This marks the end of One Night, One Day, One Year, One Lifetime.
My divorce with Jiajing occurred without surprise.
It was also unexpectedly smooth-sailing. Jiajing and I had a mutual, tacit understanding. We both knew that it was impossible for our marriage to continue.
Jiajing's parents were over the moon. When their eyes landed on our certificate of divorce, it was as though they had been granted amnesty against a heinous crime, or were finally freed from association with a potential terrorist.
Jiajing's mother held onto Jiajing's elbow as her eyes scrutinised our letter of divorce. 'Thank Heavens that you're finally free from such a man. When we reach home, I will definitely offer an incense to the Buddha and pray for you to never have any dealings with that man.'
Jiajing smiled awkwardly at me, apologetic for her mother's rudeness, but I did not take offense. Only, I still did not understand what I had done for her mother to view me as the vilest poison as she hurried to severe all association from me.
She had only known from Jiajing that perhaps, some part of my mind was ill, and that such an illness had affected Jiajing's happiness. That was all. This was not a great deal, for I had never done anything atrocious, never hurt a person nor displayed any signs of wanting to do so.
My mother began to cry in front of me. Her sobs were silent, and quietly, she wiped away her tears. She was old in age, her face lined with wrinkles. She used her sleeves, which had been washed countless times till the colours had all faded into white, to wipe away her tears, and soon, her sleeves were also damp. Yet her tears continued to fall from her eyes, just like an unending waterfall.
I bent down. I said, I am good, there is no need to worry.
My mother nodded, but her tears continued to flow, as though there was no reason to them. Maybe she was only worried for her child, a man who had gone through two marriages which had both ended in failure.
I had already moved into He Yujin's house. Ever since that day, I had been living there. I had also sent her photo to the photo studio, and their skills were as exceptional as I thought they would be. Although some marks were still faintly visible, on the whole, He Yujin's smiling face remained incadescent.
I said to He Yujin's photo, 'Do you know what I've done today? I've divorced, so, I have nowhere to go for now, and our home happens to be a good place to live.'
After I said these words, I used the glass He Yujin had bought for me when she was still alive to take a sip of water.
If I were to be honest with myself, after my divorce, I felt liberated, as though a crushing weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Perhaps, all along, I had been maintaining this marriage out of a stubborn heart filled with a motive in mind. Other than the few days before this marriage, I had been very tired all this while.
Now that I had divorced, I had not expected that I would feel so relaxed.
I wore my pyjamas of the past and paced around He Yujin's room. I placed my laptop into the study room, moved my clothes back to the bedroom, then arranged my toiletries in the bathroom. The bathroom rack was stacked with five or six pale blue towels the way they had always been, and I could absentmindedly reach for one of them after I showered.
I bought new things for the kitchen. This would allow me to pacify my hunger. Occasionally, I would cook, wearing my loose and comfortable pyjamas as I prepared the food. What I loved most was still soy sauce noodles. I followed the instructions on the recipe book as I cooked. I found this book from He Yujin's bookshelf, and the noodles which I made tasted similar to what He Yujin had prepared, so I guessed that she must have learned to make them step by step from the book.
Often, on Saturday mornings, I would sit on the mahogany couch as I read the newspapers. The slanting rays of the morning sun illuminated the room, its glow intense and bright, just like a bar of metal which had been melded into liquid on an assembly line, as smooth as the flowing waters of a river.
In front of the mirror, I knotted my tie. I was living with He Yujin as though we were friends. Yes, as though we were friends. We could not touch or interact, but I could feel her presence all around me, and sometimes, I was also secretly delighted by this relationship. Suddenly, I felt that we should have lived in harmony just like that.
In early summer, I headed out for a business trip, for my department had been assigned to inspect a machinery factory in another province. If everything went according to our expectations, we would be signing a contract with them.
Alone, I prepared my things. The trip was not to a far-away place, but I needed to prepare everything fully.
After I finished my preparations, I was a little tired, and heard a sentence escape my mouth. I did not know if it were a mere figment of my imagination, but I knew I heard it. I heard myself say, 'He Yujin, the dinner you've cooked last night isn't good. And you're with child now, so you can't stay in the oily and smoky kitchen. When I return, I will hire a housekeeper for you. When I'm gone, you must think of me.'
Then, I fell asleep. I slept deeply.
I nearly missed the time of boarding, so it was to be expected that I would forget the words I had said to her before I slept.
If I still remembered them, perhaps I would have admitted that there was truly something wrong with my mind, for I was hallucinating that I continued to live with a person who had already died.
The inspection of the factory went smoothly and was completed within three days. Later, my co-workers suggested that we should delay our return to tour the place for another day. I agreed.
