Every time I read this chapter, I don’t know what to say. Your heart aches for Gu Pingsheng, but there’s always more in this chapter for me. When I was translating, I read up on articles and information on SARS and the victims to ensure an accurate translation, and I ended up shedding many tears for all those real-life victims. My sincerest, deepest respect for the heroes who worked the front lines. This novel was written by Mo Bao Fei Bao to honour doctors, a profession she deeply respects, and it really highlighted for me the risks that they take.
Chapter 12.3 — Miss You a Little (3)
The facial features of that sketched figure were indistinct, but it was still clearly recognizable that it was her.
She was unable to guess which specific day of class this was, whether it was the very first day when she had confirmed who he was or the time he had called her out to answer what the general concept behind “international commercial arbitration laws” was. This should have been drawn when he was on the airplane, where, as he had said, he had created this sketch by relying on the fragments of his memory.
There was no more text in the bodies of the nine emails that followed.
There was only sketch after sketch.
She was caught up in her thoughts as she stared at them, guessing which particular day and which specific moment each one was. It was as if she was playing a game with him. When he drew these, he needed to call up the scenes from his memory, and as she guessed, she also needed to pore over the past in her mind, carefully trying to discern which moment it was.
At some time, Shen Yao had quietly come up beside her, and immediately she exclaimed, “Whoa! People who’ve studied medicine are just so much better. They all more or less know how to do some sketching. You say, why did I find someone who’s like me and is studying law?”
Tong Yan grinned, “You can make him take sketching as an elective, just like what I did last semester.”
“Hey, why are you smiling so raunchily? Yeah, a man just made a dozen drawings for you, so what?“ Grumpy and amused at the same time, Shen Yao leaned in and carefully studied the drawings for a moment. “Is this the supermarket?”
“Yes.” She tilted her head slightly to the side. She could even remember how, under the persistent persuasion of that elderly woman’s eloquent tongue, he had bought many things.
Gu Pingsheng had not purposely told her when exactly his medical examinations would be after he returned to the United States or when his surgery was arranged to take place. She was not a medical student, and her understanding of all this was essentially no different from any other ordinary person. And since she did not understand, her thoughts automatically gravitated to the graver consequences.
But for fear that he would learn of her worries, she could not ask him either.
There are some words that, once they have been spread, cannot be stopped anymore.
The teacher who took over the responsibility for Maritime Law had a rigid and dry teaching style and constantly had on a deadpan face. Grumbles and cries of complaints rose up from all the students in the class, and in the conversations during class breaks, some of the people, whom she had not been very close to in the first place, would now always declare how much better it would have been if Teacher Gu had not left. Tong Yan knew these words were deliberately spoken for her ears, but she merely lowered her head and read her books, acting as if she had not heard anything.
Fortunately, there was only this one core course during this semester, and the remaining course load consisted of either courses that individuals needed to re-take or electives. Therefore, there were not too many opportunities for her to run into her classmates. After three or four classes, though, even the people she had good relationships with had started to fall in with the general opinion and begun to chime in with the clamour and discussion.
She had once terribly feared having to face this sort of situation, and when she first began her relationship with him, she had imagined in her mind countless hypothetical situations. However, now that she was actually facing it, she found that it truly was not such a big deal. Compared to the neglect from her parents, the pressures of life, and his medical condition, this really could not be considered much of anything.
So long as it did not affect her from graduating normally, then it was okay.
On the other hand, one time, Shen Yao had been so livid that she had fiercely flung her book and ended up bringing a harsh rebuke from the teacher onto herself.
“If Teacher Gu had not left, they would not be talking to this extent.” After class ended, Shen Yao stuffed her books back into her schoolbag, still burning with indignation. “Yan Yan, what’s the real scoop? Why did he suddenly give up teaching?”
“There were some things that suddenly came up in his family, so he’s just temporarily not teaching for one semester,” Tong Yan smiled, brushing over the question in this way.
“One semester? We only have one semester left, Tong Yan Wuji.” Shen Yao said with an exaggerated sigh, “Given that he belongs to you, I won’t look at his pretty face, but Teacher Gu’s lectures really are top-notch.”
