She had sought me out. I knew it would happen. Even if I had switched to a different section, she would have sought me out all the same. She, who hid in the crowd, who didn’t want anyone to see her behind her veil of averted eyes and aloofness. When I stepped forward, she came out, too. And she pointed and said, revealing a child’s wanton smile: “That’s the one I want.” And like a potted sunflower that had just been sold to a customer, I was taken away. There was no way to refuse. This, from a beautiful girl that I was already deeply, viscerally attracted to. Things were getting good. There she was, standing before me. She brushed the waves of her hair away from her face with a charm that was instantly etched across my heart like a tattoo in one painful scorch. Her feminine radiance was overpowering. I was about to get knocked out of the ring. It was clear that from that moment on, things would never be equal between us. How could they, with me under the table, scrambling to summon a different me, the one she would revere. No way was I coming out.

“What are you doing in here?” I was so anxious that I had to blurt out something. She didn’t say a word or seem the least bit embarrassed.

“Did you switch to this department to make up a class?” She didn’t look up at me. She just stood there, dragging one foot behind her in the hallway, and didn’t say a thing, as if this conversation had nothing to do with her.

“How’d you know I switched?” She abruptly broke her silence. Her eyes were shimmering with amazement, and I could finally look into them. She now gazed back at me, wide-eyed.

“Well, of course I’d know!” I didn’t want her to think I’d been noticing her. “You finally said something!” I said, heaving an exaggerated sigh of relief. She smiled at me shyly, even teasingly, and I let out a huge laugh, relieved that I’d made her smile. Even the most ordinary smile was like rays of sunshine along a golden beach.

She told me that she started to feel anxious as soon as I walked into the room. She wanted to talk to me, but didn’t know what to say. I pointed to her shoelaces. She gingerly leaned forward to tie them. But when she saw me, she couldn’t bring herself to say something, and then she didn’t want to say anything, so then she just stood there. She threw her purple canvas backpack over her shoulder and crouched on the floor. As she started talking, I felt the sudden urge to reach over and touch her long hair, which looked so soft and supple. You don’t know a thing, but I figured it all out in an instant, I told her silently in my heart. I reached over and held her backpack instead, and feeling mildly contented by the closeness of its weight, hoped that she would go on tying her shoes.

It was already six by the time class ended. Shadows flickered across the university grounds, and the evening breeze was lilting in the air. I grabbed my bike and took off. I sailed down the main campus thoroughfare, which seemed so clean and wide, keeping with the leisurely pace of the traffic. I didn’t know if I was following her, or if she was following me. Within a year’s time, the two of us would grow to cherish our ambiguous rapport, at once intimate and unfamiliar, and tempered by moments of silent confrontation.

“Why did you come over and talk to me?” In my heart I already knew too much, but I pretended to know nothing.

“Why wouldn’t I talk to you?” She sounded slightly irritated. It was dusk, and the shadows fell across her face, so I couldn’t read her expression, but as soon as she spoke, I could tell she’d had a tough freshman year. There was a curious note of dejection in her answer. I already knew her all too well.

“I’m just an underclassman you’ve seen like three times!” I nearly exploded.

“Not even,” she said coolly to herself.

My eyes were fixed on her long skirt as it wafted in the breeze. “Weren’t you worried that I wouldn’t remember you, or didn’t want to talk to you?”

“I knew you weren’t like that.” Her reaction was perfectly composed, as if everything to do with me were already set in stone.

We reached the school gates, not quite sure what to do next. She seemed to be hinting that she wanted to see where I lived. The way she said it seemed to convey a touch of familial kindness, almost like a tough but pliable cloth whose inner softness made my heart ache. Besides, as they say, if the flood waters are rushing straight toward you, what are you going to do to stop it? This was how she naturally treated me, for no apparent reason. I took her towards Xinsheng South Road, back to Wenzhou Street.

“How’s this year going?” I tried to break through her gloom.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” She squeezed her eyes shut and made a slight grimace, as if trying to forget.

“You don’t want to tell me?” I was practically edging her onto the road. I was sure she was going to get hit by a car.

She shook her head. “I don’t want to tell anyone.”

“How did you get this way?” It pained the depths of my heart to hear her utter such nonsense.

“Yeah, well, I’ve changed.” Her eyes flickered with a haughtiness and arrogance that underscored the boldness of her statement.

“Into what?” Her answer was so immature that I felt tempted to tease her.

“I’ve just changed, that’s all. I’m not the same person I was in high school.” There was self-hatred in the viciousness of her tone.

To hear those words, “I’ve changed,” was truly sad. The traffic lights flooded Xinsheng South Road with an opulent yellow. We wandered along the red brick wall that encircled the suburbs, clinging to the giant steel fence for balance. To our left was the opulent glow of the road. To our right was the boundless jet-black of suburban hinterlands, teeming with the majestic splendor of solitude. There’s nothing that won’t change, do you understand? I said in my heart. “Can you count the number of lights that are on in that building over there?” I pointed to a brand-new high-rise at the intersection.

“Uh, I see lights in five windows, so maybe like, five?” she said brightly.

Just wait and see how many there are later on. Will you still remember? I asked myself, answering with a nod.

