A Grown Son can’t Remain Home Either
It was almost the middle of the month and the streets once enclosed with peacefulness, at long last, began to bustle with noise and excitement. Once the sun rose early in the morning, Bai Luoyin and Yang Meng rushed toward the entrance of the main street which had been completely decorated with the traditional features of ocean decorations and Chinese lanterns. As they promenaded around, their eyes absorbed the lively sceneries. They encountered various performances from traditional Chinese opera, magic shows, acrobatics to… even the distinguishable characteristics of old Beijing’s vendors, loudly broadcasting and advertising their products.
When the blazing sun soared into high into the brightest peak and basked the entire street with it brilliant, they joined the horde of people, happily watching and applauding the lion and dragon dance show as it paraded down the street in all its magnificence.
Their eyes were dazzled by an endless array of mouth-watering delicacies that laid out in front of them, tickling the five senses that entangled their taste buds. This exhibition was indeed a feast for their hungry eyes. Just like that, Bai Luoyin and Yang Meng could no longer let their stomach suffered in such agony. So as to cure their hunger, they strolled through the street and tried as many things as possible until their stomach hit its capacity and satisfaction settled in.
“Hey, those lanterns over there with the riddles on them, if they are answered correctly, there’s a prize,” Yang Meng proclaimed in excitement.
Bai Luoyin followed behind Yang Meng to have a closer look at the riddles.
Before him was a large plaque with a red paper attached at the top with several strings of riddles written boldly on each sheet of red lantern paper—the powerful strokes that permeated with each character was visibility delightful.
The rule on the plaque read:
All those who guess correctly will receive a sticky rice ball in a sweet soup or sticky rice dumpling. The more you guess correctly, the more you will receive but one wrong guess and it will game over. No second chance.
When it was Bai Luoyin’s turn, he answered the first two riddles with much ease. Yang Meng who stood to the side was given the responsibility of holding onto the prizes. Once those precious prizes were within his grasp, no one could pry it out of his hands. But toward the end, there were so many prizes nestled against his chest and in both of his hand that he could barely hold on to them.
The stall owner’s pallid face was riddled with embarrassment. If this continued, all the riddled on the plague would sooner than later be decoded in less than five minutes.
Bai Luoyin continued, “The fifth riddle on the third row, that idiom is, “A crowd of good friends gathered together.”
The girl in charge of verifying all the answers looked extremely petrified as she said, “Incorrect,” with a very low voice and almost inaudible tone.
The stall owner, whom beforehand stood to the side, interrupted with a loud and ear-splitting tone: “Wrong! Next!”
Bai Luoyin firmly believed in his answer. There was no doubt that he had answered correctly. He snatched the answer book from the girl for a look and as expected, his answer was verified.
“Are you serious, how can you be like this? We obviously answered correctly yet you still have the nerve to accuse us of being wrong? Or is it that, you can’t give us our prizes?” Yang Meng bellowed, using Bai Luoyin’s fierceness to flaunt this momentary superiority.
In the end, the stall owner himself came out. With a smile adorning his lips, he confronted Bai Luoyin and Yang Meng.
“It’s the Lantern Festival, a very auspicious day. It is not that we are unable to give you the prizes, it is just that we encourage more people to participate and have a go at it as well. Two handsome men like yourselves, I know you are both knowledgeable at answering these riddles. You want the prizes and you can easily obtain them, but the crucial point is that those people standing patiently at the side. You also have to give them an opportunity to win some prizes too, right?”
Bai Luoyin laughed to this statement and turn to leave the premises with the dignity of a gentleman enveloping his stature.
“Wait for a second, take these!”
Bai Luoyin turned around and with great agility, he skillfully caught the package that was tossed in his direction by someone on the other side.
After he steadied his footing, he finally saw clearly what it was. Yang Meng could not help but cry out in alarm, “Those are some freaking huge ass sticky rice balls! Is it… is it even cooked!?”
Bai Luoyin’s eyes froze and somberness congealed the blood that once graced his picturesque features.
A memory flashed across his mind and drowned out the loud noises of the streets.1
Once dusk sauntered by, all the street lights were turned on. Bai Luoyin and Yang Meng stood at the corner to admire the beauty of all the lights as it illuminated across the street, painting a picture-perfect illustration of the festival in all its’ glory. Afterward, they made their way back home with contentment already poured deeply into their heart.
By the time Bai Luoyin got to the courtyard of his house, food was prepared and everyone was waiting patiently for his arrival. Once Meng Tong Tian saw Bai Luoyin’s figure approached, he pulled a chair over and gestured for him to quickly sit down.
