I’ve decided to write you a letter to tell you all about it. No, you don’t need to get your reading glasses out, or to search for your torch for better light. I know you find reading difficult these days, so I won’t put you to that trouble. You just sit there, just sit in that green armchair you like, and I’ll sit facing you and read the letter to you.
Dear Grandma, what are you doing right now? I don’t know. The plane took off from Schiphol Aiport about three hours ago. In the cabin, the passengers have drifted into sleep. We are flying from west to east, chasing the rising sun, like Kuafu or Icarus. I’ve pulled the shade on the plane window down tight, because the bright sunlight was hurting my eyes. I don’t know what the time is, neither the time in Amsterdam nor the time in China. This point of time here, where I am, is so tiny and distant that it hardly exists. Grandma, up here in the sky I miss you, and so I decided to write you a letter.
I want to tell you all about it, but it seems difficult to fit everything into this letter. I suppose I should start with – do you remember the crossroads where we live? The one with roads leading off north, south, east and west, where you once said to me, “If you sit at this crossroads for two hours, you’ll see all the people in the town go by,” – well, I was in the Netherlands for just five days, but I seem to have seen all the people and all the variety of the world: a figure chanting scripture emerging gradually from the mist, her wisdom as warm as the south wind; a lithe and gentle cat who takes our writings to their destinations, even into the most closed of hearts; the wild goose slicing through the autumn skies, who seeks to write our words on the pristine moon; the traveller who rests on a rock under the hot sun, the dust that settles on his backpack becoming a part of his baggage; the sailor who moors his beloved skiff among old seaside huts, whistling a melodious lovesong; and the spring oriole, just poking out her head to see the jade-green willows, still unaware that she has the world’s most beautiful voice; the timid piper with a rose in his buttonhole, leading children into the forest to learn the truths of our ancestors; and don’t forget the slender deer and the graceful laurel, who only have to pause by the side of the road to hypnotise you; and the doctor in her bright coat, holding victim hands, spilling words that become soothing medicine; of course, everyone remembers the magician and his assistant, dressed identically, speaking identically, but performing tricks that no-one has ever seen before: at the end of the show, all the audience can do is gasp. They have forgotten which of the two is which.
I’m not sure, Grandma, if you can understand what I mean? You say you understand? You’ll definitely nod. OK, so I continue: and there’s me. When we said goodbye, I gave everyone a hug. You understand, not just a shake of the hand, like in China. Everyone there hugs to say goodbye. But the secret that I will tell only you is: when I was hugging and saying goodbye to them, I dropped a part of myself, in the creases of their clothes, in their handbags, or in the strands of their hair.
Emptily, I sit in the aeroplane, gazing at my own palms, wanting the right words to describe this feeling to you. Right, just as you always say, “Fine, fine, you are my eyes. I’m old now, and I can’t get around, but you can go and look at many things for me.” – That’s how it is, I deliberately hid a part of myself on those distant people, as we said goodbye. Because I want them to take me to see more worlds that are more distant, more beautiful, more tragic, more dark, even, ultimately, like the calm that comes before death.
Dear Grandma, I’ve written it all in this letter. I think that you will understand what I mean better than anyone – now I’m going to sleep for a while, and wait for the plane to land, then return home, then sit facing you and read out this letter. Thus, you will be able to see in the tears that I shed the secrets that I did not write down.
Your granddaughter, Yuexing