The Rebel: Chapter 9
Translated by qikiqtarjuaq
Posted on 2020-09-10
By the time spring arrived a year later, if it weren't for the occasional sound of air-raid siren or the searchlights lighting up the sky, one might have mistakenly believed that the war was already over. The guest lodgings for foreigners in Geleshan had become nothing but a nightclub for the American officers. Every weekend, the logistics officers would use their military cards downtown to bring over groups of women who were like the blossoming flowers swaying in the breeze. Most of them were dancers who'd lost their jobs, exiled university students, concubines in dire straits, or military wives who'd lost their husbands. They let out high-pitched laughter beneath the crystal chandelier hanging in the hall. They drank wine, they danced, and in the darkness, they sought pleasure with those young American officers - sometimes in a bed, sometimes in an open-top jeep, and sometimes right up against a wall. Afterward, carrying their silk stockings, some chocolates, and the soldiers' seeds, they were sent back to the city under the cover of night.
Countless times, when Lin Nansheng had drunk so much that he couldn't discern the face of the woman in his arms, he'd always be struck a sudden notion - just like this, in the silence and in his weariness, let him die in embrace of a woman he didn't know. However, when he awoke the next day, he'd always remember Zhu Yizhen and those chilly, short-lived mornings when they'd woken up together.
It was on an evening like this that Lin Nansheng ran into Miss Lan once more. She appeared in the banquet hall wearing a blue poplin dress. Like a low-class prostitute from a cabaret, she welcomed the embrace of all the men. That night, Lin Nansheng was especially taciturn. Leaning against the corner of the bar counter, he watched her indifferently, until she drunkenly left the hall with an American officer on her arm.
Late at night, a whistle sounded. It was the signal for these women to leave. Standing by the side of the truck, Lin Nansheng blocked Miss Lan's path. "I don't think you're here for work."
Miss Lan's make-up had long since faded, making her face appear pale and puffy. She gave Lin Nansheng a lazy glance, as though she didn't recognize the man in front of her at all. In a cold voice, she asked, "Is that any of your business?"
With that, she grabbed the hand of a companion on the truck and pulled herself on-board.
When Miss Lan got out of the truck and returned to the small room she'd rented, she sat down on her bed for a long time before moving again. She filled the wooden basin with clean water, undressed, and began to bathe. The bone-piercing cold of the water immediately sobered her up.
When the light of dawn filtered through a crack in the window frame, Miss Lan was still curled up in the basin. With her head buried and her hair completely covering her face, she looked like a wax statue about to melt. However, after a full day's sleep, Miss Lan recovered her radiant appearance when night arrived. She carefully put on her make-up in front of the vanity mirror, then picked a qipao from the row of clothes hanging in the corner and put it on. After one last look in the mirror, she blew out the old lamp, picked up her purse, and went outside.
Duyou Street was the most bustling place in Chongqing. Once night arrived, it would transform into Nanjing Street in Shanghai. Bright lights lit up all the buildings, endless streams of traffic filled the busy streets, and chatter in the local dialect from businessmen and officials could be heard everywhere. In addition, there were many soldiers in different uniforms and reporters from the various countries. Here, it was like a mishmash of all the elements of the city, and it was also the place where Miss Lan worked tonight. Just like many of the streetwalkers, she wandered with half-folded arms along the sidewalks, advertising herself to the passers-by with a look in her eyes. Sometimes, she would also approach those neatly dressed men with a cigarette in her hand, borrowing a light and haggling over price.
Several nights later, Lin Nansheng suddenly appeared in front of her. Her gaze immediately turned to ice.
"Don't be like this," said Lin Nansheng. "Come with me."
"I don't want to do business with you."
Lin Nansheng thought for a bit, then grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the jeep parked by the side of the road.
