The Girl Across the River
I changed my clothes and left the room.
From across the hallway Xi Xichen also came out of his bedroom, pausing for a moment when he opened his door and saw me.
The previous casual clothes had been changed in favor for a formal and sophisticated black suit which set off his tall, slender body, invisibly emitting a deep aura. I narrowed my eyes and after one look at him, smiled, then led the way downstairs. He followed me, keeping a couple of steps between us.
I noticed I was vaguely out of breath when he was around, with a multitude of mixed emotions swirling inside me; fear, disgust, the desire to keep far away from him. He made me feel very out of sorts.
“Going out?” His low voice came from behind me. He seemed to be keeping a deliberately slow pace behind me, making sure not to come closer or pull further away.
When I didn’t answer, he added, “I’ll walk with you.”
The tone was flat.
I went straight downstairs without responding because there was no need to. When I reached the ground floor I saw the maids had already prepared breakfast. Everything there was new to me – the breakfast, the table, and the people.
“Lin Ma, please bring Yu Yan down for breakfast. He’s on the first floor.”
I let out a soft laugh as I walked out of the entrance way.
A driver was waiting right outside, and upon seeing me, opened the car door.
“Don’t bother, I’m not from here.” I threw the remark then turned right, heading straight up the residential stretch of the boulevard. It was a downhill stretch lined with low-hanging rose bushes that would display colourful petals in the summer.
A small distance away stood the familiar bus stop. There were several people waiting for the bus, most of them students, wearing the XX Annexe uniforms.
I walked over and picked the least crowded spot to wait for the bus. Ten minutes later, a white car drove down the road, passed the stop sign, turned skilfully left at the first intersection and disappeared.
I smiled slightly and closed my eyes. I didn’t know how long it took, but a shadow suddenly came over me, blocking out the winter sun I was enjoying.
When I opened my eyes, I was met with a pair of deep black ones.
Xi Xichen spoke no words of anger, but he seemed angry? His calm expression didn’t falter, but it still vaguely contained some sort of anger.
“Let’s go.” He said.
I gathered up all my emotions and assumed my most natural stance.
“Don’t you think you’re acting ridiculously?” I looked sideways at the white car parked along the street. This didn’t seem like something he would normally do.
“Not really.” He answered with surprising seriousness.
“You’ve got a lot of free time.”
“I’ll give you a lift, the bus isn’t for you.”
That was an interesting point of view.
“Heh. You’re noble, Xi Xichen.” Both elegant and noble, but it’s his condescension that I find most unbearable.
His eyebrows furrowed together. “You know what I mean.”
I paused, then laughed.
“I don’t think we’re familiar enough to know each other’s thoughts.”
There was disapproval now in his eyes.
“Does it make you feel happy to be a bit of a smart-ass?”
I froze before grunting, “I didn’t know I had that tendency until you mentioned it.” The sarcasm in that statement was obvious.
When I thought about it, I realized I didn’t normally speak this way. I usually shied away from this type of speech, but this man made my mind fill with ill-intent.
“Jian Anjie, should I be glad that in six years you’ve become so articulate, or should I be sorry that you’ve become so sarcastic?” There was almost a hidden pain in his tone, although I felt sure I must have misheard it.
“What I have become seems to be none of your business.”
He looked at me, his calm expression unchanged. Then he suddenly stepped forward, grasped my arm, and dragged me towards the car beside the road, his grip so firm that I couldn’t break free!
I felt annoyed.
“What do you want!”
“I don’t think you’re going to get in the car voluntarily.”
“Ha! I’m glad we agree!”
“Your stubbornness can be useful, but not in this kind of situation.”
“Xi Xichen!” I was unable to shake off his tightening grip.
He suddenly stopped walking and leaned over to whisper in my ear. “Stop it, okay?”
His voice sounded as if he was talking to Jian Yujie, gentle and soft with a hint of a different emotion present.
I was at a loss for words as well as a little annoyed at his mistaken target.
“Xi Xichen, your behaviour doesn’t make any sense!”
It was simply inexplicable!
“Doesn’t make sense?” He stared at me quietly, as if he was talking to himself as well as to me, then smiled faintly, looking surprisingly a bit tragic.
“Good morning, brother.” Jian Yulin rubs his eyes and comes out of the bedroom. Now that it was summer, he was staying with his cousin for a month. His mother had promised him he could.
Xichen puts down the newspaper in his hand and pushes a glass of milk to the right-hand side of the table.
“Good boy, eat your breakfast first.”
The little boy climbs into the chair.
“Can I not drink the milk?” Wrinkling his pretty brow, he looks down at the cup of white liquid in front of him with slight disgust.
