Petals in the Wind
He had never desired a complicated life, much less a life full of pain. All he desired is to become a scholar in China; but, alas, that was not his fate as he begins to scatter the white dust into the air, allowing the wind to take it near and far. She is scattered to the winds, to the four directions of the world.
He places a white colored scholar’s cap on his head and as he stares at the lake he sees petals from a plum blossom tree skimming the water and then sinking to the very bottom. The petals resemble tiny tufted hearts, the grace and beauty dies away in one sweep.
The sunset is near as he gets up. He knows he has to make it back to his district before all the gates would be shut down for the night, but he finds himself swaying with every step as dizziness crowds behind his eyes and he leans against a tree trying to compose himself. ‘I should continue,’ he thinks to himself. ‘I cannot stay here.’ But before he makes a decision he hears loud bells and gongs in the distance signaling that the gates are closed. He remembers that his friend is staying here as well and decides to look for him.
His friend, Wang Xianliang tightened his lips and in his eyes he saw displeasure despite the civil words that were paid to him. “Ah, Kim Yong-sun, a pleasure to see you. Come in, come in,” he ushers him inside, his hand around his shoulders. “Would you like a drink perhaps? I have bought this from one of the merchants, but alas it should not be worthy of your visit.”
“That is all right, I did not come here to slake my thirst.”
Some servants enter inside the room and set a table for one. He stops them and they stare at the guest in surprise. “Will you stay? I am about to have dinner, but you must not have eaten anything, have you?”
“I hadn’t,” he admits as he sits down. Wang Xianliang opens up the bottle and takes the whiff of fragrance.
“I have bought this from a Japanese merchant,” he says as someone brings in two glasses pale colored with painted black dragons and tiny blue flowers done in exquisite detail. “They call it ‘Sake,’ I believe.
“Hmm,” Kim Yong-Sun says, about to pass out.
One of the women servants comes up and pours Sake into their cups. “To health,” Wang Xianliang says as he toasts Kim Yong-Sun’s glass and drinks it down in one gulp. He sighs after the drink. “This brings back up old times; remember when we went to that Foreign Madame’s house? When you first came to China?”
“I remember,” he tells his friend. “I don’t want to impose on you, but I have to stay here tonight.”
“Oh no, no trouble at all.” He orders for the servants to roll out two futons on the floor and quickly they move the table laden with food away, along with the foreign drink called Sake. “My parents get up early in the morning though. They are loud people,” Wang Xianliang says.
“I remember,” he replies.
“My father loves my mother. He has never taken a concubine or a second wife after he found her. I wish I could be that lucky.”
“My father had many concubines,” he tells his friend. “I am a son by a concubine, not even a real wife.”
“I will be getting married soon,” he confesses. “I do not want to. I enjoy my lifestyle too much, but it is for the good of my family.” Wang Xianliang continues to talk. Kim Yong-Sun recognizes the ploy and realizes that his friend must be anxious. Wang Xianliang often gestures with his hands and often expresses and says too many things as if he has no idea of propriety or of what to say and what to keep inside. Yet there is an undeniable charm about him that causes others to take notice of him.
Kim Yong-sun, feeling exhausted by the talk of his friend, eventually falls asleep.
Loud noises and scolding startle him from his reverie. His heart and head begin to pound as he wonders what is going on when he hears a mixture of Chinese and Korean being spoken. “You should not handle anything for the kitchen!” he hears the voice of Wang Xianliang’s mother scolding the father. “You break things simply by staring at them.”
“Your beauty has charmed me,” the father declares in Chinese then quotes from Women’s Virtues and Vices. “but your temper, my dear lady, is not a virtue.”
“Divorce me then,” the wife declares, her voice not carrying fear as he thought it would. “I will be asking the servants to create Sillan style breakfast. I hope you will join me in my quarters.”
He is surprised to learn that his friend’s mother is also from Silla, just like he. He knew that his friend’s mother is from the peninsula, most likely from the kingdom of Kogoruyo, but he had no idea it was the Silla kingdom she was from!
For a minute he pictures the breakfasts he had back in Silla, the succulent food that his servants created, adding in the red spice to give flavor to the cabbage, and the rice and beans sprouts that were picked painstakingly with care that were added to his plate every day.
