The Cycle of Faith
By: Allan Cho
April 2, 2007 at 4:53AM
Faith Yeung felt a glow of anticlimactic and yearning. She yawned, and slithered slowly head first out of bed like Kafka’s serpent, thirsty for a cup of water, and a draught of his voice.
She peered out of the window of her apartment. The landscape over English Bay was still sleepy, the rain lightly slapping against the raincoats of early morning joggers. Although she had come to this exact spot every day for the past twelve years, Faith Yeung could not recognize her canvass this morning. Things were out of place, the outside as foreign as the inside. It was only eight hours ago that nothing had changed for her, as if the next day had rolled along as anonymously as the day before and the day after.
“Will you miss me?” she said yesterday, as she closed her eyes, and felt a dash of wetness on her cheeks as they embraced. Things have changed.
April 2, 2007 at 5:53AM
Faith Yeung realized she had found what her childhood friends often claimed what she thought never possible: The One. She whispered his name. Then uttered it aloud. Then screamed only to cover her mouth, fearful of wakening up her neighbours. Peter Shin.
But it was only days ago when Faith Yeung had faced an inevitable conclusion. “My dear, as a beautiful professional woman in who is turning forty, will I live long enough to see grandchildren?” her mother asked in her Queen’s English while the rest of the Yeung clan sipped their oolong tea, scanning their menus. Although the restaurant was filled with Cantonese and Mandarin, she could barely understand the words that were flowing from table to table as smoothly as the aroma of har gau shrimp dumplings and Shanghainese xiaolongbao steamed buns.
Auntie Yee, who was Faith’s confidante and conscience for much of her adult life interjected, “No matter what you do,” she said and took another sip of her tea before continuing, “Do not settle.” Nestled deep in the woods of her mind, those words of advice carefully guided Faith Yeung since she was a little girl.
Her mother shot back, “Don’t teach my daughter such nonsense.” The two continued with their usual script of bantering while Faith Yeung coolly fiddled with her Blackberry, of which two messages were still left unanswered.
It was difficult to match Auntie Yee's ideal man. After all, her husband had committed treason for love.
"Our family despised soldiers," her aunt would recite, “But he never gave up on me until Mother finally relented. We married on the eve of the invasion.” After the Japanese captured Nanjing, Auntie Yee was trapped in the city's foreign concessions. "He came back for me," she said, her hands clutching her chest, her face seemingly wrenched in agony. To procure her immunity from his enemies, he sold them military secrets. As punishment, his wife was deliberately left on the mainland by the Kuomintang after the Civil War had ended.
"My dear husband," she sighed and held her hands tightly against her heart, "turned around immediately. He exchanged his life for mine." Always at the back of Faith Yeung’s mind was the question, what man could possibly compare to this?
April 14, 2007 at 3:55am
Faith Yeung laid awake and motionless, her arms carefully folded behind her head. Who would’ve guessed that despite all the degrees and designations that she had been so dedicated towards, it was her natural smile that she had never earned her happiness. Not just any man. One who could grow old with her. Children? Faith Yeung had always maintained a distant thought about family. Is it too late? She unplugged the alarm clock and allowed the room return to darkness.
April 15, 2007 at 7:01pm
The old man’s face lit up when Peter Shin reached out to steady his cane. Her father's eyes never left Peter Shin’s face. Faith Yeung thought she had even saw a faint redness appear on her father's normally flaccid features. Faith’s mother hurried to the door.
“Come in, come in, what kind of tea do you drink?” her mother said as she winked at Faith Yeung and silently held her thumb up to the other women as she ushered Peter to the living room. Faith Yeung’s heart blossomed, but she also thought, was this how the Yeung family inaugurated couples? His warm hand reached out for hers, and led her into the room as if she had imagined it would be like since she was a young girl.
“The history of pu-erh tea can be traced back to the Eastern Han Dynasty,” Auntie Yee began as she always did to guests, and then stopped to slowly pour some tea into everyone’s cups, “The most famous comes from the Six Famous Tea Mountains of Yunnan. Have you heard of them?”
“Yes, of course, I’m from Menghai,” Peter Shin swiveled the cup closer to his smell the aroma. Faith was surprised to see Auntie Yee stalled in silence, unsure of her words now.
“As a young boy, I was told that the Tea Mountains were named after six things Zhuge Liang had left behind during the Three Kingdoms.” The round table, usually compressed and overtaken by echoing voices of Yeung women, all of a sudden beckoned in silence for Peter Shin’s soft but insistent words.
“According to legend, it was he who taught the people of southern Yunnan the art of harvesting and making tea,” he continued. The grandfather clock, one of the few objects the Yeung clan had managed to take with them during the Kuomintang withdrawal across the Taiwan Straits, continued to tick for what seemed like hours. Peter Shin patiently broke the silence, “Shall we drink?” The chatter resumed and all was well, perhaps even better.
