2 The Boy with No Palm Prints (Part 2)
Nie Zun’s POV
“What are you thinking about, Nie Zun?” Suddenly, I sensed someone waving their hand in front of my eyes.
I was abruptly yanked out of reminiscing about my thirteen year old self, and right in front of me stood my psychiatrist.
Jie Pa was still wearing his Chinese tunic suit that didn’t belong to this century, complete with his antique, huge-framed glasses with a flat head of neatly combed hair.
I laughed teasingly. “Dr Jie, it’s no wonder you can’t get a girlfriend when you’re always dressed like this.”
Jie Pa smiled with a hint of embarrassment. “Stop ridiculing me, Nie Zun. How have you been? Are you still having the same dream?”
I returned his smile weakly. “I don’t think that can be fixed.”
Jie Pa pushed up the heavy frame settled on the bridge of his nose and said to me seriously, “You have to believe. Nie Xuan entrusted you to me, so I will definitely find a way to treat you.”
Actually, Dr Jie, I don’t really care if I can be treated.
During that year when I turned thirteen, out of everyone who came in contact with my hand, three died and another two were critically injured. From then on, I was labelled as a freak.
My grandpa was diagnosed with dementia when he passed, but they said that his seemingly nonsensical last words, spouted moments before his death, came from a momentary recovery of consciousness. Those words, “Don’t let anyone touch Nie Zun’s hand once he turns thirteen,” appeared to have came true.
That year, my Dad who had been working away from home rushed back to see me after hearing the rumors. On his journey back, his motorcycle inexplicably malfunctioned, making him crash. They blamed me for his death too, that I had cursed him.
After that, we moved back and forth, completely cut off from the townspeople and suffering contemptuous looks wherever we went. In that little town, we tolerated the hardships for five years before I turned eighteen. However, on that year of my eighteenth birthday, when my Mum had finally saved enough for our family to leave the ancient town for good, she suffered an abrupt heart attack and died as well.
As a result, another rumor broke out: I turned eighteen, but it wasn’t an adult that I had become––instead, I turned into a fully-developed monster.
From that year onwards, I’ve always worn my black gloves, never letting anyone touch my hand.
Except for Nie Xuan.
Nie Xuan has always said to me, “Zun’er, you’re not a monster, they’re all just superstitious. Don’t believe their absurd rambles. They’re the crazy ones; I hold your hand all the time, but amn’t I still alive and well? Dealing with the early death of your parents is traumatizing enough for a young kid, what right do they have to make it worse by pinning it on you?”
Nie Xuan has always been this way, ever the optimist since she was young. She gets flustered from time to time, and sometimes cries in devastation over the stray cats and dogs which have died along the roadside. She always wore her hair in a high ponytail, with her smile as pretty as a flower.
I stopped calling her jiejie as I grew older and no longer called her Xuan’er either. I just call her Xuan.
“Let’s head back to the clinic. We’ll try hypnotherapy today.” He said as he smoothened the slight curl at the hem of his shirt.
I shrugged casually. “Sure.”
Jie Pa’s private psychological clinic is right along the street in the corner of the city. The black sign outside spelled these simple words: “Jie Private Psychological Clinic”.
“Am I the only customer your clinic has?” I teased.
Jie Pa pushed up his glasses with a small smile. “I’m a freelance floater in dire straits and you’re my patient, so let’s not make fun of each other like that.”
I blinked. “Dr Jie, I wasn’t making fun of you. In fact, it kind of feels like I have my own personal doctor. You know, just like how the rich have their own personal doctors and chauffeurs?”
Jie Pa placed his backpack on a stool in the clinic. “You are as flippant as always. Your sister trusted me with you, so you should open your mind to me, Nie Zun.”
I blinked again. “Dr Jie, I’ve always been open with you. However, I don’t really feel like receiving treatment today. Let’s go buy you some new clothes.”
Jie Pa chuckled and shot me a glance. “Why are you just like your sister? Why do you both like worrying about other people’s basic necessities?”
I whistled softly at that. “Dr Jie, do you have to wear such a tender look when you talk about Xuan? If you really like her, then all the more reason you should change out of those clothes. Come on, do you still not trust me, her own brother, for fashion? Let’s go, let’s go.”
Jie Pa’s face tinted red at my words as I pushed him towards the door. “Your sister said you’re reclusive and not much of a conversationalist. On the contrary; I think you’ve always had too much to say.”
The corner of my lips tugged into a smile. “That depends on who I’m talking to.”
Pulling Jie Pa into the marketplace, I chose a western-style suit for him and exchanged his glasses for a more stylish pair. Interlacing my fingers contemplatively, I gave Jie Pa a once-over.
He looked stiff; it was apparent that this was the first time he had ever been in such apparels.
“What’s missing…?” I looked over him once more as I paced around.
Then, with a snap of my fingers, I exclaimed, “That’s right! It’s your hairstyle. Come on, let’s go.”
Jie Pa looked slightly terrified by the suggestion. “Th—there’s no need for that, surely. There’s no need to change my hairstyle, Nie Zun.”
I smiled, but forcefully tugged Jie Pa along and into a salon along the street nonetheless.
“Trim his hair here… and here. Keep his fringe this long. Make him look like a gentleman.” I motioned around for the hairdresser and they nodded with a smile, clear that it wouldn’t be an issue.
Jie Pa’s face betrayed a hint of fear, as though he wanted to raise an objection. I flashed a mischievous grin. “Dr Jie, would you believe me if I told you that my sister would see you in a totally different light if you go through with this?”