He recalls the voices of his father and women around the table, carefully nitpicking the breakfast that was served and their melodious voices discussing Confucius or Mencius. As a rule, his family never discussed the current goings on in the world for fear of being upset.
He looks over his friend and wonders if his friend is familiar with the culture of Silla, or did the mother give up all the roots when she married the father? All of a sudden he desires to know those things he has never paid attention to.
His friend awakes then. “You’re awake,” he says simply. “Ugh, my head,” he declares as his face contorts with pain. “I must have drunk too much, haven’t I?”
Kim Yong-Sun does not answer the enquiry but instead gets up and changes his clothes, all the meanwhile feeling a deep pain in his heart. Dressing is painstaking, making sure the sash ends match and are not out of order, and then there is the ceremony of putting on Hanbok, which is a traditional Korean costume.
“Wait,” Wang Xianliang calls out. “I will get servants to help you.”
“It is not necessary,” he replies as he finishes with the costume, satisfied that he looks all right. He places on a scholar’s cap and realizes that soon he will have to wear white for forty nine days, that is, until her spirit descends into heavens.
His friend stands up. “Want to get a drink over at Foreign Taste? Remember, they have excellent teas.”
He nods his head. Wang Xianliang nearly falls over. Instinctively Kim Young-Sun extends his hand and grasps Wang Xianliang’s elbow to steady him.
“Thank you,” his friend says. “What happened yesterday though? You looked as if you were about to lose your soul.”
He lets go of his friend’s elbow and realizes that he doesn’t want to talk about it, much less to his friend. What will his friend understand? Nothing is what. “I do not know,” he says the words carefully.
“Let’s go to Foreign State and get a drink.”
“Is it all right for you?” Kim Yong-Sun asks with concern. His friend normally abstains from alcohol often using Buddhist terminology of not getting attached to things, but recently, Wang Xianliang has been drinking abnormally.
“Of course it’s all right,” he insists. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”
In his heart, Kim Yong-Sun experiences a twinge that something is not right, that this is not his friend’s behavior.
Wang Xianliang, meanwhile, walks outside, not even waiting for him. He hurries on to catch up with his friend.
“From the Way I have strayed,
Watching the flight of pigeons
Above me flying in a perfect W,
The grass bristles at my talk,
My heart then is trampled
By wild horses.”
Wang Xianliang says as his hands fly up to the sky. He is by his friend in an instant, and begins creating more nonsensical poetry:
“The mountains ring with voices,
I stand alone before all,
The forest becomes deserted,
And I continue to try to
Capture the spirit once more.”
Wang Xianliang laughs. “I have always thought your skills with poetry were much better than mine. Not bad for someone who is from Shilla.”
He is proud of his roots and of where he came from; for it was his kingdom that was responsible for the reunification of the whole peninsula that was later to be called Korea. He begins to sing folk songs, one of which is called ‘Arirang,’ Wang Xianliang joins in and with that melody they finally make it to Foreign State.
Seeing that place once more brings up memories for him, of meeting her for the first time, of remembering that delicate smile, the irony in her speech, and hearing her laughter. He freezes, unwilling to face inside, somehow wondering if she will be standing there, waiting for him. Her death had to be a mistake, he thinks to himself. He notices that Wang Xialiang also stands before the building, but his hands are shaking, his hands balled into fists. He again wonders what is going on with his friend but decides not to push the issue. When Wang Xianliang is ready to tell him, he will.
He sees her coming out, her hair hidden underneath a veil with pearls, her eyes smoky and mysterious and he smiles widely, unable to restrain himself as he wants to give her a hug, but then realizes it is another woman and not her at all.
“Good afternoon gentlemen,” the woman says and then leads them to a table inside. From the view both of them can see a garden of peace, of the water creating a circle around the boulders, the flowers arranged to give peace, and the birds are there as well, singing songs to please. The inside, when compared to the outside feels stuffy and somehow unwelcome to him.
“Tea is all right, right?” Wang Xianliang asks his friend.
“What of the Sake drink?” He asks him.
“I’m sick of Sake and alcohol,” his friend declares. “Many endless moons pass by and I realize the fruitlessness of the drink.”
“We often drink to forget our sorrows,” he replies as the foreign woman returns with the drinks and pours them each a cup. Both of them thank her and she bows and asks if they require company.
“Thank you but not at the moment,” Wang Xianliang replies much to his relief. He did not want to answer that question much less hear it.
