From the Diary of Chow Mo Wan/By RICKY TORRE
I CAN’T recall the name of that pension house, tucked in that hidden corner we wandered into one evening from our strolling along Remedios. But the address of our room—No. 12—yes, I remember that one, framed as it is now in my head, much like 2046, that other room number in my story over which you were once filled with jealousy, Madame Doinel.
Room No. 12. You didn’t even own that room. Remember when we first set foot in that alcove? We paused at the landing after we walked up those narrow three flights and you were à bout de souffle, more it seemed out of anticipation, as your eyes flashed at me their blue. I remember every detail, to borrow Bogie’s phrase to Ingrid—despite my heart pounding like cannon fire, to paraphrase Ingrid. Despite being beside myself. Inside our room you went mugging before the octagonal bathroom mirror, then you counted with your fingers the number of men you slept with in your dreams. The handkerchief you liked to tie into a loose ribbon around your neck I cannot forget also. And your sleeveless blouse, baring the wide smooth plain of your arms. You turned to me, your delicate hand on the doorway, and I asked the question that was supposed to come from you—“Why do you keep looking at me?”—because you preferred to be the one answering, “Because I am.”
You became Jean and Jean-Paul even before that moment, Christine. They were refracted into the prism of your individuality. You became a composite, which is what are all lovers. “Pas mal, no?” went your typical remark.
We lay in bed close to each other, denting the sheets with its pattern of dots and loops. Pliable like fashion models, for we both looked absurd in our stylish clothes were it not for your naked arms. “My accent,” you once said of that detail. I gave in to the impulse to stroke them, as you went on staring at the panel on your side of the bed that needed a paint job. “Is it that Madame Su still enters your mind?” you asked finally, without warning.
“Ooh la la!” I said startled. “I tell you about her only once and she sticks with you. I was never bothered by your stories about your childish Antoine.”
“Ha ya, maybe because I’m not that special to you.”
I thought of leaning over to see your expression but you turned around to face me with a bold smile that contradicted your doubt.
“We look at each other in the eye and it’s no use,” you said to me, still smiling.
“Écoute, Madame C.D.,” I said in a dull voice, without a hint of exasperation. “We’re both fictional characters, as you know. My creator idolizes your maker. But somehow that has not led us to being wrapped in each other’s arms.”
“Or maybe exploring each other!” you replied in your radiant staccato. “Which is what would have happened even if I really don’t belong to my creator’s movement because he drew me up during that period of formalism that became his pattern after deriding it a lot when he was still a critic. Est-ce que tu me comprends?”
It took a world of a second for me to understand you. I was listening more to your voice.
“Well, you struck out on your own anyhow, Madame. I keep reminding myself of your stories about your wondering around Montparnasse like a lost prostitute, as you put it. That wasn’t even like you, unlike my loitering on Lan Kwai Fong.”
“And now we’re here, Monsieur. Your maker’s dream place, if I’m correct. Mine had never even heard of this city.”
The Paris of Asia at that, a title this city had aspired to on the cusp of revolution. That was two centuries away—from the concrete slab fractured everywhere that it is now.
“This isn’t at all what our makers had planned.”
“We’re both here,” I said, as I cupped my hand on your cheek, “but there’s a plot point missing. That’s why we haven’t gone further. Do I make myself clear?”
“No,” you said softly.
“You like it when I needlessly explain things, don’t you?”
“YOU’RE WRONG about one thing,” you said in hindsight as we walked down the small steps to the ground floor. “We did wrap ourselves in each other’s arms.”
“Oui,” I said. “Wei?”
“Écoute, Monsieur Chow, we didn’t see each other for cute talk. ‘I wanted to see you, to see if I wanted to see you,’ or something like that. I won’t have any of that.”
“How about, ‘Is it that you like my eyes, my mouth or my shoulders?’”
On that note, I kissed you suddenly. We could have missed a step, but, to my surprise, you reciprocated almost with impatience, before we settled into this languid wavelength, like when you take your time nibbling at your favorite petit four.
“C’est formidable!”—at last, your other trade(re)mark.
Then you gave out that throaty laughter you were never embarrassed of. “Monsieur, don’t ever do that again,” you said, laughing still, amid the ruckus of mahjong tiles at the ground floor, the happy cursing that filled the hall and the nicotine tainting the air. At the foyer there was a young couple nursing their beer. I stepped out of the building to light a cigarette and behold my solitude—for I was back on earth, in vain trying to remember the empress dethroned by you.
"From the Diary of Chow Mo Wan" is the second of our two-part tribute to the 50 years of New Wave cinema.