Title: A good person, hard to be; a white cloth, hard to wear
After that drug incident, his relationship with Han Jia became closer yet also strange, and Jiang Xiaoning couldn’t say whether or not he liked the current situation.
The time that they spent with each other was actually quite limited; Jiang Xiaoning did not go to Han Jia’s place every day, and even when he did go, he would return home before midnight – only on rare occasions did he stay the night.
And Han Jia was still on call; when Jiang Xiaoning called him over, he sounded extremely exhausted as he leaned against the door and looked at him: “Are you messing with me on purpose? Is it interesting to have me come here only to watch you do your assignments?”
Jiang Xiaoning said angrily, “If I liked doing my assignments alone, I would have gone home already.”
At that time, Han Jia merely looked down for a moment and then softly whispered, “You, ahh…”
After that, Han Jia never complained, and he seemed to put in a lot of effort for the sake of fulfilling his promise of “you are more important than anyone else”. He never made Jiang Xiaoning wait for him for more than twenty minutes, and he never missed any of his calls – once, when he answered Jiang Xiaoning’s call, his voice was clearly abnormal.
“I will be back a little late,” his voice was still normal when he said that, however, his next sentence carried a difficult trill to it. “Don’t wait for me.”
Jiang Xiaoning was furious since he was keenly aware of that trill, and stubbornly said: “Come here now! I want to see you in twenty minutes!”
He ended the call as a nameless fire made him want to throw his phone out. He was halfway toward Han Jia’s place at that time and arrived just fifteen minutes later; not long after he entered, Han Jia appeared.
“What’s wrong? In a bad mood?” Han Jia was stared at by him in the middle of the room with a puzzled expression.
The remnant of his affair still lingered on him without his knowing, his eyes were moist, and his lips were bright red and because he had rushed back urgently, he was short of breath.
Jiang Xiaoning suddenly became a bit softhearted as he looked at him, but he held it back with a deep breath and said angrily: “What were you doing when you answered my call?”
At first, Han Jia stared blankly and then he laughed.
“I was even wondering what you were angry about,” he stretched out that tone and his voice sounded like an elder that was teasing a child. Then he went to sit on the sofa and casually said, “I have work to do too ah.”
Jiang Xiaoning was even more infuriated because of his tone. He stared angrily at him for a long while, mulling over the many words to criticize him, however, he also knew that he was in no position to speak out. In the end, he only teased with, “When you accept my phone call during ‘work’, how do you explain it to your ‘work partner’?”
Han Jia seemed to think that he was quite amusing, smiling the entire time as he looked at him, took out his cellphone and swayed it in front of him: “Give a call and see.”
Jiang Xiaoning browsed away from the site he was on and dialed, and very soon, Han Jia’s cellphone sounded. He hooked his finger toward Jiang Xiaoning, signaling for him to come over.
Seeing his own name listed as “Jiang Laoban” (Boss Jiang), Jiang Xiaoning’s mood was very much shaken. This title that seemed to be like that of a pimp – no matter how you look at it – made him raise his eyes to look up at Han Jia, completely speechless.
“You’re also mad about this, ah?” Han Jia was a bit helpless, “I’ll come over when I receive your call; there must be a reason to get away.” He looked at Jiang Xiaoning and laughed again, “Don’t tell me that you honestly saved me as ‘Han Jia’ in your contact?”
Jiang Xiaoning snorted and went to the contact list on his phone before lifting it up for him to see.
Han Jia glanced at him, and his expression became a bit strange; he took his cellphone, pressed a few buttons and asked suspiciously, “How come I’m the only one in your contact list? Jiang Xiaoning, do you not have any friends?”
“I don’t need any!” Jiang Xiaoning angrily snatched the cellphone away. He ran back to the study room and leaned over the table for a good while, unsure of why exactly he was mad.
After a long time, Han Jia finally appeared at the door. He knocked and said: “I just ordered take-out. Are you leaving after you eat or will you be staying here for the night?”
“Are you trying to shoo me away?” Han Jia stood up to stare at him, “And then you’ll return to ‘work’?”
Thinking back to how Han Jia could have silently expected him to leave so that he could go and mess around with someone else, Jiang Xiaoning became extremely irritable.
Han Jia glanced at him and sighed as he walked over to caress his hair. “I won’t shoo you away, but aren’t you afraid that Jiang Laoshi will worry?”
Jiang Xiaoning turned his head to avoid his hand and crudely said: “Worried? How long has it been since he actually looked at me? He probably wishes he could live in the school every day, and he won’t necessarily know if I return home at night or not…”
Han Jia did not speak, and after a while, his hand landed on Jiang Xiaoning’s head again, softly rubbing his hair in a comforting manner.
Jiang Xiaoning felt that his own face must be red; when Han Jia’s fingers accidentally touched his outer ear, he mustered all his willpower to prevent himself from doing anything stupid.