Wang Xianliang picks up his cup and all of a sudden they hear music playing and laughter and conversation rise up and fill the atmosphere. The music is painful to listen as he recalls the dances she performed onstage to these songs. “The air is fresher outside,” he says in hopes his friend will understand. “Here it is not good.”
No response from him. He looks up and sees his friend continuously drinking tea without pausing and savoring the taste, yet he knows that they make good teas here.
He grumbles inside at continuing to sit somewhere where the mood doesn’t match his inner one. He picks up the cup and sips his tea before noting that his friend stopped the tea drinking and instead is drumming his fingers against the wood, an irritated expression on his face.
“The taste is nice, isn’t it?” He asks him.
“Yeah,” he says as he continues to drum his fingers against the table. “I’d like some dinner now though, and perhaps we shall talk. There is something I want to know.”
He does not say anything as Wang Xianliang orders some foreign food and after a considerable waiting time, it is brought over. He picks up his chopsticks and begins to eat the food, dreading the moment when his friend will begin to discuss his business. At the idea he feels uncomfortable, preferring to discuss personal business, bad or good during designated times rather than ruin the only time he has any peace. Thoughts, he realizes, do not follow that schedule and become invasive all the time, especially when they are on the negative side. He hopes inside that if Wang Xianliang needs to talk, he will talk after the meal, but that hope is dashed as his friend drinks tea and begins reminisce about the first time they came here.
“You thought women here were in fairytales, remember the one you told me about, the one about the what is it called?”
“Gumiho, a fox with nine tails,” he says. “A woman that becomes a fox and wreaks havoc and destruction among men; people often believe that if you eat the liver from the fox, your life will be longer.”
He laughs then. “You brought a sword with you on that day. You didn’t want to be killed by the Gumiho.”
“You have said that women here were white haired, what was I supposed to think then?” He protests, getting impatient. Either his friend doesn’t notice the impatience, or else chooses to ignore as he continues to reminisce.
“Silla Kingdom has a lot to learn from Tang,” Wang Xianliang says. “We already knew that white haired women are not foxes as you seem to think.” He chuckles. “You need to become better assimilated my friend.”
Assimilated, a word he despises. He has no desire to give up his roots and culture, and sometimes he detests the slight contempt he gets from Wang Xianliang and others of his ilk. His father though ordered him to fit in and to forget that he is a Shillan. “Attract a girl of Tang,” his father said before he left. “Marry her and this is how you can make us happy.” He promised his father that he will do so.
The girl he fell in love with was not Chinese or Shillan. She is a foreign girl from somewhere else; she herself refused to tell him from where and now it is too late to ask her from where, for she has died.
He remains silent as they finish up dinner and then Wang Xianliang orders wine to be served. “I hear tales sometimes of men falling in love with foreign women here, but the tales end in tragedy.”
He finds his body becoming locked and his heart begins to race. He now knows what Wang Xianliang wants to discuss. “These are foolish tales,” he says carefully. “You shouldn’t fill your head with pointless gossip.” He chastises his friend as he drinks the wine in one gulp.
His friend continues to talk as if he has not said anything. “Perhaps you have heard of such tales?”
Sweat breaks out on his body and he hopes it’s from wine rather than his friend’s words. If his friend should find out that he was in love with a foreign girl, then he will write to his father, and his father will not have any troubles leaving him without family. “No, I cannot say that I have,” he sips more wine, feeling the pungent taste of alcohol in his mouth.
“Hmm, I had hoped to enlightened, but alas, I will not be. Perhaps you’d like to hear of a story like that?”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
Wang Xianliang narrows his eyes and groans, a sign that he is already exasperated beyond belief. “I never like these pointless ceremonies and words,” he says. “I am more foreign than native, and I often feel trapped like this. I brought you here to share in your grief, my friend. I know you loved her and mourn her. I did not want you to be alone.”
He stops sipping and places the cup down. “How did you know about her death, and about me?”
“The world is small. I would often come here by myself and hear stories about your visits to her, the small gifts that you got for her, like the Jessamine sachet, or calligraphy to treasure.” He pauses. “You wanted to marry her if my memory serves me right. I wanted to hear the details from you and why she has died.”
“You will be asking for a heavy price. Thank you for your intentions but I do not desire to place such burden on you.”
