Translate: An | Edit: Sae | Proofread: Anasofi
Jiang Cheng woke up a bit late in the morning. When he opened his eyes, it was almost time for the first period to begin.
His record time for skipping class was two days, and for not returning home three days, yet he was barely late for class. He himself was not sure why, but if he decided to attend class, then he would much rather not be late.
The school had only just begun, he did not plan on skipping at the moment. He looked at the time and jumped out of bed, ran into the bathroom and grabbed a single-use toothbrush.
He normally wouldn’t use these things even when he stayed in hotels because these toothbrushes had deadly stiff bristles and its size was unnecessarily super large, plus they usually didn’t have any favorable flavours… and when he was gurgling, he wasn’t sure if it was because he had put too much power into his left hand or the toothbrush was just too crappy, but he had noticed that his gums would bleed.
When he lifted his head, he saw his own pale, sleep-deprived self in the mirror – there were even hints of black circles around his eyes, paired with the white foam around his mouth…
“Ah…” Facing the mirror, he used the hand wrapped in bandage to clasp his chest and pointed ahead dramatically as he painfully took a few breaths of air into his lungs. “Shit… there’s poison… in this shit! Ah!”
He laughed to himself for a while after his performance ended, then remembering that he was almost late, he quickly started to splash water on his face for a quick wash.
When he ran out of the motel after checking out, he could almost feel the Ru Jia1 from across the street laughing at him.
That’s right, he followed Gu Fei’s clear instructions yesterday and found the Ru Jia. However, as he searched his whole body, he found that besides the five hundred yuan and the cell phone, not a single article of clothing belonged to himself. He simply couldn’t stay at the Ru Jia in the end.
Because he didn’t have his ID on him, the receptionist threatened to call the police while he tried to have her help think of a way to get in – it could not have gotten any worse.
A large old area in a small rotten city, why was it so difficult to get a room in a motel?!
He already had on Gu Fei’s wool sweater, wearing Gu Fei’s down-jacket, took Gu Fei’s charger, also ate his meal and smoked his cigarette, he really had no face to go back and ask Gu Fei to let him borrow his ID.
Just as he succumbed to his fate and decided to hole up in an internet cafe for the night, he spotted a small motel from across the street, and hence was finally saved.
He turned back to give the small motel a final look, “Zhou’s Family Motel”, and mentally took note. The next time he wrote his memory logs he could come back and relish.
After buying breakfast from a small shop below the motel, he didn’t have the time to eat it before he stuffed it in his bag and furiously ran toward the direction of the school.
The distance between Si Zhong and this side of the town weren’t too far – two stops away, and they were small stops too. If one was to use the time to wait for the bus and then squeeze on, you could have walked to your destination already. But to say that it was close, it still just about killed him running the full way and also, it was difficult to spot a taxi so early in the morning.
As he ran towards the school gate, Jiang Cheng heard the warning bell rang. The people around him approached the gate as if they were filtered in a slow-motion shot, without a single sign of reaction, they continued to eat and chat away while slowly moving forward. In accordance with the rhythm of the warning bell, they stepped onto the school campus looking like they were strolling into their own backyard.
He slowed his own steps, not wanting to seem like a fast-paced nerd in front of this large audience.
Considering his current conditions, if he was in his previous school, the teachers on duty would have already started a swearing campaign. Yet the teacher standing on duty at the gate of Si Zhong – whether they were good-tempered or already accustomed to such nonsense – was gently screaming: “Hurry! Speed up your pace! Whoever climbs the gate after it closes will receive penalty marks!”
Climb the gate? Jiang Cheng turned around to look at the school gate.
The gate to Si Zhong was actually quite imposing: double layered, one layer was a half-person tall mechanized door, and on the inside was a two-framed metal door with spikes on the tip.
He suddenly remembered that Gu Fei was late yesterday – he climbed inside?
Tsk. Just thinking about that row of pointy spikes, he could feel a swish of cold wind blowing past his crotch.
As he climbed up the stairs someone called his name from behind: “Jiang Cheng!”
He turned around to see Wang Xu holding an extra large-sized pancake, gnawing and running toward him at the same time.
“Geez, it’s really you.” Wang Xu looked at him from top to bottom, “I thought it was Da Fei just now, but then realized the hat isn’t right…why are you wearing his clothes? These are his clothes, right?”
“En,” Jiang Cheng continued up the stairs.
“Did something happen?” Wang Xu looked at his hand. “The fuck, what happened to your hand? Was it Hou Zi? You went to hide at Da Fei’s?”
