Once again she started to write a reply to him, but finally could only come up with those few words, "Dear Mr. Fang Jing, how are you?"
She went out and found a second-run theater to watch a movie of his, to meet him on the screen. She listened to his voice, studied his features, and savored his expressions. She tried very hard to memorize his looks, but when she returned home and lay in her bed, she found she had completely forgotten. It frightened and worried her, and seemed like a bad sign. The next day she took the opportunity to watch the movie again. She stared at him on the screen, as if she had found a long-lost family member. She still couldn't compose the letter. Then she received his phone call at her office.
He phoned at a time that everyone was in the office. The chief editor said to her, "Tiao, your uncle's calling." As soon as she walked to the phone and picked up the receiver, she recognized his southern-accented Mandarin. He said the following paragraph in one breath, with some formality and a tone that left her no room for contradiction: "Is this Comrade Yin Xiaotiao? This is Fang Jing. I know there are a lot of people in your office. You don't have to say anything. Don't call me Mr. Fang Jing. Just listen to me. I've returned to Beijing and haven't received a letter or phone call from you. It's very likely that you're laughing at me for being foolish. But please let me finish. Don't hang up on me and don't be afraid of me. I don't want to be unreasonable. I just want to see you. Listen to meI'm at a conference at the Beijing Hotel. Can you arrange to come to Beijing to solicit manuscripts? I know editors come to Beijing all the time. You come and we'll meet. I'll give you my phone number for the conference. You don't have to respond to me right away, though of course I want to have your immediate response, your positive response, very much. No, no, you should think it over first. I have a few more things I want to ramble on about, I know I don't seem very composed, but I have somehow lost control of myself, which is very unusual for me. I would rather trust my instincts, though. Please don't be in a hurry to refuse me. Don't be in a hurry to refuse me. Now I'm going to give you the number. Can you write it down? Can you remember it . . . ?"
She was very bad at memorizing numbers, but she learned Fang Jing's number by heart even though he said it only once. She went to Beijing three days later, and saw him in his room at the Beijing Hotel. When she was alone with him, she felt he seemed even taller than when she had first met him. Like so many tall people, he stooped a little. But this didn't change his bearing, that arrogant and nonchalant attitude he was famous for. Tiao thought she must have appeared affected when she walked into his room, because Fang Jing seemed to catch an uneasiness from her. He gave her a broad smile, but the easy, witty manner of the conference was gone. He poured her a cup of tea but somehow managed to spill the hot tea, scalding Tiao's hand as well as his own. The telephone rang endlesslythat was the way the celebrities were, always pursued by phone calls. He kept picking up the phone, lying to the callers without missing a beat: "No, I can't do it today. Now? Impossible. I have to go see the rough cut in a minute. How about tomorrow? Tomorrow I'll treat you at Da Sanyuan . . . "
Sitting on the sofa listening quietly to Fang Jing's lies, Tiao sensed an unspoken understanding grow between them, and in herself a strange new feeling, dreamlike. She was grateful for all those smooth lies, thankful that he was turning those others down for her, with lies made for her, all of them, for the sake of their reunion. She started to relax; the phone calls were precisely what she needed to give herself the time to regroup.
Fang Jing finally finished the calls and came over to Tiao. He crouched down right in front of her, face-to-face. It was a sudden movement, but the gesture was quite natural and simple, like a peasant tending crops in the field, or an adult who needs to crouch down to talk to a child, or a person who crouches down to observe a small insect like an ant or beetle. With his age and status, the crouching gave him an air of childish naughtiness. He said to Tiao, who was sitting on the sofa, "How about we go out? Those phone calls are pretty annoying."
Excerpted from The Bathing Women by Tie Ning. Copyright © 2012 by Tie Ning. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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