Translate: Sae | Proofread: Anasofi
The mobile phone in his pocket had been vibrating for a while, and after the fifth time in only three minutes, Jiang Cheng finally decided to open his eyes.
The coach bus had been on the road for nearly three hours now, and the sky beyond the window rested stilly—decidedly burdened with gloominess. Meanwhile, the young girl beside him was sound asleep with her forehead stitched incommodiously on his right-side shoulder as if it was a free-for-all travel pillow, rendering it downright paralyzed.
He shrugged his shoulder, somewhat irritated. When the girl made a slight turn of her head, he pushed it away with his finger. But within a few seconds, it dropped anchor on his shoulder once more.
With that kind of motion repeating several times, he believed that this girl was not asleep but rather in a coma.
He did not know how much longer it would take until he reached the station since he did not check the time when he had first received the ticket in his hands. What he knew was that, he was going on a journey to a small town that he had never even heard of before.
Life was quite wonderful.
When his mobile phone vibrated for the sixth time, Jiang Cheng exhaled and took it out.
– What happened?
– How come you never mentioned that you were leaving?
– Why did you leave so suddenly?
– Why didn’t you tell me?
How come? How come? How come? Why? Why? Why? BLABLABLABLA…
The messages were sent from Yu Xin, and they were most likely sent while she was making up a missed class, evident in the fact that she did not call directly. With a glance, Jiang Cheng could clearly see that they all ended with a question mark.
Just as he was about to put the phone away, the seventh message came.
– If you don’t reply, I will take it as we have broken up!
Finally, it was not a question mark. He let out a sigh of relief, turned the phone off and put it back in his pocket.
For him, breaking up held no significant, since a relationship that went on for simply two months in high school was nothing more than having something else to talk about compared to the other students; it was in the sense that someone brought him breakfast, and there was always a dedicated cheerleading squad during a ballgame… it was not as if there was an opportunity for any further development.
As he looked at the scenery outside that constantly changed, yet also somehow appeared the same the entire time, the broadcaster finally announced Jiang Cheng’s destination. The girl beside him moved her head, looking as though she was about to wake up. He quickly took out a red pen from his school bag, pulled off the cap and held it in his hand—turning it around and around.
When the girl eventually woke up and picked up her face, there was a large imprint on her forehead as if she had practiced a fatal position of qigong.
After her gaze met with his, the girl wiped the corner of her mouth and blasély took out her mobile phone. Then, as she lowered her head and played on her phone, she nonchalantly said: “Sorry.”
To his surprise, why was it that he could not hear anything remotely close to an apology? Jiang Cheng smiled at her meaningfully. That look gave her a rude awakening before her line of sight fell on the pen rotating in his hand.
Jiang Cheng firmly pressed the cap back on the pen, hard enough for it to create a crisp closing sound.
Two seconds later, she suddenly covered her face, stood up and rushed towards the bathroom at full speed.
Jiang Cheng also stood up and looked outside the window again—the long stygian journey here was at last met with fallen snow. He took his suitcase off the luggage rack, put on his jacket and walked towards the side door of the bus, then pulled his mobile phone out and turned it back on.
The mobile phone was very quiet. Yu Xin’s messages no longer sounded or were being received.
He felt that since the days he was with Yu Xin, this was the very first time she had made him happy—it had certainly not been easy.
But there was also no one else who had contacted him aside from Yu Xin.
For instance, he had thought someone would come to pick him up at the station.
As he followed the crowd of people out of the bus station, Jiang Cheng zipped up his down-filled jacket all the way to the top and looked at the city that appeared gray and dejected in the frigid winter.
The chaos and declining structures around the station were his first impression of the city.
No, those were considered the second impression. The first impression was when his mother declared, ‘go back, that place is where your real family lives’ and thrust him into a blank state of mind.
He dragged his suitcase to the southernmost part of the coach bus station square where there were only a few people. To the side was a small street lined up with all kinds of inns that had an eerie atmosphere looming above them; it was as though once you entered, it would be impossible to exit. There were also questionable small restaurants with an aura that screamed, ‘if you eat here, you’ll be poisoned’.
He sat on his suitcase and looked at his phone, still no one had contacted him.
Although he had both the phone number and address he needed, he did not want to move, he did not want to talk… repeat, he did not want to move. He fished out a stick of cigarette from his pocket and let it hang loose in his mouth. As for suddenly being driven there, he was teeming with a deep and inexplicable sense of loss, despair, and anger.