“No, it wasn’t. No,” Jiang Cheng replied.
“You don’t have to hide it from me.” Wang Xu gave his shoulder a pat in a very loyal manner, “This happened because of me. If anything else occurs, I’ll take responsibility, just tell me the truth…”
“Don’t,” Jiang Cheng turned around to look at him. “Pat my shoulder.”
Wang Xu lifted his hand.
“Also, don’t pat my back,” Jiang Cheng added.
“Fuck,” Wang Xu quite uncomfortably contracted his hand back into his pocket, taking a few large strides as he passed Jiang Cheng and walked upstairs. “So many problems.”
Gu Fei didn’t show up to the morning self-study period, not sure if he was late or just skipped altogether.
Jiang Cheng slouched over his desk, and using Zhou Jing’s body to hide himself, he slowly ate his breakfast. Four weeks hadn’t passed yet these five people were already eating together.
He thought to himself as he ate, it had only been two days and he had already assimilated?
His breakfast was actually very simple: fried dumplings and soymilk. He had even very carefully asked for cabbage fillings in his dumplings, being afraid that the smell would be too strong when he ate in class.
Yet taking a look around him, Chinese chives filled dumplings, Chinese chives filled meat pies…forget the smell, there was even someone slurping on a bowl of beef flavoured instant noodles.
The first period was English, and Lao Lu walked in screaming as usual and unsurprisingly, he had even stolen half a dumpling from a kid who ate so slow that he was still eating after a period of self-study and break.
“Ay.” Zhou Jing shifted his head, “Jiang Cheng, Jiang Cheng.”
Jiang Cheng glanced at him, not uttering a sound.
“Jiang Cheng?” Zhou Jing called him again, “Jiang Cheng.”
“Just say it,” Jiang Cheng finally knew why Gu Fei never bothered to acknowledge him, this person talked incessantly until you answered to your name.
“You’re wearing Da Fei’s clothes today, right?” Zhou Jing asked.
Jiang Cheng scrunched his eyebrows and looked at the down-jacket draped over his chair. He was starting to feel that he wore a jacket that Gu Fei wore very often.
Wang Xu recognized it with a single glance, even Zhou Jing recognized it – half of the class had probably realized that he was wearing Gu Fei’s jacket to class.
As he lowered his head to look at the sweater on his body, he could only pray that this wasn’t a regular as well.
“The sweater is Da Fei’s as well, right?” Zhou Jing asked again. “You were at Da Fei’s house yesterday?”
Jiang Cheng ignored him and stretched over the desk wanting to nap.
“Ay, Jiang Cheng.” Zhou Jing did stop his habit of hitting against the desk, “Why didn’t Da Fei come to class today?”
“I’ll smack you if you don’t shut the hell up now,” Jiang Cheng muttered with his eyes closed.
Zhou Jing sighed and no sound came from his direction afterward.
The classroom was very cozy, roasting warm, yet to take off the sweater didn’t seem right either, not to mention that he wasn’t wearing anything under the sweater, and he couldn’t sit in class half-naked.
This Gu Fei seemed low-key, not saying more than two sentences at school nor did he seem to be especially close to anyone. He even went to the washroom alone, and yet, every single one of these people remembered what he wore.
How fucking amazing.
The second period was language class. After class ended, Lao Xu walked over and eyed him: “Jiang Cheng, come over for a sec.”
Jiang Cheng stood up, hesitatingly pulling on Gu Fei’s jacket as he followed Lao Xu out of the classroom to stand out in the hallway together: “What’s the matter, Xu Zong?”
“Why didn’t Gu Fei come to class today?” Lao Xu asked.
“How would I know?” Jiang Cheng was somewhat speechless.
“You don’t know?” Lao Xu looked at him, his face written with four gigantic characters, ‘I don’t believe you’, followed by ‘do you really not know or are you just unwilling to tell me?’
“I don’t even know him that well, why would I cover for him?” Jiang Cheng answered in annoyance.
“Oh, so it’s like that,” Lao Xu sighed. “I saw you wearing his clothes, so I assumed you guys were together yesterday and knew why he wasn’t here today.”
“… oh,” Jiang Cheng uttered, and he could only utter such. One more word and it felt like he would have a mouthful of old blood spurt out.
“Jiang Cheng ah,” Lao Xu looked at him. “These two days that you have been in contact with Gu Fei, how do you feel about him as a person?”
