Fan Zilan came into my life like this. He knelt under the stone bridge and used a wood to slap my clothes. His hands were red and stiff from the cold. He woke up in the middle of the night to make midnight snacks for me. He coughed repeatedly. His whole face turned black because of the fire. He volunteered to do my hair. In the beginning, he would clumsily scratch my ears. Not long after, he learned many complicated hairstyles. He drove a carriage, had fun everywhere and pointed out every sightseeing spot. I stayed inside the carriage and slept.
When I was in a good mood, I would hug him to give me warmth. When I was in a bad mood, I will kick to let him sleep on the couch. He was always full of smiles and didn’t have any complaints.
I once asked him curiously, “Are the humans in the world strange like you?”
At that time, he was massaging my shoulders. When he heard that, he laughed, “You have to know that in this world there’s no one as strange like me.”
One day, I encountered another fox. She smilingly sized up Fan Zilan who didn’t leave my side for a step. Then, she asked me, “Very handsome and healthy man. Did you bewitch him?”
To a fox ‘bewitch’ was not a derogatory term. But I was startled. I often beat and scold him. Even more, I abandoned him at piers, fields and mountains. The whole day I faced him fiercely and didn’t give him a smile. How could I have bewitched him?
I couldn’t help from asking Fan Zilan, “Did I bewitch you?”
At that time, he was already thirteen or fourteen-years-old. He almost choked on water. He said while he coughed, “You? Bewitch? Do you know that you’re the only fox that truly doesn’t know how to bewitch in this world?”
“Then, why do you always follow me,” I asked again.
Like usual, he said brazenly, “Mmm, because I like you. Can’t I?”
“A bunch of nonsense.”
A human who willing follow a fox that hadn’t bewitched him; never giving up and kept on pestering her. There could only be one reason. Because now, it’s in the troubling times. During troubling times, people would either be killed by bandits or soldiers. People would die from either hunger or illness. People would die during battle or die from crying. Fan Zilan only had to follow me, a fox who had a bit of magic power, he would have things to eat and a place to sleep. Even more, he didn’t have to be afraid that someone would kill him. No wonder, no wonder.
I accidentally talked with the god of dreams about my guessing. The old man didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry, “Little fox, are you really playing dumb or are you stupid beyond redemption?”
Humph, what did an old man who was so muddle-headed to even forget his age know?
When Fan Zilan was sixteen-year-old, his height skyrocketed. Finally, he was a head taller than I. He rubbed my head and said proudly, “Shuang Shuang, call me big brother.”
I quickly asked, “Who is Shuang Shuang?”
He said, “Shuang Shuang is the name I give you. What do you think? Does it sound nice?”
I was displeased. “I’m not a human. Why should I get a name?”
Every time, when Fan Zilan called Shuang Shuang, Shuang Shuang loudly, I would refuse to answer. However, he continued to call me that. Being annoyed by Fan Zilan’s calling, I began to calculate how to abandon him completely.
Thinking back about a few days ago, when the carriage passed a farmer’s village, I saw a young couple kneeling on the footpath between paddy fields. The ankle of the young woman seemed to be strained. She frowned from pain. While that young husband appeased her, he put her on his back and piggy-backed her home.
I inadvertently saw Fan Zilan’s gaze. I saw him stare at them in daze. There was envy in his eyes. I understood. This brat Fan Zilan wanted a family. And I was called big sister for ten years by him. He didn’t call for nothing. I should worry a bit about him.
I knew he loves studying. When he opened his mouth, it would be literary words. I instigated him to go take the imperial exam. “Don’t you like to study and write essays? Why don’t you go take the exam for the highest rank of the imperial examination?”
Fan Zilan turned the page of the book and said, “Why should I take the exam for the highest rank of the imperial examination?”
I said, “When you get the highest rank at the imperial exam, you would get riches and soar to a higher place. I remember that the past few emperors married the princess to the highest ranked at the imperial examination. Could it be that you don’t want to be the prince consort?”
He bit my ear and said, “What’s good about a prince consort? From now on, you’re not allowed to bring up this matter again.”
Never let me bring up this matter again.
I began to act as a matchmaker for Fan Zilan. He didn’t like Jia village’s girl. He didn’t like Yi town’s master Bao’s daughter. He didn’t like Bing city’s lady. He didn’t even like the noble princess inside the palace. I got angry. I threw him in a cave. He found me. I threw him on the streets. He found me. I threw him in a forest. After walking for a day through the snow and cold wind, he still found me.
I decided that I couldn’t continue like this. I opened my eyes and asked Fan Zilan, “Hey, how old are you this year?”
“Nineteen.” His voice was vague.
“Nineteen already.” I was startled. I muttered, “So fast. You really should get married.”
Fan Zilan’s lips moved on the back of my neck again. He said, “Why don’t you marry me?”
I smiled, “Did you forget how old I am?”
“I know, I know. Isn’t it only four hundred something years?” He smiled unmindfully. “However, when others see you, they thought you were my little sister.”
I also laughed, “Okay, after a few decades, people will think that I’m your daughter.”
Fan Zilan was a bit in daze. He pushed away some hairs on my face and tried hard to laugh, “Why should we care about what would happen in a few decades?”
“A few decades would still pass very fast,” I said slowly.
From that little boy who bothered me and called me big sister to the young man at my side now, it was just in a moment. My cold hand touched his face. I said, “You’re a human. You will get old one day. You will get so old that your skin would get wrinkles. You will lose your hair and teeth and wouldn’t even be able to stand or walk. You wouldn’t even be able to talk well.”
Fan Zilan was pale-faced. He said, “I…”
“And I’m a fox. My appearance of a seventeen-year-old girl would never change.” My tone turned cold. “For what reason do you think that with my youth and beauty would I be willing to follow an old man whose one foot was already inside a coffin?”
I’m a fox. A fox has no heart. Because of this, I wasn’t afraid that I would hurt him. “You better think about your future sooner,” I said.
Fan Zilan looked silently at me and didn’t say anything for a long time. I yawned, turned my body and intended to have a good night of sleep. However, I was hugged tightly by him. He put my hand on his lips.
“Your hand is so cold, Shuang Shuang,” I faintly heard him say this.
Taking advantage that Fan Zilan was in a deep sleep, I packed up and sneaked away. Just when I was about to open the door, I thought that I wouldn’t see this brat ever again. Then, let’s leave him commemoration. On the table was still the paper and brush he used to practice writing. I tore of one paper and put the brush into the ink. For a moment, I didn’t know what to write. A poem? A couplet? I only know how to write. After thinking for a long while, I wrote two sentences: I’m leaving. I will come see you on the day you get the highest rank of the imperial examination.
After finishing, my heart was confused. Fan Zilan on the bed moved a bit. He seemed to be about to wake up. I quickly put down the brush, lifted my dress and left through the wall.