Translate: An | Edit: Sae
According to his mother’s words… Jiang Cheng suddenly felt like this title was a bit strange. His train of thought was bizarrely abrupted, and whatever words were forgotten in a flash.
In the past ten years or so of his life, having parents and a family was all he knew. Whether the relationship was good or bad, mother was always a woman named Shen Yi Qing, father was a man named Jiang Wei, and his younger brother who had always been unaffectionate… now all of a sudden, there was another addition to the set, Li Baoguo and… a few other names he had already forgotten.
He honestly could not wrap his head around it.
The relationship he had with his family was indeed stricken with tension; be it his parents or younger brother, they would all ignite upon contact. Thinking back, he had not talked to his brother in almost a year and even his overtly calm and restrained mother was often caught losing her composure.
Even if that kind of situation had continued since he entered middle school all the way to high school — with him having often contemplated about never returning home and never seeing his parents — the idea of never seeing the face that seemed to have been molded from ones of his parents… when this moment befell him like a wish coming true right before his eyes, he still felt shaken.
Ever since his mother had said, “There’s something I have to tell you”, a few months of cold war and formalities pursued. Even now, everything that had happened felt like a dream he could not come to sense with.
Most of the time, he did not feel much discomfort or agony.
What existed was just confusion.
“Cold?” Li Baoguo turned around and coughed a few times before he asked, “It’s much colder here than where you previously came from, right?”
“En,” Jiang Cheng replied behind his face mask.
“It’ll be warm once we’re inside,” Li Baoguo said. Unfortunately, he then coughed loud and hard enough for his spit to sprayed on Jiang Cheng’s face. “I’ve already cleaned and arranged a room especially for you.”
“Thank you,” Jiang Cheng answered, pulling his face mask up.
“What is there to thank between us.” Li Baoguo coughed and grinned at the same time as he patted Jiang Cheng’s back a few times. “There’s no need to say thanks between us father and son!”
Jiang Cheng could not respond. Those two slaps on his back were particularly vigorous. At first, he had inhaled a lung full of cold air and wanted to cough, but once he heard Li Baoguo coughed, he wanted to cough even more. With two more slaps, he simply leaned towards the ground and coughed wildly to the point his tears nearly came out.
“Your body isn’t that great eh,” Li Baoguo looked at him. “You have to exercise. When I was your age, I was as strong as a bear.”
Once again, Jiang Cheng declined to answer. Instead, he bent over slightly and pulled out his arm, giving the man a thumbs up.Li Baoguo started to laugh joyously: “Exercise! I still have to depend on you to take care of me later on!”
Hearing that, Jiang Cheng straightened his back and glanced at him.
“Let’s go.” Li Baoguo slapped him on the back again.
“Don’t touch me.” Jiang Cheng knitted his eyebrows together.
“Yo?”1 Li Bao Guo froze, fairly round eyes peered at him, “What?”
Jiang Cheng looked him in the eye for a moment before he pulled down his mask: “Don’t slap my back.”
Li Baoguo’s home was situated on an old, small street with little shops of every kind on either side. They were crippled yet full of vitality and breadths of life—food, clothes, and products for daily use were all available with low lying apartment buildings sited on top of the shops.
Jiang Cheng raised his head to look past the intersecting electrical cords hanging above only to see the walls. The original color of the exterior walls was impossible to decipher, especially whether the dark gloomy color came from the sky outside or if they were originally like that.
With a heart full of feelings, he could not quite place, he followed Li Baoguo into a hallway. They cut through a few piles of miscellaneous objects, vegetables and came to a full stop in front of a door at the innermost side of the first floor.
“The environment here definitely can’t compare to the one you were previously in,” Li Baoguo said as he opened the door. “But what’s mine is yours!”
Jiang Cheng did not say anything as he glanced at the hallway in which a light bulb was covered by spider webs. He could virtually feel the bulb being suffocated until it was unable to breathe.
“What’s mine is yours!” Li Baoguo opened the door, turned around, and patted his shoulder heavily. “What’s yours is mine! That’s the relationship between a father and a son!”