With Han Jia’s breath at the side of his face, he wanted to move in closer, but Han Jia sighed and let him go.
“I understand, you can stay as long as you want,” he simply put it and then left the study room.
Jiang Xiaoning stared at his back the whole time.
When he came over the next day, Han Jia was already there first.
“Here,” he passed an envelope over to him, “Take your friend to see it.”
When Jiang Xiaoning took it and looked inside, there were five tickets for a concert by a popular singer in the city.
“I don’t have any friends,” he said and threw the envelope on the tea table.
“There are so many people in a class, you’re not always looking down on everyone, right?” Han Jia added, “Talk with everyone about activities more often and they will slowly become real friends.”
“I don’t like this singer.” Jiang Xiaoning frowned, walked by Han Jia and entered the study room.
On the third day, Han Jia brought him a couple of tickets to the Science and Technology Museum.
“There’s an Aerospace Exhibition with real aircraft installation ah.” He was all smiles, seemingly certain that Jiang Xiaoning will definitely like this.
“Not interested,” Jiang Xiaoning answered coldly.
On the fourth day, Han Jia brought a pile of tickets to the amusement park.
“Don’t say that you don’t like this either?” He looked at Jiang Xiaoning and smiled slightly.
Jiang Xiaoning – honestly – could no longer bear it, he did not want to say what he truly wanted to ask so he shifted the topic elsewhere. “Where did you get all these things? Got it when you’re at ‘work’?”
Han Jia did not look angry at all and seemed to smile even more happily than before. He slowly said, “More or less. You already know that if I take something from someone, I’ll always return it with something.”
Jiang Xiaoning stared at Han Jia with fire in his eyes; it seemed that after they had started their new relationship, Han Jia did not abstain from those types of shameless topics more than ever. Sometimes, it was obvious that he wanted Jiang Xiaoning to look down on him – intentionally. It was as if… as if he did not even attempt to make Jiang Xiaoning have the slightest bit of good impression of him.
Thinking of that, Jiang Xiaoning’s irritability increased drastically, and the discomfort that had been accumulating in his heart finally exploded. He shook away the tickets that Han Jia had passed over and shouted: “Why do you insist that I make friends? Are you that annoyed that I might bother you? Eager to rush me away huh? Didn’t you say that you wanted to repay me and redeem yourself? You’ve clearly promised that I will be the most important person… you are all the same; you and my father are both like this – always trying to get rid of me…”
At first, his father was mentioned to make Han Jia suffer, however, it had instead stirred up his own emotional grievances as Jiang Xiaoning felt a rush of heat in his eyes.
If he were to cry, it would mean losing face, so he turned with the intent to leave.
His arm was grabbed – Han Jia had already caught up and whispered ‘sorry’.
Jiang Xiaoning shoved him away, but Han Jia adamantly refused to let him leave. As the two tussled, Jiang Xiaoning stumbled and fell heavily on Han Jia.
That forced Han Jia to fall; his head bumped firmly on the floor, and the sound produced was quite loud.
Frightened to silence, Jiang Xiaoning lied on Han Jia, not knowing whether to get up.
Han Jia hissed in pain, “Get off.”
Jiang Xiaoning quickly got up and stared at him nervously.
Han Jia’s brows slowly wrinkled before he touched his head and looked back at him, then spoke in a low tone. “You can’t just be happy and instead revolt with a shitty temper… who can put up with you later on?”
Jiang Xiaoning was silent.
Han Jia looked at his dejected appearance and sighed, “I don’t find you annoying. Jiang Xiaoning, when I was in high school, because… because of my personality, I didn’t have any friends. You should not be like this; interact with friends more often so you won’t be like you are now…” his brows moved as he expressed those words, “… unhappy like this.”
Jiang Xiaoning kneeled beside him and very gently and cautiously reached out his hand to touch his head.
“Alright, I’m fine.” Han Jia’s complexion was still somewhat pale as he slowly got up and smiled at him. “Isn’t your birthday coming up soon? Get some friends that you are on good terms with and have them invite some others so that you all can go to the amusement park together, doesn’t that sound quite nice?”
Jiang Xiaoning looked at him in shock, “You know my birthday?”
Han Jia smiled and sighed simultaneously, “Don’t you know better than to ask before helping me up first?”
Feeling ashamed, Jiang Xiaoning carefully reached out to help him up; Han Jia frowned: “I feel a bit dizzy, let me go rest for a second, you can do your assignments.”
“I…” Jiang Xiaoning looked at him, “I’ll accompany you.”
Han Jia waved his hand and slowly went to sit on the sofa, whispering: “Let me be in peace for a while.”
Jiang Xiaoning watched him lie down and then returned to the study room – not without turning his head to look back with each step. At this point, he already had no intention to work on his assignments; he sat idly for some time before eventually leaving the study room again.
