Translate: An | Edit: Sae
Jiang Cheng realized that he himself was quite the rotten person – skipping class and picking fights were things he did not lack doing, but he had never knocked someone out cold and left them lying in the snow just for him to go back inside and continue eating.
“Hey,” he followed Gu Fei into the shop and stared intently as Gu Fei plopped back down on the chair nonchalantly. This conversation could not be bluntly carried out with Gu Miao present, so Jiang Cheng could only vaguely hint at it, “That… you’re really not going to take care of it?”
“Don’t worry, it’s fine,” Gu Fei looked at him. “He’ll leave by himself once he stands up and he’ll only need to fix his nose bridge at most… you’re quite kind. How come you weren’t worried when you come into contact with Hou Zi and his gang.”
“Did I…” Jiang Cheng pointed toward the door and then after having to decide on a proper vocabulary for quite a while, he added: “… put them to sleep?”
Gu Fei looked at him in silence, but the suppressed smile on his face could be easily seen.
“Fine,” Jiang Cheng sat down. “It’s not like I caused it.”
Gu Fei lowered his head and continued to eat. Jiang Cheng didn’t say anything else afterward even though he really wasn’t sure if the guy outside could “stand up” and even “walk away himself”.
The difference in the environment was a plausible factor – the environment he grew up in taught him that no matter how worrisome his actions were, there was always a “degree” to which these actions were exercised. Yet Gu Fei, looking at this rundown old town, looking at the people around, this sort of unrestrained wildness was able to go unnoticed.
Thinking in this way, Jiang Cheng actually felt quite thankful toward Gu Fei, thankful that when he lied face flat in the snow “sleeping” back then, Gu Fei didn’t let him freeze to death outside.
Jiang Cheng was quite accustomed to eating in silence with the Gu siblings, the two previous meals were all like this. Gu Miao didn’t talk, Jiang Cheng had nothing to say and Gu Fei had no desire to speak at all from the looks of it.
Eating like this was quite time-efficient, ten minutes in and they were just about finished.
As he put down his chopsticks and was going to say a word of gratitude, a string of painful curses sounded from outside the door. From the sound of it, the guy who was put to sleep had finally woken up.
Jiang Cheng let out a sigh of relief and continued to listen.
The person cursed but with great difficulty, most likely because his nose bridge was broken. Loosely listening to the words, his scripted cursing was stylistically very similar to the fight in which Li Bao Guo’s neighbors were involved.
This was perhaps street culture.
Except there was a sonorous phrase that caught his attention, so unable to refrain himself Jiang Cheng glanced up at Gu Fei.
“So I fucked your mom, what are you gonna do about it!” The person’s speech was unclear, but it could still be deciphered.
After Gu Fei’s gaze met his own, he took a few more sips of the soup before responding: “My mom’s boyfriend…”
“What?” Jiang Cheng did not wait for him to finish before expressing his own extreme surprise. Though the man was quite disgusting, he was at most around thirty, even if Gu Fei’s mother gave birth to him at the age of twenty, she would still have to be close to forty.
“Among many,” Gu Fei finished his sentence.
“Ah?” Jiang Cheng froze.
“You full yet?” Gu Fei asked. “There’s still some more meat, add more if you’re not full yet.”
“I’m full, I’m full,” Jiang Cheng nodded hastily.
“Er Miao, clean this up,” Gu Fei said, putting down his chopsticks.
Gu Miao instantly stood up and very proficiently stacked the bowls together before she gathered the chopsticks into one hand and carried them all out the backdoor.
Looking at this manner, Jiang Cheng suddenly felt a bit displeased as he thought back to Li Bao Guo saying, “this sort of thing needs to be done by women”. Jiang Cheng reached out his hands wanting to help clean up.
“You sit still,” Gu Fei stopped him. “She can do it.”
“Because these sorts of things should be done by women, right?” Jiang Cheng turned to glare at him.
Gu Fei froze and then smiled: “Did I say that?”
“Silent omission, right?” Jiang Cheng thought back to tonight’s chaotic play put up by Li Bao Guo’s family and the anger he extinguished with great difficulty began to climb back up with a rapid pace.
“I,” Gu Fei pointed at himself, “Cook.”
Jiang Cheng looked at him.
“Gu Er Miao,” Gu Fei pointed toward Gu Miao’s fleeting figure walking in and out of the back door, “Wash the dishes”
Jiang Cheng continued to look at him.
“Is there something wrong with that?” Gu Fei asked.