He stared at the ice on the ground in vexation and flicked his lighter on. When the bitter arctic wind rushed forward from behind his back, he curled up and lit the cigarette. The smoke that drifted in front of him seemed mesmerizing and kept his attention until he eventually let out a sigh.
If the teacher in charge of his class was to see him now, he frankly would not know what to say.
However, it was not important anymore; he was already there, in a far-flung corner of the world—not to mention the teacher, even the people that had been in the same classroom as him for more than ten years would, perhaps, no longer be able to see him.
For all he knew, no one in the worn-out small school of this small and broken-down city would stare at whether or not he smoked.
After he had only smoked half the cigarette, Jiang Cheng could no longer endure the cold air. He stood up and decided that he would hail a taxi and find a place to eat first. But just as he dragged his suitcase only one step forward, he felt something bump into his ankle; the force could not be described as minimal as the collision galvanized a burst of pain into his nerves.
He frowned and turned his head around only to see a skateboard behind him.
Without lifting his head to see where the skateboard had flown from, a person fell down beside his foot.
“How come you’re…” He habitually reached out to help the person up but froze halfway.
A disheveled set of hair that seemed to have been nibbled on by an unhinged dog was long and short in length, and even their clothes were relatively filthy… a beggar? A wayfarer? A swindler?2 A thief?
When the person looked up, Jiang Cheng saw clearly that it was a little girl who appeared to be in the fifth or sixth grade of primary school. Even though her face was completely smeared with mud, it was possible to see that her skin was outstandingly fine with fairly big eyes, full of youth and innocence.
He wanted to help her up again, but just before his hand could move, this little girl was pulled away by four or five more other little girls who had followed her closely; someone even kicked her in the back, which made her stumble, nearly falling down to the ground again.
Jiang Cheng understood what was happening immediately. He hesitated for a moment, then turned around and continued on his way with his suitcase in hand.
A burst of laughter from behind was the sole reason to why his footstep came to another halt.
When he was in a terrible mood, he did not want to meddle in other people’s affairs. By chance, his mood was at the pinnacle of what was considered ‘terrible’. But that little girl’s big, black and clear eyes prompted him to turn back.
“Hey!” he shouted.
A couple of the girls stopped, while the one that seemed to be the leader of the group shot him a callous glance. “What do you want?!”
Jiang Cheng slowly dragged his suitcase over and stared at the leader’s hand that was still gripping ‘big eyes’3 shirt. After two seconds, the leader loosened her hand.
With that, he pulled ‘big eyes’ to his side and glared at the other girls. “Nothing, just go.”
“Who are you, huh?!” The leader was somewhat cowardly, yet still yelled with dissatisfaction.
“I am a big brother with a knife,” Jiang Cheng said as he looked at her. “I can give you a haircut similar to hers in only thirty seconds.”
“I will call my brother here to put you in your place!” The leader was obviously not a habitual criminal as she pulled back a bit at her own words, even her mouth was unconvincing.
“Then let him hurry up.” Jiang Cheng dragged his suitcase with one hand and pulled ‘big eyes’ with the other. “I’m scared to death, so I’ll make sure to run extra fast.”
After those girls left, ‘big eyes’ struggled free of his hold instead.
“Are you okay?” Jiang Cheng asked.
‘Big eyes’ shook her head and walked over to the skateboard, then placed one foot on it and looked at him.
“Yours?” Jiang Cheng asked again.
She nodded, then lightly pressed her foot down and skated toward him. After she came to a steady stop, she still stared at him with those large eyes.
“You should… go back home.” Jiang Cheng nodded casually before he took out his phone for the nth time and walked to the side, intending to call for a taxi.
After he walked for a while, he heard a sound from behind him. He peered back only to see that ‘big eyes’ was on her skateboard, following him at a leisure pace.
“What’s wrong?” Jiang Cheng looked at her.
‘Big eyes’ did not say anything.
“Are you scared they will come back?” Jiang Cheng asked again without any other choice.
‘Big eyes’ shook her head.
“You’re not mute, are you?” Jiang Cheng started to feel a bit annoyed.
‘Big eyes’ continued to shake her head.
“I’m telling you, I…” Jiang Cheng pointed at himself, “I’m in a very bad, very agitated mood right now. I won’t be lenient with hitting a little girl, you know.”
‘Big eyes’ did not budge.
Jiang Cheng stared at her for a while longer. Then, seeing that she had no intention of speaking, he held back his anger and dragged his suitcase forward… again.
The signal around the area was not good, and the app to call for the taxi would not open for the life of him. All he could do was sit his butt down on a block of stone near the public transportation stop and light a stick of cigarette.
‘Big eyes’, who was still on her skateboard, eventually stopped right beside him.
“Is there something else?” Jiang Cheng asked impatiently, now feeling slightly regretful for meddling earlier and putting himself in another weird situation.
‘Big eyes’ still did not utter a word as she lightly kicked her feet on the ground and skateboarded to a spot underneath the small bus station roof; she looked up and stared at the sky above for a long time.
By the time she skateboarded back to where Jiang Cheng was, Jiang Cheng had guessed the reason for her confused expression. He sighed and asked, “Are you lost? And don’t know your way back?”
‘Big eyes’ nodded.
“Are you a local?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Call someone in your family to come and pick you up.” Jiang Cheng said and passed his own mobile phone over to her.
She took the phone, hesitated for a moment before she lowered her head and pressed some numbers, then handed it back to him.4
“What is it?” Jiang Cheng saw that she had already pressed the numbers but did not make the call. “You want me to help you call them?”
“Fuck.” Jiang Cheng’s brows twisted as he pressed down on the call button. But as he listened to the dial tone, he remembered something and quickly asked, “Whose number in your family is this?”
Before ‘big eyes’ could reply, someone, answered the call.
Of course, having guessed that she would not respond, Jiang Cheng simply said, ‘hello’.
“Who is this?” A young man’s voice sounded from the other side.
“A bystander,” Jiang Cheng simply said, not knowing actually how to say it. “There is a little girl here…”
“I don’t want anything,” the person said.
Before Jiang Cheng could return to his senses, the call was disconnected.
“Who was that person?” Jiang Cheng spat the cigarette out and pointed at ‘big eyes’. “If you’re not going to talk, then get lost. I don’t have any more patience.”
‘Big eyes’ squatted beside Jiang Cheng’s leg, picked up a stone and wrote a single character on the ground, “brother”, and then looked back up at him.
“Okay, I got it.” Jiang Cheng felt that this little girl may actually be mute.
He dialed that number again. This time, it only sounded for a moment before the call connected. “Who is this?”
Jiang Cheng looked at the little girl, “Your little sister is here with me…”
“Kill the hostage,” the person answered and then hung up again.
“Fuck!!” Jiang Cheng had an impulse to smash his phone as he pointed at her, “Your name!”
‘Big eyes’ lowered her head and used the stone to write her own name.
顾淼 [Gu Miao].
This time, Jiang Cheng did not call and only sent a text message with a picture of ’big eyes’.
– Gu Miao, mute, skateboard.
Thirty seconds later, his phone went off.
Jiang Cheng connected the call, “It’s too late, the hostage is dead.”
“I’m sorry,” the person said. “Can you tell me where? I’ll head over and see if she can be saved.”
“… the east side of the train station, the especially run-down one.” Jiang Cheng’s brows tightened, “She got lost. You should hurry up, I have things to do.”
“Thank you, thank you very much!” the person answered. “I’ll be there immediately. If you have any urgent matter, you can leave first. She can wait for me there.”
With that settled, Jiang Cheng picked up the half-smoked cigarette that he had thrown on the ground and threw it in the trash bin to the side before lighting up another one.
He originally wanted to directly hail a taxi and leave but thinking that no one cared whether or not he went and whether or not he was there, he did not seem to be in a rush.
After sitting on the skateboard for a while, Gu Miao stood up and rode it back and forth on the sidewalk.
Looking at her, Jiang Cheng was somewhat surprised. He had thought that this little girl was just blindly playing around, hence he did not expect her to execute all kinds of upward and downward moves on the steps; when she sped up and then suddenly turned, it was unexpectedly smooth.
In truth, it was the head of hair that had been cut into a disheveled mess, along with the filthy face and clothes that made people lose interest.
After playing for more than ten minutes, Gu Miao rode to his side and stopped. Then, she firmly pressed the tip of her foot on the skateboard causing it to rise up. After catching it with her hand, she picked up her hand and pointed to somewhere behind Jiang Cheng.