Using all her strength, Miss Lan attempted to throw off his hand, but failed to struggle free. Then she tried to use a grappling move to free herself. However, she still couldn't break free of his grasp. Suddenly, she lowered her head, and like a mother animal, bit down on the back of Lin Nansheng's hand until blood trailed down his wrists and stained the cuffs of his shirt red.
Lin Nansheng acted as though he felt nothing at all. Putting his other arm around her shoulder, he pushed her into the jeep in full view of the crowd.
"You don't have to pity me." Once Miss Lan sat down in the jeep, she became calm. Taking out a handkerchief, she wiped the blood from her mouth while consulting the rearview mirror. Then, she wrapped the handkerchief around Lin Nansheng's wound. She no longer spoke. With her arms half-folded, she smoked one cigarette after another.
Lin Nansheng was similarly silent. He waited until he parked the jeep in front of the residential building for senior executives of the Central Bank. Then, he pulled her upstairs into an apartment, turned on the lights, and spoke. "If you have to do this, then do all your business with me."
This was one of the hideouts that Gu Shenyan had prepared for himself. Before he'd even arrived in Chongqing, he'd already rented this place with a large sum of money. However, he never ended up using it, as though he'd known that there would be a day when Lin Nansheng would need it. Back when they'd been playing Go, he'd mentioned that the key to this place had been delivered to the front desk of Jialing Hotel.
Miss Lan swept her gaze around the room, then slowly entered the bedroom and turned on the bedside lamp. After hanging her purse on the coat rack, she seemed to transform into an entirely different person. She undid the buttons of her outfit and swiftly stripped herself nude. Then, she glanced at Lin Nansheng, who had been standing by the door.
"What are you waiting for?"
Still standing by the door, Lin Nansheng spoke hesitantly. "Actually, that's not why I'm doing this."
Miss Lan gave him a closed-mouth smile and took his hands in hers, pulling him towards the bed. When they made love, it was more like a sparring match. Afterward, Miss Lan turned off the bedside lamp, and lay stiffly in the dark for a very long time. Suddenly, she said, "If you really pity me, then you'll help me return to Shanghai."
Back when the NBIS started their complete withdrawal from Shanghai, Miss Lan followed orders and arrived at Wusong Pier. It wasn't until she'd gotten on the ship that they informed her that they were going to Chongqing.
Miss Lan's eyes widened. "What about my child? I can't leave him in Shanghai."
The supervisor in charge of their withdrawal was a middle-aged man who resembled a shopkeeper. Shaking his head, he said, "At your rank, you can't bring your family with you."
"Then let me stay behind. I'm not going anywhere."
With another shake of his head, the man said, "My task is to send all of you to Chongqing. There can't be one person more or one person less."
Miss Lan glanced at the men and women sitting in the cabin. They had all been comrades-in-arms. Although this was the first time she'd seen many of them, every single person was staring at her.
Turning and leaving the cabin, she went directly to the bridge and said to the captain, "Pull back to the shore."
The captain didn't look at her, instead focusing his attention on the supervisor who stood behind her.
"If you want to get off the boat, then I can only bring you back as a corpse." The supervisor pointed a gun at Miss Lan. "This is an order from above."
Miss Lan didn't speak. She stared down the dark barrel of the gun until it was lowered. Then she lowered her gaze.
The supervisor sighed. "It's better to follow your orders. Don't make things difficult for yourself and don't make things difficult for me either."
Fortunately, the postal route to Shanghai had always worked uninterrupted. The moment Miss Lan arrived at Chongqing, she was assigned to an external inspection office where she examined the letters and parcels coming in and out of enemy territory every day. At first, she would send several letters to her nanny's family every month. If her salary wasn't enough, she would sell the jewelry she owned to transfer money to them, begging them to treat her son like they treated their own children.
However, one day, someone from the Supervisory Office came to talk to her. Taking out a thick stack of letters and bank drafts, he asked, "Your child is only six years old. Is your nanny literate?"
"This city gets bombarded every week," said Miss Lan. "I only want them to know that I'm still alive."
