Title: Strong iron only needs fire to melt it, a steel heart only needs someone to soothe it
Jiang Xiaoning was the last one to leave the class again.
He closed the window and turned off the lights, and when he came out of the classroom with the padlock, he ran into the teacher in charge of the class, Cui Laoshi, who was passing through the corridor.
Cui Laoshi was a capable and experienced woman in her thirties. She had a bunch of keys in her hand and a small sign clipped on her shirt that read ‘on duty’ as she glanced at Jiang Xiaoning and asked: “Jiang Xiaoning, the evening self-study session ended half an hour ago, how come you’re only leaving now?”
Jiang Xiaoning put on a smile that one would normally use to flatter someone, “I was too absorbed in working on my assignments.”
“Just keep on with this smooth-talking,” Cui Laoshi rebuked him while giving him a good stare. “When are you going to hand in all of your assignments?” She paused and then added, “Will your father be coming to the parent-teacher conference this time?”
Jiang Xiaoning shook his head, “He also has a parent-teacher conference in his own class.”
Cui Laoshi thought about it, “That’s right. In any case, since we’re colleagues, I look for him later to see if he wants to do a joint conference.”
When Jiang Xiaoning did not say anything, Cui Laoshi glanced at him and sighed. “Your father is working so hard as if his life depends on it, why don’t you know how to work harder for his sake? It’s obvious that you are quite intelligent, but look at your grades…”
Jiang Xiaoning nodded his head repeatedly, “I know.”
Seemingly able to see through his half-heartedness, Cui Laoshi shook her head helplessly, turned around, and walked away.
“See you later Laoshi,” Jiang Xiaoning said goodbye to her back, however, Cui Laoshi only waved without looking back at him.
Jiang Xiaoning held the item he purchased from the site Tiefu81 and went down the stair in the other direction and walked toward the school gate.
When he passed in front of the other school building, he could not help but look up and saw that his father’s office was still lit. As expected, he hasn’t gone home yet.
After that, Jiang Xiaoning turned back and slowly walked out of the school gate.
Under a tree not far from the school gate, five or six boys had just come out of school and were happily chatting with each other. When Jiang Xiaoning passed by them, he heard them talking about going to the Internet cafe to play games.
When he heard a very familiar voice, Jiang Xiaoning looked back but didn’t see anyone he was acquainted with but as he walked a bit further, he remembered. One of the boys was a classmate and a very close friend of his in junior high school who had occasionally asked him to play basketball with him.
Thinking of these things made Jiang Xiaoning even more dispirited and downcast—the days of gathering with friends seemed to be a thing of the yesterdays. After he entered senior high school, he slowly discovered that his sexuality stood out from the masses, and there was no one he could discuss it which slowly made him become somewhat unsocial. In class, he not only alienated the boys but also the girls. Up to now, he doesn’t even have a relatively close friend.
Jiang Xiaoning turned back and looked at the school in the distance. Although that place had his father, his teachers, and classmates, it did not in any way give him a sense of belonging.
He took a few more steps and came to the front door of a run-down shop which was originally a barbershop that had been closed for a long time. Jiang Xiaoning looked around before he stepped on the wall where there were few bricks missing and pulled himself up a bit, hiding the item from Teifu8 on the switch box of the sluice gate.2
Then he jumped down, patted the soil on his hand, and quickly walked to the bus stop. After about five minutes, he stepped into the bus he was waiting for, heading in the direction of “Ge An”.
In the past five minutes, he had experienced a very intense psychological struggle since he originally did not plan to go to Ge An. Han Jia had once given him a lesson to let him know of some complicated and terrible things and had even caused his fear of Ge An to start.
But he didn’t know what other places would make him feel valued, appreciated, and pampered.
Even Han Jia—that despicable and shameless pimp—had softly comforted him with only a few words that day and he had actually given up the resistance and returned to the place he had completely destroyed.
Han Jia cleaned his wounds, quietly and gently applied medicine to his wounds, cooked a meal for him, and covered him with a quilt when he laid down. Just like that, his hostility had slowly diminished as he sank into a stable sleep.
To be reduced to the degree of having a favorable opinion toward a rotten person, Jiang Xiaoning was still indeed just a teenager, however, he could also sense that he himself a bit lamentable.
But he always thought of him. In class, he would be a bit absent-minded as if he could see ‘him’ looking at him pitifully with a serene and hidden expression.
Jiang Xiaoning’s lips twitched as he cast his gaze out of the window until the bus stopped near Ge An. He was trying with great effort to shift his line of thoughts from that shameless gangster.
When he got off the bus, he walked a short distance, turned into a small street, took a few steps, and just as he was approaching Ge An, he looked up only to be shocked in place.
At that moment, Han Jia pushed opened Ge An’s door and walked out. He might have encountered something worthy enough for him to be happy since there was a hint of a smile on his lips. and coming out.
That smile disappeared when he saw Jiang Xiaoning. He stood still first, frowned at him, and then walked over.
Jiang Xiaoning wanted to turn around and run away, but an unknown fit of annoyance overtook him, making him motionless as he stood there expressionlessly and stared coldly at Han Jia.
“What are you doing here?” Han Jia walked up to him in a few steps. His voice was a bit harsh at first, but it quickly eased as if to tease him: “You’re not following me, are you?”
“It’s not like this place is yours!” Jiang Xiaoning answered with a very unfriendly tone.
“Indeed, it isn’t.” Han Jia’s smile did not change, “You still come here, aren’t you afraid someone will deceive and drugged you again?”
