Returning Home (1)
You smile slightly,
A different smile from the one I know.
And I think to myself, this is it …
This is the smile I’ve waited so long to see.
The plane taxied slowly down the runway. In the distance, the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower shone brightly as ever, waving me goodbye. Sighing, I leaned back in my seat, looking down at the ticket I still clutched in my hand.
I had forgotten what my Chinese name looked like, I hadn’t used it in so long. The letters of my name stared back at me -Jian Anjie. My parents had only prepared for the birth of a son, so when I came along, they decided to keep the name they’d chosen for the boy they had been expecting.
The plane finally began to lift off, and I closed my eyes, breathing in and out slowly. One … two … three, I began counting my breaths, trying to focus and calm myself as we gradually climbed skyward. Well, we all need to endure things … such as planes taking off … such as returning home.
The plane levelled off and with that, I was able to calm myself. Keeping my eyes shut I listened to the sounds around me. The rumbling of the engine, the swish of passengers adjusting their seats, the crew bustling about getting ready to bring out refreshments … I let the sounds wash over me, calming me down further, carting me off to sleep.
A voice calls out to me. I’m in the study reading a book. Up until that moment I had been lost in the story.
Shen Qingyu opens the door. She startles slightly, her hand still holding on to the doorknob.
“Oh! I didn’t know you were home, Anjie,” she says.
I nod. “Yea.”
“Have you been in here this whole time?” she asks. “Did you have lunch?”
“I’ve had something to eat.”
I look down at my book, hoping she takes the hint and leaves.
She doesn’t, and I consider going back to my room as she walks towards the bookcase. Opening a drawer, she rifles through it producing a document. I sigh inwardly.
“Auntie will be going out in a bit, and your father might not be home in time for dinner,” she says.
She glances at me, then down at my book. “You should go study. And don’t forget to eat properly.”
I nod and breathe a sigh of relief as she turns around and heads back out the door.
I hear a muffled exclaim.
“Xichen! You’re home as well … Did you not have plans—”
Their voices are muffled but audible, jarring my focus from the story. I close the book with another sigh. I seem to be doing a lot of those lately. Shutting my eyes, I lean back letting my body relax into the contours of the chair.
I wonder what Ye Lin’s up to at the moment. He’d said his friend asked him to a match today. He’s busy every weekend, too busy even to meet.”
I suddenly jolt awake and find Shen Qingyu standing before me.
“Sorry to wake you,” she says, not looking particularly sorry to me. “Auntie wanted to ask you if you’ve moved a paper that looks like this one?”
She holds up the one she’d taken from the drawer earlier. “It’s like this one, but it was tucked into a yellow folder. They were both in the drawer.”
I wipe the blurriness from my eyes, shaking my head. “No.”
“But that’s weird,” she says, staring down at me, “because I definitely remember putting it in there, yesterday.”
Ignoring her, I lean over to pick up my book that had at some point slid onto the floor. Why hadn’t I just gone back to my room?
“Anjie,” she says, “think carefully. Maybe you moved it and forgot after?”
I get up from the chair and inch past her shaking my head. “No, I told you, I didn’t touch any papers.”
She shakes her head in exasperation.
“But this doesn’t make any sense! You’re the only person who’s been in the study today!”
Continuing to ignore her, I walk to the door and open it, heading back to my room.
“What the- hey!” she calls out. “Auntie is in a real hurry! The least you can do is help me find it if you really don’t know where it is!”
She rushes after me and grabs my arm. I flinch, whipping my head round to her. “Don’t touch me.”
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” she says angrily. “Stop ignoring me! Where are your manners!?”
I shake my arm, but she holds on tighter.
“Let go of me!” I yell.
“You’re not hiding it on purpose to try and embarrass me, are you?” she says ignoring me.
I could feel the panic start to swell in my chest. I look down at her hand grasped around my arm, and I feel the stirring of anger start to rise as well. I have never been comfortable with close physical contact, especially with people I dislike. Attempting to bite back my rage, I try shaking her off again.
“Hold it right there, you can’t leave!”
I bite my lip, glaring at her. Why does she insist on continuously bothering me, pretending to be nice? She’s the reason my father abandoned my mother. She ruined my family.
I tap into my anger and push her back. Shocked, she stumbles, letting go of my hand.
Ever since I was young, I’ve always been terrified of sudden big movements around me. I turn to run. She tries grabbing me again, but I dodge and race down the hall. The stairs come into view and I turn into my hallway when I suddenly feel a hand grab my shirt from behind.
My anger has been simmering inside my veins for a while. The seething rage burst forth, I let it all out. I turn around and shove her back with every bit of strength I have. The satisfaction of seeing her fall backwards is fleeting as I see where she’s falling.
“Watch out!” My anger drains away in an instant and I reach out to try and catch her … but it’s too late.
Shen Qingyu crashes down the stairs, leaving my useless arm still floating in mid-air, my expression froze in horror.
I start to tremble as I fall to my knees. I try to speak but my tongue feels thick in my mouth. My eyes gape at where Shen Qingyu had been moments before.
I can hear hurried footsteps coming over. My eyes are glued to the end of the stairs even as tears incessantly stream down my cheeks.
I blearily look at the figure before me, I cannot say who he is … but whoever you are, please could you help me? I didn’t mean it, I didn’t want to hurt her …
Someone was whispering in my ear. I struggled to open my eyes and looked up into the troubled face of a flight attendant. She leaned forward and asked, “Are you feeling unwell?” Her eyes were wearing a kind expression. “You look quite pale. Can I get you anything?”
I shook my head and tried to swallow, but I still managed a weak reply, “I’m fine.”
I slid my head back and groaned, rubbing at my temples. How many times have I been plagued by this nightmare? Ten … fifteen … or more?
I looked down at my hands that were trembling and sweating profusely.
Harm others, harm oneself. Was this referring to people like me?
The truth was this was no nightmare. This was a real memory.
I had caused the death of the child in her womb … someone I shared half my blood with. But I didn’t escape punishment. Her most excellent and illustrious nephew had rewarded me with a slap right across my face – hard and firm, even as I rambled in terror. I cupped my cheek with my palm again. I have never been able to forget the feel of that slap. It had stunned me into utter silence. Never ever had I been slapped before that point in my life.
And right after, my own father deftly handed me a card and swiftly packed me off to France to further serve my sentence for six whole years.
Six years … I was returning at long last.