He crouched down in front of the sofa and stared at Han Jia’s pale complexion and tightly closed eyes for a moment, and then whispered: “Han Jia?”
Han Jia shifted and opened his eyes to look at him.
With the lights having not been turned on, the glow of the setting sun shone in from the window and made Han Jia’s eyes appear so clear like that of water that one can see simply the bottom of it.
Jiang Xiaoning looked at him and said in a small voice, “How do you know my birthday?”
Han Jia’s eyes twinkled before he smiled slightly: “You told me yourself, did you forget?”
“Really?” Jiang Xiaoning was not convinced, but he and Han Jia had talked about many topics so it was possible that he had mentioned it unintentionally. He thought about it and decided to no longer bother about that issue; his head hung low and he spoke in a tone that was nearly inaudible even to himself. “Celebrate my birthday with me then, okay?”
Han Jia just looked at him somewhat confused and did not answer him.
“My dad has never remembered my birthday,” Jiang Xiaoning said quickly – successfully making Han Jia expose a sympathetic expression, “And I’m not familiar with my classmates. Han Jia, celebrate my birthday with me and then I will go and make some friends, okay?”
“Okay ah.” Han Jia replied, “How do you want to celebrate?”
When Jiang Xiaoning heard Han Jia’s response, a bright smile showed on his face. “I’ll wait for you here and then we can eat together, and we can discuss where we’ll go when we’re eating, how’s that?”
Han Jia was somewhat taken aback, “What? You want to cook?”
Jiang Xiaoning was a bit embarrassed, “Just come back on time.”
With that Han Jia went silent and looked at him, wondering what he was thinking; after a moment, he spoke in a whisper: “Okay ah.”
The excitement that filled Jiang Xiaoning was so immense that he almost wanted to kiss Han Jia’s face.
That elated mindset continued until the day of his birthday – these past few days, he was surprisingly positive and friendly at school; even when he saw the teacher, he despised the most, he still had on a smiling expression.
He ran to several different marketplaces to choose the best ingredients; without informing Han Jia, he used what little savings he had to buy them, and little by little stored them in Han Jia’s refrigerator – he also bought a bottle of red wine.
When the day of his birthday arrived, he simply had no mind to focus on the afternoon classes as he looked at every second of the time tick by, beckoning the bell for class dismissal to sound.
He was the first student to rush out of the school gate.
With expectations derived from unknown reasons, his heart raced like a drum the entire way. Once he was at Han Jia’s residence, he nervously and excitedly started to cook; his movements practically losing the usual fluidity – he had even thrown out a dish and cooked it again.
After all the dishes and soup were on the table, he finally let out a long sigh of relief.
However, when he had just relaxed, he could not help but to start becoming apprehensive. He ran toward the mirror in front of the wardrobe and fixed his own hair, raised his collar unnecessarily and then lowered it back and then he finally looked up and saw himself smiling foolishly in the mirror.
There was a noise at the door; he quickly ran back to the kitchen and pretended to set the tableware.
The noise from the door passed by and sounded elsewhere.
Jiang Xiaoning looked up at the clock and took his cellphone out; however, after some thoughts he did not call Han Jia.
It was only after two long hours, when his mood had already shifted between resentment and anxiety, that he finally pressed the call button.
A beep sounded until a mechanical voice told him that there was no answer.
He wanted to rush to Jin Ting but thought that Han Jia might return at the last minute.
He wanted to be angry at Han Jia but also worried that something might have happened to him.
But he couldn’t even concentrate on worrying about Han Jia. Remembering the hesitation when Han Jia had promised him, there were enough reasons for him to suspect that Han Jia was doing so halfheartedly with him.
He was restless; there was an air of impatience settling heavily in his heart. He remembered how just like this his mother had one day missed an appointment and did not return – leaving them forever. He remembered how his father had also missed an appointment and left him waiting, over and over again – never again returning home on time. He remembered how as a young kid, he used to stand outside in front of the apartment building waiting for his father to come back, and as the sky was gradually blanketed by a stretch of darkness, the warmth of light emitted everywhere else while he shivered unbearably from the bitter-cold wind, guessing whether his father had abandoned him and moved to another place; a tremendous panic had struck him then, and he cried alone in the shadows all night long.
He could no longer think. He stood on the balcony and peered down with his hands pressed against the glass.
Han Jia, Han Jia, I have forgiven you for hurting me, I trust the promise that you’ve made… I’ve even started to like you, don’t go back on your words and miss this, don’t leave me waiting, don’t let me down, please don’t let me down…
Translate: Sae | Proofread: Anasofi
** title: a good person, hard to be; a white cloth, hard to wear – refers to how it is hard to be a good person, as it is easier to be a bad person clothed in black rather than in white, which has always been seen as the good side.