An American Executive travels to China to solve the mystery of funds drainage from the company he works for.
Once in Shanghai, he finds himself tangled into a world of mysticism and traditions going back hundreds of years, into a world of philosophical meanings meant to close cosmological paths and previously set destinies.
Action, romance, drama, humor, History, Geography and Philosophy – they all come together in an attempt to blend the dynamic western way of life with the rich Chinese culture and uncanny traditions.
Not long after he fell asleep, a strange dream of him and the rider (whose face he couldn’t see), came up again. And it came up at the point where the little girl who had her arm cut off was taken in the back room by the owner of the Black Swan inn and given into the care of few women. The other girl (apparently her sister) stayed with her and was trying as hard as she could to keep her sister’s lips moist using a sponge dipped into the water.
John and his fellow rider took a seat in the front room, waiting for the owner to bring some food and wine. When the man showed up, the two warriors barely let the wine make it onto the table. Two glasses were filled up and the red thick liquid immediately disappeared down through their thirsty throats. Another round followed the same path. It looked like they were exhausted! The food which was brought by the servant had the same fate: their strong jaws were crushing the duck meat without even considering picking the bones apart anymore. One could see that these two warriors were used to this type of lifestyle as it was naturally fitting them judging by the cloths, gestures, weaponry and the huge appetite. Once they finished the meal, a great sign of relief came out of their chests and a deep silence laid over the whole room. Eventually the older rider broke the silence and yet again John failed to recognize his voice…however, that voice was so, so familiar!
-We only have two – maybe three hours in front of them. It is more than enough to make it to the docks. However, the city may be filled with the spies of the peasant rebels. We have the papers signed by the captain – this could be an advantage if we bump into troops still loyal to the Emperor…however, a rebellion may start anytime and join the armies of Li Zicheng. Unfortunately, we cannot take the little girl. She is too weak. She lost lots of blood. But we can take the older one to the Monastery in the South, as per Emperor’s request.
-If I may suggest…
The voice of the inn’s owner was soft and chanty, mellow and musical and thus was betraying an individual who in spite of the fact that he was running an inn-restaurant business, he was a well read and highly educated individual as this type of speaking was the attribute of the Court intellectuals.
Both warriors startled as they did not expect the owner to step into the discussion.
-If I may suggest…the older girl is very tired too and it will be a burden for you. I also think that she may be of help here, with her sister…it will be a moral support for the little one. Thus, I am begging you to leave the older one here. Once the younger one will be able to travel, we will take them both to the Monastery.
-Emperor’s wish was that both of them to be taken to the South, as far as possiblefrom the Palace.
-We will keep them at the Monastery until they are old enough to make decisions of their own. They will receive the education a princess gets at the Court and they will learn the way of the sword too. You have business in the South, South-East, South China Sea and as far as India and the Gulf of Bengal. You will be sailing all the time – you will not be able to provide an education for them.
-Our aim was to take them to Canton to a Monastery indicated by the Emperor.
-It is dangerous now. The Manchus have already pirate ships into the Sea of China. It is a lot safer to keep them here, for now. Then, we will take the girls to the mountains and they will live there, at the Monastery until both of them will decide on what they want to do. This is probably the best solution given the present situation.
A long silence fell again over the entire room. John had his head down, looking at the floor. The older warrior had his both hands joined behind the back of his head and was carefully scrutinizing the old man’s face: emotions, feelings which might’ve surfaced. Finally, he stood up and with a voice both firm and demanding said:
-OK. We are leaving the girls with you. In three years from today we will be back – if we are still alive, of course…we would like to see what happened to them and if they are happy. These were some of the last wishes of the Emperor.
-Very well, Sir! We keep the horses too. It is not very safe to go horseback riding through the city. You will draw attention, so you will have to walk to the docks. Here, put these cloths over yours so the disguise will be complete. The man pulled a bundle of traditional Chinese long padded cotton overcoats from a chesterfield which apparently had multiple functions, including cloths storage. From the same piece of furniture, he handed over to the two warriors standing in front of him, two large straw hats. It only took few seconds before they were dressed up as Chinese peasants.
