We Will Meet Again
It was after midnight, the streets were dimly lit. The rain threatened to fall but then stopped, only stagnant heat in the late-night air remained now.
A police car, Volkswagen Passat[mfn]picture[/mfn] with the number H3987 painted on the left rear, its windows half-open, was parked outside a funeral parlour.
Outside, a man and a woman stood smoking next to each other by the window of the car. Inside, Zong Ying, in the passenger seat, was opening a can of fried dace with salted blackbeans[mfn]Check this link: fried dace with salted black beans[/mfn]. The pull ring was broken, so presently, she had switched over to a knife in lieu of her fingers.
The tip of the knife was inserted with a steady force, the angle adjusted and the lid smoothly sliced into a semi-circle. She then tipped it upside down, such that a lone greasy black bean rolled out and landed on the rice.
The male police officer outside the car extinguished his cigarette and glanced inside. “Teacher Zong can still eat, huh? I was about to throw up just now.”
“A few more times out in the field, you get used to it as you throw up. Go, put the protective gear away and head back to the station.” After instructing her junior, the smoking policewoman turned to Zong Ying and said, “Don’t eat it, it’s their leftover lunch. It must have gone bad in this hot weather.” The smoke drifted into the car as her hand holding the cigarette rested on the window glass.
Zong Ying lifted her head, put the box of rice aside, and went on to tear the remaining lid of the unopened tin can with her bare hands.
Famished souls can defy anything[mfn]不择手段bù zé shǒu duàn: by fair means or foul; by hook or by crook; unscrupulously[/mfn], and Zong Ying hadn’t eaten in twelve hours.
Hoofing it out to three (crime) scenes and bouncing around most of the city of Shanghai, the whole body stank. The on-site investigations and autopsies demanded physical exertion, and the bodies when liberated from their protective suits were exhausted and famished.
Fine beads of sweat continued to pour out of her forehead. On the back of her uniform shirt was a palm-sized sweat mark, the four-pointed star on her grey epaulet brightly shined under the dim lights in the car.
She used too much force, and catching her unawares, the sharp metal piece cut through between the thumb and index finger[mfn] hǔ kǒu 虎口– tiger’s den; dangerous place; the web between the thumb and forefinger of a hand[/mfn] of her right hand. Just then, the phone rang.
She pushed too hard and the sharp piece of metal caught her off guard, cutting between the thumb and her index finger amid the ringing of the phone. Blood instantly gushed from the gash and trickled down into the grease (from the food).
As the ringing became more urgent, Zong Ying glanced at the caller ID, fished the alcohol wipes out of her trouser pocket without moving, tore open the bag with one hand, and wiped away the grease and blood.
“Why aren’t you answering?” The policewoman outside the car reached her hand inside and was about to answer it for Zong Ying when the ringing stopped. She still grabbed the phone to check and when the screen lit up and “Sheng Qiushi – missed call” was displayed.
Then, a text message came in.
【Your younger brother has been admitted to the emergency department in the hospital.】
The policewoman’s eyelids narrowed as the phone dinged again and a second text message came in.
【Need blood, come quickly.】
The policewoman hooked the corner of her mouth meaningfully and turned the screen towards the other. “Are you going?”
Zong Ying lifted her head, the screen light illuminating her face. There was an intense stinging from the alcohol wipe pressing on the wound but the pain stopped as soon as she removed it. She was about to reply when the phone rang again – it was the bureau this time.
Zong Ying took the phone back and when she answered the other side said:
- “Traffic accident, need you to go with Xiao Zheng, the address will be sent to you immediately.”
As she had removed the alcohol wipe, blood continued to ooze out, forming a line that dripped down her palm and into the can of fried dace with salted black beans. She looked up and out the window and replied, “We’re not done here yet, I’ll send Xuanqing and Xiao Zheng over.”
In the distance was the cemetery thickly lined with tombstones, she looked away and hung up the phone, speaking to the policewoman outside the car, “Xuanqing, take my place at the scene, next time I would double for you[mfn]She is saying she will take her place at the next opportunity[/mfn].”
Xue Xuanqing pulled open the car door and took the wheels, her tired sigh hiding some helplessness and dislike. However, she finally put out the cigarette in her hand as she caved in. “Let’s go, I’ll give you a ride.”
“It’s not on the way, things are urgent over there, you guys hurry up and go, I’ll just take a taxi.”
