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21 The Lonely Are A Shameless Lot

Life, like grass, needs moisture because our cells cannot survive without it; therefore, life can exist only in mire.

"It's the season of love everybody, everybody, hug hug hug the lonely are a shameless lot." Since the beginning of the '90s, everybody in Beijing has been singing this song. You hear it everywhere you go, in the shops and on the streets.

Perhaps they have to give their lives some meaning or purpose in order to carry on.

But I have to admit, I'm without doubt one of the "shameless" ones. Rather than keeping up with the beat of the times and throwing open my door to the season of love, I find that I have closed my door even tighter. And I have a love that runs totally counter to the times in my bathroom. To be precise, my bathtub.

In such a big apartment, such an unexpected place to find love!

It all began one day when I was having my bath. As I lay soaking in the tub, in the water's warm and eager arms, all my loneliness and fatigue melted away.

After my mother and my beloved friends left me, I felt that the bathtub and I were all that remained, but this was the first time I had lain like a lover in its embrace. In that quiet and still apartment, only it could clasp me in its arms and make me forget the past, make me forget my isolation. I leaned against the tub quietly like a thirsting plant nursing its way back to succulent life.

I lingered there for a long time, and, coddled in the languid mists, I fell asleep.

The gurgle of the drain awakened me. I must have dislodged the plug with my foot.

I raised my head and looked around. As the steamy clouds of mist dissipated, the pristine white tiles began to reappear, looking like crisp biscuits that seemed to fill the air with a fresh fragrance. With the leaky faucet, its neck solicitously bowed, drip-drip, drop-dropping like a quietly reiterated "hello, hello, hello," and the grumbly surging of the toilet tank like the hubbub of a noisy street, I could never feel lonely again. Especially with the wooden rack on the wall above the tub with all my favorite cosmetics on the top shelf and a pile of books and magazines on the bottom, so I could read while taking a bath.

What an unusual and marvelous place!

In this apartment, aside from me, it is the only thing that is still alive.

One evening, after soaking in the tub for a very long time, I felt especially fresh and relaxed. Having dried myself, I slipped on my nightgown and settled down on my sofa with a nice hot cup of Biluochun green tea.

As I drank my tea looking at the empty room around me, I suddenly felt unaccountably hungry, and I could hear the empty growling of my stomach.

But I knew that I wasn't really the least bit hungry. I had eaten a big dinner, and according to my usual pattern of digestion, I shouldn't have felt hungry again until I got up the next morning.

Nonetheless, I couldn't suppress my hunger pangs.

Through the crack in the curtains I could see all the bright lights of evening. Nightlife in Beijing has been getting more and more varied and lively. People are back into late-night dining, dancing, health clubs, entertainment parlors, and the like. I think they are probably hyper-functioning like this because their digestive systems are out of whack. I don't know.

I had left a long piece of plastic string on the tea table, the white kind that is amazingly strong. I had taken it off a large bundle of books I had picked up at the post office that afternoon.

I had unconsciously picked it up and was idly twisting it around my fingers as something stirred vaguely in my head.

Under the guidance of my subconscious, my fingers divided the string into four equal lengths, shaped them into a strong loop, and knotted the ends together securely. I then stood up and went over to the thick drainpipe that ran from ceiling to floor in the corner between my front hall and my living room. There was a black metal hook on it that looked like a thrust-out empty tongue waiting to be fed. I brought a chair over, and standing on it, I hung the loop I had made on the hook.

This series of actions was executed in a sort of dreamlike state. I really had no idea what I was about, or why.

When I had finished all this and jumped down from the chair, I looked up at what I had just done. Hanging there in front of me, waiting, was a terrible hangman's noose.

Only then did I jerk back wildly in fright.

Fully conscious again, I was appalled by my actions. Palpitating with fear, I sank back into the sofa, my eyes locked on the suicidal noose, my mind racing wildly.

If I were to go over and stand on the chair, it would be as easy as pie to slip that noose around my neck. One little kick of the chair and the whole thing would be over.

As easy as walking through a door nothing to it.

But then I thought, what if nobody came to see me for a long time? My corpse would be hanging in the house all that time what a disgusting scene that would be! On the other hand, it would give people a terrible fright should they come and find me. That wouldn't do at all.

I didn't want to think about it anymore.

To dispel these nameless anxieties, I turned on the stereo system. The station it was tuned to was playing that same song, "The Season of Love."

My thoughts picked up on the line, "The lonely are a shameless crowd."

I pondered it from every angle. Just why are they "shameless"? I tried a number of approaches, but I found it impossible to either validate or disprove the statement.

My Postulations

1. Only when we all hug each other are we normal. If you don't behave in this way, you're abnormal, and abnormal people are shameless.

2. Feudalism and conservativism are finished. The age of openness has arrived. Once it was revolution that shook up society, now it's love. If you aren't part of the trend, you're shameless.

3. After so many years of being "fake models of male and female virtue," our bodies need to relax in leisure suits. Our brains also need to don leisure suits. If your brain doesn't take it easy along with us, then you're shameless.

4. "Classical culture" is a thing of the past. The "postmodern revolution" is in pursuit of relaxation and superficiality. If you stupidly insist on being or playing profound, then you're shameless.

5. I hate my loneliness. I want to enjoy myself along with everyone else, but I can't throw off my loneliness. I curse myself as a shameless person in order to escape my loneliness.

6. I have no desire at all to change the loneliness I love so much. Before you try to tell me I'm shameless, let me tell you that I'm shameless because that's the way I want to be.


Eventually I gave it up.

I said to myself: You're shameless. Totally shameless!

Then I went to bed, turned out the light, and settled down to sleep.

The flashing red and green neon lights outside had found their way through the window curtains and were dancing like pink fragments of windblown cloud on the wall of the room. I stared at them for the longest time, unable to go to sleep.

For two full hours I lay there pointlessly, wide awake. Through the stillness, from the neighbor's open window, I could hear again and again the unbroken strains of "The Season of Love."

After a while, I had an idea: why not sleep in the bathtub? Its long, warm, and cozy oval shape made it the perfect place to sleep.

I bounced up, pulled my robe over my shoulders, and headed straight for the bathroom.

After wiping the tub dry, I fetched my bedclothes and pillow from the bedroom and arranged them in the tub as meticulously as a bird building its nest.

Finished, I stopped to catch my breath, pleased as punch with my new "bed."

When everything was just so, I tunneled my way into my feathery bathtub nest. Lying on my side with my knees pulled up and my arms folded over my bosom was like lying on a golden beach with the sun-warmed sand pressing against my skin, its heat seeping into my blood. The sun's golden warmth raced through my body like marijuana, leaving me languid and drowsy.

Across from the bathtub there was a big mirror. In it I could see a young woman lying on her side in a tiny, swaying white boat. I watched her. The lines of her face were beautifully soft and gentle; her skin was fair and delicate. Tumbled loosely around her neck, her fragant hair was like a dark glistening flower floating on a pool of water. The light, sweeping curve of her body was outlined beneath the flowing wave of her soft silk quilt cover.

This was the first time I had seen myself lying down. I never knew how intriguingly beautiful the passive languor of a reclining body could be.

This led me to think of the beauty of deep sleep, the beauty of death.

Right then, I made a decision: when it came time to die, I would die in the bathtub. There couldn't be a more beautiful place.

I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror, as if I were judging some other girl altogether. All the joints beween the white tiles were like a great net stretched out behind my body, a kind of still and indifferent backdrop trapping my inner thoughts.

I turned my head and lightly closed my eyes.

Then I did something to myself.

Something you only have to imagine and it's done.

While I was doing this wondrous thing, the two dearest loves of my life flashed through my mind: beautiful but ill-fated Ho, and brilliant and immaculate Yin Nan.

This marvelous combination and sexual confusion operated on two planes.

When my fingers caressed my round, full breasts, in my mind they had already become Ho's fingers, her exquisitely slender fingers, touching my skin, those two spheres soft as swan's down fingers like pure white feathers floating, dancing, turning the fragrant delight of rose petals rich red cherries swollen till they burst the thick fragrance of maple leaves in autumn brushing your lips, entwining your neck my breath quickened, the blood in my veins caught fire.

Then the hand, like a freight train, sounding its whistle, huff-huffing nearer and nearer along those familiar tracks toward the fragrant dark grass of the "station," slowly pulled in. Just as it reached the deep place covered over with leaves, Yin Nan suddenly stood there rigid, and filled with the spirit of exploration, he plunged deep and solidly into the center of my breathing

The experience of beauty and the fulfillment of desire brought perfectly together.

| A Private Life | c