-Good. Let’s go see the girls for the last time before we are heading to the docks. The room in the back was small but was clean and already a doctor and three women were changing the bandages and preparing the hot water on a wood burning stove. A strange smell, a smell which was intriguing and the same time alluring hit John’s nostrils. “Where do I know this smell from? It is so familiar, yet I cannot remember where and how I got to know it…very strange”. He could see that some aromatic fine, thin sticks were burning into a ceramic pot and he figured that that was the place this smell was coming from. Then he saw the doctors using a sort of oily liquid onto the girl’s wounds. “It must be some oil made out of medicinal plants…it smells so nice and it is so seductive!”
The younger girl was now resting…her long thick black hair was covering her upper body almost entirely. But the face(in spite of the fact that was white like the bed sheets), was so pleasant and was transpiring so much kindness, purity and innocence that made John pull a barely audible sigh out of his chest.
His fellow rider made a discrete sign: ”we have to go”. Both of them quietly left the room followed by the owner of the establishment.
-Gentlemen…I wish you both good luck and may Good Lord be with you. He made the cross sign in an attempt of blessing the two warriors.
They both startled…
-You are a Christian!
-I am just one of the many children God has…
-I see. Well my friend…we are on our way. Take good care of them.
-Here, you have some food and some wine. You never know where the fate takes you.
-Thank you, my friend! I guess we will see you in three years.
-If God wants it, we will see each other again.
The two men disappeared into the dark while the owner of the inn closed the entrance door behind them carefully scrutinizing the surroundings; it was a sign that he was worried about unwanted eyes monitoring his endeavors and premises.
The wind picked up speed and now was blowing from the stern. A wind gust violently hit the sales which made the masts squeak and scream from the bottom of their lungs. “Storm is approaching. All hands on deck!” The order given by the old man was immediately followed and all the sailors were now on deck manipulating the sales and the ropes in order to brace for the storm to come. John was standing at the stern watching the preparations when all of a sudden a rebel sale covered his whole body, like an enormous weed from the jungle trying to suffocate and then consume him. He tried to get out of the entanglement but the efforts were futile. However, that sale felt like it was made out of silk, as its warmth and softness conveyed a great comforting feel.
It was the moment when John woke up and he realized that he was holding Yue Ying into his arms. Her nice silk pajamas she was wearing probably gave John that feeling that the sales were made out of this fine material. “OK, she came into the bedroom while I was asleep. Great! I think it is still very early in the morning, so we have time for a second nap”. John pulled a soft sigh out of his chest and within the next minute or so, he fellasleep again.
When the sun hit the bedroom window, John opened up his eyes. He stretched and slowly got out of the bed. When he entered the living room, Yue Ying was waiting for him. However, she was almost into a transcendental phase, as she just couldn’t take her eyes of the orchid that was sitting onto the office desk. The transparent, vaporous, silky, white-pinkish housecoat she was wearing was generously relieving her goddess like forms: the buttocks, the stunning legs and most of all the tanned skin (which was greatly contrasting with the robe) were presenting a spectacle of beauty and elegance.
John felt how his palate is running dry. He just couldn’t stop admiring that perfectly shaped body, when out of nowhere the image of Jian dashi (his neighbor’s sister) showed up in front of his eyes. It was a scenario he didn’t expect…he startled, as he remembered Zhaohui’s words: “I am responsible for closing this cosmological circle from my family’s side and your neighbor from his side”
“Does Yue Ying have anything to do with the curse? If yes, I hope she is on our side. She must be. We connected right away. What a strange string of events: Yue Ying is admiring the orchid I bought for her and all of a sudden Jian dashi appears out of nowhere, trying somehow to step between me and Yue Ying. Does this have a meaning? Apparently everything has a hidden meaning in this story, everything is related to everything! What should I do? Do I still let Yue Ying admire the flower while I slowly go back to the bedroom?”
