The Witch Nichang– Chapter 32
It was Master who told Lian’er this news, and it was me who asked Master to tell her.
Actually, I knew it was futile to do so because eventually, I would still have to face all kinds of questions from her. But anyway, I didn’t think I had the courage to say it in front of her that I was leaving.
So I would rather ask Master to break the news while I myself was packing my things and anxiously waiting for the inevitable arrival of an interrogation.
I wouldn’t say I held an important place in her heart, but I knew I had a place in her heart. Not to mention that Lian’er had shown a strong desire to control since young, even treated me as a target of subjugation and control before. The way we interacted got much better later on, but once something major like this happened, I couldn’t be too hopeful with that temper of hers.
As expected, it wasn’t long before a noise came from behind. I turned around, and what came into my view was a frosty face. She didn’t come storming in but quietly looking at me instead. Even when she saw me turn around, she didn’t say a thing.
Things aren’t looking good, I thought. Lian’er wouldn’t be mad but smile instead when Lian’er was in extreme anger, and what was worse than that was this placid coldness. I would rather face her usual aggression or even her punches and kicks when angry. That, at least, was a way for her to vent her anger.
How she behaved now was the opposite of her willful nature, too suppressed. I felt terrible for her, though she didn’t say so.
Because of this terrible feeling, it made me forget about the apprehension I had earlier and put aside all my feelings for the time being. If she wouldn’t come over, then I would walk over. Without saying a word, I took her hand, but she shook my hand off the next second. I wasn’t surprised. She kept shaking off my hand, and I kept taking back her hand. After repeating it several times in silence, she finally couldn’t stand it. After giving my hand a hard fling, she hissed: “Aren’t you going to leave? Just go! Why care about me now!”
There was anger, bitterness, and a lot of grievances in her tone. My heart stung hearing it. I thought she might blow up or even forcefully stop me when she knew I was leaving, but I didn’t expect her to react like this. For all these years, when had I not treated her with love and care? Yet now, I made her sad.
That was why I grew more determined to leave. The bud of hurting myself and others had to be nipped. There was no room for it to survive.
Choking back the pain in my heart, I reached out my hand and took Lian’er’s hand once again. She didn’t shake it off this time, and I managed to hold her hand. With my mind made up, I pulled her closer and embraced her.
Perhaps because the farewell was imminent, I needed such a hug for security and certainty. I let myself play with fire, and for once, the person in my arms wasn’t being difficult and resisting. The way she let me hug her could even be said as meek. Only her pair of lucent eyes was staring straight at me with all kinds of emotions written all over them.
“Since Master’s told you, you should know I’m leaving to visit my parents and fulfill my filial duty…” Deliberating my words, I spoke with care, just wanting to calm her nerves sooner: “So how come I don’t care about you? Lian’er is always very important to me.”
Lian’er’s eyes were flashing with doubt: “Very important?”
“Very!” An affirmative answer. I nodded slowly and firmly. In fact, your importance had long exceeded your expectations and had even exceeded my own expectations.
Even when Lian’er got this answer, she was still unsure and added: “Then which is more important? Master and I or your parents?”
I kept silent for a moment. To answer this question wasn’t hard. There were ways to fudge it or be ambiguous. My rationality told me it was best to do so because that way, I could take account of Lian’er’s feelings and make my excuse to leave sound more natural and justified.
But in the end, when words were about to leave my lips, I still told the truth under the gaze of those eyes: “To me, no one in this world can beat Master and you.”
I didn’t want to lie about it or hide the truth from her. More importantly, I knew Lian’er cared a lot about my answer. I still remembered she had once asked a similar question. That time, she asked me: “Master like someone else too? Does she love that man? More than us?”
Lian’er only had us in this world. There was nothing wrong with Master having someone else she loved, but at least, I couldn’t let her down again, even if it would put the conversion later in an unfavorable situation with this answer.
Sure enough, while the girl in my arms couldn’t help but show her satisfaction and joy after hearing this answer, she started to bombard me with questions: “If so, why do you still want to go? You said Master and I are the most important, yet why do you want to leave us and go to your parents? Isn’t that weird?”
