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When Pan Zhi’s phone call came, Jiang Cheng was still sleeping as if he was in hibernation, and it continued to sound for nearly half a day before he bewilderedly answered. “… hmm?”
“Fuck, I just knew this would happen,” Pan Zhi said. “Open your snobby eyes and look at what time it is.”
“Four o’clock?” Jiang Cheng woke up, put the phone in front of his face to see the time but his eyes had yet to clear up—a blur, it was.
“It’s three-thirty already!” Pan Zhi said. “I knew you would do something like this so I’m calling you in advance.”
“There’s still time,” Jiang Cheng sat up. “I will leave in a bit and wait for you at the station.”
“Which exit?” Pan Zhi asked.
“There’s only one exit altogether.” Jiang Cheng glanced out of the window, and through the dirty glass, he could see that the weather was pretty good today—it was dazzling. “I’m hanging up.”
Once he put his clothes on and got off the bed, he felt much more comfortable. Except for a little sleeplessness, the discomfort that overwhelmed his body yesterday to the point that he wanted to beat the hell out of anyone he could get his hands on was completely gone.
Calculating the time, from yesterday’s afternoon to sleeping until now, it has been one whole day. He felt as though he was floating as he walked.
Li Bao Guo was not at home, and he doesn’t know where he had gone to either.
Jiang Cheng felt that this “home” was rather strange. When his mother wanted to withdraw from his adoption, Li Bao Guo had run over quite a few times, although he did not want to meet him.
But now that he was actually here, Li Bao Guo no longer pestered again and again that he wanted to come to get his son as he had previously said back then.
And as for the legendary older brother and sister was nowhere to be seen after two days.
Jiang Cheng was not only uninterested in the new “home”, but there was nothing to look forward to. Every day, when he opened his eyes, he was alone in this completely lifeless room and that did not make him feel too well.
If this house was not a two-story building, he thought that it was a century-old house. The placed outside, in all respects, was broken down and appeared as though it was impossible to live in.
This was also why he did not want Pan Zhi to stay here; compared to his former room where it was clean with a piano inside, to say the least, Pan Zhi would certainly bawl for two to three days straight.
In fact, even if he did not want him to stay at “home”, the appearance of the East Station should be more than enough to make Pan Zhi bawl for a good while.
“Fuck,” Pan Zhi muttered as he dragged a large suitcase and carried a big bag. The moment he saw him, he sighed regrettably, “This place is a bit unacceptable to me!”
“Just go back then,” Jiang Cheng pointed at the ticket station. “Hurry up and go get a ticket.”
“For our brotherhood!” Pan Zhi said. “I came from far away dragging a pile of things just to come and see you! Shouldn’t you be moved?!”
“I am so moved,” Jiang Cheng said.
Pan Zhi stared at him and then after a good while, he spread his arms open. “I really do miss you a bit.”
Seeing that, Jiang Cheng walked over to hug him. “I didn’t take that into consideration.”
“Do you know why you only have me as a friend?” Pan Zhi asked as he released him.
“I know,” Jiang Cheng nodded. “You’re stupid.”
He has many friends, but they were all the replaceable kinds—merely hanging and strolling together here and there. However, a small problem will cause a rift and a big one would make them all scatter like birds and beasts.
There was only Pan Zhi. They had actually met in the third year of middle school and was finally placed in the same class in high school, and although they knew each other for nearly three years, they were still close.
The one thing he missed after coming to this small broken-down city was Pan Zhi.
“Shifu1, do you know the place?” Pan Zhi asked when he got into the taxi.
“How can I not know?” the driver said with a smile. “That’s the best hotel here.”
“You really know how to pick,” Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
“Is there a need to pick? The room in his house is the most expensive.” Pan Zhi fished around in his pocket until he took out a lighter and placed it in his hand, “Have a look, do you like it?”
Jiang Cheng looked at the lighter, it was the style that he liked, smooth without any decoration. There were only two letters engraved at the bottom. He looked closer, “What’s engraved on there? Police officer?”2
“J. C. The initials of your name,” Pan Zhi said. “Cool, right?”
“… really cool,” Jiang Cheng put the lighter in his pocket. “How many days are you staying?”
“Two days,” Pan Zhi sighed. “The new school term is starting.”