“I told you, don’t touch me.” Jiang Cheng said, rather irritated.
“Yo,” Li Baoguo walked into the room and turned on the light. “You’ve really been spoiled rotten, talking to an elder like that. Let me tell you, I’ve never spoiled your brother and sister before. If you had grown up at home this whole time, I would’ve fixed you up with some beatings…come, you’ll sleep in this room… this room was previously your brother’s…”
Jiang Cheng did not listen to what Li Baoguo had to say as he dragged his suitcase into the room. Seeing that this apartment was only a two-bedroom unit, it really did make one wonder how a large family was previously able to live in such a small space.
The room that was supposedly ‘cleaned and arranged’…was probably not cleaned. Without so much a glance inside and just merely smelling the odor, one could easily deduce that the dust particles in the air were mingled with a mild taste of mold.
Inside was an old wardrobe, a study table and a frame-rack bed piled with miscellaneous junk on the upper level. However, the lower level was clean with the bed sheet and quilt newly washed.
“Leave your things in here and arrange them tomorrow,” Li Baoguo said. “Let us father and son have a drink.”
“Drink what?” Jiang Cheng stared blankly and then took a glimpse at his phone; it was almost ten o’clock.
“Alcohol.” Li Baoguo looked at him, “We haven’t seen each other for the past ten years or so. It’s only natural that we have to have a drink to celebrate this occasion!”
“…No,” Jiang Cheng was a bit speechless, “I don’t want to drink.”
“You don’t want to drink?” Li Baoguo’s eyes grew in diameter. After he stared intently at him for a few seconds, his eyes finally contracted, and a smile appeared instead, “Don’t tell me you haven’t had a drink before? You’re already in high school…”
“I don’t want to drink,” Jiang Cheng interrupted him. “I want to sleep.”
“Sleep?” Li Baoguo froze, somewhat perplexed at such a demand. However, he did not question further and instead turned around to leave while simultaneously uttering some words with his hoarse voice. “Sure, sure, sure, you can sleep, sleep.”
Jiang Cheng closed the door to his room and stood for almost five minutes before he walked to the closet.
Once the closet door opened, he was instantly paralyzed by the strong scent of mothballs that assaulted his senses. A wardrobe with two doors was completely packed halfway with quilts, blankets, old cotton-padded jackets, and towels that had fringes flowing like tassels from the side.
This state of mind was difficult to express. Jiang Cheng was positive that he was not longing for the home and family members living many hours away. However, he sincerely started to miss his own room.
He took out a few random articles of clothing from his suitcase and hung them in the wardrobe while the rest was kept in the suitcase and stored at the bottom of the wardrobe. Afterward, he grabbed a bottle of perfume and sprayed it inside the closet numerously before he finally closed the door and sat on the bedside.
When his phone sounded, he took it out for a look only to see that ‘mom’ displayed on the screen; that prompted him to answer the call.
“Did you arrive yet?” His mother’s voice sounded from the other side.
“En,” Jiang Cheng responded.
“The conditions are not as good to the home here,” mother simply worded. “You will probably need some time to adjust.”
“There’s no need.” Jiang Cheng said.
Mother paused for a second, “Xiao Cheng, I still hope you don’t feel…”
“I don’t.” Jiang Cheng said.
“In these ten years or so, we didn’t treat you unfairly. Your father and I have never let you know that you were adopted, right?” Mother’s voice held a hint of her sternness that was usually there.
“But I still found out,” Jiang Cheng said. “And I have also been kicked out.”
“Don’t you forget, your father ended up in the hospital on New Year’s because of you! He still hasn’t been discharged yet!” Mother’s voice increased in volume.
Jiang Cheng did not respond. He truly could not understand what his father being admitted into the hospital, due to pneumonia, had to do with him.
And what his mother had to say afterward, he miraculously did not hear it clearly. This was his skill—what was undesirable to his ear could not enter his brain regardless of anything.