“Not everyone is as shameless as you are,” Jiang Xiaoning said ruthlessly.
Han Jia had an expression that looked as though Jiang Xiaoning did not scold curse him but, on the contrary, was speaking highly of him. With almost an obedient look, he said, “I’m sorry.”
Jiang Xiaoning stared at him and did not know what to say for a period of time.
With that, Han Jia looked at him contemplatingly then as if talking to himself, he said: “Always unable to distinguish between the day and night, I don’t even know what month it is.” Then he turned to Jiang Xiaoning with a small smile, “Taking the days into calculation, midterm exams have ended?”
Jiang Xiaoning shifted his gaze.
Han Jia laughed lightly: “You didn’t do well on the exam?”
Jiang Xiaoning snorted.
Han Jia seemed to be in a good mood as he continued to laugh and asked: “Are you afraid your father will say something, so you quickly came to hide here?”
In a fit of anger, Jiang Xiaoning turned his head around and glared at him, “Why do you care about me coming here? What does it have to do with you? If you have time, why don’t you go and do your own thing? Go be a pimp! Go sell! Go force someone into prostitution! What are you annoying me for?”
His voice was very loud and although there were not many pedestrians in this small street, it still attracted a few gazes.
Those words did not make Han Jia angry at all, instead, his eyes were even softer.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized again and then quietly said, “Did you have dinner yet?”
“What?” Jiang Xiaoning was stunned.
“If you haven’t eaten, I will take you for a meal,” Han Jia suggested. “I know a place with pretty good food. Just take it as a celebration of the end of your exams?”
Jiang Xiaoning looked at him with cautiousness: “What are you trying to do again?”
“Why are so nervous?” Han Jia laughed. “The last time you sneaked out without dinner, I was very worried about you.”
“What, ‘sneaked out?’ I was afraid I would be drugged again!” Jiang Xiaoning replied angrily. When he fell asleep in Han Jia’s bed that day, it was already the afternoon of the next day by the time he woke up. He came out of the bedroom and saw that the mess he created was completely tidied, but Han Jia was nowhere to be seen. Without thinking much, he had pushed the door open and rushed out.
“I know,” Han Jia lowered his head slightly and looked at him. “If you’re scared and don’t want to have dinner with me this time, then nevermind. I can understand.”
“Save it, I won’t be fooled!” Jiang Xiaoning counterattacked and then said, “It’s just eating! In any case, I am the son of the teacher you greatly respect, you dare to do something to me?”
“I don’t dare.” Han Jia’s smile widened, “Come with me then.”
He glanced at Jiang Xiaoning as he walked past him toward the street. The young man simply turned and followed after, but before he had even taken two steps, he heard Han Jia said: “Back then, I was the best in physics.”
I heard my father say that many times already, Jiang Xiaoning thought angrily but didn’t say anything.
“Actually, I was pretty good in math as well.” Han Jia continued, “I had scored over 149 points before.”
Jiang Xiaoning looked up at his back.
Han Jia had already reached the street and was standing by the side of the road, waiting for a taxi.
Jiang Xiaoning walked over to him: “Why are you talking about this with me?”
Han Jia looked at him: “I just remembered it when I saw you. I don’t know if the current questions are difficult or not or how many points I can get.”
Jiang Xiaoning bit his lips and remained silent.
A taxi came from far away; Han Jia was about to hail for it when Jiang Xiaoning grabbed his arm.
He turned his head around only to see that Jiang Xiaoning was looking at him with a set of very fierce and malicious eyes—under the street lights, they packed with vitality.
“Do you think I am an idiot?”
“Why would you think that?” Han Jia laughed.
Jiang Xiaoning’s hand tightened: “Don’t think that you can look down on me just because your grades were good back then. What rights do you have? You are a criminal now!”
Han Jia lowered his head and looked at him for a while. When Jiang Xiaoning flew into a fit of rage out of humiliation, he sighed and used his other hand to lightly caress his hair. “You’re right, a real man doesn’t boast about his past achievements. I should have not mentioned my scores from then.”
The strength in Jiang Xiaoning’s grip was even tighter as he stared at Han Jia. Then he lowered his head and after a while, he whispered: “I… it’s not because of that… it’s not… it’s not because I didn’t do well on the exam.”
Han Jia was silent for a few seconds, then he quietly replied: “I know.”
Jiang Xiaoning did not release the hand that held him, and after a long while, slowly said: “I want to eat fish.”
Without saying anything, Han Jia simply laughed again and let him continue to grab his sleeve as he prepared to use his other hand to stop the taxi.
Jiang Xiaoning looked down at his sleeves—under the light, the folds and buttons on the cuffs shimmered. Suddenly, he thought of why Han Jia was a pimp. If he didn’t become so depraved, what would he look like? Would he often go to see his father, and in turn, casually chat with him? Would he bring him gifts every time, care about his achievements, and take him out to eat?
He looked up at Han Jia and saw that that forgiving smile was still lining his lips as his eyes searched for a taxi in the distance.
From when he stopped the car, took Jiang Xiaoning to dinner, led him to talk about his teachers, and finally sent him home—Jiang Xiaoning could not restrain himself from thinking that if he and Han Jia had met under different circumstances, what kind of outcome would there be?
1 item he purchased from the site Tiefu8 – it doesn’t say what he got; this part was odd to translate hmmm
2 sluice gate – traditionally a wood or metal barrier sliding in grooves that are set in the sides of the waterway. Sluice gates commonly control water levels and flow rates in rivers and canals. They are also used in wastewater treatment plants and to recover minerals in mining operations, and in watermills.