“Ah.” Jiang Cheng looked at him, the flames of anger that were slowly crawling upward instantly all turned into awkwardness.
“Ah?” Gu Fei also looked at him.
“… ah.” Jiang Cheng really was unsure of what to say next.
Gu Fei ignored him. He stood up and left the table, sat down behind the cashier counter and lit up a cigarette, allowing it to dangle in his mouth.
Jiang Cheng wanted to leave, but his upbringing didn’t allow him to drop his chopsticks and leave after having a meal at someone else’s house. He could only sit beside the table and watch as Gu Miao ran back and forth two, three times until the table was clean.
Just as he was about to ask Gu Fei for a cigarette, Gu Fei stood up with the cigarette dangling in his mouth and followed Gu Miao out the door.
All that was left inside the shop was him staring at an empty table surface, blankly spacing out.
He took out his phone and sent Pan Zhi a message.
– Grandpa! Wanna chat for a while?
– I’m busy.
Pan Zhi sent over a voice message: “You fucking bored to death and sent this to play me! I got reprimanded by my mom just now and she wouldn’t even give me a meal!”
When Jiang Cheng heard this, he immediately laughed and returned him a voice message – a full 20 seconds laughter.
After having finished laughing, Jiang Cheng stood up and decided to take a look at what the Gu siblings were doing in the back. If nothing was going on, he should be leaving.
When he exited from the back door, there was a small courtyard, most likely shared by a couple of storefronts at once, there was also a bathroom and a small kitchen.
Jiang Cheng was knocked straight in the face by a gust of wind the instant he walked out the door, he immediately rushed towards the kitchen.
Gu Fei stood with his back facing the door, Gu Miao stood beside the kitchen sink and was washing the dishes with hot water.
The little girl was quite proficient, and her expression was also very concentrated.
Jiang Cheng watched for a moment, unable to understand the point of Gu Fei standing here. Gu Miao was not a small child, if her job was to do the dishes, then let her be, why must he stand there and watch?
“That…” he cleared his throat.
He was unsure if Gu Miao was too concentrated in washing since she acted as if she did not hear him and continued to wash the dishes with care.
Gu Fei turned his head: “En?”
“I’m getting ready to go,” Jiang Cheng said. “Do you have jackets you don’t wear often? Lend me one.”
“None,” Gu Fei replied.
“The fuck?” Jiang Cheng stared at him. “What are you getting at?”
“There are ones I wear often,” Gu Fei answered. “They’re in the closet inside the room, you can go take one out yourself.”
“… oh, thanks.” Jiang Cheng turned around, getting ready to get a jacket.
“Cheng Ge,” Gu Fei’s call halted him to a stop.
Jiang Cheng stopped. Gu Fei following Gu Miao in calling him Cheng Ge made him feel a bit weird, but also inexplicably comfortable – he almost wanted to answer back with “what’s up little bro.”
“Leave after she’s finished washing, and tell her goodbye,” Gu Fei said.
“En,” Jiang Cheng nodded his head, “You… give me a cigarette.”
Gu Fei took out a lighter and a cigarette box from his pocket and handed them to him, then turned back around to keep watching Gu Miao wash the dishes.
Jiang Cheng took the cigarette and backed out to the edge of the door to light it, then also turned to watch Gu Miao wash.
Although he was unsure, and it was still inconvenient to ask – he could feel that Gu Miao was possibly a bit different from the average child, hence Gu Fei had to watch over her even while she was washing the dishes.
Except, if he was this anxious, why allow her to fly around the streets on a skateboard by herself. And even when she was bullied, he did not seem to do much about it.
All the people here are very interesting.
Sometimes all these felt very unreal to him, these alleyways, these scenes, these people he had been seeing, these problems, they all seem somewhat illusionistic. Only when he was in contact with Pan Zhi did he feel as though he had returned to a realistic world.
He had probably time traveled, right?
Another era? Another dimension?
In a different world?
Thinking like this caused him to shiver in astonishment.
Gu Fei just happened to have turned around to look at him: “Isn’t it better if you stayed inside?”
Jiang Cheng ignored him.
After having finished washing the dishes and putting them away, Gu Miao finally turned and exited the kitchen. As she passed Jiang Cheng, it was as if she didn’t see him. Jiang Cheng followed her back into the shop, and it was only when she started to look for him did she turned around to see Jiang Cheng behind her.
‘You’re quite capable.” Jiang Cheng stuck up his thumb at her.
