Translate: An | Edit: Sae | Proofread: Anasofi
“The fuck, what are you blindly taking photos of!” Jiang Cheng swore, and since our little friend Gu Miao wasn’t present at the moment, it was of no importance whether he was civilized or not.
Gu Fei did not speak and continued to click the camera in Jiang Cheng’s direction.
Jiang Cheng felt as though all the unpleasant expressions on his face were forcefully frozen in time.
“I’m asking you a question!” He walked in front of Gu Fei and reached out his hand in an attempt to grab the camera.
Gu Fei swiftly shifted the camera backward: “Two hundred sixty-seven years old.”
“What?” Jiang Cheng froze with confusion, “What two hundred sixty… how much?”
“Two hundred sixty-seven,” Gu Fei repeated once again.
“What’s two hundred sixty-seven years old?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Xiao Ming’s grandfather,” Gu Fei replied.
Jiang Cheng stared back at him for some solid thirty seconds, unsure of whether he himself was speechless or trying desperately to repress the laughter that was building up inside.
In the end, he pointed toward Gu Fei’s camera: “Give it to me or delete it.”
“Why don’t you take a look first?” Gu Fei handed him the camera.
Jiang Cheng suddenly became nervous when he took over the camera, it was dead heavy and he felt that if he wasn’t careful enough, it would smash onto the ground. But he was then put to great confusion after he saw the cluster of buttons on the camera.
Not to mention deleting, even if it was just to flip through the photos he didn’t know where to press.
“Here.” Gu Fei reached over and pressed on the camera, which made the photos appear on the screen.
There was a total of four photos as Jiang Cheng silently flipped through them.
He never developed much interest in photography, no matter if it was himself taking photos of the landscape or others taking photos of him – he would rather use his eyes to look.
Even though he normally felt like he was quite handsome, he would still be accidentally scared off his heels by the front camera every time… however, the person displayed in Gu Fei’s camera was unexpectedly – quite that.
Quite accurately portrayed, en.
The ferocious expression he worried about was not at all present – only a hint of annoyance was shown.
And the first photo – he surprisingly liked it very much.
The chaotic yet desolate backdrop that had been blurred out of focus presented itself with a faint melancholic sensitivity, causing his brain to suddenly think of the sentence – my home elsewhere – for no reason.
And he, who walked toward the camera under the radiance of the setting sun… there was not much to say except his handsomeness was off the charts.
After he flipped through his own photos twice, Jiang Cheng was unsure of what he should do next.
“The button on the bottom right corner is the delete button,” Gu Fei said.
“I know,” Jiang Cheng answered somewhat awkwardly.
The person saying to delete it was himself, but the person wanting to go back on his words after seeing the photos was also himself. After all, no photos of him were ever taken with such intense feels.
During the last Lunar New Year, his family actually went to a photography studio to have a family portrait taken. Originally thinking it should have turned out quite well, in the end, when the photo was printed Jiang Cheng almost ripped it to pieces. Because of this matter, he even got into another argument with his parents and didn’t return home for two days…
His thought seemed to have drifted too far. Jiang Cheng backtracked his train of thought and looked at Gu Fei.
“You’re quite photogenic,” Gu Fei said. “If you don’t mind, I want to keep it – I took a lot of photos of our classmates and kept them all.”
The ladder1 that Gu Fei gave was right on time, Jiang Cheng hesitated for a second: “What do you do with these many portraits?”
“It’s fun,” Gu Fei answered.
“…oh,” Jiang Cheng nodded. Having the ability to perfectly kill every conversation was indeed something admirable about Gu Fei. “Photography lover.”
“How ‘bout I friend you on WeChat later,” Gu Fei took out his phone. “I’ll clean up the photos and send you a copy?”
Jiang Cheng very much wanted to decline – I’m not interested in that stuff.
But as he opened his mouth, he ended up nodding his head: “Oh.”
With the camera still in his hand, Jiang Cheng was not sure of what to do after he “oh-ed”. Gu Fei didn’t make a sound either, apparently, he was quite accustomed to this sort of restrained awkward silence.
“Can I look through some other photos?” Jiang Cheng asked. He was still unable to form a connection between Gu Fei and this kickass professional camera.