As she watched her get out of the car, Xue Xuanqing turned on the headlights to illuminate her path. The retreating figure simply raised a hand, waved at her, soon turned a corner, and disappeared from view.
When Xiao Zheng tidied up and returned to the car, he was told that he didn’t have to go back to the bureau but had to head out to another scene instead. Just as he sighed he abruptly realized there was a wallet by his feet. He picked it up and asked, “This is Teacher Zong’s wallet, isn’t it?”
Xue Xuanqing took a quick glance and her temper immediately flared up. “Can you beat that? How can you get a taxi without money!”
The police car drove out of the street and Xue Xuanqing looked for Zong Ying along the way. Alas, that woman was nowhere to be seen.
Xiao Zheng said, “I’ll call Teacher Zong.”
Xue Xuanqing suddenly turned the car around and said in a huff, “Don’t call, just let her go.”
It was difficult to get a taxi in the middle of the night, and Zong Ying was unlucky as usual. So, when she did manage to find one, the driver poked his head out and said half-heartedly, “Hey, there’s already someone in the car. Comrade Police, wait for another cab.” He had the “empty-taxi” sign on, but when he stopped he said there was already a passenger inside.[mfn]The taxi sign on top of the taxi lights up showing it is empty. When carrying a passenger it is off.[/mfn]
Zong Ying couldn’t wait any longer, so she gave the address of the hospital and asked if it was on their way.
“It’s on my way, but I’ll have to ask the gentleman in the rear if he’s okay with it.” The driver turned around and added, “This lady is in a hurry to go to the hospital.”
There was indeed a man in the back seat, and he said, “I’m in no rush, so please feel free to do as you please.”
Hearing the response from outside the car, Zong Ying pulled open the back door and sat inside, only now did she have the time to carefully treat the wound.
The cut was about four centimeters long stretching from the middle of the thumb to the middle of the palm. It was so deep that when she opened her hand, her palm was covered in blood.
She reached into her trouser pocket with her left hand but found that she had used up all the alcohol wipes. She hesitated a few moments but eventually asked the driver, “Do you have any tissues, Mister?”
The driver glanced at the empty box of tissues and replied, “As luck would have it, they just ran out.”
Zong Ying was about to fold her hand when “Mr. No Rush” suddenly handed her a handkerchief, a plain cotton fabric that was very absorbent.
Zong Ying was stunned.
“It’s unused and clean.”
As he spoke, his face sank into the shadow. He was dressed in white shirt and black trousers, a briefcase sat on his lap, and an umbrella – a black folding one – by his feet.
It wasn’t raining, though the day was stifling. And yet, his umbrella was wet; a puddle had gathered by the pad of his feet.
Zong Ying withdrew her gaze, took the handkerchief and mouthed a dry thank-you.
“You are welcome[mfn]Essentially he said, no need to be polite but it sounds kinda awkward in English… so[/mfn],” he said.
Zong Ying squeezed the handkerchief to stop the bleeding.
The driver turned on the radio. It happened to be a late-night news and current affairs talk show; the listeners would interact at times. This show was around when Zong Ying was a child. Her grandmother would remark how there were many people who couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night.
Those who rush about late into the night often have stories that ordinary people fail to see.
Tonight, the cab was insulated from the red lights and drove all the way to the hospital without stopping.
When the car came to a stop, Zong Ying dug out her pocket but couldn’t find her wallet.
“Mr. No Rush” kindly[mfn]shàn jiě rén yì 善解人意: to be good at understanding others (idiom)[/mfn] said, “Since it’s on the way, we can treat it as a shared trip; there’s no need to complicate things[mfn]aka pay separately[/mfn]. You’re in a hurry, so go on.”
The driver, who had wanted to make some extra money, saw that he was going to lose it so reluctantly said, “You don’t know each other, so how can you say you called a taxi together!”
“We already know each other,” he replied, extending his hand like an old-fashioned gentleman sending someone away.[mfn] Something like this, but he is still sitting in the cab[/mfn]
With the bloodstained handkerchief still in hand, Zong Ying thanked him again before closing the door, only to be met with…
“No need to thank, we’ll meet again.”
He sat steadily, a decent smile graced his face in the dim light. Zong Ying tried to identify the face more closely, but he had already closed the door.
The car turned around and pulled back out of the north entrance of the hospital.