Translate: Sae | Proofread: Anasofi
Jiang Cheng threw the cigarette then turned around and walked toward the entrance of the alley.
“Hey! Don’t go out!” Wang Xu shouted. “Do you think I’m afraid of problems?! We can’t afford to offend Hou Zi and his group! Last semester, someone from Qi Zhong1 was beaten to the point of being hospitalized for several months!”
“Can’t afford to offend?” Jiang Cheng turned to look at him, “Such a capable bastard yet you’re calling only Gu Fei over to deal with him?”
“Da Fei is different,” Wang Xu said. “He grew up in this area as a child and also… anyways, just listen to me. Since you’ve helped me once, I can’t let you go out there and lose your head ah.”
And also… and also what?
And also, he killed his own father? Jiang Cheng suddenly remembered Li Baoguo’s words and laughed inexplicably. For an old historical district in this small city to have such a legend within just a few streets, it was quite interesting.
“The fuck are you laughing at!” Wang Xu was angry with his laughter.
Jiang Cheng ignored him and prepared to continue on, but just as he took one step, Wang Xu held him from behind and then carried him back.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Jiang Cheng was startled by his action. “Let go! What’s your problem?!”
“Problem?” Wang Xu questioned shockingly and then suddenly loosening his hand. “I don’t have any problem… I don’t have any other intention ah! You better not misunderstand! Don’t misunderstand!”
Jiang Cheng glanced at him: “Did I say you have any other intention?”
Wang Xu didn’t speak as he dialed a number on his mobile phone.
Jiang Cheng sighed and lit another cigarette that was hanging in his mouth while he crouched in the corner of a small area and absentmindedly brushed away the snow on the ground with a twig.
“Da Fei, Da Fei,” Wang Xu held the phone close and suppressed his voice as if that fellow Hou Zi was keeping watch in the courtyard beside them. “We’re being blocked by Hou Zi… we ran, no, right now we can’t get out… he got a bloody face from a punch, how can we leave! Who else can it be huh, me and Jiang Cheng.”
Wang Xu said that while glancing over at Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng did not exchange any meaningful look with him. Although Wang Xu did not have many capabilities, he was not that terrified of others so for him to be scared like this, he reckoned, those people must indeed not be trifled with.
In fact, when he loafed around in his previous school, he also did not want to provoke others much – it was too troublesome.
Just thinking that Gu Fei was on the other side of the phone, he thought that it was better to go out and put up a good fight, but he was still rational. If he did go out, it might not be a matter of just one or two fights.
“Da Fei will be here in a bit,” Wang Xu relayed as he hung up and used his foot to flick the garbage heap to the side. “He took his sister out to eat noodles… they haven’t finished yet.”
Jiang Cheng was simply speechless.
Wang Xu found a wooden stick about half a meter long from the garbage heap and threw it at his feet, then after rummaging through it for a while longer in vain, he started to dismantle the damaged three-legged chair.
“What are you doing?” Jiang Cheng looked at him.
“Looking for some weapons,” Wang Xu said. “Hou Zi and the others are familiar with this area, so this is just in case they arrive here before Gu Fei, okay?”
Jiang Cheng sighed. He grabbed his schoolbag and searched around until he eventually fished out a knife and threw it at his feet. “Use this.”
“The fuck!” Wang Xu was completely shocked when he saw the knife and turned his head to stare at him. “Are you really a fucking xueba?2 What kind of xueba has nothing better to do than to go out with a knife!”
“I’ve never used it,” Jiang Cheng said. “The edge of the blade isn’t sharpened. It’s specially used to scare people.”
Wang Xu picked up the knife and looked at it with earnest for a moment then went over to crouch in front of him. “Jiang Cheng, I can’t afford to offend you.”
Jiang Cheng glanced at him without speaking.
“The beef between us has already been settled.” Wang Xu continued to say, “In the future, we can just mind our own business. How’s that?”