“Sure,” Gu Fei replied.
The majority of the photographs were of bridges and sunsets. From the rays of light, one could see that Gu Fei spent the majority of his afternoons here, and there were many photos – some were of the landscape, some were also of the people walking across the bridge.
Jiang Cheng had no eye for photography, but whether a photo was good or not, he could still distinguish.
The photos Gu Fei took were very professional, the structural composition and color palette drew an air of warmth from its surroundings. If it wasn’t for the fact that Jiang Cheng was standing in the exact same spot and feeling the beating of the old northern winds against his body, then just by looking at the photo would indeed make one feel just as comfortable as sitting against the warmth of a furnace.
As he continued to flip through, the photos were probably not ones from today.
Most of them were streetscapes.
Trees and old houses, snow piles and stray dogs, fallen leaves and the feet of passing pedestrians… extraordinarily mundane yet neglected objects.
Just as he was about to classify this as Gu Fei’s photographing style, a picture of a hunched down Gu Miao with her hand grabbing onto the skateboard and leaping into the bright, sun-lit sky caused him to uncontrollably let out “ah” in amazement.
“En?” Gu Fei was leaning against the bridge railings smoking a cigarette; he turned his head after hearing Jiang Cheng.
“This one really has the feels, Gu Miao is so cool,” Jiang Cheng turned over the camera screen to face Gu Fei. “A little flying ninja.”
Gu Fei smiled: “It was a captured shot, she flew a few dozen times before I finally captured this one.”
Jiang Cheng stared at him for a moment longer. Gu Fei’s personality was quite difficult to typecast, he normally displayed an air of ‘nothing is my business, my stepmother is an alien, and I’m a conversation killer’, but during those times when he was with Gu Miao or at the mention of Gu Miao, his demeanor would then also soften.
Jiang Cheng remembered Gu Miao’s wool-knitted hat.
A thread in the hands of her loving brother…2
And this scene was even paired with a soundtrack.
Wake up and make love with me, wake up and make love…3
Except the soundtrack was seemingly somewhat unfitting.
“Your phone’s ringing,” Gu Fei said.
“Oh.” Jiang Cheng handed the camera back to him, fished out his phone in a slightly awkward manner.
Wake up and make love with me…
“Cheng Cheng ah?” Li Bao Guo’s explosive voice passed through from the other end.
“What… did you call me?” The goosebumps on Jiang Cheng’s body rose and fell like the rolling waves.
Gu Fei most likely heard it and even though he quickly turned his head away, Jiang Cheng was still able to see the smile on the side of his face.
“Are you almost home yet?” Li Bao Guo asked. “Hurry and come back, your older brother and sister came home, they’re waiting for you to come back and start dinner!”
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a wave of dreariness – not only because the plan to go eat dumplings fell through, but also because he was pulled back to reality and had to face the people who he would never have had crossed path yet became family with. He suddenly couldn’t move his legs, “I know.”
“Are you going back?” Gu Fei asked after he put away his camera.
“En,” Jiang Cheng responded.
“Let’s go together. I’m going home too,” Gu Fei said.
“Driving?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“…I walked over here.” Gu Fei looked at him.
“Oh,” Jiang Cheng turned and started to walk back.
After sunset, the temperature started to drop drastically, and the two stalked back while pushing against the old northern winds.
When their body warmed up from moments of walking, Jiang Cheng turned over and looked at Gu Fei: “Do you know Li Bao Guo?”
“People from those surrounding streets all more or less know one another,” Gu Fei replied. “Grandpas, grandmas, uncles, aunts, brothers, and sisters… we’re all old acquaintances in this neighborhood.”
“Oh, then… what kind of a person is he?” Jiang Cheng continued to ask.
Gu Fei pulled on his hat and turned his head: “What is he to you?”
Jiang Cheng was unsure of how to answer this. He pulled up the face mask that was bunched under his chin and covered a large fraction of his face – only then did he relax a bit.
“My… birth father,” he answered.
“En?” Gu Fei raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Biological father? Li Bao Guo has two sons? But now that you mention it… you and Li Hui do look somewhat alike.”