John was now in a pickle as he didn’t want to disturb Yue Ying from contemplating the stunning orchid. She suddenly turned, as if she was capable of reading minds:
-Good morning, John. How did you sleep? I was worried.
-Good morning, Yue Ying…his voice was soft and mellow. His hands slowly fell on her hips and from there passionately grabbed the two splendid buttocks. A long and ardent kiss followed. It was enough to spark another episode of hot and fiery love making, this time onto the living room sofa.
When the cell phone rang, John was still holding her tight into his arms. First reflex was to answer – he knew that most likely Vic called. But the comfort Yue Ying’s silky skin was providing, made him give up the idea of having a phone conversation.
-You no pick up? Maybe Vic called
-Maybe. I don’t feel like talking to him.
-What you want to do? It is almost noon.
-We go have lunch somewhere and then we come back. What do you have in mind?
-I have to go practice…my band wait me.
-Oh, I see…in this case let’s go have something to eat and then I will take you to the place where you are practicing. Where is that?
-No need. I call taxi.
-Hang on a second, we have Xiǎo lǐzǐ’s phone number. We can call him.
-OK. We take shower and we go eat.
Not much time was spent into the bathroom. They both came out pretty quick and now they were ready to go out. Yue Ying had a chance to put on some ripped fashionable jeans she purchased yesterday and a beautiful white-pinkish blouse. The coat was stylish too and had only two buttons thus making the lapels overlap. Her generous breasts were desperately to burst out, but she carefully closed both buttons in order to avoid the disaster.
John put on a pair of blue jeans and a casual shirt; on his way out, he grabbed a pullover which was resting onto the sofa. When he opened the door, he froze! Vic, Zhaohui, Zihuan, Yuhuan and a girl John never met where waiting on the other side of the door, in the hallway.
-What are you guys doing here?
-I guess the question is: why do you keep dodging my phone calls?
A smile flourished onto Vic’s lips; he tried to make it as imperceptible as possible biting his bottom lip to keep it that way.
-We need to talk. They sorted out all the pictures they have taken: there are some very interesting ones coming from their partner in Beijing.
-That’s ok. You can order something from the kitchen. We are hungry too.
-OK, then…we will have lunch here and we take a look at the picture. For everybody: this is Yue Ying. The introductions ritual immediately followed. But something very strange happened when Zhaohui’s turn came to introduce herself. From the moment she entered the apartment, her sight fell on the white orchid. She simply couldn’t take her eyes of the wonderful flower. Then she made eye contact with Yue Ying. It was one of those moments when two people connect with each other at emotional level right away. And then, the inevitable happened: the two women fell into each other’s arms. It was a long embrace and both John and Vic were wondering if it will ever end. It was a scene from a movie, when two relatives or old friends are reunited after a long period of being apart. John was mesmerized and so was Vic. John felt how his mouth dried up and a desperate need for a drink settled. Just when he tried to turn around and look towards the kitchen to see if there is something readily available, Zhaohui exclaimed: “My sister. You are the sister I lost…my sister” Everybody in the room was now stunned. Both John and Vic had the faces of two cadavers. Zihuan, Yuhuan and Chenguang (this was Zihuan’s sister name) were stunned and were not moving anymore. The silence was so deep that any whisper could’ve been heard by everybody in the room. Yet, the two sisters did not want to let go the long embrace. They were both sobbing and Zhaohui just wouldn’t stop calling Yue Ying: “sister…my sister”
Slowly they moved to the couch and Zhaohui was now holding the gorgeous face of Yue Yong between her palms. Tears were flowing on their cheeks following the same long embracing ritual. Finally, the tears of happiness turned into laughter and the atmosphere inside of the living room all of a sudden became jovial and lively, cheerful and convivial.
