This is Sun Jiayu’s extra story from the novel, There Was Once a Person, Who Loved Me with His Life. I translated this about a year ago but never posted.
[曾有一个人，爱我如生命 | shushengbar]
Maybe one day, someone will translate this novel, but that person won’t be me. It hurt so much translating his extra story, so I will never survive the translating the novel.
Sun Jiayu. I loved Sun Jiayu so much. My mind keeps going back to him; to the days he and Zhao Mei spent in Odessa; to that night in the snowstorm they survived through together, wishing now that they had never made it out instead.
世间再无孙嘉遇, Sun Jiayu no longer exists in this world. At least, by translating his story, maybe one additional person will remember him: there was once a person named Sun Jiayu who loved a girl named Zhao Mei with his life.
Maybe some people will think this story far-fetched, with the gun fights and mafia… but the author has said that this was based on a true story which happened years ago in Odessa, Ukraine, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The characters and story were based on real people and events. Even the small details, like Zhao Mei and Sun Jiayu’s fight for survival in the snowstorm and confrontation with the mafia… these details also happened in real life.
The difference lies in the ending. As the author wrote this story, the couple on which this novel was based on returned to China from Ukraine, but because of various reasons, did not end up together.
In There Was Once a Person, Who Loved Me with His Life, Zhao Mei and Sun Jiayu did not have a happy ending either. Zhao Mei was forced to leave, against her wishes; Sun Jiayu spent his final days alone, and Zhao Mei never knew the truth of what had happened until years later.
This is Sun Jiayu’s story of his last days – the days Zhao Mei can never return to…
There Was Once a Person, Who Loved Me with His Life
Sun Jiayu’s extra story
[You left; I departed, bring with me the hope that no other accidents would occur in this life.]
On the day Meimei left, the skies were sunny and clear without a cloud in sight. I guessed even the Heavens have silently expressed their support towards my decision. I stood behind the large French windows, staring at the airplane which arced through the skies in a swift movement, thinking about my girl who was above.
Before Luo Qian left, she had asked, ‘Jiayu, don’t you want to see her for the last time? I thought you would never have been able to leave her.’
I said, ‘I’m afraid this is the end of our affinity in this life. Even if I could not bear to be leave, what could I do? Other than suffering, there is nothing I can give her.’
But I still came. The cold rays of the morning sun rippled across the grey lands. Within the bustling airport hall, there were no longer any traces of the girl I had used my life to protect.
At that moment, I cried. Meimei – I suddenly felt that this was the final parting of our lives, and the last longing look we will ever exchange was the one in the dilapidated old house at the outskirts of the country, where gunshots pierced the silence and the coppery-tang of blood permeated through the four walls. Ah, it was really unromantic.
The beginning of my life had been marked by several factors that would destine its path towards tragedy. Impatiently, they hammered at my absurd life, leaping around like flames to a pot, before they slowly intensified and set my entire person ablaze, leaving only a skeleton of white bones behind.
Many years ago, though I was not a loyal practitioner of Buddhism, I had never once imagined that the second half of my life would be spent skirting the line between black and white, where one’s morality was questioned, to reach the point today where I had crossed even my bottom line.
The hue of the sunshine grew intense, the sharp glare of its rays piercing my frail body. My vision began to blur, and my balance grew unsteady. I fought hard to crane my neck and look up at the clear blue skies: you’ve left, and so should I.
Unhurriedly, the car rolled along the wide-open alley. The view beyond the windows was picturesque. This was something I had known since a long time ago, but now, I did not have the mood to appreciate this breathtaking view. In my heart, I convinced myself: Sun Jiayu, this is the best possible ending; that simple and kind-hearted girl deserves a better future – your existence would only be a burden to her.
I wanted to laugh, yet I did not possess the strength to open my mouth and part my lips. Cradling my emaciated body within my own embrace, I cried; stifling sobs. Ah, I was a thirty-something year old man who cried like a child who could not help himself.
The car stopped. When Luo Qian moved to support me, I held onto her hand and managed to say, ‘Don’t move. My heart hurts.’
By now, my body had already begun to waste away, as though my days of youth were forever gone, never to return.
