You’re still written in the scars on my heart.
We’re not broken, just bent. Can we learn to love again?
We began this story exactly two months ago to the date so I thought it fitting to publish the final chapter today. The long epilogue will be coming out this weekend so do stay tuned. Did I mention its monstrous length?
Yun Jin returned to her home in the county. Her mother’s arrangements had been more or less attended to. They didn’t have many relatives but now that her mother had departed from the world, what did it matter if the funeral was grand or not?
Uncle observed that Yun Jin was not holding up too well and he advised her to rest while he sees to the funeral arrangements. He was absolutely right – Yun Jin was truly weary.
The eve of the funeral, she suddenly thought of some important matters she had to discuss with uncle. He was in the kitchen making a phone call. Yun Jin was wearing home slippers and even when she entered the kitchen, he did not notice her presence.
Uncle was a simple and straightforward man who usually answered his calls in the living room. Most of the time, Yun Jin could make out eighty percent of the conversation. However, here he was speaking in a low voice in a corner. Yun Jin found it highly unusual.
“… Yes, the arrangements are almost complete … No no I still have to thank you … Back in the hospital, if it weren’t for you … She’s holding up well … She doesn’t know … That child is just so stubborn …”
Yun Jin quietly retreated to her bedroom. She knew who was on the other end instinctively. After all these years, she still needed his timely assistance. He had come to her aid, but didn’t want her to find out.
She poured herself a cup of tea and took a sip – there was a touch of sweetness in the otherwise bitter taste. She would not tell Cheng Zheng that she had seen him in the hospital. It was a coincidence on her part really – one day, she had seen him hurrying out of the oncology ward. That very afternoon, the consultant brought news of the vacant room. Since Cheng Zheng didn’t mention it, neither would she.
So this is what it felt like to depend on someone. She had once thought that she didn’t need to rely on anyone but now she finally understood – the more she tried to resolve her issues on her own strength, the more tired she felt under the weight of her burdens. Why should she forsake his genuine concern for her because of her pride? He wasn’t giving her charity; it was simply his way of loving her. In the presence of certain people, she needn’t put on a strong façade.
She finally had a breakthrough.
That night, her uncle summoned her to the living room. When her mother was still alive, their stepfather-stepdaughter relationship was a respectful one although there was a certain formality to it.
Uncle pushed a small box towards her and said “Yun Jin, I know deep down you’ve never truly regarded me as a father. I’ve always wished that you were my own flesh and blood. Now that your mom is no longer around … this is something she left behind. She would want you to have it. Do you remember the old house you lived in when your father was alive? Your mother could never bear to sell it. A few years earlier, she had changed the title deed to your name. It’s yours now. Take it as a token of your parents’ love for you and something for you to remember them by.”
Yun Jin opened the box silently. There was an assortment of things inside – a few pages of document concerning the title deed, her mother’s earrings that she wore on a daily basis, two bank books which amounted to only a few thousands, and many old photographs. There was a family portrait that had been taken when her father was still alive and many photos that depicted her growing up. Most of the photographs had yellowed with age and even had creases at the edges. This was all her mother had.
Yun Jin didn’t cry. She caressed the old photographs gently; she could almost imagine her mother’s lingering warmth on them.
“Do you know, I used to hate you? Despite knowing that my mom made the right decision in choosing to be with you, I simply couldn’t forget about my dad. I hated that you took a portion of her love that was only meant for daddy and me. I even started to give my mom the cold-shoulder … I’m not a good daughter. Maybe I will never be able to call you daddy but there’s still something I have to get off my chest … thank you. For all you’ve done. Whether mom is here or not, you’ll always be family.
When Yun Jin had finished speaking, the man who was more than half a century old started to cry.
After all her mom’s funeral arrangements had been seen to, Yun Jin made her way to her old home. This was where her parents had met and fallen in love. Yun Jin walked over every square foot of the place; she could almost relive the memories they had as a family. Her parents had finally reunited in heaven.
Some of her relatives on her mother’s side still lived in the county. Yun Jin stayed in her mother’s cousin’s place. Although it was a distant relative, his family treated Yun Jin very well and didn’t mind that her mother had only just passed away which was a social taboo for the superstitious crowd. Yun Jin stayed for a few days and she passed every one of it by taking long, lazy naps. When her uncle returned from tending to the fields, he would even play Go with her. She couldn’t remember a more carefree period in her entire existence.