Jiang Cheng stared at Lao Xu. If he didn’t know for a fact that he was in school right now, that the person standing in front of him was his homeroom teacher and that Gu Fei was only his desk partner, he would have thought he was facing a blind date introducer.
“One day,” Jiang Cheng corrected Lao Xu’s speech. “Half a day to be precise.”
“Yes, he wasn’t here yesterday afternoon,” Lao Xu knitted his eyebrows. “Then, how do you feel…”
“I have no feels,” Jiang Cheng interrupted him. “Xu Zong, I have no opinion towards this person.”
“Gu Fei is quite smart. He’s different from the rest of those underachievers,” Lao Xu was adamant about expressing his own opinions. “If his ideologies could be worked out, his grades would improve.”
“By me?” Jiang Cheng pointed at himself, he almost wanted to ask, ‘are you sure you’re awake?’
“No, no, me,” Lao Xu smiled, pointing a finger at himself. “Ideologies should, of course, be worked out by the homeroom teacher.”
Jiang Cheng remained silent. He could see that Lao Xu was a good person, but just based on his current position in the heart of his students, the difficulty of this job was quite big. Even a person like Zhou Jing wouldn’t buy his words, let alone Gu Fei.
“I was thinking, your grades are very good,” Lao Xu said. “Could you be his learning partner?”
“What?” Jiang Cheng stared at Lao Xu in surprise.
Learning – partner?
This sort of pairing only took place during middle school, the end result was either that it resolved to nothing or early love relationships. To appear again in high school, Lao Xu’s current expression really resembled that of a middle-aged sticker.2
“Not really learning-partners,” Lao Xu tried to explain. “Just, help him out more often, have him listen to lectures more during class, teach him the questions he doesn’t understand…”
Jiang Cheng looked at him, unable to understand what power resided within Lao Xu that could make him believe the illusion of Gu Fei being able to accept the supervision of someone else.
“Before, I had Yi Jing tutor him during her free time. Yi Jing is the class president, she’s very diligent, but she is a girl after all, it gets inconvenient,” Lao Xu blabbered on. “So now I hope that you… under the conditions that it does not influence your own grades, take care of a classmate.”
Lao Xu’s expression was very earnest. His tone tinted with a style of intervention made Jiang Cheng unsure of how to answer back.
From a small age till now, he had always eaten soft rather than hard and ate earnestly rather than guises, however, with Lao Xu’s overtly naive request, he really could not digest.
“Xu Zong,” he replied with equal sincerity. “I think you should get to know me better before concluding that this job should be handed to me, grades aren’t exactly industry standards to measuring a person’s character. Don’t you see that I didn’t even bring my textbooks to class today?”
The conversation did not continue once the bell for class started to ring.
Gu Fei did not come to school for the whole morning, and no teacher bothered to ask during class, almost as if it didn’t matter to them who came to class and who didn’t.
When class ended, Jiang Cheng was the first to leave the classroom. He had no items to collect, all he had to do was put on his jacket and leave. He left faster than those running to the cafeteria to grab food as he dashed out of the school like a streak of lightning.
Today’s luck was okay. Jiang Cheng spotted a taxi right as he exited the school gate, and without even waiting for the previous customer to get out he climbed in the shotgun position.
“Besides the shopping centre downtown,” Jiang Cheng asked the driver. “Where else can I purchase clothes?”
The driver answered after some thought: “The shopping centre.”
“Where?” Jiang Cheng asked.
“Downtown,” the driver answered.
“… oh,” Jiang Cheng leaned back and closed his eyes. “Then just go there.”
The shopping centre was quite unsightly. That day when Jiang Cheng and Pan Zhi ate roasted meat around there, they had walked around the shops but didn’t find anything eye-catching. But now wasn’t the time for that, it was fine as long as it was clothing.
He randomly picked and entered a store that was said to be having a sale so large the owner was about to cut their own throat and commit suicide. He grabbed a wool sweater and a down-jacket and tried them on. Then, feeling okay, he purchased them with the cash and asked the staff to cut off the tag.
As he left with Gu Fei’s jacket in hand, he felt as though he could finally relax.
The style of his new clothes was so-so, but at least they were warm, and the quality was pretty good, the cost was okay too – the price definitely wasn’t at the neck-slicing stage, it was enough to jump out from the first-floor window at most.
After finding a close spot near the shopping centre for a bite to eat, he didn’t know where else to go.
How ‘bout going back to school, and he could find a dry-cleaning shop nearby to wash Gu Fei’s clothes.