Luo Qian hired someone to help me pack my things. I asked the man to give me a moment, before walking over to my bedside to retrieve a vibrant photo. If I no longer had the fortune to see her beautiful smile, then I would let go of her and leave only my last blessings. I placed that photograph between the pages of a book which held both of our shared memories.
Men and women deep in love often declared their hearts sincerely and passionately. Back then, I was lucky to have received a confession which was even simpler than the adage ‘grasping your hand, growing old together’. Instead, she said to me: let’s choose a city to turn old together.
So I returned to Beijing. I thought that this city should be the place that silly girl would have chosen to spend her old age in. As for turning old together, the person by her side would no longer be me. I should let go what I could not grasp, and I would pray for her: Meimei, the young girl of Odessa who gave me my most beautiful memories.
Compared to Odessa, Beijing was scorching hot in September, as though the country had been blanketed by a wall of flames, burning till one’s chest tightened as we choked. All around me echoed the murmurs of conversation spoken in the Beijing dialect. My nose suddenly pricked – I had come to miss my home in a foreign country, thousands of miles away. Sitting in the wheelchair, I was seized with an urge to shout at the skies, but I did not, remaining silent.
I no longer had the strength.
In the front hall of the airport, there were several couples who were saying their farewells. I watched a woman choke back her tears as she kissed her lover goodbye on the lips and whispered, ‘I love you; wait for me to return.’ Then she turned and disappeared into the crowd.
I thought to myself: that day, at that time, could these be the words which that silly girl still refused to say aloud?
Our memories of the past; the testimony of our love.
In the short span of days, the skies above our heads swiftly changed colours.
You left; I departed, bring with me the hope that no other accidents would occur in this lifetime.
My life had come to an end. My only worry was the hurt you would feel. Time passes swiftly like flowing water; eventually, you will come to be the sweet and gentle lover of another man, to lead a simple, blissful life with him.
I will forever be grateful that you left Odessa, a place filled with our memories, with resentment and hate. Only then could you bury me within a corner of your heart, to bravely move forward with your life. I know that there will be others who will come to love you, yet I am also afraid that they would love you more than I did.
When Xiaoyao arrived, I was staring attentively at the little girl gobbling her ice cream. Two braided pigtails; an innocent face smiling at passers-by.
‘Second brother, you’re finally willing to return. It’s been years since we last met. Come on, let’s talk.’
Xiaoyao scurried behind me, and quickly assumed the position of the little brother in charge of pushing my wheelchair. But I had already seen his eyes – red and glistening with wetness.
I sighed, ‘Xiaoyao, don’t be sad for me. I’ve returned, and at the very least, I can still accompany you for a month.’
‘Stop saying such inauspicious words. You must continue to live and let those who have let you down watch: you, Sun Jiayu, will never lose to anyone else.’
Xiaoyao cried, as did I.
I had always lived my life according to my own wishes, yet fate had always succeeded in changing my course.
Suddenly, a pressure tightened around my sleeves. I turned my head to see that delicate little girl from earlier. She smiled, revealing a set of baby teeth, and said in a child-like voice, ‘Uncle, don’t cry. I’ll give you my sweet. If you eat it, you will feel better.’
A soft porcelain hand extended towards me, two pink candies lying within her outstretched palms. I nodded, and took them. From a distance ahead came a couple running urgently towards us, apologising as they pulled the little girl away, hastily making their way towards the security checkpoint. I watched their retreating figures and wondered to myself if the Heavens would grant me such an ending as well, even though I had already let go of my true love.
Xiaoyao drove me to a hotel, and I ordered a table full of delicious food. Even if I died, I had to finish them, for how else could I return home?
In the last couple of weeks, I had deliberately avoided looking at the mirror, yet it was not difficult to imagine what a patient in the terminal stage of cancer would look like.
In the end, I still recoiled from the excruciating ache in my stomach. The blinding pain made me dizzy, but I stubbornly bit my tongue, and attempted to use the coppery tang of blood to resist caving into my increasingly distorted consciousness.
Flustered, Xiaoyao supported me up as he turned towards the waiters and shouted for help. When he turned back, he clung onto me in a tight grip and sobbed, voice cracking, ‘Brother, brother, you can’t be like this. Aunt Liu is still waiting for you at home. Brother, hang in there, brother…’
I managed a faint smile towards him, but could not say a word.