“Come, come, come, supper is ready,” Bai Han Qi announced excitedly as his signature smile crept swiftly toward the corners of his lips.
Everyone lifted the cups in their hands, regardless of whether it was liquor or a soft drink, they toasted each other first before exchanging any words.
“Wait, we should eat the sweet sticky dumplings first.”
“That’s right! It goes without saying that our Tong Tian is the most intelligent.”
The whole family surrounded the table and happily ate and chat at the same time. Their faces were full to the brim with happiness and the events of the previous days did not affect their mood. It seemed as if they had mutually agreed to seal their lips and bury those unfortunate occurrences. It was the last day of the lunar month, they had long ago resolved to only talk about all joyous things and determined to perpetuate happiness and harmonious until the very last minute last second of that year.
Bai Luoyin calm and quietly looked at everyone smiling faces. He listened to them discussed cheerful stories, ate soggy sweet dumplings, and sooner a strong pervasive warmth infiltrated into the bottom of his heart.
It was unfortunate that he had that kind of mother, but he was fortunate enough to have such a great family that forgave and loves him dearly. A gleaming reflection of tears in the light shone on those earthen eyes of Bai Luoyin. He willed them away before he placed his chopsticks down and walked out.
Aunt Zou noticed that Bai Luoyin had left so she prodded Bai Han Qi and asked, “Why did Yin Zi eat so little today?”
“I’ll go and take a look.”
Bai Han Qi followed behind his son’s shadow.
Bai Luoyin returned to his own room, gathered up some things and dragged his luggage out. A bag of sticky sweet balls, that he had won earlier, was held tightly in his hand as he pushed the door open and made his way out.
Bai Han Qi stood planted at the front door, looking at Bai Luoyin with amazement as Bai Luoyin got closer.
“Where are you going so late at night?”
Bai Luoyin allowed his gaze to reach his father’s face, “Dad, I have to go back.”
“Today is the fifteenth day of the lunar month, the time when the whole family is together. Why don’t you go back once the holiday ends?”
Bai Luoyin didn’t move.
Bai Han Qi looked the expression on Bai Luoyin’s face, knowing full well that he will undoubtedly leave, but at the same, he still wished for him to stay.
“Why don’t you at least finish eating your meal before you leave?”
Bai Luoyin struggled as a mini-war broke out from deep within, but still, he faced Bai Han Qi. “I finished. Please talk to grandpa and grandma and let them know that I’ll be back in two days.”
Bai Han Qi let out a long sigh, his heart was somewhat unwilling to let go. However, he still patted Bai Luoyin’s shoulder and looked at with understandings as an air of approval permeated from his gaze.
“Go then. There’s still a whole family here, even with one less member, it will still be lively. Da Hai’s dad went to the army base so don’t let him celebrate the New Year alone.”
Nobody understands their son better than his father.
Bai Luoyin remained unresponsive. He merely turned and walked out of the courtyard.
Bai Han Qi stood against the strong whistling sound of the Northern wind and watched as Bai Luoyin’s shadow gradually disappeared into the distance. A bitter sadness welled up in his chest and he could not help the tears that reared its way around the corner of his eyes. It was said that when a girl has come of age, she will not remain at home any longer, how can it be that a grown son cannot remain at home either?2
Gu Hai was dragged from slumber and into consciousness from his position on the sofa. The lights in the room remained on and the windows were still opened wide. He was unable to distinguish whether it was daytime or nighttime—even worse, the exact time or date. He was not certain how many days he had spent in this bemused and hazy frame of mind. His eyes, once like two pristine stones of onyx, now lifelessly wandered toward every corner of the room.
The whole room was in complete disorder, almost as if it had been replaced with an uninhabited jungle. Bottles upon bottles of liquor were scattered everywhere, covering the floor as it laid unwavering in the silent room. Some bottles were full, some were half-consumed, and some were completely empty of its intoxicating content. While some were strewed across the floor upside-down, others were standing upright… aside from liquor, his stomach was empty of all other solid substances. The agonizing pain of hunger set aflame the heartache and sorrow that ate at his internal—relentlessly tearing apart every vitality that once resided within.
When his lips pressed roughly against the bottles, the refreshingly cool yet bitter taste flowed down his throat and extinguished the painful attacks of the fiery flames. He allowed the liquor to consume his consciousness until he could no longer perceive any emotion and only then was, he able to rest his head and resume the slumber that was taken away from him.
Gu Hai stood upright, from his bones to the muscles, these two mechanisms that allowed him to be mobile, ached painstakingly. He dragged his tired and somnolent feet over toward the windows and with one swift motion, he pulled open the curtains, revealing the darkness of the night that had devoured the city. His solemn eyes swept across the landscape. The lights outside were stunning to his vision. More than art, more than aestheticism, life presented beauty in thousands upon thousands of variations; it was indeed, a gigantic panorama of eternal change that befell his eyes.