Gu Miao rubbed her nose, seeming quite abashed.
“So,” Jiang Cheng bent down to talk to her, “I’ll be leaving now.”
Gu Miao glanced at Gu Fei and then nodded her head toward Jiang Cheng.
“I’ll see you later?” Jiang Cheng raised a hand and waved at her.
Gu Miao also waved back at him.
Jiang Cheng smiled, originally thinking he could hear her say a “goodbye”, but it was still a pantomime.
Gu Fei walked inside and took out a long down-jacket for him.
“Thank you” Jiang Cheng took the jacket from him while eyeing it.
“Hat, gloves, scarf, mask?” Gu Fei asked.
“… no need,” Jiang Cheng replied since there was a total of only a couple hundred metres in distance. “A charger… do you have any extras?”
Gu Fei walked back inside and took out a charger for him.
“Thank you,” Jiang Cheng took it and put it inside the jacket pocket.
“… if someone was to throw a fist at you, would you also say a word of thanks out of habit?” Gu Fei said.
“Why don’t you give it a try?” Jiang Cheng pulled on the jacket, lifted up the curtains and walked out.
Gu Fei stretched his back, then picked up his phone to look at the time. He lightly patted Gu Miao on the head: “Come on, let’s go home.”
Gu Miao quickly closed all the doors and windows of the shop and then headed outside to wait for him with the skateboard hugged to her chest.
He organized the money in the cash register and turned off the lights.
“We’ll walk back today, Xin Jie borrowed our car,” Gu Fei said as he looked up the shop doors. “You have to go into your room and do your homework once we get home, and you can only come out once you’re finished.”
Gu Miao nodded her head and dropped the skateboard onto the ground. With a simple push of her feet, she dashed out ten-some metres before being tripped over by an unknown objected and falling over from her board.
Gu Fei laughed while blowing a whistle at her.
Yet Gu Miao ignored him and dashed out again with her feet on the skateboard after climbing up from the ground.
When they arrived home it was a bit past eight o’clock, the living room light and TV were both on. The door to their mother’s room was tightly shut, yet the faint glow of light could be seen through the cracks of the door.
Once Gu Miao walked into her own room to do homework, Gu Fei walked over to stand outside his mother’s door and knocked.
There was no response from within.
“I’m going to enter after one minute,” Gu Fei let out.
After having entered the kitchen to boil a pot of water and steeped a cup of tea for himself, he once again walked over to stand outside the door to his mother’s room. This time, he turned the doorknob after knocking twice.
The door was not locked – neither could it be locked. It was left unfixed from the last time he broke down the door while his mom made a farce on committing suicide.
“Get out,” Mom was sitting on a small sofa positioned under the window sill with a phone in her hand, eyes flaming with anger as she glared at him. “Get out! Who allowed you to come in!”
“You having a call with that guy?” Gu Fei started to raise his voice. “You tell him, if he doesn’t hang up now, I’ll go find him tomorrow – along with that part-time store he works at – I won’t leave even a single crumb behind once I’m done.”
“You…” Mom rolled her eyes at him and pushed the phone under her ear. “Tell you what… hello? Hello? Hello! Bastard, son of a bitch!”
His mom brutally threw her cell phone onto the sofa: “No, like, what is your problem?! Your mom wants to fall in love and be in a relationship with someone yet why are you here being incessantly like this. Don’t you think you’re minding too much of my business! It’s not like there’s much worth to inherit from our family, are you afraid there’s going to be someone fighting over the inheritance from you two?”
“From your group of young men, pick one, a reliable one, “Gu Fei took a sip of tea. “See if I care.”
“Which one isn’t reliable ah!” Mom’s eyebrows scrunched, “You’re annoying me to death.”
“Which one is reliable?” Gu Fei looked at her. “Stop giving them money and try – see which one will still respond.”
“Why wouldn’t they respond!” Mom slapped at the sofa. “Am I that ugly looking? If I’m ugly, then how could you have grown up with so many people praising you on being handsome!”
“En,” Gu Fei picked up the small mirror that was silently lying on the bedside table and examined himself, “Handsome.”
“You…” Mom opened her mouth but was interrupted by him.
“Everyone was telling me how beautiful my mother was when she was young,” Gu Fei put down the mirror. “Do you know what it means by ‘when she was young’? There are so many more young girls out there now who are prettier than you, younger than you, and stupider than you. If they’re not here for a bit of your money, who at the age of twenty or thirty would be in a relationship with a forty-year-old like you…”
“Get out, get out, get out!” Mom jumped up from the sofa and pushed him out the door. “I have nothing more to say to you, get out!”