“I don’t know,” Jiang Cheng answered in annoyance. “It’s what I was told… I’m just asking you what kind of a person he is, can you answer me straightforwardly?”
“Senior gambler.” This time, Gu Fei answered bluntly. “Professional drunkard.”
Jiang Cheng’s footsteps halted slightly.
“Still wanna hear more?” Gu Fei asked.
“What else?” Jiang Cheng sighed lightly.
“Domestic abuse – it chased his wife away.” Gu Fei gave some more thought, “That’s about the main ones.”
“That’s already quite enough,” Jiang Cheng bunched his eyebrows together and after some hesitation, he looked toward Gu Fei, “Are these reliable?”
“You don’t find these reliable?” Gu Fei smiled.
“These street stall rumors seem rather…” Jiang Cheng did not finish, these street stall rumors also implied that you killed your own dad. But he could not say this out loud, no matter what the hidden truth was – Gu Fei’s father’s death was a reality.
“This isn’t gossip,” Gu Fei continued. “You go home every day, do you not see him playing cards.”
“En.” Jiang Cheng suddenly lost all will to continue the conversation.
After they reached the intersection in total silence, Gu Fei turned to walk toward the direction of his house. Jiang Cheng didn’t have the heart to even say goodbye, but neither did Gu Fei.
He pulled on his mask and walked toward Li Bao Guo’s house.
From miles away, a quarrel could be heard. The squabble was quite fierce and was also combined with both men and women.
As he approached the source of the sound, he could finally see that it was coming from the building beside Li Bao Guo’s apartment. Under the building stood a man and a woman, behind the second-floor window also stood a man and a woman.
Jiang Cheng couldn’t hear the reason for the quarrel, but the members from both teams were earnestly swearing at each other – words clearly articulated.
All sorts of reproductive systems and indescribable scenes were spat out, certain vocabularies were sometimes recycled and reused. Jiang Cheng even felt embarrassed for them as they passed through his ear.
When he arrived under the building, the man on the second floor suddenly appeared in front of the window with a pot, Jiang Cheng looked up and quickly jumped aside.
Immediately following, the pot of water filled with vegetable leaves poured out.
Even though Jiang Cheng was not drenched, his body was still splashed with water. Instantly, he was coated by a strong air of disgust, strong enough that his mask was almost blasted away.
“Are you sick?! What a bunch of idiots!” He shouted. “If you have the guts, go outside and have a fight with your fists! Don’t waste what little skills you have on being a shrew! Coward!”
Jiang Cheng didn’t look at the people around him after his outroar, he simply turned and entered the corridor inside.
He wasn’t sure if those people were momentarily shocked or unable to understand what he had just blared out, but nonetheless, both sides lowered their volume and quietly finished off their quarrel with a few more swears – just like this, the fight abruptly ended.
Jiang Cheng tried to brush away the water, there were even a few nail-sized lettuce leaves. Fuck!
Just as he fished out the keys, the door to Li Bao Guo’s house opened. Li Bao Guo stuck out his head, revealing a face full of radiance: “Was that you just now?”
“What?” Jiang Cheng answered in a throaty, glum mood.
“That was some good cursing,” Li Bao Guo said with a smile. “You are exactly how my son should be like.”
Jiang Cheng did not try to catch on to the conversation, instead, he walked past and entered the room.
The room was still as ruined as before, but that day there was an added air of estrangement.
A table full of food, along with two men, two women and three children sitting down. Huddled around the table, they filled the small living room to its maximum.
“Come, Cheng Cheng,” Li Bao Guo closed the door and very affectionately lifted an arm to wrap around his shoulders. “Let me introduce you.”
Jiang Cheng extremely despised his shoulders being touched by unfamiliar people – it was only with gritted teeth that he refrained from throwing his arm away.
“This is your older brother Li Hui, the eldest,” Li Bao Guo pointed toward a man of twenty-six to twenty-seven years of age, and then to the younger woman on the side. “This is your sister-in-law, those two are your nephews… come here, call him uncle!”
The two little boys watching TV on the side simultaneously turned their heads in Jiang Cheng’s direction, but as if they hadn’t heard a thing, they turned their heads away.
