No Other Choice
How could you see the reflection of the person behind you from a cup?
It was very simple.
He was bending over looking at you.
Ning Ning quickly pushed the table away and escaped to the side.
The person behind her did not run, he was still standing on the same spot, smiling at Ning Ning while looking at her sideways.
…Inconceivable, how did she know that he was smiling from behind the mask? She pulled herself together and questioned the other party, “…Who are you?”
The man was wearing a smiling mask along with white prison uniform. His neck was dyed in a circle of red, like a blood trail from decapitation.
He fixed his gaze on Ning Ning. Ning Ning didn’t know what he saw on her, but he smiled even more happily and raised his hand towards her, “For you.”
In his palm was a crumpled movie ticket.
This felt like a deja vu. Ning Ning had once rejected this offer, she could not agree to it this time as well, she quickly shook her head.
Ning Ning grabbed Ning Yu Ren’s arm, went around the Masked Man and ran out of the door.
Once they stepped outside, they were encapsulated in a hubbub of voices. A lot of the crew were outside of the shop, people were having kebabs and drinking beers. Shi Zhong Tang walked towards them with kebabs in each hand. He spread his arms out like a peacock and smiled, “Afraid of getting fat?”
Ning Ning breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of him. She turned back and took a look, the Masked Man was no longer behind her.
“…I’m not.” She turned back. For the sake of calming her nerves, she reached out for one of the kebabs in his hands.
Shi Zhong Tang ended up raising the kebab high in the air, he also waved it at her cheaply, “I am, I have to give you a piggyback ride up to the top of the building in tomorrow’s scene!”
…Don’t offer it to me if you won’t let me have it!!
Afterwards, Ning Ning returned to the hotel with most of the people. She suddenly heard the sound of someone knocking from the outside as she closed the door.
“Who is it?” Ning Ning turned back.
“It’s me.” It was Shi Zhong Tang’s voice.
“Is there something else you want from me?” Ning Ning returned to the door. She reflexively attempted to look at the peephole, but peepholes were not yet a common feature in this time period. Only a small amount of the wealthy houses had it installed, some hotels didn’t even have such facilities.
“I forgot to give you something.” Shi Zhong Tang laughed. “Open the door please.”
“What is it?” Ning Ning asked.
“You’ll find out when you open the door.” Shi Zhong Tang replied.
It should be a love letter or a rose…
Ning Ning was even more unwilling to open the door now. She had rejected his confession previously, things between them were already a little awkward. Truthfully, she was not good at rejecting people, especially when a person was expressing goodwill. Every rejection was a kind of torment to her.
“It’s alright, it’s late now.” She could not think of a better solution for now, so she could only evade the topic. “Give it to me tomorrow.”
Silence followed. Suddenly, Ning Yu Ren’s voice rang out, “Oh, what are you doing here.”
Shi Zhong Tang answered, “I’m looking for someone.”
Ning Yu Ren stated, “What a coincidence, I am looking for someone too.”
A few more knocks rang out.
Ning Yu Ren said, “Open up, I have something to ask you.”
Ning Ning guessed that Ning Yu Ren wanted to ask about the Masked Man. She hesitated before opening the door and said, “Come in…”
Her voice was stuck in her throat.
Outside of the door was not Shi Zhong Tang nor Ning Yu Ren.
There was only a man wearing a smiling mask.
“You finally opened the door.” He initially used Ning Yu Ren’s voice, then he switched to Shi Zhong Tang’s voice. He smiled as he reached out with ticket in hand. “Here, for you, please take it.”
Ning Ning wanted to quickly close the door, but the Masked Man raised his arm and blocked it.
“Take it!” He tried very hard to force himself into the room. He pushed the door with one hand and reached into the room with another, the ticket in his hand was almost on Ning Ning’s face. “You have already changed the fate of another person, why can’t you change mine? Take pity on me! Take it! Take it!”
Once he became agitated, the smile on his mask became more vivid. It was not a sincere smile, but a professional shallow smile that salesmen and con artists used.