“What are you sighing for just because school is starting…”
“It’s annoyingggg, attending class, taking exams, homework,” Pan Zhi frowned. “I want to be like you, good at studying anything without even trying that hard and can still enter the top ten rankings. If I was like that, I wouldn’t be sighing.”
“Who said that I don’t try hard?” Jiang Cheng narrowed his eyes at him. “It’s not like you don’t know it when I stay up reviewing all night.”
“The key point is that even if I stay up for ten consecutive nights, it would still be useless,” Pan Zhi dragged his words and sighed again. “Fuck, I know why I miss you so much. When you leave, no one gives me the answers for exams anymore!”
“Just quit school,” Jiang Cheng put it simply.
“Some compassion please?” Pan Zhi glared at him.
Jiang Cheng laughed without saying anything else.
Pan Zhi was not satisfied with this small city but with the hotel he was. When he entered the room, he checked on the bed, under the bed, the bathroom and even the toilet. “Not bad.”
“Let’s go and eat something, Jiang Cheng looked at the time. “Barbecue?”
“Mm,” Pan Zhi opened the suitcase. “I have other gifts for you.”
“Hmmm?” Jiang Cheng sat on the side of the bed.
“How about you guess first?” Pan Zhi reached into the suitcase.
Jiang Cheng glanced at the box and saw small and large boxes of all sorts of food, in such a circumstance nothing else could be in there.
“A tin whistle,”3 he said.
“Fuck,” Pan Zhi laughed and took out a long leather case from the bottom of the suitcase. “Was it that easy to guess or was there a meeting of the minds between the two of us?”
“It was too easy to guess,” Jiang Cheng accepted the case and took out a black whistle for a look. “Very nice.”
“Susato, D,”4 Pan Zhi said. “I didn’t buy the wrong one, right? Is it the same as your previous one?”
“It is,” Jiang Cheng said and casually played a tone. “Thanks.”
“Don’t smash it again. This one is my gift to you ah,” Pan Zhi added.
“Mm,” Jiang Cheng put the pennywhistle away neatly.
In fact, he does not have a habit of smashing things when he was angry. After all, he was also someone who had been educated for more than a decade to have “self-control”. He can fight and beat up people, but very rarely does he ever smash up things.
The last time he smashed the pennywhistle was only because he truly had nowhere to vent his anger—not like he could go up and fight with his father.5
For this evening, he was not going to return ‘home’. He had hesitated on whether to send a text message or call Li Bao Guo, but in the end, calling was the better option. Li Bao Guo answered the call after a long while: “Hey!”
Hearing the movements in the background, it was obvious that he was playing mahjong or cards. Jiang Cheng was speechless and didn’t know whether his mother was aware of Li Bao Guo’s habits, but… maybe that was not a big deal compared to having his existence destroy the atmosphere of the family.
“One of my classmates came to see me. We are staying in a hotel, so I won’t be returning tonight,” Jiang Cheng said.
“A classmate came, huh?” Li Bao Guo coughed a few times. “Then just have fun with your classmate, what are you calling for? I even thought something happened.”
“… I’ll hang up then,” Jiang Cheng said.
Without saying anything else, Li Bao Guo immediately hung up the call first.
“This father of yours,” Pan Zhi looked at him. “What kind of person is he?”
“I don’t know, smoking, coughing, playing cards.” Jiang Cheng summed it all up.
“You also smoke, coughing… who hasn’t coughed…” Pan Zhi tried to analyze. “Snor…”
“How annoying,” Jiang Cheng interrupted him.
“Barbeque,” Pan Zhi waved his hand.
Actually, there was nothing special about barbecue, but Pan Zhi found it to be immensely satisfying. Jiang Cheng, himself, did not eat as much as he did yesterday. After all, he was a delicate flower that was recovering from a serious illness.
But when he came out of the barbeque restaurant, he still felt that he was enduring it.
“You must be in a bad mood,” Pan Zhi said. “The pork belly today was pretty good, but you only ate a little bit…”
“Good eyesight,” Jiang Cheng nodded. Although his mood was not so bad that he couldn’t eat anything, he didn’t want Pan Zhi to know that he had a fever and threw up yesterday.
“Let’s walk for a while,” Pan Zhi rubbed his stomach. “Are there any fun places here?”
“No,” Jiang Cheng said, but then thought about it and added another sentence. “I don’t know.”
“Hey, where is your new school?” Pan Zhi suddenly said, “Do you want to go and have a look?”