When the ambulance arrived, Xiaoyao lifted me in a horizontal hold and dashed towards it. I did not know if he had gotten stronger, or I had really become so emaciated. My eyes were filled with mists and my vision was blurry, the pain nearly robbing me of my ability to breathe. A hallucination even appeared: memories of my life flitted across my eyes, before stopping at the image of a young woman’s smiling face. I found the place Xiaoyao was standing at, and exerted all my strength in order to say the word, ‘Bible.’
When I regained consciousness, the book had already appeared before me. Xiaoyao held onto it and opened his mouth, wanting to say something, yet he hesitated, and after looking at me for a moment, sighed, before placing the book into my arms.
I guessed he must have already known. Bowing my head, I took out that photo and placed it on the left side of my chest, saying, ‘I don’t wish to be a burden to her.’
Even now, I did not know if my decision was right or wrong, but I believed that as long as I continued to remain in her life, her pain and suffering would only intensify.
‘Brother, Fan Miao is here…’
I suppose I was glossing things over, but it was the truth that Fan Miao had already become my past. At this moment, my hand was still placed over the photograph on my heart. I curled my fingers, and pointed towards it, before saying, ‘No matter why Fan Miao has come, there is already another person here. Do you understand?’
Xiaoyao understood. He nodded and left the room. The quiet hospital room remained silent, without anyone to intrude on its tranquility.
Fan Miao: perhaps the only memory I would have of her in my last days was that she was a woman who bore a slight resemblance to Meimei.
The skies were dark. For the sixty-seventh day, I noted how there was no longer a warm body which laid beside me.
But I thought that I still needed to sleep, because this number would only continue to increase until my time was up. In this night, I had a long but sweet dream. I do not wish to share that dream with anyone else, but I will only say that the Gods had given to me the ending I had wished for, even if it were only in a dream.
In the early morning, the hospital corridors frequently echoed with flustered footsteps. I knew that they were made for the countless struggling lives.
Abruptly, the door was flung open, and a familiar but strange face came into view. She had grown old.
As though time had stopped, at last, just like years ago, I had finally returned to this warm and soothing embrace. Familiarity blanketed me, and I raised my head, tears congealing within my eyes.
From that day onwards, my mother frequently talked to me about the little things in her life, like her old friends. Patiently, I listened, like a young child keen to understand.
When the weather cooled, my mother brought me home.
In China, we did not celebrate All Saints’ Day. On 1st November 2003, I visited a dilapidated western restaurant, and handed a tip to the lady dressed in white, before requesting that she played the song, ‘Tonight I Celebrate My Love For You.’
Tonight I celebrate my love for you
It seems the natural thing to do
Tonight no one’s gonna find us
We’ll leave the world behind us
When I make love to you……
The song came to an end. With a pair of joyous eyes, that woman in white turned towards me.
I said, ‘She plays it better than you do.’
Then I left.
In the subsequent days that passed, I seldom left home. Xiaoyao frequently came over to accompany me. From his expression, I could tell that he had found love. Once, I had been in his position, experiencing similar bliss.
Often, Xiaoyao hung around by my side, wanting to know the story behind that photograph. Yet I only smiled, and did not say a word. That photograph contained the brightest memories of my life, and I was afraid to share it, for fear that the Heavens would collect this memory back from me.
Towards the end of the year, Qiu Wei also came to visit. At that time, my mother had been overjoyed with happiness as she pinched my cheeks, which had regained colour, but I was the only one who knew that my life would soon come to an end.
I sat at the steps of the courtyard with Qiu Wei. For a long time, neither of us broke the peaceful silence.
At last, it was I who spoke first. ‘Brother, light a cigarette for me.’
Qiu Wei did not refuse, and after lighting one for me, lit another for himself.
A few heartbeats later, he began, ‘Xiao’sun, I’ve also lost contact with Zhao Mei.’ He did not look at me as he said these words.
In the few months which had passed since I returned to Beijing, this was the first time I heard her name from another person’s mouth. My heart stuttered to a pause, as though a forceful grip had clenched around it, hurting me to the point I was left breathless.
‘Do you know that I still disagree with the decision you made that day? That silly girl spent cried night after night in those few days you spent at the police station. But every morning, she still pretended that everything was fine and even told me, ‘don’t be worried, Jiayu will be fine’.’