“You can remember these words for yourself,” Jiang Cheng said. “Our xueba will be busy studying, he can’t blindly waste his time with you.”
Once he finished, the two no longer spoke and took to crouching in silence face to face.
After a while, Wang Xu spoke: “I’ll give you a word of advice.”
“En,” Jiang Cheng looked at the cigarette butt between his fingers – the rising smoke twisted frantically in the wind and quickly disappeared without any traces.
“If Hou Zi arrives first, just cower,” Wang Xu said. “No matter how jackass we are, we’re still students. We can’t put our life on the line against those guys who mingle in society.”
Jiang Cheng looked at him in shock, this idiot unexpectedly has the intelligence for survival instinct.
“Gu Fei said that,” Wang Xu added.
Hearing that, Jiang Cheng almost wanted to put out the cigarette on his face.
In truth, Gu Fei’s arrival was not considered to be slow. It took him roughly ten minutes to appear on his bicycle, but what made it hard for Jiang Cheng to understand was how he brought Gu Miao along with him.
The little girl held onto a rope that was tied to the back of the bicycle as she rode on her skateboard.
A whole family of mental cases!
Just as Gu Fei’s foot landed on the ground for support, Gu Miao jumped off the skateboard, stepped hard on the board so that it lifted up and caught it with her hands.
She walked over and stood in front of Jiang Cheng while hugging the skateboard. She smiled at him and then ran back to Gu Fei and leaned against his leg.
“Who threw the punch?” Gu Fei asked.
“Me,” Jiang Cheng stood up. “Why?”
“You ran into Hou Zi?” Wang Xu asked immediately.
“At the entrance of the alley.” Gu Fei turned to glance at him, “I reckon he’s coming in now.”
“Fuck,” Wang Xu frowned. “Can we get out?”
“Depends on how you want to get out,” Gu Fei said and looked at Jiang Cheng again. “There are two solutions.”
Jiang Cheng knew that this time he had probably stirred up a bit of a problem. He sighed and placed his hands in his pockets as he leaned against the wall. “Say it.”
“Let him get back at you, it’ll be over once it’s even,” Gu Fei said. “If you’re not willing, I’ll lead you guys out, but it’ll depend on luck the next time you run into them.”
Wang Xu quickly looked over at Jiang Cheng.
“Getting even is no problem, but let’s settle on the fact that if anyone dares to add another hit, I’ll hit back,” Jiang Cheng said.
When Hou Zi returned, his nose was stuffed with cotton balls, which made Jiang Cheng think that he probably had slightly low blood platelets—the bleeding hadn’t stopped yet after such a long time.
Just as Wang Xu said, Hou Zi indeed brought a lot of people with him this time and with just one glance, there were seven or eight people with the strong temperament of a small-town hoodlum.
“Er Miao, go wait for me at the head of the alley,” Gu Fei said.
Gu Miao looked at Jiang Cheng and then put her skateboard down, stepped up on it and then skated out of the crowd like an arrow.
“You also go out,” Jiang Cheng said.
Gu Fei propped up on the handlebar of the bicycle and looked at him for a moment: “Wang Xu, come out with me.”
“I…” Wang Xu hesitated as he looked over at Jiang Cheng.
“Go out,” Jiang Cheng said – for this act of purely being hit, he did not want an audience.
Gu Fei lift the head of the bicycle up and turned it around the other way, Wang Xu got on.
With a gloomy face, Hou Zi walked over to where Jiang Cheng was.
When Gu Fei passed by him, he suddenly grabbed his right wrist and took his hand out of his pocket.
“What are you doing?” Hou Zi looked at him.
Gu Fei didn’t say anything. He slid his hand firmly down Hou Zi’s wrist and took something from his hand before throwing it to the foot of the wall to the side.
The sound of metal hitting the brick wall was quite crisp.
Jiang Cheng followed the source of the sound for a look, it was a black brass knuckle.