“Right now?” Jiang Cheng tugged at his own collar and said, “I don’t want to.”
“Tomorrow then. It’s vacation anyways so no one will be there. We can go and see what kind of school it is.” Pan Zhi put his arm on his shoulder, “Before you went through the transferring process and such, didn’t you go see it?”
“Don’t you already know whether I had gone to see it or not?” Jiang Cheng was a little annoyed.
“Oh, that’s right. You just came,” Pan Zhi laughed.
The new life and the new environment brought both an anxious heart and tumultuous mindset but Pan Zhi gave him some comfort. In the unknown and strange, there was finally a familiar person beside him.
Jiang Cheng did not sleep much the entire night. He chatted with Pan Zhi, but he honestly couldn’t remember what they were talking about. But in any case, it was just like when the two chatted at the sports field about this and that. It was not important what the topic of their conversations were—the important thing was that someone can talk to you.
As dawn approached, the two were finally only half-conscious, but at around eight o’clock they were woken up by the horn of the big trucks outside.
“Fuck, isn’t this the city?” Pan Zhi hugged the quilt. “How can such big delivery trucks get to the front of the hotel?”
“I don’t know,” Jiang Cheng closed his eyes.
“There’s breakfast service here, do you want it brought up now?” Pan Zhi asked him.
“Up to you,” Jiang Cheng said. “Did you sleep?”
“I might have slept,” Pan Zhi said with a smile. “What’s the plan for today?”
“We can go and look at the school in a bit,” Jiang Cheng said. “Then check if there’s anything fun to do here or not, but since it’s the middle of winter, I doubt there would be anything to do.”
“No worries, I’m a person who pays more attention to spiritual enjoyment,” Pan Zhi said. “I came here to see you, as long as I got to see you, it’s all good.”
“How about I sleep some more, you can just grab a stool, sit at the side and watch me until you have enough.” Jiang Cheng said nonchalantly.
“Hey,” Pan Zhi moved closer and stared at him for a moment. “You must have not talked much in the last two days?”
“What’s up?” Jiang Cheng yawned.
“Now that I get to see you again, you’ve talked more than before. Have you been holding back?” Pan Zhi asked.
“… maybe.” Jiang Cheng thought for a moment – indeed, there was nothing to say and no one to say it to.
When they looked at the school he was transferred to on the map, it was not too far from Li Baoguo’s home. As for what kind of school, Jiang Cheng had never check or was he interested in asking about it.
The procedure to transfer high school was very troublesome. From the moment his mother and father started to chip away at such task with no sign of abandoning it, he had basically lost all interest in everything—even finding the motivation to fight back about it had ceased to exist.
Just like something was taken from his body, he became like a pool of mud, looking for a suitable marshland to lie in and end it all.
After Pan Zhi checked the route, he dragged him to sit on the public bus.
“Did you know, what you see on the bus is the most authentic aura of a city.” Pan Zhi said.
“Mm,” Jiang Cheng glanced at him.
“Aren’t these words particularly philosophical?” Pan Zhi asked, somewhat pleased with himself.
“Mm,” Jiang Cheng continued to look at him.
Pan Zhi stared at him and he looked back for a while. “Oh, you’re the one who said these words.”
Jiang Cheng shook hands with him.
There were not many people on the bus. Indeed, it was much easier to travel around in a small-town city. There was no crowd, no set of hair constantly in front of you, no need to squeeze your way on or off the bus either.
“It’s a lot more comfortable to sit on this bus than the one back in our city,” Pan Zhi said with satisfaction when he got off the bus as he looked at the map on his mobile phone. “Si Zhong6 (High School No. Four), go forward 500 meters, turn a corner and we should be there.”
“I reckon we can’t get in,” Jiang Cheng pulled his own collar up again.
“Then we can look from the outside and walk around. From now on, the majority of your activities will be around here.” Pan Zhi placed the phone in front of him and pressed a button.
“What are you doing?” Jiang Cheng looked at him.
“Taking a photo,” Pan Zhi said. “When Yu Xin found out that I was coming here, she cried, yelled, kneeled and begged me to take a recent photo of you. From the way I see it, it is very difficult to refuse a girl…”
“She must have given you money,” Jiang Cheng said indifferently.
“Yes,” Pan Zhi nodded with earnest.
Jiang Cheng saw that he was unable to hold back his wick smile, he said: “Shameless.”
