Lighthouse Café, at seven thirty in the evening.
“En, let’s begin. We can freely discuss any recent book everyone’s been reading.” A well-mannered male student wearing pastel blue colored shirt with flat-styled hair flashing a cordial smile as he faced a group of strangers and conveyed a polite opening remark.
“Let’s start with me. Recently, I’ve been reading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, and I’ve read through about two-third of the book.” A round-faced female raised her finger slightly, adjusting her glasses. Her eyes swept across the faces of the people occupying the same table as her, and then added: “Simply to say, the book tells the true story of a woman’s fate.”
“It sounds like a good work.” The flat-haired male student nodded to show his concurrence and quickly followed up, “I’m currently reading a book by Marcus that centers on an ostentatious murder, and delves into destiny and karma. The book isn’t very lengthy, only about fifty to sixty thousand words. But the writing style is very witty, it’s interweaved with cold humor.”
“Ah, why do you read such a deep work of books?” this time, the person who spoke was the one who sat diagonally across the flat-haired male student. It was a female student with a cute face. Her voice sounded soft yet carried a trace of insult, “I mostly read popular literature, the most recent I’ve read is Long Yingtai’s Sendoff. I feel the writing is simple yet beautiful. It moves people’s hearts, especially for people like me who is studying abroad, and missing their families.”
After the three people finished speaking their thoughts, the exchange came to a standstill. Then a few seconds later, they looked in unison towards a female that had kept silent. There was a sudden gleam in the flat-haired male student’s gaze. Actually, he reached a conclusion the moment he walked into the café; this girl had the best body amongst the three beauties present and coincidentally, she fell into the tall and slender type that he liked best. She was dressed in simple clothings and had a good temperament.
Seeing that she showed no indication of speaking, the flat-haired male student leaned forward slightly, his voice soft as he inquired, “The student that’s in deep thought, what about you?”
The young woman slowly raised her head, revealing deep pensive eyes. She seriously contemplated it for a moment, afterwards, she answered honestly, “Other than specialty books, I haven’t read anything else in a long time.”
“Really…?” the flat-haired male student did not forget to admire her smooth and beautiful face, “But this is Tong City’s Book Club Exchange, I thought only those who like to read would be joining.”
The underlying meaning was––if you do not like to read, what are you doing here?
The female student replied, “The online site did not emphasize only those who love to read books can participate in the exchange, isn’t that right?”
She articulated the words slowly with her tone flat, calm and steady. She was insinuating that by all means she was not joking, causing the people gathering around to scratch their heads in confusion.
“What you’ve said is true.” The flat-haired male student agreed, deliberately displaying an intimate attitude, “You can come and make some new friends, no one will say anything. Oh right, your surname is Bo, and you are called Ziren? If my memory serves me right, Ziren is the name of a herb that could treat insomnia.”
His mind raced, thinking of every way possible way to prolong the conversation, causing the round-faced female student next to him to crunch her brows.
“Yes,” Bo Ziren removed her gaze after confirming the fact.
“You said that you haven’t read literature books in a very long time,” the female student sitting next to Bo Ziren who liked Long Yingtai’s work and was suffering of homesick, pulled the topic back, “How long has it been? What was the last book you read?”
“The last book that I read?” Bo Ziren was quiet for a moment, seemed to be mulling it over, then answered, “The River in the Desert, in my first year of High School.”
Judging from the puzzled expressions on the three people’s face, none of them was aware of this book.
“The River in the Desert? Who is the author? What genre is it?” the cute-looking girl showed some interest.
“The author is He Mo.” Bo Ziren answered as she tried to recall, “The genre’s probably teen literature.”
As these words were spoken, the round-faced woman on the opposite side snorted and commented: “No wonder I have never heard of it, I never touch teen literature. Pardon me, for I cannot understand the point of those books.”
The flat-haired male student shook his head, “I beg to differ. Every genre of books has its own reasons for their existence. It is survival of the fittest. Otherwise, these books would’ve been eliminated from early on, isn’t it? As far as I know, there are many people who like this genre of books.”
The cute-looking girl touched her nose shyly, voiced out her agreement, “Actually I also liked to read this kind of books during high school, and even read a lot of them.”
The round-faced female student found it hard to believe, “Don’t tell me the purpose of us coming here today is to discuss teen literature?”
The flat-haired lad shrugged his shoulders, “Why not? There is no distinction of high or low in reading, you don’t need to exclude the genre.”
“In this case, I can only say, different interests are hard to integrate.” The round-faced female student stood up abruptly and picked up the handbag hanging on the chair, preparing to leave, “It’s better for me to find an empty peaceful spot, and read.”
