The reason why he wanted to cut his hair short was very simple: this long hair did not belong to him.
Yi Hui was used to thinking simply and directly, and only later, when he had the time to think deeper, did he belatedly realize the absurdity of the question he asked.
It was not his at all, this body didn’t belong to him from head to toe. What was the point of seeking affirmation and support from others?
On the way back, it suddenly started to rain. At first, a few sparse drops fell from the dark clouds but soon it turned into a torrential rain. The pea-sized raindrops pelted the tin roof with such force that the poorly soundproofed van was filled with a heavy, dull noise.
The woman in the driver’s seat commanded while waiting at the red light: “Yimang, close the window and don’t let your brother catch a cold.”
The girl withdrew her arm resting on the edge of the window and muttered something, while struggling to close the window.
Yi Hui shifted his gaze from the window on his side to the window on the other side that had not yet been completely closed, and looked outside through the few inch wide gap.
The autumn rain here was very different from that in the capital. It was as fine as silk, like silver webbing falling from the sky, full of warmth and humidity unique to the south.
The residents here were also very different from the capital. There were many small vendors selling tropical fruits on both sides of the road. The heavy rain drenched them as they picked up their things in a hurry, laughing heartily and gossiping with stall owners next door.
He wondered if Jiang Yihui, who had come here from the capital three years ago, had also been unable to break away from the fast-paced life to adapt to this peaceful, leisurely paradise.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, or it could be a joke made by Heaven. The original owner of this body was also called “Hui”. If one removed the surname, his name was subtly similar to “Yi Hui”.
If he were still alive, Jiang Yihui would be a young man of twenty-something years old. His mother Jiang Xuemei was driving in front and his younger sister Jiang Yimang was sitting next to him.
It was an ordinary single-parent family, composed of the eldest son suffering from mental illness, a younger daughter in middle school, and a mother, the backbone of the family, struggling to raise the two children.
If one had to mention something unusual, from what Yi Hui had learned about this family after occupying this body for ten days, Jiang Xuemei’s partiality towards her son would count as one.
After all, for the sake of her son’s comfort, she moved her family from the capital to this remote southern island. Even Yi Hui’s own mother who had loved him dearly in the past could not do it.
As a result, Jiang Yimang was dissatisfied with her brother and provoked him verbally from time to time. After Yi Hui figured out this complicated family relationship, he expressed his full understanding of her attitude.
“Yihui, did you have a good chat with Dr. Liu today?”
Jiang Xuemei’s words interrupted his thoughts. Yi Hui withdrew his gaze and said, “Very good.”
Jiang Xuemei smiled and nodded: “That’s great. Mom bought shrimp, do you want to eat them boiled or with sweet and sour sauce?”
Jiang Yimang beside him snorted softly, and Yi Hui pushed the question at his younger sister: “Whatever Yimang wants.”
He couldn’t make up his mind about such matters of personal preference and avoided them if he could.
It was not that he hadn’t thought about telling the truth, but whenever he looked at Jiang Xuemei’s concerned eyes, he couldn’t say the words on the tip of his tongue.
You could call him cowardly or selfish but no matter how stupid or dull he used to be, he also knew what kind of pain it was to weep over a loved one who had passed away.
Jiang Yihui committed suicide. From the few words he had left before his death, it could be seen that he couldn’t find the meaning in life and really didn’t want to live anymore.
Yi Hui couldn’t empathize with this. As someone who clearly knew that he was different from others, he had never given up doing his best and welcomed every difficulty he met with optimism. What’s more, Jiang Yihui was only facing disappointment in the lack of recognition of his talent and difficulty in finding a confidant.
However, unless you experienced something firsthand, you were not qualified to speculate or question.
Yi Hui shook his head, feeling that his thinking was superfluous. At the moment, he had his hands full managing his own affairs. He was at a loss as to where to go from here. The most urgent task was to decide whether to pretend that nothing happened and take over Jiang Yihui’s identity or to find an opportunity to tell them that he had inadvertently occupied the magpie’s nest.
Back home, Jiang Xuemei went to the kitchen to prepare lunch. Jiang Yimang went back to her room and locked the door. Yi Hui had nothing to do and went to the studio downstairs to stay there for a while.
The father of Jiang family passed away early and they relied on Jiang Xuemei to do odd jobs to support them. They did not live in poverty but they were not well-off either. One could see from Jiang Yimang’s dress that she had worn it again and again.
In such circumstances, Jiang Xuemei insisted on renting a detached house and vacated a special studio there, proving her bias towards her son from another perspective.
The studio was arranged in the only south-facing room downstairs. Even when it was raining and dark clouds covered the sun, the room was not dim.
The wooden cabinet in the corner looked stained, but if you came closer, you could see that the surfaces were immaculately polished and a few trophies were shining brightly.
Yi Hui raised his hand and slid his fingers over the uneven characters on the base of the trophy. He thought that if Jiang Yihui hadn’t gotten sick and could occasionally produce a few paintings to subsidize his family as before, his family’s life would be much better.
