Strangely, he did not move closer to Tiao as he talked. He leaned back instead, putting more distance between them the more he spoke. His hunger for her was not going to end in a simple, impulsive touch and physical closeness. The way he kept proper physical distance didn't seem to be the behavior of an experienced man who was so used to being spoiled by women.
It was not until very, very late that Tiao left the Beijing Hotel. Fang Jing insisted on walking her back to her small hotel.
The evening breeze of late spring on broad Changan Avenue made Tiao feel much more relaxed. At that moment she realized how exhausting it was to be with him. It would always be exhausting, but she would be willing to be with him for many years to come.
He walked at her left side for a while and then at her right side. He said, "Tiao, I want to tell you one more thing."
"What is it?" she asked.
"You're a good girl," he said.
"But you don't really know me."
"True, I don't know you, but I'm confident there is nobody else who understands you better than I do."
"You know, after all, this is a matter that has been decided by mysterious powers, but you and I have a lot of things in common. For instance, we're both sensitive, and below our surface indifference, we both have molten passion . . . "
"How do you know I have molten passion? And what do you mean by describing me as indifferent? Do you feel that I didn't show you enough respect?"
"See, you're starting an argument with me," he said with some excitement. "Your arrogance is also coming outno, not arrogance, it's pride. I don't have that sort of pride; the pride is yours alone."
"Why is it mine alone?" She softened her tone. "If you didn't have pride at your core, how could you be so outspokenthose words you said a little while ago at the hotel?"
He suddenly smiled with some concern. "Do you really think that's pride? What I actually have at my core is more like insolence. Insolence, you understand?"
She couldn't agree with him, or she couldn't allow him to describe himself this way. Only many years later when she reflected on this did she understand that his self-analysis was really quite accurate, but she resisted him fiercely at the time. She started to tell him about all of the feelings she had for himas she read his two letters, while she watched his movie again for fear of forgetting what he looked like. She spoke with a great deal of effort, sometimes worried she might not be expressing herself well enough with her words. When she mentioned his heavily scarred arm in the movie, she couldn't help starting to cry. So she paused until she could hold her tears back. He didn't want her to continue but she insisted on speaking, not to move him but to move herself. She had a vague sense that the man before her, who had suffered more than enough, deserved everything he wanted. If he were sent to a labor camp again, she would be his companion in suffering all her life, like the wives of those Decembrists in Russia, who were willing to go into exile in Siberia with their husbands. Ah, to prove her faithfulness, bravery, nobility, and detachment, she simply couldn't help wanting to relive the era that had tormented Fang Jing. Let an era like that be the measure of her heartbut who the hell was she? Fang Jing had a wife and a daughter.
They arrived at her small hotel while she was talking. She immediately stopped speaking and held out her hand to him. He looked into her eyes while holding her hand and said, "Let me say it one more time: you're a good girl."
They said goodbye and he turned around. She walked through the hotel gate but immediately came back and ran into the street. She called out to stop him.
He knew what she wanted to do, he told her later.
Now he remained where he was and waited for her to come to him. She ran over, stopped in front of him, and said, "I want to kiss you."
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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