“The rules still need to be explained,” Gu Fei said aloud as he stepped on the pedal and rode his bicycle to the other side of the alley.
“Nothing’s going to happen to him, right?” Wang Xu stood beneath a leafless tree at the head of the alley, shrinking his neck. He watched as Gu Miao rode the skateboard around a heap of snow beneath a nearby tree.
“If you’re afraid of trouble then don’t go provoking it,” Gu Fei put it simply.
“I didn’t provoke any trouble. When I saw Hou Zi, I even ran for it,” Wang Xu said. “Fuck, damn it! How was I supposed to know I would run into him today. Jiang Cheng doesn’t know what’s up either and directly threw a punch.”
“The beef between you two has been resolved?” Gu Fei looked at his face, “Did you kneel down and begged him not to punch you in the face?”
“… that’s enough,” Wang Xu sighed and turned to look toward the alley. “Just take it as my eyes have been opened. There’s also this type of xueba, I can’t afford to offend him.”
Gu Fei laughed out loud.
After less than a few minutes, Hou Zi and his group came out.
Although Hou Zi’s face was a bit unsightly, he appeared ‘normal’, however, the person following behind him didn’t look too wonderful – there was obviously a very large swelling on his forehead.
“Did he hit back?” Wang Xu was taken aback when he saw it.
After Hou Zi and Gu Fei exchanged a glance, neither said anything as the group left.
“Fuck, where’s that stupid cunt, Jiang Cheng?” Wang Xu looked toward the direction of the alley.
Gu Fei frowned. Looking at this, Jiang Cheng definitely hit back. He mustn’t have initiated it, someone must have ‘added another hit’ but it is reasonable to say that Hou Zi would not be able to break the rules under this circumstance.
Then, where’s Jiang Cheng?
Even if he had to wind around a few times, it shouldn’t take him this long to come out… the phone in his pocket sounded, he took it out for a look and to his surprise, it was Jiang Cheng.
“Where are you?” He answered the call.
“I… got lost,” Jiang Cheng said.
“What?” Gu Fei was utterly shocked, “Lost?”
“Yes, lost! There was a series of turns when we came in, now I don’t know which turn to take. The alleys here must have been fucking built into a maze!” Jiang Cheng said in a very bad mood.
“You… wait a moment.” Gu Fei looked at Gu Miao, “Er Miao, go in and lead Jiang Cheng gege out.”
Gu Miao stepped on the skateboard and flew into the alley at lightning speed.
When Jiang Cheng heard the sound of the skateboard wheels, he shouted: “Gu Miao?”
Gu Miao’s silhouette flashed out from a corner ahead and waved at him.
Jiang Cheng went over – in fact, he had just come from there. He followed after Gu Miao and turn another corner before seeing the small street from before.
Fuck. If I had known it was this close, I wouldn’t have called Gu Fei and put myself to shame.
The shame that happened today was actually enough to form a four-item combo.
“You okay?” Wang Xu asked the moment he saw him come out and then stared at his face.
“It’s nothing,” Jiang Cheng rubbed his stomach.
“You didn’t get hit in the face, huh?” Wang Xu looked at his hand.
“En,” Jiang Cheng looked at him. “Why, you want a hit?”
“I’m just asking,” Wang Xi said. “You got hit in the stomach? Does it hurt?”
“I’m hungry,” Jiang Cheng said.
“You hit back, didn’t you?” Wang Xu continued to question closely. “I saw someone come out with a huge bump on his forehead. How did it happen?”
“I said that if someone dared to add another hit, I would hit back,” Jiang Cheng answered somewhat impatiently. “I took his head and smashed it on the wall. Why, do you want to try it?”
“I’m going home,” Wang Xu said. “I’m leaving… then, Gu Fei, I’ll treat you to lunch tomorrow afternoon.”
After Wang Xu left, Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei stood together and watched Gu Miao play on the skateboard, a moment later he spoke. “Thanks.”
