Tong Yan and we, the readers, learn something very important about Gu Pingsheng in this chapter. 😦 Did you expect that?
Chapter 9.3 – I Can Hear You (3)
He did not ask further and only casually conversed a little more with her.
These next two days, I have things going on. I’ll come pick you up the day after tomorrow? TK
Tong Yan stared out at the dim lights of the nightscape, her mood significantly better. Perhaps it was because she had heard his voice.
The next afternoon, a woman who was around thirty-five, thirty-six years old came to pay a visit at Tong Yan’s home. She was a surgeon at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital and a former student of one of the homeroom classes Grandmother had been in charge of. Actually, at the time, Grandmother had mainly taught music and had only been a homeroom teacher for two or three years, but many former students, even when they reached their middle age, still remembered to come visit and give their greetings during the Lunar New Year celebrations.
“This is the card for the medical centre.” The auntie pulled out a card and set it down on the coffee table. With a smile, she advised, “In these recent years, you’ve entered into older age, and you should have physical examinations more frequently.”
Grandmother was holding a knife and paring an apple. “No need, no need. I’ve always consistently exercised, and my body is very healthy.”
“I know many elderly folks find it taboo to get physical check-ups and are worried that they might find out that there is a problem, but when people get old, it’s inevitable that there will be more or less some areas that just aren’t feeling all that well. It’s best to get a complete physical done every year and set your mind at ease.”
Smiling, Grandmother handed the apple over to that auntie. “Alright, alright. I will definitely go.”
When Grandmother went into the kitchen to check on the ribs she was stewing, Tong Yan suddenly inquired, “Auntie, did the cardiac surgery unit of your hospital once have an intern doctor whose surname was Gu?”
She was actually merely very curious about his past — that past in which he had been a cardiac surgeon — and when she asked the question, she had not held out much hope of getting an answer. After all, he had only been an intern, and in that large hospital that Peking Union Hospital was, why would anyone pay attention to what was going on in another department?
“You mean Little Gu?” The auntie really did seem to have some sort of impression of him in her mind. “The boy whose mom was also a doctor?”
“You really do know? I think he was only there for less than a few months.”
“If the one you’re talking about is him, then I know him for sure.” The auntie contemplated briefly before speaking again. “His mom was a very well known cardiac surgeon. I saw her, as the lead surgeon, perform a surgical operation on a little girl. On that heart that was only the size of an egg or so, she put in more than one hundred sutures. Someone simply born to be a surgeon.” The auntie shook her head with a rueful smile, giving a sigh as she uttered ”Such a pity,” but then did not carry on with the discussion on this topic of his mother.
“Why? Do you know Little Gu?” the auntie suddenly smilingly asked.
Tong Yan hesitated for a while before replying, “He’s one of my university teachers, my teacher for Commercial Arbitration Law.”
The auntie looked at her in astonishment. “He switched into law afterwards? Didn’t he lose his hearing?”
Tong Yan hurriedly nodded. “Yes. Do you know how he lost his hearing?”
“It’s not really a secret. Basically, anyone there at the time knew at least some of what happened.” The auntie picked up her teacup and took a small sip before continuing, “Do you remember the SARS outbreak that year?”
She remembered that back then, the news everyday would report, for each district, the number of new SARS cases that had been discovered in that day, as well as news stories on various medical and health care personnel. It was as if, overnight, the city had been transformed into a city of danger. Who wouldn’t be scared of a disease you could become infected with simply by breathing?
“At the time, I was pregnant at home. After Little Gu’s mother passed away, he was already preparing to end his internship. And then, he happened to be there for the SARS epidemic. Peking Union Hospital took in more than two hundred SARS patients, and he actually volunteered himself up to work in the SARS wards. All medical personnel working in those wards were at high risk, and many ended up contracting SARS. He was infected, and his deafness later was a result of drug poisoning from the treatments.”
After the auntie finished saying this, she pondered for a moment, then added, “At that time, the drug treatment for SARS was very aggressive. Basically, anyone who survived and recovered was still left with many long-term side effects because of the large doses of hormones that had been used. This disease is just too terrible. In reality, the people who were treated were actually making a great sacrifice because they were doing it to prevent transmitting the sickness to other people. But such large doses. The great majority of people would not be able to handle that.”
Tong Yan had been somewhat stunned as she listened to all this, but that last part was very horrifying. “You mean, he still has other long-term side effects?”
“That’s hard to say,” the auntie answered carefully. “When I went back, he had already left the hospital. I only heard a young doctor in my unit say that he should still have other late effects.”
