A Solo Performance
The office quietened down. One of them had not expected herself to utter the name, the other had not expected that the other would utter that name.
Rage swelled up in his chest, but it was then forcibly suppressed. Wen Yu said blandly, “My brother had passed away long ago. How old were you then?”
Don’t act like you know him very well.
Ning Ning, on the other hand, looked like she was out of it. She looked at her surroundings, she looked at the phone that was ringing non-stop, her expression was weird, she mumbled to herself, “Why am I still here?”
Wen Yu was bewildered.
“Why have I not returned to the beginning?” Ning Ning thought about it, her gaze fixed itself on Wen Yu’s face. “Ah, I know. Are you pitying me? Are you thinking that I am sick?”
Wen Yu indeed thought that she was sick.
Exhaustion, restlessness, sometimes dazed, sometimes awake, she even had the tendency to talk to herself, losing her ability to express herself; they had only parted ways for one day, how did her mental state deteriorate this much?
Ning Ning, however, was excited. After drinking the same chrysanthemum tea three hundred and sixty-two times, repeating the same conversation three hundred and sixty-two times, even a little deviation was enough to get her excited.
She adjusted her sitting posture and leaned slightly forward, her eyes sparkling as she looked at Wen Yu. “Your brother passed away in the year 1990. At that time, I was twenty-two years old.”
“But you are only twenty-five years old this year.” Wen Yu said blandly.
“I acted in an ancient period drama with your brother.” Ning Ning’s eyes showed the glow of someone who was reminiscing the past. “Out of everyone I’ve met in my life, he was the…best actor.”
“My brother had only acted in one movie that year…” Wen Yu wanted to remind her that she hadn’t been involved in that movie.
“I know,” Ning Ning smiled, “<<The Person Within the Painting>>.”
Wen Yu suddenly stopped speaking, the woman in front of him felt very unfamiliar.
The way she smiled, the familiar way she was talking about Shi Zhong Tang, the shyness when she looked down and smiled, the way she pulled her hair behind her ear—none of them looked like Zhang Xin Ai, but another person.
“Who are you?” Wen Yu asked abruptly.
“I am…” Ning Ning smiled. “Princess Ling Shan.”
Female lead character from <<The Person Within the Painting>>, Princess Ling Shan.
…Delusional disorder? Dissociative identity disorder? If it was the latter, why would she refer to herself as Princess Ling Shan, a female lead character from a movie? Or maybe she was pretending to be sick again, just like how she had been on the roof? Wen Yu decided to probe a little.
“How should I address you?” Wen Yu asked, “Your Highness?”
Ning Ning sniggered as if she was amused by what he said. “Ling Shan will do.”
This was not the reaction Princess Ling Shan should have. Princess Ling Shan from <<The Person Within the Painting>> was lofty and proud. She might be able to endure having the commoners talk behind her back, but she would be unable to endure commoners addressing her by her maiden name, only the people closest to her—for example, her lover Shi Zhong Tang—could address her intimately: Ling Shan.
“Ling Shan.” Wen Yu called out, going along with her, “Can you tell me how you got to know my brother?”
“I got to know him while acting.” Ning Ning smiled. “It’s a funny story, the first words he ever said to me were actually: ‘I fell down, I can only get up with a kiss’.”
“Then he must have really liked you.” Wen Yu smiled too. “He very rarely said such things when he first met a girl.”
“I thought he was a natural playboy, one who would lay his hands on every woman.” Ning Ning laughed out loud.
If the familiarity between two people were one-sided, then the topic would end as soon as it started; but ten minutes passed by, twenty minutes passed by, they were still talking about Shi Zhong Tang.
“What’s the matter?” Ning Ning suddenly asked Wen Yu as she stared at him, “You’re sweating a lot.”
“It’s a little warm.” Wen Yu got up and closed the window, then raised the remote in his hand. The air conditioner switched on with a beep. He had his back to Ning Ning as he acted casual while asking, “That’s right, since the two of you acted together for so long, what was your favourite scene?”
He turned back, then he became slightly stunned.
Ning Ning had changed her sitting posture without him noticing. She was sitting in an extremely dignified and noble manner on the sofa, gesturing at him and ordering him as if it was a natural thing to do. “Come here.”
Her hand that was doing the gesture froze in mid-air for a moment. All of a sudden, she sprang up from the sofa with a surprised look on her face, it was as if she had not stood up on her own will, but had been yanked off the sofa by an invisible person instead. She spun one round on the spot as if she was dancing, then frowned and pushed the air. It looked like she was forcefully pushing a man who had been rude to her.
She used too much force that she herself took half a step back, her butt were planted on the sofa. Very quickly, she went from sitting to lying down, holding her head up with one hand as she was half reclined on the sofa, lazily uttering, “Li Lang, we should spend some time apart from each other.”
Someone said something to her. She listened for a moment before she slowly opened her eyes and looked at the wall across from her. “…It’s just that I think you are too engrossed. In the end, I’m the same as them, just another painting.”
She looked so serious that Wen Yu, who was only a bystander, could not help but look along with her. Yet, the wall was empty. Besides an air-conditioner that was blowing cold air, there was nothing else. After a moment, Ning Ning’s voice rang out behind him, the speed of her speech was quicker than before, “…You still don’t get it. The two of us are separated by yin and yang. You are of the living, I am of the dead, how could we be tog…”
Her voice stopped abruptly.
Wen Yu turned back and saw her fingernails digging into the sofa, her torso leaning forward unnaturally, as if she had been pulled into the embrace of an invisible man who was whispering gently into her ear, “I’ve caught you, I’m never letting go.”