“Are you two really over? I still think that she is pretty good.” Pan Zhi faced him and took two more photos.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Jiang Cheng said.
“It is because she’s a girl that makes it meaningless?”7 Pan Zhi seemed to be conducting an interview while he continued to let the phone camera face him.
Jiang Cheng glanced at him but didn’t speak.
“I think that if you can find a girlfriend, it’s better to find a girl… getting a boy requires too much effort and the environment, in large, isn’t that good.” Pan Zhi put his phone away, “Don’t be confused by those fujoshi8 online. If those people were to scatter into the real world, they wouldn’t be the same.”
“You must have also held back from talking for a long time,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Since I haven’t seen you after vacation started, I haven’t said much.” Pan Zhi grabbed his chest pitifully. “I stubbornly held it back from A all the way to B.”9
“I will gift you a set of underwear before you go back,” Jiang Cheng said.
“We’re here,” Pan Zhi pointed ahead. “Si Zhong… the front is quite big, bigger than our school.”
The school gate was opened and when they walked in, the guard only glanced at them without saying anything.
“He’s not concerned?” Pan Zhi asked.
“Are you upset that he’s not concerned, huh?” Jiang Cheng looked askance at him, “Idiot.”
“Go, let’s take a stroll.” Pan Zhi raised his arms and stretched out his body.
“It’s…” Jiang Cheng looked around, “It’s quite big.”
“Indeed. Our school is in the city center where the land is extremely expensive in that area. Even if they want to expand, they wouldn’t be able to,” Pan Zhi said. “This school is pretty nice; the sports field must also be big…let’s go have a look there?”
“Mm,” Jiang Cheng grunted in approval.
What he and Pan Zhi were probably most concerned about was the sports field. Originally, their school had several indoor basketball courts, however, the soccer field was cleared out for a soaring school building and although they did not play soccer, they still felt resentful.
In contrast, the field here made them felt much more comfortable.
There was a soccer field. To their surprise, there were actually a group of people playing soccer on such a cold day.
There are two outdoor basketball courts next to it along with a volleyball court.
“There’s an indoor one, do you want to go in and check it out?” Pan Zhi jabbed him with his arm.
The depressing mood that Jiang Cheng had drowned in for the past few days had been significantly alleviated because of this campus. Compared with Li Bao Guo’s home and the street along that area, this spacious field made him feel like as though he could finally breathe smoothly and happily.
He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath and after he exhaled, he slapped Pan Zhi’s shoulder. “Let’s go.”
The indoor gymnasium wasn’t that big, but the volleyball, badminton and basketball court were all there—it was just they were used interchangeably.10
There were people on both of the basketball courts. When they saw someone coming in, they all looked over.
Pan Zhi stopped. Jiang Cheng ignored those gazes, put his hands in his pocket, and slowly walked to the empty chairs to the side and sat down.
Since he had not played for a long time, he planned to watch them play for enjoyable.
The people on the court watched them for a while and then continued to play.
“Is it the school team having a training session?” Pan Zhi sat next to him and asked.
“They shouldn’t be,” Jiang Cheng said, “That’s just the level of enthusiasts.”
“Do you want to go over there and play?” Pan Zhi said with a smile. “The two of us can cooperate.”
Jiang Cheng stretched his foot out and waved them in front of him, he was wearing casual shoes today.
“Hey,”11 Pan Zhi leaned back and rest his head on his arm. “I don’t know when we will be able to play basketball together again.”
“Don’t change your style, this kind of wording doesn’t suit you.” Jiang Cheng said as someone shot a very beautiful three-pointer into the hoop. He shouted in a low voice, “Good shot.”
The person glanced at him and smiled, cupping one fist in the other hand as a sign of respect.
Although he didn’t take the field, the feeling of sitting on the sidelines with Pan Zhi, watching as the others play gave him a brief moment of tranquility—cutting him off from all those annoying circumstances.
He was fine as long as he does not think about the fact that once Pan Zhi leaves tomorrow, he will once again return to his newfound rustic life.
As he engrossed himself in watching the people on the court, he did not take notice of some more people coming into the field. When the people on the court eventually stopped and looked toward the door with an indescribably unwell expression, he finally came to his senses.
“Why do I feel like there’s going to be a show to watch?” Pan Zhi narrated in a low voice, somewhat excited.
“What…” Jiang Cheng turned his head over for a look only to freeze up. “Show?”