He was not going to call a taxi anymore, the card that his mother gave him had quite the amount of money, but looking at the situation with Li Bao Guo’s family, he probably had to make this money last from high school till university… he looked around and spotted a bus stop up ahead.
Just as he was walking, his phone rang.
It was from Li Bao Guo.
He answered the phone unwillingly: “Hello?”
“Cheng Cheng ah!” Li Bao Guo’s loud voice rang across from the other end. “Your class must have ended!”
“En,” Jiang Cheng continued toward the bus stop.
“Where did you spend the night last night?” Li Bao Guo asked. “Such large temperaments, if the neighbors didn’t know better, they would’ve thought I did something to you!”
Jiang Cheng didn’t speak. He stood under the bus stop to see if there were any buses that stopped near the school.
“Did your anger simmer?” Li Bao Guo continued to ask. “Come home and eat, I made dumplings, just waiting for you to come back and eat!”
“I…” Jiang Cheng didn’t want to go back, yet he couldn’t bring himself to say no. After being frozen for a moment, he was only able to say: “I’m at the shopping centre.”
“It’s not too far ah, just take line 19 to get back,” Li Bao Guo immediately answered. “The stop is just on the east entrance of the centre.”
As Jiang Cheng turned onto the street of Li Bao Guo’s home with the clothes in his hands, he noticed that there was a dry-cleaning shop not too far away. It didn’t seem that reliable from the looks of it, but there sure was a lot of clothes hanging in the closet. Jiang Cheng hesitated for a moment before he decided to take Gu Fei’s clothes in for a wash; he even paid an express fee and was scheduled to return again that night for pickup.
His steps came to a halt once he arrived at the bottom of the stairs. Parked at the hallway entrance was a pedicab3 loaded with glass and Li Bao Guo was standing to its side. He unloaded a few pieces of glass from the cart and moved inside with some difficulty.
This was probably to fill in the window that he smashed the day before. Jiang Cheng sighed and ran up: “Let me do it.”
“Yao, you’re back!” Li Bao Guo yelled out. “Don’t move, I’ll carry it. Don’t end up smashing it, it was quite expensive!”
Jiang Cheng looked and saw that it was indeed difficult to switch hands, hence he took the keys from Li Bao Guo and walked up front to open the house door.
“How understanding!” Li Bao Guo raised his head and screamed up to who knows what. “Look at this, this is my son! He understands me so well!”
“Why don’t you ask the workers to install it for you?” Jiang Cheng looked around the room, the pieces of broken glass were still scattered around the floor. He brought over the broom from the kitchen, “This…”
“Find workers?” Li Bao Guo glared at him. “How much money would that cost! Let me tell you, I was only able to bring back these rotten pieces of glass by putting it on a loan.”
“Loan?” Jiang Cheng froze with the broomstick in hand.
“The glass shop on the street in the back, the owner plays cards with me regularly, I asked him for it,” Li Bao Guo answered. “A few days later when I get lucky at the table, I’ll bring him the money.”
Jiang Cheng opened his mouth, yet he didn’t know what to say. Li Bao Guo didn’t even have money for a few pieces of glass? To pay for a few pieces of glass, he had to rely on gambling cards?
“Is it the street in the back?” He bent his back to sweep up the miscellaneous pieces of glass. “I’ll just go pay for it later.”
“Good boy!” Li Bao Guo rested the glass on the table nearby and dusted his hands, “You know to worry about your old geezer! Your family on the other side gave you quite a lot of money, right?”
Jiang Cheng turned around to look at him but didn’t utter a word.
When Li Bao Guo left to get the dumplings from the kitchen, Jiang Cheng grabbed the jacket that he had thrown onto the bed and fished out his wallet to examine – feeling utterly speechless at the moment.
The cash was probably left untouched, but the position of the card had changed. He then looked at the card number, only when he was positive that the card remained the same did he returned his wallet back into his pocket. Sitting on the edge of his bed, Jiang Cheng felt feeble.
Gu Fei took out the cigarette box wanting to take out a cigarette but only found that the package was already finished.
He crumbled the box into a ball with scrunched eyebrows and threw it onto the ground near his feet.
Aside from this cigarette box, the floor was also covered with an area of cigarette butts.
Today was very quiet. Lao Xu gave him a few calls this morning, his mom also and Li Yan too, he ignored them all and turned off his phone.
The world became quiet – he could sit alone and carefully taste the terror resting at the bottom of his heart.
The sky was starting to dim, and the northerly wind was blowing out of control. The wind would seep past hats, blow through earmuffs, swirl through mouth masks and sweep across their faces again and again.
