Still walking on the walkway along Seine River, Xi Men’s gaze went to the people, the leaves on the trees that are changing colors, and then…
Something strikes his mind.
His gaze went to the walkway which he is walking on now.
“I know where this is heading to,” he mumbled. “I know where this walkway leads to,”
His eyes strayed to the river.
“This is going to Pont des Arts,” he said.
And the smile on his face grew.
5 months ago/ 7 months after the Paris trip.
“So, how was South Korea?” Mei Zhuo asked, looking at Ah Si as the F4 are having lunch.
“Oh, great. It is great,” Ah Si smiled as he picks up a slice of fish from the dish. “Quite tiring but it is great,”
“Ah, it sounds like you had more fun in this trip than your previous trips to Seoul,” Lei smiled.
“Indeed. The last time we went to Seoul, it was winter. The kids want to play with snow so we went there just for that. However, it was too cold that we couldn’t go anywhere else. And Mei has also fallen ill due to the weather. And this time, it is spring in Seoul so the nice weather allows us to go around and see stuffs,” Ah Si said.
“That’s great to hear,” Xi Men said.
“I went to Namsan Tower too,” Ah Si said.
“Again?” Lei asked.
“Yes. This is my… I think, 4th time, going to Namsan Tower,” Ah Si said, before rolling his eyes. “Sounds like 2nd home now,”
Mei Zhuo, Lei and Xi Men laughed.
“Actually, we went there for the bear museum, and as you know, it is for the kids, but we also end up going up the tower…” Ah Si said, and then he turned to look at Mei Zhuo, “Do you know about locking padlocks over there when you went to Namsan Tower last year?”
‘Padlocks?’ Xi Men thought.
Xi Men’s attention immediately went to Ah Si whose head has turned to look at Mei Zhuo.
“Yes, Namsan Tower is famous for that. What about it?” Mei Zhuo asked.
“Did you lock one there when you went there with Xiao Qiao back then?” Ah Si asked.
Mei Zhuo smiled, “Yes, I did. I locked a padlock with Xiao Qiao,”
“Ah, so that didn’t make me strange,” Ah Si said, relieved.
“Strange? Why will that make you strange?” Lei asked.
“San Chai demanded that we should lock a padlock there. I didn’t want to initially… but…”
“You gave in to your wife,” Lei continued for Ah Si.
Ah Si smiled, slightly embarrassed. “Yeah, I did. She said, locking a padlock is like ‘locking the love for each other’,”
Xi Men’s eyes widened.
Locking the love for each other?!
“Yes, San Chai is right,” Mei Zhuo said, taking a spoonful of rice and stuffs into his mouth. “Xiao Qiao told me about it too so I locked a padlock with her,”
“I wonder why ladies like this kind of things,” Ah Si said. “I mean, I love her, isn’t that enough?”
“Locking a padlock is a symbol. Like an action. Your love for her is only to be felt by her. Your padlock over there at the Namsan Tower is like a declaration,” Lei smiled.
Ah Si laughed.
“And correction, not only ladies like these things. Guys do too,” Lei said.
“Ah, really?” Ah Si looked at Lei.
“I locked a padlock with Jing before we got married,” Lei said. “About 3 years ago,”
“You did?” Ah Si and Mei Zhuo asked together.
And even Xi Men is surprised to hear that too.
“Yes,” Lei said. “In Paris,”
“Paris?” Xi Men, Mei Zhuo and Ah Si repeated.
“Yes, in Paris,” Lei confirmed. “We locked a padlock at this pedestrian bridge call Pont des Arts when we revisit Paris 3 years ago,”
‘Pont des Arts?’ Xi Men thought to himself. ‘That’s exactly the same bridge Xiao You and I locked a padlock at!’
“I read this article a week before I went to Paris about locking a padlock on this bridge… so, I just prepare a lock. When we were in Paris, I asked my chauffeur to drive us there… and we locked the padlock on the bridge,” Lei said. “I agree that ladies like these things. Jing liked the idea of locking a padlock there but she didn’t demand me to do so, in fact, I am the one that insist to do that. I like the idea of declaring my love for her in that way,”
Mei Zhuo and Ah Si chuckled, and seeing their friends laughed like that, Xi Men joins, but he gives a fake laugh, for he couldn’t bring a genuine laughter out of his mouth.