“Hey! Little bastards! I’m telling you to address your uncle!” Li Bao Guo yelled out.
Those two children didn’t even bother to turn their heads this time.
“You guys…” Li Bao Guo pointed at them as if wanting to continue but was then unsure of what else to say.
“No worries, we’re unfamiliar with each other,” Jiang Cheng patted his arm. He only wanted to be quickly freed from Li Bao Guo’s loud voice and flying spit as well as the arm around his shoulders that was causing his whole body to stiffen.
“I’ll come back for you guys later!” Li Bao Guo then pointed toward the other woman, “This is your older sister, Li Qing, this is your brother-in-law…. your niece, call him uncle!”
“Uncle.” A four to five years old little girl standing to the side addressed him with a low voice as if she got frightened.
“Hello,” Jiang Cheng forced out a smile.
Li Bao Guo finally released him. Jiang Cheng left a few words telling them he was going to change his clothes and quickly disappeared into his own bedroom. Once the door closed, he leaned against the door and closed his eyes.
Since the moment he walked through the door, with the exception of Li Bao Guo, no one else in the room full of people offered him a single trace of a smile on their faces.
When Li Bao Guo introduced them one by one, everyone only nodded their heads and not a word was uttered.
But this form of aloofness was not because he was unwelcomed nor any other disdain; rather, it was a natural reaction formed from blankness and numbness.
Even more horrendous was the pressurizing atmosphere.
In just a short span of two minutes, Jiang Chang already had difficulties breathing.
He took off his coat, and with a hand on the wall to support himself, he breathed in a few lungs full of air, slowly exhaling then inhaling, then slowly exhaling again and finally letting out a light sigh.
He couldn’t even remember how many times he sighed within these few days, probably enough to blow a welcoming balloon.
After staying in his room for several minutes, Li Bao Guo started to loudly call for him from the other side. Jiang Cheng rubbed his face and had no choice but to open the door and walk out.
Everyone in the room had already taken a seat around the dining table, those two little bastards who were only able to focus on the TV were also seated – and not only seated – they had already started eating, using their hands to grab the ribs into their bowl and gnawing on them.
“Let’s eat,” Li Qing said and reached out a hand that was about to pick up the bowl in front of him.
“Thank you, I can do it myself,” Jiang Cheng quickly picked up the bowl. “You go ahead and eat.”
“Let her fill it,” Li Bao Guo stood to the side and said. “These sorts of things are meant to be done by women.”
Jiang Cheng froze, Li Qing took the bowl from his hand and moved to the side where the pot was and filled his bowl with rice.
“Come, we have to have a drink today.” Li Bao Guo lifted up two bottles of alcohol from the floor, most likely brought along by Li Qing or Li Hui. But before Jiang Cheng could tell what alcohol it was, he had already opened the cabinet door beside him and put the bottles inside. Then from the cabinet, he took out another bottle, “I brewed this myself, quills fruit wine.”
“Just drink the two bottles Li Qing brought,” Li Hui seemed somewhat discontent. “You always bring out this rotten wine of yours to show off, it tastes like dishwater.”
“Oh,” Li Bao Guo put down the wine bottle on the table, “You think that your old geezer’s wine is an abhorrence? If you’re against it then bring your own wine too, why come empty-handed and still be picky?”
“Dad, what are you saying,” sister-in-law started, her tone full of discontent. “Your son comes for a visit and you’re still critical of whether he brought back things or not.”
“You shut up!” Li Bao Guo bulged his eyes, “Since when did this household give a woman a turn to speak!”
“What’s wrong with a woman?!” Sister-in-law raised her voice, “Without me as a woman, where would you get yourself two grandsons? Are you counting on your daughter to birth you grandsons? She’s not even able to give birth to any grandchild!”
Jiang Cheng felt himself fall into a state of utter shock, shocked that this family could start a fight from such simple conversations, shocked that they could fight over a dinner that was supposed to demonstrate family harmony and seeing Li Qing and her husband sitting in utter silence shocked him even more.
“I have grandsons because I have a son!” Li Bao Guo’s voice was loud enough to vibrate the light fixture on the ceiling, “I now have one more son. If I want grandsons, it’s only a matter of minutes! Li Hui, are you a man or not, your wife is behaving in such a sordid manner and yet you can’t even say shit back!”
“What is there to fuss about!” Li Hui slammed his chopsticks down on the table and stood up. It was unclear who this sentence was directed toward – Li Bao Guo or his wife.
“Why ask me? Do you not know what we’re fighting about!” Sister-in-law’s voice rose to a shrilling volume.
When this sounds escaped from her throat, the two little bastards who had their hands in the food simultaneously raised their heads toward the ceiling and burst out wailing. It sounded as if someone had triggered the alarm, causing people’s brains to tingle.
Jiang Cheng stood up, went back to his own room and closed the door behind him.
The argument on the other side was still going on, men were yelling, women were screaming, and children freed their vocal cords to bawl – sadly, the battered door could do nothing to hold back these voices that could make anyone fall into despair.
Behind the thin panel of wood stood his real family, the kind of family that was annoying to watch even in television dramas. They were the kind of people he always looked down on, no, not even ‘looked-down on’, it’s more like the type of people whom he never would have paid attention to.
If he had grown up in this environment during all these years, would he have been just like them?
His own explosive nature, his longer-than-usual rebellious phase – was this all genetically inherited?
Was this written in his genes?
Rebellious phase? Maybe there never was any rebellious phase.
But his terrifying nature.
Someone knocked on the door behind his back, the people outside were still fighting, he even heard the sound of someone kicking over a chair. If it wasn’t for the fact that he was leaning against the door, he wouldn’t have been able to hear this wispy knock.
“Jiang Cheng?” Li Qing’s voice sounded, equally soft.
He hesitated for a few seconds, then turned and opened the door to a crack, looking back at Li Qing who stood outside the door with uneasiness.
“Are you okay?” Li Qing asked.
“I’m fine,” Jiang Cheng answered.
Are you okay? This sentence should be more appropriately directed toward Li Qing.
“That…” Li Qing turned back to gaze at the foul atmosphere in the living room, “How about I bring in some dishes for you to eat inside?”
“No, thanks,” Jiang Cheng replied. “I really…. can’t stomach it.”
Li Qing did not continue to speak; he then closed the door again and locked it.
After dazedly standing in the center of the room for a while, he walked toward the window, with his hands on the clasp he tried to turn it.
The window did not budge.
Jiang Cheng had been trying to open this window since the day he arrived, yet not once did he succeed. This window seemed to be welded shut and refused to budge even the width of a hairline.
Jiang Cheng furiously attempted to turn the clasp with a few more tries, in the end, he started to push.
He did not succeed even when he broke out in sweats.
Staring at the window panel, listening to the chaos occurring outside, he could only feel as if something within him was about to explode.
He turned to grab the chair behind him and fiercely flung it toward the window.
The glass window broke at an enormously piercing volume.
This sound made Jiang Cheng feel very comfortable, all the pores on his body instantly opened. He once again lifted the chair and smashed again.
The glass shattered into bits with the broken pieces scattering onto the floor.
He smashed, again and again – the bickering noises in the living room turned into smashes against the door, but he was reluctant to listen.
When the glass was completely broken, he aimed at the window frame and kicked.
The window finally opened
The sounds of keys turning transmitted from the other side of the door. With one hand on the window sill for support, he jumped out.
Images for the last couple of scenes:
1 Ladder 给个台阶下 – or “steps”, generally meaning when one puts themselves at an awkward position, another person may “hand them a ladder/steps” for them to walk down from that situation so it’s not as awkward.
2 “A thread in the hands of her loving brother…” – derives from the below and translated as such:
慈母手中线，游子身上衣。Needle and thread in doting mother’s hand, Turn out garments for her son out to roam the land.
临行密密缝，意恐迟迟归。She puts in more stitches e’en as he leaves, And frets that his homecoming may be moved back.
谁言寸草心，报得三春晖。Who says the tiny inch-tall blade of grass, Can e’er repay the warm sunshine of spring?
- “For Her Son Who’ll Be Away for a While by Meng Jiao”, interpreted by Gong Jing Hao
There are actually several versions of this by various famous individuals, I just picked one
3 Wake up and make love with me，wake up and make love…… – originally in English