Large crowds of people spread out all around the streets beneath his looming shadow—blossoming and dancing amongst the unseen clouds in the midst of the Southwestern night sky were fireworks. It soared higher and higher into the vastness of the heavens and scattered in all directions before fading into the shadow of the sparkling stars…
Taken aback, Gu Hai drew the curtains close, sealing his sight from the gatherings outside. His hand gripped the refrigerator door open only to find that nothing was in there. His eyes like a global positioning system, mapped out and stalked the floor below his shadow and not before long, located a bottle of red wine that had not been opened yet. He then fished around in the tight crevices of the sofa and found the wine opener that had secretly hidden itself. With skilled hands, he jabbed the corkscrew into the secured cap of the wine bottles, twisted it several times and unplugged the cork. The bottle kissed his desolated lips and the intoxicating liquid rushed inside his awaiting tongue.
Gulp, gulp, gulp. He chugged it down, but after only two gulps, the doorbell suddenly rang.
His throat paused, practically stopping for a moment. Pretending not to hear the invading sound, he continued to force down several more gulps.
The doorbell rang again.
With a sullen yet calm demeanor, Gu Hai dropped the wine bottle on a nearby table, straightened up and walked toward the door.
A burst of pain shot through his forehead from all the alcohol. All ten of his fingers that had not been active for days felt clumsy and awkward as if they were not a part of his body. He struggled to turn the doorknob before he somehow managed to jerk it open.
A lonely figure stood outside.
Gu Hai stared blankly… dumbfounded.
Bai Luoyin was still wearing the same down jacket that he had worn the day he left. He dragged the same luggage as before. And his hands were kept warm by the same pair of gloves that Gu Hai had given him that Christmas Eve—all those weeks ago.
His hand was gripping the bag of sticky sweet dumplings as two attentively red ears peered down at Gu Hai.
At that moment, time seemed to cease. Neither of them said a word as they silently observed each other while an intense emotional reunion surrounded them.
At long last, Gu Hai strode over and let each step lessened the proximity between them. He suddenly pulled Bai Luoyin over and held him tightly in his arms, trapping him in his never-ending warmth.
No one can describe that feeling of when you recover everything that you have lost. That feeling was the same that was overwhelming Gu Hai now—attacking his heart until he was teetering on the verge of collapsing. The edge of the cliff was going to crumble any time now, sending him into an endless pit.
No can anyone put into words or come to understand what Bai Luoyin felt at that very moment, how precious… how dear Gu Hai was to him.
Gu Hai wrapped one of his arms firmly around Bai Luoyin’s back as if to embed him into his own body, while the other hand, curled around the back of Bai Luoyin’s head. With his face slightly turned, his cold lips gently caressed the outer edge of Bai Luoyin’s ear, allowing himself to take solace in Bai Luoyin’s heat.
Originally, Bai Luoyin’s heart was very calm. Even when he pressed the doorbell, he did not have any feeling or expectation, but once Gu Hai hugged him with such intensity, all kinds of emotions effervescence to the surface—sparks of electricity ruptured through his body, igniting his nerves and encasing him in a feeling that he refused to word.
After what seemed like an eternity, Bai Luoyin spoke first.
“Gu Hai, I’ll remember this, you owe me one.”
Gu Hai’s body froze, and as he released Bai Luoyin, a steadfast resolution rained over him.
“I will repay you back!”
With a faint smile, Bai Luoyin almost relieved, urged Gu Hai to take his belongings inside.
Gu Hai peered down and noticed the bag in Bai Luoyin’s hand: “What’s this?”
“Sticky rice balls. I won them by answering all the riddles on the lanterns correctly.”
Gu Hai took the bag and glanced at the digital clock hanging on the wall only to finally realize that it was the Lantern Festival.
He felt extremely touched and a twinge of happiness manifested within him.
“Then, let me boil them, you just need to sit here and wait.”
After he said that, he hurried into the kitchen. Just as he was about to turn the stove on, he caught sight of Bai Luoyin who had joined him.
“I’m warning you. You better cook them thoroughly in one go this time. If you keep on tasting one and throwing one out as you go, there won’t be anything left for us to eat.
1 This reminded Bai Luoyin’s of when Gu Hai cooked dumplings for him, and before he gave it to Bai Luoyin, he would check to see if it was cooked or not.
2 This refers to when a girl gets married and move out to live with her husband, so to Bai Han Qi, how can it be that this notion would apply to a son too. XD You funny man you!