This short story was written in Chinese by Li Yingying. It was translated into English by Xie Yaoyue and Xing Tingjing.
That night, he had swallowed an unsentimental farewell before slinging his travel bag over his shoulder and striding into the pitch darkness. That’s it, he had said to himself – the never-ending fights and the unforgivable betrayal years ago had already worn down any sense of kinship between them. “Had it not been for you, Mother would not have been in that state.” This was what he would say to his father each time they quarreled. Father would only shake his head, crestfallen, before turning away. More than once, he had asked himself whether someone of such character deserved the respect he had given for more than a decade. Yet, the devoted affection and care he had received made him want to put this out of his mind. Now that he had come of age, he had finally decided to put everything aside. Perhaps leaving was the best solution for both of them. Perhaps only distance could allow him to forget all the unhappiness so that he could find his genuine and carefree self.
Aimlessly, he walked on. He felt himself a wanderer, not only physically, but also spiritually; he did not belong anywhere nor did he have a clear destination. But he felt happy in this state. The world seemed to extend boundlessly before him, and the only thing he had to do was to travel as far as he could go, the further, the better. Only in a place where he was unknown could he be unfettered from the past, he thought. Only in that state of absolute freedom could he find his true self, one with no worries and no grudges, like a carefree bird soaring high in the clouds.
He walked past crowded city streets, through secluded forests shrouded in ethereal beauty. Finally, he found a job and settled down in an unfamiliar place. Going out early and coming home late, he settled into his old routine again, the only difference being that he no longer had to face the man he could not bear to see. Gradually, however, he found himself struggling to integrate into this new community. With familiarity, he began to have occasional fights with people that he could not get along with. Subsequently, he tried all ways to avoid them, even to the extent of changing jobs. He began to feel that the outside world was not as perfect as he imagined it to be. As he chafed at the strife he experienced daily, he realized with surprise that he could not forget his past. Often, he would think of his father, wondering how he was doing. “I’ll never make the first move to contact him,” he thought. “And I will never regret leaving home.” He knew that his life had become very different from when he was living at home, but he felt disappointed that he had yet to find the freedom of self that he had yearned for. He had yet to sever himself completely from the past but he could not help being sucked into the morass of reality.
As the second summer came, he met her, a girl with eyes as bright as the rays of the sun and a soul as pure as spring water. Her voice and countenance suffused his life, washing everything else from his mind.
One tranquil night, as they sat side by side on top of a small hill, looking at the city lights below them, he told her his story. “Actually, I came here only because I wanted to be in a place far away from my past so I could search for another me.”
“Have you found it?” she asked
He kept quiet, for he knew that even though his life had changed all too much after everything, he was still the same person who left home that late night one year ago. Beneath his resolute appearance seethed pent-up resentment and deep restlessness.
“That’s because you haven’t transformed yourself yet.” Her words struck his heart like a rolling wave, “Regardless of past or present, if you cannot forgive, if you cannot confront reality, if you cannot let go of the past, you are merely avoiding what is there. Wherever you go, things will still be the same – it is you who have deprived yourself of your own freedom.”
He fell silent and looked over the far horizon, yet he found his gaze drawn towards the light of the stars. He felt overwhelmed; in the pitch-black canvas of the sky, the sparkling speckles looked as if they carried in them the tranquility of the entire universe. They shone into his soul, which shivered under their light. He suddenly felt tiny and helpless – he was still the same wanderer who left his home that late night but the happiness he had felt before had gone. He understood that what she said was right.
The next night, in a small town, a young man gently pushed open an unlatched door. A dim light shone through.
“Father, I’m back.”
Li Yingying is a student at Dunman High School in Singapore. She writes mainly in Chinese, exploring forms of writing including prose, poetry, and lyrics. As the Chinese editor of Dunman High’s Publications Society, she writes for the school magazine and vets all its Chinese articles.
Xie Yaoyue and Xing Tingjing are students at Dunman High School in Singapore, where they are taking Translation (Chinese) as a subject.