“… Let go!” Ning Ning struggled with all her strength to break free from his embrace. She almost rolled her entire body off the sofa, scrambling towards the direction of the study table, a shoe even fell off as she was running. She did not care to pick it up, she only took one look back in a rush, the fear and disgust in her eyes gave Wen Yu chills.
Cold air came out of the air-conditioner, swirling around him. He almost thought that it had brought him back in time, back to the set of <<The Person Within the Painting>> in 1990.
No, what had sent him back was not time, it was the woman in front of him instead.
She alone had re-enacted the entirety of <<The Person Within the Painting>>!
The almost eerie lifelike acting skills had even turned the white floor tiles into golden sand, the cold air from the air-conditioner into waves of heat from the desert, stirring the sandy ground, creating golden waves.
The bohemian dress on her had lost its colour amidst the hot wind, gradually turning into a plain, pure, white clothing. Ning Ning knelt down on the sand in her white clothes, holding an invisible man in her embrace. She hastily opened a bottle and poured the resurrection medicine into the other party’s mouth. She waited for a moment before she said with a trembling voice, “Why is he not waking up?”
The answer she got made her lose her mind. She abruptly drew a sword as she got up, stabbing the other party to death with one fell swoop, then she slowly turned over and bent down, her fingers caressing an invisible face gently. “How strange, I used to feel annoyed whenever I see your face, but now…”
Tears welled up in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
Ning Ning wiped the tears on her face. She lifted the sword in her hand like a demon, it was suddenly in a horizontal position as she slashed her neck—
“How can this be?” She touched her uninjured neck, she could not help but laugh at such a ridiculous event, but her laughter soon turned into tears.
She tossed the sword from her hand and scrambled back to her original spot. She seeked warmth from an invisible person by bringing him into her embrace, crying as she said, “Li Lang, I’m scared. I’m not scared of death, I’m scared of living…”
<<The Person Within the Painting>> should have ended at this point, but she cried harder and harder, hugging the person tighter and tighter, as if she would not bear to live anymore if she were to let go, crying out like she had broken down, “I’m so scared, I’m so scared !! I don’t want to die again, sob, sob…I don’t want to live either, I don’t want to live endlessly like this any longer!!”
“Please don’t cry.”
Within Life Theater, Shi Zhong Tang reached out with both his hands, attempting to hug Ning Ning who was on the screen, “This movie is very easy, I’ll teach you…”
His outstretched hands were blocked off by the ice cold screen, he could only watch as another pair of hands reached out in his place, hugging the person within the painting that he could see but not touch.
“Don’t cry.” Wen Yu gently hugged Ning Ning.
Ning Ning had forgotten that she was crying as she froze in his arms.
He helped Ning Ning over to the sofa and sat her down, a pair of clear eyes sizing her up meticulously.
Ning Ning was getting goosebumps from the way he was looking at her. What happened? Why was he looking at her in such a favourable way?
“What are you looking at?” She touched her face, her eyes had a trace of caution and alienation. “Don’t you hate me the most?”
“Zhang Xin Ai is the one I hate, not you.” Wen Yu said gently, “You’re Ling Shan, aren’t you?”
A different name, a different personality, even the acting skill was of a different level—even though both of them could act, it was the difference between a common person and a movie empress.
The one who was in front of him might be Zhang Xin Ai’s second personality. Two personalities occupying the same body. The two of them might have interacted, or they might have never interacted, but they could be seen as two independent people. Because they took turns using this body, so one of them would sometimes notice things the other would not.
“You mentioned death repeatedly just now.” Wen Yu gave her a cup of water. “Do you think that someone is trying to hurt you?”
Ning Ning drank the water slowly. Once it reached her stomach, she was able to calm down a little.
Without answering Wen Yu’s question, she took out her phone and pressed the answer button.
Crying rang out from the other side. Ning Ning repeated what she had said stiffly, “Stop crying, I can’t even make out what you are saying anymore.”
“You wouldn’t answer my calls. I thought you were going to ignore me forever.”
“Didn’t I tell you yesterday? I wasn’t feeling well, I had to have a minor surgery at the hospital.”
“Then why didn’t you tell me which hospital you were at? Why didn’t you let me visit you?”
“Stable Psychological Clinic.” Ning Ning told him the name of the clinic Wen Yu worked at.
The other party fell silent for a moment before he used a calm tone to ask, “Wen Yu’s place?”
“Yes, at Wen Yu’s place.“
“..I’ll come over and fetch you right now.”
After she hung up, Ning Ning’s hand fell limply. She had a numb expression on her face, not saying a word. From Wen Yu’s point of view, her expression was that of a person who was simply waiting for death.
…Who was she on the phone with? Who made her react like that?
That person appeared soon after.
“Doctor Wen, hello.” A slightly bashful university student pushed the door and entered. “I am here for my big sister.”
He walked over and held Ning Ning’s hand. Ning Ning reacted fiercely as she swatted his hand away. He was stunned for a moment, malevolence flashed across his eyes for an instant.
That instance of malevolence did not escape Wen Yu’s eyes.
Just as Li Shan Zhu forcefully held Ning Ning’s hand, interlocking his fingers with hers while he dragged her away, a voice rang out from behind, “Hold on.”
Both Li Shan Zhu and Ning Ning looked back at the same time.
They saw Wen Yu pull open a drawer and take out a car key. He said to them, “I’ll drive both of you back.”