Mother’s harsh yet vacuous criticism and what he considered to be a completely ineffective conversation, was the binding seal for his break down.
He did not want to listen. He did not want to quarrel in this alien environment that caused his whole body to fall into discomfort.
When the call ended, he could no longer remember the things that were said. What mother said, what he said, all were already forgotten.
I want to take a shower, Jiang Cheng stood up and went to open the door. When he looked into the living room, there was no one there.
He cleared his throat and coughed a few times but still, no one responded.
“Are you… there?” He walked into the living room, truthfully unsure of what to call Li Baoguo.
The room was very small—standing in the living room one could easily see the doors to the bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. Li Baoguo was not in the room.
He probably went out to play cards. He’s the kind of person who stayed to play a few more rounds instead of picking someone up from the intersection.
“Come on—let’s play cards ah—there’s a lot of time anyway.” Jiang Cheng sang as he pushed open the bathroom door. “Come on—let’s bathe ah—anyways…”
There was no water heater in the bathroom.
“Anyways…” he continued to sing as he turned around to look into the kitchen that was connected to the bathroom. There was no water heater there either; only an electric heater was attached to the faucet. “Anyways…”
He could no longer sing. After he paced around the room a few more times to confirmed that there was indeed no water heater, he only felt his heart stifling. His hand smashed against the faucet. “Fuck.”
Having wandered around all day, it would be impossible for him to fall asleep without showering.
In the end, he had no choice but to return to his room and drag out his luggage. He pulled out a collapsible bucket and carried buckets after buckets of water into the bathroom, all the while only wearing his underpants. Going back and forth, half-rubbing and half-washing himself, he eventually finished up.
As he walked out of the bathroom, a cockroach ran past his feet. He leaped up to avoid it, almost hitting his head on the door.
When Jiang Cheng returned to his room and turned off the light in an attempt to force himself to sleep, he noticed that the room had no curtains, and the reason he was unable to see the scene outside was due to the filthy window.
He pulled the cover up, but out of hesitation, he tugged at the corner for a sniff. Once he confirmed that it was clean, he let out a sigh of relief but truthfully, he wasn’t even in the mood to sigh.
Jiang Cheng kept his eyes closed for over half an hour, however, even when his eyes felt sore, sleep still did not succumb. Just as he was thinking of having a cigarette, his phone buzzed.
He picked it up for a glance, it was Pan Zhi who sent him a text.
– The fuck, you left? What the hell is going on?
Jiang Cheng lit a cigarette and dialed Pan Zhi’s number, and as he held the cigarette in his mouth, he moved toward the window and thought about opening it.
Unfortunately, the window was veiled by dust and rust. He fidgeted for a while, and even when Pan Zhi had already answered the phone, the window did not move a single jot.
“Cheng?” Pan Zhi had his voice lowered to the volume of a thief on the job.
“Fuck.” Jiang Cheng’s finger was pricked by some unidentified foreign object. He tightened his brows and swore to himself, finally giving up on the thought of opening the window.
“What’s your situation?” Pan Zhi’s voice was still restrained. “Today, I heard from Yu Xin that you left? Didn’t you say that you’d tell when you were leaving? I even bought a pile of gifts to see you off with!”
“Mail them to me.” Jiang Cheng pulled on his coat, and with the cigarette in his mouth, he walked into the living room. But just as he opened the door and took the first step out, he realized that he did not have the keys to this place. With no choice but to retreat, Jiang Cheng opened the window in the living room instead.
His current mood was as appalling as a violent windstorm. As long as another cent of displeasure came his way, he would be able to break out into a verse of battle songs, full of anger and annoyance.
“You’re already there?” Pan Zhi asked.
“En.” Jiang Cheng leaned against the windowsill and looked out into the onyx-colored darkness of the street.
“So, how is it? How’s that biological father of yours?” Pan Zhi questioned again.
“Do you have a matter to discuss?” Jiang Cheng said, “I don’t want to talk right now.”