‘I don’t wish for anything else, but for her to return to lead the life she ought to have led.’
Qiu Wei heaved a heavy sigh, slapping his thighs as he stood up. The slanting rays of the sun shone upon him, and I could not see the expression within his eyes.
‘Alright, Jiayu. I did not come with the intention to upset you. I only thought that you had the right to know these, and I also thought that you should have wanted to know.’
That day, I sat in a daze for a long time at the courtyard. I thought about a lot of things, yet it seemed as though I had thought of nothing at all.
When we were young, we would often have grand dreams, but when the beautiful days of our youth, mingling with overripe imaginations, faded away, how many dreams would remain unshattered?
That silly girl was still young; her dreams precious. I was glad that in the remaining days, I could still help her to walk towards her dream – that elegant music conservatory. If it could be so, dear bystander, wasn’t this worth it?
When my father died, he brought with him several sympathies. On New Year’s day, our home became all the more cheerless and cold, the contrast with the noisy chatters and firecrackers let loose on the streets even more stark. But my mother did not think so. From when the sun rose in the early morning, she began cooking and spent the entire afternoon busy with her preparations without resentment.
I stared at her stooped back and really did not wish to disappoint her, but I could not compete against my poor appetite.
That day, I did my first round of chemotherapy. When I exited the room, I saw my mother, clinging onto the hems of the doctor’s coat, crying as she said that I was her last hope.
In 2004, I only wore a white shirt on one occasion – Valentine’s Day. I thought that you would like it.
I began to exhibit the symptoms of every patient who had undergone chemotherapy, the most obvious being my gradually thinning hair. I tossed away all of my light-coloured garments in order to conceal the hairs which fell to my shoulders.
I remained cooped at home in the entirety of winter, because my body could no longer withstand the bitter cold of the weather.
The first snow which fluttered through the skies caught my attention. If I had known beforehand the ending of my life, that day, would I have chosen death with you on the snow-blanketed grounds of Odessa?
As my soul clung onto life by a thread, I often stared at the roadsides with great attentiveness, wondering when the day would come and I would no longer be able to see this.
The pain of chemotherapy even caused a person who thought himself strong like me to consider giving up or simply dying a couple of times. A few months later, when I borrowed a mirror from the nurse and saw my emaciated features, a saying came into mind: one foot in the grave.
Steadily, my appetite deteriorated. In the beginning, I could still force myself to eat for my mother’s sake; later, I simply vomited anything I ate. In a daze, I clung onto my spiritual sustenance, thinking about Odessa – a heaven on earth.
In my lifetime, I had gone through three women. All three of them were women I had sincerely loved, but when I closed my eyes, only one face remained clear. I could not even remember the names of the other two.
Having experienced so many ups and downs in life, in the face of death, I was instead at peace. Except, the time my mother spent by my side grew increasingly infrequent, and I knew that she was crying to herself in a corner.
At the beginning of September, my mother and doctor entered into a long conversation. I did not know what they discussed, but I remembered that my mother’s eyes were red when she returned.
She said, ‘Jiayu, let’s go home.’
I nodded, and said, okay.
After that, Xiaoyao accompanied me as we traveled across Beijing, visiting every nook and cranny, not leaving a single place in this city untouched.
My girl, I really wish to remember the place you and I will grow old together.
That night, after I returned from my father’s grave, I flipped through my worn-out copy of the Bible and handed the photograph to Xiaoyao.
I said, ‘Her name is Zhao Mei, my silly girl. She is a bright and beautiful girl. She gave me my best memories in Odessa.’
I closed my eyes and recalled the days I had spent in Odessa. Memory after memory, so clear and vivid to the point of fearfulness. It turns out, I still owed her a promise where we would grow old together in this life.
Silly girl, don’t blame me. How could you have known that I did not wish to leave you either?
How could I bear to leave?
I took that photograph, and looked at Xiaoyao.
‘Xiaoyao, if I had been a little more selfish to keep her by my side, when I die, will I be less afraid?’
I did not wait to hear his answer, but I was also afraid to hear it.
The skies were white, but I was unable to see the rising sun no matter how I tried.
My girl, I wish you a lifetime of happiness and peace.
– Sun Jiayu.