“Help me! Help me!” Ning Ning could not help but start shouting.
The sound of a door opening and footsteps came from the outside, they were accompanied by the angry roar of Shi Zhong Tang, “What are you doing?”
The Masked Man turned and took a look then immediately tried to escape.
Shi Zhong Tang chased after him in slippers, shouting as he chased him, “Underwear thief! Everyone, get him!”
The Masked Man who was maligned by Shi Zhong Tang stumbled for a moment, then started to run even faster.
The hallway was in chaos, doors were opening one after another, there were endless footsteps, the shouts were getting louder. Shi Zhong Tang returned after a while, the slipper on his left foot was gone. He was a little out of breath but he had no time to tend to himself. He first helped Ning Ning who was sitting on the ground to her bed.
Then he asked her with concern, “Are you alright? Do you want a kebab to calm your nerves?”
Ning Ning stayed silent for a while and looked at him. “You’re not scared? You have to piggyback me up to the top floor tomorrow.”
“You’re still holding on to that?” Shi Zhong Tang smiled. “I was joking with you, when you give the girl you like a piggyback ride, who would care whether she is fat on that day?”
Director Shi was very angry because of this incident, he had a big argument with the management of the hotel. The hotel was forced to tighten the security for a few days, every stranger coming in and out of the hotel had to go through a thorough background check. This seemed to be effective as things seemed to be peaceful for the next few days, the Masked Man did not appear in front of Ning Ning again.
But the unrest within Ning Ning did not decrease.
She had the nagging feeling that she had forgotten something.
But what exactly was it? She could not seem to remember…
It was not until a rest period on a certain day of the shoot when Shi Zhong Tang sat beside her. “My dad seems to want to replace Ning Yu Ren.”
Ning Ning was taken aback, “He wants to replace an actress now?”
Unknowingly, two months had already elapsed since the filming had begun. The weather was slowly getting warmer. As they filmed, their faces would start to shine with sweat, thus they had to stop and let the makeup artist touch up their makeups.
“Her scenes are barely done, the completed ones did not come out nicely.” Shi Zhong Tang opened a bottle of water and took a swig, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Besides…there is a bad rumour about her recently. Someone saw her having a tryst with an unfamiliar man in the middle of the night.”
Ning Ning was stunned, then she suddenly shivered.
She abruptly remembered the thing she had forgotten.
It was the 7th of July 1990.
It was the day Mama obtained a movie ticket from someone.
“…Do you know what kind of man she was meeting?” She asked.
“I don’t. I don’t really care about this kind of personal gossip.” Shi Zhong Tang narrowed his eyes and looked at her sideways. “Are you alright? You look a little sick.”
“Do I?” Ning Ning touched her face, “Maybe the weather is too warm.”
She was getting chills despite the hot weather.
For the rest of the shooting, Ning Ning put all of her attention on Ning Yu Ren. It was like what Shi Zhong Tang had said, Director Shi had become prejudiced against her. He would give her hell if her performance standards dropped even a little. Ning Yu Ren would be more careful with her acting everytime she got scolded, her acting would get more stiff as she became more careful, in the end it became a vicious cycle.
She had reached her limits.
10pm, The Hotel.
After a tense day of filming, most people had already fallen asleep. A door opened in the quiet hallway.
Ning Yu Ren poked her head out to take a peek, then she came out of her door and went downstairs without making a sound.
Another door opened behind her after she left. Ning Ning carefully tailed her.
Ning Ning’s tracking skills were not good, it was a good thing that Ning Yu Ren was deep in her thoughts and did not notice someone was tailing her. The two of them very quickly arrived at the destination.
In a pitch black alley, under the single white light of a street lamp was the prisoner in white.
Ning Yu Ren approached him while Ning Ning hid behind a wall.
“Have you made up your mind?” The Masked Man asked.
“Can I become as good as her if I go to that place?” Ning Yu Ren asked.
“Of course.” The Masked Man smiled. “The reason why she is that good is because she has been to that place.”
Ning Yu Ren asked again, “What makes you so sure?”
