Title: Stepping into the void with no hope of reprieve
Translate: Sae | Proofread: Anasofi
Just like an omen, Han Jia felt ill at ease since the afternoon started.
That day was Saturday, he prepared his lessons, washed a few clothes, and cleaned the house a bit – still feeling as if his heart was suspended in midair, floating and fluttering, unable to reach a solid landing.
After being restless for a while, he went out to Liu Dezhu’s home. Liu Dezhu had already gone to participate in the provincial training classes, leaving only Grandma Liu home alone. Han Jia helped her sweep the yard, prepare dinner and then chatted with her for some time; being busy like that seemed to allow his unsettling heart to calm down.
Once dinner ended, he returned home only to be greeted by the same cold and cheerless lights, the same empty walls, and this very same place that he had become accustomed to living in for the past several years now had, for some reason, made him always feel that there was something amiss.
It was in such an inexplicable uneasiness that he heard a knock on the door.
He had thought about it before, that if Jiang Xiaoning were to come again, he would harden his heart and close the door in front of his face. But that plan was destroyed to a shamble the moment it started.
Jiang Xiaoning did not carry any large bags with him this time and was only leaning against the wall looking at him with a weary expression; his voice was low and hoarse, and he appeared exhausted and weak.
“I’m injured. Let me sit for a moment, okay? I’ll only sit for a moment.”
Don’t even mention ‘closing the door in front of his face’, Han Jia was completely speechless, and simply took one step to the side, making way for Jiang Xiaoning to enter.
After Jiang Xiaoning slowly walked in, Han Jia went to close the yard-gate only to discover that he himself was holding in his breathe.
He followed behind Jiang Xiaoning and entered into the main room and then into the inner room. Jiang Xiaoning did not look back as he stood under the light and removed his jacket.
There was no other shirt behind the thin jacket, and the bloodstained bandages entered Han Jia’s sight all at once. He seemed to have been nailed to the ground as he stared straight at that bright red color, feeling a gust of cold air rising from his fingertips and spreading throughout his whole body.
Jiang Xiaoning inspected it, seemingly agitated as he spoke: “What the hell’s going on?” then he turned to Han Jia, “Can you help me wrap it up again? It’s a bit hard for me to do it myself.”
Han Jia’s heart was still beating rapidly with fear, but having heard Jiang Xiaoning say that, he remembered to go and get the medicine case. He walked into the main room and took a few deep breaths before he managed to keep his feet steady and his expression calm.
Afterward, he returned to cut the bandages for Jiang Xiaoning, cleaned the wound, rewrapped it – all the while maintaining a stiff yet cool-headed demeanor, not even blinking when his eyes landed on the obviously newly sutured wound.
Jiang Xiaoning did not mind his silence. He only lowered his head slightly and stared at his fingers before he then leaned in closer to him and whispered, “You’re actually very skilled in this.”
In these five years, Jiang Xiaoning had grown into a real man with broad shoulders and a firm chest, so when he leaned forward, Han Jia had never before thought that he could feel the pressure on himself.
His smell was completely different; blood, sweat, dust and his own warmth rose strongly surrounded them. At first, Han Jia was merely restless but now, he could feel his fingers starting to tremble.
He stepped back slightly, unable to find the words to conceal his state of mind and could only answer tumultuously. “I used to help Xiao Li treat his wounds before.”
If it was five years ago, at the mention of Xiao Li, Jiang Xiaoning would always be infuriated – that was just how emotional he was. Then he would become angry, unsatisfied, and even vent before his attention could be successfully diverted to something else. But now he did not reveal any of the emotions that Han Jia expected him to; he only answered naturally: “For them and us, sustaining injuries is a common thing.” He paused and moved close to Han Jia’s ear, sighing, “In the end, he was able to escape in one piece… I don’t know if I have that kind of luck or not…”
Han Jia did not answer, but the movements of his hands changed dramatically to that of carelessness; Jiang Xiaoning gasped painfully as his hair stood on end.
He quickly stopped, however, Jiang Xiaoning let out a light laugh instead.
That laugh made Han Jia much more gloomy; he was unable to perturb Jiang Xiaoning and the one perturbed was himself instead.
He lowered his gaze and kept moving his hands, used the scissors to cut the gauzes and nimbly knotted them, and just as he was about to get up, Jiang Xiaoning grabbed his hand.
“Where are you going?”
He looked at the medicine case on the table, “Tidying up.”
Jiang Xiaoning was silent, and the hand holding his wrist tightened before he spoke beneath his breath. “You’re not going to ask me?”
Of course, Han Jia wanted to ask. But he also wanted to punch him and then pull him by the collar and ask him what in the world had he been doing to make himself like this, why he put himself in harm’s way just for the sake of probing for answers from others, and if it was all worth it or not.