The auntie left shortly after. Tong Yan merely stared dazedly at her mobile phone. She wanted very much to ask him directly, but she was worried that it would give him the wrong idea. The television in front of her was playing the summer line-up of dramas, and this entire afternoon had been My Fair Princess. A plotline consisting simply of giggles and laughter that had been acted out so many years ago, yet it was still being broadcast.
There, she sat for the whole afternoon.
At dinnertime, she suddenly stood and picked up her down jacket, slipping it on while she glanced at her mobile phone. It turned out it was nearly out of battery, so she decided to simply pack up her charger with her. Jogging up beside the kitchen door, she said, “I suddenly remembered, I have a gathering with some classmates tonight.”
Grandmother was carrying the ribs out from the kitchen right then, and dotingly, she shook her head, saying, “Okay, okay. Hurry and go, then. I’ll leave the ribs for you to eat tomorrow.”
Tong Yan gave a hasty bow of apology. “I may be home really late. Don’t wait up for me.”
After saying this, she opened the door and dashed out.
That day when he had taken her home, he had told her that he was staying in the vicinity of Beijing Normal University.
When she stepped out of the metro station, it was very windy. She knew approximately where he was located, and as she headed in that direction, she pulled out her mobile phone to send him a text message: I really want to see you tonight.
A while passed before he returned her message: Okay. I’ll come find you some time past 10:00. TK
Mm. Tell me when you are heading out the door. I need some time to get ready so I can sneak out.
She did not tell him she was nearby. It was merely out of intuition that she felt he was at the place he was staying.
Right now, it was only a little past six o’clock, and there was still a long time to go until ten o’clock. With the aim of finding somewhere to charge her phone, she went into many fast-food restaurants, but no power outlets could be found in any of them. Eventually, she found a bakery that was not far from Beijing Normal University and had power outlets in the section for customers. After buying the most inexpensive hot drink there, she sat down beside the window and stared out blankly while her mobile phone charged.
And in this way, she sat there alone until the store’s ten o’clock closing time.
With truly nowhere to go now, she had no choice but to find a place that was sheltered from the wind by the gates of Beijing Normal University and wait to hear from him. At approximately 10:20 p.m., he finally sent a message: I’m heading out now. TK
Hastily, Tong Yan replied to him: I’m at the entrance of BNU, the east gate.
Alright. I’ll be there very shortly. TK
Gripping her mobile phone, she smiled, her heart at last feeling settled. He had indeed been at home.
Soon, she saw a very familiar figure running toward her from afar. It was Gu Pingsheng. At this hour, she was the only person standing in this place, and he quickly reached her side and came to a stop. “Have you been waiting for a long time?”
She stretched her arms forward and stuck her hands into the pockets of his coat to warm them up. “Very, very long. I’m really hungry, and I still haven’t had dinner yet.”
His hands also slipped into his pockets and closed over her frozen ones. “What is so pressing that you didn’t even eat and had to come find me?” His hand was very warm, and his palm was slightly damp.
With a smile, Tong Yan leaned in toward him, wordlessly burrowing herself into his embrace.
What should she say? She actually did not want to question him on anything. She had merely felt a very strong desire to see him. It was evident that her heart ached for him and his sufferings, yet now that he was truly here before her eyes, she actually seemed to feel that he was someone born for others to depend upon.
Regardless of whether it was his beautiful smile or the voice in which he spoke, both radiated such warmth.
“Not hungry anymore?” There was a smile in Gu Pingsheng’s voice as he held her in his arms. “I am here the whole time. You can hug me whenever you want to. Let’s find a place to fill your belly first.”
Tong Yan arched her head up to look at him. “Okay. But it’s so late. There shouldn’t be any places nearby where we can have dinner, I’d think.”
“It’s really close to my home from here.” He squeezed her hand. “Come to my place to eat.”
“Your home?” She had thought that when he came back here, he would probably stay …
He would stay in a hotel? She truly had never thought about this question before.
“My [maternal] grandfather’s home.” While he was speaking, inside his pocket, he had enclosed her hand in his. Then, he led her back in the direction he had come.
His grandfather’s home?
Tong Yan suddenly halted her steps. When Gu Pingsheng tilted his head to the side to look at her, she finally told him hesitantly, “Let’s just walk around and see if there’s anything to eat around here, how about that?”
His grandfather’s home? That meant she would have to see the elder of his family?
Gu Pingsheng could perceive the unease in her expression, and chuckling, he closed his hand tighter around hers. “Don’t be scared. Pingfan is there, too.”
“I’m not scared …” Halfway through her sentence, her face began to grow hot. “I’m just scared that …”
In the end, she was still too embarrassed to finish what she had been saying.