“Um, okay.” The light voice is kind. “We’ll drink it at night.”
“Oh, not again!”
His warm eyes twinkle, “Fine no milk then. Drink the porridge.”
“Oh okay!” The little boy immediately sits down, obediently picks up the bowl next to him and drinks it. Compared to milk, white porridge was simply holy. This was the first big idea in Jian Yulin’s young mind.
“Ah, yes!” His head lifts as he turns to his cousin, “Is brother going to that country with the big iron pagoda again?”
“Eh.” He says absently.
“So then, can you take Yu Yan with you this time?” Beautiful little eyes begin to glow pleadingly.
“You want to go?” His voice is scattered and he picks up another newspaper to flip through.
“Mmmmmmm! Want to go, want to go!”
“Eh.” Absent-minded again.
“Ah! Really?! You can really take Yu Yan with you! Great great great!”
The sound of a head hitting the table resounds in the room.
It is a mild and bright summer day in France.
The Seine River winds its way through one of the world’s busiest cities, Paris, and along its banks, the scenery is beautiful and charming. It is a scene that could not be more moving, feeling like a modern poem.
A man in black strolls idly along the river, his indifferent demeanour, aloof air, and distinguished appearance attracting a few glances even in fashion-drenched Paris.
In five years he’d been here twenty times. Twenty times! Was it really that much? As he wonders, he can’t help but smile bitterly.
It’s two o’clock in the afternoon when Xichen returns to the hotel where he is staying. He takes a shower and changes into some casual clothes.
Nian Yi comes and knocks on the door. “Elvis, are we having dinner tonight?”
Xichen turns to let him in.
“Something wrong?” Xichen asks.
“Yes, the boss of the company here wants to invite us to dinner.”
“Why?” Xi Xichen narrows his eyebrows. He has never been a fan of entertaining.
“Good question. However, it is said that this CEO is French-Chinese and wants to take this opportunity to improve the relationship between us. Is this reason acceptable?”
Naturally, Xichen doesn’t pay attention to Nian Yi’s nonsense.
“I have something to do.” Meaning he can’t go.
Nian Yi gives him a look. “Elvis, I’ve never been able to figure you out. You’ve always been lazy about things in the company. Why are you only so interested in this business trip thing? You’ve never refused, right?”
That was the point.
“You’re going over alone at night?”
Xichen’s voice does not rise or fall in the slightest, but it is clear he does not want to talk any more about the subject.
Nian Yi glares at him.
“You have something to do, so what can I do? I have to go alone. Who would know I would be so unlucky to have a boss who doesn’t like socializing.” Then he smiles darkly. “What is it that you have to do? It’s strange, every time you come to France you disappear for half a month.”
Xichen smiles. “Then it’s been a hard night for you.”
Nian Yi waves his hand. “Forget it, I’m too tired to talk to you.” He was a veteran in the business world for many years, and had met many people, but this Xichen is a bit of a mystery to him.
He stands up, rests his hands on the back of his head and walks to the door.
“It’s hard, it’s hard, I’m always the one who suffers anyway,” he says on his way out.
Xichen returns to the living room and stands in front of the floor-to-ceiling window, staring indifferently into the distance without a trace of emotion in his eyes – or maybe there is, but it’s too deeply hidden.
Paris is beautiful in the evening, brilliant and glorious, exuding art everywhere.
“Ann, you’re going out?” The slightly taller Russian girl asks, poking her wet head out of the bathroom.
“Eh.” Jian Anjai responds with some carelessness. She picks up her hat from the table and opens the door to go out. She feels the need to wear it out of habit even though the sun is already setting in the west. As she walks down the familiar street she breathes in the air enjoying this time of year. It isn’t cold at all.
Her slight figure is a little lonely and forlorn in the evening haze, her dark dress set starkly against a pale, almost sickly, plain face.
“Following the path of that wrong hope, I stepped on thorns, only to know that they were not flowers…” She recites from Tagore’s Poems.
The girl’s journey has no particular destination, if she sees street art midway she stops to admire it and then puts change in their tall hats before continuing on her way.
“Would you like one painted, sir?” The street painter with long red hair smiles.
“Can you paint a landscape?” A low voice answers in a somewhat less than proficient French accent.
“Oh, such a request has not been made yet sir.” The painter’s tone is a little surprised but one can hear the eagerness in his tone.
The man walks to the bridge railing and points to a spot not far away, where a long wooden chair stands amidst silent figures.
“The view…includes people.”
After a while, Jian Anjie stands up from the wooden chair on the riverbank and brushes the cottonwood flakes off her skirt hem. She should go back before they report her late arrival to the hostel manager again and that would be troublesome.