Yi Hui dreamed again.
It was still illogical scattered fragments, shrouded in an ash grey mist, reminding him that this was a long, long time ago.
If he looked around, there was a somewhat empty bedroom with two pillows placed side by side on the bed and a crooked Doraemon doll on the left smiling, pale and decadent under the direct light of the bedside lamp.
His gaze inadvertently swept across a glass of steaming hot water on the table. In his dream, his body got up one step ahead of his consciousness and made him walk out. The door opened with a bang. What greeted him was not a sunny morning but a stormy midnight. Far away, skyscrapers, grass and the night sky distorted and merged into a thick darkness.
When he turned around, the door was gone. He had nowhere to go and he didn’t know where to go. He didn’t dare to sit still, so he had to walk towards the neon lights in the distance.
The picture in front of him shook with the rhythm of his footsteps. He was sure he hadn’t blinked and yet the wavering points of light submerged into the fog, disappearing little by little. But he still couldn’t stop. He heard a voice from behind. Someone was chasing him, trying to step on his shadow and crush his spine.
The road under his feet had also become steep and difficult to walk. The dark shadow sometimes floated by his side and sometimes above his head. It was like vines wrapping around his body tightly, or like snakes touching his back with its tongues.
It was difficult to breathe and his chest was sore. When the last discernible ray of light in front of him was also swallowed by the darkness, he slipped and fell to the ground.
Biting cold came before the pain. The cold penetrated his heart and his inner organs through the pores of his whole body. Between the huge heaven and earth, the only thing he could hear was his own heartbeat.
The black clouds overwhelmed him and he was almost engulfed in darkness.
With the last bit of his strength, he raised his head and looked around. There was no one coming from behind and no one coming from the front. The only sound that reminded him of his isolation was the triumphant laughter that hovered in the air.
No one would come to save him.
At 4:30 in the morning, Yi Hui pushed away the quilt and sat on the bed for a few minutes before his brain regained control over his limbs. He slowly got out of bed, put on his slippers and walked downstairs.
His footsteps had always been very light; he had never even alarmed the birds perching on the eaves of the house outside the window. He went to the kitchen and poured a glass of cold water. After taking two sips, he felt a faint pain in his stomach. Only then did he remember that there were many physical problems with this body. He needed a quilt in late summer and early autumn because of his weak physique. As soon as he caught a cold, a fever or a flu would follow.
He poured the water again to boil it. After washing up, Yi Hui had nothing to do. He sat at the dining table with his head propped up by his hands, dazed by the humming of the kettle.
It was not the first time he had that dream just now. Yi Hui had trouble sleeping on a bed other than his own. Since he came here, he hasn’t slept through the night once and last night when he managed to fall asleep, he was disturbed by this pervasive nightmare, without a moment of peace.
He pushed his hair away from his cheeks and pressed his temples.
The time spent to relax with his eyes closed was enough time for the water to boil. When he poured the water into the cup, his wrist shook and the hot water spilled along the edge of the table and on the floor. When it splashed on his instep, it was no longer hot. Yi Hui still shrank as if by reflex. It was only after the pain had reached his central nervous system that he came back from his daze.
After he’d drunk a glass of water, his heart was still beating fast, going on a rampage inside his ribcage. Yi Hui patted his chest a few times, thinking helplessly that he had changed to a relatively mature body but his mental strength was not as good as before.
No one in this family got up as early as he did, so he watered a few pots of flowers in the yard. The iron jasmine that had been in full bloom when he first arrived here now had faded petals, just its branches were still green as always.
Yi Hui squatted in front of the flowerpot and looked at it for a long time, thinking of a pot of white snowflakes (1) that he had once raised on the window sill. They were also white, with wider and more rounded petals than iron jasmine and they also bloomed in the summertime.
He had been full of expectations for this summer and those expectations were inextricably linked to the pot of snowflakes.
But in the end, he didn’t see them blossom, and had left one step first.
Before returning to the house, he gathered the clothes that had been drying outside all night. At this time of year the air in the south of the country was still hot and humid and there were almost no wind outside. Instead of being dry, the fabric was heavy and wrinkled, as if it had been soaked in water.
When pushing the door in, he bumped into a girl in a short suspender skirt. The girl was startled when the door opened suddenly: “Are you a ghost walking without a sound?”
Yi Hui had been alone in a quiet space for a long time, and the sharp human voice unexpectedly pierced his eardrums. He was stunned for a while, then lowered his eyes and stepped aside to make way: “Sorry.”
No matter how angry the girl was when she woke up, she couldn’t be fierce when punching cotton. She glanced at the clothes Yi Hui was holding and said with a sneer: “I was scared to death. What’s the use of apologizing?”
Her words were unforgiving but her actions were much more peaceful. After washing up, she went into the living room to fold clothes with Yi Hui.
A middle-aged woman who came down from upstairs was very relieved to see this scene: “A brother and a sister should be like this. I told you it was a good place. The sun shining and the sea breeze blowing makes a person feel better.”