“At least tell me about her, about the times you have spent together with her. I will not tell this story to anyone, much less to your family.”
“What has been troubling you lately?” He asks, feeling his control weakening. He is shocked that he has asked such question.
“I am in the same position as you are,” Wang Xianliang admits. “I fell in love with a foreign girl. My parents have heard of it. That is why they are forcing me to marry someone else.”
“Is it someone here?”
“No. She works someplace else. She is a merchant’s daughter, often travels with her father and learns business from him.”
“A very unsuitable match for you,” he points out. “If a woman has ambition outside the home then she may overshadow you, and will you be able to live with that?”
“I might leave from here and travel,” he confesses. “I have wanted to do that for a while. I want to see my mother’s kingdom and to see the marvels of the world.”
He thinks for a moment, considering the options of whether or not to tell his friend about the love he had for the girl that died. Wang Xianliang exhibits the characteristic of loyalty strongly and doesn’t betray friends or family, he recalls. “Very well,” he finally says. “If you listen carefully and in privacy, I will tell you a story of a man falling in love with a foreign girl and of their tragedy of becoming separated for an eternity.”
His friend paid for the meal and they returned back the house and went outside to the garden to admire the full moon, the stars that many of his ancestors have tried to divine and the dusky clouds that rolled forward to cover the moon and the stars.
The two of them sit down and admire the stars and constellations. He clears his throat, his fingers touching the white scholar’s cap and he begins the promised story.
He had arrived to Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty in 712 of Current Era at the age of eighteen during the season of spring, and the tales he had heard in Shilla kingdom had not prepared him for the experience, for he stood gawking at the various peoples that mingled among the marketplace, speaking in different tongues and dialects.
His luggage stood nearby along with the money that should last three years while he attempted to pass the coveted examinations. He wondered where the servants might be and at the last minute he hires some rickshaw to take him to his apartment in Chang’an. As he is riding through the city, he cannot help but marvel at the number of shops and merchants that are in this capital gawking their wares and telling every passerby that theirs and not the competitor’s are best. The market in Shilla cannot compare to the one here, he thinks to himself. From time to time he sees women with white or red hair and bright eyes and very quickly he touches the dagger in case if one of them will become the Gumiho, the legendary fox with nine tails and decide to kill him.
These women were either performing magic tricks or acrobatics or whatever else. He wonders where they are from and what they are doing here but he decides to come back later and at first he will get settled in, wander to the restaurant and eat his fill. He feels his back aching and he stretches his arms in hopes that that will alleviate the pain. It didn’t help.
He tries to remember the herbs he needs but decides to visit the herb master’s shop later. Perhaps he will tell him what is needed to alleviate the back pain and to take away exhaustion. After a few hours the rickshaws stop near the building and help him with the luggage. They drop the luggage nearby as he pays them the money and then gets inside and sees the servants already standing, their faces impassive and cool.
One of them comes up to him and introduces himself. “I am Shou Bai, the main servant of these unsatisfactory servants. Unfortunately we lack experience with serving.”
“That is all right,” he tells him. “I am Kim Yong-Sun.”
Shou Bai tells others to help with luggage and while they are helping to put things away, Shou Bai outlines Chang’an and gives him advice on the best food and drink, the best store to buy scholar supplies. “In case if you are seeking company, my lord, might I recommend some women entertainers?” He proceeds to name some of the best entertainer houses.
“Might you tell me about the women with white and red hair?” He asks him. “I have seen them as I drove by.”
“Ah, those are foreign women, not as beautiful as the women we have here. They live here trying to survive. They have some entertainment houses but I would be careful if I were you, my lord.”
“Why is that?”
“These women can cause rifts between families and several times there are rumors about a man falling in love and becoming un-filial to his family and losing the Way.”With those words Shou Bai bowed down and left him standing alone. He then hears his stomach rumbling loudly and decides to find the nearest restaurant to eat at.
A year has passed since his arrival to Chang’an and Kim Yong-Sun finds himself to be continuously fascinated by foreign or exotic things, sometimes even spending an exorbitant amount of money for them. The exams came and went and he found a position within the government that allowed him to stay in the capital. Through his father’s connections he also finds himself with new friends such as Wang Xianliang.
One night, as the two of them were walking to the teahouse late at night, Wang Xianliang asks him if he ever went to a foreigner’s teahouse.
