Ramblings: Thank you for being patient with me the past few weeks. I’ve recently finished my exams so the semester is done at last. That should (hopefully) mean more frequent updates this month!
Also, some of you may have noticed that I have removed the link to the Thai translation in my Index and Introduction posts. I did so at the translator’s request as she has decided to stop translating due to changing copyright laws in Thailand. It is very unfortunate but I respect her decision.
T/N: Any notes at the end of relevant paragraphs that are indicated with an asterisk * are usually my own translation notes, unless I say otherwise in square brackets. Words in square brackets [ ] in sentences are words I added for clearer meaning.
Chapter 25: Womanizer
“Why do you always come into my room the first thing in the morning?” I groan, hiding under my blanket.
“So what? I used to this back then too. Did you forget I once slept with you?”
How infuriating! “You were ten years old then.”
Clinging on to me as a child, I could let it slide, but now that he is a grown up, clinging on to me like this, when he gets married, how is his wife going to let it slide?
“You do know that you are now all grown up right?”
Pusysdeva nods, eyes blown out, the picture of innocence. He’s using the old trick from when he was young again!
“A man and woman should keep a distance, little brother ah!”
Holding my head in my hands, I just want to hit it against the wall!
All of a sudden, I get pulled into a tight embrace. A trembling voice speaks over the top of my head: “Ai Qing, I do not want to wake up in the morning and find you gone like before, making me look for you everywhere…”
My heart constricts, the spines softening before I could even release them. Turns out the reason why he always comes into my room the first thing in the morning is to make sure I am still here. Thinking about the ten-year-old him who had to witness a real living being vanishing in a blink of the eyes, something that an adult with a mind made of steel can’t even withstand, let alone a child! How much panic and fear was he in? I’m afraid that the trauma might follow him for the rest of his life. It’s all my fault…
“I’m sorry, Pusysdeva…”
Truth is, I will have to pull a disappearing act once again [soon], but I vow to myself that I will not let Pusysdeva witness the scene a second time. In this era, there are no psychiatrists around to help him…
“Ai Qing, was I the first man you slept with?”
Heavens above! Who said this womanizer would have psychological problems? I let out a bloodcurdling scream in my head. Somebody helps me tear this guy apart!
The main attraction on the fifth day of the Sumuzhe Festival is the “Leaping Dance”*. This dance is performed by male dancers, one that focuses heavily on techniques: leaping, somersaults, long strides, leg kicking out as they spin, arms rotating, hands on the hips, chin tucking in, shoulders shrugging. You can see some of these movements in the modern dances of the Uyghurs. The music is bright and exciting, full of passion, accompanied by the masculine shouts from the dozen of men as they leap and dance. I clap and cheer along the whole time.
*Hu Teng Wu, aka “Sogdian Leaping Dance”, not to be confused with Hu Xuan Wu “Sogdian Whirl”, which was mentioned in the preceding chapter.
“Ai Qing, do you like this dance?” Pusysdeva leans into my ears and asks in a loud voice. Without giving it much thought, I nod for the sake of it, my eyes not leaving the handsome dancers on the stage.
Pusysdeva removes his mask and puts it in my hands before running off. Before I can even ask where he is going, I see him cutting through the crowd and going to the group of dancers. My mouth drops open when I see Pusysdeva assimilates into the group and performs the leaps and dance movements like a true professional. Pusysdeva easily stands out not only due to his 1m85 height and perfect body, but also due to his handsome features. As soon as he steps on stage, he elicits a wild cheer from the women in the audience.
Pusysdeva bends his knees into a squat, his footsteps as light as that of a bird, the changes in his movements agile, delicate and bold, showing off both robust strength and elegance. Pusysdeva’s expert dance moves make me see a new charm to men. I loudly cheer along with the other women in the audience. As if that is not enough, I even take off my mask, curl my fingers into the shape of a speakerphone, aim at Pusysdeva and shout: “Great job, Pusysdeva! I love you!”
Hearing my scream, he winks at me, the corner of his mouth curving into a smug smile, an expression that can easily captures the heart of any woman.
The music keeps getting more and more intense. Pusysdeva’s movements keep getting faster and faster amidst the loud cheers of the audience, their hands clapping to the beats of the drums. But then the music comes to an abrupt stop. Pusysdeva suddenly kicks his leg and performs a cartwheel in the air, landing on his knees on the stage, drawing a straight line to where I am. When he stops in front of me, he spreads his arms out wide, head high, smile bright, creating an incredibly attractive image. I can feel the arrow-like stares directing towards me, so I quickly extend my hands to help him up.
Pusysdeva is sweating profusely. A few strands of his reddish brown hair are sticking to his forehead. Even his clothes are soaked through. My first reaction is to dig into my pockets, but there is no handkerchief to be found. How many years has it been since I stopped carrying a handkerchief, opting to use wet wipes instead, even though I know wet wipes are not very sanitary…
Seeing my forlorn face and hands coming out empty, Pusysdeva laughs and says, “Not a problem,” before pulling on my sleeves to wipe his sweat. I am stunned by his action. He really is too carefree ah…
Seeing my dress all wrinkled and also soaked through, I feel like crying. Sweat and only sweat, though now there is a foul smell too. Upset, I grumble: “Hey, if you do that, how am I supposed wear it from now on? You…you…are really too much.”