Although he suffered two punches in the stomach from Hou Zi to the point that he still felt like vomiting even then, if Gu Fei hadn’t been there, this option to settle the dispute wouldn’t have existed. He reckoned that, from then on, he would probably run into Hou Zi scouting around every time he went out the door. If that was the case, life could end there and then.
“Are you really okay?” Gu Fei glanced at him.
“En,” Jiang Cheng didn’t want to discuss this matter at all. He thought about it and asked, “Have you eaten?”
“No,” Gu Fei answered.
“… Wang Xu said that you were eating noodles just now and would come once you were done,” Jiang Cheng said.
“Then you two would have been beaten to pieces already,” Gu Fei said. “I was eating on the pedestrian-only street. If I actually came here after I finished eating, it would have taken a good half an hour.”
“Let’s go eat a little more,” Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Miao, “What do you want to eat?”
Naturally, Gu Miao did not answer him and merely looked at Gu Fei.
“You can just lead the way,” Gu Fei patted her temple lightly.
Gu Miao immediately stepped on the skateboard and dashed off toward the barbeque stands from before.
“Get on,” Gu Fei looked at Jiang Cheng.
“I’ll walk there,” Jiang Cheng said.
Gu Fei did not say any more and rode off on his bicycle.
Jiang Cheng sighed. He pressed on his stomach only to feel like retching a bit, not knowing whether it was from hunger or the two punches from Hou Zi.
Gu Miao picked the barbeque stand that was closest to the side, and when Jiang Cheng strolled over, she had already selected a bunch of food to eat.
When Jiang Cheng smelled the aroma of the barbeque, the uncomfortable feeling in his stomach slowly disappeared – leaving only a strong sense of hunger. He went over and pointed at the meat: “The same ten skewers and also 1kg of crayfish.”
This stand did not have crayfish, he ran to a stand that was half a street away and brought back a kilo.
When several large pieces of meat piled on the table, Gu Fei could not help but ask: “Have you always been able to eat this much all at once?”
“Xiao Ming’s grandfather lived for 103 years,”3 Jiang Cheng picked up a lamb skewer and took a bite.
Gu Fei laughed and had the boss bring a small bottle of the Red Star’s Er Guo Tou Liquor.4
At first, Jiang Cheng wanted to ask, ‘do you have to drink when you eat’, but Xiao Ming’s 103 years old grandfather stopped him.
Gu Miao didn’t speak, and he didn’t have much to say either, therefore, it was exactly like the last time they ate barbeque together – completely silent until they finished eating.
This was also quite nice, eating to the fullest. Every time he ate with Pan Zhi, because he talked nonstop and often did not eat enough or to the fullest, they had to add more food.
They were at a very lively barbeque stand and their table was like a bright and beautiful scenery – every time the boss passed by, he would glance at them repeatedly, perhaps thinking that they were here for a negotiation appointment and could possibly get up and pull a knife out at any given time.
When Gu Miao ate her fill and removed her hat off to grab her head, Jiang Cheng finally broke the ongoing silence.
“Why did you buy her a green hat?”5 he asked Gu Fei; this question had plagued him perpetually since the day he saw Gu Miao at the shop.
“She likes green,” Gu Fei said.
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Miao’s green hat again – Gu Fei’s answer was always so logical and tidy that it would make anyone unable to accept it. “Being able to buy a hat of this color is also a miracle ah.”
Gu Miao shook her head.
“En?” Jiang Cheng looked at her.
“It wasn’t bought,” Gu Fei said.
“Knitted?” Jiang Cheng touched the hat, you really can’t tell, the handwork is pretty good. “Who knit it for you huh? Your mom?”
Gu Miao smiled and pointed at Gu Fei.
Jiang Cheng fiercely turned his head to look at Gu Fei: “The fuck?”
“Be a bit civilized,” Gu Fei said calmly.
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Miao embarrassingly, then turned to Gu Fei again. “You knitted it? You also know how to do this?”
