Ning Ning felt that Chen Shuang He had been a little weird recently.
For example, he sent this message on WeChat.
[It’s my mother’s death anniversary tomorrow, will you visit her with me?]
Were they that close? Besides, there were rumours about them recently, shouldn’t they avoid each other even more at this point in time?
Seeing that she didn’t reply, Chen Shuang He sent another message.
[We’ll just be there for a short while, you can visit your mom while we’re there.]
Upon seeing that message, Ning Ning felt a little guilty. She had spent too much time at Life Theater, she would be busy with work when she came out, she had never visited Mama.
[Alright, then.] She replied. [What time tomorrow?]
In the afternoon on the next day, Chen Shuang He drove to her house and fetched her to the cemetery.
It was not the Qingming Festival1, the weekend, nor was it a public holiday, thus, there were barely any people around, there were only tombstones as far as the eye could see.
What was coincidental was that the graves of their mothers were not far apart. When they arrived, Ning Ning saw a line of people mourning Ning Yu Ren.
“Big Sister Ning, you left us too early.”
“That’s right. Without you, I can’t even watch television shows anymore.”
“Rubbish, you were watching <<The Overbearing Lord Fell in Love with Me>> yesterday.”
“I just wanted to see what today’s shows are about!”
It looked like they were old fans of Ning Yu Ren.
“How great.” Chen Shuang He stood beside Ning Ning with a pair of sunglasses on his face, saying blandly, “A generational movie empress, even if she were to die, there would still be a crowd of people who love her, who hold her in their memory. Unlike my mother, only I remember her.”
It was a lonely gravestone. “Benevolent Mother Chen Hui’s Grave” was written on it. No one had prayed2 for her for a very long time, there were neither flowers nor offerings. It had the depressing aura of being forgotten by the people of the world.
“Come to think of it, my mother would frequently watch your mother’s films.” Chen Shuang He bent down, placing the white flower bouquet in his hand in front of the gravestone. “She would always watch them with me.”
Were they fans of Mama? Ning Ning said modestly, “Thank you.”
Chen Shuang He smiled for a moment, his smile was a little weird.
He remembered the times when he was a child, when he was forcibly hugged by his mother, when the room was darkened with all the curtains closed, the only light came from the black and white television in front of them. Mother would point at the television and say, “Look, it is this woman. She seduced your father, she made him not come home anymore, ignoring both of us.”
Ning Yu Ren.
Ancient, modern, republic; heroine, department store worker, a rich young lady with bound feet3…; the movies this woman was a part of, he had never missed one. He would finish watching them even if it meant forcing himself, because only by doing that, would his mother revert back to her normal self, pulling open the curtains to let light shine in from the outside, making him delicious braised fish and smiling at him gently.
“That’s right.” Chen Shuang He stood up and looked at Ning Ning. “How is your matchmaking going?”
A trace of awkwardness appeared on Ning Ning’s face. “Cough, do you see me as a joke as well…”
“I am not as abominable as my father.” Chen Shuang He smiled. “If I’m not wrong, he’s forcing you to fall in love for the sake of a certain role in a certain script right?”
Ning Ning remained silent for a moment. She felt that there was no need to hide this matter from him, thus she acknowledged it and answered, “Phantom of the Theater.”
“It’s as I thought…” Chen Shuang He pondered for a moment. “Do you need my help?”
“Huh?” Ning Ning looked at him in astonishment.
“If you have to practice falling in love with a man…” Chen Shuang He took a step towards her, the distance between them was that of two people sharing a hug. He said by her ear, “How about me?”
Ning Ning frantically took a few steps back. “Are you kidding me?”
The group of people who had been in front of Ning Yu Ren’s gravestone left just at that moment. Ning Ning walked over frantically. Before she could get to the grave, a big gust of wind suddenly kicked up.
That gust of wind knocked over a metal drum in front of Ning Yu Ren’s grave. Although the cemetery had already stated that burning of joss paper was not allowed, older people could not kick this habit, so as a compromise, the cemetery provided a type of metal drum for them, any kind of offerings would be burned in that drum.
That metal drum was very heavy, it would be very difficult to knock over even with human strength. Yet, for some reason, it was knocked over by a gust of wind today. The yet-to-burn paper money fluttered and swirled in the air towards Ning Ning and Chen Shuang He, there were embers at the corners of some of them, they looked like moths on fire.
“Watch out.” Chen Shuang He took a step forward and took her in his arms. The moths landed on him, then fell on the floor powerlessly, the wind had finally stopped. He looked down at her and asked, “Are you alright?”
Ning Ning looked at him dumbfoundedly.
Paper money fluttered past, leaving ashes all over his body. “Ah, your clothes got dirty.” Ning Ning reached up and patted the ashes on his shoulders. She took the opportunity to press the Life Theater ticket into her palm, then hid it behind her body.
Her heart could not help but thump. “Why? Why would there be a Life Theater ticket here? Who is it for? Him or me? If it is for him…despair, paranoia, refusing to accept fate, having delusions of changing his fate—which one does he belong to?”
On the way back, Ning Ning stared at Chen Shuang He the whole way. She was staring holes at him, making Chen Shuang He a little uncomfortable.
“Is there something on my face?” He could not help but ask.
“Talented, born with a silver spoon, a winner in life.” Ning Ning said.
“…” Why are you praising me all of a sudden, what motives do you have?!
