Mo-Fan was getting increasingly agitated switching from one TV channel to another and finding only shows about nutrition, beauty, fashion, celebrity gossip or reality shows about a group of idiot housewives fighting and quarrelling as if they were in competition for Miss Universe. He finally just shut it off in disgust.
He was still puzzled about the call from Xin-Xin. For no reason he could fathom, she was crying uncontrollably and he had to get her to calm down before she could blurt out, “Do you still love me? Do you love me ... or not?”
Xin-Xin was an intrepid character and was not easily subjugated by anyone or anything. No matter how hard she had to work at the office, she never complained. The only other time she had exhibited any kind of emotional despair was when her colleagues mercilessly harassed her out of jealously for her exceptional performance at her job. She was so frustrated that she had even considered resigning to get relief from the stress.
But, since the emotional outburst on the phone, her previous independent demeanor had vanished like the wind and she now was very unassuming and compliant with him; even seriously suggesting marriage which she had never done before. Previously, he had hoped that she could be more tender and less aggressive. But even though she was now comparatively more submissive, her persistence about marriage gave him a feeling of being coerced into something he was not quite ready for.
He took his time to ponder the sudden change in Xin-Xin to prevent himself from being maneuvered into a position that he would later regret. However the unexpected death of his brother, Mo-Qian, distracted him from further reflection about Xin-Xin’s sudden change in personality. So much so, that he granted Xin-Xin a perfunctory promise to announce her as his fiancée at the funeral. The fact that he was being manipulated into a position that would obligate him socially to provide her with a financially secure future escaped him for the moment.
However, after the deluge of events surrounding his brother’s death and funeral had subsided, his thoughts once again were focused on introspection about his life and what he wanted from it. He had been married before and, now divorced, he was quite sure that he was not ready to walk down that path again so soon and regretted that he had given Xin-Xin a reason to believe otherwise.
After ruminating over these thoughts for several days, he decided to call her and try to persuade her to put the subject of marriage on the back burner. After the usual exchange of intimate greetings, Mo-Fan decided to simply cut to the chase and avoid delaying a resolution to his dilemma.
“I have something I need to discuss with you and I want to know what your thoughts are about it.”
“Why, what happened now?”
“What I’m trying to say is that since the farewell ceremony for my second brother, our family is going through a period of serious melancholy grieving for his death. I want our marriage to be a joyous event and I don’t think my family is emotionally ready to participate in a wedding with an appropriate amount of enthusiasm.”
“What are you trying to say?” she asked in disbelief, secretly hoping that she had misinterpreted his implied intention to defer their marriage.
“I don’t think it is wise for us to stir up any criticism from the family or the public by getting married so soon after the funeral. I think we should just delay for a little while until things return to normal.” He took a deep breath and momentarily held it in, waiting anxiously for her response.
The phone was completely silent like the calm before a storm. Regret started creeping into his thought as he wondered if he had made the right decision to discuss this proposition with Xin-Xin. After all, their relationship seemed to be workable even though he was subtly procrastinating on the marriage issue. Mo-Fan was about to hang up thinking that she was angry and would never respond when her trembling voice broke the silence.
“Are you having an affair with another woman?” She had been cheating on her boyfriend so it was logical, she thought, that he was capable of cheating on her.
“How can you even think that about me? That is a ridiculous accusation!”
“We dated for three years and you never once mentioned marriage. I had to push you to even agree to announce me as your fiancée to your family and even then you were uneasy about doing it. What else besides an affair could affect you that way?” Xin-Xin’s anger at the thought of betrayal caused her voice to gradually increase in volume to a loud shouting by the time she had finished her outburst. After all his excuses and reasons to slow things down, she was absolutely convinced that he did not want to marry her.
“Why can’t you believe me? All we really get from being married is a piece paper which can be cancelled out by another piece of paper in a divorce! Is that piece of paper more important than our feelings of love for each other?“ He still could not comprehend why women always have to change the status of a relationship. Soon after marriage may come regret and then they can complain about how miserable their married life is. It makes more sense to stay with what you know.
“If our feelings are that important to you then you would not hesitate over a piece of paper that you say is insignificant.” Her voice choking, she sucked in a deep breath. “If you don’t marry me then we are done!” And then she disconnected the phone.
She threatened me and then cut me off! This woman has no ability to communicate. How can I spend my life with her? He had reached the limit of his patience and admonished himself, “Really! Enough!”
Xin-Xin cried for several days before her emotions gradually stabilized. They were now in a “cold war” situation with all communication broken off. In the past, when they had quarreled, Mo-Fan had always tried to find clever ways to make her laugh in an attempt to soften her anger so they could return to a normal relationship. She recalled one occasion when he had stood at the bottom of the stairs to her apartment all night to get her sympathy after she had told him to leave and never come back. Even the building manager had asked her to do something to get him to move. Finally she gave in and let him come inside.