By chance, when Tong Yan followed him into the living room, Gu Pingfan was also stepping out of her own bedroom. At the sight of Gu Pingsheng, she had wanted to say something, but after noticing Tong Yan, her words stopped at her lips. All of a sudden, she chortled, “How is it you guys can’t even last two days without seeing each other? It’s almost midnight already.”
Tong Yan had already been feeling tense, and now with these words, she felt even more embarrassed. Indeed, coming here at such an hour truly was not appropriate.
“Don’t be anxious,” Gu Pingfan immediately soothed her laughingly. “My [paternal] granddad went to bed long ago. Besides, he’s upstairs and he’s hearing impaired, so he can’t hear anything that’s said down here.”
As she spoke, an elderly housekeeper happened to come down from upstairs, and seeing Gu Pingsheng, she said, “Mr. Gu, you did not have dinner tonight. Would you like me to cook something for you to eat now?”
Tong Yan was taken aback by this. She did not expect that he had not eaten dinner either. Smiling, he stated that it was fine and he would make something simple himself, and then he brought Tong Yan into the kitchen.
While he was opening the refrigerator, Tong Yan had already come up beside him and noticed that there were handmade dumplings inside. She pulled out two eggs and some tomatoes, planning on making a soup as well.
After Gu Pingsheng had taken from her the items she had selected, she finally pulled the frosted glass kitchen door closed and gazed up at him to ask in a lowered voice, “Why didn’t you eat dinner either?”
Turning on the faucet, he began washing the tomatoes. “I was busy the entire time earlier on and didn’t get a chance to eat.”
Her heart inexplicably twinged once again. Walking over, she wrapped her arms around him from behind and rubbed her cheek against his back, murmuring in words only she could hear, “How busy did you have to be that you didn’t even eat? …”
His hands were dripping wet and holding a bright red tomato. Turning around, he lowered his head to look at her. “Why did you suddenly want to see me? And you didn’t even have dinner before you came over here?”
“I missed you,” Tong Yan stated, putting on an unabashed front and tilting her face upwards.
He gave an “mm” and smiled very, very attractively. “What else?”
“Nothing.” Gazing directly into his eyes, Tong Yan enunciated each word clearly as she repeated, “I missed you, so I felt that tonight, I positively, immediately, and absolutely had to see you.”
He did not speak and merely used the inside of his arms to encircle her in front of himself. And like this, with a glistening wet tomato still raised in his hand, he very quietly brought his head down and kissed her. A silent, yet exceptionally firm kiss.
Droplets of water fell off the tomato and onto the floor, merging together quickly to form a small puddle.
A while passed before he at last let go of her and asked, “Did you cry last night?”
“No,” Tong Yan automatically denied.
He set the tomato down on the marble countertop, pulled a clean, white towel down from a rack off to one side, and wiped his hands dry. “Many living creatures possess their own communication and voice recognition systems. Take, for example, the dolphin. If you were to slap the surface of the water to try to imitate the sound of a fish falling into the water, a dolphin would be indifferent to this. But, if you actually tossed in a fish, it would be able to very accurately catch the food. This is because dolphins rely on the ultrasound waves they emit to ‘hear’ the changes that are occurring in their environment. They also rely on this form of sound wave communication to interact with each other.”
Tong Yan rested herself against him, listening with interest but not understanding why he was suddenly talking about dolphins.
“Even in the vast ocean darkness, they can still find one another, because their language is not limited by distance and can even transmit as far as several thousand metres away.” He paused for several seconds, and then, his voice grew lower. “Communication does not require a true, physical sense of hearing. And so, I could hear you crying.”
Has there ever been a line that you’ve read that has touched you so much you knew you would never forget it? The last paragraph of this chapter did that to me. But while the words themselves are beautiful and touching, as I reflected deeper upon them, what blew me away was from whose lips they were spoken.
A man who has endured so much, lost so much for the sake of people he did not even know. A man who faces a future of declining health and further side effects. It would be normal for him to carry some sort of bitterness or self-pity or even sadness for himself, but he does not think about his own condition. Instead, as Tong Yan said, he radiates warmth. I think about the maturity, strength, and love he must have in him for him to set aside his own troubles and choose to care instead about Tong Yan, for his heart to be so attuned to Tong Yan’s thoughts and emotions that it can transcend distance and allow him to “hear” her. That is why Tong Yan feels that he is “someone born to be depended upon,” because when someone has made your joys and sorrows his priority, he can be your harbour in times of storm.
1 of 1 Prologue
28 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments