Title: Strong iron only needs fire to melt it, a steel heart only needs someone to soothe it
The newly assigned volunteer Cui Wei was depressed as he looked at Han Jia who was next to him, talking to the students.
“My dad wants me to go home to help build the house,” the dark-skinned boy touched his head. “I have to request time off.”
Han Jia’s expression did not change, appearing as though he was used to it and asked kindly: “How many days?”
“Three… two days,” the boy seemed to feel embarrassed. “I would like to ask for two days.”
“I’ll just give you three days off,” Han Jia smiled. “If you miss a class, the teachers can help you make it up. Since building a house requires you to climb up and down, you don’t need to worry.”
The boy nodded before he bowed and walked out.
Han Jia took out the academic record book from the drawer and wrote down the leave of absence for the boy just now.
Cui Wei finally couldn’t help but ask, “Is this okay?”
“What’s wrong?” Han Jia answered with a question without looking up.
“Just now… this… how can there be such a parent? That’s wrong, why did you allow to take leave?” Cui Wei asked with widened eyes.
Han Jia closed the notebook in his hand and looked up at him. “The children here are all professional workers. Without his help, the house will not be built well.”
“He’s so small, what can he do?” Cui Wei was very puzzled.
Han Jia smiled: “What do you mean, what can he do? Moving bricks, building walls, getting the water, and so on. Do you think he’s you who has shaky legs just from simply climbing a ladder?”
Cui Wei blushed as he quietly leaned over the table for a while before he suddenly sighed and said: “It’s really different from what I had thought…”
Han Jia kept silent.
“Before I came here, I knew beforehand that the educational condition here was poor, but I didn’t expect it…” Cui Wei continued to sigh in despair, “It’s really hard for me to take…”
Han Jia still did not speak as he picked up the red pen and began to correct the assignments.
Seeing that, Cui Wei remained expressionless for another moment before he suddenly asked, “Han Laoshi, why did you come to teach here?”
Those words finally made Han Jia’s pen stopped; he smiled and said: “How nice, one reporter left, another came.”
“I don’t want to pry into your life or anything.” Cui Wei hurriedly explained, “I’m… Han Laoshi, I listened to the report on the school and was moved by the deeds of the many teachers who brought education to these underdeveloped areas. That encouraged me to sign up… don’t laugh, really, I am very touched… like Liu Dezhu Laoshi, he’s a local who teaches to repay his native land while one of my seniors does it for his title and extra credits… Han Laoshi, you seem to be different from us, why did you come?”
Han Jia looked at him for a while and then slowly said: “Why am I different from you guys?”
“The feeling is just different.” Cui Wei replied very succinctly. “You are not like those who teach with an idealistic mindset on education and nor are you like those who come for the title… and you are never worried about students, angry, or too happy for them. I don’t know how to say it, I’m not saying that you’re not a qualified teacher, you teach very well, but… it always feels like something is missing… as if you did not have your heart here…”
Han Jia silently lowered his eyes, letting his gaze stay on the students’ assignments.
When Cui Wei saw that he hadn’t spoken for a long time, he carefully asked: “Han Laoban, did I say something wrong? Don’t take offense, I’m a person—”
“Don’t be nervous.” Han Jia replied, “You are not wrong.”
“That’s good,” Cui Wei let out a sigh of relief. “Then, what did you come here for?”
Han Jia thought for a moment and slowly said: “I have a teacher who has invested a lot of his time and energy into teaching. I… I want to follow him, yes, I want to participate in his profession. It’s just that, I don’t have a very enthusiastic disposition, so I normally look quite cold and indifferent.”
As he thought about something, Cui Wei looked at him and finally said deeply moved: “Han Laoshi, with a student like you, that teacher must be very proud?”
Han Jia allowed himself to show a smile, then he looked down and continue to correct the assignments.
After a while, Cui Wei left, leaving Han Jia who was still correcting the same assignment. The drawing of the analysis drawing drawn by the student’s thick pencil transformed into Jiang Laoshi’s face right before his very eyes. Sometimes he smiles lovingly and sometimes ruthlessly. His line of thoughts slowly became somewhat chaotic while some words echoed endlessly in his mind.
Han Jia, don’t give up, you are my most remarkable student.
Don’t be so proud of yourself, if my dad knows that you are a pimp, if he sees what you are like this now…
This time, not only are you first in the whole class but you’re also first in the entire grade! Laoshi is really happy for you!
