Monday, May 02, 2005

Letter to An Unknown Woman (in replying to "Letter from An Unknown Woman" * )


You wrote me a letter telling me the love affair between us which I had not been even aware of. Your first few lines shocked me, "By the time you read this letter, I may be dead. . . . If this reaches you, you will know how I became yours when you didn't know who I was or even that I existed." I began searching for a nameless woman from my memory of the long forgotten past.

I could not recall our first meeting when you opened door for me and we nearly collided. This is not unusual as you were only thirteen years old. I of course did not know that you had subsequently become a worshipper of me. However, I must say that I am astonished by your gifted observation, particularly at your age, in unfolding the secret of my being a born seducer – being adventurous and introverted, sensual and meditative. Yet, you do not know it is also a curse to me allowing my love to be only carefree and repelling against responsibility.

With my charming outlook and intellectual passion, I cannot only pick up girls and women in the street without difficulty but also escape from their complaint when I do not keep the promise of returning to their side. You are the first one who does revert to me proving the damage done to you though only after 12 years. While you know that I will not take the trouble of tying myself to anyone, you do not know that I have been waiting for the one to tie me down. I am a cursed pleasure-seeking lover who cannot put an end to seducing others at my own will until the spell is cast off. Sacrifice is the magic word but it never shows up until the arrival of your posthumous letter. The spell is now cast off but ironically, you cannot see my redemption.
You did not know that I had nearly recognized you in the morning after meeting at the dancing hall. When I told you that I would be away for a short while, you replied: "What a pity." It was the first time I heard such an indifferent reply. It was so different that I immediately gazed at you looking for more information rather than going on with plan of abandoning you. You then said: "The man I love has always gone a journey." I only smiled and tried to soothe you with "One comes back after a time".
Actually, I did sense that something was hidden but I still could not figure it out. The more I tried, the weaker my memory became and the more my headache grew. You were right in feeling that your tone had moved me to the extent that I could not help but looking at you tenderly and putting my hands around you saying, "Good things are not forgotten, and I shall not forget you." I had done this because even though I could not recognize who you were, I had the strangest feeling that you must be different from those women picked up at a dancing hall.
Yet, I still could not recognize you. I could do nothing but send you away with a few banknotes put into your coat. You did not know that I did it intentionally to insult you so that you would not return to test my memory again for I could never forgive myself if I would disappoint you again by not recognizing you. Didn't you know that a born seducer did not have to seduce with banknotes?
Then you hurried away with a white rose taken from my vase after saying that the white roses might have been sent by a woman whom I had forgotten. At that juncture, I was very sure that you were a woman whom I had forgotten; but my feet were nailed to the floor as I lacked the courage for running to you to ask who you were. When my feet were released, I turned around and sat down murmuring calmly to myself that you had already walked away for minutes and could not be reached.
I now regret not rushing to you; but what is the use of mourning over what has not been done. Our boy has gone forever, not knowing who his father is. Has he ever asked about it when he sees you keeping changing partners? He may not have asked but it is only because he is too clever in not hurting you. You are very wrong in withholding our boy from me or thinking that I would have secretly suspected that the boy was the child of another lover. Haven't you said that he is me, reborn? Will I fail to recognize myself? It will not take me long in recognizing my conflicting qualities in our poor boy - his lightheartness in playing with toys as contrary to his seriousness in questioning about life. After being tortured by the inner conflict for years, I am confident that I can help him in coping with the conflict at an early stage. However, I will not boast of removing the conflict for I can only succeed now, through his death and your death.
However, you must not take the above as my blame on you. I never have the right to blame but you have every right to blame me. You were right in saying that a woman's face must be for a man something extraordinarily mutable, nothing more than the reflexion of moods which pass as readily as an image vanished from a mirror. When I closed my eyes, I could see woman's faces kept moving in and out. I hated to stop them from moving so that I could have the excuse of forgetting them. That said, I also often wondered who would be able to endure and become the last face staying in my mind just before I closed my eyes forever. Now I can finally see the face.
I am sorry that I cannot meet your last request as I will not be able to get white roses and put them in the vase on my birthday; but I will bring them to you and our son.
- R
(* "Letter from an Unknown Woman" is the short story about a lifelong and unrequited love told through a posthumous letter, as written by the German writer Stephan Zweig in 1922. Max Ophuls filmed it in 1948. Xu Jing Lie (徐 靜 蕾) recently filmed it and set it against the backdrop of the wartime China.)

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