The Real Inheritance
“Let me go! Let me go!” The Scholar Mask’s head was forced back. He was dragged backward by that boney hand right up until he collided into a hard chest.
The Doorman pushed his chest against the Scholar Mask, his left hand ruthlessly grabbed onto the Scholar Mask’s hair. He slowly raised his right hand and gently placed it on the mask of the Scholar Mask.
“…No! Cough, cough. Don’t do it!” the Scholar Mask suddenly sounded like he was choking on water. It looked like he was sweating, water was flowing continuously down his neck—no, that was not sweat, no one could sweat that much.
It was like someone had turned on a tap, there was no end to the water which was flowing down from the mask. Splish, splash. It was hitting the floor and was quickly forming a small puddle of water.
The Doorman suddenly released his hand gently, the Scholar Mask bent over and knelt down in the puddle of water. The water splashed onto Ning Ning’s face, she couldn’t wipe it, however. She was watching the Scholar Mask with chills—no, she could no longer call him Scholar Mask at this point of time.
The mask on his face had changed from a frivolous scholar face to a painful drowning face. He struggled to peel off the mask with both his hands, but the mask was like his face, he could not take it off no matter how hard he tried. Even if he started smashing his face he could not smash the mask apart. The only thing that happened was that the water continued flowing onto the floor, spreading about like snakes, flowing towards Ning Ning’s feet.
Ning Ning was so frightened that she started retreating, afraid of letting the water touch her.
“I…gurgle, gurgle…I was wrong…” Opposite of Ning Ning, the Scholar Mask had already crawled back to the Doorman’s feet. He was hugging the Doorman’s legs and was piteously begging, “Forgive me, forgive me…gurgle, gurgle…”
The Doorman was indifferent to his begging, he slowly turned his head around. Underneath his snow-white mask, a seemingly familiar pair of eyes looked at Ning Ning.
Ning Ning suddenly shivered, she turned tail and ran.
“Stop! Stop!” She raised her hand to hail the taxi by the road. She frantically opened the door to the car and told the driver her home address as she entered.
As the taxi started to drive off, she turned around to take a look.
Not far behind, two clusters of lanterns waved in the air, as if they were two funeral banners at a mourning hall1. The Doorman stood beneath the banners, looking at her from afar.
Ning Ning slowly turned back and held her face in her hands.
“It can’t be.” She said quietly, “It can’t be him…sob…blargh…”
It might be that she was too frightened, or it might have been something else, the dizziness from two days ago reappeared. Ning Ning bent down and retched painfully.
“Hey hey! Don’t vomit in the car!” The driver panicked. “I will stop the car by the road, vomit after you get off!”
Ning Ning raised her head with difficulty and said, “Bring, bring me to First Hospital……”
She fainted before she could finish talking.
A few hours later, City First Hospital.
Ning Ning opened her eyes on the hospital bed. She groaned painfully in her heart when she saw someone by her side, so she closed her eyes again.
“It’s alright, you don’t have to pretend.” Cui Hong Mei said blandly as she peeled an apple, “I saw you opened your eyes.”
Ning Ning opened her eyes impatiently. “Why are you here?”
“The hospital called me over.” Cui Hong Mei took a bite out of the peeled apple. Although this old woman was getting on in her years, she was more hale and hearty than any young people, she even had good teeth, as evidenced by the crunch when she bit the apple. “I paid for you, it totals up to three thousand dollars; including chest X-Ray, ECG, blood lipid examination…”
“Yes, yes, yes. You can leave the bill, I will transfer the money to you later.” Ning Ning didn’t want to hear her nonsense.
“…You are not interested in the results?” Cui Hong Mei said.
Ning Ning opened her eyes again and looked at her.
Cui Hong Mei held a medical report in her hands. She read the results of the examination word by word for Ning Ning, ending lightly with, “And the white blood cell count is at 2800, around half of what a normal person should have. The doctor asked me what you do for a living. If you were dealing with radioactive transmissions for extended periods of time.”
She looked up and smiled at Ning Ning, “How is it? Doesn’t it sound familiar?”
Ning Ning laid on the bed and looked stupidly at the ceiling above her .
It was familiar, how could it not be?
The first time Mama was hospitalised, she received the same medical report. The white blood cell count was exactly the same, the other values were only off by a single digit!
“First it was your mother, now it’s you.” Cui Hong Mei viciously took a bite out of the apple and spoke inarticulately, “What exactly are you two hiding from me?”
Ning Ning was still looking stupidly at the ceiling.
“…I really want to confide in someone, but that someone is not you.” After a while, she slowly turned over. “Why did you treat Mama that way?”
Cui Hong Mei stopped chewing and looked at Ning Ning with no expression.
“You are too scary, you are even scarier than a stranger.” Ning Ning stared at her, “Mama treated you so well, she gave you everything you wanted. Everyone knew how shameless you were, but she had never said anything bad about you. Not to mention outsiders, even I felt that she was a little silly…How about you? What did you do to her?”
“A stranger.” Cui Hong Mei slowly chewed on the words, before suddenly laughing coldly. “Are you even sure she was real?”
Ning Ning was stunned.