The girl curled her lips: “He wrinkled my skirt, can I not do it myself?”
Taking a look at the shirt that the girl had just folded, Yi Hui couldn’t help but lift the corner of his mouth.
Today was Sunday and the local residents generally got up late, so the hum of the car motor seemed to be the only discordant sound in this quiet town.
“Yimang, open the backseat window and let in some fresh air,” the woman said, holding the steering wheel.
The girl named Yimang struggled to open the window of the back seat of the van and said in disgust at the harsh sound of friction: “This car should be scrapped.”
The middle-aged woman tilted her head and said, “Bear with me, we’ll get a new one soon.”
The girl rolled her eyes and said, “Whatever, since I was in my third year of middle school you had already said we’ll get a new one soon. Now I am in my sophomore year of high school but we still haven’t got it yet. If I didn’t know better, I’d think our family is saving for a Maserati.”
The woman was accustomed to her sharp tongue and smiled: “Then it’ll be a Maserati, just like my baby daughter says.”
Their neighbourhood was about twenty, thirty kilometers away from the city center. The closer they got to the city center, the greater the traffic was. There were three traffic jams in a single block on the main road. It was easy to get to the entrance of the hospital, but there was a sign outside saying that the parking lot was full. The van had no choice but to stop temporarily across the road.
When Yi Hui got out of the car, the woman opened the window and reminded him: “We’re going to the supermarket. If you come out early, stay at the entrance and don’t run around. Wait for us to pick you up.”
Before Yi Hui could respond, the girl in the back seat slapped the back of the driver’s seat impatiently: “He is not a child, let’s go quickly.”
Watching the van join the traffic and disappear at the end of the road, Yi Hui put his hands in his pockets and stepped on the crosswalk to cross the road.
When he walked into the hospital building, the cool breeze blew over his face, blowing a few strands of hair away from his neck. He turned his head to look at the rushing people and for a moment was at a loss as to where he was.
This was the second time for him to come see Doctor Liu. The last time was a week ago, the day after he arrived here.
Sitting on a chair in the consultation room, Yi Hui habitually hung his head to observe the wood pattern of the table. A male doctor wearing glasses put down a teacup and sat opposite him. He tapped the table twice with his pen before Yi Hui regained his senses and raised his head.
“Today is a good day.” The doctor started with a relaxing topic, “Your complexion is better than before.”
Although it is said that one would be unfamiliar at first, but well accustomed soon enough, Yi Hui, in his natural reverence for the doctor, still behaved with excessive restraint. He nodded and said, “En, it’s a lot better.”
The next process was like the last time; the doctor asked him seemingly irrelevant things while chatting with him.
Yi Hui’s nerves were subconsciously tightened and he had to think about each question for a while before he could answer it.
After a few questions, the doctor noticed this situation. He put down his notebook and pen, crossed his arms on the table and asked jokingly, “What’s the matter? Afraid that I will call the nurse to come over and give you an injection?”
His words referred to Yi Hui being forcibly sent to the hospital last week. The unfamiliar environment without familiar people around him triggered his deep fear of hospitals. At that time, the doctor asked him what was wrong with him but he only kept repeating one sentence — ”HuiHui won’t get an injection.”
Thinking of this, Yi Hui felt embarrassed and shook his head: “I’m not afraid anymore.”
Even if he was dumb and lacked common sense, he knew that this was therapy like psychological counselling. Out of self-protection, he was subconsciously reluctant to open his heart, shrinking into a not-so-hard shell, trying to block out anyone who wanted to set foot in this forbidden area.
After chatting for a while, the doctor probably noticed that he couldn’t let go of his guard, then closed the notebook and said that this was it for today.
Yi Hui breathed a sigh of relief quietly and was about to stand up when he heard the doctor say, “This is the third year, right?”
Yi Hui, who knew almost nothing about it, felt guilty, so he looked away and answered with a stutter, “Yes, right.”
The doctor smiled, as if he hadn’t noticed his abnormality at all: “We know each other so well but it’s always me asking you questions. Do you have anything you want to ask me? Treatment progress, life chores, opinions on the people and things around you, maybe I can give you some suggestions… By the way, you used to bring paintings to show me before. What, don’t you paint these days?”
Yi Hui was taken aback, lowered his head and said, “Paint, I still paint.”
The doctor waited in silence for a while, and when he saw that he had no intention to speak, he picked up the documents on the table and prepared to put them back in the filing cabinet behind him. As soon as he turned his back, Yi Hui’s weak voice reached him: “Is it okay to ask anything?”
The doctor turned around and encouraged him with a gentle look: “You can ask anything. I will keep it a secret for you.”
Yi Hui licked his lips, hesitating, and after a full minute raised his head as if he had made up his mind. He fiddled with a strand of his long hair falling on his chest: “Can I cut off my hair…?”
**************(1) Snowflakes (white plumbago) – a plant with clusters of pure white flowers