Dark clouds hung so low over the city that it felt like one could reach them by raising one's hands to the sky. Lee Man stood next to the window, watching the raindrops slide down the window, leaving their transient trails. The clock on the wall ticked as if in rhythm with the rain outside. Time was passing slowly inside the quiet room.
"5:30 pm, it's about to call it a day." Lee Man stretched lazily. She moved the plant on the windowsill back into the room and walked to her table. She took the plaque that declared the building to be the government's marriage registry office into the drawer. As if that was not clear enough, the large words on the wall read-Administrative Office for the Marriage License Registry.
"With the rain pouring, I doubt there's anyone coming." Lee Man hummed a ditty to herself as she started to clean. She was the only one left at the office; her colleague who took the table next to hers had already got off work fifteen minutes earlier.
"I'm sorry, but is this where you get marriage licenses registered?" The office door was pushed open, and a magnetic male voice came from the entrance. From the voice, Lee Man believed that it belonged to a handsome figure.
Lee Man lifted her head and saw a man wearing a black raincoat standing at the door. He looked rather normal, but there was an indescribable presence about him.
"Yes... Are... you here to get your marriage license?" Lee Man studied the man carefully. This was the first time that she had encountered someone who came to the office to register their marriage while wearing a raincoat and carrying a large, heavy backpack.
"Yes, I made my appointment online."
"Let me check. What's your name, sir?"
Lee Man keyed the name into the computer, and out came the man's appointment request. "I was just leaving work, so I hope you don't mind if we go over this quickly. Have you brought all the necessary documents? The ID cards for both parties, and the paper proof that neither parties are blood-related across three generations."
"I've got it all here." The man opened the backpack and started to rummage through it. Lee Man thought that she heard a cat. Out of curiosity, she glanced into the man's bag. The backpack was stuffed with a recorder, a comic, a doll, a ballpoint pen, and a furry, white cat.
"Here." The man placed all the required documents on the table. "Everything should be here. I've met the girl's family, and thankfully, they approve of me."
"Looks like you came well prepared." Lee Man registered the man's information, and when she prepared to work on the woman's information, she realized that the woman's IC card could not be used. The computer was unable to read the card's chip. She glanced at the name on the female's IC card, and she noticed something strange. The man before her had come to apply for a marriage license. He had prepared everything and even brought a cat with him, but weirdly enough, his fiancé was nowhere to be seen.
"Sir, I'm sorry." Lee Man stopped working. "You're here to get married, right?"
"Then, where is your girlfriend? How do you plan to get married alone?" Lee Man flashed an embarrassed smile. "Both parties have to be personally present to apply the license."
The wall continued ticking, and the rain outside increased in intensity. The man bit on his lips and lifted his head to look at Lee Man. "She is here. She is just standing behind me."
The platter of the raindrops appeared to intensify, and the air in the room seemed to freeze.
"Sir, please stop joking. Both parties have to be present to apply for a marriage license. If you insist on this, I'm afraid I can't help you." Lee Man held her hand over her chest. For some reason, she started to have trouble breathing.
"She is really here. We are inseparable. Wherever I am, there she'll be." The man's eyes were shining with clarity, and he claimed that with insistence. Seeing the seriousness on the man's face, Lee Man held the ID cards in her hands, and a possibility flashed in her mind.
Looking through the other documents, Lee Man found out that there was a death certificate for the man's fiancé. The time of death was several years ago.
"Sir..." Lee Man wanted to say something else, but seeing the sincerity and immovability on the man's face, she started to hesitate. She glanced at the man's backpack, and the objects inside peeked out at her.
Are those the things left behind by the girl? Do they represent the good memories and good times that they shared together? Perhaps the cat was the girl's pet when she was alive.
In that instant, Lee Man understood why the man would bring so many seemingly unrelated things to the office to register a marriage. The man's claim that his fiancée was always with him took on a different meaning.
With tears pricking her eyes, Lee Man held the girl's ID card. She did not know what to say, whether to offer words of consolation or reveal the horrible truth to him. Her lips slowly opened, but Lee Man could not make herself say those works. She looked at the man before her who was as innocent as a child, and her heart was twisted by a myriad of emotions.
She forced the smile to stay on her face. "Sir, you must have loved her dearly, right? How did you meet?"
