YEN Na 顏訥
WHEN THERE’S NO NEED TO TAKE BETRAYAL
Translated by Darryl STERK 石岱崙
| Waiting is a river, an endlessly rolling river. I crouch on
the other shore of the river, watching and waiting: watching the
breakers tear at the shore and roll themselves into heaps of
snow, and waiting for your face to appear as the seething spray
It is noon. From the zenith, the sun sprays down a brutal
light. I am curled up in a small lane in a café. The name of the
café is Spring Field–the dark green sign hanging outside the
window sparkles in the sun. It is quiet in here; the café crouches
at the end of the lane like a cat, opening its maw lazily and
enclosing the people inside as they chat, or wait.
Here, time is the sand from a broken hourglass. Spilt all over the floor, it slowly rolls away, impossible to keep track of.
It’s like a vacuum in here, but it isn’t that the air has been
sucked out but rather that the tracks of time’s passing have been
removed. As a result, the restlessness I feel while waiting
abates. I calm down, like the slowly cooling cup of caramel
latte on the table.
On the table before me is a still steaming cup of caramel
latte, Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being,
which I’m halfway through, a Muji “no name brand name” notebook
with a black cover, and a freshly sharpened, pale yellow
pencil. In the time I spend waiting, I want to write a story about
betrayal, a story in which I record all the doubts about love you
have inspired in me over nearly a year of dawns and dusks.
I also intend to betray my past self: this is the pose I am
adopting as I wait. My freshly permed tresses are still poofed
up in this windless air-conditioned room. My formerly pale face
is now highlighted, marked with Lancôme eyeliner and globbed
with Anna Sui mascara. Mary Quant has polished each of my
nails to a unique hue. I’ve been almost running on empty trying
to powder myself into a statue, an appearance that is no longer
me. And now, through a pane of glass, I’m watching for you to
appear in the lane and walk my way.
When we met, I was by myself in a wilderness expanse.
You were passing through. With buoyant self-assurance, you
walked my way.
Before you tromped so tempestuously into my life, I had
lost my bearings, after M had stabbed me pitilessly with the
blade of betrayal. In those dark days, I seemed to be standing
alone in the middle of a limitless waste. All my faith in human nature and love had been dashed and scattered. But just as God
made the world in seven days, so you, shining like a sun of
“hope” and “eternity,” needed only seven days to make my
chilly waste of faith blossom once more.
“You seemed a child to me, a child someone had put in a
bulrush basket daubed with pitch and sent downstream for me to
fetch at the riverbank of my bed.”
You tapped me playfully on my forehead and borrowed a
metaphor from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of
Being, one Tomáš uses on Tereza.
Tereza, soft and naked, curled up in a bamboo basket, floated
along the shoreless river of Tomáš’s life. Tossing on the
waves, Tereza looked so fragile that Tomáš could not resist picking
her up. Out of a powerful “sympathy,” the inveterate drifter
Tomáš was only ever able to enjoy a woman’s “sexual companionship.”
At the same time, he was impetuous, so much so that
he could never tell whether the feeling surging inside him was
love or madness! All he wanted to do was take Tereza in his
arms and fantasize about holding her hand and rowing her
across the ocean of human existence. Cheek to cheek, they
would at last arrive at their final haven, their ultimate anchorage.
From that time on, I fell totally under the sway of your
metaphor. I felt that Tereza had leaped off the page, that I was
her earthly incarnation. Curled up in a bamboo basket, I drifted
along the boat lane that led into your harbor. Sitting on the
shore of your bed, you couldn’t resist scooping me up and telling
me all my worries were over: you would piece together my
shattered faith, shard by shard, and make it whole again.
Then you said, irresistibly, that it was karma. Having
observed my fragility and helplessness, the only permits I needed
for anchorage in your harbour, you were more than willing to overcome any obstacle to reach the wasteland where I was
But today you still haven’t appeared in the lane, walking
Someone appears, easing through a fissure in the sunlight
and gliding towards me. It isn’t you but a girl with short hair, a
thick book under her arm and a backpack on one shoulder. I
know we’ve never met, but I see her standing outside the glass
partition, her hair tousled by the wind, her lips slightly parted,
and feel an indescribable, almost visceral sense of déjà vu.
She pushes her way in, chooses without hesitation the seat
across from me, and plonks her book down on the table: Ah!
Anna Karenina. Her tender fingers grasp the edge of it neurotically–
the way I used to need to hold my blanket to get to sleep
at night as a child. She looks up, her black pupils tremulous, as
if the slightest sound would startle her: her appearance is
strangely stifling. I seem to see this strange girl as an infant
curled up in a bulrush basket, drifting along on the waves. I
look down at The Unbearable Lightness of Being, its pages flipping
in a draft, and the sense of familiarity wells suddenly up
again. I almost feel we must know each other very well.
Yes, with Anna Karenina tucked under her arm and a backpack
on one shoulder, she is just like Tereza searching for
Tomáš in Prague.
“Tereza, is that you?” I can’t help saying, surprising even
myself with my rash revelation.
She doesn’t respond. She simply opens her gleaming eyes
and, in a non sequitur, says: “On the surface, an intelligible lie;
underneath, the unintelligible truth showing through.” That’s
what Tomáš’s mistress Sabina says to Tereza in The Unbearable
Lightness of Being. But what does that have to do with this girl? And why has she so enigmatically waltzed with Anna Karenina into my solitary vigil? Perhaps this world has become like a
network without borders. Or have people always had encounters
as surreal as this one? Who can ever really tell whether
every moment of awareness is the real thing or just a fantasy?...
From Lien-ho wen-hsueh 《聯合文學》(UNITAS—A Literary Monthly), No. 286,
August 2008: 160-168.