Published at 10th of September 2017 07:10:23 AM
Chapter 31

Chapter 31: I still have to go…

A wooden table has been set up next to the Tong Chang River . On top of it lies Kumarayana’s body, which has been wrapped in layers of white cloth and is placed on a framework made of wood . The Kuchan customs call for the burial of the body, but since Kumarayana is from Tian Zhu [India], he will be cremated per his country’s customs .

Bai Chun, various royal family members and numerous court officials are in attendance . They all wear white and have arranged themselves into a few rows beside the table . On the other side is a group of monks led by Rajiva . His teacher, Master Bandhudatta, is also in attendance . The monks are sitting on the ground, legs crossed, and chanting mantras .

Pusysdeva’s clothes are also white, as is the piece of cloth wrapped around his forehead . He’s holding a torch in one hand . His eyes are bloodshot with heavy bags underneath, while his face is filled with despair . Technically, the eldest child should be the one holding the torch, but because Rajiva has chosen to become a monk, he no longer has an earthly identity, and so the task has been passed on to his brother .

At Bai Chun’s signal, Pusysdeva approaches the table and lights up the hay that covers the wooden framework with his torch . In a flash, a fire roars up and consumes Kumarayana’s entire body . People start to cry in earnest, and in the background, the monks continue to chant mantras, which lends a solemnity to the already dismal scene .

Pusysdeva is currently kneeling with palms lying flat on the ground, head bowed, shoulders shaking terribly . I look over to Rajiva . Chanting forgotten, he just stares lifelessly at the table, watching his father’s body disintegrates into the air bit by bit, face filled with so much anguish . Unable to look at that expression any longer, I turn away, the coward I am .

There is a passage in the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā sutra by Nagarjuna*, a work that will later be translated into Han by Rajiva as “The Middle Treatise” (中論 Zhong Lun), which reads as follows: “Ignorance leads humans to cling to what we falsely believe we are, know or possess . Had we rid ourselves of earthly attachments, we would have not have come into existence (being) . From existence comes birth, then old age, and ultimately, death . It is this inevitability that cause us suffering and grief, accompanied by lamentations, frustration and despair . This how the entire mass of suffering arises—as a consequence of birth, and further fueled by karmic action (cause and effect) . The unwise knows not how to escape this fate, but the wise one does because of insight (perception of truth) . ” Rajiva, learned as he is, should have been able to let go of attachments by now . But if that is the case, why did he cry so hard over his father’s death that night?
* The title of this sutra can be translated as Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way, written by Nagarjuna, an esteemed philosopher in Mahayana Buddhism, who is also considered founder of the Madhyamaka school .

[T/N: If you recall, when translating Buddhist texts from Sanskrit into Chinese, Rajiva tends to favour meaning over a literal rendition of words, so as to appeal to a wider audience . In this instance, the passage Ai Qing is quoting is an not a literal translation, but an explanation that Rajiva provides for the verses found in Chapter 26 of the sutra, titled “Examination of Twelve Links” (alt . “Analysis of Twelvefold Chain) . My translation is somewhere in between, as I also consulted the original sutra, or at least the English translations of it, as found in The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, translation and commentary by Jay L . Garfield; and Nagarjuna’s Middle Way: Mulamadhyamakakarika by Mark Siderits, Shoryu Katsura . ]

My gaze remains on the soaring flames as I pray: State Preceptor, I hope that you will be able to meet the person you have longed for this whole while . Buddha surely understands your thoughts, for He too has once suffered the same, and will thus help you two reunite . I wish for your happiness in the realm above…

The funeral lasts for more than an hour . When the fire has burned out at last, Pusysdeva goes and collects his father’s ashes with the help of the servants, before sprinkling it over the Tong Chang River . My heart clenches at the sight of him hunching over the riverbank, crying uncontrollably while clutching the now-empty urn .

After we have returned to the State Preceptor’s residence, I dare not tell Pusysdeva that I will be on my way soon . He is still too stricken at the moment for me to approach the topic . No choice but to keep my plans to myself for now . Rajiva is not in the residence, having already returned to the Cakuri Temple with his teacher, Master Bandhudatta, earlier . Before he left, he has looked at me for a long moment . I was unable to read the emotions colouring his light grey eyes, though to be honest, I did not even want to, for am I far too tired…

I sit in the courtyard and gaze at the sky above . Before, I would look at the sky in this era and think to myself: Sure, it is much cleaner compared to the atmosphere in the 21st century, but there really isn’t anything else worth looking at, is there? Now, I finally understand . Even if there is nothing of interest in this sky, when your mind is full of thoughts, looking at the vast sky above will help clear it a bit, better than cooping yourself in some dark corner somewhere .