“What’s the matter, it’s only a dress. As long as I’m happy it’s all fine!”
Without waiting for me to reply, he is already pulling me away.
“What’s the hurry? Where are you taking me?” Even his hands are sweaty. I am done for. Now my hands are no longer clean!
“To buy clothes,” he looks back at me with annoyance. “Why do you even bother getting upset over that rag-like outfit? You wearing that outfit when going out with me is making me lose face!”
Surprised, we look up and find a young woman with fair skin approaching us, her face full of anger. Pusysdeva tilts his head at her, a challenging gesture. This is clearly a scene straight out of a romantic drama, but I am not the main character, so I should quickly make my exit.
Quietly, I withdraw my hand from Pusysdeva’s sweaty hold, intent on hiding at the corner of the street. But not a step has been taken before I am pulled back. This is not good. He has swung an arm around my shoulders. My immediate reaction is a shudder at the smell of sweat.
“Pusysdeva, you…you, how could you do it?” The girl looks like she is about to cry, though her eyes are glaring at me with ill intent.
“You have seen it all.” Pusysdeva still has his arm around my shoulders as he rests his head against my neck. Oh little brother, even if you don’t like the other person you should not use me as your shield, not to mention how sweaty you are right now…
“But you said-”
“Said what? Did I promise you something?”
“Girl, you are misunderstanding the situation…” I laugh weakly, trying my best to extricate myself from his hold. “He and I, it’s not what you think…”
Smooch! A loud and clear sound is created from lips touching my left cheek. How miserable, my hands, my clothes, and now even my face is dirtied!
The girl stomps her feet in anger, tears flying in the wind as she runs off. I let out a long sigh. A moment of inattention on my part has led to me becoming the main character of this play.
“Pusysdeva, how could you treat a woman that loves you like that?”
“It’s them who kept clinging onto me! Just having fun with each other is all good and fine, but after only a few days, they start to talk about future this and that.”
What a womanizer! No wonder why his brother was full of disapproval: “Always flirting with women every day.” The thought of Rajiva fills my heart with warmth. Rajiva will never act like his brother. Even though fifteen years from now…No, let’s stop that train of thoughts! When I decided that I would love Rajiva in my own way, I had also decided to not think about the future, of him marrying and having children. I don’t want to think that far ahead. I just want to love Rajiva in this moment in time, that is enough…
“Pusysdeva, have you ever loved a woman?”
What a definitive answer!
Meeting Pusysdeva again after ten years, I realized that he has become quite a playboy. He has gotten much slyer, knows how to make me mad with his words, occasionally making me blush from embarrassment. At first, thinking that he has some ulterior motives, I kept up my guard. But after a few days, I quickly realize that it’s all part of his playboy persona. In actuality, aside from the occasional teasing and flirty words, Pusysdeva has never truly made any untoward moves on me. When we are on the streets, the girls who know him are always greeting him with bright smiles, while the girls who don’t are always looking at him with a daze in their eyes. He winks and flirts with pretty much every girl he comes across, truly the public’s ‘lover’. Because of that, I have gotten used to and am no longer annoyed by his overly familiar touches. Occasionally I still grumble and get mad at him, but slowly but surely, I have come to accept this new him, because personality is pre-determined.
However, I also have to admit that it has been quite fun hanging out with Pusysdeva. He is quite smart, clever, energetic, has a great sense of humour, is carefree, always able to come up with exciting ideas, and also handsome to boot. It’s no wonder why there are so many women obsessed with him, or why the ones he abandoned are so stricken with sorrow. Fortunately, I am a person made of steely strength, able to resist even the deadly charm of Rajiva! Also fortunately, my heart is rather small, and most of it has been filled with Rajiva. Otherwise I would have turned into those pitiful girls, crying their eyes out as they see Pusysdeva change his woman like changing shirts.
In the evening, after I have cleaned myself thoroughly, I return to my room only to find the playboy doodling in my notepad without a care in the world. This bad habit of his has not changed even after ten years. Those notepads I forgot to bring back [to my era], he must have took quite a number of pages.
Seeing me, the playboy immediately puts down his pencil as a look of impatience crosses his face: “Why did you take so long with your bath! Wear this!”
He pushes a new dress in front of my face. It’s a green dress made of silk, very elegant, sewn with yellow pomegranate blossoms. The cloth is of high quality, the handicraft very detailed, clearly must have cost the buyer quite a fortune.
I make an appreciative sound: “Pusysdeva, you are quite a skilled womanizer. A dress this beautiful, what kind of woman would be able to refuse!”
“This is the first time this young master has bought a gift for a woman. Usually it’s those women who gift me things, and even then I don’t always accept the presents.”
He juts out his chin and flares his nostrils. “So are you going to take it or not? If not I will return it.”
“No, no, don’t.” I quickly grab the dress from him. “I am a woman too, how can I refuse?”
