And here concludes the main story. There are two epilogues to follow, broken into three segments.
Sometimes, the only thing you can do is leave things in the hands of Time.
Final Chapter (5)
June of this year was the crazy month of the UEFA European Championship.
Inside the radio studio, there sat only her. The program was about to begin, but the other person had not arrived yet.
Tong Yan propped her head up on her hand, somewhat tired owing to an entire night without sleep, and flipped casually through the stack of script she was holding. Inside her headphones, the radio director was drinking soy milk while also instructing her in a slightly cross tone, “Another five minutes until seven o’clock. If Mai Ming is late, give a live report on the traffic first.”
She raised her left hand and made an “okay” sign with it.
When only two minutes remained, someone tapped her on her shoulder. It was her late-arriving partner.
“So close, so close.” With his hand still on her shoulder, her partner sat down, panted deeply a couple of times, and cleared his throat.
“You should just request to switch over to the evening program.” Tong Yan handed a headset to him.
“Why are your eyes so red, too?” The other person took the headset from her.
“Last night was the anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. I couldn’t sleep.” She quickly finished what she was saying and gestured to him to be quiet.
In that two-hour, live radio show, they were continually reporting traffic updates as well as jesting and chatting with one another. Mai Ming especially loved football and, in particular, was a hardcore fan of the German team, so the conversation topic naturally moved in that direction. Tong Yan did not really know football and would only provide some casual responses, letting him guide the mood and response of the audience.
For one and a half hours of that live program, he spoke until his mouth was parched, and the last thirty-minute call-in segment of the program, he tossed to her to handle.
With such radio shows, the majority of audience participation and interaction was through text messaging. Each month, there was only one day of interaction through telephone call-in, and she and a special-guest police officer would take the calls together.
“Little Ke, I’m a long-time listener of the traffic station. I’ve listened all along to both your morning live show and your nighttime program.”
Mai Ming was accustomed to this sort of situation already and could not help grinning as he mouthed, “A long-time fan.”
Baring her teeth, Tong Yan made a face at him while responding to that enthusiastic listener, who was still professing his love. “Thank you.”
This was supposed to be a discussion time on the policies regarding a new road, so they had not expected that after that listener finished declaring his feelings of “I love you so much,” he would hang up the phone of his own accord. This time, even the traffic police captain, who had been specially invited onto the show, broke out in amused chuckles.
There was approximately only another five minutes before the program was going to end, and with a stern expression, she warned the person beside her that she needed to have a drink of water. Mai Ming at last pulled himself together and, using his pure, yet also magnetic voice, he assumed the job of interacting with the audience. “Hello.”
The voice was deep and warm, with much texture to it.
In that instant she heard it, she froze.
It was impossible for her to ever forget that voice.
It had been so long since she heard it, yet she still clearly remembered it.
“Can … you hear me speaking?” Tong Yan hesitantly asked him.
It was Gu Pingsheng.
She sat there, the entire time not saying another sentence. Because she had suddenly jumped in to answer, her partner beside her was also a little baffled, but seeing that she did not intend to continue speaking, he immediately professionally carried on the dialogue. “Today, our topic is Xicheng District’s …”
The phone line suddenly let out a noise of beep, beep, beep, beep.
The reception had likely been poor, so the call had been disconnected.
Such a situation occurred often, so her partner merely laughed and joked to the listeners, “That listener heard the voice of everyone’s idol, Little Ke, and was so nervous he hung up.” Saying that, he began to switch over to take the next call.
After the program had completely come to a close and all the people, including the traffic police captain, had removed their headphones and were standing for a stretch, Tong Yan still remained in the same seat, looking as if she had lost her soul somewhere. The director prompted her again that it was over and then turned around to begin berating the bloke who had been so absorbed with watching football he had almost been late. Only then did Tong Yan, half a beat slower than everyone else, begin to gather her things, taking off her headset and tossing it to the side.
She walked to the door, took hold of its handle, and pushed it open.
As she stepped outside, a colleague happened to be coming her way and smilingly said to her, “Tonight–”
The other party’s words had just left his lips before Tong Yan had immediately spun back around and, with a bang, slammed open the door.
