Ramblings: I finished translating this chapter shortly after I posted the last, but had to stall the editing, partly due to my midterm exams, partly because this chapter… You’ll see why.
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 29: Pusysdeva’s anger
I tear off each petal: I go, don’t go, go, don’t go, until the last one, which is ‘don’t go’. No, no, that doesn’t count! I pluck another flower and starts the whole process all over. The end result is better this time: ‘go’. Very well, if that is the will of the heavens, then let’s set off!
That is how I make my decision in going to the Cakuri Monastery to draw.
As soon as I arrive, my eyes turn into a scanner and sweep over every nook and cranny of the temple to find that tall thin figure. Ah, there he is! My cheeks suddenly heat up. I cast my head down and continue with my work. The bandage on my arm makes movement rather difficult, forcing me to rest it every once in a while. I’m in the middle of drawing and erasing when a little monk appears with a cup of water and a note in beautiful Han script that says: “The wound has yet to heal, don’t draw so much.” A burst of warmth blooms in my heart. I look up and find Rajiva conversing with Master Bandhudatta in the main hall. His eyes pass by me for a moment, perhaps unintentionally, but after seeing the note in my hands, they immediately return to his conversation partner as if nothing has happened.
I no longer have the mind to continue drawing, too occupied with memories of the first time Rajiva brought me to this temple. I want to take a walk around instead. I walk around recalling every expression, every word he said back then and smile to myself. Those sweet memories are enough for me to chew on for a whole day.
I only return to the small house after Rajiva finishes with his afternoon mantra. He will be back in the evening because my arm still requires treatment. Should I find ways to make this wound heal even slower? Better that than making myself sad with thoughts about leaving. Although I know that I’ll have to leave sooner or later, if I can somehow stall it for another day or so, how nice would that be? Boss*, please don’t be mad at me. Once a woman has fallen in love, how could there possibly be any room left for logic?
*how she calls the professor in charge of the time-travelling project
As soon as the house’ gate comes into view, I can see a horse carriage being parked in the front. I open my eyes wide for a better look. The crest on the carriage is very familiar. Someone steps out from behind the carriage: It’s a very tall figure with a handsome face, wearing a black uniform with a golden insignia and fasted by a belt in the same colour. A long sword is hung on his back. It is a universal truth there is an irresistible charm that men in uniforms have, a charm others of the same sex cannot replicate. But there is something off about this man’s face.
“Pusysdeva?” I exclaim, “How come you are here?”
Pusysdeva gives me a blank stare. It takes a long beat before he answers, “To bring you back.”
His voice is as cold as ice, making me shudder in return.
“Didn’t I say that I’d be back within ten days?”
I step closer and peer at his face curiously, “Did something happen?”
“My father wanted to see you,” he turns his face away from me and avoids my eyes, “Father…ever since he heard news of mother, he has been coughing up blood…”
I gasp: “Does Rajiva know about this? Have you been to the temple? If not, then let’s go! We should tell him at once.”
I pull Pusysdeva’s arm but he refuses to budge. He stares intently at my hand on his arm before letting out a bitter laugh: “Why bother, doesn’t he come back here every evening anyway?”
“You…” I freeze in shock. He knows!
“Masavu told me that you returned three months ago and have been with Rajiva ever since.”
Pusysdeva suddenly pulls me to him. The iron-clad arms of his are enveloping me and aggravating my injured elbow. He pays no heed to my whimpering cries of pain and only presses me closer against his chest. His face falls on top of mine, expression cloudy as he shouts: “Hiding you here, is he trying to follow Emperor Wu of Han’s way of ‘keeping beauty in a golden house’? It seems like even that great Buddhist monk is unable to resist a woman’s wiles! How laughable! And here I thought that you have never known a man’s touch before, when it turns out that you have been in the arms of that deceitful man this whole time!”
* The idiom 金屋藏娇 or “Keeping beauty in a golden house” originated from a boast the Emperor (156-87 BCE) made to his mother about how he would like to build a golden house for Empress Chen, his first wife, but it has now come to mean keeping a mistress instead. It was probably because he later married a second wife, Empress Wu, and then later had an infamous concubine called Lady Li (aka Li Yan in the novel Da Mo Yao for those who have read it).
“Pusysdeva! How dare you speak such words!”
