Mo-Fan had finally completed his college entrance exam and applied for admittance to and was accepted into the Civil Engineering program at the National Taiwan University. This was in some respects a relief for Qian because he now could make a definite plan to relocate the family’s residence from the tiny one room apartment in his aunt’s store to a more spacious comfortable dwelling conveniently located near the university. And, hopefully his mother’s condition would improve.
A new start is always exciting but, every change in life seems to come with a price and this was no exception. In addition to the moving expense, tuition for Mo-Fan’s classes added to the burden of the family living expense. But worst of all, Qian had to give up his current employment and would have to find new work in this part of the city.
His life was fraught with anxiety over lack of money, scarcity of employment opportunities, the loss of his love and the pending threat of military duty hanging over his head. His physical condition gradually deteriorated and his appearance became haggard.
One day while walking the streets looking for work, his attention suddenly focused on all the homeless vagrants in the street. They were not begging for money from strangers and some were even gambling in the park. They had no discernable source of income and obviously were not working so how could they seemingly thrive in this part of the city?
He decided to casually mingle with different groups to see if he could discover their secret to survival. He first selected a group that was gambling as the most logical source of information since they did have cash. After one of the players placed an unusually large bet, his buddy teased him.
“Hey big spender! You must have been to the hospital today. Was there a long waiting line at the blood bank?”
“Nah, I like to go early in the morning before the rest of you drunken bums crawl out of your holes!”
Another chided the first. “Shut your pie-hole! If too many people catch on, the hospital might run out of money to buy the blood. Or they might end up with a surplus and stop taking blood all together.”
The response to this remark was an obscene hand gesture and all conversation ceased for the moment. But Qian now had the answer he was seeking and wondered to himself why he hadn’t thought of this before. He supposed that the reason was probably the ingrained cultural superstition that losing your blood weakened your body and resulted in irreparable damage to your health. Nevertheless, he was determined to give it a try; desperate measures for desperate times.
Li-Mu received a call from her brother early one morning telling her that their mother was taken to the ER with severe abdominal pains. The examining doctor said that she had to be hospitalized but there weren’t any beds available so she was still waiting in the ER. Yan-Luo didn’t have a morning class that day so she rushed off to the hospital with her mother.
When they arrived at the hospital, they tried in vain to locate Grandmother with no success. The nurse’s station was deserted and the ER staff was rushing around like a busy colony of ants. It was impossible to get the attention of anyone to find out where she had been moved to.
Suddenly, a loud ruckus erupted from the blood bank across the hall. Two middle aged men were complaining loudly. “Hey nurse! Why are you taking his blood? You should have let us go first. We were here ahead of that guy.”
“Keep quiet! You’re disturbing the patients in the ER. Besides, you gave blood yesterday. You can’t give blood two days in a row.”
“Not a problem for us. We are really healthy; plenty of testosterone and fire in our blood and full of energy. Give us try, then you will know!”
At that, the two of them burst out into lecherous laughter.
“What I think you’re full of is B.S. If you are so energetic, why don’t go find a job and quit harassing me!”
“Why? Isn’t the hospital short of blood? Besides, he is just here for the money.” They both pointed at Qian who was pressing the cotton swab over the needle puncture with one hand and taking the money with the other. He got up to leave but the two men blocked his way.
“You look familiar. I think I’ve seen you before.”
“You’re mistaken. I have never seen either of you so get out of my way.”
At that, he turned to leave but froze in his tracks when he saw Li-Mu and Yan-Luo glaring at him with an expression of shock, disappointment and spite all at the same time. He would have welcomed verbal rebuke so he could have at least refuted any accusations made, but none was forthcoming. Instead, they both continued to stare in silence and then turned to leave. Qian could not recall ever feeling so humiliated in his life.
“I will never forget the look in their eyes Qu. It broke my heart for them to see me that way and leave with such a low opinion of me.”
Sharing the reminiscence of these sad events had transported the two spirits back to the staircase where Qian and Yan-Luo had first kissed.
“Did I ever tell you what happened after the meal?”
“Yan’s father told her to stay in the kitchen and clean the dishes while he talked to me in the study. Actually, it wasn’t much of conversation; just a monologue on his part.”