“Li Xing, give me the phone number of that caller from just now.” She grabbed ahold of someone, suddenly extremely anxious.
That person was rather shocked. “Just wait. I’ll look it up for you. Which person’s did you want?”
“The one who only said one sentence and then his line got cut off right away.”
The person who was looking up the number gave an “oh” and asked with a laugh, “Who was that? Was it an old acquaintance? You’re so flustered.” All the while, he copied something down on a piece of notepaper and then handed it to her.
While he was still trying to extract a couple sentences of gossip, Tong Yan had already dashed off, the paper clutched in her hand.
Finding an empty, small, glass-enclosed room, she locked herself in it from the inside. Her eyes were fixed on that string of numbers on the notepaper. But all of a sudden, she began to hesitate over whether she should dial that phone number.
Two years ago, on that night, late into the hours, when Grandmother passed away and she had been so racked with grief she felt she could die, she had finally been unable to restrain herself and called his number. It was then that she learned he had changed his contact information. Later, she also changed her phone number and address and never again did she try to contact him. Whether it was when she had encountered setbacks initially at her work and had sat on the curb of the road, staring blankly, or when, after Grandmother died, her father had finally completely awakened from his ways, she still never attempted to find Gu Pingsheng again.
Life would always consist of great and unexpected changes. In the present moment of despair, one still would never know what the next second might bring. She did not want to talk about too many “what ifs.” The change in her father had come about as a trade, using her Grandmother’s death as an exchange. In the harshness and cruelty of life, this could be considered a long-awaited slice of hope. And hence, she would never think to herself that if she had known all along that this change would happen, she would not have separated with him.
But she would always think of him, sometimes more, sometimes less. Passing by certain places, on special days, she would think of him.
Shutting the blinds of the glass room, she input the number and pressed dial.
The call was picked up very quickly. “Hello.”
“This is Tong Yan.”
On both ends of the line, there was a long period of silence. In the truest sense of the word, this was the first actual telephone call between them. These last few years, from her internship until she had entered broadcasting, she had taken hundreds, even thousands of calls, but never once had she been this nervous, not daring even to breathe.
“I just heard your program.” He at last spoke.
“I know …” She repeated, “I know.”
“I only remember your voice from when you were thirteen years old. It’s changed a lot.” He paused, then added, “But I could still tell it was you.”
His tone and manner in which he spoke truly had not changed.
It seemed as if the two of them had not been apart for a long time and had only parted yesterday, saying, “See you later.”
“I have so many things to tell you.” Her voice suddenly choked up.
He gave a light chuckle. “I’m listening.”
“Many things. Very many things …” Warm tears spilled over from her eyes, but she did not know what she should say to continue.
“I’m on the Airport Expressway right now. If Beijing’s traffic is as congested as it was in the past, it will take thirty minutes for me to reach the city centre. Tell me your address.” He was still smiling, his voice warm and gentle. “I have two days planned here. If that is not enough for you to say all that you want to tell me, I can request to take my annual vacation time. If you still think that is not enough time, I might need to request to transfer back to the office in China so I can take my time to listen to you.”
His words were continuously coming through the phone.
She was crying and laughing, and when, finally, her strength was exhausted, she crouched down, her mobile phone pressed tightly against the left side of her face as she focused all her efforts on listening to his every word. A voice so clear in her ears. And he, as well, could hear every word that she spoke.
No questions would come forth from her.
Gu Pingsheng, why did you suddenly appear? Why were you able to hear my radio program? Why did you dial that call-in-number? Why … are you at last able to hear me when I speak and, moreover, without any difficulty at all, very clearly hearing each individual word? She truly could not make herself speak, not even a single word.
Her breath caught on sobs, she answered with an “mm.”
“Listen to me. Send me your address. And then, wait for me to come find you.”
She gave another “mm,” still weeping continuously until the call was hung up.
When she sent over the address, she also very unassuredly asked: Is the driver an old, experienced one? Does he know this place?