“That was cool!” Jiang Cheng gave Gu Miao a thumbs up and then turned his head around toward the direction she pointed to see a black motorcycle parked behind him.
Since the person on the motorcycle was wearing a helmet, it was impossible to see his face clearly. But, standing there on the sidewalk, wearing slim-fitted gray pants that accentuated his legs and ankles boots to top it off just screamed very… eye-catching.
Tall, and standing straight.
“Your brother?” Jiang Cheng asked Gu Miao.
Gu Miao nodded.
“What happened to your head?” The person on the motorcycle took off his helmet, walked over and stared at Gu Miao’s hair in surprise. “And your face, and clothes… did you fall into a pit of dung?”
Gu Miao shook her head.
“She was bullied by her classmates,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Thanks.” The person’s gaze shifted and fell on Jiang Cheng’s face. “I’m Gu Fei, her older brother.”
Jiang Cheng stood up and shook his hand, “You’re welcome.”
Gu Fei appeared to be around the same age as him; looking at his eyes alone was not a good method to employ to determine whether or not he was Gu Miao’s brother. Although his eyes were not as big as Gu Miao’s, they were quite similar and… his skin was just as fair.
Even though Jiang Cheng’s current mood was like that of a plate of rotten tomato, Gu Fei’s hairstyle was just as eye-catching as his legs—making it impossible for him to not steal another glance or two from the crack of those rotten eyes.
Gu Fei had a very short crew cut. If you leaned in closer, you could make out the music staff shaved to the scalp on both sides of his head. On one side was the bass clef and the other side was a rest, but Jiang Cheng could not clearly decipher how many dots were present.
“Did you just get off the coach bus?” Gu Fei glanced at his suitcase.
“En.”5 Jiang Cheng picked up his phone and continued to an app to call for a taxi.
“Where are you heading? I can take you,” Gu Fei said.
“There’s no need.” Jiang Cheng glanced at his motorcycle—no matter how big, it was still a motorcycle.
“She doesn’t take up much space,” Gu Fei added.
“There’s no need, but thank you,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Tell this brother, thank you.” Gu Fei pointed to Jiang Cheng and then said to Gu Miao, “Dung ball.”
Jiang Cheng turned to look at the “dung ball”, wanting to hear how she was going to speak. As a result, Gu Miao merely hugged her skateboard and gave him a 90-degree bow.
After that, Gu Fei straddled the motorbike and put on his helmet.
“Thanks again.” Gu Fei gave him another glance, started the motorcycle and drove off.
Jiang Cheng sat back down on the block of stone. Surprisingly, the wireless service was quite good at that time, but… even after what seemed like half a day, he still could not get a ride and all the taxis that he had waved for as they passed by would not fucking stop.
What kind of awful place is this?
Although he was in an intensely bad mood, he never had the time to relish it in. He only felt that he had lived in a fundamentally chaotic time, wrapped in all kinds of shock and sense of losses, and even the air around him was hard to inhale—rendering him breathless. He wondered why he had agreed to all of those arrangements and came here.
Just as his mother said, “Our family has never had a rebellious person like you who is completely strung with thorns, always on guard and unapproachable.”
Of course, they were not originally a family. Not to mention, they were more like enemies in recent years with one getting angry at the other upon only one glance.
Jiang Cheng twisted his brows. He never had the time to ponder over those things.
Until then, at that very moment.
In this unfamiliar and frigid city where the snow was floating majestically, he came to his senses.
Despair and pain, and the resistance to all the unknown made him feel sore.
When he lowered his head, the tears beckoned to surface altogether.
By the time his mobile phone sounded, Jiang Cheng was sitting inside a KFC that he did not even know the address of. He glanced at the strange number and then connected the call. “Hello?”
“Is this Jiang Cheng?” The voice of a middle-aged man transmitted from the other side.
Since the voice was a bit too loud, Jiang Cheng moved the phone slightly away from his ear. “Yes.”
“I’m your dad,”6 the person said.
“… oh.” Jiang Cheng grunted in approval. That kind of exchange, unexpectedly, sounded ridiculous—making it hard for him not to laugh.
That person also laughed along, “I am Li Bao Guo. You should know that, right?”
“En,” Jiang Cheng said, sipping a cola.
“Are you at the station?” Li Bao Guo asked.
“I’m here.” Jiang Cheng looked at the time, I’ve been here for two hours.
