Innocent Intimacy

The only reason Ming had travelled across the whole Pacific Ocean from Vancouver to Lotus Village was, hopefully, to see Chiung for the first and last time after he left his native place more than half a century ago.

However, upon arrival, he found himself a total stranger. While no villager could recognize him or tell him anything about those he’d used to hang around with after school, the familiar river marking the village boundary had dried up completely. From a distant relative, he learned that Chiung had married someone from a neighboring town and brought up a couple of children before she died of some disease in her forties. Other than these few vague facts, nobody could really remember who she was or what she had done, but Ming believed that there must have been many heart-wrenching cries over her loss, though none of them had anything to do with him. Definitely not. For he had already died even before her, on a sleepless autumn night, when he quietly buried his young heart under the village’s tallest banyan tree before his relocation. Now the whole village having taken on a new look, the tree had long gone with the wind, their muted laughs traceable only between the rings of the stump, which was still visible like an old scar on a newly lifted face.

Strictly speaking, Chiung was not his first love, nor could he recall exactly how it all began and ended, but she was the first girl who had come into physical contact with him in his lifetime.

It was probably in the early summer of 1971. Just a couple of months earlier, he’d had his initial experience of spermatorrhea. Thinking that he’d unknowingly wetted his bed like a toddler, he became so deeply ashamed of himself that he decided to keep this incident as his darkest secret. Since no one had taught him anything about puberty, his sexual ignorance was certainly forgivable, though he did begin to enjoy looking at pretty girls like Chiung, a classmate whose family lived in the same part of the village. Slim, fair-skinned, with a conspicuous tear birthmark on her left cheek, about two years older and half a head taller than himself, she was the best looking girl in his school.

Despite their close contact, he never asked her why she liked him. Probably because, living with his relatives as a foster child, he was different from all other normal village boys. More probably because he was silly in a good-natured way; for instance, when their Chinese teacher ridiculed him for being the lousiest composition writer in the class, he laughed together with all others as if the teacher had been talking about someone else. Most probably because he had somehow received more attention from teachers than he should otherwise have deserved: for instance, within a month after they began to attend junior high school, he was hand-picked by the music teacher to play an important role in the school theatre. On several occasions, he did want to ask her how they two had “come together,” but to honor her quiet character, he refrained from raising this question.

No matter what the reason, each time he felt like meeting her in person, he would loudly sing a particular line from the drama in the classroom to signal his request “Be there or be square.” As previously agreed, she would go and wait on the river bank until he joined her for the twilight tryst. Then he would snuggle in her arms like a small puppy for as long as they both wanted. In the meantime, they would say nothing, let alone do anything more than hold each other tightly. The most unforgettable act they performed together was to watch stars appearing in the sky as it was getting darker minute by minute. When there were thick clouds hanging above their heads, they would just listen to the reeds swinging against the wind, as if to keep any trespasser far away from them. Chiung might well have had some sexual whims, but she never yielded to them if any at all, while it never crossed his mind to touch her face or any other part of her body with his hands. He could have done whatever he was up to, including kissing her on the lips or even fucking her in wildness, but just as his young body was not ready for sex yet, his heart still remained as un-polluted as the water in the Lotus River. What he yearned for most back then was some tangible tenderness from a female he really liked, something which he found not only physically attractive, but spiritually soothing.

On a late mid-summer evening, he and Chiung spent more time than usual sitting on a sandy ridge in front of a long stretch of flowering reeds. For the first twenty minutes or so, they just kept listening to the songs of frogs and cicadas. With her long arms embracing him tightly from behind, he could smell her unique girlishness as he imagined himself taking a bath in her water-like femininity. For a moment, he heard her breathing heavily and even felt her heart beating against his naked back, which made him wonder if she was going to swoop on him like a big oestrous female cat.

This situation reminded him how, when he visited one of his aunts in the previous summer, her female cat clutched at his left thigh, and would tighten its claw whenever he attempted the slightest movement. To prevent it from hurting him more, he had to play dead for the whole night until it loosened its grasp at daybreak.

A few days later, Ming had to leave the village to join his parents in New Rivermouth, the biggest town in the county. Since that sudden move, he’s never seen Chiung again, but always remembers her, even long after the entire world has long forgotten her.

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