A soft, fine rain was falling as I got off the streetcar. An eddying wind brought the rain swirling over me. The light of the streetlamps was very dim and the black shadow of the train station jutted up from a dark grey emptiness. A row of trees lined the street there, their sighing branches tossing and dancing like hair. Suddenly I thought: undoubtedly this is to make it harder for me to bear, deliberately putting on an autumn face ahead of time! I felt myself become submerged in wretchedness and the wine I had just drunk sat uneasily on my stomach.
This is what I conjecture: to leave on a fine sunny day beats leaving on a chilly, damp and desolate one; to leave early in the morning beats leaving at nightfall. Although no two leave-takings can be compared and although this leave-taking has not yet taken place, I still believe in the main that my proposition holds true. Yet since the steamer for Fuzhou departs at twelve, there is no alternative but to part at nightfall. And, as autumn encroaches in this way, when there is a gust of wind and a flurry of rain such as this and I know what has been arranged for that evening six days hence, does it not seem even more likely that it will be a chilly, damp and desolate leave-taking?
Nothing must be moved: a jumble of volumes, incomplete drafts, containers for ink, inkstones piled up haphazardly…all in their original positions. Not the slightest alteration will be allowed: get up at six, eat breakfast, write a bit, off punctually to the office, home in the evening, chat a while, play with the kids…it’s all life as usual. There is certainly no sense of departure, nothing to give a feeling of urgency. It is as if this event were not soon approaching.
I remember last year when Pingbo went abroad. We were both in the hotel, knowing full well there was less than an hour left before the sharp knife of parting would sever us. And so with every word and gesture I felt as if there were unseen ties pulling me, binding my whole body tight; my chest felt so constricted I could hardly bear it. I did my utmost to shake it off, deliberately adopting a nonchalant air, leaning back in my chair, raising my cup to drink a mouthful of tea and chatting away about this and that. But it was useless, I felt it was only a polite pretence, that I was just being pulled, bound and constricted ever more tightly. And so I thought: the atmosphere of parting has already solidified around us, we must not think any more of shattering it, for it must break us apart.
This time I will not allow that atmosphere to solidify, hoping thus to avoid all the snares of being pulled, bound and constricted. I have this wish that when the time comes to leave, it will be right in the middle of a deep sleep when the power to think has vanished and therefore there will be nothing of which to think. And yet, on awakening to find oneself a lonely traveler on a lone ship in the midst of the ocean, it will be impossible to avoid feeling a profound melancholy; but the hardest part will already have sped by and the situation will not be the same.
And yet that atmosphere does solidify and accumulate after all. I walk into my home and see the newly washed and mended bedding, shirts, trouser and gowns all piled up on the table. There is no need to ask – these are my travelling companions. “With so much to do and everything already arranged, why couldn’t these have been packed earlier?” I think with slight annoyance. And yet since it is already established that they must be taken away they can be made ready at any time and how can I be heartless enough to be reproachful? In fact, I should not be reproachful but grateful.
And yet I am coming up against that atmosphere, I am smelling its odour which is exactly the same as the one I sensed last year in the hotel, only that was not as thick as this. I know that it will gradually thicken like the evening mist over West Lake; in the end it will possess a great force which will bear down on me so that I cannot leave here freely.
I talk as usual, write, eat, lie in the rattan chair, but it is all a bit different, a bit unnatural.
I had a dream in the night. I dreamed I was on a platform at the railway station. The train arrives in a flash, I quickly lift in my luggage, get on board and the train swiftly departs. I feel as if I have left something on the platform, and as I check I realize it is not things that I have left there but people. The strangest thing is that I did not say a single goodbye, nor did I give them my hand; not only that, when I got on the train I forgot them completely. I am filled with regret – how could I not have said anything or even shaken hands? It is like saying that shaking hands – the more the better – makes a parting complete. “Let me go back and make up for it! Let me go back and make up for it!” But the train ignores me and races on full steam ahead.
My departure in this dream when I completely forget the people on the platform is quite different from my hopeful fancy of leaving in the midst of blissful sleep. The experience of this dream tells me that such a departure would only arouse regrets and is by no means necessarily any better. So why do I have such fancies? And yet, after all, how can parting be easy when one is awake, with just a word and a shaking of hands?
“You should write lots of letters with plenty of detail; even though there’s a gap of three or five days between each steamer, it is always a great delight and comfort to a lonely traveller to pull out a thick wad of letters from a package.”
“I may not be able to write much or in great detail. I haven’t been in that line for quite some time; I’m bombarded with all kinds of things – big, little, thick, thin – and it’s enough dealing with them one at a time, so who knows how much time and energy I’ll have left to sit down and take up a pen!”
If the taste of leaving is bitter, here it is mixed with an acrid flavour.
（Alison Bailey 译）