“Because there is only one place in this world that could remould a person’s acting skills in such a short time, transforming them into another person.” The Masked Man said, “Just like You Ling.”
Even though it was the same body, the person within the body was different, naturally the acting skills would be different.
You Ling was a very pure vase-type actress, which also meant that she was the legendary type of person who made money based on her looks. So when Ning Ning took over, it looked like her acting skills had improved tremendously to the people around her.
Ning Yu Ren fell silent for a moment, then slowly said, “I don’t believe that there are free meals in this world. What price would I have to pay?”
Ning Ning’s heart skipped a beat, because she heard the Masked Man laugh. He said with a deep and alluring voice, “All you have to do is take this ticket.”
At that moment, Mama’s last words flashed across her mind.
—Even as a last resort, never accept a ticket from a staff member.
She could not hold back anymore and jumped out from behind the wall.
“Don’t take it!” She shouted at Ning Yu Ren.
Ning Yu Ren and the Masked Man both turned and looked at her.
Ning Ning’s blood froze a little from being stared at by the both of them, she also felt a little regret, but she put on a bold face and said, “You already know that there are no free meals in the world, you still dare to take something from him? Who knows what kind of trap is there behind it?”
Ning Yu Ren looked down without saying anything.
The Masked Man laughed casually beside Ning Yu Ren, then turned and looked at her.
“Guess why she’s trying to stop you?” He said, “She’s afraid that you will become as good as her.”
“What’s that nonsense?” Ning Ning said with rage.
Unfortunately, Ning Yu Ren seemed to believe the Masked Man over Ning Ning. She shifted her vision onto the ticket in his hands.
Just as she was about to reach out and take the ticket, Ning Ning shouted her name loudly and asked impatiently, “Do you want to become an actress like me that much?”
Ning Yu Ren slowly turned her head and looked at her, her expression had some envy, some jealousy, some hatred and some desolation.
She said, “Of course I do.”
Ning Ning, “How badly do you want it?”
Ning Yu Ren furrowed her brows like she did not know how to describe it.
“Can you not touch any other meat except boiled chicken breast in this lifetime?” Ning Ning asked.
“I can.” Ning Yu Ren said.
“Even if your wife is about to go into labour, could you finish acting the scene on hand?” Ning Ning said.
“…I am female.” Ning Yu Ren answered.
“Alright then.” Ning Ning rephrased herself, accepting Ning Yu Ren’s view, “Even if your husband is going into labour, could you finish acting the scene on hand?”
“…I can’t do that, I have to stay by the side of the father and son in times like this….ptooey!” Ning Yu Ren spat towards the side. “I was almost tricked by you! How can a man give birth! You Ling, what are you trying to do?”
“One question.” Ning Ning stared at her. “Final question—Can you give up on acting?”
“No!” Ning Yu Ren answered word by word, resolutely and decisively, “I will never give it up!”
Ning Ning could not help but laugh, a trace of tears flashed across her eyes.
She had the nagging feeling that she had forgotten something.
But what exactly was it? She had finally remembered.
On the day Mama passed away, when she said these words to Ning Ning in the hospital, she did not take her last look at Ning Ning. She was looking behind Ning Ning instead. What was she looking at then?
Now Ning Ning remembered, maybe what Mama saw was a mask.
Stuck on a window, quietly looking inside, not only looking at Mama on the hospital bed, it was also looking at Ning Ning who was going into a cul-de-sac.
When did that mask appear? Maybe it appeared when the crap movie from before failed, maybe it was when she was being mocked by the media, or maybe it was when she was cursing her accursed life that it was slowly but surely getting closer to her.
So, just like Mama who had no choice on the hospital bed.
She too had no choice at that moment.
Ning Ning smiled with a tear in her eyes and took out a ticket from her pocket—she was not able to bring anything with her when she transmigrated, what was strange was, the two tickets had remained with her.
“At midnight, go to the movie theater at 35 Rogue Street to watch a movie.” She handed the ticket over to Ning Yu Ren. “Go. That place changed my fate once. It could change yours, too.”