or perhaps it had not been.
What had been fulfilled were the man’s particular intentions – but there was nothing the man could do to Ch’in Ching if he simply told him his thoughts. This wasn’t a peaceful era, but the law was still the law.
What had not been fulfilled were his own intentions of which he himself was wary – there was no way that the man could have gotten as far as he did that night if Ch’in Ching had been strongly against it. He could put the blame on alcohol, but he would be outright lying to himself if he did.
In order to save electricity, Ch’in Ching had not turned on the main lights. There was only a desktop lamp projecting dim yellow light over a square writing desk. Sprawled across the desk were principles of right and wrong that only took the form of Mara in the eyes of Ch’in Ching.
All he could think of were the words “when the eye meets the other it makes colour.” Ch’in Ching let his eyes close and his torso fall on the table. His cheek against the desk, he began to reminisce about the man’s face.
Staring into his eyes was like looking into the deep end of the ocean, cold and calm. Under his Grecian nose were thin, loveless lips from which sultry words as searing as his breath and fingers were uttered.
Ch’in Ching’s breathing hastened, and he knew he was aroused. After failing to ignore it, he reached down and copied the way the man had stroked him. The more he did, the harder he became and the tighter his pants felt. He felt constrained like his feelings inside.
He did know that a man could love another man, but if he were one of them, then the twenty-four years that he had spent thinking otherwise would have been a lie. He had had attractive friends and colleagues but had never felt anything or thought of them in that way.
Not even women made his heart beat, let alone men. When he was in school, a good friend often dragged Ch’in Ching along to drink away his sorrows from being rejected by his crush. His friend would envy how Ch’in Ching could put his mind to study without any stray thoughts or desires.
Ch’in Ching had no clue either as to why he simply had no feelings for anyone all these years. It was as though he had loved so much in his last life that he either used up his love for this life or came to fear love and refuse falling in love ever again.
Ch’in Ching knew reincarnation as an explanation was a big stretch, but ever since he had met Shen Liangsheng, his heart had been falling for the man, slowly and steadily as if preordained, despite their few encounters. Honestly, he had enjoyed the hinted conversations and suggestive dates until that night when they had stepped over the line. He had not been against it and even for a moment had the urge to turn around and embrace the man, abandoning all of society’s taboos.
Meanwhile, his erection grew too hard to bear. He unbuttoned the fly of his dress pants and reached in to alleviate the fire in his groin. As he copied the man’s actions that night, he could almost hear his voice.
“Do you feel good? Want to feel even better?”
A shudder ran through him and his member jumped as well, releasing a sticky mess into his underwear.
Ch’in Ching did not care to tidy up, however, and continued to lie on the desk, panting with his eyes shut and a bitter smile about his lips.
The prophecy that had yet to be tested was whether he would fall in love if they continued this game. Unfortunately, it was blatantly clear how little the other player thought of this relationship.
Secretary Chou was called into his boss’s office one early morning and when he came out, he was scratching his head out of frustration. He was amazed at how Mr. Ch’in, an average schoolmaster, managed to engage so much interest from this young master inside the room behind him. One investigation wasn’t enough. Now, he was tasked with the investigation of this man’s interests and hobbies, and it had to be done discreetly. Chou was stumped as to where to even begin.
After a tedious morning, Chou delivered some paperwork and added a piece of advice, “I thought about it, sir, and Mr. Ch’in is an academic. Why don’t I go find some painting or calligraphy or something? Surely it would fit his taste.”
“No, it’s fine,” Shen Liangsheng replied without looking up from the page.
Chou wasn’t sure what he wanted and backed out of the office carefully. He was grateful for his missus who was absolutely delighted if she received a ring or necklace for her birthday.
Ch’in Ching sorted out his feelings last night but still had not figured out what to do by the end of the school day. Not seeing the black Chevrolet when he left through the front entrance, he let out a sigh of relief and then scolded himself for being such a wuss.
Before he even finished reflecting, he heard a familiar voice call his name. He turned around stiffly and returned the greeting, “Master Shen.”
“Wow. You sure look different today.” Ch’in Ching was rather surprised to see Shen Liangsheng wearing a white shirt and beige trousers with a brown houndstooth jacket, instead of the impeccable suit that Ch’in Ching had associated him with. The man had not styled his hair into a perfect shape with wax either, instead letting his bangs hang freely. He lost several years off his age and looked like a student.
“Why? You don’t like it?”
“No, I didn’t mean…” Ch’in Ching was uneasy. It bothered him that any little thing the man said would make him overreact.
“Do you have somewhere to be?”
Ch’in Ching hesitated to say yes because he really did not. He ended up not replying at all.
“Then let’s take a walk.” Shen Liangsheng decided for the two of them and started pushing a bicycle, further shocking Ch’in Ching. He had seen the vehicle behind Shen Liangsheng, but it didn’t occur to him that it belonged to the man – it was so incompatible with his rich playboy image.
“I couldn’t risk scaring you off with the car again,” Shen Liangsheng explained, sensing the puzzlement coming from Ch’in Ching.
Ch’in Ching was scared of the person behind the wheel, not the car, but it was his fault for not voicing his exact thoughts. He could do nothing but follow and hope for an opportunity to clear things up.
They strolled quietly along the street with the bicycle between them. They were in the English concession, and the architecture was English as well.
“I’ve been back for four years,” Shen Liangsheng broke the silence. “But sometimes I wake up at night and still feel like I’m out there, lost in the world.”