Gu Fei backhandedly grabbed her wrist: “Don’t take the money from the cash register anymore, there’s only so much. I don’t even have to count to know you took them.”
His mom didn’t respond, instead, she went back to her room and slammed the door shut.
Gu Fei collapsed onto the living room sofa and continued to sip his tea. He grabbed the remote control and flipped through the channels – this was a time left for the dramas with mothers, mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, aunts and uncles to squabble and bicker, otherwise, it would be dramas with a Virgin Mary who was forgiving of the past and used love to melt the heart of a lying son of a bitch.
After sweeping his eyes through the channels, he closed the TV and walked into his own room.
Then he opened the computer, and without a single strand of hesitation of choosing photography over homework, Gu Fei began to process his photos.
Homework – he didn’t know how to write them no matter if he did it or not. Just like how he always failed his tests no matter if he answered them or not.
He transferred the photos from his camera to the computer, first he deleted the scrap shots and then picked out the ones that were worth processing from the remaining.
Er Miao’s shots were all pretty good. The little girl had wiped away all smiles from her face whenever she was being photographed, leaving only a serious expression as if she was about to go and bomb the school – yet it was quite cool looking.
The streetscape wasn’t very good, too messy, and the background was too mismatched. The sunset ones were okay, the one with a person wearing a long red overcoat passing on the bridge was especially good looking in terms of color… Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng, the ones with Jiang Cheng…
He knitted his eyebrows together and compared them, deciding to keep the first one before deleting all the others.
Plugging in his earphones, he started to process the photos while music was playing in the background.
Processing photographs was quite tedious work, but it was also quite interesting to perform once he started – much more interesting than attending class.
Recently, this music player became quite extreme under his meticulous guidance. The songs in his personal radio station1 outdid the next in terms of bombarding his head, causing his mouse-clicking movements to look as if he was galvanized, and his actions were completed in muddled chaos.
Once he changed the playlist to the one in his hard drive, it became much more calming.
After he shuffled through two songs, the familiar sounds of a guitar started to play, soon followed by the piano and then the voice of a woman.
I step up into the void, I’m about to fly… above me is confusion, below me I hear you say this world is empty…2
Gu Fei moved the mouse and clicked on the next song.
Has it been a few years already, it didn’t feel weird when he first wrote it, but now it sounded quite immature. The female voice was Ding Zhu Xin, who had handled it quite nicely – within the lazy and raucous voice contained doubt and struggle.
After finishing Jiang Cheng’s photos, he glanced at the time – almost eleven o’clock. Time was always like this. When you needed it, there was none and when you didn’t need it, nothing could make it pass.
Gu Fei stretched his back and looked at the screen display full of Jiang Cheng’s face. The light was just right, the ambiance and style were just right, a teen wearing the expression of disdain was also just right, not making eye contact with the camera was also good.
He was much better than those paid models Ding Zhu Xin hired for her trash of an online store that Gu Fei used for practice.
He downsized the photos by a slight fraction, checked to see if the photos as a whole had any problems before saving them and then opened Meitu Xiu Xiu.3
Color change, light dimming, adding filter, fantasy, starlight…
And finally, he even added a row of text on top of the photo——sorrowful music, unbridled rotation, the night seemed all the more silent.
After arranging the frame, he sent it to Jiang Cheng.
Last of the Wilds4, Jiang Cheng’s ID seemed to imply that he was indeed a xueba. Even though the English letters appeared no different than Chinese Pinyin in front of Gu Fei, he had actually heard of this piece, and quite liked it in fact – heavy metal style piper.
And then taking a look at Jiang Cheng’s profile picture, it was a view of his back and his profile, very blurry, but he could tell it was Jiang Cheng by looking at the nose… this photo was taken quite nicely.
A few minutes later, Jiang Cheng replied to his message.
– Do you have a problem…
He started to smile.
– What’s wrong?
– You must actually be an emoji artist right! Why didn’t you make me a middle-aged, elderly man emoji? Tonight, we raise our cups and toast to our friendship and whatnot.
– Do you want it? I’ll help you make one.
– Fuck off.
Gu Fei leaned against the chair and laughed for some time before replying.
– Why, you don’t like it?
– What happened to humanity?
Gu Fei sent him the original version while laughing.
On the other side, Jiang Cheng became silent and after a couple more minutes, he finally replied.