Angry, I swing my free hand to give him a slap, but he quickly grabs it in a grip so tight that I feel my wrist is about to fall off. The more I struggle to escape his hold, the more my injury throbs. Tears flow down my cheeks as I scream at him: “Let me go! You are not allowed to malign Rajiva like that! The two of us have been completely chaste-”
“Chaste?” He cuts through my sentence, his face so ferocious it renders him almost unrecognizable. “Alright, then let’s head to bed now, and you can prove to me whether you are still a virgin or not.”
He drags me into the house. My right arm manages to escape his hold, so I grab onto the first pillar in sight and refuse to let go. My body quivers in fear. Never have I seen Pusysdeva as frightening as I do now. If he truly intends to force me, how would I be able to resist him with my strength?
“Let go of me! Why must I prove such a thing to you? You have no right!”
My right arm feels like it is about to break into halves. The wound is causing me too much pain for me to hold onto the pillar any longer. But if I surrender now, who can imagine what would happen next! He has lost his mind! More tears flow as I scream: “Pusysdeva, you have lost your mind! Do you truly want me to hate you?”
Masavu and his wife run out just then. They approach us looking as scared as I am and try to persuade Pusysdeva [to calm down]. Seeing that I will not let go of the pillar, Pusysdeva turns around and grabs both of my wrists before pressing his body against me.
“No right?” He sneers, one hand still holding both of my wrists, while the other grabs hold of my chin and forces me to look into his eyes. “I have been chasing after you for days. Not sure if you are too stupid or too smart? So it’s okay if it’s with him, but not with me? You spoke of virtues, of books, of romance and proper formation of love, but it seems like you were not above seducing a monk whose reputation is known throughout the entire Western Regions! And now you still want to pretend to be some innocent maiden?”
“How dare you insult me like that? I’ve led a chaste life, not a sullied one like yours, where you bed every woman you come across. An uncouth person like you would never understand the relationship between Rajiva and I!” I shout at him through tears. My right arm feels like it is about to be severed from my body. Unspeakable pain seizes me.
Pusysdeva is about to reply but stops in his tracks and looks past me towards the courtyard. A scheming glint crosses his eyes. He inches forward. In my confusion and pain, I suddenly feel the pressure of something moist on my lips, turning my head into a blank…
Pusysdeva tries to pry my lips apart, sucking on them and moving his tongue to find a way in. I tell myself ‘do not surrender!’ when a searing pain torches my bottom lip, making my jaw slacken. He dared to bite me! My first reflex is to open my mouth of course, which Pusysdeva sees as a chance to attack. His tongue immediately forces through and slides everywhere, chasing after mine relentlessly. It is fast becoming a losing battle for me.
*[T/N: the actual term is literally “Eldest son”.]
Masavu’s voice. I tremble in shock. Dear god, Rajiva is here! He must have seen it all! I use the last of my strength to escape but to no avail. Furious, I bite Pusysdeva. He makes a sound and lets go of my lips, one hand holding his mouth, the other hand still holding both of my wrists. The anger in his eyes is slowly receding as a strange smile begins to takes over his face. He gives me a challenging look and juts his chin towards the courtyard.
I turn my head and find Rajiva frozen in the middle of the courtyard, staring at us, his face completely pale. Pusysdeva yells something at him in Sanskrit. Rajiva trembles, his face paling even more.
“Let me go!” My anger is rising up to the sky. In my life, I have never suffered such humiliation! I am at my limits: “Pusysdeva, when will you grow up? Your father is on his deathbed, and yet you still have the mind to act like this with me?”
His face changes in colour. Pusysdeva slowly loosens his iron grip. Rajiva takes three long strides and comes in front of his brother, severing Pusysdeva’s hold on me completely. Standing in between the two of us, he speaks with a slightly raised voice: “What happened to father?”
Pusysdeva’s eyes redden as he casts his head down, clearly struggling: “The physician said…critical condition…”
I cannot see Rajiva’s face, only his trembling back. Pusysdeva suddenly lurches forward, grabs the front of Rajiva’s robes and speaks through gritted teeth: “It’s all your fault! You knew father was already weak, so why did you go and tell him that mother has passed away?”
Rajiva says nothing in return. This is not right.
“Pusysdeva, you’ve said enough!” I step around and stop next to the two brothers. I use all my strength to remove Pusysdeva’s arm from Rajiva’s robes.
“Is this the time to be arguing? Your priority should be returning to the Residence right away!” I cease my movement and stare at the two of them, my heart as heavy as rocks. “I do not want the two of you to waste time in this meaningless fight and then have regrets for the rest of your life…”
They seem wake up at those words. Pusysdeva lets go of Rajiva.
I turn towards Rajiva, voice soft: “Do you need help with anything?”