“Shit, it’s not like I was the one who threw you there,” Pan Zhi raged. “What are you getting irritated at me for? When your mother proposed that, ‘an agreement from the adoptee must be obtained’, you didn’t hesitate at all, now you’re sulking!”
“Not hesitating doesn’t conflict with displeasure.” Jiang Cheng blew out a mouthful of smoke.
The road that did not have a soul in sight suddenly produced a small thin human shadow; with a step on the skateboard, it flew by at a surprising speed.
Jiang Cheng got distracted and thought back to the little girl called Gu Miao. There sure are a lot of people playing with skateboards in this lousy little town.
“How about I go there?” Pan Zhi suddenly asked.
“En?”2 Jiang Cheng did a double take.
“I said I’ll go and visit you,” Pan Zhi restated. “There’s still a couple days left before school starts. I can personally deliver the things I bought for you too.”
“No.” Jiang Cheng rejected.
“Don’t be stubborn with me, you didn’t tell anyone else your situation. Right now, you only have me to provide you some warmth.” Pan Zhi sighed, “Just let me go and comfort you.”
“Comfort how,” Jiang Cheng declared, “With your mouth?”
“Fuck! Damn you Jiang Cheng, have a bit of shame,3 okay?!” Pan Zhi screamed from the other side.
“Since you’re so enthusiastic and adamant about seeing me off, what do I need shame for? I should cooperate with you.” Jiang Cheng circled the room with the cigarette in his hand and found an ‘eight treasures congee can’4 covered by cigarette ashes. When he opened it, the years of built up cigarette odor almost caused him to vomit before he even had time to clearly identify the content inside.
He threw the cigarette butt inside and closed the lid—at that moment, he felt like he never wanted to smoke ever again for the rest of his life.
This was a strange and displeasing environment, with a strange and displeasing “family”.
Jiang Cheng thought this situation would cause him insomnia, but as he laid on the bed, the agony from not being able to fall asleep vanished. He unexpectedly realized he was sleepy, and not just sleepy—it was drowsiness along with the extreme fatigue, similar to having spent over half a month pulling late-nights cramming for exams.
How very unexpected.
After he closed his eyes, he slept as if he lost had all consciousness.
A night without dreams.
When he woke up in the morning to the initial sensation of his entire body feeling sore, Jiang Cheng had the conception of his real identity being a worker carrying heavy loads at the dock, the kind where he had yet to finish his weekly portions of work.
He looked at his phone for the time. It was quite early, only a bit over eight.
As he put on his clothes and walked out of the room, he saw that everything in the room had maintained its arrangement from the previous night, even the other unoccupied bedroom had a bed that remained the same.
Li Baoguo didn’t return for the whole night?
Jiang Cheng tightened his brows. After he finished washing up, he felt a bit embarrassed. His attitude last night was a bit harsh—there were no bad intentions behind Li Baoguo pulling him for a drink since it honestly could only count as having different habits, yet he harshly rejected the offer. It can’t be that Li Baoguo didn’t return all night because of that, right?
He hesitated for a bit and took out his phone with the intention of giving Li Baoguo a call. Although they did not drink together last night, there should not be a problem in having breakfast together in the morning.
As he was dialing the numbers, the sound of keys jingling passed through the door, and the lock followed suit. The sounds sustained for twenty, thirty seconds before the door was finally opened.
Li Baoguo walked in, enveloped in a body of cold air. His face was dim and his features full of fatigue.
“You’re up?” Li Baoguo’s loud voice sounded as he saw Jiang Cheng, “You woke up quite early, did you sleep well?”
“…not bad.” Jiang Cheng got a whiff of thick cigarette smell from Li Baoguo as he answered, it was also mixed with some ineffable foul scent—like the red, green leathered train seats from long ago.
“Have you eaten breakfast?” Li Baoguo took off his coat, shook it, and the smell grew stronger. The living room that was not big, to begin with, was now filled with the strange odor.
“Not yet,” Jiang Cheng said. “How about we…”
“There are many shops that sell breakfast right outside, you can go eat,” Li Baoguo said. “I’m tired so I’m going to take a nap first. If I don’t wake up at noon, you can also eat by yourself.”