“Ai Qing!”

I turn around and find Pusysdeva standing at the doorstep . He is still wearing the white clothing from earlier . His eyes are sunken, his face haggard, and there is some stubble showing on his chin . He appears to be calmer and in some way, more mature . It is as the old adage says: males will mature on the day of their father’s funeral .

We have not spoken to each other in a long while . Pusysdeva crosses over the threshold and comes to where I’m sitting . He doesn’t tease me like usual and instead keeps his head bowed . Since our return to the residence, he has been keeping his distance with me .

“Ai Qing, that day…” He says with some hesitation .

Which day is he referring to?

“That day in Subashi City…”

Ah, he means that day . I shake my head: “It’s all in the past, why are you bringing it up now?”

“I have never that aggressive with a woman before, but for some reason, when it came to you, I was unable to contain my impulses . ”

“Pusysdeva, if you’re trying to apologize, then my answer is that I have already long forgiven you . ”

“What about…here?” He points to my lips with some flush on his cheeks, “I heard that Han women are very particular about their virtue…”

Ah . He is talking about that kiss we had . I smile: “That…don’t worry about it . Let’s just pretend it was a dog bite . ”

To be honest, I don’t even think about it anymore . Besides, I don’t even consider it a real kiss, just merely a force applying pressure on my lips .

“Are you calling me…a dog?” He surges forward all of a sudden, as if in anger . “Beware or else you’ll be bitten by the dog again!”

I dodge him neatly . Pusysdeva doesn’t chase after me like before and instead just stands there smiling . So it was a joke . Looking at his smiling face, I realize it has been almost 2 months since I last seen such a genuine smile on him .

However, the smile doesn’t last for long before it falters . His eyes slowly sweep around us before speaking in a solemn voice: “Without father around, the house feels strangely empty and quiet . ”

By the time his gaze lands back on me, warmth has returned to his eyes: “Fortunately, you’re still here, and I’m all the more glad for it . ”

Pusysdeva’s hand reaches forward as if to touch my cheek . Startled, I take a quick step back, leaving his hand hanging in the air awkwardly before he withdraws it .

“Ai Qing, it was only after I kissed you did I realize that I had accused you wrongfully . ”

I freeze, not understanding his train of thoughts .

He smiles: “That reaction you had [upon being kissed] was definitely that of a virgin . I know this based on my experiences with other women . ”

“You…” I stomp my foot on the ground, “Why must you keep thinking about that? Whether I am a virgin or not is of no concern to you!”

“[When we first met again] You lied to me, saying you had just returned . But that day, I learned that you have been living with him for three months . A man and a woman living together for three months like that, no matter how great a monk he is, he is still a man . How can I believe nothing has happened between you two?

I have always felt inferior to him . Father and mother love him, the king respects him, and the people idolizes him, but what about me? I have nothing . To everyone, I’m only the younger brother of grand master Kumarajiva . Nobody knows my name, and they don’t care about what I do . At long last, I found a woman I really like, but she too gets stolen from me . I couldn’t accept it, so I set out to Subashi City . I waited and waited at the house, and still you did not return . Thinking that you probably went to look for him at the temple, I became unreasonably angry, and as a result, acted violently with you . ”

He bows his head, then having recalled something, he looks up and smiles at me:

“But after I kissed you, I felt calm again . Glad even . Just a press on the lips and yet you reacted so strongly, so surely nothing had happened between you two . I still have a chance, I thought, because at the very least, I can marry, unlike him . ”

Now he has made me angry: “How childish can you be! You being jealous of Rajiva does not mean you can turn me into a toy to fight over! I don’t understand . What’s wrong with being an ordinary person? The intelligent people have their own troubles too, and the more famous you are, the more tiring your life gets . Would you prefer to be an ordinary but happy person, or a wise but tragic grand master?”

“Does that mean…” He looks at me, gaze full of expectance, “You want your husband to be an ordinary person?”

Why is he asking me such a question? My heart beats fast . It takes me a long moment before I can restore my calm .