The first semester, she was my lifeline. I took to a clandestine form of dating—that is, the kind where the person you’re going out with doesn’t know it’s a date. I denied myself, and I denied the fact that she was part of my life, so much so that I denied the dotted line that connected the two of us and our entire relationship to a crime. But the eye of suspicion had been cast upon me from the very beginning, and this extraordinary eye reached all the way back to my adolescence. My hair had started to gray early. Life ahead was soon supplanted by a miserable prison sentence. It was as if I never really had a youth. But still, I was determined at all cost to make myself into a figure of great tenderness and compassion. And so I locked myself and that eye together in a dark closet. Every Sunday night, however, I was forced to think about her. It was a dreadful ordeal. I’d resolve not to go to Intro to Chinese Lit, and every Monday I would sleep in until it was almost 3, though I’d naturally wake up in time to rush to class on my bike. Every Monday after class, Shui-Ling would matter-of-factly follow me back to Wenzhou Street, as if she were merely passing by on her way home. Afterwards, I’d wait with her for the #74 bus. There was a bench in front of the French bakery. Our secret little rendezvous were like that: tidy and simple. Executed with the casual deftness of a high-class burglar—bribing the guards with one hand, feeding an avaricious greed with the other. Other times, we would hardly keep in touch, and I barely even thought of her. She was an apparition seen only on Mondays. On Mondays, an offering to my death, she would come to appease me with roses, draped in white muslin, barefoot, and floating. Her primal mating dance, with eyes closed, in rapture. Rose petals scattered into the wilderness.

She made me an offering, and she didn’t even know. A bouquet of roses every week, and among roses it seemed that I might still be alive. It was a new life in which I could reach for those roses, only to find a glass wall. When I outstretched my hand, I discovered it was my own reflection. When Monday ended, the glass wall grew even thicker.

The room on Wenzhou Street. Elegant maroon wallpaper and yellow curtains. What did I even talk to her about in there? She sat on the floor, in the crack between the foot of the wooden bedframe and the wardrobe, with her back to me, almost silent. I talked nonstop. Most of the time it was just me talking. Talking about whatever. Talking about my horrible, painful life experiences. Talking about every person I’d ever gotten entangled with and couldn’t let go of. Talking about my own complexities, my own eccentricities. She was always playing with something in her hands. She would look up at me in disbelief and ask me how I was complex, how I was eccentric. She accepted me. It amounted to negating my negation of myself. Those sincere eyes, like a mirror, hurt me. But she accepted me. In my anguish, I said You don’t understand about every third sentence. You don’t understand. Her eyes were suffused with a deep, translucent light, the ocean gazing at me, silently, as if it were not necessary to speak at all. You don’t understand. She thought she understood. But either way, she accepted me. Years later, I realized that had been the whole point. Those wrenching eyes, which could lift the entire skeleton of my being. I longed to be devoured by the ocean of her eyes. That symbol, from then on, would continue to burn me every second and minute. The brace of those eyes formed a bridge to the outside world, but for the scarlet mark of sin and the deep-set imprint of abandonment, the ocean’s yearning.

I am a woman who loves women. The tears I cry, they spring from a river, and drain across my face like yolk.

My time was gradually consumed by tears. The whole world loves me, but what does it matter since I hate myself? Humanity stabs a bayonet into a baby’s chest, fathers who have daughters yank them into the bathroom for a beating, handicapped midgets drag themselves onto highway overpasses to let everyone know they’re about to go, just to get a little spare change, and mental patients have no way of suppressing their hallucinations, their suicidal urges. How can the world be this cruel? A human being has only so much in them. Yet we must learn from experience until we arrive at the maddening conclusion that The world wrote you off a long time ago, or until we finally accept the prison sentence forced upon us: Your existence is but a crime. And the world keeps turning as if nothing happened. The forced smiles on the faces of the lucky ones almost certainly say it all: just do it. Do it to avoid getting stabbed in the chest with a bayonet, taking a beating, dragging yourself out to the highway overpass, or checking yourself into a mental institution. No one knows about your tragedy, and the world cunningly evaded its responsibility a long time ago. All that you know is that you’ve been crucified for something, and you’re going to spend the rest of your life feeling like no one’s going to help you, there’s no way out, and you’re in it alone. Life imprisonment is what separates you from other people. On top of it all, humanity tells me I’m lucky. Hanging around my neck are name tags that read The Luckiest Breed, and if I don’t put on a satisfied expression in front of the mirror, they’ll all be disappointed.

Shui-Ling, please don’t knock on my door anymore. You don’t know how dark it is here in my heart. I don’t know who I am at all. What’s ahead of me is unclear, yet I must move forward. I don’t want to become myself. I know the answer to the riddle, but I can’t stand to have it revealed. The first time I saw you, I knew I would fall in love with you. That my love would be wild, raging, and passionate, but also illicit. That it could never develop into anything, and instead, it would split apart like pieces of a landslide. As flesh and blood, I was not distinct. You turned the me that opened up into my own key, and when you did, my fears seized me in a flood of tears that soon vanished. I rid myself of all my self-hate and discovered the corporeal me.

She didn’t understand. Didn’t understand she could love me, maybe that she already did love me. Didn’t understand that beneath the hide of a lamb was a demonic beast that had to suppress the urge to rip her to shreds. Didn’t understand that love, every little bit of it, was about exchange. Didn’t understand that she caused me suffering. Didn’t understand that love was like that.

She gave me a puzzle in a box. She put the pieces together patiently, one by one, and completed the picture of me.