Seeing him shake his head, I bark out: “Then let’s go. If we leave now, we should be there before the end of the night!”
“Wait!” Rajiva suddenly shouts. He quickly steps into my room and when he comes out, there is a small bundle wrapped in cloth in his hands.
“Let’s go,” he says at last.
The three of us sit in silence in the carriage. Pusysdeva wanted to sit next to me, but I had immediately moved to the other side. Rajiva came on last and after surveying the scene for a second, took a seat beside his brother.
As soon as the wheels begin to roll, Rajiva opens the clothed bundle he took out earlier. Inside is the medicinal rub, a bottle of wine, a clean cloth and new strips of bandages. Only now do I remember my burning arm and notice that my sleeve is completely bloodied. The pain comes back with a vengeance. I try to use my left hand to hold up my right arm but the pain is too much that I cry out loud.
“Ai Qing, what’s wrong with your arm?”
Ever since he got into the carriage, Pusysdeva has been avoiding my eyes, but when he hears me cry out in pain, he immediately grabs my arm, ready to pull my sleeve up. I do not want him to touch me any longer so I immediately pull my arm back, but that only agitates the injury further, making me the pain almost unbearable. I whimper. He lets go of my arm at once.
The space in the carriage is very small, Pusysdeva is almost kneeling in front of me. “I did wrong earlier. I do not know what overcame me or why I acted in such a way.” His eyes are full of regret: “Let me see your arm please?”
I ignore him and pull up the sleeve myself. The two brothers let out a gasp at the same time. The bandages are completely seeped through with blood. Dear god, if this continues, I might lose my arm!
I grit my teeth and begin to unwrap the bandages. Pusysdeva wants to help but I quickly dodge his hand and in the process hit my arm against the back of the carriage. My tears flow out. A thin arm reaches forward and supports mine. Without a word, he carefully unwraps the bandages. I sit there in silence and enjoy his tender care. My heart starts to calm down and pain begins to lessen.
When the old bandages come undone at last, Pusysdeva lets out a loud gasp. The gash has widened considerably, clearly infected, and the blood runs dark red. Rajiva grabs hold of the medicinal wine. I clench my teeth and look away. Searing pain consumes me, burning through my insides, and no matter how much I try, I am unable to contain my cries. My left hand [uninjured] clenches into a fist so tight my nails are digging crescents into my skin. An icy hand takes hold of my arm. I glance up with difficulty and find Pusysdeva’s face frozen in terror.
“Ai Qing, when did you get injured? How come I do not know about it?”
I do not reply and merely close my eyes, resting my back against the carriage’s frame. The coldness of the medicinal rub is slowly overtaking the searing pain from earlier. His movements still gentle, Rajiva begins to wrap my elbow in new bandages. From start to finish, he does not say a word.
The sky has darkened. A cold breeze sweeps into the carriage. Pusysdeva is still apologizing to me profusely. Exhaustion suddenly takes hold of me, not of the body but of the mind. Pusysdeva’s craziness today has made me realize that he has developed feelings for me, since when I do not know, but I cannot return his feelings. I cannot return any of the brothers’ feelings…
“Pusysdeva…” If I don’t cut him off, he would probably continue throughout the whole night. “I forgive you…”
Darkness has descended in the carriage. I am unable to make out his face, but I can hear him make a sound of joy. I continue on without heed: “I’ll go see your father, and if he seems okay, in a few days, I will accompany this group of merchants to Taqian, and then to Chang’an.”
He grabs hold of my left hand as panic seizes his voice: “You’re still leaving?”
“I have my own plans, cannot stay at Kucha for long.”
I want to take back my left hand but he still holds on to it stubbornly. I have to use a bit more strength before he finally lets go.
“Pusysdeva, I am very tired-”
“If you’re tired, then you can rest on my shoulder and sleep.”
“Pusysdeva, please, I beg of you, at least for today, please do not touch me…”
Horse hooves continue to beat against the pavement. The carriage sways in response. I cannot make out Rajiva’s face, but ever since he got on, he has not uttered a single word, even while bandaging my arm. Oh well, it’s better this way. If I can hear, can see, my resolve will only falter. The three of us stay in silence for the rest of the journey in the dark of the night…
Ramblings: I generally refrained from commenting too much on the characters and the plot since I didn’t want to unduly influence you all in your reading experience, but this chapter almost broke me, and since I named this blog A Translator’s Ramblings for a reason, it is inevitable. You can read my thoughts about this chapter here, but you’re not obligated to, of course.