“Pusysdeva, I have already contacted with a merchant group . They will be leaving in five days and will be taking me to the ancient fortress Taqian, and after that, Chang’an . ”

I had to pay them some extra money to get them to take me to the old fortress .

“You…” The colour of his face changes . He grabs me by the shoulders . “You still want to leave?”

“There is no reason left for me to stay . ”

“Marry me, and you’ll have a reason to stay . ”

He has revealed his intentions at last .


“Pay no heed to the fact that I’ve been with many women in the past, because I swear to you, I will be faithful and think only of you from now on . ”


“Don’t mention our ages, because in a few years, I will be older than you . Don’t tell me that you don’t belong in this place . Whether it’s heaven or Chang’an, without me, where can you find yourself in such fun [as we did in the Sumuzhe Festival]? There is only one answer I want to hear: yes or no?”

I have never seen him so serious . If it isn’t for the fact that my heart already belongs to someone else, I might not have found the courage to turn him down .

“Pusysdeva, my answer is no, I do not want to marry you . ”

I lift his hands off my shoulders and calmly face him .

“First reason: I do not love you . ”

Pusysdeva seems to stumble for a second before an annoyed expression takes over his face .

“Ai Qing, it was you who taught me what it means to love . But now that I have loved someone, you are telling me you have never loved me . ”

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t say sorry to me!” He grabs me by the shoulders again . “You love him, don’t you?”

“I…” How could I possibly admit it out loud? I must preserve Rajiva’s reputation…

“Don’t hide it from me! I have seen him taking care of your wounds, have seen the look in his eyes when he gazes at you . You think I don’t know?” He pulls me closer as his sharp eyes scan over me . “You know well he can’t marry you, and yet you love him still?”

“Pusysdeva, had it been a different time, a different place, I might have fallen in love with you . I had felt very happy being with you, for your brought me much laughter and made me forget about my troubles . ” I cannot deny it any longer . Whether I admit it or deny it doesn’t change anything . “But love is blind . Even I don’t understand why I had fallen in love with him . Though I know nothing would come of it, I still can’t help myself . That is why I had decided to leave . ”

Pusysdeva lets go of me . A cold laugh escapes him . I cannot read the complex expression he has on his face .

“Once again, I am a step behind him… The past year, I had grown tired of playing with those boring women . Since I harboured no feelings for them, any relationships I had did not last very long . Once the passion cooled, loneliness would return to me full force . Since then, I began to look forward to your return . My fairy once said that if I can memorize The Classic of Poetry, she would return . Did you think I had started to read that book since ten years ago? Not at all . I had only started last year . I only wanted to see if your words were true . But then as soon as I finished studying it, you returned . You haven’t changed at all, still have that silly grin, face still as innocent as ten years ago . Before, whenever father urged me to marry, I would always tell him that I will only marry the most unique girl there is . I only said it to appease my father . But since we met again, I have started to realize you are that unique girl . That’s why I want to keep you beside me . I want to those pure eyes of yours on me always . I had thought I am finally one step earlier than him, but it looks like it was not the case, for he had already stolen you from me . ”

Though I am moved by what he said, his words worry me: “Pusysdeva, ten years ago, I had only stayed with you for three months, and you were only ten . After ten years, you probably don’t even remember how I look like, let alone missing me night after night . ”

“I do remember…”

His hand reaches for my face again, but I manage to step back in time . He doesn’t move forward, just stands there as if he’s imagining my face in the air .

“The past ten years, your image has always been in my heart, clearer and more animated each day . That’s why, as soon as I saw you on the streets, I had recognized you immediately . ”

I let out a long sigh . I cannot let this go on . I don’t understand how he managed to have feelings for me, though to be honest, I don’t even want to . Now that it has come to this, there is no point in me trying to understand . I look at the dying grape vines in the courtyard and let out another sigh .

“Pusysdeva, I will be going to the Cakuri Temple tomorrow . ”

“To see him?”

“That’s right, but don’t worry, it’s only for me to say goodbye . Nothing else will happen . ” I smile bitterly, “The two of us…have always kept our distance . ”

I take off the lion pendant we once won together in that singing contest and give it to Pusysdeva .

“You should give this to the woman you love later on . ”

He looks at the pendant in silence, neither accepting it nor saying anything . A long moment later, he finally speaks up: “This has always been yours . ”

He copies me in looking up at the sky . The afternoon sunlight falls onto his tall figure and encases him in a golden glow full of warmth .