One left; the remaining three kept chatting insipidly for twenty minutes where the cute-looking young woman was being hurried home by a phone call; leaving a flurry of apologies before running out the door. Afterwards, the flat-haired male student earnestly tried to bring up various topics of interest, intending to lure Bo Ziren to talk. However, he soon found out her dull personality, not good at communicating, and most important of all, showed zero interest in his words. The successive failures made him frustrated and also depressed. Did not want to waste any more time on something that brings no result, he made an excuse and left.
This Friday Tong City’s Book Club Exchange session had ended on a lackluster note.
Alone, Bo Ziren kept sitting in the same spot. Her hands clasped together in front of her atop the table, her back straight but eyes showing disinterest. She had been staring at a scratch on the table for a long time.
Suddenly, a melodious voice came from the floor below, pulling her back to reality. Bo Ziren then stood up, picked her bag up and walked down the three-storey café, wishing to leave the place.
Sure enough, it was somehow a hard task for someone like her who had social phobia to communicate with unfamiliar person. Before an unfamiliar face, she did not know what to talk about, and there was also no desire to connect with them within her heart.
Although this situation had been going on for many years, recently, there were signs of it becoming increasingly severe. Thus, she had searched for some information online, and prepared to adopt some recommendations of people who experienced the same situation. All or majority of them had suggested for her to join some activities around Tong City and pushed herself to face strangers, to communicate with them.
She had sieved through relevant informations, arriving at her wits end, she finally found this Book Club Exchange. Luckily, the location was not far from her dormitory which just one station away from this three-storey building cafe named Lighthouse. She had walked passed here on previous occasions and felt the coffee aroma wafting out was rich and fragrant, but had never thought of going in for a small break and enjoy a cuppa. Of course, she was also fully aware that on the first floor, there was a place designed similar to a living room, where old black-and-white movies were frequently played. Sometimes, there would even be held a venue for some activities, like the so-called Tong City Book Club Exchange.
However, reality rarely lives up to the imagination. At first, she thought it would have at least ten and above people, but in the end, only four had come. Everyone stayed no longer than half an hour before they all dispersed from having no common interest.
Perhaps nowadays, sitting at the same table with strangers solely for the purpose of discussing a book was like the myths of the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Not to mention it had been years since she read any literature books. All her time and effort were dedicated to her studies. She was very clear of her goal and was meticulous, thus her results were always been excellent. Being placed first in her city during her High School’s examination and was also recommended by the city’s most famous University, and then studying Biological Sciences for four years. After graduation, she focused on bacteriology. Every step of her life was well-planned, no surprises and no deviations.
This kind of habitual, routine life was safe, peaceful, and she had had no qualms about it, until…. two months ago, she noticed she had no interest in interacting with other people. Her excessive quietude state had stirred issues in her personal and school’s life. Especially when lecturers looked at her full of doubt, unease slowly crept up her heart.
She could not comprehend how it had come to this but she knew it could not go on. Thus, she took the initiative to force herself to mingle.
Back in her dormitory, Bo Ziren dug out ‘The River in the Desert’ that she had read in High School from a corner in the bookshelf.
A hand painted a river on the blue and white cover. Above the river, was a small bridge, and on the right side of the bridge was a tree with scattered wild flowers grew below it. Overall, the cover of the book gave off a gentle feelings. The four words of the book’s title were written in brush stroke font on the right side. From the front cover to the back cover, the entire book encompassed a total of two hundred and sixty-two pages.
Because the book had been bought seven years ago, over the years the pages had yellowed a little with obvious crease of lines all over the spine and covers.
With the help of the light illuminating from the bedside lamp, Bo Ziren started to read the book that was once her favorite during High School years.
This book possessed some similarities to an autobiography. It was telling the story about a girl named He Mo who travelled to many places after graduating; she saw the big ocean, crossed the desert, experiencing barren lands and exotic sceneries, and by a chance encounter got to know a candid tomboyish girl; fell in love with a handsome, melancholy Rock ‘n Roll uncle; experiencing happiness and heartache along the way. At last, feeling tired, she returned home, reuniting with her family.
The book ended with the candid tomboyish girl became He Mo’s best friend, and her loving family was all around. The one person missing was that Rock ‘n Roll uncle.
The book indirectly expressed some thoughts that, between the three kinds of relationship−−friendship, family, and love; familial affections were the most stable, and most honest; bold was the friendship; yet the most fleeting actually was love.
The Bo Ziren then had liked this book was not because she envied He Mo’s unrestrained freedom, in fact, she did not quite agree with He Mo’s lifestyle. Compared to the risky adventures and the lure of the unknown, she preferred logic and science. The reason why she liked this book, in the final analysis, was due to one of the characters in the story; He Mo’s elder brother, He Yan.