That day, my spirits were high, and even my energy was uplifted. I did not know if to a normal person, they would ever experience a feeling similar to the final explosion of brilliance from a dying sun, but if I had known beforehand my ending on that day, perhaps I would admit that my liveliness then was just the final bursts of energy in my life before I ceased to exist.
Here, the province was overlaid with beautiful scenery. There were ancient towns, historical remains, and even some natural landscapes. All of them were unique in their shapes and overwhelming in their myriad of differences. We strolled for nearly an entire day, and everyone agreed that we had not made the trip in vain.
At dusk, we boarded our bus and headed back for our city. Sitting next to me was a young girl around three or four years old. She was dressed in a pink dress and wore a red headband. When she smiled at me, twin dimples deepened across her cheeks.
On the bus, I quickly fell asleep. The final burst of energy within me should be ending soon.
When I was jolted awake, the bus was currently advancing at full speed as it spun and rolled over, the shrill screams of all the passengers ringing through the air, a distorting, piercing cacophony of terror. But I was incomparably clear-headed, my eyes wide open as I took in all that happened before me.
I was not afraid of it all. Instead, it seemed as though I had been waiting for this.
The lower half of my body was crushed by something heavy, and an undulating pain engulfed my senses. Within the bus, the wails of the passengers accompanied the sound of glass shattering and the shrill whines of metal which deformed under the immense pressure.
I did not know why, but I continued to smile.
Very soon, the ambulances and fire brigades arrived. Our bus was trapped between the road and a large tree as it tottered, on the verge of collapsing off the highway, making it an extremely difficult task for them to carry out the rescue operations. Each time someone was brought to safety, the bus would slide back a fraction, and those who remained conscious within the bus began to wail in their desperation and terror. But at last, each passenger was rescued to safety, one by one.
When it was my turn, the bus had already transformed into a wreck of twisted metal. I gave my chance to another person, until I was the only one left within.
The firefighter extended a hand towards me. The bus no longer allowed any of them to gain entry, and this was what I had been hoping for.
'Hurry, you can't delay any further. The bus is about to fall off.'
But their voices no longer meant anything to me.
I turned my head, shifting my body as I stared at the boundless skies which seemed to go on forever. The skies were unbearably quiet. You could even feel the dead watching over you, using the winds, clouds, wild grasses, ancient trees and all-encompassing time which ebbed on and on for eternity.
I knew that tomorrow, the headlines should be that some man or another had refused rescue after a traffic accident, falling off the cliff, completely destroyed with the remnants of the bus, a wreck of metal and flesh.
But what did this matter to me.
In all these years, I had been searching for an ending, and this was the ending which I had been seeking.
Before He Yujin died, she said that she only wished for me to lead a peaceful and happy life, and I had lived my life carrying out her wishes.
I remarried; worked hard at work; did not think of her; did not seek death.
I tried my best to live in happiness -
But a traffic accident was not something within my control.
Nor could I have known that I would divorce, just as I could never have known that I would meet with a traffic accident.
So, when she met me once again, she could not blame me. She must not blame me.
Slowly, my tears began to fall. I saw He Yujin's face, the face which I had been waiting for several years. The Heavens knew how many times I yearned to reach out, using my five fingers to touch her face. Gently, just like a lover, caressing her face.
If I met her, no, I would definitely meet her, for I had done so much just to meet her -
We would cross paths in the skies, and within the endless clouds, I would say, 'Hi, He Yujin. I'm Gao Fei, let's be friends.'
Then, I would become her husband.
If she had already found a new relationship there, I would use every means possible to destroy her relationship and family to become her husband.
My story with He Yujin began to end here……
A long time ago, when I first began to read tragedies, as I witnessed how Murong Yan lived the rest of his life in regret, was scarred by Li Chengyin’s subsequent insanity, and got my heart broken when Jing Xuan committed suicide, I started to wonder exactly what each of them felt to the extent that they were driven to such extremes.
In One Lifetime, I finally had my question answered. Here, we get a third of the book from Gao Fei’s perspective, the ML’s perspective – something we never got to see in Shattered Glass, Hansheng and all the other tragedies out there.
Gao Fei doesn’t miss He Yujin. He doesn’t grieve. That’s what he says to himself.
But everyone, including his new wife, including his parents, including the reader, can see how Gao Fei has chosen to shut himself in and delude himself. Everyone around him tells him that he is hallucinating, but he insists otherwise.
We’re reading from the perspective of a man so convinced that his life has finally been righted by He Yujin’s death, but seeing from the underlying meanings of the text to realise that we’re really reading from the perspective of a man descending into insanity, his world crumbling around him even as he tries to maintain an outward semblance of normality.