May 14, 2007 at 12:30am
Circling the silver moonlight on Lover's Walk in Stanley Park, Faith Yeung and Peter Shin composed poetry, hand-in-hand. Faith Yeung had never found appreciation for words, let alone rhythm. Her mind felt as if it was in the process of laying an egg. "Five, seven, five," Peter Shin told her, "Let whatever comes first to your mind." Her chin swiveled towards Peter Shin's, and she looked up and into his deep sunken eyes, the wisp of hair slightly feeling the tip of his brow. A tinge of inspiration.
May 14th, 2007 at 1:45am
Faith Yeung and Peter Shin got up, kissed, and traced some memories onto a bench in which they returned to two days later to further darken with a nail file. In the fine shining wood left for the loving memory of Alexander and Deborah Goodman park bench, some words were indeed etched, words that continue fade naturally under the mildew of Vancouver weather, if one looks carefully enough.
Why do feelings grow
Surreptitiously like us
Warmer by the night
May 20th, 2007 at 2:13pm
Faith Yeung came to a dramatic conclusion about a debate that had ruminated with her ages. Why are there no good men left? Her reason, as it slowly uncoiled from her mind, was that maybe there were never any good women in the first place, for they were all taken by the good men. Perhaps she, Faith Yeung, was never a good enough women to deserve a good enough man; therefore, only the chaff was left, and she was hidden deep in the stinking pile, nothing better, nothing worse. She smiled.
What once mattered to her no longer mattered any more: Peter Shin made her feel as partial to what was once a whole; she didn't care if she was but one piece to Peter Shin, or the other way around. She had tossed away the notion that she was something special waiting to be discovered by something equally special.
Faith Yeung disappeared in the delight at the fact that their magic was based on ordinariness. If they were both chaff, she was content to be rolling in the same chaff with Peter Shin. One thing was for certain: the time she still had with Peter Shin was more enjoyable than the previous lifetime of spending her life alone without Peter Shin. That was good enough for her.
June 1, 2007 at 5:00pm
Faith Yeung had done what was once unthinkable. She took a photograph of herself, and appeared cheerful. Under a humid afternoon, Faith Yeung felt dizzy as squares of sunshine shifted melodiously into the large food court windows after an unnatural lunch of sushi and red wine. Peter Shin helped her into a booth. It seemed ridiculous to her that she could not stay still in her pose. It was not until afterschool teenagers impatiently lifted the curtains could Faith Yeung and Peter Shin stop their laughter.
She opened her palms as he put something into it. "Here's your’s," he said and continued shearing the miniature photos, his tongue wrapped delicately around the corner of his lips, both of them steadying their gaze hypnotically at the pair of scissors.
"Is this natural for people my age to do?" she wondered, almost aloud, only to feel the warmth of Peter Shin smoothing her hair. What if my colleagues see me? Where would I hide, have I gone insane? Peter Shin looked at her, and his frown only triggered more laughter from her. Her body shook, and she felt her ribs aching for breath. For a brief moment in many years, she felt young again.
Faith looked closely at the pictures. Underneath the pale skin, sagging hair, and crestfallen lips she had been so used to, she was surprised to see what appeared to be a faint resemblance of her past. Her smile, it didn't look anything at all like the forced ones that had accompanied her to each business handshake. She delighted in the enchantment that seemed to be glowing from her face, almost as a reflection of Peter Shin's. Another photo showed her laughing, which resembled nothing like the ones she had gotten used to making when she outbid her rivals for a new client. Everything appeared …almost genuine. The final photo showed both of them touching lips. When was the last time she felt this way?
June 8, 2007 at 11:20am
Peter Shin and Faith Yeung decided for a road trip together. One spontaneous afternoon, they drove to San Francisco, taking turns sleeping at the back of the car until they reached their destination in fifteen hours. With Peter Shin, it appeared that time had no purpose and had no point, no beginning and no end. She felt they were like leaves elegantly tracing the paths of wherever the wind wanted them to fall.
“Status of relationship,” the highway patrol officer in reflecting shades asked, clicking his pen and concentrating on his notepad, relieved to know that it was likely a speeding ticket to meet his quota for the evening.
“Going well,” Peter Shin replied.
The man’s eyes followed Peter adjusting his seatbelt. “Sir, may I ask how are you two related?”
Peter turned to looked at Faith, “She’s my girlfriend.”
The officer paused for a moment and looked away, shaking his head. “Don’t let it happen again,” he said as he walked back to his cruiser.
As they continued driving, Faith Yeung couldn’t help but turn away from Peter Shin and pressed her forehead against the pane of glass, hands covering her mouth. They held their silence until Peter Shin stopped along the side of the highway and turned off the ignition. She couldn’t contain herself. The balance of the world appeared as if it were on the brink of harmony.
June 14, 2007 at 3:30am
Peter Shin looked different to her she was examining him beside her. Was it strange to look at one person so closely and scrutinize every bend and turn without actually looking at this person? Was she seeing him too much? Or not enough? Faith Yeung shook her head and felt she had pondered beyond her boundaries. She slipped back into deep sleep.
June 23, 2007 at 3:30am
Peter Shin and Faith Yeung suffered their first quarrel. They had sat serenely through the night and into the morning, witnessing the fading sunset and vanishing people, in the balcony of a coffee shop far above the city. “I can’t fathom why anyone could dislike this city," Peter Shin said as his voice broken from the natural composure that she was so accustomed to. "Can any other place offer us bits and pieces of everywhere?"
