“Problem solved! Now you had the chance to resume your relationship with Kaori.”
“Yes, that was the first thought that came to mind but unfortunately, fate is quite often fickle which proved to be the case when I tried to contact her again. I went back to the house that night to see her but it was deserted and everything was covered in a layer of dust. The money and note I left for her the last time I was there were still on the table. She was obviously not living there anymore and I had no idea of where to start searching for her.”
’Did you check with the post office or the bank to see if she changed her address? What about your friends? Had they heard from her or did they know where she went?”
“I asked around and even hired a P.I. to look for her but it’s as if she had vaporized into thin air. The only clue I found was that some friends told me they heard that she had married the owner of a small company in another town. I just couldn’t believe that she would leave me and the house behind without any notice. Although I guess I shouldn’t have expected her to wait around for me alone in that house.
So, the end result was that I had now lost the only two significant women in my life. The only recourse for me was to immerse myself in the company business. But that only distracted me during the day. At night, the isolation and emotional emptiness within seemed to bleed into the air until I felt as though I would suffocate. I often woke up in the night sobbing, soaked with sweat from panic attacks. I never expected that being alone could affect me so deeply. I couldn’t understand why the self-efficacy that served me so well in the business world was so ineffectual in my private life.
I finally resorted to a regimen of one-night stands with women I picked up at the clubs. There was no shortage of willing volunteers to spend a night with a rich bachelor like me. They all had visions of becoming Mrs. Yin but there was no chance of me becoming emotionally attached to any of them. My heart was empty. They only served to keep my body warm and dispel the solitude of the void left by my break with Yan-Luo and the desertion by Kaori.
I often ruminated over the possibility that one day, when she found out I had cancelled the wedding with Yan-Luo, Kaori would come back to be with me again. But I always ended up asking myself if I would marry her and the answer was always no. I don’t understand my irrational aversion to committing myself to a woman that provided me with so much comfort and pleasure on so many levels.
After a couple of years, the P.I. Managed to uncover her whereabouts. He sent me a letter with a family portrait enclosed of Kaori holding her daughter net to her husband. I decided not to pursue her any longer. She seemed to be content with her new life and I had already caused her a substantial amount of pain.”
“If she was that important in your life, maybe we should go back to her house and see if there is a soul hidden there.”
Qian shook his head. “When I found out she was married with a family, I sold the house.”
“In that case, she is totally out of your life. We don’t have to waste any of your precious time seeking clues from your past life with her.”
“I always had this deep seated urge to see her again.”
Qian wondered if Kaori would be sad and shed tears for him if she knew he was dead. This thought pulled him back to his living room with Qu-Kai at his side. His gaze first focused on the black piano that he had moved from Kaori’s house. He had never played it but the delicate melodies rendered by her skilled hands were indelibly imprinted in his memory. His attention then shifted in turn to her other possessions that he had kept; her paintings hanging on the walls and the orchid in the bathroom which had now withered due to lack of care since his death.
The one intangible thing that served as a perpetual reminder of the comfort she had given him for so many years was the lingering fragrance of her favorite cherry blossom perfume. He had always thought that Yan-Luo was the only woman he had ever loved but now he realized that he was wrong. The kind of natural warmth and contentment he felt when he was with Kaori was as much a part of his life as the air he breathed. It was only in its absence that he finally understood what it was that he cherished in Kaori. It was tragic that he only came to realize this when the finality of death had separated them forever.
Suddenly his thoughts flashed back to his funeral and the enigmatic woman standing over his coffin; somehow familiar but unidentifiable. Recalling the feeling of her tears dropping on his cheek he finally understood why he refused to accept his death and stubbornly clung to an ethereal existence in the corporeal world. He now realized that the woman had been Kaori and it was his deep love for her calling to him. The realization of this love, when it was no longer possible to consummate their relationship, caused tears to well up in his eyes.
“I regret that I never understood how deeply I loved her when I was alive. I can’t leave this world until I find her again.”
But Qu-Kai did not hear his profound declaration because he had wandered into the computer room and was staring at Qian’s picture on the desk. The bright piercing eyes of this once dynamic, vibrant and powerful man caught his attention. As he gazed into them they appeared to slowly turn dark. He wasn’t sure what he was seeing and picked up the frame to examine the photo more closely.
A dark cloud of smoke issued forth from each of the eyes; at first just a wisp then gradually becoming stronger and more voluminous. Qu was so startled that he dropped the picture frame. The loud crash of the breaking glass attracted Qian’s attention and he went to the computer room to see what had happened. On the floor he saw his favorite portrait lying beneath the broken picture frame and a second picture that had been concealed behind it.