“En,” Gu Fei answered with a grunt.
Jiang Cheng suddenly felt that the impression that he had of Gu Fei in his mind had become a blur – a pocket full of candies, a knitted wool hat, a murderer, the killer of his own father.
Once they were done eating, Gu Fei mounted his bicycle while Gu Miao undid the rope that was wrapped around the back of the bicycle, grabbed onto it tightly and got on her skateboard.
“Be… careful,” Jiang Cheng didn’t actually know what he should say.
“See you tomorrow,” Gu Fei said before he rode off, pulling Gu Miao from behind and disappearing into the crowd in the small street.
Jiang Cheng only reacted after he paid the bill, see you tomorrow?
Is today already over?
Of course, that day was not over since there were three classes left for the afternoon and to his surprise, Politics occupied two classes – the instant Jiang Cheng saw the schedule, he felt extremely sleepy.
True to his word, Gu Fei did not appear for the whole afternoon. Well damn, it’s really ‘see you tomorrow’.
Jiang Cheng leaned forward on the table and slept the entire afternoon; the advantage in not having Gu Fei there was that Zhou Jing didn’t constantly turn around and talk – how peaceful.
The Politics teacher had an even lower sense of existence than Lao Xu – the most transparent among all the teachers that he had met that day.
Even when he was teaching on the podium, he needed to constantly increase his volume so that his voice could be heard through the unscrupulous snoring in the classroom.
In the last class, Pan Zhi sent him a message.
– As expected, no teacher wanted the self-study class, awesomeeee.
Jiang Cheng glanced at the teacher on the podium and then replied to Pan Zhi.
– It’s awesome here, this class is exactly like the food market.
– Even if it’s peaceful, you’ll still sleep anyways. It’s noisy now, are going to sleep huh.
– You don’t know shit.
Jiang Cheng sighed, Pan Zhi did not understand. Even though he had always slept in class, it didn’t mean that he fell asleep every time. When he closed his eyes, he would listen to the lecture and when it was time to review for an exam, he wouldn’t sleep or cut classes.
In such an environment, he was really worried that the quality of this xueba would decline.
Once the dismissal bell sounded, the classroom was immediately overtaken with noise and nearly everyone had instantly packed their own things before hurrying to leave while chatting cheerfully along the way.
Jiang Cheng gathered his things, grabbed his school bag and left the classroom, but when he passed through the hallway, he felt numerous lingering eyes. His glanced to the side for a look only to see many people leaning against the railing looking at him – he wasn’t sure if they were the second-year or third-year students, regardless, there was curiosity and analyzation in their eyes.
He turned to look for Wang Xu, that bastard must have said something, probably bragged arrogantly about what happened like there’s no tomorrow.
When he went down the stairs, his cellphone rang; he reckoned that it was Pan Zhi, however, it was an unfamiliar number.
“Hello?” he answered the call.
“Jiang Cheng, right? There are goods here for you, come and get them,” the other side said.
Jiang Cheng was shocked before he reacted and asked again if it was an express delivery, but it was logistics and he had to go and receive it himself. He asked for the address and where the things came from and then ended the call.
His mother had sent them – they should be all the things from his messy room over there.
Before she had prepared a bank card for him and in that moment, she attentively sent all his things over, yet she no longer contacted him.
He didn’t know if he should thank her or hate her.
However, his mood couldn’t be considered terrible. It seemed that he had already started to become somewhat numb to everything for the past few days. When he remembered, there would be a twinge of pain, but it would soon pass.
He slowly walked back. At this time, Li Bao Guo was definitely not at home. He might still have to eat alone at night. He pondered while walking and finally decided to eat some dumplings, but since he had eaten a bit too much at noon, he didn’t feel hungry at all at the moment.
Close to Li Bao Guo’s home, there was a small plaza with several restaurants, and when Jiang Cheng had walked by before, it looked quite lively with a dumpling restaurant that appeared very clean.