“Do you have the address? I don’t have a car to go, so there’s no way for me to go and pick you up. Take a taxi here, I’ll wait for you at the intersection,” Li Bao Guo said.
“En.” Jiang Cheng hung up on the call.
This time, luck was on his side. He was able to get a taxi immediately, and surprisingly, one with the heater on; warm enough to the point he felt feverish.
The driver wanted to chat, but Jiang Cheng simply leaned against the window and silently gazed outside the entire time. After several attempts that harbored no success, the driver finally surrendered and switched on the radio.
Jiang Cheng strived to clearly see what the city looked like. But the sky was already sheathed in darkness; the streetlights were not particularly bright, and the snowflakes that fluttered all around, seemingly overtaking all the source of light, were of no aid and instead made him feel faint.
He closed his eyes.
But soon reopened them.
He did not know what was wrong, but he felt exceptionally listless.
When the taxi came to a stop at the location, Jiang Cheng got out, took his suitcase and stood at the intersection.
No one was there.
The shadow of the person that claimed, ‘I’m your dad’, named Li Bao Guo was nowhere in sight.
Jiang Cheng suppressed the ire in his heart, and while the pain from the wind cut his face, he dialed Li Bao Guo’s number.
“Ai, this stinking…” Li Bao Guo finally answered the call after a long while later, “Hello?”
“I am at the intersection.” Jiang Cheng listened to his movements on the other side and wanted to immediately hang up and find a hotel to stay at instead.
“Huh? You arrived there that fast?” Li Bao Guo exclaimed in surprise, “I’m here, I’m here. I will be out immediately.”
That immediately took longer than five minutes. Just as Jiang Cheng dragged his suitcase to the crossroad and hailed for a taxi, a man wearing a Lei Feng7 hat8 ran over and pressed his hand on his shoulder. He shouted at the top of his lungs, “Jiang Cheng, right?!”
Jiang Cheng did not utter a word. He had seen Li Bao Guo running out of a residential building that was literally right behind him.
When he looked towards the second-floor window and saw several heads looking in their direction, he really did not want to talk anymore.
“I was just at a friend’s place for a while. Let’s go, let’s go.” Li Bao Guo patted his shoulder, “Let’s go home, let’s go home… you look a lot taller than in the picture.”
Jiang Cheng kept his eyes down on the muddy pavement and followed him.
“Hey,” Li Bao Guo patted his back for a while, “How many years has it been? More than ten years, right? I finally get to see my son! I have to take a good look.”
Li Bao Guo grabbed his head, placed it right before his eyes and stared at him.
Jiang Cheng pulled up the face mask9 that was resting near his chin, covering half his face.
He suddenly felt that his entire being had become absolutely empty, even the atmosphere was charged with confusion.
1 Qigong – (alternatively spelled chi gung or chi kung) is a form of gentle exercise composed of movements that are repeated a number of times, often stretching the body, increasing fluid movement (blood, synovial and lymph) and building awareness of how the body moves through space.
2 Swindler 碰瓷 – (coll.) to scam sb by setting up an “accident” in which one appears to have sustained damage or injury caused by the scam victim, then demanding compensation (variations include putting “expensive” porcelain in a place where it is likely to be knocked over by passers-by, and stepping into the path of a slow-moving car)
3 ‘Big eyes’ – refers to the little girl that is/was being bullied; she will be mentioned as ‘big eyes’ until her name is revealed
4 Jiang Cheng and Gu Miao’s exchange in this part; super cute. T.T
5 “En” 嗯 – an interjection indicating approval, approval or agreement; and can be akin to the word ‘yeah’ and ‘En’
6 爸爸 bàba – (informal) father; (formal) 父亲 fuqin
7 Lei Feng [雷锋] – Léi Fēng (18 December 1940 – 15 August 1962) was a soldier of the Chinese army in Communist legend. After his death, Lei was characterized as a selfless and modest person devoted to the Communist Party, Mao Zedong, and the people of China. In 1963, he became the subject of a nationwide posthumous propaganda campaign, “Follow the examples of Comrade Lei Feng.” Lei was portrayed as a model citizen, and the masses were encouraged to emulate his selflessness, modesty, and devotion to Mao. After Mao’s death, Lei Feng remained a cultural icon representing earnestness and service.
8 Lei Feng Hat
9 Face mask – original purpose is used to protect the face and nose from the cold air.