A chilling ominous feeling surged into his heart at the sight of it. How could that picture still be here? He was certain that he had discarded it long ago but still, here it was. As he was pondering this mystery, the two clouds had now coalesced into rapidly swirling funnels which gradually moved toward him and then combined into a single powerful spinning tornado that totally engulfed him. As the intensity of the vortex increased he was overpowered and his spirit was drawn into the picture.
He re-lived all the experiences of the day that the photo was taken. The Yin family was on an outing at the zoo and had already seen the lions and tigers. They had stopped to rest in front of the giraffe pen and their father, absent from the photo, had taken the picture. He and his older brother were standing on one side of their younger sister and his mother, holding Mo-Fan, on the other side of her.
It was a rare day to visit the zoo because it was a long drive up to Taipei City so their parents always bought them a souvenir to remind them of their trip. When they exited the zoo, it was raining and Qian and his sister were both clutching their souvenirs. He had chosen a green rubber snake and she had picked out a brown teddy bear.
At five years of age, children already possess the primal instinct to derive pleasure from the suffering they can inflict on others and Qian was an excellent example of this. But he had diametrically conflicting emotions toward his sister. Although, he took great delight in pestering her he was also prepared to protect her from any harm. On this particular day, his antagonistic nature prevailed and he had purposely chosen the snake to scare her.
They were walking quickly to get out of the rain. Xiao-Mei was holding his sister’s hand and his sister was hugging her teddy bear. Qian was running around contrary to his father’s admonishment, poking the snake at his sister in an attempt to make her scream. But she had a very tough character and could hold her own with any of the boys. She obviously knew the snake was not real and ignored his antiques.
But, Qian was not to be denied and put another tactic into action. He wrenched her tightly clutched teddy bear from her hands and ran to the other side of the street, daring her to come and take it away. She screamed at him and struggled free from her mother’s grasp to run after him. She ran out into the road in a panic without looking and did not see the small utility truck bearing down on her. The truck driver tried his best to avoid hitting her but because she was so small he saw her too late to stop.
His mother had let out a horrified scream and his father had run back to the admission booth to call for an ambulance. When he returned, he ran to his daughter and tried to stop the blood gushing from her shattered skull. His yellow sweater was soaked in blood and tiny red rivulets began diffusing into the rain puddles on the road.
Qian stood paralyzed with fear and horror on the side of the road still holding on to the tiny bear that had triggered this tragic disaster. His brother, Mo-Xiu, came over to him and in an inculpative tone said, “You are really done for now”. That condemnation, the screeching tires, the loud bang from the truck colliding with her tiny body and the sickening thud as she landed on the pavement had haunted Qian for his entire life.
Soon the ambulance and the police arrived but it was too late to save her. Still in shock, with a mixture of tears and rain streaming down his face and the rubber snake around his neck Qian stood on the side of the road watching them put his sister into the ambulance. He was too numb to feel the cold even though it was winter until he saw them cover his sister’s face with a white sheet and he was immersed in the reality that his sister’s life had ended.
As he grew older, he always strived to excel in every way possible and to become a valued son. But no matter how hard he tried, the shadow of that tragedy seemed to eclipse his accomplishments. He never blamed his parents for holding him responsible for his sister’s death; especially since he had never forgiven himself.
Throughout his youth and into his early adulthood he frequently awakened from a recurring nightmare in which he saw a corpse covered with a white sheet. He always felt compelled to view the body beneath the sheet even though he instinctively knew that it was his sister.
With trembling hands and great trepidation he would gingerly lift the sheet to expose his sister’s motionless body. Red blood was still oozing from her head and dripping to the floor. Suddenly her eyes would open wide and her face contorted into an angry condemning visage with blood flowing from her eyes.
Now, even though he was dead, he was again experiencing the same dream. But this time it was different. Feelings of guilt and a longing to tell her how much he missed her all those past years overcame him. He knew how much her spirit must have hated him but he wanted a chance to tell her how sorry he was for what he did and now that they existed in the same state he could communicate with her once more.
He summoned the courage to lift the corner of the sheet. This time her body was lying peacefully with no blood flowing from her head and no anger in her face. She slowly opened her eyes and gently said, “I know how you feel and I have already forgiven you”.
Qian burst into tears of both sorrow and relief and said, “I want you to know how sorry I have been all these years”.
At the same moment the swirling tornado that had engulfed him quickly dissipated and he knew that he had found the soul of his fear and would be freed of his burden of guilt forever.