I always knew I was different, growing up as I did; the only daughter of a wealthy family. I was lonely for sure, but not overly bothered by it, preferring to live among my books and music; The princess in the tower of my own making.
from three years of age I would recount my life in ancient China. My parents thought me precocious, and would love to bring me out to show to their many guests. I would stand on the table and sing out to the assembled masses, in my childish voice, my life as An-Su, The Peaceful Willow. When questioned about my life then, I would answer truthfully, my voice small and yet confident. I was the Emperor's concubine, I would say, I lived to serve him. If the guests thought me unsettling, they didn't show it, preferring to sip their cocktails and dismiss my tales as exactly that, tales from the mind of a very precocious three year old child. When I turned four, I refused to speak of this again, knowing somehow in my childish mind that it wasn't normal to speak of another life, a life where I was not the daughter of a Dentist and a heart surgeon, but a concubine. And so An-Su was resigned to my heart and memory, haunting my dreams with her beauty and poise.
When I was fourteen, An-Su reared her head once more. I was studying hard, not wanting to disappoint my high achieving parents. They wanted me to get into the Westminster Academy and make them proud. I just wanted to be left alone, and not be bothered with mundane day to day life. But nevertheless, I did as they asked of me, because it was rare they ever did ask anything of me. And so in those fitful scant hours of sleep, she rose like a beautiful spectre from my past wishing to be reborn in this life. An-Su wanted recognition, she wanted to be remembered. There were no pictures of An-Su, reveared in her family temple, incense and candles lit to chase away the evil spirits, she was not left offerings fruit and cakes on feast days. No one knew of An-Su apart from me, no one remembered, except me.
One night in a trance, I painted her picture. I had never shown a talent in art, but my parents wanting me to be the all-rounder had gifted me paints and canvases aplenty. When I woke the next morning, she was there, staring back at me from the still wet canvas. An-Su, The Peaceful Willow. Her eyes implored me, their jade green unusual. I never thought that Chinese girls could be born with green eyes, and yet I knew it was her true likeness. Her face was pale, her eyes brows blackened to make them stand out against the pallor of her skin, her lips red and full. An-Su was indeed one of the most beautiful women I had ever set eyes upon.
I did as she requested, built her a shrine in my bedroom, away from the prying eyes of my parents. I lit incense and candles for her, brought her offerings on the days she requested. And so I passed through my teenage years, worshipping An-Su as a demi-goddess. Knowing her life, knowing all about her. She had been me once, and I had been her, I was her twin soul, split forever at her death into the Yin and the Yang. I was left as if there was always something missing, something missing from my very soul.
When I was eighteen I graduated from Westminster Academy with honours. My parents were eager to plan out my life for me. Why don't you become a Doctor Roe? Why don't you become a dentist? But I knew what I wanted to be. And so I travelled across the oceans to follow my own dream.
Landing in China, I discovered another part of me that had been missing. I enrolled in the University, the only American girl in a sea of chinese faces, and yet my soul was just as Chinese as them all. I studied Ancient Chinese history, wanting to find a trace of An-Su, something that would let her know she wasn't forgotten. And one night, while trawling through scrolls in the campus library I found her. An-Su the concubine of The Emperor Li Shimin, the most famous Emperor of the Tang Dynasty. I knew I had to see his tomb, see where An-Su had entombed herself along side the man that she loved.
With a group of tourists I finally looked upon the Mountain of Jiuzhong, upon the last place on earth that An-Su had been truly happy. I walked in to the tomb, saw the stone bed where An-Su had laid in her final sleep. Touching it, my fingers stroking the dark stone, I felt overcome with grief. And closing my eyes, I felt An-Su take me over, felt her gain access to all of me like never before. She told me her story, in images and words, her voice at last being heard in it's entireity.
I am An-Su, My Beloved Emperor's concubine. Plucked from my house like a lotus blossom, I was transplanted into the Royal palace at ten years old. I learned the ways of pleasing my Master, of dancing for him, of playing the Pipa for his delight. My life became his, I became his property with wholehearted subjugation.
He chose me, saw my beauty, saw my poise, he elevated me above all others, becoming his beloved. And so in perfect love, I served my Master, served him well, until the moment of his passing. Then as promised on his death bed I joined him and his first wife within his tomb, consuming the poison that would end my life, enabling me to join him in paradise. And there I laid until my bones crumbled into dust and blew to the four winds.
When I opened my eyes again, An-Su was gone. No longer my constant soulmate, she had travelled on to the paradise that she craved with her beloved Emperor. And yet I didn't feel sad. I know An-Su has moved on now to a better place. And as long as the breeze moves through the Cherry blossom it will forever whisper An-Su, Peaceful Willow.