Cui Hong Mei paused for a while then closed her eyes. “…Was she my real daughter?”
“…What do you mean?” Ning Ning asked.
“You don’t know anything, you don’t remember anything…” Cui Hong Mei lowered her head and mumbled, as if she remembered something from her memory, her expression showed a trace of abhorrence, fear rippled over…it even had a little grievance. “Everyone changes, but no one would change like she did…A stranger. Yes! A stranger! Don’t you think that she had transformed into a stranger, into someone who was not whom you remembered her to be?”
Cui Hong Mei started to get excited, it was like she had found the answer to the problem, the standard answer to the formula that had troubled her for years. She gesticulated with her hands and feet. “That’s right, technology is so advanced now. You can have someone else’s looks with plastic surgery…”
“Enough!” Ning Ning shouted loudly to interrupt her as she could not bear it any longer. She stared at Cui Hong Mei while stressing, word by word, “She was Mama. She had always been Mama.”
She did not know why Cui Hong Mei distrusted Mama so much to the extent that she thought Mama was a (fake) stranger who had plastic surgery done to look like Mama. But as someone who had the movie ticket and had visited Life Theater, Ning Ning knew, Mama had always been Mama. Her change was only due to her staying in a movie for too long.
Just like herself. After she went through two movies, hadn’t she changed a lot as well?
Cui Hong Mei opened her mouth slightly, looking like she wanted to confide something to Ning Ning, but upon hearing what Ning Ning said, she no longer wanted to tell her anymore.
“…I’m leaving.” She tossed the unfinished apple before turning around and leaving the words, “Remember to transfer the money to me and take good care of your health. Your mother is gone, my life is your responsibility.”
Bitterly sarcastic, with eyes only for money, she had returned to the Cui Hong Mei Ning Ning remembered.
Clop, clop, clop. The sound of footsteps started to get further. Just as Cui Hong Mei was about to leave the room, she suddenly stopped in her tracks and asked without turning back, “Ning Ning…do you think this world is real?”
Ning Ning was originally resting with eyes closed on her bed, she opened her eyes from shock due to what she had just heard, but Cui Hong Mei was nowhere to be seen anymore.
Only the question she had posed echoed in Ning Ning’s ears.
Do you think this world is real?
A doctor came in, he was mildly surprised as his eyes met with Ning Ning. He smiled and said, “You’re up already.”
He was acting familiar as if he was talking to a junior from his family. Ning Ning treated him as a senior of the family as well, for he was the doctor in charge of Mama. He was with Mama for the eight years she required medical attention. Ning Ning even knew that he was interested in Mama, but Mama had never accepted him.
She told the driver to send her to First Hospital without hesitation because she was familiar with someone here.
He walked to the front of her bed wanting to say something, but he stopped himself.
“Uncle Huang, is something the matter?” Ning Ning asked.
Doctor Huang came back to his senses. He took out a letter from the pocket of his big white coat and handed it to her.
Ning Ning looked at him uncertainly without taking it. “This is?”
“Your mother entrusted me to give this letter to you.” Doctor Huang’s face was full of doubt. “She told me, if there was to be a day that you developed the same illness as her, I should hand this letter to you.”
Ning Ning frantically snatched the letter from his hands and tore open the envelope, she poured the contents out.
There was a letter and a key.
Ning Ning opened the letter, there was Ning Yu Ren’s familiar handwriting on it. She wrote two sentences in the letter.
“If you read this letter it would mean that you have already begun walking down my old path.”
“I left something for you, it is placed at 404 Yang Ming Road, the key is in the envelope.”
404 Yang Ming Road was a small apartment building.
Ignoring Doctor Huang’s advice, Ning Ning rushed to finish her discharge papers. Doctor Huang took a day off and followed her. Ning Yu Ren bought the apartment building, but the name on the property certificate was his. He was not only the safekeeper for the letter, he was also the caretaker of the items.
The apartment building was not tall. It was four storeys high, each level could fit a family of three. On their way to the unit, every tenant called out cordially to Doctor Huang, addressing him as Landlord. He brought Ning Ning to unit 404. He told her as he opened the door, “This is the room your mother used to keep her things in. I have not touched anything inside, I have only gone in occasionally to tidy up.”
The door was opened, Ning Ning walked in slowly.
“I’ll be around, call for me if you need anything.” Doctor Huang closed the door as he finished talking, leaving the room completely to Ning Ning.
Ning Ning was too busy to pay attention to him. She slowly looked at her surroundings, all she saw was that the room was crammed with masks hanging from the left to right.
Male, female, old, young, Ning Ning could not help but feel uncomfortable being surrounded by so many masks, she even had the misconception that she was back in Life Theater. She hugged herself uncontrollably and left the living room hurriedly, entering the next room.
The room could not be considered to be a bedroom as there was no bed in the room. There was only a television, a DVD player, a video recorder and a chair. Young people these days were used to downloading and watching movies on their computer, but Ning Yu Ren had kept her habit of watching DVDs and videotapes as she belonged to another generation.
There were no DVDs nor videotapes to be found in the room, so Ning Ning could only return to the living room. She found a safe among the masks. She used the key in her hand to open the safe, there were DVDs and videotapes placed neatly within.