“What?” Ch’in Ching knew that Shen Liangsheng had studied abroad, but they had never discussed this.
“I hadn’t turned fourteen when I went to England, and I was twenty-two when I came back…” Shen Liangsheng shook his head and did not continue, which was a rare occurrence for him.
“No wonder your Chinese needs work,” Ch’in Ching changed the focus of the conversation seeing the gloomy expression on Shen Liangsheng’s face.
“But you’ll give me lessons in the future, won’t you?” Shen Liangsheng shot a look at Ch’in Ching too quickly for the other man to read.
Ch’in Ching sighed as he made up his mind to not see this man again and make sure there would never be an “in the future.” After a few seconds, he finally spoke.
“Shen Liangsheng, I think we—”
“Ch’in Ching,” Shen Liangsheng stopped him. “Just hear me out first…it was my fault the other night, but could you…could you just wait a little longer?”
Ch’in Ching watched as Shen Liangsheng spoke without looking at him. The man’s eyes were cast down as he pushed the bicycle along. The body language, combined with his words, seemed like pleading.
“I…” Ch’in Ching started.
“You were right. I did you wrong.” Shen Liangsheng finally looked up with a steady gaze and said softly, “But I still want to see you. So don’t run away from me anymore, please?”
Ch’in Ching’s resolution dissolved under his gaze. He knew very well that Shen Liangsheng was putting on this facade for no other reason than to make him give in to his wishes. Sadly, Ch’in Ching couldn’t help but fall for his sweet words despite knowing this. He couldn’t gather the strength to say “I don’t think we should see each other again.” Again, he could do nothing but tell himself what a wuss he was.
They made their way past Tzuchulin and turned on to Victoria Road. The street, lined with banks and foreign companies, was many times wider and busier with many sedans racing through. Even the patrons of the rickshaws were dressed respectably. On the other hand, the casually dressed Shen Liangsheng pushing a bicycle with Ch’in Ching beside him stood out in the picture.
That the two of them were from different worlds had been one of his concerns. It might have been fine just being friends, but once sex was involved, Ch’in Ching became wary.
However, Shen Liangsheng had it all figured out. Not only did he dress up as a contemporary student, he even got his hands on a bicycle. He was evidently putting on a show, but even so, Ch’in Ching thought that at least he went to the trouble to do so.
“I worked as an intern at this bank until I graduated,” Shen Liangsheng said when they went past the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. “Boy, did they give me a hard time.”
“Well, it’s an experience.” Ch’in Ching followed Shen Liangsheng’s lighter tone. “All those Whites want is money. It sure feels good now that they’re begging for your business, huh?”
“There you go again, you smart aleck.” Shen Liangsheng put on a face that matched his words, but he secretly agreed. Of course it felt good to have someone begging for you, especially good if it was a part of your plan all along.
At the end of Victoria Road was Wankuo Bridge. The two stood by the Hai Ho with the moist evening wind hitting their faces. A small steam boat chugged its way under the bridge, blowing its whistles as it sailed into the distance.
“It’s getting late.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Maybe another day.”
Ch’in Ching did not deny all future possibility, and Shen Liangsheng did not push for anything more. He turned the bicycle around.
“I’ll see you home.”
“Are you serious? It must take forever to walk to Nanshih from here.”
“Why don’t you hop on, and I’ll take you?” Shen Liangsheng patted the backseat while watching him from the corner of his eye. It was the same ambiguous smile from that night, carefully controlled to be suggestive but not over the lines.
Cautious about continuing down that path again, Ch’in Ching gave a reasonable alternative. “I’ll take the tram.”
“Then I’ll see you to the stop.”
Ch’in Ching wanted to refuse that offer but didn’t have the heart to say it to the man quietly pushing a bicycle with his head lowered. In the end, the two walked to the tram stop together. Shen Liangsheng waited with him, and only when the tram pulled up to the curb did he whisper au revoir.
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The old building of HSBC that Shen and Ch'in walk by, now the building of Bank of China.
Dated Japanese postcard of Wankuo Bridge, photograph of Wankuo taking the place of the older bridge (approx. circa. 1927)
Present day Wankuo Bridge
Fun fact: the bridge opened four times a day, 7 and 11 am and 1 and 5:30 pm, which means our lovely protagonists were by the river at 5:30~
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Links for more information:
Former Red Cliff Rhapsody (translation)
Battle of Red Cliffs (which the rhapsody is inspired by)
The meaning of "colour" in Chinese culture and roots of this interpretation (wiki and informative blog post)
Modern use of colours in advertising
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ayszhang explains: I just wanted to explain why I used the French "au revoir." I deliberated long and hard on the translation of the traditional, formal way of saying goodbye "再見" which literally means "again meet," and roughly means "until we meet again." I desperately needed an expression as literal as possible and only the French loan-phrase "au revoir" fit in both meaning and formality. This expression is crucial in a later chapter of the story as it is repeated...but I won't say more.
Another thing I wanted to explain in more detail is the poem that Ch'in Ching was thinking of when he was masturbating. The original context gave the phrase a meaning of "a thing only has colour when we lay eyes upon it." However, the single phrase that Ch'in Ching focused on can be understood out of its original context as "he sees Shen Liangsheng and Shen Liangsheng turns into (the fuel for) desire/lust." I won't go into detail about why colour means lust. You can check it out in the links above!
This was a short chapter >_< Oh my, it's December already! Christmas is right around the corner...and maybe we've got something prepared for our lovely readers? ;)
Till Death Do Us Part - English Translation by ayszhang is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.