Han Laoshi, with a student like you, that teacher must be very proud?
It is humiliating for me to have a student like you!
When a hand landed on his shoulder, Han Jia’s hair stood on ends and he shuddered from being frightened.
“What’s wrong? I called you a few times and you just ignored me.” It was Liu Dezhu, standing next to him with a worried look. “Your face is all pale and drenched in cold sweat, do you feel uncomfortable?”
“It’s nothing.” Han Jia reached out to wipe his forehead, and as expected, it was a handful of cold sweat.
“You’re still trembling, how can it be nothing?” Liu Dezhu looked at him thoughtfully and suddenly asked, “You aren’t actually having some sort of problem with that reporter Yu Xiujun, are you?”
“No. Why do you ask?” Han Jia rubbed the space between his eyebrows with his thumb and index finger.
“Because since she left, you’ve been a bit odd, going absent-minded from time to time. Now you maybe say you’re fine, but when you sit down, you’ll get all sick.” Liu Dezhu sighed, “I didn’t want to say it, but you’ve become thinner now.” He went silent for a moment then continued, “Han Jia, reporter Yu is someone who has a boyfriend. They left for nearly half a month already. I reckon they won’t come back either, you should stop thinking…”
Han Jia’s face became even paler as he remained silent for a time.
Liu Dezhu looked at him his appearance and couldn’t help feeling a little sad. He whispered: “It meaningless to think about it again. If you make yourself like this, do you think she will feel bad?”
Han Jia looked at him and suddenly smiled, “You truly know how to let your imagination wander. I only have a little cold and you actually compiled a story.”
He did not admit anything, and Liu Dezhu did not continue to persuade him, although he could see clearly that Han Jia’s expression to cover up his emotion was only making it worse. He stared at Han Jia for a while and then said, “You’re sick huh… since you don’t have class in the afternoon, I’ll keep an eye on your classes. Just go back and rest well for now.”
Han Jia glanced at the student’s notebook that he had not finished correcting after all this time and sighed. “Alright, I’ll be troubling you then.”
“What are you being all polite for huh, really!” Liu Dezhu half-complaint, half-teased as he watched Han Jia tidy up and walk out before he said some words that he thought was significant. “After this ‘sickness’, you’ll be fine.”
Han Jia went out of school and walked back to his home.
He didn’t mean to deliberately avoid anything; his body was indeed uncomfortable. Jiang Xiaoning was like a hurricane. His appearance was unpredictable and even after he left, a desolate wound still remained.
Han Jia’s quality of sleep became very bad after he left. He was often awakened by nightmares that simply refuse to let him sleep, sometimes causing him to sit in bed until dawn.
This kind of work and rest had affected his health and the attack on his psychological state had also made him often restless. However, Liu Dezhu was right, he will not come back—it was meaningless to think about it again.
And in fact, wasn’t he, himself, the one who made his own resolution leave?
With that thought in mind, Han Jia slowly walked home and because he was actually exhausted, he collapsed on the bed and fell asleep.
When he woke up, the sky outside the window was already pitch-black. Han Jia sat up and felt that his mind had indeed lightened up a bit.
This is fine. He said to himself, If I want to forget someone, I will definitely forget them.
When he turned the light on, he saw a bowl of food and two steamed buns on the table, along with a note.
It was written by Liu Dezhu. When he came to call Han Jia to go to dinner, he saw that the main gate was locked and guessed that he might be resting. He climbed over the wall and saw what he had expected. Without the heart to wake him up, he climbed back over the wall to bring him some food.
Han Jia looked at the note and then at the food that had already gone cold. After thinking about it, he decided to use hot water to warm up the food and steamed buns.
Just as he was about to pick up the thermos flask, he heard someone hit the courtyard door.
He thought that Liu Dezhu had left and returned for something, so he turned on the light in front of the door and walked over. He laughed, “You climbed the wall just now and now you’re trying to be courteous for what? I’ll get a key for you later—”
His voice stopped at the side of his mouth while the smile solidified on his face—Han Jia froze.
At the door stood Jiang Xiaoning who had on a T-shirt and jeans with both of his hands carrying bags of things. There was also a large backpack on his back as he looked at him with a blank expression.
