The Rebel: Chapter 3

Translated by qikiqtarjuaq
Posted on 2020-09-05

During monsoon season in Shanghai, the air was so humid that water could be wrung out of it. But it's the people who were more miserable, feeling as though something was expanding bit by bit deep in their bones. After her major bout of illness, Zhu Yizhen looked thin and pallid. She stayed in Lin Nansheng's apartment every day, staring out the window. In her eyes, the world only had the two rows of sycamore trees on Route Ratard. In the downpour, every leaf was a moving color of green.

Indeed, Zhu Yizhen had nowhere to go. Lin Nansheng's words were right. As long as the traitor wasn't found, the only thing she could do was keep herself well-concealed. The Japanese military police had blockaded all the roads leaving Shanghai while the operatives from No. 76 waited day and night at the ferry terminal. They strictly interrogated every ordinary person who wanted to leave. Innocent people would lose their lives almost every few days because of this.

However, Zhu Yizhen still wanted to leave. One evening, she changed into the qipao she had worn when she first came, left her room, and said to Lin Nansheng, "I can't stay here anymore."

"Where can you go?" asked Lin Nansheng. "The minute you go outside, you could be captured."

"I'm not afraid," said Zhu Yizhen. "I've received training."

"Once you've been captured, your loyalty will be called into question."

"Our organization isn't like yours," said Zhu Yizhen. "It will only prove that I'll be more loyal."

"But you still don't need to walk right into their trap," said Lin Nansheng. "Living meaninglessly is better than dying meaninglessly."

"But I can't live here."

"We're not enemies.

Lin Nansheng looked at her. "At the very least, we're still friends."

Zhu Yizhen suddenly grew taciturn. Turning back to her room, she closed the door and didn't come out for the rest of the night.

Several days later, Gu Shenyan called Lin Nansheng into his office and got right to the point. "You're sheltering a woman?"

Lin Nansheng lowered his head. "Yes."

"She's an intelligence officer with the CCP."

Lin Nansheng kept his head lowered. "No good can come out of it for us if we let her fall into the hands of the Japanese."

"But the intelligence she has must be useful to us."

"She's already a kite whose strings were cut." Lin Nansheng looked up expressionlessly. "I have a responsibility to protect her."

"You're destroying your future prospects."

"I didn't enter this line of work just for future prospects."

Gu Shenyan was taken aback. "When it comes to love and marriage during war, Mr. Dai's rules are very clear."

Lin Nansheng lowered his head again. "Yes."

"You can let her become our comrade," said Gu Shenyan.

That night, Lin Nansheng brought Zhu Yizhen with him and left his apartment. The rain drizzled like strands of silk beneath the street lamps. Sharing an umbrella, with Zhu Yizhen bundled up tight in a men's windbreaker, they looked like a young married couple going out for a walk. They walked along Route Ratard until they reached Xiafei Road. Then, they called for a car to take them to Suzhou Creek on the shore opposite the Japanese army's barracks. Lin Nansheng didn't say a single word from beginning to end, and Zhu Yizhen didn't ask a single question either. She simply took his arm and walked for a long time along the riverbank, before finally going inside a car that had been parked in the dark.

A man with a small mustache was the one escorting them into the Japanese settlement. Other than a single backwards glance, he didn't exchange any words with Lin Nansheng. While the car was waiting for inspection at the border, Lin Nansheng suddenly reached out and took Zhu Yizhen into his arms. He held one of her hands in his own with a strong but gentle grip, but Zhu Yizhen could still hear the wild thumping of her heart.

Only after she got off the car and watched it drive away did she speak in a cold voice as she stood in the rain. "So it turns out you guys really are colluding with the Japanese."

Lin Nansheng smiled. "There are traitors amongst the Chinese people. It's the same for the Japanese people."

Saying this, he opened the umbrella, and the two of them walked for a bit along Ping'anli street where the Japanese expats liked to gather. Then, he brought her onto the roof of a small apartment building. Placing the key in her hand, he told her that this was a place he'd prepared for himself.

"Then you shouldn't have brought me here," said Zhu Yizhen.

Lin Nansheng didn't reply. He only looked at her with a steady gaze until neither of them spoke anymore.

Zhu Yizhen's landlady was a widow from China with grizzled white hair who was also a Japanese widow. Thirty years ago, her Japanese lover had abandoned his wife and child and left his home to live with her in this place. They'd made their living practicing medicine. Now, only a portrait of the deceased was left of the man she loved, but she didn't grieve. Other than lighting three incense sticks for him every day, and making a pot of Tieguanyin tea, she would spend the rest of the day in front of the embroidery table by the window.

The old widow channeled all of her yearning and loss into every movement of her needle and thread on silk. That attitude always reminded Zhu Yizhen of her mother who'd died at the Battle of Shanghai, the mortars turning her mother and their residence into ash. In her mother's life, her only wish was to marry her daughter off into a rich and powerful family, so that their declining family could be revived.