“Interesting. I didn’t know you already did that in the city of love,” Mei Zhuo said. “I probably should plan a trip to Paris and do that,”
“I am not going to be left behind for that,” Ah Si said. “I better do it before becoming the last one to do so in Paris…” he glanced over to Xi Men.
“At least, right now… you are not the last one to lock a padlock in these significant places,” Mei Zhuo said at Ah Si.
Ah Si smiled, “Yeah,” and then he gazed at Xi Men again.
Xi Men understood the gaze that Ah Si had given him. Xi Men then smiled. “So, is it a must for one to lock a padlock as a sign of love? You can’t do it for friendship?”
“Friendship? Who on earth wants to lock a padlock as a sign of friendship?” Mei Zhuo asked.
‘Xiao You and I.’ Xi Men thought.
“I don’t think I want to lock a padlock with Mei Zhuo,” Ah Si said. “Or Lei,”
Mei Zhuo and Lei laughed.
“I don’t want either,” both Mei Zhuo and Lei said at the same time.
All three of them laughed but Xi Men could only smile faintly.
“One only locks the padlock with their significant other. And as a sign of love and wants it to be eternal,” Lei said, after his laughter fades.
“Oh,” Xi Men said. “Is that an international kind of… symbol? I mean… acknowledgement… representation? Known… worldwide?”
Lei begins to frown as he turns his head to stare at Xi Men suspiciously upon hearing the words that he had used to ask that particular question.
“You can say so,” Mei Zhuo said. “Padlocks are locked at Namsan Tower, Seoul. Padlocks are locked at that famous bridge in Paris. Padlocks are also locked at multiple locations in this world. All different countries, one meaning,”
“Eternal love,” Ah Si smiled. “And a lasting relationship,”
“So… no one really locks it as a sign of friendship?” Xi Men asked again.
Ah Si chuckled while a small quick laugh escaped Mei Zhuo’s mouth.
“Really, no,” Mei Zhuo said, before he turned his face to look at Lei.
Noticing the gaze that Mei Zhuo gave from the corner of his eyes, Lei just smiled and immediately reached for his glass of Chinese tea for a sip.
“I see,” Xi Men said, smiling faintly.
And then Lei glanced over at Xi Men again.
Lei, as he is driving his Lexus, switches his gaze from focusing at the road to Xi Men who is sitting next to him at the passenger seat, on the way back to Xi Men Corporation since Lei fetched Xi Men for the group lunch with Ah Si and Mei Zhuo earlier.
And then Lei turned his gaze to the road again. “I saw your gaze just now,” Lei said.
Xi Men turned and looked at Lei. “What gaze?” he asked.
“When we talked about the padlock,” Lei said, stopping his car at the junction due to red traffic light.
“What about it?” Xi Men asked.
“Is there something I didn’t know about some padlock incidents you might have?” Lei asked, turning his head to look at Xi Men.
“Padlock incident?” Xi Men asked in surprise.
Lei tilts his head. “You can tell me,”
Xi Men stared at Lei for a while, and then he straightened his head.
Lei remained looking at Xi Men.
“I am not the last one to lock a padlock. Ah Si is,” Xi Men said.
Lei smirked. “So, you really did lock a padlock. When was it? Where?” he asked. “With who?”
“7 months ago. In Paris. With Xiao You,” Xi Men said.
His eyes brightened up. “With Xiao You?!” Lei is surprised.
“With… Xiao You? Really?” Lei asked.
“You don’t believe me?” Xi Men asked.
“I should say… it is hard to believe…”
Xi Men dives his hand into his pants and takes out his phone. He began swiping the screen with his finger, seemingly to look for something.
And then he passed the phone to Lei.
“This is the proof,” Xi Men said.
Lei looked at the phone in his hand, and the screen loads the video of Xi Men recording Xiao You locking a padlock with their names on the bridge.
Lei randomly taps the time slider on the video to selectively watch portions of the video.
He didn’t watch the entire video; he only saw the part where the screen records their names (Xi Men & Xiao You) on the padlock and also seeing the part where Xiao You hook the padlock onto the fence.
He already passes the phone back to Xi Men even before he saw the part where Xiao You locks the padlock securely.
Xi Men already frowned at the odd way Lei watches the video, and on top of that, Lei returned the phone to him before he finishes it, “But the video is still running…”
“I need to drive,” Lei said, interrupting Xi Men, as Lei then returned his gaze to the still-red traffic light. “Can’t watch the whole video,”
“Oh, right. Sorry…” Xi Men said.