"She was the one who started to pursue me. She sent me the first love letter that I have ever received in my life." The man's gaze took on a faraway look like he was going on a trip down memory lane. "Our first date was at an abandoned school."
"Abandoned school? Your first date was at such a unique location?"
"It was Western Jiujiang's Private Academy; the place means a lot to her. I stood inside the dance hall where she used to practice daily. We stood back to back, and she told me her life story."
Lee Man listened quietly, and a romantic picture appeared in her mind. On a quiet, fateful night, a couple shared their memories inside an abandoned school. The school had once been crowded, but they were the only two left. Standing back to back, counting on each other for support, this could be the plot for a sad movie!
"The second date was at a mental asylum; she wore a fiery red dress. She took my breathing away, and her beauty shone like the sun."
"It's because of my parents, so that day, I..."
"Okay, I understand. I'm sorry." Before the man could finish, Lee Man apologized. She did not have the habit of tearing into people's sad pasts. Perhaps his parents were a second scar in the man's heart.
"Our third date was in a skyscraper. I cornered the man who once hurt her inside an elevator and gave him a lesson he would never forget."
"You sure love your girlfriend to have done so many things for her. I bet if she knew what you've done for her, she would be very happy."
"Actually, she was just next to me at the time." The man's expression softened as he thought about the elevator covered with black hair in the Ghost Stories Society's lair.
"It must have been very romantic and warm." Lee Man's impression of the man before her continued to improve.
"Our fourth date was in the underground morgue of a medical university. She hid the fact that she was injured from me. We sat quietly together, and she stole a cheeky hug from me." The man's voice was mellifluous. It was coarse with the maturity of age. As he talked about his past, Lee Man was so caught in the image that, in her mind, she pictured that she overlooked the strangeness of having an underground morgue as a date location.
"Our fifth date was on the roof of a building in a small town. That day was very similar to today; it was raining heavily, and I leaned against her."
Compared to the previous locales, the location this time was so normal that it took Lee Man by surprise. "Did you confess to her that day?"
The man nodded lightly. "I was standing on the highest spot in the town and shouted out the words in my heart to the world. I do not think there is any promise more romantic than promising to be stuck together like a man and his shadow."
"Wow." Lee Man had heard many people's stories before, but none were as shocking and interesting as Chen Ge's. Perhaps because she had seen the death certificate, that knowledge colored her view of the story. "And then?"
"Then..." Chen Ge sucked in a light breath. "She went into a deep slumber, and it took her a long time to wake up. I stayed by her side, waiting for her return."
The proof of death stuck into Lee Man's heart at that moment like a steel needle, and her tears dropped without realizing it. Lowering her head, Lee Man pretended to look for some stuff. While the computer was hiding her face, she swiftly wiped her tears away. She already knew how the story was going to end. No one spoke in the office, and after a long time, it was the man who broke the silence. His hand fell on the seat next to him that was obviously empty. However, from the look on his face, it felt as if he was staring lovingly at his fiancé who was sitting right there. "Our sixth date..."
It was no longer important what the man said next. Lee Man already knew how the story would end. After the man's fiancé passed away, he trapped himself inside a cage known as love. He deluded himself into believing the woman that he loved was still alive. Due to love, he refused to believe the fact that she was already gone. Her hands were pressed together until her fingers were white. Lee Man wanted to tell Chen Ge the truth, but she could not bring herself to burst his bubble.
She buried herself behind the computer and keyed in all the information on the related forms. She wished to help the man fulfil his dream, but when she pressed the enter button, the system told her there was an error. The girl had died several years prior, and there was no information on her in the people's registry.
Reality poured a tub of cold water on Lee Man. She glanced at the man's face that was still caught in his memory. She bit on her lips. "Sir, our server does not have the complete data; the system is currently updating. Unfortunately, I am not able to help you at the moment. Why don't you come back in a week?"
Lee Man had a desperate wish to help the man; she was willing to go to the extent of going outside the law.
"Okay, thank you so much regardless." The man stood up slowly. He packed up all of his stuff and prepared to leave. When he was at the door, he suddenly removed the raincoat and put it over his head as if there was another person standing next to him. "Zhang Ya, don't stray too far away from me. The rain is getting heavier. Be careful."
Lee Man saw everything clearly inside the office. Other than the man himself, there was no one else underneath the raincoat.
Watching the man walk away, Lee Man wiped the corner of her eyes. "Perhaps this is true love; everything starts and ends with you."