Tong Yan deliberately raised her brows and put on a smug expression, ending the conversation right there.
Soon, eight weeks of classes had slipped by, and midterms were quickly coming up on them. She had university-level physics and Shen Yao had advanced mathematics, two examinations that were capable of making students who had followed a liberal arts stream feel as if they had had a layer of skin flayed off of them. They both knew that this time, it was their hour of doom, and they began their endless, round-the-clock lifestyle of solving practice problems.
In order to find a room where they could study, they searched floor after floor in the buildings until finally, on the fourth level of the Middle Building, they discovered a classroom that did not have any lectures taking place.
Coincidentally, Zhou Qingchen and Wen Jingjing were also studying in the last row of that room.
Shen Yao wanted to avoid them, but Tong Yan felt that they ought to go over there to at least say hello.
After all, besides Maritime Law, they practically had no courses in common with Jingjing this term, and it had already been a long time since they had last spoken to her.
When she stepped into the classroom, Jingjing was asking Zhou Qingchen in low tones whether he wanted to drink some water. Zhou Qingchen fished out a few coins and handed them to her. “Just go to the vending machine downstairs and buy two cans of cola.”
As Jingjing stood, she noticed Tong Yan and, rather surprised, greeted, “Yan Yan?”
“We can’t find a spot. Would it be alright if we study with you guys?” Tong Yan asked softly.
After she left, Tong Yan took a seat in the row in front of Zhou Qingchen, and turning around, she said to him, “Jingjing is a very good person.”
“Shen Heng is not bad either.” With much meaning in his words, Zhou Qingchen stated, “I bet you have no idea that, because he wanted to help tutor you in physics, he specifically read through the physics topics that you guys need to study and even very earnestly wrote out lesson plans. But in the end, he couldn’t summon himself up to tell you.”
Tong Yan was taken aback by what she heard.
“Of course, Teacher Gu is also great,” Zhou Qingchen quietly added.
She very quickly understood.
Pulling out her books, Shen Yao muttered sullenly, “See? And here you were saying that Wen Jingjing is good. The root of all the troubles has finally shown itself.”
“She didn’t do it on purpose.” Zhou Qingchen was also very apologetic. “I had wanted to talk to your Teacher Gu about applying to get into Penn, so she said that Tong Yan and Teacher Gu had a pretty good relationship. I didn’t expect that, when I was comforting Shen Heng and offhandedly mentioned a couple of things, that guy would take them seriously. But Tong Yan, even though undergrad students are now allowed to get married, the school is still very much against romantic relationships between teacher and student … It’s a good thing that Teacher Gu knows to stay away to avoid drawing unwanted attention and criticism.”
She did not speak. Some rumours were unintentional by the ones who started them. As long as she got through this semester and entered into her internship term, then everything naturally would turn for the better.
In the end, Jingjing returned with four cans of cola in her hand, and she set two down on the table in front of her and Shen Yao.
They were all being silent, and somewhat apprehensively, she handed a can to Zhou Qingchen. She hesitated for some time but in the end did not dare say anything, merely taking her seat to continue her studying.
“Do you know about SARS?” After studying for a little while, Tong Yan leaned back into her chair and softly asked Zhou Qingchen this question.
“Yes.” As he spoke about this topic that was in his field of study, Zhou Qingchen seemed to be rejuvenated. “A teacher for one of our med courses especially likes to talk about that period of history in medicine because his teacher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences was actually the one who suggested corticosteroid treatment of SARS.”
“Tell me a little about it.” Tong Yan’s heartbeat was somewhat unsteady.
“What do you want to hear about?” He lowered his voice. “If I speak too technically, you wouldn’t understand. In simple terms, it’s a form of pneumonia where you have a high fever and severe dehydration, and it’s transmitted mainly by respiratory droplets. Aren’t you from Beijing? At the time, that was one of the areas hit most severely by the outbreak. You should be quite clear on all this.”
“I am clear on it, yet at the same time, I’m not.” With a book, she blocked her face from view. “I remember watching several television programs on it, and they all said the long term effects of SARS are like an ‘undying cancer.’”