In the 21st century, because I like to travel, explore and research things, my outfit usually consists of jeans, t-shirts and running shoes. Even my boss cannot help but shake his head at me, saying that I do not look like a girl. Time-travelling to the past, I have no desire to attract attention, so there is no point nitpicking what I wear either. But no matter what, I am still a woman, and like other women, I am easily won over by pretty clothes.
I nod, estimating the fit of the dress against my body happily.
Pusysdeva’s voice travels over the top of my head: “How do you plan on repaying me?”
That catches me by surprise. “What do you want?”
“Should I not leave tonight?”
It’s that seductive smile, those flirty eyes again—his signature move. My face heats up. I am not used to hearing this kind of ambiguous flirty words. Not leaving? What does he want?
“Haha, I’m only kidding.” Pusysdeva laughs. “I’m not that thirsty.”
“But…” He suddenly leans close to my face, expression sly, and draws out his words on purpose: “Ai Qing, you have not touched a man right? To be blushing like that after a few words of mine.”
My face burns even more. I glare at the rascal. “What business is it of yours? In any case, it won’t be with you!”
He bursts into laughter once again. “You are really different from the other women I know.” He pauses for a moment to hold in his laughter. “The other women, if I embrace them, they would shiver in happiness. But you, you flinch at the slightest touch, fearful as if someone is out to cut up your flesh. Those women, after being with me for three days, will ask me to sleep with them. But you, how many days has it been, and yet you still remain indifferent.”
“They asked you?”
Goodness, I did not expect this kind of forwardness in romantic relationships 1,650 years ago! But thinking it through, it’s actually not too surprising. The striptease dance in the Sumuzhe Festival, the murals in Kizil caves featuring half-naked and fully naked people, and the uninhibited manner of the people here—it’s really not that surprising to have a woman openly pursue a man. Not to mention that Pusysdeva here is a man who possesses all the qualities greatly desirable by women.
“That’s right. I have never asked after women. But that doesn’t mean I will sleep with anyone. Catching the eyes of this young master is not an easy thing.”
He drapes his body across my bed, folding his arms to make a pillow, legs bent, face smug, the very picture of a playboy.
“But you Han women seem to be much shyer, your temperament much more tame, I am very interested.”
This is the first time in my life that I am discussing sex with a young man in the middle of the night. It feels rather weird. I am a woman from the 21st century, older than him by three years, so why do I keep on deflating in front of him?
“Ai Qing, I like the sight of you blushing, very cute.” He turns his body to the side and props up his head with on hand, quite an enticing posture. “Ai Qing, you are the first woman that I’ve held back from making a move on in a long time.”
I…I cannot stand this topic any longer! Why is it that every word out of his mouth has to do with sex? What about love? Where is love placed?
“Those girls that you slept with, did you love them?”
“Not at all! I was just having fun. But after a few days, they all start to demand things from me, like promises, my fidelity, marriage, and it gets boring fast.”
“They wanted promises from you because they actually fell in love with you.”
My heart constricts at the thought of that man who dares not even speak of love, as if it is a terrible crime.
“A man and a woman meeting by chance and developing feelings is what we call ‘attraction’. Attraction is purely physical and as such, fleeting. When the newness dulls is when attraction fades. There is sex and feeling like your joys and sadness are controlled by the other party. Then there’s the desire to spend time together, to be proud of one another, to accept each other, to love, to forgive, to be happy. But even that is not the pinnacle of love, for the noblest form of love is living together. Just like how flowers that bloom will also wilt, even the most passionate love will eventually cool. But two people depending on each other, living together until their hair turns gray, now that is a true bond forged.”
I stare at the night sky through the window. More than forty miles lie between us. Is he also looking up at the night sky full of stars like I am?
“From attraction to admiration and then through dependency, to quiet affection, that is the full formation of love.”
Rajiva and I will never have the chance to depend on each other. It’s an admiration that will not come into fruition.
“Ai Qing, are you in love with someone?”
I suddenly realize that Pusysdeva is right behind me, his gaze inquiring. In that moment, his eyes look just like Rajiva’s.
“No, of course not.” I quickly say. I cannot let Pusysdeva or anyone else in the world knows about my feelings for Rajiva. “I was just lost in thoughts, haha, thinking about how wonderful it would be to have such a love…”
Pusysdeva turns me around and lifts up my chin with gentle fingers, making me face those eyes that often give me illusions [of another person].
“’For life or for death, however separated, / To our wives we pledged our word. / We held their hands; – / We were to grow old together with them* .’ Ai Qing, is this the kind of love you want?”
* 2nd last stanza of Jī gǔ (“Beating drums”), a poem from The Classic of Poetry, which Ai Qing made Pusysdeva recite in ch.23.
I have never thought about this. I have never dared to imagine that one day I would be able to hold Rajiva’s hand without a care and walk with him to the end of life’s journey. Both of us each carry a heavy responsibility on our shoulders…
“Ai Qing, shall we try it?”
Before the lips of the playboy can even make contact, I have pulled up the dress I’ve been holding and use it as a shield. I then kick that rascal out of the room.