And so, whatever objections teetered at the tip of his tongue remained in his throat, then retreated into the pit of his stomach.
I remained calm and composed as I walked about the shop, ultimately settling in the corner of the salon with a magazine. I yawned and flipped open the magazine before covering my face with it, dozing off without a care.
When I woke up, as anticipated, Jie Pa looked refreshingly different.
Watching the uneasy Jie Pa, I nodded in satisfaction. “Jie the Handsome.”
Jie Pa flushed a shade of scarlet red.
“Whoa, what a good-looking gentleman. Quick, take look at him!” At that moment, two girls who just entered the shop started pointing at Jie Pa and whispered to each other.
If at all possible, Jie Pa’s face got even redder. I took a careful look at him again; yup, his suit, glasses, and hairstyle were all befitting.
“The guy in black sitting in the corner is really good-looking too.”
“But it’s not even that cold this time of the year, why is he wearing gloves?”
My gaze fell to the black gloves on my hands and I smiled drily.
Jie Pa seemed to have overheard their conversation. Adjusting his glasses once more, he said to me, “Let’s go, Nie Zun. Come back to the clinic with me, we still have work to do.”
Understanding by his words that there was no way I could pause my treatment, I shrugged. “Ok.”
Just as Jie Pa slung his inseparable, large backpack over his shoulders and we prepared to step out of the shop, another girl entered.
This might be the first time in my life that a girl attracted my attention.
She had a head of jet black hair which covered her shoulders, and she wore a cropped red jacket and a pair of red pants. A pair of pointed shoes —also red—covered her feet. She was thin, so much so that her chin was sharp, and wouldn’t have been regarded as typically beautiful, yet, I couldn’t help staring at her.
Her eyes were indifferent and lonely, as if nothing could ever grab their attention.
She didn’t spare a glance as she walked past me. It wasn’t just me either; she didn’t seem to look at anyone. She merely spoke to the hairdresser in a voice that even I—a man with usually keen senses—could barely hear. “Can you dye my hair red?”
I didn’t hear the hairdresser’s answer, only the voices of those two girls who had praised Jie Pa’s appearance earlier. “What is she doing here? I thought we would never have to see her again after high school. How are we this unlucky?”
The other girl wasn’t bothered to be subtle either. In a loud voice, she responded, “Yeah! That weirdo is crazy. What bad luck to run into her even after graduation. Come on, we should hurry up and leave. Let’s not come here for our haircut from now on.”
Hand in hand, the two girls hurried out of the shop.
Jie Pa stopped in his tracks at the scene. Probably due to his occupation as a psychiatrist, he’s particularly sensitive towards those with mental illnesses, and the current situation intrigued him.
I glanced back at the girl in question; she didn’t seem to have the slightest change in expression. Instead, she parted her lips and spoke in a slightly louder voice to the stunned hairdresser. “Can you dye my hair red?”
The hairdresser appeared to have been replaying the words of those two girls over in their head; their nod seemed slightly dumbstruck.
The girl in red saw the bobbing of the hairdresser’s head and walked straight to an empty chair in front of a mirror and took a seat.
From the beginning to the very end, she had never spared a glance towards Jie Pa and I. Even as she sat in front of the mirror, she never showed any inkling of curiosity in her eyes. She was just calm and indifferent, her eyes radiating an unfeeling flatness.
Is she a weirdo?
Recalling the opinion of those two girls, I felt better for some reason. Should I really feel this contented watching others get treated like this? I’m indeed a demon.
With a smile, I finally lost interest. After a quick glimpse at my hands, I turned back towards Jie Pa and started towards the door. “Let’s go, Dr Jie.”
“O-oh, yeah, alright.” Jie Pa did a double take before hastily catching up to my steps.
“Nie Zun, let’s not bother with hypnotherapy today; usually you’re only able to recall events related to that dream anyway. I’ll repeat myself once more: you must know that the death of your parents and your neighbors were not caused by you, or whatever curse they think you have. The words from your grandfather were also gibberish caused by his delirious state. You must be very clear with yourself that the rumor surrounding the lack of prints on your left hand is just a superstition—there is nothing scientific about it.”
It’s only when Jie Pa talks about my illness that he is clear and reasoned.
I yawned as I walked with him towards the clinic.
“Nie Zun, don’t just ignore my words like you always do. I know you feel guilt and remorse over the deaths of those people, but they were just coincidences that morphed into beliefs thanks to their superstitions.
“You might not have believed it at first, but these people were unrelenting in making you feel guilty, conditioning you to believe that you’re a monster. And, somewhere in your mind, it seemed to remind you of it. Such subconsciousness will eventually turn something completely baseless into a solid fact in your head.”
I exhaled into vile laughter. “Don’t make it sound so serious, Dr Jie. I’ve never thought myself as a monster…”
I lifted the hand donned in black, and looked at it from front to back as I pondered. “I’m just a defect who’s lacking a palm print…”
Jie Pa stopped in his step and looked resolutely at me. “Being without a palm print doesn’t explain anything; it’s simply a physical flaw, don’t turn it into a flaw in your character. Nie Zun, you’re whole. You have your sister and I, and we’ll be with you always.”
You’ll be with me… always…
I chuckled and looked up at the sky.
Always…? In this world, could such words really be trusted?
“Let’s go and continue with your treatment.”
I smiled gently at him.