Lei tilts his head and then he exhaled his deep breath. “So, you really lock a padlock with Xiao You in Paris,”
“According to what you said during the lunch just now… I guess… you are doing this thinking it as a friendship lock, huh?” Lei turned to look at Xi Men.
“Yeah, that is what I said to her,” he said.
And then a small laugh escaped Xi Men’s mouth as he turned to look out of the car.
Lei gazes at Xi Men for that reaction before he returned his focus to the traffic light.
Xi Men smirked. “I didn’t know locking a padlock meant anything significantly huge like love or relationship. I thought it was just for fun,”
Lei chuckled in disbelief. “I am surprised you didn’t know,” Lei said.
“I think I am surprised too,” Xi Men said. “What a dumb idea to propose locking it as a sign of our friendship and also to symbolize our week in Paris,” he uttered, and then he sighed as he stares at the view of the window. “And I am more surprised that I found out what an idiot I am now,”
Xi Men turned to look at Lei. “Well what?”
“As far as I know, there are two bridges in Paris. One is for your significant other, one is for your love… so…”
Xi Men looked at Lei. “We locked the padlock at the same bridge as yours. So what bridge is that for?”
Lei glances at Xi Men. “You mean, Pont des Arts?”
“Are you sure that’s the bridge you lock your padlock at?”
“Yes. One thousand percent sure,” Xi Men replied.
“Umm… that’s… umm… love of two people…” Lei said.
Xi Men looked at Lei, and not totally surprised at all, he just smirked. “Ah… that probably explains,”
“Explains? About?” Lei is suddenly confused.
“Why I couldn’t move on from Xiao You,” Xi Men said, resting his head against the leather seat. “I’ve locked my feelings towards her down with a padlock,”
“That’s a little bit… umm…” Lei isn’t sure what to respond. “Umm… I believe you can go back to Paris and unlock the padlock. Well… provided you have the key…”
“We don’t,” Xi Men said. “It is at the bottom of Seine River,”
“Bottom of Seine River? You mean, you throw the key away?” Lei asked. “Into the river?!”
“Yeah. That’s what the padlock seller told us to do,” Xi Men said.
“You know you shouldn’t throw stuffs into the river, don’t you?” Lei asked.
“I was told it is the way to do it. So we are just doing it,” Xi Men said, and then looked at Lei. “And are you saying you still have the key with you?”
“We didn’t throw it into the river. We bury it in the garden of our house,” Lei said.
“So if anything happens… you just have to go dig your garden for the key, and then go back to Paris and remove the padlock?” Xi Men asked.
Lei rolled his eyes. “It wasn’t meant to be used to remove the padlock. It is because we didn’t want to throw stuff into the river thus we decided to just bury the key in our garden. And why on earth should I go back and remove the padlock? Jing and I are good. We are extremely good. That padlock is a representation of our love and relationship. I don’t want to remove that,”
“Good to know,” Xi Men said nonchalantly.
Lei stepped on the accelerator and drives ahead.
Xi Men then sighed.
“What’s up?” Lei asked, without looking at Xi Men.
“It has been 7 months, and I still feel the same way towards her,” Xi Men said.
“Ah, so it has been 7 months,” Lei said.
“Yeah. Time passes…”
“Fast,” Lei interrupts.
“No, it is slow, for me,” Xi Men said. “It felt like it’s been so long… but it has only been 7 months…”
“How have you been coping?” Lei asked.
Xi Men exhaled a deep breath. “It has been hell since the week ends,”
“Hell?” Lei asked.
“Yeah,” Xi Men said. “That is why our photos and videos are so important to me. I find myself looking at it every single day, at every single moment I could,”
“You could end your misery if you just go and look for her,” Lei said.
“This statement again,” Xi Men sighed again.
“It doesn’t change the fact that you might feel better after telling her how you feel for her,” Lei said.
Xi Men shook. “I have promised her,” he sighed. “If I know this is what I am going to feel… I probably shouldn’t say just for one week…”
“One week?” Lei happened to repeat the last word, causing Xi Men to look at him.
“We spent a week in Paris. Have you forgotten?”
“No, of course not. How could I forget that? I mean… the way you said it…”
“The way I said it?” Xi Men asked.
“Yeah. It sounded as though you want it more than just a week,” Lei said.