“No,” he replies as he looks down on the ground, seeing the gravel beneath his feet. He hears voices all around him, those of Chinese tongue most likely, he thinks to himself. The voices are too far to tell apart.
“Would you like to see what they’re like?”
He takes his time in answering and decides to see the dark blue sky, the moonlight shining down, illuminating the road and no clouds in sight. A perfect night, he thinks to himself but doesn’t say out loud. “Perhaps, but what about the rumors?” He tells his friends the rumors that Shou Bai told him, about women being disloyal and driving men away from their families. Wang Xianliang laughs.
“Have I told you? My mother is from the same peninsula as you are, although she refuses to tell me if she is from Paekche or Kogoruyo or your kingdom, Shilla. I forget, they were reunited by Shilla recently haven’t they?”
He nods his head.
“Technically she is a foreigner here, just like you are.”
“My father is working hard to be part of Tang,” he tells him. He bristles at the word ‘foreigner.’ His father taught him and his siblings how to speak Tang Chinese; he was also taught the Classics and different religions of China. He knows things from his own culture, but most of the knowledge he possess happens to be of Tang China. As far as he views himself, he is not a foreigner to Tang China. To him, foreigners are those who have no knowledge or refuse to learn anything of the culture.
“Anyways,” his friend quickly says. “Want to see what foreign teahouses are like?”
“Sure,” he says. As he walks forward through the maze of streets with his friend, he wonders to himself why he hasn’t attended foreign teahouses before, but he figures it must be his servant’s words and the facial expressions he makes each time Kim Yong-Sun buys something foreign like literature in a strange language or sometimes even buys a few miniature statues from far away kingdoms. One time a foreign man gives him a ten sign which he stares at curiously and places it next to the scroll.
He shakes his head and returns to the present as he and Wang Xianliang finally walk up to the foreign teahouse. Wang Xianliang takes care of the reservations and the two walk inside following the white haired woman. Kim Yong-Sun touches his hidden dagger, making sure that its still there and is doing his best to recall what to do when a Gumiho attacks.
He hears strange music playing nearby and sees numerous people enjoying themselves including dancing and eating food he has never seen before. The white haired woman sits them down and Wang Xianliang asks for the best woman in the teahouse. “Someone who is skilled with words and is witty, a beauty too,” he calls out as the white haired woman walks away.
“They’re Gumihos,” he whispers. Wang Xianliang focuses on him.
“Gumihos, what are those?”
“Your mother never told you?”
“No,” he says.
He takes out a dagger. “I brought it just in case,” he whispers.
Wang Xianliang’s eyes go wide and he starts shaking. “Are you mad?” He hisses. “Gumihos, whatever they are, are fictional! Are you really going to harm these women?”
“Gumihos have white hair and cause destruction,” he tells his friend. “I don’t want to take a chance.”
“Put it away,” his friend orders him. The cheeks blush and becomes as pink as roses. “You’re here to humiliate me right? I know you’re from Shilla and all, but still! A dagger!”
Sheepishly, Kim Yong-Sun touches the dagger and places it back into the hidden spot beneath the robe.
At the time the waitress hurries over and next to her stands a woman about 5’0 with downcast eyes and hands clasped in front of her. “Good evening good sirs,” the woman says. “I am Aurora and how many I serve you?” Like others she had white hair he instantly noticed, but her hair resembled a wig although he dared not say it.
Wang Xianliang attempts to pronounce her name but without success. He doesn’t say anything but pats a cushion next to him in a gesture to sit down.
The main woman with white hair leaves to serve others while Aurora sits down, her hands smoothing the silk fabric. She continues to be demure and shy, but underneath he senses a surge of energy that belies her childlike expression. “Thank you very much kind sirs,” she says. “I will promise to be an exception and a credit to my Madame.”
For a moment he feels nervous and wonders what he should talk about with her. He drums his fingers against the table, looking her way. Wang Xianliang also appears to be nervous, he observes, watching his friend’s grin and chuckling once in a while. “Do you have tongues?” She demands. “I had thought that you came here to be kept company instead of sitting here like a bunch of idiots doing nothing. Now if you have nothing better to do then I shall go.” She stands up and he grabs hold of her wrist. She struggles against him.
“It is my first time here,” he explains.
“Where are you from? From Nippon or somewhere else?”