-All right, let’s order some food! Vic’s voice was the voice of a man who all of a sudden saw an escape route from an apparently difficult and desperate situation. The scene of the two sisters’ reunion was shocking and so unpredictable, that both Vic and John felt the need for a drink. John pulled Vic towards the window and poured some wine into their glasses. Neither one of them said a single word. They were just simply watching the barges sliding downstream towards their meeting place with the Great River.
-This story is taking an unexpected turn. Do you think that we are closing in towards the end of it?
-I don’t know, but I had two strange dreams…and in both of them there are two sisters running away from the Imperial Palace which just fell into the hands of the rebellious peasants. John tried to summarize in few sentences the dreams he had: the galloping into the dark, the little girl who had her arm cut off, the mysterious Inn owner of “Black Swan”…
-Man, this is getting scary! We went to “Black Swan” on Sunday. You met Yue Ying there…
-Yes…and then I had two dreams – I just told you the story. Black Swan was the place where the two riders left the girls into the care of the owner.
-And you were one of the riders.
-And who was the other one?
-I don’t know. His face was always in a cone of shadow and darkness, he was always trying hard to cover it with the hood of his cape.
-Jesus! This story is becoming creepy already.
-I know, but I do agree with you: we are approaching the end. That circle of destiny, or that cosmological path (as Mr. Wang was calling it) is about to close.
-Who will be the actors?
-I guess some of them are here, in this room…don’t you think?
Vic dropped his head and kept silence for few seconds.
-I would like to know how this story will end.
-Me too, Vic. Me too. I want to go back to America and continue with my life the way it was before coming to China.
-You have a wife there…what do you do about Yue Ying?
This question fell like a hammer on John’s head…”Right…Linda…the kids” He was stunned! Until this moment he did not even think at the eventual complications this relationship with Yue Ying could bring, this is how much in love he was with her…or maybe he was not in love with her…maybe it is just a fling which would go away once he goes back. A state of panic encompassed John; Vic could clearly see that he rattled the cage, that he made John count his options and figure out where he stands, as this endeavor became complicated.
-Right…Yue Ying…his voice was soft and wavering, thus betraying the trouble into which all of a sudden John found himself. The past two days he spent with Yue Ying were so out of ordinary, amazing and unexpectedly full of events, that he even forgot he had a home overseas. He dropped his head and pulled the chair. His mind was now a mess and Vic realized that he pushed the wrong button.
-I am sorry, man…so sorry that I brought it up!
-That’s ok…eventually I was going to come to my senses one day. I would’ve preferred that particular day would come later. I spent two amazing days with this girl…
-I believe you, John…but you cannot run forever from reality.
-That’s true, Vic…that’s true. I have to figure out where I stand. From the moment I saw this girl it was like I met somebody I knew so well, somebody I was familiar with, a person who also knew me as well. I had that strange feeling that we have met in the past and this was a sort of reunion, an arch over time, an event which brought together two souls that have been looking for each other for centuries. And you know what it’s strange? Both dreams were of them on the same topic: galloping alongside a man (who was always hiding his face with the hood of his cape). We were mandated by the Emperor to take two girls (his daughters) to the safety of a monastery. The girl I was carrying on my horse had a hand chopped and she was so weak that I had to strap her to my chest. The other girl was riding on my partner’s horse. Eventually we made it into the city and pulled at an inn called: “Black Swan”
-No way! The restaurant we went on Sunday?The place you met Yue Ying?
-Actually I met her in my very first day in Shanghai. I bumped into her and her friend – who is also part of the band.
-Unbelievable! Don’t tell me that Zhaohui and Yue Ying are the princes (daughters) of Chongzen Emperor!
-I believe so…why would Zhaohui call Yue Ying: “sister”
-This is unbelievable…so the circle starts closing, slowly but surely
-Apparently this is the case.
-We need to speak to them. Please tell Zhaohui the dreams you had.
-Sure, let’s move to the living room now.