But in the middle of the safe was a smaller safe.
There was a sentence written on the smaller safe, ‘When is our anniversary?’
“Year 2012 March 21st.” Ning Ning entered the code 2012321 as she mumbled to herself. Clank. The safe opened, within it was yet another DVD.
Ning Ning grabbed the DVD and returned to the bedroom frantically. She turned on the television and the DVD player, placing the DVD into the player, she rushed over to the television without bothering to sit on the chair. She knelt in front of the television and looked at the screen without moving.
After a short pause, Ning Yu Ren’s face appeared on the screen.
She opened her eyes and looked at Ning Ning through the screen, “Do you want to ask me what kind of place Life Theater is exactly?”
Ning Ning was stunned.
“The answer is—” Ning Yu Ren smiled mischievously. “I don’t know either.”
At that moment, Ning Ning raised her hands and covered her mouth, she could not help but whimper.
Mama was the best actress. Everyone said that it felt like she was smiling directly at you when she smiled on the television. Ning Ning was feeling the same way as everyone else right now. Mama was still alive. In the television, on screen, eternally.
“No matter what its purpose is, to me it is a place to hone my acting skills.” Ning Yu Ren smiled and said, “Oh right, have I died? Did your grandmother come to you and cause trouble? For example, to ask you for money or to auction the things I left behind.”
At this juncture, Ning Yu Ren covered her lips and laughed lightly.
“I have my reasons for condoning her, but you don’t have to do the same. Just giving her a monthly allowance will be enough. If she wants to auction the things I left behind when she runs out of money…” Ning Yu Ren tilted her head and gave it a thought, then she blinked at Ning Ning. “Then let her auction them.”
“Mama!” Ning Ning lunged forward like she had forgotten that she was watching the television. She draped herself on the screen, anxiously wanting to say something.
“The proof that I have lived in this world was never the clothes I’ve worn, nor the jewelry I had, even more so for my socks and underwear.” Ning Yu Ren looked at her gently, “It’s you.”
Ning Ning looked at her blankly.
“…and the masks outside.” Ning Yu Ren took a look behind Ning Ning, her eyes full of nostalgia. “Every mask was a person I have transmigrated as, they were all lives which I have experienced. This room… is my Life Theater!”
The aged Ning Yu Ren smiled gently, it was an amazing smile that passed through time, approaching eternity. After she smiled, she looked at Ning Ning’s face once more and said to her, “Alright, look under the DVD player.”
Ning Ning raised her hand and wiped her tears, she reached under the DVD player with her right hand and found three movie tickets.
“I left them for you.” Ning Yu Ren said gently, “One day, you will also be able to build a Life Theater which belongs to you, but before that, we have to promise each other three things.”
Ning Yu Ren’s expression and voice turned serious as she said that.
“…Life Theater is definitely not a place specifically for us to hone our acting skills, it is very strange.” Ning Yu Ren said deeply, “I suspect that we are not transmigrating into movies, but to the past.”
Ning Ning looked at Ning Yu Ren while holding onto the movie tickets tightly.
“The past can be changed.“ Ning Yu Ren held up two fingers. “But not more than twice. Remember that? Repeat after me!”
“The past can be changed.” Ning Ning repeated her words on conditioned reflex, “But not more than twice.”
“Very good.” Ning Yu Ren put down her hand and continued, “Also, the extent to which we can change the content differs from ticket to ticket. Generally speaking, we are safe as long as we do not change the fate of the main character.”
Ning Ning nodded seriously as she kept her words in mind.
“Even as a last resort, do not accept a ticket from the staff members, and…never ever sneak in without a ticket!” Ning Yu Ren suddenly furrowed her brows. “Did you listen to me carefully?”
“Never accept a ticket from the staff members, never sneak in without a ticket!” Ning Ning frantically repeated after her.
Ning Yu Ren loosened her expression and smiled faintly at Ning Ning. She reached out with one hand and gently placed it on the screen, Ning Ning could not help but raise up her hand and place it on Ning Yu Ren’s hand, the two of them stared at each other through the screen for a very long time.
“Ning Ning,” tears wobbled in Ning Yu Ren’s eyes, “I love you.”
“Mama,” tears wobbled in Ning Ning’s eyes too, “I love you too.”
The content of the DVD ended here.
Ning Ning wiped her tears and rewinded the DVD, she watched it a few times. It was not until Doctor Huang called her out of worry that she stopped watching.
She walked into the living room with the DVD in hand. She looked at the surroundings again. There were countless masks in front of her, but she had a completely different feeling this time.
“This is Mama’s Life Theater.” She mumbled, “This is Mama’s life……”
Those man, woman, elder, child, all of them became Mama’s face, looking at her gently from all directions. Ning Ning could not help but give a gentle smile, but suddenly she remembered something as her smile slowly faded.
“…Why did she say that the past can be changed, but not more than twice?” Ning Ning slowly turned her head and looked at the bedroom behind her. She looked towards the black screen on the television. “Mama, what exactly did you do?”
1Example of a Chinese mourning hall