He is speechless at her words. “Do all of you ask such questions?”
“No,” she replies. “If you were truly of the Dynasty then it wouldn’t be your first time would it? I’m sure that you’d hear of us sooner or later.”
Wang Xianliang begins to laugh, guffawing once in a while. “She really got you there didn’t she?”
He wants to smash things into pieces or else slap Aurora across her face, but he controls himself and stares at her.
“Don’t be mad at me for speaking the truth,” she says. “If your silence wasn’t a dead giveaway, then underneath that shirt I assume you have a weapon right?” She sighs and he lets her go. She goes up to the table and begins to serve them tea. “I’m not straightforward normally, but I cannot help it, especially among non-Tang people.” She pours the tea without spilling the liquid then sets it down. “You’re from one of the kingdoms down below, right?”
“From Shilla,” he responds. He sits down on his knees next to her and picks up the cup of tea. His friend follows the suit.
“I know very little about it,” she admits it.
“Won’t you have some tea?” Wang Xianliang asks as he places the cup down.
“Perhaps later,” she replies. “I’ve had tea earlier.”
“I’m hungry,” Wang Xianliang says as Aurora stands up and he gives her a simple order of food to bring over.
While she is gone, Wang Xianliang begins to talk with him about her. “She is most unusual,” he says.
He nods his head.
“I didn’t appreciate her calling us idiots or whatever it is she has said.”
“I don’t think anyone will enjoy that,” he says, still tasting tea in his mouth and enjoying the gentle aroma that drifted around.
“Want to get another woman?” Wang Xianliang offers.
“She will be fine,” he says. At that moment Aurora returns and gives them the meal. For the rest of the meal she proves to be a good companion and often makes clever jokes about the local officials. The side that they had seen earlier has gone. While they were leaving, again he noticed the starch like wig she wore with white hair. She noticed it as well.
“It’s a wig,” she says. “My hair is originally dark brown but the Madame here wants blonde women. So I have to wear it to please her.”
“Can I see it?” he asks shyly. She nods her head and takes off the wig, handing it to him. He sees the straight dark brown hair going down her back. To him she appears much more beautiful than with the wig but who is he to criticize the establishment. The two leave and promise to return to the establishment.
He makes frequent visits to the establishment, sometimes with Wang Xianliang and other times by himself and during that time he begins to get to know her. He learns of the fact that she is without a family or parents, or that she is jaded about emotions and the only thing she ever relies upon happens to be logic. Each time he visits her, he grows to admire her survival instinct in the tough city. One night he asks her what it is like to be here.
“Apparently none have knowledge of a foreigner having dark hair,” she says as she drinks tea. “Sometimes I get treated like a curiosity while other times almost everyone but foreigners stare at me. Makes it hard to do business or buy supplies and all.” She sighs. “I used to wear a disguise long time ago and with friends often we went shopping on the East Side of Chang’an. There was a lovely teahouse there we would enter inside and we would drink tea and just talk.”
“Ah, is your friend around?”
“Nope,” she says matter of fact and places hairpins around the white wig she wears. He is curious to know what happened to the friend but has no heart to ask her for the answer. “We may not be prostitutes but still, it’s hard being what I am. Women fall in love with men visiting them, and oftentimes it ends badly for both. Men promise them the moon while women lose business and become anxious to get away.”
She pauses and drinks tea delicately, placing the cup down without noise or commotion. The language she speaks sounds melodious and soothing. It’s hard for him to believe that despite the melody in it she is speaking of harshness he wishes she had no knowledge of.
“All this makes me wish that all this was non-existent. I wish I wasn’t here, and I wish you weren’t here either. I want to be back home.”
He sips tea politely, uncertain of what to say, feeling the old emotion that this is dangerous ground he is treading on.
“I don’t want to fall in love,” she finally says, “and I apologize for burdening you unnecessarily. Here we strive to make it pleasant for you, and I’ve done just the opposite.”
He protests and pays her money. Much to his surprise, as he is leaving she places a kiss on his cheek. He finds his cheeks burning as he wishes her goodbye.
“Wait,” she says. “I want to ask you something.”
“What is it?”
“What would you do if somebody fell in love with you?”
“If they were a good match and my parents and my entire family would approve of the match, then I’d marry them.”