But this time it was different. It had been two weeks since she broke off their engagement and he had made no attempts to contact her. Her suspicions and accompanying depression kept growing. She had no desire to work or eat and was at the point of physical and emotional collapse.
She decided that she really needed someone to talk to but her pride made her hesitant. She had always postured herself in front of her girl friends to project the impression that she had superior skills in handling her men. How could she now seek counsel from those same friends without revealing her underlying ineptness?
She left the apartment and wandered aimlessly through the city streets, distracted by her quandary; trying desperately to discover a way to resolve it. Gradually she became conscious of her surroundings and was surprised that she had meandered her way to North Linsen road.
There were many street vendors along a tiny strip mall selling a wide variety of food, clothing and household goods and in particular, a group of small tables covered with red cloths suddenly caught her attention. At each dimly lit table sat a person partially obscured by sandalwood smoke curling upward from incense burners. Paper posters were on display in front of the tables listing the specialty of each merchant; astrology, horoscopes, physiognomy, I Ching divination etc. Now she recalled that this was a very famous street for fortune tellers and was curious why her random ambulation had brought her to this place.
Just then a thick cloud of cigarette smoke appeared in front of her face causing her to stop for an instant and an old lady sitting in the corner spoke to her in a relaxed casual voice. “It must be fate that brought you to my table young lady. Do you have a question you need an answer to or can I give you an I Ching fortune reading?”
Why did I pass through here when my mind was in turmoil? Maybe it is God’s wish that I consult her. The old woman’s eyes were blackish and her cheeks were wrinkled and sunken. When she smoked, her hand trembled in nervous twitches despite her attempts to conceal it. She obviously had fallen victim to a hard life and looked almost like the scary witch from her childhood memories. Strangely enough, Xin-Xin was somehow comforted by the offer and took a seat at the table without reservation.
“What is your name miss and what is troubling you?”
“My name is Gu Xin-Xin. I am struggling with a serious emotional problem that I can’t resolve by myself.”
The fortune teller slid a small box toward Xin-Xin, opened it and said, “Never mind, we will interpret the signs from your first divination in the I Ching chart and go from there. Reach in the box and pinch some rice grains in your fingers and let me count them. Do this three times.” After the first set of three rice grains had been tallied, the fortune teller instructed her to repeat the process to get a total of six tallies; the number required to calculate the hexagram that she would look up in the I Ching matrix.
“Miss Gu, this does not look good for you. The Gua Xiang (Gwa Shiang) is Shi Ke (She Ker), thunder and lightening. The ancient literal meaning of this sign is that you have an obstruction in your mouth that must be bitten through before your jaws can come together. Symbolically, it means there is a barrier between you and another that must be removed before your life can progress. Perhaps a serious argument that ended in a deep animosity toward someone important to you.
Xin-Xin was shocked when she heard the interpretation of the Gua Xiang. “It’s exactly accurate! What should I do? Please give me advice.”
The Gua Xiang is only a general guide and shouldn’t be taken too literally. We have to avoid superstition and apply these principals to your particular situation. But before I can do that, you must tell me the details of the events that caused this problem for you.
At first Xin-Xin was hesitant to reveal her personal life but then decided that this old woman was a stranger and they may never meet again so what would be the harm. Besides, she hadn’t been able to solve the problem herself and it might be possible to get the answer from someone with an objective point of view.
The fortune teller shook her head with a knowing confidence and said, “If you are impatient and pick the melon before it is ready, it will never be sweet. The Gua Xiang did not sense any interference from a third person so I am sure he is not having an affair. He hasn’t refused to get married. He just doesn’t want to do it now. You have to learn how to soften your behavior. A rigid thing cannot bend and will easily break. If you can’t change to soften yourself, you will continue to be your own worst enemy. Everything is in a constant state of change and if you remain the same you will never succeed.
Xin-Xin appreciated the serendipity of accidentally arriving at the fortune teller’s booth and though the situation remained difficult, she now had a more practical understanding of what contributed to her troubles and some indication of how to avoid making the same mistake in the future. “What can you tell me about the future of our relationship? When will we get married?”
“I can only tell you that for now, the situation will be very tough for a while.” She gazed pensively at the Gua Xiang for a moment before continuing. “If you can’t give up the relationship then you must change your approach to be more gentle and communicate continually but don’t quarrel. If you push, he will leave you. When the right moment comes, you will instinctively know what to do.
Xin-Xin lingered at the table for a moment mulling over all that had transpired. The old woman was anxious for her to leave to make room for another customer. “There is not any more interpretation or advice I can give you about this problem.”
Hearing this she replied, “I know what to do now.” and paid the fortune teller; leaving with a feeling of relief and serenity as if she had just had a sauna bath.