To get to the plaza, Jiang Cheng had to go through a small drought bridge. When he was getting close to the side of the bridge, he glanced over and his footsteps came to a stop.
The snow had stopped falling at noon and the afternoon sun was dazzling, and even though that bright star had already set, half of the sky was still draped with golden brilliant rays that were as faint as veins.
The small bridge was also dyed in warm colors.
In that moment, Jiang Cheng’s heart felt true peacefulness – the melancholy brought about by this chaotic day all scattered.
He quickened his pace onto the bridge, thinking that if he was half an hour earlier, it would have been even more beautiful there.
This was probably the most beautiful place that he had seen in this small broken city after all these days.
There weren’t many people on the bridge, and when he approached the center, he saw someone ahead holding a camera – probably taking pictures of the bridge and the sky.
He saw the profile… no, he knew it just from the legs.
It was Gu Fei.
It was not unexpected to recognize Gu Fei, what was unexpected was that Gu Fei, who had cut all the afternoon classes, was there, and he had a professional-grade camera and camera bag.
No wonder he refused to lend the camera to Zhou Jing.
Jiang Cheng hesitated on whether he should go over or move to the other side and pretend to not have seen Gu Fei, either way, they didn’t have anything to say.
Just as he was about to take a step, Gu Fei probably finished taking pictures since he turned and was walking to where he was.
Even if he pretended not to see him, it was too late now. Jiang Cheng sighed and forged ahead.
Just when he was about to greet him – even though he had nothing in particular to say – Gu Fei saw him. After he paused for a second, he faced him and lifted the camera in his hand.
Jiang Cheng was in utter shock and didn’t have time to cover his face when he heard the sound of the shutter.
Fuck your uncle ah!6
1 Qi Zhong – High School no. 7, Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei are in High School no. 4
2 学霸 Xuébà – Real Brainiac, straight-A student – not sure if I should leave it in Chinese or not… hmm
3 Xiao Ming’s grandfather lived for 103 years (小明的爷爷活了103岁) derives from a legend that goes as such: when someone saw a child eating ice cream, out of concern, they went up to the child and said ‘eating that on such a cold day is bad for your body’ but then the child said ‘xiao ming’s grandfather lived for 103 years’, the person asked, “why??’, the child answered, ‘because he always mind his own business’. This scenario is saying that ‘you will live longer if you mind your own business’. The child/ person could be doing anything; the 103 years is just a random number and ‘xiao ming’ isn’t a particular person, it just happens that ‘xiao ming’ is a common name like ‘james’ or ‘mary’.
4 Er Guo Tou (二锅头 / èrguōtóu) Er guo tou means “second distillation” (literally “head of the second pot”), which is meant to describe its level of purity. It is a light aroma (清香) baijiu (white liquor) that takes six months to produce and is usually flavored with walnuts, longans, jujubes, ginseng, and/or sugar. At over 60% alcohol it is eye-poppingly strong if taken straight. Cheap and particularly popular among blue-collar workers across northern and northeastern China, is one of the most commonly drunk baijius in Beijing and thus has a deep association with China’s capital.
5 Green hat – 戴绿帽子lǜmàozi ‘wearing a green hat’ is a metaphor used in Chinese culture meaning the one wearing it has been cheated on. The source is a story from the Ming Dynasty where Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang enacted a law, which required men who worked in the prostitution trade to wear green hats. Later, it became common to say about a man whose wife had an affair, that she made her husband wear a green hat. It’s best to stay away from those green hats!
6 Fuck your uncle ah! (你大爷的三花猫啊！) – actually, the direct translation is “your uncle’s three-patterns cat ah!”; otherwise known as a ‘calico cat’. The 大爷 dàyé means uncle but in this content, it is a swear word; Chinese profanity tends to involve either sex and body parts, or insults to family. Some of the stronger curse words insult multiple generations of someone’s family at once. I don’t know how else to translate this properly *cries an ocean*