Zhu Yizhen seemed to suddenly become enchanted with this ancient and complicated craft. She began to learn embroidery in the old widow's room every day, occasionally helping her sew kimonos. When the weekend arrived, she would go to the newspaper stand on the street corner and buy a copy of that day's Mainichi Shimbun. That was the agreement she'd made with Lin Nansheng before they'd parted ways. Every weekend, they would post an identical notice seeking a person in the Mainichi Shimbun.

Other than that, Zhu Yizhen practically never set foot outside the house. Over time, her skin became more and more pale, but the expression in her eyes became more peaceful. However, those days came to a sudden end when Autumn arrived. The sky was bright and clear that afternoon when Zhu Yizhen stood in front of the newspaper stand. At the same time that she found the familiar notice, she also discovered another notice.

It was a code word that only she understood. It was her organization summoning her for duty.

A middle-aged man wearing black-framed glasses was the person who arranged the meeting with Zhu Yizhen. Sitting on a bench in Hongkou Park, he said, "My last name is Pan. You can call me Lao Pan."

Zhu Yizhen remembered the first time she'd met Ji Zhongyuan. He'd said, "My last name is Ji. You can call me Lao Ji."

Nodding her head, Zhu Yizhen asked, "Where is Lao Ji's body buried?"

Lao Pan paused, taken aback. "A revolutionary who died on the battlefields, he'll live on forever in our hearts."

Zhu Yizhen lowered her head and began to recount the events of these past few months. However, Lao Pan waved his hand to stop her.

"I need to clear things up with the superiors of my organization," said Zhu Yizhen.

"You've never left the organization's sight," said Lao Pan. "My meeting you here today is already sufficient proof of the organization's trust in you."

"Then you should have gotten in touch with me earlier."

"We had to find the traitor first," said Lao Pan. "We've paid a very heavy price."

"Who is he?"

Lao Pan sighed without answering. His assignment for Zhu Yizhen was to restore the intelligence exchange between them and the NBIS. Finally, he said, "Lin Nansheng - this person is worth winning over."

Zhu Yizhen said nothing as she stared at a Japanese couple wearing kimonos on the opposite side of the lawn.

"Do you have any difficulties? You can bring it up."

Zhu Yizhen shook her head, still saying nothing.

"I know what you're thinking. We need to take a longer view," said Lao Pan. "The Japanese Devils will fuck off out of China sooner or later."

Zhu Yizhen suddenly turned her head and looked at him. "Aren't you afraid that I'll be turned by him?"

Lao Pan laughed. "The organization trusts you."

Zhu Yizhen returned to the old widow's room as though nothing had happened. For the whole afternoon, she sat in front of that embroidery table threading the needle, only returning to her attic room when it was evening. She closed her curtains, lay stiffly on the bed, and stared at the dark ridges of the roof in a daze.

Three days later, when she met Lin Nansheng at Didi's Cafe, his face revealed a helpless smile. "We've still returned to the same old place."

Zhu Yizhen stirred her spoon in her cup of coffee for a long time before saying, "You've lost weight."

"Let's begin," said Lin Nansheng.

Although Zhu Yizhen nodded, she suddenly felt an indescribable pain. After gulping down a large mouthful of coffee, she immediately covered her mouth with her hand and looked out the window.

Before parting ways, Zhu Yizhen took out the key from her bag and placed it on the table. Without another look at Lin Nansheng, she got up and walked towards the exit. However, she suddenly stopped at the door and turned her head, as though she'd heard someone call out for her.

Lin Nansheng stepped forward, neither too hurried nor too slow, and took her hand in his, placing the key in her palm. "It's better to keep it. That place is hidden in plain sight."

Zhu Yizhen glanced at him, but still wanted to push open the door and leave.

Still holding her hand, Lin Nansheng opened and closed his mouth, but didn't know what to say. As a result, he smiled and said, "Goodbye."

At present, Zhu Yizhen was someone who left early and returned late every day. Each week, she'd meet with Lin Nansheng, but other than exchanging information, they never spoke any extraneous words.

Zhu Yizhen became exceptionally busy, and she no longer had time to learn embroidery from the old widow anymore. So, she bought a second-hand embroidery table and placed it in the attic. Then, in the dead of the night, she would immerse herself in embroidery with rapt attention and bated breath. She embroidered with so much concentration that she forgot herself, as though there was nothing else in this world except that tightly stretched piece of silk on the embroidery table, as though there would never be anything else that could move her heart.

However, one night, she seemed to go crazy. She embroidered and embroidered, then suddenly grabbed a pair of scissors, and a few snips later, cut the almost-completed "Butterfly Yearns for Flowers" into tatters.

Zhu Yizhen put her head down on the embroidery table. When she looked up again, the light was overhead, and her eyes were brimming with tears. However, she didn't make a single sound as she cried. Zhu Yizhen got up and washed her face with cold water. Then, as though nothing had happened, she took a broom and carefully swept the floor clean. After that, she put a piece of silk on the embroidery table again. She found and placed the embroidery pattern on top of it, then leaned over and began to embroider the picture.

Zhu Yizhen was still embroidering "Butterfly Yearns for Flowers."

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