“More or less. At the time, the ordinary patients didn’t understand this. Some doctors who were infected, though, refused this form of treatment, and in the end, they still died. Some who were unconscious were forced to take the treatment, and everyday, it was a dozen or more bottles of hormones dosed into them. Yeah, their lives were saved, but the side-effects are never-ending.” Zhou Qingchen thought for a moment. “To put it simply, pulmonary fibrosis, cerebral infarction, and osteonecrosis of the femoral head are all common problems that may develop. And there’s also complete damage of the immune system, loss of mobility, heart failure, and all sorts of others … So basically, in one sentence: they’re alive, but they’re incurable, yet at the same time, they’re not at the point of death either. And plus, only a few years have passed. No one knows, further down the road, what kind of other complications and side-effects will arise.”
These were all things she already knew.
However, to hear them spoken, one word, one sentence at a time from someone else’s lips was still terrifying.
Goosebumps popped up on Shen Yao as she listened to this, and setting down her pencil, she asked, “Loss of the immune system? Isn’t that the same as AIDS?”
This comparison was simply too scary, and for a moment, Tong Yan did not know what she should say.
“AIDS is not bad. Really, it honestly is not bad. But SARS truly was devastating to the medical system.” Zhou Qingchen sighed incessantly. “Spread through breathing, it was! Back then, so many doctors and nurses succumbed to it. Society nowadays says how disappointing the medical system is, but it has basically forgotten that that year, there was absolutely not a single person on the front lines who retreated. Basically, one batch of medical personnel would fall to the virus and the next group would immediately move in to take its place. They were all angels in white coats. Absolute angels in white coats.”
When he said these words, he forgot to control his speaking volume. Many people studying in the rows in front turned their heads to look at them, and Tong Yan hurriedly apologized in a low tone, “Sorry. We’ll be more mindful.”
Zhou Qingchen said no more. With a “crack,” he opened his can of cola and took a large swig, as if he purposely needed to suppress some emotions.
That night when she returned to her dormitory, an indescribable sense of unsettledness plagued her heart.
Since last week, he had basically started staying at the hospital, so it was not possible to arrange fixed times to chat on MSN anymore. In an unspoken understanding between them, they both began to use email as their medium for communication.
When she opened up her inbox, there surprisingly were no new emails.
Staring dazedly at her inbox for a long time, she finally opened up a new window to compose an email.
You seem to be slacking a lot these last few days.
I’m going to be having my midterms very soon over here. I’m really nervous about this time’s results and grades. How are your results? When will you be handing in your test?
Today, I ran into Prez Zhou, that boy who had once forced us to be emcees. Do you still remember him? He’s a med student here, so when we were chatting, the topic of that SARS outbreak came up. To be honest, I was a little frightened by what he said. I’ve actually never told you, but before you told me, I had already known it was because of SARS that you lost your hearing. Who told me? I’ll keep that a secret for now.
So, since I told you this secret of mine, shouldn’t you be honest and tell me about what happened when you got sick in 2003?
Were you frightened then? Was it really painful?
I’ve heard Grandmother say, when I was about two or three years old, I got pneumonia, too, and stayed in one of the intensive care rooms in the China-Japan Friendship Hospital. But at the time, I was just too young, so I really don’t have any memories of it. Hey, in view of this, there must truly be a fated connection between us. Oh gosh, why is it I’m talking about such a serious sickness, yet I’m still acting like a silly, besotted girl? So scary …
So, I think you need to come back soon.
—- Yan Yan
Shutting down her email, she carried two buckets of hot water back from the boiler room, and in the shower stall of the bathroom, she arbitrarily bathed herself. When she had blown her hair until it was half-dry and was about to head up onto her bed, she could not resist opening up her email again. To her surprise, she had received an email from him in reply already.
In great haste, she opened up the email. However, there were only three short lines of text.
There were too many victims in that calamity.
What I felt then was actually very simple. The whole time, I had actually not been very conscious, so I had not felt very much pain.
In addition, Mrs. Gu, please behave yourself. Mr. Gu will be back soon.
These two emails. Such intense emotions, such deep-seated memories that are held in them. Yet, they both use a light tone to describe all of it. Makes my heart twinge.
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