Xi Men looked at Lei. He (Xi Men) doesn’t even know why he said that. “I…”
“I get it, Xi Men,” Lei said. “I get it. You don’t have to explain,”
Xi Men took a deep breath, and then exhaled it. He turned his head to look out of the car. “The week in Paris with Xiao You is the best week of my life,”
Lei smirked. “I know. You’ve said that before,”
Xi Men smirked as the memories of his Paris trip plays in his mind. “But I am not sad,”
“You are not?” Lei asked, turning his head to look at Xi Men. “Despite both of you are not together?”
Xi Men smiled and shook briefly. “Although life has been miserable for months… actually, the one week we have spent together… I truly appreciate it. It made my life more… colorful, happier, meaningful and worth living,” he said, and then he looked at Lei, “I cherish it a lot. That is why… I am not sad,”
Lei looked at Xi Men, and then he smiled. “If that is what you are feeling, then I am happy for you,”
“But I would be happier if you actually do something about it,” Lei said, turning his head to focus on the road.
“Do something about it,” Xi Men repeated.
He wished he could do something too, but really, there is nothing he can do.
He had agreed to Xiao You that whatever he has with her is only for a week.
And both will continue with their lives after the week is over.
Xi Men tilts his head.
Life goes on for him, but memories of the wonderful week spent with Xiao You stays fresh in his mind.
On top of looking out of his office to the billboard, he would also occasionally look at their photos.
All those great moments and memories captured in photos.
He loves those photos so much that he didn’t even dare to delete the shared folder he shared with Xiao You in the cloud storage for fear that the photos he had on his phone, laptop and computer at home might get corrupted, lost or disappear; and the photos in this folder in the cloud storage will act as his backup copies.
Taking his slow walk, Xi Men glanced over to the Palais du Lourve which is on his left, and then he turned to the right.
He puts his first step forward on the famous pedestrian bridge and he stood right there.
He is here.
Pont des Arts.
With his back facing the Palais du Lourve, he looked at the bridge and Institut de France at the end of it, with a small smile on his face. (*reminder: this pedestrian bridge on top of Seine River links Palais du Lourve and Institut de France)
There are so many people on the bridge; tour groups, couples, friends.
With both of his hands in his black winter jacket, Xi Men resumed walking.
Taking slow steps and enjoying another wave of cold breeze that sends his fringe flying, he looked along the bridge, the locks and the people; left and right.
He remembers where he and Xiao You had placed their padlock at.
3rd bridge light, bottom of the fence from the direction of Institut de France.
He plans to check the padlock out, wanting to know if the padlock is still there.
But there is no rush.
It is not like he is rushing to somewhere.
He is bound to reach that spot in a while.
Walking over from Latin Quarter for about 10 minutes, Xiao You reaches Institut de France.
She is here.
She remembered the bridge is just right in front of Institut de France.
And even if she didn’t know or couldn’t remember, there is no way she will missed it because of the uniqueness of the bridge – one can see it is decorated with padlocks even from far.
Xiao You tucked her hands into her red winter jacket as she took her first step on the pedestrian bridge.
The bridge looked exactly the same as she remembers.
There are so many people on the bridge.
She smiled as she looked at a tour guide explaining about the bridge to his tourists.
Turning her head to the left, she smiled as she looked at a couple lovingly locked their padlock on the bridge, and their friends helped taking photos to commemorate the event.
She turned her head to the right, looking at some tourists taking photos of those various shapes and colors of padlocks on the bridge.
Xi Men constantly turned his head to the left and right as he walked on the bridge.
Seeing couples locking their padlocks and taking photos of it, it reminds him of the same situation he was in with Xiao You last year, only that he is Xiao You’s partner just for a week.
He smiled at the thought of it.
Just as he turned his head from the right to the left, something caught his attention from the corner of his eyes.
He straightened his head to look at the object that had attracted his attention.
The smile on his face fades and his eyes widened, that even his slow step halts.
The wind dies down and his fringe rests down on its original place.
And his gaze remained fixed.
Xiao You’s gaze went to the purported place she and Xi Men had placed their padlock at last year.
3rd bridge light, bottom of the fence, from this direction.
She remembers, and that puts a small smile on her face.
As people move about on the bridge, on a quick glance, she felt that there is someone standing still, looking at her direction.
She straightened her head.
Her contented smile vanished.
Her footsteps stopped.
Their eyes met.