Man in White
There was a boy, Sun Lichao, who often came to the post office to send letters. He got to know Meihua.
A Political Science freshman at National Central University, he liked to submit opinion pieces to papers.
He always wore the grey cotton military suit the government issued all men.
Whenever he talked, he would raise his chin and wave his hands as if he was mapping out the world.
He was doing the same thing when he first met her. He kept gesturing at the letter Meihua was transcribing.
“This sentence is extra, this one too, you can take it out --“
Meihua looked at him, his comments sometimes made sense and sometimes not.
A migrant woman wanted her letter written; she kept asking Meihua to write her family to not sell the “bamboo forest.”
Meihua was lost in thought for a minute when she wrote the words. She remembered standing in the forest, looking at that flowing white tunic.
Her heart squeezed again in pain. Her love had nowhere to go.
Sometimes she wished Ah-Jing had kept lying to her, and she would still think Mr. Yun was in Chongqing.
When she ran out of the house that night, she ran alongside Jialing River.
Glimmers of light shone from fishermen’s boats, stars dotted the sky, and there were endless flickering lamps across the street.
She used to believe that at least one light belonged to Mr. Yun. Her hope made her happy, but now, she had no direction and no place to anchor.
It was that night that Ah-Jing went into labor early and gave birth to a girl.
The new life brought magic and made things frenetic too. They seamlessly reconciled.
Since Aide Yu worked every day, Meihua was the only one who could help Ah-Jing and her baby daughter.
She hadn’t gone to the post office to write letters for almost a month.
She didn’t foresee Sun Lichao coming to look for her. Still wearing the same grey cotton suit, he rode his bicycle up the hill. His face was covered in sweat.
Meihua was washing cloth diapers in front of the cottage. She only wore a thin blouse and kept sneezing.
Lichao took off his suit jacket and handed it to her. “You can have it!”
He added quietly, “The girls at my school love to wear indanthrene blouses under a man’s jacket, they think it’s the best.“
He was afraid to add that if a college girl wore someone’s jacket, they would know she had a boyfriend.
Meihua glanced at the jacket collar. It was covered in grease, obviously dirty from being unwashed. She shook her head.
Lichao was a bit embarrassed. He flipped the jacket over his shoulder and took out some newspapers.
“My opinion piece got published. I wanted to show you so you could learn some strategies too.”
He opened the paper before she finished drying her hands. She took a look. “Which article?” Suddenly, her gaze stopped on something.
She saw the words “Yun Yichuan.” The editorial on the front page was signed Yun Yichuan!
“Can I have this?” Meihua wiped her hands and held the paper as if in worship.
“Sure, if you love my writing, I have more drafts for you.” Lichao was elated.
“Anything else by Yun Yichuan?” Meihua sounded hopeful.
“I don’t know.“ Lichao was disappointed.
“Does he write a lot?”
“Well, he’s the editor-in-chief, so he can publish his own articles anytime.“ Lichao was not impressed.
Meihua was so excited looking at the paper. This was Minqiang Daily, Mr. Yun was the editor-in-chief, and he worked in Shanghai!
Whenever she thought of this, Meihua would smile, her eyes curved in happiness.
Noises came from the next room again, whether from the baby crying making them fight, or fights making the baby cry, she was not sure.
The noises slowly died down.
Life went on. She had gone through most of it.
It was 1995. She lived in an ordinary apartment building in Nanjing. Meihua put on her reading glasses for a courier delivery.
She could hear Lichao and her grandson talking in loud voices.
“Of course she chased grandpa back then. The first thing she said to me was to take off my shirt.”
“Wow, you guys were so forward!”
“I didn’t do it obviously, we were at a crowded train station!”
Meihua almost laughed. She was too busy to defend herself.
She had received an express package from Hong Kong. The only person she knew there was Ah-Jing’s daughter. The little girl from back then had a grandson in college now.
The package was indeed from her. Another envelope lay inside with one line,
“Aunt Meihua, That man in white, Mr. Yun, wrote an autobiography. I’m sending it asap so you can relive the memories.”
A book in white was inside the envelope. It wasn’t very thick; did it cover his whole life?
She held the book and sat on the balcony, feeling content. The Autumn sun was warm.
The book’s title: The Man in White. The cover showed a blurry figure, and the person wore white.
The color was as pure as the moon and as bright as snow; nothing from life could taint it.
How great it was.
She smiled. The wrinkles on her face were as fine as tendrils of a chrysanthemum flower.
Her hand lay on the cover. She thought for that moment, as she had thought for a lifetime.
To open, or not to open.