“Being gifted, being successful in whatever you do, you had everything you wanted in life… In other words, you are simply like another species compared to a mortal like me.” Ning Ning asked him while supporting her cheek, “A mortal would always want to turn back time, to correct their mistakes. What about you? A person like you, would you want to go back in time?”
Chen Shuang He laughed. “Alright, I do.”
Ning Ning laughed along with him. She secretly returned that Life Theater ticket into his pocket while he didn’t notice.
A movie ticket, a chance to change your fate, this chance belonged to him. No matter if he decided to take it or not, she should not take it away from him.
“…Hold on.” Ning Ning frowned suddenly. She looked at her surroundings outside the car window. “Where are you going?”
Chen Shuang He was surprised as well. He looked around for a moment. “That’s strange, did I go the wrong way?”
It was not the way back to her home, nor was it the way back to his home.
For some reason, Chen Shuang He drove the car to the street where Life Theater resided.
“I’m sorry.” Chen Shuang He stopped by an intersection, spinning the steering wheel as he prepared to turn around. “I’ve been driving for too long today, I’m a little absent-minded. I’ll send you home right now.”
“It’s fine.” Ning Ning smiled although there was a trace of melancholy between her brows. Based on past experiences, Life Theater would send tickets to the candidates it favoured, and the person who had received its tickets would go to Life Theater due to all sorts of inexplicable reasons.
The wheels twisted for a while before it stopped moving altogether.
Chen Shuang He stepped on the accelerator a few times, but the car did not react at all. He could do nothing but get off. He got behind the car and took a look, then placed both his hands on his head and let out an annoyed sigh.
“What’s the matter?” Ning Ning got out of the car as well.
“The car blew a tire.” Chen Shuang He said with chagrin. A drop of water fell on his nose. He looked up and said with even more gloom, “What an unlucky day.”
It started to rain.
The car had no umbrellas. Chen Shuang He took off his coat and placed it over Ning Ning’s head, the two of them then walked towards the auto shop across the road.
“You don’t actually have to follow me, you can just wait for me in the car.” Chen Shuang He said.
“It’s fine, I will get bored sitting alone in there.” Ning Ning casually found an excuse. Her eyes, on the other hand, looked towards the auto shop’s neighbour…Life Theater.
A movie ticket that appeared all of a sudden, along with a tire that burst all of a sudden, they seemed to be leading Chen Shuang He to a certain direction—be it by design or by accident. Ning Ning took a look in that direction and was startled, Chen Shuang He was startled as well as he looked in that direction along with her.
At the entrance of Life Theater was a brand new poster.
Title: <<The Love Rival in the Television>>
Starring: Chen Hui
Chen Shuang He’s deceased mother appeared on the poster. She was inside a room, surrounded by countless televisions. Every television set was turned on, in them was Ning Yu Ren in different get ups—a heroine, a department store worker, a rich young lady with bound feet, a valiant and heroic female general, a calm and collected female spy…
Being surrounded by so many Ning Yu Rens, Chen Hui who was a housewife was at the end of the road. She was slashing at the television set in front of her with a kitchen knife in her hand, shouting silently with a ferocious expression.
“…Who did this?!” At first, Chen Shuang He thought that he was seeing things. It was only after he rushed over and had a good look at the content of the poster that he immediately lost his temper and tore the poster off the wall. “Who put my mother on this without permission?”
Chen Shuang He turned his head and looked at the entrance of Life Theater. The bothersome Doorman wasn’t around tonight, perhaps he was taking shelter inside upon seeing the rain. Since the Doorman was not around, that meant that there was no one who could stop him.
With the poster he had torn down in his hand, Chen Shuang He walked towards the entrance of Life Theater in large strides.
“Wait!” Ning Ning held him back from behind. “It’s best that you don’t go in.”
“Let go.” Chen Shuang He shook himself free from her hand, his eyes shining with rage. He said with gritted teeth, “To smear the image of my mother like this, no matter what, the people inside have to give me an explanation!”
Ning Ning stumbled from his push. When she found her footing back, Chen Shuang He had long disappeared.
Feeling anxious, Ning Ning chased after him hurriedly, but stopped at the entrance.
“…I don’t have a ticket.” She murmured, turning back out of reverence.
A phone suddenly rang out, it was close by, but it was not hers.
Ning Ning was shocked. She took down the coat that was placed on her head, feeling around the pocket. Her entire body shuddered abruptly. She slowly retracted her hand from the pocket, her fingers were holding Chen Shuang He’s phone, along with…a Life Theater ticket.
The ticket she had secretly put back in Chen Shuang He’s coat—when it rained, Chen Shuang He had taken off the coat and placed it on her, and now…
“You don’t have a ticket.” Ning Ning gazed at the direction of the entrance and murmured. She abruptly turned around and looked at the wall beside the theater. The wall that was originally supposed to be empty had a brand new blank poster.
Lines and lines of blood slowly flowed down the poster, forming two words—<<Sneaking In>>.
1Qingming Festival is when Chinese people traditionally visit ancestral tombs to sweep them. Wiki article
2It’s a Chinese tradition to pray for and worship the dead. Wiki article
3Foot binding was the Chinese custom of breaking and tightly binding the feet of young girls in order to change the shape and size of their feet; during the time it was practiced, bound feet were considered a status symbol and a mark of beauty. Wiki article