Tiao was a little bit offended by the editor's words. What right did he have to keep saying "your town"? Her upper-bunk roommate said he'd just been transferred to Beijing from Huangtu Plateau a few years ago, and now he talked so patronizingly to Tiao as if he were some kind of master of Beijing. Where was he when she was sipping raspberry soda in the alleys of Beijing?
Images from the past were still vivid for her: all those things that happened long ago, how she suffered when she first entered the city of Fuan as a young Beijinger. She'd felt wronged as well as proud. She'd tried hard to blend into the city, and maybe she had. The way she did blend in gave her energy, and allowed her, along with several close friends, to keep her Beijing accent bravely in that ancient, xenophobic city. Beijing! Beijing had never known there were several young women like this who had tried in vain to bring her culture to a strange city. Even though Beijing had never needed and would never need their sacrifice, Tiao and her friends insisted on such devotion. But the man in front of her, this man, what had he done for Beijing? He already considered himself a Beijinger. Besides, his mention of her graduation assignment annoyed her. How could she discuss personal business like her graduation assignment with a stranger? In short, nothing felt right. She resented the attitude of her roommate and her own sillinessshe very much wanted to use this word to describe herself. She felt a bit sad, for the way she had thrust herself forward without any idea of the direction she should take; she also felt a bit awakened: she suddenly realized that her youth wasn't flowing away in the current, that what she herself treasured was still precious, and she felt lucky to be able to hold on to it. She was as good as her roommate in many ways, and if she couldn't keep up with her in this way, she was content to "fall behind."
As she waited for the last bus to come, her thinking became clearer and clearer. There were many people on the bus. She flashed a farewell smile at the editor, ran to catch it, and then tried with all her might to force her way onto the already packed bus. The editor had followed her, apparently not wanting to leave until he made sure she'd gotten on. She turned around and yelled at him, "Hey, can you give me a push?" He gave a push, and she got herself crammed on board. The door shut behind her with a swoosh.
Standing in the last bus, she suddenly smiled to herself. She realized "Give me a push" was actually what she most wanted to say tonight. She also realized the editor was a nice, honest man. But just as she wasn't attracted to him, he also wasn't at all attracted to her.
It wasn't as though she didn't want to write Fang Jing back; she put off writing because she didn't know what to say. Maybe everything had happened too quickly. In any case, she couldn't treat Fang Jing's letter from San Francisco as a casual note. She carefully read the letter over and over, and time and again it brought her to tears. She'd never read such a good letter, and she had no reason to doubt the author's sincerity.
So she started to write back. "Mr. Fang Jing, how are you?" she wrote. Then she would tear the letter up and start over. He was so important and she was so insignificant. She lacked confidence and was afraid of making a fool of herselfbut how could she write a letter of the same quality as a celebrity like Fang Jing? It was impossible; she had neither the writing talent nor the emotional maturity his letter displayed. Just based on the letter alone, Tiao felt that she had already fallen in love with him. And she had to fall in love with him because she believed he had fallen in love with herand it was her good fortune to be loved by him, she thought selflessly. At her age and with her lack of experience, she couldn't immediately tell the difference between admiration and love, or know how quickly a feeling driven by vanity might get the better of her. Maybe at those times she thought about her senior-year roommate. Compared to Fang Jing, who was that writer of her roommate's, with his "overflowing talent"? How could her love affair match Tiao's secret life now? College life, the flare of red-hot emotion that came and went quickly.
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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