"It rains, it's slow, and you can’t really understand what people are saying," she deliberately teased, secretly annoyed at his use of fathom so casually.
Peter Shin’s voice slowly drowned, captured by sound of raindrops and the languages of her different memories began to float back to Faith Yeung. She thought back to a Sikh classmate she had in Grade 3. She remembered being troubled by the turban because of the dirt and grime that she had imagined accumulated in his scalp. She remembered her delight in joining the other kids in their chorus of taunting until the boy ripped off his turban and swung it onto the gravel field, grinning proudly, as if he had suddenly become part of the victors. This was what made her; she could never escape the punishment of remembering. Of Vancouver.
After traveling the world for much of her life, it was the world that she had been avoiding that made her travel. Most people whom she had grown up with had moved, either back to Asia, or other parts of the world; only she had remained. Even though she was born and raised in the city, she felt as transient as those around her.
"Unconvinced?" Peter Shin smiled, his left brow gestured. "When you’re frowning like you are right now, you look so elegant.” He smiled, to which he received no response.
She raised her hand as if she was going to slap Peter Shin across the face for his stubbornness, but instead smiled and curled her fingers around his. She could not, as absurd as he seemed, disagree with the passionate pleas that one man could make for what he sincerely loved and believed in. After all, he did support his argument by covering most of the world.
July 16, 2007 at approximately 3:33pm
This world that they had discovered appeared to have dissolved, first slowly, then all at once. Peter Shin had ended. Whatever it was that connected them together, if you can call it that, had no longer existed, if it had existed at all. Under the watchful eyes of the summer heat, Peter Shin bought an iced chai latte and Faith Yeung’s favourite kind of brownie, the one that she could never wean from her diet, regardless of how much she had wanted to – and smiled at her as no other person could to her.
They sat down to gossip about the little daily things that all couples talk about at their usual table was serenaded by the scales of Mozart’s Requiem. However, she couldn’t distinguish his voice. The cloak had lifted, she could see more clearly now. She saw a tiring man before her. The slippery silver hair, torrents of wrinkles, the hunched shoulders, and the forced small talk. Peter Shin had never existed but in her mind. She had fabricated love, it was never there, and now she was on the verge of regret.
“When are you coming back?”
“What?” Faith Yeung answered. She surprised herself at how her voice turned cold.
“I want you to come with me.”
“Does it always have to be us?” she repeated in her mind, but instead blurted, “Why?”
Her own thoughts returned. Was this all there is to human love? Her neck tingled uncomfortably at the thought of this stranger before her. How random, how impulsive, and how childish this all seemed, that she could conceivably throw herself – all that she’s built up for the past how many years – at this peculiar person before her whom she actually wanted to hold onto physically and spiritually only yesterday.
How bizarre that all her life she refused to play this game and had nearly succumbed to it. How could such a person as herself who laboured all her life to achieve the very best, obtain the most superior, possibly justify narrowing herself to anything but? She remembered her refusal to work anywhere for months after her rejection by Ernst & Young; she reapplied four times until she was accepted. If she wanted the best, she couldn’t settle. She had to achieve it.
But this was not solely about her, but rather, it was against the absurdity of life’s games, of its unwritten rules. Of why a person must disobey speed limits despite signs clearly indicating otherwise, of paying gratuities at restaurants despite the bill clearly indicating otherwise, of feeling incomplete about being single when in fact nothing indicated otherwise.
Quickly and subtly, her logic floated to the surface. Her mind achieved clarity again, almost relief.
“What are you thinking, dear?” Peter Shin’s voice prodded.
The creases of her smile deepened, she made no immediate reply.
July 17, 2007 at 8:33pm
Faith Yeung tossed herself onto her bed and felt tears soaking through her pillow. She disliked this vacant feeling of freedom. She didn’t want to be human. She hated the scathing irony of how fragile and taciturn human emotions can be, of how one moment she could tear herself to bits and pieces for one person, only to turn to steel and cold iron the very next.
Tossing and turning in bed, she unplugged her clock radio, then finally threw it across the room, leaving a scar on the wall. Everything was dark again. She fell asleep shortly, dreaming of nothing.
July 18, 2007 at 6:00am
Just before she left for work, Faith Yeung walked up to her usual space, with the warmth of coffee in her hands, and peered out into her familiar landscape. She felt not happiness, nor sadness. Was it indifference? She didn't have time to think; she was late for her client. But just as she was about to turn away she caught a blue streak of remaining snow on the mountain, and hanging yarns of clouds spread gently across of the sky, and felt words slipping autonomously from her mouth.
Can emptiness fill
And capture a mind, a heart?
We don't know, don't care BW
Allan Cho is a writer based in Vancouver, Canada. He works as a librarian and freelance writer. He volunteers for a number of community causes in Canada, including organizing the very first Asian Canadian writers festival called literASIAN. He has published in literary and arts magazines, including Ricepaper Magazine, Georgia Straight, and Diverse Magazine. He maintains the Asian Canadian Librarian blog.