One, two, three, four, five, six—in came six people.
Jiang Cheng felt so shocked that his back-molar tooth nearly fell off.
The four, Bu Shi Hao Niao, behind was the guy that took his money for the water, and at the very back was Gu Fei who was wearing a baseball cap that concealed the eye-catching musical note on his head.
Jiang Cheng admired himself for his own ability to remember faces. Even when his fever made him confused and disoriented, he could still memorize those faces.
In an unfamiliar city, an unfamiliar school, encountering six strangers that he had met all at the same time—it was truly a miracle.
Jiang Cheng felt as if he was infected by Pan Zhi. He watched those six slowly walked over while the kind of exciting feeling like when one was looking forward to the opening of a big show manifested within him.
Looking at their appearance, it looked like they were here to play. Gu Fei had on sweatpants and basketball shoes and was holding a basketball by himself.
“Da Fei?” Someone on the court said.
“Ah,” Gu Fei grunted as an answer.
“What are you here for?” that person asked.
“To play ball,” Gu Fei said with a very calm tone without a hint of unruliness.
“… all of you?” that person asked again after hesitating for a moment.
“The old, weak, sick and disabled won’t.”12 Having said that, Gu Fei took off his coat. When he turned around, intending to throw it on the chair to the side, he ended up seeing Jiang Cheng sitting there. Suddenly, he choked on his saliva and stared at him as he coughed for a long while.
Jiang Cheng restrained his ‘wanting to watch a good show but the good show ended before it had even started, what a disappointment,’ expression and simply said: “What a coincidence.”
“Good morning,” Gu Fei said.
“Are you here together?” the person on the court asked.
“No,” Jiang Cheng replied.
With Gu Fei being a group of six, three people went to prepare to play and the other three came to sit next to Jiang Cheng and Pan Zhi.
The person that took the money sat down near Jiang Cheng and stretched his hand out to him: “I’m Li Yan.”
“Jiang Cheng,” Jiang Cheng pat his hand and then pointed at Pan Zhi. “My friend, Pan Zhi.”
“Are both in Si Zhong?” Li Yan looked them up and down. “I’ve never seen either of you before.”
“Later, yes.” Jiang Cheng didn’t want to explain too much. “Are you all in Si Zhong?”
The two people behind him laughed, maybe not intentionally, but there was a habitually mocking tone to their voices. Li Yan turned back to look at them. “Do we look like students?”
“Who knows,” Jiang Cheng was a bit uncomfortable. “It’s not like I have a habit of staring at whoever I happen to catch.”
Li Yan’s complexion suddenly became somewhat unpleasant before he turned to look at the people on the court and ignored him.
The people behind him probably didn’t sense the atmosphere between them since someone said: “Da Fei is a second-year.”13
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng answered.
Truly a coincidence ah.
1 Shifu: master / qualified worker / respectful form of address for older men; in this case, the last one, it can also be translated to ‘mister’
2 Police officer: the Chinese word for that is jǐngchá, so JC which is also Jiang Cheng’s initials
3 Tin whistle or penny whistle – a type of fipple flute, putting it in the same class as the recorder, Native American flute, and other woodwind instruments that meet such criteria. A tin whistle player is called a whistler. The tin whistle is closely associated with Celtic and Australian folk music.
4 Susato D
5 Father – refers to his adoptive father
6 Si Zhong (四中) – short for “High School No. Four” – I’ll leave it as Si Zhong7 Meaningless – 没意思 – the word used here also means ‘uninteresting/boring’ so the sentence can be ‘Is it uninteresting/boring because she’s a girl?’
8 Fujoshi – a woman who likes mangas about males love
9 “I held back all the words in my chest until they turned from an A-cup into a B-cup.” (生生憋从A憋成B了) Per @spinxddd, for the explanation. It’s a joke, as in A=A cup and B-cup in breast size; Pan Zhi means that he has a lot of things that he wanted to talk about with Jiang Cheng but since he had left the previous school already, Pan Zhi can’t talk to him every day like before, so he said his breasts are filled with words that changed them from A-cup to B-cup.
10 The gym floors are marked with different colors, each outlines the perimeters of a sport
11 hey! / (interjection used to attract attention or to express surprise or disapprobation)
12 He might be referring to Li Yan
13 Second Year – refers to the sophomore year in high school. High school in China consists of three years; the second year is equivalent to grade 11