“Qian, I think your future is pretty bleak. Your father brought shame to the family by committing suicide, you mother is crazy, your family debt will take years to pay off and you shame yourself by shirking your duty to serve in the military. How can you ever expect to bring happiness to my daughter? If you truly love her you will let her go so she can find a better life.”
“That was the saddest I have ever felt in my life but, I had to agree with him. I cared too much for her to expect her to struggle with me in poverty and become an outcast from her own family. That is how I lost the only true love of my life.”
At that moment, three brilliant blue beams of light bolted from the wall. Two of the beams penetrated Qian’s soul knocking him backwards. It felt like the piercing eyes of Yan-Luo and her mother at the hospital. The color of his face was transformed from the purple of death to a bright blue which grew in intensity to a blinding light. The third beam receded into the wall.
“I think I know where to find the soul of my sorrow. We have to find a way to get into the house and follow the light. I think my sorrow is trapped in the study.
They drifted around to the patio in order to avoid the “God of the door” guarding the front entrance and floated into the house. Once inside they saw a blue glow emanating from the study door and went toward it. Once in the study, the blue bolt from the stairway started circling Qian with ever increasing velocity like a tornado. After a few seconds, he was totally engulfed in a blue sheath and the full intensity of that sad day inundated him. Qu could sense his deep pain and immediately opened the hulu gourd to capture the soul of sorrow.
After resting for a few minutes to recover from the exhaustion of the ordeal, he decided to have a look around the house before leaving. The furnishings had not changed over the years and the sight of them pulled Qian back to the first day he had come to have supper with the family.
Of course, Mr. Li had passed away some years ago and Li Mu was now old and crippled with arthritis. One thing that changed was the collection of family portraits on the top shelf of the display case. Both of the daughters had moved out of the house and a picture of Yan-Luo’s sister with her husband and two children had been added. But there was nothing to indicate what might have happened to Yan.
He had never been in Yan’s bedroom before but he could see that her mother kept both her daughter’s rooms cleaned and tidy even though they did not live at home anymore. On the stand next to the bed was a photo of Yan. He could not tell when it was taken but it was obvious that it was long after they broke up. She was no longer the young vibrant beauty that he had fallen in love with but now had lines in her face and her body was noticeably fatter. She had a shorter permed hair style; possibly to look younger than her years. Although the unfortunate events of her life had obviously taken their toll, she still managed a smile; albeit doleful.
Qu had noticed Qian staring at the photo for a long time and broke the silence. “Since this girl was so important to you and obviously you still have some feelings about her, maybe we should try to find her. She might provide some clues to help us in our search for your souls.”
Qian was preoccupied surveying the rest of the room and did not respond. The once pink wallpaper was the style of a young girl but now the years of exposure to humidity had taken its toll and had morphed it into a pallid shade of grayish pink. There were cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling that Li-Mu was unable to reach and due to her debilitating health condition, she could only manage to clean the rooms once a month. There were also stains on the wall and the drapes from cigarette smoke which surprised him because Yan had never smoked when they were still together.
Near the window stood an old dressing table and a few chairs. On top the table was the typical collection of lotions and toiletries including a bottle of Yan’s favorite rose perfume. The faint fragrance reminded him of how Yan smelled when they were close except that now, mixed with the odor of cigarette smoke, the sensation was not at all pleasing.
The jewelry box on the table caught his eye. It was obviously a music box which always intrigued him. He wound the key and the delicate ceramic figurine of a ballet dancer on the top of the box began twirling around in a graceful pirouette accompanied by the melody from Swan Lake. When the music stopped, Qian lifted the cover to see what was inside and discovered the three caret diamond engagement ring that he had given to Yan. He took the ring and slowly turned to Qu.
“I have no idea where she is and no idea how to find her.”
“It would be simple to ask the God’s of the house. They would certainly know where she is.”
“There is no use in finding her. At the end, there was nothing left between us that could help us find the other souls.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“Probe my memories again and you will understand why.”
All was silent except for the relentless ticking of the gold painted rusty old clock on the night stand; reminding them both that time was passing and there mission needed urgent attention.