That forever soft, generous, and righteous elder brother had a clear and expressive thoughts; the outer appearance was as good as his inner. Every time He Mo befall any difficulties, he would always say: “It’s nothing, I will take care of it.”
Silently, he fulfilled the duty of an elder brother, giving He Mo the most complete and pure support. With someone like that at your back, no matter how lacking He Mo’s inner world was, she would always feel content.
From the very beginning, he was the main reason Bo Ziren had liked the book. He was a person that did not have much presence in the entire book, a supporting role. He was probably a fictional character made up by He Mo that had actually provide a real sense of joy. Reading the book again and again, Bo Ziren became fixated with every tiny little details related to him. Then she started to indulge in them, with certain subtle emotions being stirred within.
Being attracted to a person from a book.
Truth to be told, it sounded ridiculous. She had never been in a relationship and never chased after idols, and the first person she fantasized about turned out to be a character from a book.
Was that not… silly?
Under the light, the yellowed pages looked like a halo, the words began to swim further away. Bo Ziren rubbed her eyes tiredly, then closed the book and placed it next to the pillow.
It was already deep into the night, even the little noise that usually came through the windows cease to exist. The night was so silent to the point she could hear her own soft breathe.
Gazing around the clean and neat room, the surroundings gave off a cold vibe. Everything could also be considered as too much of a coincidence. She recalled that on the first day she had moved in, she received a notice saying her roommate met with some family issues and granted a one-year leave from the University. Therefore, the double occupancy dormitory had temporarily turned into a single occupancy, causing many students to feel envious.
It was a proven fact that by living alone with nobody to talk to, only serves to turn her into a shut-in.
As time went by, unless it was absolutely necessary, she would always avoid taking the initiative to talk to anyone, and just focusing on her own assignments so she does not feel it was hard to pass the time. As days rushed in and out like the fallen brown leaves in the autumn sky, time flew silently by.
Another Friday finally came. With the afternoon classes ended on early, Bo Ziren decided to go to the Lighthouse Café after she had had her dinner.
But she had not expected this week’s Book Exchange Club’s gathering, other than her, there was no other present. She sat there alone for more than an hour, drank two cups of hot drinks, and finally went down to pay.
There was a glass bookcase at the corner on the side of the staircase going up from the ground floor to the first floor. It was filled up with books, several movies’ banners hung above it; from left to right was All Quiet on the Western Front, Ben-Hur, Sunset Boulevard, and The Bicycle Thief.
Descending the staircase, Bo Ziren heard a ‘boom’ coming from the ground floor. Following which by a bar waitress’s chagrin voice: “I’ve messed everything up! What should I do now?”
Going down along the wooden staircase, Bo Ziren came upon the scene of a small accident. There was an opened carton box across the bar counter that was filled with many books, and next to it were pieces of broken glass pots. At the front, a man was bending down to check the water stains on the books.
“It’s all my fault, I’m so stupid!” the waitress at the side sighed and followed the man’s action, bending down, “Now, this box of books are ruined. What’s to be done now? How about we try to dry them up, else I’ll go and look for a hair dryer. What other ways are there to remedy this, if Manager finds out…….”
The steady man calmly interjected the waitress’s babbling, “Do you have an iron here?”
The waitress was startled, and then quickly said: “I’ll go and find one.”
She stood and turned around, taking out a set of keys from a drawer. Her actions were clumsy and rushed, “I’m finished if Manager Zhang finds out about this.”
The man took out one of the books and stood up slowly, flicking a corner of the book, his voice sounded light as he said, “It’s nothing, I’ll take care of this.”
Bo Ziren, who was standing two meters away from the bar counter, just as she was about to pay for the bill, heard this sentence. Her hand’s movement halted, eyes locked onto the man opposite her as he raised his head.
A clear face, eyes that curved down at the corner, straight nose, and a slightly pale white complexion. Really a handsome man with refined temperament.
When he felt her gaze, a polite expression appeared on his face.
“Bill.” Bo Ziren was almost gawking at him, unable to shift away her sight.
He nodded, turned around and came behind the bar counter. He told the waitress to take care of the customer and he will look for the keys.
The waitress breathed out in relief hearing this. She smiled politely at Bo Ziren, then quickly she proceeded with the payment process.
While paying, Bo Ziren’s sight subconsciously followed the man’s tall silhouette till he found the keys and left the bar. Even after he went up the stairs, she was still standing at the same spot.
The waitress seemed accustomed to female customers losing their composure to their shop’s handsome guy’s looks. She merely smiled inwardly, yet did not interrupt Bo Ziren in her daze.
Half a minute had passed when Bo Ziren finally realized she was supposed to leave the café some time ago.
 Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is also known as social phobia. SAd is the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people.
Translated by: woodear
Edited by: ChocolateMorn