Gu Pingsheng’s text message reply soon came: My driver said, this address is one that anyone who drives in Beijing would know. TK
A familiar tone. And a familiar sign-off.
On this rather unextraordinary morning, he had suddenly come back into her life.
Tong Yan stared at that row of words, reading and re-reading it, over and over. It was only when she heard someone knocking on the glass door that she recovered herself and realized that she had occupied this conference room for a long time. In that instant when the door was being pushed open, someone apologized with a laugh, “There’s going to be a meeting in here right away–”
The voice cut off abruptly.
The three or four colleagues who were standing at the door were somewhat stunned. Tong Yan’s image at this moment really could not be considered a good one. Her make-up was obviously ruined from crying, but her eyes were brimming with smiles.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She bowed repeatedly in apology. “I forgot. You guys have a meeting.”
Then, amid that shocked silence, she swiftly sprinted away.
Gu Pingsheng’s vehicle was coming from the airport. She even knew exactly all the possible routes he could take, but she still could only wait here for him. Because, he had told her, “Wait for me to come find you.”
She only had time to rush into the washroom to rinse away all the make-up that had melted on her face, beginning at the corner of her eye and using a napkin to meticulously dab her face clean. In the amber glow of the light, the Tong Yan inside the mirror was completely unadorned.
Like how she had been when they first met.
She could not wait a second longer and went directly to the main lobby downstairs.
There were sofas there for anyone waiting to head into an interview in one of the various departments, or perhaps for the fans and supporters of the celebrity who was there that day to do a special program. From the moment she stepped out of the elevator, someone had already recognized her. There were people who were talking in low tones, and a few young girls were even raising their camera phones to secretly record this DJ who had once conversed with their idol.
Tong Yan no longer had eyes for any of these things.
She only stood in front of the glass near the revolving door, staring at all the possible places where a vehicle could pull over and park.
He had said, “I have two days planned here. If that is not enough for you to say all that you want to tell me, I can request to take my annual vacation time.” He had also said, “If you still think that is not enough time, I might need to request to transfer back to the office in China so I can take my time and listen to you.”
So, that means it is still only you, that you are still single right now, right?
It had been so long. She had thought that after he left her, he would need someone by his side to care for him. She had even prayed, “Oh God, you have to help Gu Pingsheng find someone who is ten times — one hundred times — better than Tong Yan to take care of him, cook for him, wash his clothes for him. When he is sick, that person will stay right by his side, and when he needs her, she will show up, regardless of where it might be.
“That person must have a very happy and, furthermore, well-off family.
“That person must love him deeply.”
But now, she learned that it still might only just be him.
She suddenly was thankful — thankful that her prayer had not come true.
Many cars stopped and then drove away again. The entire time, though, he did not appear.
From the airport to where she was, it was only a forty-minute drive, but now, one hour and forty minutes had already passed. As she gripped her mobile phone, she gradually began to feel somewhat apprehensive. Loud shouts and cries unexpectedly rose up from behind her, and she turned around to look. It was the celebrity who had come to do a special event for a program today. Because of this celebrity’s arrival, all passageways and routes instantly became jammed with people.
Her phone all of a sudden vibrated. She looked down at it. There are a lot of people here. I can’t get inside for the time being. TK
Tong Yan whipped her head back around. Through that two to three-metre high glass wall, she saw him there before her.
Only that single wall of glass. Gu Pingsheng was standing in a spot that was separated from her by a single glass barrier, his white sport coat slung over his arm, and wearing a soft, stylish, white dress shirt and beige trousers. His sleeves were rolled up so that his tattoo could faintly be seen.
Nothing at all had changed.
Including the way he looked at her and said her name: “Yan Yan.”
Separated by the glass, Tong Yan was bumped and crammed away by the sea of people, and though there was only a single revolving door, she was unable to reach it. But Gu Pingsheng was on the other side of the glass watching her. Both her hands were pressed against the glass. Suddenly, struck with fear that he would leave, she anxiously mouthed silent words to him. “Listen to me, please, Gu Pingsheng.” She paused, drawing on all her courage to tell him, “I need you back.”