On the last day of her leave, she dragged a reclining chair to the yard. The warm sunshine this winter day was just right. She was only halfway through a romance novel she had found in her cousin’s room when she was overcome with sleepiness. She placed the opened book on her abdomen and shut her eyes. In novels, the rich male lead always had a nasty mother. In this one, the mother had pushed a check towards the pregnant female lead and sneered “Isn’t this what you want? Here’s the money. Leave my son alone.”
That day, she had woken up next to Cheng Zheng and had set about tidying the bedroom and kitchen before making a move. She had not gotten very far when she met the returning Zhang Jin Yin. And just like in the fictional world, Zhang Jin Yin had invited her to her car to “have a chat”.
Her first sentence had been “Yun Jin, I once assumed you were going to be my daughter-in-law …”
The “conversation” would have been more appropriately described as a monologue because Yun Jin remained silent throughout. Zhang Jin Yin wasn’t overbearing; her upbringing had taught her to be cultured and thoughtful so she paid much heed to Yun Jin’s feelings and never went overboard with her words. But Yun Jin knew her past with Xu Zhi Heng and her inability to get pregnant had reached Zhang Jin Yin’s ears. This wasn’t in the least bit unexpected. There were no secrets that could be kept hidden forever. Moreover, Zhang Jin Yin was a powerful person with wide connections.
“I’m just an ordinary mother. I hope you understand.” Zhang Jin Yin sighed.
Yun Jin smiled “You don’t need my understanding because what you’ve recounted are all facts. I know what you mean.” She was grateful to Zhang Jin Yin for not offering her money because then she would’ve felt more ashamed.
“Actually, I’m not forcing you to leave Cheng Zheng. I know my own son. He’s a silly kid; when he’s set his mind on something, nothing can get him to change course. But Yun Jin, even if we were to discount what has happened in the last four years as well as overlook the issue on children, you’ve seen for yourself what it’s like to be together. Neither of you were happy. My only wish is for my son to live a blissful life so let me ask you this, can you guarantee my son’s happiness?”
Yun Jin mulled it over before lifting her head to look Zhang Jin Yin in the eyes “I cannot.”
Just as Yun Jin was about to drift off to sleep under the warm glow of the sun, someone picked up the novel from her abdomen. That same person read the title of the novel aloud in an exaggerated manner “My Sweet Horrible Teenage Years … Tsk Su Yun Jin. What should I say about you? You’ve run all the way here to read such lame stories?”
Yun Jin wasn’t surprised by his abrupt appearance and she calmly reached out to grab her novel back before shutting her eyes again. Cheng Zheng reached out to slap her face repeatedly albeit gently “Stop pretending! Spill, why did you escape to this god-forsaken place?”
Yun Jin swatted his annoying hand away “Then why are you here?”
“I … I’ve come to retrieve what belongs to me. Return me my chain!” He demanded.
“But you gave it to me.” Yun Jin reminded him.
“I don’t care!” This was his typical response whenever he found himself at the losing end of an argument. “What is the meaning of you leaving while I slept? Even if it was an escort, one also has to pay you know!”
Yun Jin sat up lazily “Then how much are you asking for? Your service truly wasn’t worth much.”
Cheng Zheng gritted out through clenched teeth “Whatever. I want you to give me a good reason.”
Yun Jin studied him quietly before turning to walk back into the house. Then, she emerged with a Go set. She placed the board in the middle of the yard before saying “Cheng Zheng, let’s settle everything with this.”
Cheng Zheng stared at her incredulously. Is she insane? When he observed that Yun Jin wasn’t budging, he realised that she wasn’t joking and he started to bargain “Why can’t we try other things? Say a race? … Come on, I should have some say in this right?”
“You can choose to play, or not.” Yun Jin replied without skipping a beat.
Cheng Zheng hesitated as he weighed his options mentally. “Alright, then I’ll play the black pieces.” Since he couldn’t avoid it, he might as well take every advantage and begin first.
“As you wish. Let’s begin.” Yun Jin seated herself down.
When they were together, he had refused to learn how to play even though Go was a traditional game in his alma mater. Yun Jin was surprised to discover that Cheng Zheng had improved remarkably. Cheng Zheng’s style of play was similar to his character – he was aggressive and he claimed the board section by section. Soon the board was dominated by the black pieces. In contrast, Yun Jin was steady and calm; she didn’t get flustered one bit. She knew that victory was not guaranteed until the game had concluded.