Yes, to a certain extent, he knew that Jiang Xiaoning was doing it intentionally. Jiang Xiaoning had always been like this. Five years ago, in order to receive Jiang Laoshi’s love and concern, he had often missed classes and when that ploy was no longer useful, he would cut classes altogether and when that lost its effectiveness, he stayed out all night, became an MB and hung out with a pimp.
And his current performance was precisely the same as it was then. When he was rejected, he would make light of traveling a long distance to come and see him, then rejected once more, he would make himself dejected and depressed and if he was still rejected, he would let himself get injured…
He had never used anything else as a bargaining chip – he would always bet on himself.
The messy bandages were still scattered on the ground, and the blood on the surface made Han Jia feel like a complete fool. How could he have ever thought that Jiang Xiaoning was just an ordinary willful individual? To matters he regarded as important, Jiang Xiaoning had always staked it all in one throw; if he wins, he must win completely and if he loses, he would press his luck completely.
And Han Jia was so perturbed by that kind of zealousness that he did not know how he should play his own cards. He couldn’t let Jiang Xiaoning win, but he also couldn’t bear each bargaining chip that Jiang Xiaoning increased. This time, it was an injury, next time, what would it be? When that moment came, in the end, would it be Jiang Xiaoning who couldn’t bear it, or would it be him?
The long silence made Jiang Xiaoning sigh. He loosened his hand and stood up, “I’m leaving.” He put on his jacket and spoke, “I’ll come to see you again.”
Han Jia knew what he should say, but at that moment, his heart was already in a great mess and his brain seemed to not be functioning properly.
He couldn’t move – lingering unwaveringly before his very eyes were Jiang Xiaoning’s wound, along with a loud noise buzzing in his ears.
What should he do? Should he let Jiang Xiaoning leave – let the guy who didn’t grow up at all continue to be willful because of his own reasons? Or should he cry and use the most pitiful expression to appeal to him to no longer bother with each other? Or, could it be that he wanted to detain him, allowing everyone’s hearts to never attain tranquility again?
Countless thoughts flashed through his mind, and each one forced him to desperate straits.
Jiang Xiaoning had already pushed the door open to leave yet he was still standing there at a deadlock.
Just like that, he stood there stiffly the entire night.
When the first glimmer of light broke through the sky, the village’s rooster screamed in the far distance and the morning light came from the window, he looked up as if he had just been woken abruptly; he let out a long sigh.
That day was Sunday, and he spent the entire morning cleaning up everything.
Once the afternoon rolled in, he arrived at the principal’s home.
“I know that the teachers in the school have been nervous recently, but I really have something important to do…” he pleaded. “I don’t want to transfer, I just want to take time off.”
The principal lifted his head, glanced at him and agreed.
“You don’t look too good. I can tell that something has been on your mind for a good while now. I’ll approve your time off and take care of your classes with Su Laoshi. You’ve also substituted for us many times ah.” The principal patted his shoulder while saying, “Young people shouldn’t be so dejected; what difficult situations can’t they pull through, right?”
Just like that, he didn’t even greet any other colleagues and walked all the way to the village with very little luggage, took the bus to a small town, then that very same night changed to another bus in the city before buying a ticket at the train station.
The moment he boarded the train, he was actually a bit hesitant and even after he found his seat, he still had the urge to get up and leave.
Eventually, he lowered his head and rubbed his fingers on the familiar yet unfamiliar words on the ticket.
The name of the city was more intimate than anything else before. He was born there, grew up there, struggled and fell from grace there, laughed and sneered, loved and betrayed… in the end, he fled there and could only hate and miss it at the same time when he dreamt occasionally.
He had thought that he would never need to return there again – he swore. He once believed that he would spend the rest of his life in this simpler and calmer place, full of students and textbooks and after many years had gone by and he could no longer hold chalk, he would silently say the name of this city and close his eyes.
He had never thought about going back, going against his promises, going to see those who he had promised not to meet again – to regain those pasts that seemed as if they were a lifetime ago.
Taking this step seemed to be more difficult than when he had entered Jin Ting, after all, he clearly knew what was waiting for him back then, but now, he was truly uncertain.
One day and two nights without sleep exhausted him mentally and physically, nearly provoking him to numbness, but an unprecedented thought rose all too clearly.
He could not allow himself to be cowardly, he could not allow the preposterous and chaotic past to deplete him of his courage and willpower.
He was going to do this, and he would not retreat.
Because he was Han Jia – the Han Jia who had always received first place in physics and mathematics in the entire grade, the Han Jia who was the playboy of Jin Ting, the Han Jia who Jiang Xiaoning loved.