Besides Gu Pingsheng, no one in this circumstance of soundlessness would be able to simply see and then understand what she was saying.
Through the noiseless motions of her lips, she told him that she still wanted to carry on loving him.
With one hand on the glass, Gu Pingsheng slowly moved in toward it. Gazing deep into her eyes, he answered her, “I never left.”
Afraid that she could not understand, he silently repeated this three, four times.
I never left.
Tong Yan at last managed to break through the crowd and dash out of the building. “I saw it, I saw it!” There was an obvious wide smile on her face, but her eyes still could not help tingling. “Gu Pingsheng, I love you. I’m sorry. I didn’t want things to be so hard and stressful on you, didn’t want you, someone so outstanding to …”
She could continue speaking no more. The vulnerability and frailty at the time. The vulnerability and frailty of a twenty-two year old.
For those several years, her low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority had crushed down upon her until she could not even breathe. She truly had not wanted him, such an outstanding man, to have to bear those things as well.
She walked over, stretched out her hand, and touched his face. Her voice had long since choked over from her weeping. “But I still love you, so much that I do not even dare dream about you.”
She could not believe that the man before her had truly forgiven her. There had been no questioning, no cold and aloof manner. So easily, he had forgotten all the words she had once said, forgotten their long period of separation.
“Don’t cry.” Gu Pingsheng bent his head down and looked at her, his hairs falling softly downward so that they half-concealed his eyes as he allowed her to over and over again caress his face.
When she had wept until her legs were weak, he finally reached forward to enfold her in his arms, and outside the revolving door of the building, he took all her breath away. The firm tip of his nose brushed across hers, and, tilting his head to the side, he continuously deepened this kiss. The sounds of their two heartbeats blended together, interweaving with one another, and neither of them was willing to ever let go of the other again.
From when they had been mature enough to understand, he and she had both begun to learn how to give consideration to the too many things around them. To control their own emotions and to suppress their own desires. To give up the person they loved and had and to accept an unfair lot.
They learned to help fulfill everyone else’s needs and desires, but no one truly helped or allowed them to fulfill their own.
Gu Pingsheng held her in his arms. For the first time in his life, he actually felt his eyes begin to sting, and his gaze even began to cloud over.
This girl — the only girl he had ever loved deeply — was at last not going to disappear anymore.
Though looking back showed a journey covered in dense, thorny brambles; though from birth, their fates were harsh.
Time, in the end, had still been kind to them.
I remember reading a review by a Chinese reader that the author had “copped out” and had to use time as a device to “fix” everything and bring them back together. Even after my very first read, you will see in my SSB comments that I had originally thought the last bit of the novel was abrupt. Bam, they separated; bam, several years passed and they were back together. But, there is something about this novel that has always made me dwell upon it, and after pondering over the ending, I changed my opinion.
Have any of you ever been in a situation where, after trying and perhaps making some (or many) mistakes along the way, you had reached a point where you had exhausted all options? Perhaps there was someone who you could not let go of, but you had did and said all that you could, and the only thing you could do was let time take over, hoping that somewhere along the journey, something would happen and that person would wake up to the error of his ways?
I have. Like Tong Yan, it took several years and something drastic for the person in my life to “wake up” and change. The waiting for that change is painful, and in between, you honestly do not know what Time is going to do, whether the situation will ever come to a good conclusion. In the meantime, you can only live your life as best as you can.
Regardless of whether you agree with Tong Yan’s decision for break-up, it was done. She could not turn back, even when her father had changed his ways. And in the meantime, she carried on with her life, carrying on as she used to do, trying to live her best life with what she had… except, there was an emptiness in her heart that only a man named Gu Pingsheng could fill.
I have always felt that this novel strives to have a realistic view on life, and after pondering on this ending, I truly think that giving the situation over to time was a very “real” choice of the author to make.
Though she lost her grandmother, Time also brought about a change in her father. And thankfully, Time brought them back together again. “Time, in the end, had still been kind to them.”
1 of 1 Prologue
66 of 66 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogue segments