Black had gained 65 pieces and was leading. Cheng Zheng smirked on seeing Yun Jin knit her brows in concentration. She couldn’t have known that he had been studying the game in the past four years and that he was now quite a competent player. So even when the white pieces gained ground at 67, he did not panic. When black countered and rose to 73, Yun Jin couldn’t help but smile in admiration. With victory within grasp, Cheng Zheng tried hard to temp his feelings of complacency. This woman, see if she ever tries to bully me like this again. He looked forward to what she had to say when she lost eventually.
Yun Jin pondered over her subsequent moves carefully and the tide turned. Soon, Cheng Zheng’s pieces became vulnerable on all sides and he started to break out in cold sweat. The more he panicked, the more he couldn’t focus and his winning advantage was slowly but surely whittled down. When white was 94, Yun Jin’s position was unshakable. Cheng Zheng knew that if her 96th piece was put down, most of his black pieces would not survive. So when Yun Jin picked up her 96th piece, he grabbed her hand and pleaded “Wait, this doesn’t count. I made a wrong move earlier.”
Yun Jin smiled gently “Cheng Zheng, be a good sport like a gentleman.”
“I’m no gentleman. Let’s start over.” Since it came to this, he would rather be openly shameless.
Yun Jin couldn’t be bothered with him as she removed his grip with her free hand. The white piece landed on the board and she proclaimed “You’ve lost Cheng Zheng.”
With lightning reflexes, Cheng Zheng messed up the board and demanded “So what if I’ve lost?! You must be joking. How can my future be determined by some stupid game?!”
“Be a good loser. Like I proposed earlier, this game determines everything. You didn’t reject me and played. So, from now on, you’ll be handling all the household chores because I need some time to find a new job.”
Cheng Zheng couldn’t believe his ears. What … what did she say? Did he mishear?
A long while later, Yun Jin heard a strange voice reply enthusiastically “I’ll learn!”
When she rested in his embrace, Yun Jin thought back to the rest of the conversation she had with Zhang Jin Yin “… I cannot. No one can guarantee happiness. But what I can say is, if Cheng Zheng isn’t happy, I’ll hurt even more than you.”
Then, Cheng Zheng broke her reverie as he said slowly “I’ve never regretted parting with you Yun Jin because I believe no matter how far apart we are, I’ll be able to find my way back to you eventually. Su Yun Jin, I’ve finally found you.”
Cheng Zheng didn’t know how long he held her in his arms. Sometime later, they heard children laughing. He looked over and saw a few children, covered half in mud, staring straight at them as they pointed and giggled. It was indeed an uncommon sight for children of the countryside.
“Um … Yun Jin? Can we please get up now? My feet’s kind of numb.” He was still in the same seated position he took while playing chess. Yun Jin got to her feet before offering him a hand “Come, let me bring you to see someone.”
In the doorway of another of Yun Jin’s uncle’s place, Cheng Zheng saw Yun Jin’s great-grandmother once again. It had been many years since that wedding and now she was nearing a hundred although she didn’t look too different. However, her eyesight was now completely gone. She was currently seated on a stool as she felt her way around as she tried to pluck vegetables.
Cheng Zheng suddenly remembered his promise all those years back when he had pretended to be Yun Jin’s boyfriend at her mother’s wedding. He had promised granny that if they were to get married, he would relay the good news to her personally. At this memory, he clutched Yun Jin’s hand more tightly.
Yun Jin pulled gently at him such that he came to squat by her great-grandmother’s knee.
“Granny, I am Yun Jin. Cheng Zheng and I have come to see you.”
Granny halted whatever she was doing as she grinned toothlessly “Yun Jin, you’re here. Your mom was just here earlier.”
“Granny, I am Cheng Zheng. Do you still remember me? I’m the guy who fought the Japanese?” Cheng Zheng asked hopefully with one hand rested on her knee.
Granny racked her brains for a long while “The one who fought the Japanese … Oh you must be our little Yun Jin’s boyfriend.”
“That’s right.” Cheng Zheng didn’t care if granny could see him as he nodded his head vigorously.
Yun Jin chuckled inwardly before saying “Granny, Cheng Zheng and I are together once again.”
Granny resumed her plucking of vegetables as she replied “Haven’t you always been together?”
Both of them stared at her dumbfounded before they gripped each other’s hand in unison “Yes granny, you’re right.”
“When your great-grandfather and I were still young, we always bickered. Now fifty years later, no one argues with me anymore …”
Granny continued to ramble on as the warmth from the setting sun caused Yun Jin to feel drowsy. She rested her head on Cheng Zheng’s shoulder.
We were separated in our youth but thankfully after bumbling around and losing our way, you’re still here.