– Just one? Is there any more?
– None, the other ones weren’t as good, I deleted them.
– … well aren’t you strict with yourself, couldn’t you have sent them to me first and have me delete them myself?
– Didn’t you say you wanted to delete them this afternoon?
Jiang Cheng didn’t reply.
Gu Fei put down his cell phone and exercised his slightly stiff limbs before walking out of his room.
The light in Gu Miao’s room was already turned off. He walked over and pushed open the door to peek inside. The little girl had already finished her homework and also washed up, now she was wrapped up in her blanket sleeping soundly.
When he was busy doing his own thing he didn’t like to be disturbed, not only did Gu Miao remember this fact, even his unreliable mom knew this… he was unsure of when his mom left the house, but she left without a single sound – not disturbing him at all.
Gu Fei knitted his eyebrows, took off his jacket that was hanging on the hook beside the door and fished out his wallet only to see that the hundred dollar bills inside were all gone.
“Fuck,” he swore under his breath.
He returned to his room and dialed Liu Fan’s number.
“Da Fei? You coming out? We’re having a drink right now,” Liu Fan’s joyful voice sounded from the other end. “Li Yan and us, we’re all here.”
“I’m not going, I’m tired, going to bed,” Gu Fei said. “Go somewhere with me tomorrow.”
“Going where?” Liu Fan asked immediately.
“The CD store I mentioned from last time,” Gu Fei answered.
“That shop with the boss and employees who all fake out that they’re some musical geniuses?” Liu Fan asked.
“The boss is the real shit,” Gu Fei replied. “I’m looking for the thin-legged grasshopper.”
“I got it, you don’t need to come,” Liu Fan clicked his tongue. “It isn’t right if you went. I’ll bring the others with me, what kind of result do you want?”
“The result of turning and running the other way whenever he sees my mom again,” Gu Fei said.
“Okay,” Liu Fan answered.
Once he hung up the call, his phone sounded again – Jiang Cheng sent over a message.
– Thank you.
Gu Fei glanced at his profile picture and realized he had already changed it to the one he just sent him.
– Changed your profile picture already?
– En, it’s quite swag.
Gu Fei smiled. He put down his phone and got ready to wash up. When he got to the doorway, his phone sounded again.
He walked back, picked it up and took a look.
– I might have to wear your jacket for another day tomorrow since I’ll only have time to go buy one after school.
– Aren’t you going to wash it before returning it to me?
– … do you have mysophobia?
– No, between the quilt cover and the jacket – how about you choose one to wash.
– I’ll wash the jacket and return it to you.
Gu Fei yawned, not sure if it was because he ate too much meat that night but he was extremely drowsy.
After washing up, Gu Fei fell onto the bed and instantly fell asleep, and only when he felt cold throughout the night did he pulled on the blanket.
When he woke up in the morning, everyone was gone. His mom didn’t come back for the whole night and Gu Miao had already left for school by herself. He glanced at the time, not to mention morning reading, the first class had already passed by half.
“Ay——” He dragged out his voice and stretch his back with all his might before he lazily organized his things and went out the door.
Just as he arrived downstairs, Lao Xu’s call came in: “If you continue to be like this for this semester, are you waiting to be expelled?!”
“I overslept,” Gu Fei said.
“I don’t care what excuse you have today,” Lao Xu replied. “I need to have a talk with you at noon! I need to take responsibility for you!”
“… what did you do to me that you need to take responsibility?” Gu Fei asked.
“You stop mouthing off!” Lao Xu replied. “I didn’t know about your problems before, that’s my dereliction of duty! Now that I know, it is my duty to take care of you!”
Gu Fei’s steps faltered: “What of my problems?”
“The problem with your father,” Lao Xu very earnestly replied. “As your homeroom teacher, I sincerely hope you can open up your heart to me…”
“You don’t have to worry about my problem,” Gu Fei answered. “Why do I care who you are – do you believe that I can open up and kick your ass?”
1 Personal Radio Station 私人电台 – I think he’s using some music app where after listening to a certain style for a while, the personal radio station starts to recommend songs in that particular field. He must’ve been listening to rock or something.
2 Song: Run Freely by 凯瑟喵\甘乐 (The singer of this song is supposed to be Ding Zhu Xin and the lyrics by Gu Fei)
The male version by 沈謐仁
3 Meitu Xiu Xiu 美图秀秀 – it’s a photoshopping app
4 Last of the Wilds by Nightwish