“They’re the ones who gave birth to me and raised me. Even if they aren’t that important. It’s inevitable to worry about them.” Saying the excuse I had prepared, I tried my best not to let my eyes give away my guilt. “After all, it’s been ten years since I left. It’s normal to want to see how they’re doing now, isn’t it?”
It was quite convincing. Lian’er still looked reluctant, but after she looked down and gave it a thought, she showed signs of accepting it, then she raised her head and asked: “Then, then when are you coming back?”
Of all the questions, this was the one I was most afraid of.
I kept silent. I had been thinking about how to answer this question since earlier and had thought of many answers, but when she really did ask, I felt that all the answers were bad. I didn’t know when I would be back because I didn’t know when I could nip the bud that wasn’t supposed to exist and get our relationship back on track where we could be open and natural with each other.
But I couldn’t say words like “date of return is uncertain” either, no matter how. That would let Lian’er down greatly, and if possible, I didn’t want to let her down.
Maybe this hesitation was misleading, Lian’er’s countenance tensed and fell suddenly: “You’re not coming back?!”
I never expected she would imagine it to be that bad. I quickly denied it, but because I hadn’t thought about how to put it, my defense was a bit haphazard: “No, no, what makes you think so, Lian’er? Why would I not return? You see, Master and you are here. This is where I belong, and…and, yeah, you know, right? Master and her husband had a 20-year promise. No matter how much of a jerk I am, I couldn’t have ignored something so important, right?”
I was just hoping she wouldn’t assume the worst when I repeatedly denied it. But to my surprise, these words didn’t comfort Lian’er but made her face look even worse: “20-year promise! You’re not coming back until then?” She jerked away from me, taking two steps back, and said in exasperation: “I remembered it crystal clear. There’re still…still…” She counted on her fingers, but maybe because she couldn’t work out the number while she was all worked up, she gave up, flung her hand, and said: “…there’re still so many years to go! If you’ll only come back by then. What’s the difference with not coming back!”
After yelling that last sentence, she turned around in a fit of pique and left like a gust of wind.
I wanted to go after her and explain to her that that wasn’t what I meant. The 20-year promise was just a figurative bottom line. It didn’t mean that I would wait until then to come back. Looking at the fading figure, I froze for a while, and in the end, I didn’t go after her.
Even though I wasn’t going to come back that much later, when would I be back? This was indeed a question I couldn’t answer.
So, I was in no position to go after her…
Not before long, I regretted my decision of not going after her at that time.
Because later, when I thought about it after I had calmed down, I felt I should make it clear to Lian’er, at least I shouldn’t have let her have the wrong idea. Our last conversation shouldn’t have ended with a misunderstanding, but she kept avoiding me for the next two days.
This situation rendered me helpless as if our role had reversed. Before, it was me who was avoiding her, and now when I wanted to talk to her, it was her who was avoiding me. She was nowhere to be found for most of the day, and at night, she would only be back when she was dog-tired and fell right asleep. The only time I could talk to her was during mealtime. Even at that hour, she would gobble up her food in a jiffy, push her bowl, and leave without saying a word for the entire time, and she wouldn’t bother with me either.
I had waited for two days but hadn’t had a chance to talk to her. Master saw I had everything packed up but was yet to make my move. So she finally asked. I didn’t dare to lie about it, so I repeated the whole story as it was, except for my thoughts.
After hearing it, Master nodded and said that the girl is like that. If you keep waiting, you wouldn’t know she might think she could hold you back like this and keep getting worse. Why not Xian’er goes according to the plan? I will look for a chance to clear up the misunderstanding and don’t worry about this.
Since Master said so, I could only nod and agree, no matter how worried or how hesitant I was.
Thus and thus, by the early morning of the third day, I finally firmed my heart and took my already prepared baggage. After lingering for a moment in this abode where I lived for nearly ten years, I bid farewell to Master and left the Yellow Dragon cave.