After occupying this body for nine days, Yi Hui had a general understanding of the basic information on the original owner.
Jiang Yihui, twenty-four years old, won the first prize in an international painting competition two years in a row and dropped out of the Capital Academy of Fine Arts in his sophomore year.
This was another unexpected coincidence between the two of them in addition to their names. Yi Hui also liked to paint.
The difference was that he did not paint with such a strong sense of purpose, let alone any motivation, so he did not understand how Jiang Yihui could have fallen into depression and even taken the path of suicide because he could not produce works that he was satisfied with.
Yi Hui studied many of the works he had left behind. Whether in terms of line, colour or intention, there was no denying that Jiang Yihui was an artist of considerable talent. Perhaps people with talent beyond the reach of others had a certain aloofness and sense of nobility about them, but sometimes their obstinacy could become a sharp blade to stab themselves with.
As a fellow artist, among the works left by Jiang Yihui, the one Yi Hui admired most was not the ones that had won awards and high praise, but a landscape painting that was stuffed in the lower part of the cabinet together with a pile of discarded drafts.
The main subject of the painting was a house, surrounded by a clear sky, grass and a wooden fence, a simple composition of muted colours. At first glance, it looked mediocre but if you looked closely, you could see that the house had white walls and red tiles, the sky above was clear, the clouds were light, and the pure white flowers in the corner of the yard were blooming.
It was the house rented by the Jiang family in a small southern town.
During lunch, Jiang Xuemei mentioned this year’s painting competition: “If you want to participate, Mom will ask for a leave to accompany you… It is important to participate, no matter if you win the prize or not. But if you don’t want to, it’s okay. It’s quite a torment to go back and forth for more than two thousand kilometers, drawing and playing at home is about the same.”
From Jiang Xuemei’s cautious attitude, it was not difficult to see that Jiang Yihui’s mental illness made him very emotionally unstable and he could get angry with his family.
Yi Hui looked pained and said, “Let me think about it.”
The family had a habit of taking a nap. The rain hasn’t stopped outside. Fearing that he would be sitting idly and allowing his thoughts to run wild, Yi Hui also went to his room to rest.
Perhaps because the morning was spent straining to deal with the psychiatrist and because of the lack of sleep last night, as soon as Yi Hui laid on the bed to relax, he fell asleep under the muffled sound of the rain hitting the eaves of the house.
It was a short sleep, just enough to have a dream full of flashback memories.
It was night again; the candlelight was swaying and the figures were distorted. There were heavy, rapid footsteps and torn pieces of drawing paper flying all over the sky.
He stepped forward quickly, trying to reach out to pick them, but the pieces of paper fluttered down, passing through his almost transparent palms, and falling to the ground.
He couldn’t catch them, so he squatted down to pick them up, and his fingers inadvertently brushed across one piece of paper, with an eye half-covered by hair painted on it.
Those were the eyes that existed in Yi Hui’s memory. They were bright, deep and full of affection. The most talented artist in the world could not depict their beauty. Yi Hui had been hopelessly sucked in since the first time he saw them.
Suddenly, the thick eyelashes trembled and the pupils shrank slightly. The eyes narrowed, becoming thin and long, and a cold light shone from them, eliminating the only remaining illusory warmth.
As if being strangled by someone, his body hung suspended in the air, his heart dropping down like from a cliff.
This time he clearly saw that the owner of his eyes was smiling at him, laughing at him for not being able to help himself, mocking him for being stupid.
After breaking free from the dream, Yi Hui got out of bed, rushed into the studio and locked the door. His unbalanced heartbeat and erratic breathing slowly subsided as the haunting voices in his ears faded and he was sure that no one here would tear up his paintings or laugh at him.
Pushing away from the wall, he stepped on the floor with his bare feet and walked to the painting board step by step.
When he picked up the landscape painting, Yi Hui’s hand was still trembling uncontrollably, and he turned the painting over. In an inconspicuous position in the lower right corner of the drawing paper, he wrote two scraggly words – Help me.
The front was bright and sunny, and the back was grey and lonely.
Yi Hui suddenly understood Jiang Yihui a little bit. It was not that he cared for nothing in this world and had no affection for his family, it was just that he was too tired and was trapped in a maze, unable to find a way out, so he preferred to die in order to be freed.
There were always people who wanted to die but could not and there were also people who wanted to live but even their hardest efforts could not get recognition from the world to give them a reason to carry on.
Yi Hui closed his eyes and touched the sharp edge of the paper as if foreshadowing the abrupt end of his own pale and absurd life. His fingers continued to move slowly, skimming the sharp corners and sliding over the dry pigment particles on the drawing paper. His fingertips felt faintly warm as if connected to another life.
Even on the first day after coming here, Yi Hui knew that he had no other choice; but at this moment, he really convinced himself to live on as Jiang Yihui.
The past is irrecoverable, not to mention that the foolish man named Yi Hui had nothing from the beginning to the end.