Jiang Cheng watched as he entered the other bedroom, and without taking off any of his clothes, he crashed onto the bed and pulled the cover up. He speechlessly asked: “Last night… what were you doing?”
“Playing cards. Lately, my luck has been really bad. But it was quite good yesterday! You, my boy, have brought me good fortune!” Li Baoguo happily said as he closed his eyes.
Jiang Cheng took the pair of keys that were placed on the table and turned to exit the door. He felt that his embarrassment from early was much too naive.
The snow had stopped, yet the air that swept by was frigid and cutting as it penetrated his bones.
The narrow streets contained more liveliness in the morning with people and cars in sight, and even the sound of firecrackers could be heard. However, when everything became bright, the dilapidation soon became visible.
Jiang Cheng wandered the streets back and forth until he eventually walked into a dumpling house. Having eaten a few stuffed-buns and a bowl of tender tofu-curd, he still did not feel the sore pain leave his body. On the contrary, it seemed to have awakened further unpleasantness.
Thinking that he might have caught a cold, he bought a box of medicine from the nearby drugstore after breakfast.
After he purchased the medicine, he stood on the sides of the street feeling a little uncertain. Should I go back?
The image of Li Bao Guo falling into bed encased in a body of weird odor perturbed him, he was not sure what he could even do once he returned.
To sleep or to stare blankly into space?
He stood at the front of the drugstore for a few minutes and decided to stroll around nearby as to get familiar with the place he was not sure how long he would be residing.
He walked aimlessly along an alleyway onto the main street and made a turn into another small alley that was parallel to the previous. Jiang Cheng wanted to determine whether there was a direct path that could take him back or not.
In this alley, he saw a small music store and an ice cream shop with an interior that was very pinkish and delicately decorated. But aside from these two stores, the other stores were no different from the previous street.
As he passed by a place that was decorated like a small supermarket but was actually just a shop for miscellaneous goods, he stopped and pushed the door in, intending to buy a bottle of water so that he could take the medicine.
When warm air mixed with the musky scent of lemons struck him in the face upon stepping in the store, he stopped at the entrance and immediately wanted to turn back.
There were four people crammed in the small area behind the cash register counter—everyone was either sitting or leaning on the chair.
The moment he entered, the people who were originally chatting, all stopped abruptly and simultaneously cranked their heads to stare at him.
Jiang Cheng studied these four people, from their physical features to their facial expression, from their apparels to mannerism; each of their faces seemed to have a single character spelled on it.
不，是，好，鸟。[Bu, Shi, Hao, Niao]5
Just as he was hesitating on whether to turn around and leave or to grab a bottle of water from the nearby shelf, the corner of Jiang Cheng’s eyes landed on three other people who were crammed in front of the storage rack.
He turned his head but did not see the people clearly. First, he saw a floor full of hair and a glossy bald head, followed by a pair of big eyes.
FATE wants you two to meet again!! ❤ HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!
1 “Yo” 哟, It’s usually meant to express minor surprise; also translate to ‘oh’
2 “En?” 嗯？: Same character but used differently from a response in place of yes, this is more like a “what？” or a “huh?” or “Mm” An act of questioning the previous account.
3 “Have a bit of shame” – the direct translation is actually “have a little bit of face” 要点儿脸, meaning the person should know when to be shameful of their actions and pertain their image – the face, which holds all the pride and honor of a person.
4 ” Eight Treasures Congee” direct translation from 八宝粥 – A food product that can often be found in stores sold in tin cans. It normally consists of red beans, dried red jujubes, glutinous rice, longan, lotus seed, peanuts, chestnut, and rice millets but is not always restricted to these. Any assortments of rice, beans, nuts, and seeds are counted as “treasures”
5 不，是，好，鸟 (Bù, shì, hǎo, niǎo – not, a, good, bunch) is kind of like a slang where people normally say, 一看你就不是什么好鸟 which basically mean, “they look troublesome”