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The Consequences of Nothing
1986, Shanghai, China. In a reasonably luxurious room. Dim lighting..
A clock ticking, it reads 11:50.
A middle-aged Chinese woman sits by the phone, looking happy yet anxious. Speaks rather quietly because it’s late in the night.
It’s been three years since Shuya went to England. She’s a 19-year-old woman now… shocking, but I was even younger than that when I got married…
I was 16, but I felt 36. Because I knew exactly what was going to happen to me in the next 20 years: I was going to become an utterly sad individual, a complete failure, just like my 36-year-old mother then.
I knew they were going to do it to me, sadly it was going to ruin my life. I swore indignantly to myself that I would never do this to my future children.
Ironically, by the time I was my mum’s age, my daughter Shuya was 16.
My guess was that maybe politicians’ daughters weren’t supposed to have feelings. Unfortunately I did. And my parents knew about it. They knew how I already had a boyfriend and how much we loved each other. I even overheard mother secretly telling father we looked cute together – but obviously not cute enough to gain her very basic respect.
I could tell something was wrong by looking at her face when she walked in – not with care or solicitude like a normal mother, but with determination, and a cold, business-like attitude. So she said to me, “We need you to marry General Lee’s son, and you know why.”
Of course I did. Of course I knew why they needed me to marry someone who I’d never met, but they weren’t the ones that were getting married were they?
I can still feel the frustration, my blood almost boiling like a volcano about to erupt. So I said to her, “Mother, you and father should take care of your own lives. Just because father needs to flatter his senior, does not give you the right to ruin my life. And you know why.”
But it was a waste of time. She said she was “only informing me, not asking for my opinions”. Then she got up and left the room. That exact moment, I saw my life flashing before my eyes. Even the parts which I hadn’t lived.
The misery… I was such a helpless little girl, so alone, left devastated in a world so inhuman, where no-one could hear me scream. Who would have thought that a girl like me would even want to scream anyway? I had everything a girl needed – wealthy parents, a pretty face, and a rich, gorgeous fiancé. In other words, The Perfect Life. But who knew what was really happening behind the pretended…happiness?
I didn’t even get a chance to say good-bye to my boyfriend. Everything happened too quickly, and from my wedding day onwards I’ve been far too busy living my mother’s life, too numb to care about my own feelings. I can’t even recall the last thing I did with my first and only boyfriend together, or the last thing he said to me. We took everything for granted, our youth, our freedom, our love. Then one day we woke up and it was all gone.
Though strangely, I somehow managed to start liking my husband a few years after our marriage. I guess you can’t really call it love, it’s only acceptance. Or maybe sympathy. Odd, how I can even sympathise with people other than myself. But I gradually learned that he was forced into the marriage too, and that mere feeling of innocence and fatality just pulled us so much closer.
Don’t you see how badly our lives are affected by this noxiously irresponsible decision of our parents’? And now, 20 years later, who has even heard of General Lee? And my father, and mother? But we have to put up with the consequences of…nothing.
But I remembered my promise to myself.
By the time my Shuya was 16, I knew for sure she had, literally, The Perfect Life. She was born rich, and free. That’s the key, freedom, which not everybody gets. Well, I suppose not everybody gets a mother like me. Back when she still lived with us, she used to show off to her friends when they were invited over, “you won’t believe how great my mum is, she doesn’t mind me going out at all, on the contrary, she even encourages me to have a boyfriend!”
Indeed I did. Because I knew how it felt like to be 16, to be longing for love, and I certainly didn’t want to be the one holding her back. I didn’t give her any advice, either – partly because I didn’t have any, but also because I wanted her to learn from her own experience. If you’ve never tried something, and you only not do it because other people say you shouldn’t, then where’s the point in living? So I allowed her to make her own decisions as far as boys were concerned, because she deserved a glamorous youth, the one that I missed out.
After a while, I could really feel that she was learning. When she finally knew how to stay calm after breaking up with her boyfriend, and gradually moved on; when she didn’t need my comfort and remained her happy self; when she started to understand that love was merely an experience, not everything that mattered in life – she was really growing up. And how I felt proud of her.
Luckily, my husband thinks the same. At first he thought it’d be bad for her, but then seeing how firm I stood, he just said, “Fine, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” It was clear that he agreed with me. It’s just the way men talk. They don’t want to lose face.
Later that year, Shuya had the chance to go to England. I thought, well, people should be more open-minded out there, and it would be a booster to her academic achievements. With that, she said hi to the West.
I’m sure she’s very independent and responsible now. Imagine what one could learn in three whole years in a completely different country! No family to back her up. How brave my girl must be now.
Here at home, we do have a telephone; trouble is, it’s really expensive to make a phone call from China all the way to England. And Shuya never remembers to call me – which I can understand, as I believe she is rather busy, being a sociable girl and so on. So I only call her once a month, but write to her more frequently. She sometimes replies, not always, and tells me about her life there. There’s always a boy in her story, an English boy, of course, and I can never remember his name. I don’t know if it’s the same person each time, actually. But anyhow, it makes no difference to me. As long as my Shuya’s happy.
It’s our talking day today, and I’m just going to ring her. It’s midnight here in China, which is the afternoon in England. Perfect timing.
Dials, and talks into the phone.
Hello darling… Yes, yes, it’s me. How are you? ... Ah, good, I’m all right. Your father sends his love... How are things with – with, uh, Tongm? … Tom, yes, that’s the one… Oh you broke up? … You dumped – so you left him? … Why? … Oh, of course, I won’t ask. Love is your own business; it’s nothing for a parent to be interfering… Yes, naturally… You wanted to say something? … No I won’t be cross… Yes darling, I promise… Not at all…
Say that again?
But darling, you’re not even married!
Oh. And you don’t know who the father is.
Go to black.