Han Jia and he looked at each other for a long time before he thought of speaking. “You…”
As if being awakened by his voice, Jiang Xiaoning dropped his eyes and walked inside without saying a word.
Han Jia finally reacted, but before he had managed to close the door, he chased after him and spoke in a stern yet low tone. “What’s the matter?”
Jiang Xiaoning did not turn his head as he entered the main room and casually turned on the familiar light. Then he looked at him and simply said: “Passing by.”
“What?” Han Jia was utterly baffled as he stared at him.
Jiang Xiaoning stopped looking at him as he placed the things on his hands on the floor and on the table before he then put the backpack down.
“I asked the doctor, this kind of proprietary syrup made with traditional Chinese herb is very good for the lungs. Although the desired effect doesn’t work right away, if you insistently drink it a little bit every day, it will be effective.” He said as he began to take things out of the bag. “There are some pears in here. I brought it from my home, you can’t find this kind here. I bought a lot, in case you want to share it with your colleagues. Sugar-coated chestnuts, when I saw it, I thought of when you bought them for me back then, so I bought some…”
“Jiang Xiaoning, what are you doing?” Han Jia asked angrily.
“This is dust-free chalk.” Jiang Xiaoning kicked a box on the ground. “The quality of the blackboard in the school isn’t good. At first, I thought of buying a white writing board, the kind that uses a dry-erase marker, but it was too big, and I don’t have a car… there are some books in the bag, all related to physics and English. You can keep it for yourself, give it to your students, or give it to someone else. I won’t think much of it.”
After it seemed like he was done with his explanation, he looked up at Han Jia who looking back at him coldly.
“Smile, Han Jia,” he whispered. “I am leaving, I will leave immediately.”
Han Jia’s brows tightened, “What do you mean?”
“I just said it.” Jiang Xiaoning looked at him and smiled lightly. “I’m just passing by, have a look at you, bring some things, and then leave.”
Han Jia seemed to understand, and his face sank: “You don’t have to come again, I don’t want to see you.”
“I know. But I’ve missed you for so long, you have to give me some time to adjust.” Jiang Xiaoning quickly answered as if he had already prepared the answer. “Give me some time, let me come and see you occasionally. I will really only take a look and leave.”
Han Jia didn’t have time to answer, Jiang Xiaoning immediately said: “I don’t have a car, the one from last time was Yu Xiujun’s. This place is so remote. I took the train first, then a car, before finally transferring to a small bus. It took nearly two days to get here.” He smiled. “Look, this place is so hard to come to and you’re not looking at me nicely either… maybe, I will be discouraged after a few times and then I will never come again, you will… you will be free.”
As Han Jia looked at him, at his clear black and white eyes under the light, the smile on his mouth, and his travel-worn appearance—he unexpectedly couldn’t speak at all.
Jiang Xiaoning approached him and let his cheek touched his cheek before he whispered in his ear. “I’m going now, there is a minibus waiting for me outside the village. I can’t let it wait for too long.”
Han Jia could not respond. Only when Jiang Xiaoning walked away from him and the sound of the door closing transmitted over did he wake up from this dream-like moment and chased after.
When he opened the door again, Jiang Xiaoning’s silhouette was still there. He nearly suspected that he had an illusion.
After he stood at the door for a while, Han Jia finally slowly walked back to the yard and entered the main room.
Looking at the things on the table, he reacted to what had happened just now.
As his empty stomach began to twitch, Han Jia leaned powerlessly against the wall behind him. His breathing gradually became packed with urgency while tears welled up in his eyes, but he looked up, refusing to blink.
It was like he was being ruthless to Jiang Xiaoning—it was like he was being ruthless to himself.
Jiang Xiaoning, do you know what kind of person I am? I am shameless and despicable; I abandoned my own dreams and betrayed my own teacher; I am disgusting, both my hands are covered in blood and tears; I put a price on my body and even my dignity can be sold at random… do you know? I even teach for the purpose of my own selfishness. Cui Wei is right. I am different from them. I am not here to support this place. I long for this place to support me… to let me escape the past.
The one and only noble thing that I have ever done in my life was to leave you.
It’s more painful than anything, but I did it, I left you. Please don’t let me repeat this process over and over again, please take pity on me.
This was not something that could be solved with a few deep breaths. Han Jia took a long time to calm down.
He walked into the inner room, moved the food on the table, flattened a piece of paper, and slowly wrote four words.
Request for transfer application.