It is only in the final pages of One Lifetime where Gao Fei admits to himself that maybe, he really misses He Yujin. He lived his life mechanically after she died, clinging onto his marriage, obsessing over his child like it was a task he had to complete with perfection to prove to the world that he was happy – because that was what He Yujin wished for.
That he tried and tried so hard makes it worse. He didn't cry to the world that he was sad, but his grief was written all over the unsaid words of the text. He leaves their house, vowing never to return, yet this is the man who remembers the exact number of days it has been since He Yujin died, even after four years.
Gao Fei is a man whose heart is hidden very deeply, even from himself. Even when He Yujin was dying, he remained a man of few words. He hugged her and cried in the middle of the night, because he did not want her to see his grief. Only when she slept did he carefully study the descriptions of all her medications. When she left the house without informing him, he was anxious and flustered, but expressed his worry through anger instead.
Even at the end, when he finally understood his feelings for her, still, he refused to tell her that he loved her. Because she had destroyed his life, so he should hate her, and he does, yet, inexplicably, he also loves her, and these feelings of conflict continue to torment him.
‘The moment I met Rongzhi, the course of my entire life changed.’
Like what another Chinese reader had said, it is strange, but after reading this story, she suddenly recalled that quote from A Tale of Two Phoenixes. When Gao Fei met He Yujin, was the course of his life also altered forever? From hating, to not loving, to loving, and loving deeply. Did he ever need a reason? When she lived, he hated. Finally, she died, and he can at last fulfill the dreams of his youth – very good, he can marry the woman he loved, form the family he wanted, live the life he should have lived.
But he never realised that with the passing of time, his heart has changed.
A woman, silently, walked into his life. Day after day, she said to him, ‘Gao Fei, I love you', and persisted, stubbornly, even if her love was only ever repaid with coldness. The way she smiled so brightly, the way she hid her sadness behind her optimism, had long become a part of his life, even if he did not realise it. She was never an upright person, and had never pretended to be one, but the unconditional love she had for him was something no one else could mimic – not his first love, not anyone else.
Without He Yujin, Gao Fei would never have come to know that the love he thought he had for Su Jiajing, was merely just a ‘thought’. It turns out, when you truly loved a person, you could love to the extent of abandoning all your hesitations.
Madmen – He Yujin; Gao Fei. One was insane while she lived, while the other was forced to insanity as he lived.
Their love ended before it could begin. He Yujin will never know that, even without realising it, Gao Fei had already come to love her, and Gao Fei will never have the chance to tell her that, it turns out, his love for her was no less than hers for him.
He Yujin loved too much; Gao Fei loved too late.
And Gao Fei paid the price for his pride and stubbornness. He led a colourless life without her. He walked on the streets, looking at all the other couples, and felt like an outsider to the happiness others enjoyed. Even as he searched, even as his marriage crumbled, still, he did not find an excuse for him to say, it’s over, to end his life, all because He Yujin wished for him to be happy –
That moment, I ascended to the Heavens and became immortal, not for an eternal life, but to watch over you for a lifetime of peace and happiness …
And now, he is tired. He said, He Yujin, this traffic accident was not something I could predict. Even till the end, Gao Fei continues to deceive himself. Gao Fei, though you could not predict this accident, it was your choice to deny rescue, to commit suicide.
He Yujin’s story is not the tragedy in One Lifetime. She died in the arms of the person she loved most, and finally attained her greatest wish in life. It is Gao Fei who never got a second chance.
But life is not like a novel, to have a sequel to make things right.
The final sentence of the novel: 我和何瑜瑾的故事在这开始结束……
开始 (kāi shǐ) = begin
结束 (jié shù) = end
I originally interpreted this sentence as ‘My story with He Yujin began and ended here.’ because I thought that given Gao Fei’s conviction that they will reunite in the afterlife, the end of their stories in this world is really a new beginning in their next/after lives.
But I asked my friends, and they all said that it should be interpreted as ‘began to end’ – if the author truly meant for it to be ‘began and ended’, she would have used 开始、结束, with the punctuation to change the entire meaning.
So, this is He Yujin and Gao Fei’s ending. Their stories ended with Gao Fei’s death. There will be no what-ifs, no maybes, no perhaps, no could-have-beens or might-have-beens.
If, back then, Gao Fei had been more forgiving and less stubborn, to treasure what he had instead of searching for what he thought he wanted to have; if, back then, He Yujin had loved a little less recklessly, to pursue Gao Fei the way a normal person would have – would things have been different?
There is one kind of love – I love you, and this has nothing to do with you, but I love you.
There is another kind of love – I hate you, and I will never love you, but I will follow you in your death.