Chapter 06 – The end of a lifetime
Ying Ru ordered a “cafe au lait”, which surprised me. I had never seen her drink any kind of coffee with milk before. Then again, she always knew how to surprise me.
I ordered an “Irish Coffee” for myself with some chocolate cookies and a croissant.
“Thanks for the coffee.” Ying Ru said.
“Haha, you’re welcome. How do you like the place?” I laughed. A simple coffee here cost more than two-hundred, I couldn’t have offered her more even if she complained.
“It’s nice.” Ying Ru answered politely while taking in the aroma of the coffee and smiled: “However, you should really try mine; at the very least it is much cheaper, not that it taste bad either.”
“Really?” I smiled as another chill went down my spine. Fortunately, we were in a public place.
While watching the froth floating on top of the coffee, she fetched another packet of milk and slowly poured the content into the cup.
As the powder slowly dispersed into the liquid, it dissolved and spread in a wide arc.
Ying Ru stared closely, lost in thought.
“Right. You told me back at the house, that you are not really much of a writer… What do you mean?” I asked. I might as well start to talk about her work.
“I’m a professional ghostwriter hired by a publisher.” Ying Ru raised her head, explaining: “I help all kinds of writers and publishers write all kinds of different works, and then let them take credit for it.
“Oh… I see. No wonder I couldn’t find any of your publications. Since you are the one writing anyways, why don’t you write for yourself, isn’t that better? Fee wise, you get paid more right?” I asked.
“Not everyone wants to become famous, like me.” Ying Ru softly explained: “Writing things for someone else, I get to experiment more with different subjects. There are also more opportunities for me to write. As long as I’m willing to spend the time and do the research, I can always find work. But if I write for myself, I only need to fail once, and I will most likely not get another chance to publish.”
Researching new subjects?
Do you really need to mutilate someone’s body for that?
Some crazy mystery novel?
“So what is new? What are you writing about now?” I continued.
“I’m helping Lady Jiang write a book on financial planning. It is a popular topic as of late.” Ying Ru added another packet of milk.
“Lady Jiang?” I was curious.
“That is a trade secret.” Ying Ru laughed. If I insisted, I was certain she would have told me, but I wasn’t interested in someone else’s business.
“Then as a ghostwriter, you constantly have to study the subject. Isn’t that tiresome?” I asked.
“So what do you do to relax? Cooking perhaps, like yesterday?” I laughed.
“Chatting online, travelling, thinking about things, or making coffee. You sound like a reporter.” Ying Ru added another packet of milk, even though she had yet to take a single sip.
“Haha. Chatting online eh. I’m too old for something like that.” I murmured to myself.
“What about you, Mr. Landlord?” Ying Ru’s eyes watched me curiously, but I knew she wasn’t interested in knowing me whatsoever. She was just trying to make small talk.
“Me? I read newspaper, watch TV. Nothing interesting really; luckily, you guys came around. Thanks to that, my boring and plain life has changed a little. Like sitting here with a pretty girl drinking coffee, I couldn’t have dreamed of such before.” I told her, and it was the truth.
“Mr. Landlord doesn’t have a girlfriend?” Ying Ru asked. She had already added five packets of milk to her coffee.
I think she is just playing with her drink; she never wanted to drink it in the first place.
“I had one before, but as I get older, I have less and less success. So I haven’t been with anyone ever since, and I have gotten lazier about it as well.” I said; it was also the truth.
“I see.” Ying Ru looked down and toyed with the froth floating on top of the coffee.
For a while, neither of us spoke.
I browsed the computer magazine lying on the table while eating the chocolate cookies. Ying Ru on the other hand, was like a gypsy elder, studying the different shape of white appearing in her coffee, as if she could interpret the signs or something.
Sometimes, I would point at a movie star or a movie poster in the computer magazine, asking for her opinion, but as time passed, we had less and less things to talk about.
It was a good thing.
I didn’t have many beliefs about life. But one thing I did believe was, that the fewer things people had to say to one another, the more truth it held.
Because you would eventually run out of flatteries or pretences to hide behind, it would be like being exposed to the light.
“Have you ever had thoughts that perhaps your life has reached the end?”
Ying Ru stopped opening more milk packets and all of a sudden, raised a strange question.
I was confused, but not exactly surprised.
“Not really, everyone wants to live, right?” I smiled bitterly: “No matter how boring it is, you still want to live.” That was the idea; you just had to find more entertainment.
“An end doesn’t necessarily mean death. It doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to live a happy life either.” Ying Ru gently refuted what I just said.
Her eyes were no longer the same, but I couldn’t describe the difference.
I had never been very good at the “name the ten differences of the following two pictures” type of quiz.
“Oh?” I thought. I wanted her to finish what she was trying to say. The best way to do that was to let her do the talking.
“To have reached the end is to cease changing, and keep repeating the same cycle of life. There are many who have reached the end. Some of them have reached the end by the age of thirty, some have reached the end by the age of twenty, and some teenagers have already reached the end.” Ying Ru never ceased to smile, but it was no longer the same.