He turned around to walk through the small path between the two rows of tombstones. With a broomstick in hand, he swept away the cigarette butts, then came to stand in front of a tombstone and stared at the picture on it.
This was the first time he set eyes on this photo after spending the whole day here.
Under the dimly lit sky, the person in the photo appeared especially unfamiliar, yet he seemed to still contain a breath of air that caused him to become fearful.
“I’m leaving,” he said.
As he turned to leave, he couldn’t shake away the feeling that there was someone following him from behind.
Turning back to look, there was only a sea of silently hushed tombstones.
Moving forward, his footsteps became heavy. Gu Fei took a deep breath and sped up his pace.
The moment he dropped the broom, the sound of water rang loudly in his ears.
His breathing seemed to have stopped, and his surroundings seemed to have dimmed all of a sudden.
It was not the sound of flowing water, nor was it the sound of water being rowed, this was… the amplified sound of someone furiously struggling to stay alive in a pool of ruthless water – it contained hopelessness and pain.
Water splashed everywhere as the waves rose one after another, overlapping and collapsing without end and within the water, a pair of eyes were staring straight at him.
“Why didn’t you save me?! Does your skin itch for a beating?!”
Gu Fei harshly kicked the garbage can beside him while soaked in momentary fear. Only at the sound of the garbage can crashing to the floor was he finally pulled back to reality.
He pulled on his jacket collar, and with his head lowered, he quickly walked down the vacant pathway toward the only entrance-exit gate of the graveyard.
This was not the last sentence he heard. But on the day that his father died, he spent the whole night drowning in nightmares with this sentence repeating over and over again in his conscious, unable to wake.
The moment before his father died, he hadn’t the time to speak nor could he speak – all that was left was the furious struggling for his life.
He didn’t know why he would dream up such a sentence, nor did he think that this sentence would follow him for the rest of his years afterward to become his indelible fear.
The feeling of standing on the lakeshore with his body soaking wet still felt so real, so real that he couldn’t help from grasping the edge of his clothes every time to ensure that they were dry.
This side of the town near the cemetery was actually very prosperous, coming out from the front gate was the main street. Gu Fei almost basically ran toward the nearest convenience store.
With light cascading upon him from all around, he finally felt his body starting to warm and the stiffness slowly beginning to dissipate.
He bought two packages of cigarettes and a bottle of water then bought a portion of oden.4
After he lit the cigarette in a sheltered place away from the wind, he took a draw and extinguished it immediately – he felt like throwing up.
He felt as though his throat was completely caked with sand.
Once he sat down on the bus, he downed a whole bottle of water and after finally feeling a bit recovered, he switched on his phone.
A bunch of missed calls, mostly from Lao Xu, others were all about unimportant things – knowing he powered off his phone, they had stopped calling. Only Lao Xu, like a loyal and persistent pursuer, called on endlessly.
After flipping through the missed calls, he opened messages, finding only one from Jiang Cheng.
– I’ll return your clothes to you at eight.
Seeing Jiang Cheng’s profile photo, he again thought back to yesterday when he was photoshopping Jiang Cheng’s photos for him. He leaned against the window, and without rhyme or reason, he started to laugh.
Life is hard for both our boys!! Chapter fanarts @机申没充电 on Weibo
1 Ru Jiao (如家) – It’s a chain motel brand, like Super 8, Holiday Inn, ibis, Marriott, etc.
2 Middle-aged stickers极了中老年表情包 – they’re just colourful, flashy and… polite stickers (gifs)
3 Cycle rickshaw – a small-scale local means of transport; it is also known by a variety of other names such as bike taxi, velotaxi, pedicab, bikecab, cyclo, beca, becak, trisikad, tricycle taxi, or trishaw. As opposed to rickshaws pulled by a person on foot, cycle rickshaws are human-powered by pedaling.
4 Oden 关东煮 Guan Dong Zhu- “dengaku” a Japanese snack, is a type of nabemono (Japanese one-pot dishes), consisting of several ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, and processed fish cakes stewed in a light, soy-flavored dashi broth. Flavour minimal, normally just salty, but different flavours and sauces have become a favourite. I assume the one Gu Fei purchased are instant made ones but they’re also sometimes sold over the counter where it had sat boiling for a while. In China, 7-11 markets oden as haodun (好炖) a word play on “good pot.” Actually it’s very much like hot pot, but Japanese version.
Chinese “Pancake” – 煎饼果子 The skin is crispy and you have eggs, vegetables, sausages and such wrapped inside.