On this day, Master was the only one who saw me off. She had told me a lot of things, but Lian’er was still nowhere to be seen. As usual, she was gone as soon as she got up early this morning. She probably didn’t know that this was the day we parted.
Imagining how she would react when she didn’t see me after returning at night, the sorrow and ache grew more and more intense. I was trailing, looking back almost every three steps, hoping to see the person one last time, talk to her, tell her not to worry, and take care of herself. There were so many things to tell her, but I was getting further and further away. When I reached the end and took one last glimpse, there was only Master standing there alone.
Finally, after taking two turns, everything was out of my sight.
Dawdling in the woods, walking down the mountain bit by bit, every step brought me a little further away from the people I cared about. The feelings of parting waned, and gradually, I felt myself falling into a kind of numbness, unaware of how I felt at present, no sadness or joy, just drifting and lacking a sense of reality, as if a few wisps of soul had been sucked out of me, and I was just mechanically moving my legs.
I left, after all. Everything on earth comes and goes. Ten years was like a dream.
Moving forward numbly like this, I had walked for a long time, but the wood scenery didn’t change much, reminding me I hadn’t gone very far. At least, it was a tortoise’s pace compared to the speed we used to go down the mountain.
Not that I deliberately dallied, it was just that in the past, we would lighten our body with qi and walk however fast we could. This time, I didn’t feel like leaving, so I didn’t pick up the pace with qi, but I walked step by step instead, wanting to fix the scenery that I used to pass by but never cared about in my mind.
As I walked and looked around, suddenly, I stopped after taking a sniff of the air.
There was a distinct smell floating in the air.
It was one that of beasts.
Coming to a halt, I didn’t panic, simply because there was a vague familiarity in this smell. If I wasn’t mistaken, they should be a group of friends I knew.
As expected, not long after I stood still, many four-legged creatures came out from the surrounding bushes one after another.
They obviously meant no harm, just gathering in twos or threes on both sides. Most of them were just staring at me and nothing else. Among them, there were a few with distinctive features, something I could recognize. After years of mingling with them, I had some trust in them. So what I felt was more like doubt than caution.
It was still early in the morning, which was supposedly the rest time for the wolves after a night of activity, and this place was near the bottom of the mountain, far away from their territory that I knew. How could these wolves somehow appear here at this time?
I thought for a while in bewilderment, and suddenly, a thought crossed my mind, and I straightened up.
“Lian’er!” Looking around, I called out this name. The wolves wouldn’t break their routine for no reason. Without having to think, there was no one else who could lead this pack of beasts.
“Lian’er! Why’re you hiding? I know you’re here. Come on out, okay?”
After several calls, I quieted down and listened, but there was only the sound of the wind rustling the leaves. Aside from the bustle of the wolves, it was quiet around, as if there was nothing around.
But I was sure she was here.
“Lian’er, since you’re here, why don’t you come out? If you don’t come out, why did you come?” I stopped shouting, and for this one, I spoke with my usual voice. The question was for her, and also for myself.
This time, a response came after a moment of silence.
A familiar voice, but I couldn’t pinpoint its exact location. It was just hovering around in the air, like a gust of erratic wind.
The wind sounded like this: “I don’t come out because it isn’t me who wants to see you off, it’s them. I’m just leading the way for them.”
“See me off?” I repeated in puzzlement. Then I looked at the wolves in front of me and found that there was indeed something strange. Although they seemed to be blocking in front of me in twos or threes, none of them was really blocking the middle of the road. They were all scattered on both sides of the road.
In the midst of amazement, the wind sounded again next to my ears.
“So don’t get me wrong. I won’t see you, and I won’t send you off until you’re back and never leave again. Keep that in mind, Zhu Xian!”
So that day, among the few who saw me off, there was no Lian’er.
As I turned around to leave, the wolves started to howl, a howl I remembered hearing before. That time, they had lost a young member, and now they howled again as if they had once again lost another member.
Amid the howls, I gritted my teeth, lightened my body with qi, and flew off without stopping. I held back from turning around, but I didn’t hold back my tears.