Not many days later, Miss Lan was transferred out of the inspection office and forced to move out of her residence at headquarters. As a switchboard operator at the telephone company, her monthly salary couldn't even cover the soaring prices of basic commodities.
It was at this time that her nanny had someone help her send a letter over, telling Miss Lan that her son had reached the age when he should be going to school.
That night, Miss Lan left the phone company's shared dormitories. After taking a long walk on the streets, she barged into a bar popular with foreigners. It wasn't until she woke up the next morning in an unfamiliar bed that she remembered that the man sleeping next to her was a Canadian mechanic.
One day, late at night, Miss Lan decided to sneak back to Shanghai. The ear-piercing air raid sirens blared while the roar of the aircrafts approached closer and closer. After the blackout, the streets were pitch-black and deserted, all the people having long since run away. However, Miss Lan remained standing as still as a wooden log next to a stone archway.
Explosions sounded. The earth shook, the mountains swayed, and blazing fires soared towards the sky. Yet Miss Lan still stood, not moving a single inch.
When the plainclothes agents from the Supervisory Office appeared in front of her again, they brought with them handcuffs and the ship ticket that she'd spent a hefty sum to purchase.
Miss Lan said, "You should know, I have a son I have to provide for in Shanghai."
"You should also know if you return to enemy territory without authorization, then you will be under suspicion for defection."
Miss Lan was brought to a confinement room, where she was imprisoned for an entire year before being released.Miss Lan never brought these matters up to Lin Nansheng, and Lin Nansheng never asked her about them either. Every weekend, the minute he finished work, he'd leave the academy and return to his Central Bank residence like a dutiful and considerate husband. After dinner, he'd sometimes even help wash the dishes. This turned into one of the more peaceful periods of Lin Nansheng's life.
However, one evening, Miss Lan lit a candle after dinner. She sat staring silently at the candle for a long time before telling him that today was her son's eighth birthday. Then, she lowered her head, her gaze turning gloomy. She said that she'd always thought that it was children couldn't live without their mothers. However, now she realized that it was in fact mothers who more often couldn't live without their children.
That night, Lin Nansheng did not speak for a very long time. After washing up, he stood in front of the window and watched the still-open grocery store on the opposite side of the street.
It was then that Miss Lan quietly walked up to him, hugged him from behind, and rested her chin on his shoulder.
"That place just hired a new helper." Slowly, she buried her face in his back, pressing tightly against him. "Didn't you know? Sooner or later, I'll implicate you."
From beginning to end, Lin Nansheng stayed silent and unmoving as he stared at the dimly lit grocery store.
Several weeks later, the Central Daily News published a qilu verse written by Huang Shanyun, titled Ode to the Plum Blossom. Not too many days later, a jeep from the garrison headquarters sped into the SACO, bringing Lin Nansheng out to a villa under Fotu Pass.
Once Lin Nansheng entered the living room, a smiling middle-aged man dressed in impeccable Western-style clothing welcomed him.
This man said that he'd been sent by the office of the Eighth Route Army to meet Lin Nansheng on behalf of Mr. Ji from Hong Kong. He extended a hand in greeting. "We've waited a very long time for this poem."
Lin Nansheng nodded. Still standing, he spoke hesitantly. "I would like to ask for your help… to send someone out of Chongqing."
The middle-aged man thought for a bit. "With your current abilities, this is something you can do yourself."
"If I could do it myself, I wouldn't have come to find you." Lin Nansheng sat down on a sofa and continued. "You can treat this as a condition I require."
The middle-aged man smiled and sat down on another sofa. "The Communist Party doesn't do business transactions."
"As long as there is intelligence, then there will be transactions," said Lin Nansheng. "Without making a deal, we wouldn't have Mr. Ji from Hong Kong."
The middle-aged smile again. "Us revolutionaries rely on trust."
"Rome wasn't built in a day." Lin Nansheng turned to meet his eyes. "You need to be understanding of a person who has just made a decision."