He sees a sad expression on her face, her eyes dark and filled with liquid. “What if they were someone that your family wouldn’t approve of? Would you still try?”
He does not know how to articulate or answer the question. He wonders if she is talking about herself or someone she knows perhaps but he doesn’t want to ask her. It wouldn’t be fair to ask her, he decides. Finally he finds the answer. “I do not think I would.” He says. “I have no desire to tear my family apart and if I marry or be with someone they don’t approve of, then I will be unhappy.” He tries to explain to her the meaning of family and what it means to be cast out. He knows that this is something she will not understand. He finally leaves the tea establishment.
Next few times he returns with presents for her; calligraphy that he drew, a Jessamine sachet, and some precious necklaces made of jade. He had time to think over what he told her and feels that he should make amends in some way. She accepts the presents graciously and tells him the news that soon she will no longer be keeping men company. “What do you mean?” He asks, curiously as he hands her another of the calligraphy he drew.
“I have asked to be transferred over.” She lowers her eyes to the floor and he notices a strand of dark hair over her forehead.
She looks up and despite the bold nature in her eyes; her voice is in a state of whisper. “I fell in love with you,” she confesses. “I am sorry. I tried hard not to but I couldn’t resist. I figure that if I become a dancer that will help me avoid the pitfalls of falling in love and having my heart broken.”
No words become forthcoming and he wonders if he feels the same way about her as well. Does he? He finds himself unable to articulate his emotions towards her. “Keep the presents,” he finally tells her.
“I will,” she replies. She fingers the calligraphy drawing and he sees her eyes on the character that he painstakingly drew, making sure it is accurate.
She asks then if he could spend a night with her and he agrees. “I will still come for you,” he says, “even if only to see you dance and do nothing else.”
Next morning he leaves her and at the time he begins to hear of small rebellions in the heart of where he came from and is unable to come back to the teahouse.
A year later he walks inside the teahouse and ask the Madame about Aurora’s whereabouts. “She’s dead,” she says calmly. “She died last month of a snake bite.”
“It is a joke is it not?” He asks.
“What’s your name?” Madame asks as she picks up a rag and begins to wipe the table away.
“Kim Yong-Sun,” he says as he sits down, a heavy feeling inside his heart. Dead. She couldn’t be dead, he tells himself. Madame is lying.
“Wait right here,” with those words he sees her leave and hears her footsteps go up. While she is gone, he looks around and sure enough he doesn’t see Aurora anywhere. Women with white hair or white haired wigs are everywhere; some of them have their hair hidden underneath the veils, but no sight of her.
Loud footsteps are heard and she comes back, out of breath. “Her last wish is for you to scatter the ashes,” she tells him as she hands him the urn. In her hands he also sees all the presents that he has given Aurora. She hands them back as well. She leaves him alone then and he walks outside to scatter the ashes.
He watches as Wang Xianliang stares at the stars and constellations. “Sad story,” he remarks as soon as Kim Yong-Sun finishes. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out.” He sighs. “What will you do now?”
Kim Yong-Sun gets up and helps Wang Xianliang stand up. “I will go back to my apartment. Thank you for lightening my burden.”
Wang Xianliang says nothing.
“I will spend one more night with you and then I shall go back home.”
“It is a lot to deal with, Kim Yong-Sun.” he says. “I wish I could be of help to you.”
“I doubt you can. Perhaps soon I might travel. I want to find Aurora’s family and tell them of her demise. It is not right that her family has no knowledge of her death.”
“It’s odd that as soon as one adventure is over, another begins,” Wang Xianliang says.
“I think I would like to sleep outside for tonight.”
In response, Wang Xianliang calls out the maids and the two decide to spend the night underneath the stars instead of inside.
As the sun rises above the eastern edge with crimson and golden colors shimmering across the violet stained clouds, Kim Yong-Sun wakes up and walks away from Wang Xianliang’s house.
The capital is wide awake already, the merchants and customers buying and selling various goods and services, often arguing and bargaining. The city gates inside Chang’an were already open and as he walks back to his own house, he tells himself that everything shall be okay. He will travel, and find Aurora’s family and tell them of her unfortunate demise.
Wang Xianliang is correct, he tells himself. As soon as one adventure ends, another begins, and there is no telling where that adventure will lead and what it will do. He feels his heart pumping faster at the thought of traveling and beginning the new adventure. For that, he cannot wait.