I can only feel and perceive, but I can’t describe the microscopic changes that took place. Like the expired milk, if you don’t taste it or smell it, you can never discover the rotting underneath the cover of white.
“Keep repeating? I thought life is like a straight line, you keep walking forward. You only stop when you’re dead. Why would there be repetition?” I couldn’t resist and asked.
“If your life is like everyone else’s, then you are repeating. Everyone is constantly repeating another person’s life. They repeat by going to school, repeat by making friends, getting a car, or getting married. They are constantly repeating the lives of billions other people, even the way they smile, the way they cry. Don’t you agree that it is a type of repetition?” The rottenness beneath her smile was getting worse.
“That is such a strange concept.” I said: “For anyone for that matter, if they have never experienced something before, then it hasn’t happened for them. If it hasn’t happened before, how would they be repeating it?”
I had to argue, because I felt my pride was being wounded by her calling it as a repetition of someone else’s. Even though my life was like a constantly digging groundhog, never to see the day of light… To say that I was repeating the lives of many others, why wasn’t I married, with children? Why wasn’t I as rich as Bill Gates?
“If you want to experience what it is like, then read some books, novels, manga or watch some TV. You will find all kinds of lives, constantly repeated over and over again. The more you read, the easier it gets to repeat someone else’s life. Since you will repeat the process, the result is often quite similar, and since the result is similar, you will have reached the end. Because from that point forth, you will have began the process of copying someone else’s life, and continue to repeat. Like a maelstrom, a black hole, you will get sucked in.” Ying Ru’s choice of words deviated more and more from what one would use in a daily conversation, almost like a pre-written speech.
A discouraging speech.
“Are you saying I shouldn’t watch too much TV?” I questioned without much thought.
“No, on the contrary.” Ying Ru’s answer came as a surprise.
“Oh?” I said.
“Watch more TV, or movies, or listen to more radios and you would know; our society tells us in many different ways that no matter how hard you try, you are inevitably going to become another one who is going to become someone who came before. Which is good, the sooner you realize you are an easily replaced part of the bigger cycle, no, you are an insignificant piece not even worth to be replaced, the sooner you will realize your life has reached the end.” Ying Ru started to add more milk packets again.
“If there really is a cycle, a repeating cycle, what is of the point of knowing it sooner? There are many who will never find out, but will still get to live a happy life. Even if they know, they can still live a happy life right?” I wasn’t satisfied, but I kept smiling joyously.
“You are right, many people are still smiling even though they have reached the end.” Ying Ru smiled: “If you can smile, then don’t try. That is human nature.”
“Oh?” I replied, not knowing how to continue the conversation. The logic had escaped me.
However, I began to randomly guess the reason for her crazy kidnapping experiments.
“Right, Do, you, think, your, life has reached the end?” Ying Ru didn’t forget about her question earlier.
“If everything you say is true, then how can I be any different? I’m ordinary to a fault.” I answered bitterly.
Ying Ru eyed me with interest.
Her gaze was not fixated, but the reflection of her eyes was so clear and irresistible, it made me shiver.
“You, haven’t, reached, the, end, yet.” Ying Ru spoke one word at the time.
I didn’t understand.
And my confusion was written on my face.
“Everyone has many opportunities to carve a new path after reaching the end. But they are stuck there because they are afraid, or don’t want to.” Ying Ru’s word made my head spin.
“Oh? Why wouldn’t they?” I asked.
“Because everyone is scared of being different.” Ying Ru spoke softly: “They are all terrified of being different than those they saw on screen. Therefore they are stuck at the end of the road, unable to move. Occasionally someone would try to move; the lucky ones would be seen as deviants, the unlucky ones were simply labelled as outdated.”
I couldn’t help but nodded in agreement. Everything that was popular was a product of being in agreement with someone else, doing what they do.
“Then why do you say that my life has yet to reach the end?” I felt a little excited. It didn’t matter what kind of praise it was, as long as I was the one being praised, I would be happy.
“Because, I can see the end. As to why you haven’t reached the end yet, I don’t know. Perhaps you have, but you turned around, or perhaps you are trying to avoid it. Either way you have yet to reach the long line of people who are constantly repeating themselves.” Ying Ru’s pupils were dilated.
Suddenly, I was like being tied up in the darkness, unable to move.
“Besides, my body can sense the scent of the end, and I haven’t.” Ying Ru smiled, but I knew in my heart that it was not a smile.
“Your body can sense it?” I unconsciously straightened my body.
“Whenever a person reaches the end, they become the end, and I cannot remain in front of the end.” Ying Ru took a sip of her café au lait overflowing with milk; it was her first sip.
“What happens if you stay for too long?” I asked.
I thought that her reply to this would answer all my questions.
“I would use my carving knife.” Ying Ru put down her coffee cup, and it was empty.