Translate: Sae | Proofread: Anasofia
Gu Fei sat behind the cash register, playing on his cellphone while watching as Li Baoguo took his third turn around the shelves of goods. Li Baoguo did not seem to have any goal in mind; he simply turned back and forth and would glance over at Gu Fei from time to time.
Since Li Baoguo had on more than one occasion stolen things in the shop, every time he came in, Gu Fei would stare at him directly, but now came a Jiang Cheng all of a sudden, though he stared a bit, it wasn’t a stare, yet it was.
Li Baoguo was not a thief, sometimes when he gambled all his money away and needed to shop, he would first get them on credit; with the majority of the people that lived here being those at the lowest rung of society, buying and selling things on credit happened quite often than not. However, even when Li Baoguo purchased on credit, he would always think of a way to steal something else…
“Da Fei ah,” Li Baoguo put his hand in a large cotton-padded jacket and then took it out, walked to the freezer to grab a bag of fish balls and finally made his way to the register. “This, I’ll give you the money in two days? Calculate it with the things from last time?”
“Mm, okay.” Gu Fei took out a notebook from the drawer, looked for the page with Li Baoguo’s name and wrote: “A bag of fish balls, a bottle of Niu Er liquor, a large…”
“What? I don’t want any liquor,” Li Baoguo said awkwardly.
“The bottle in your pocket,” Gu Fei looked at him. “Li Shu1, you should drink less; you can’t even remember things clearly anymore.”
“Oh, oh,” Li Baoguo cracked a smile and laughed while slapping his pocket. “Yes, I got a bottle…add a pack of changbaishan cigarettes in the bag for me.”
Gu Fei turned to grab him a pack of the ten yuan changbaishan cigarette for him and then wrote it down.
“Your handwriting is pretty good,” Li Baoguo moved in closer for a look. “Hey, do you know my son?”
“Li Hui, of course, I know him ah,” Gu Fei said.
“Not Li Hui, my younger son, Cheng Cheng.” Li Baoguo propped his elbow on the counter, “He just returned. I couldn’t raise him when he was younger and gave him away… he’s also at Si Zhong, you must know him.”
“En, I seem to know him,” Gu Fei nodded.
Li Baoguo laughed mischievously, “He’s very good in his studies, certainly different from Xiao Hui, an excellent student. An excellent student, you know that right? A group of scoundrels like you must all be horrible students, huh? My youngest son is indeed a good student.”
Gu Fei smiled, “That’s right.”
“You remember now? I’ll have Cheng Cheng bring you the money in a couple of days.” Li Baoguo looked at the notebook again and then pointed at it with his finger, “My son’s handwriting is definitely better than yours.”
“…right,” Gu Fei continued to nod his head.
After Li Baoguo walked out in a good mood, he looked down at his own handwriting in the notebook.
He didn’t dare to say for certain about other things, but Jiang Cheng’s handwriting… it can only be, hehehehehhe, it absolutely belonged to the type that had been correctly written, but still had the possibility of having marks deducted as the characters were too hideously written, which would have undoubtedly irritated the teachers.
As noon approached, his mother walked in with a warm lunch box in hand: “I made some red braised pork.”
“Not going out today?” Gu Fei stood up and turned over the small stool to the side: “Did you eat?”
“Where would I go to ah! Where can I go?!” Her face was packed with discontent, “Whoever I got out with will only be left scared or lose half their life ah! I don’t want to eat!”
“Wouldn’t it be fine if you looked for someone that doesn’t need a beating?” Gu Fei said.
“Is there anyone in your eyes that doesn’t need a beating? When are you going to be able to see the goodness in people!?” She said resentfully, “This is not pleasing for you, that is not pleasing for you, your mom living as a widow must be pleasing to you!”
“To be able to see the goodness in people, that person must have goodness in them.” Gu Fei opened the lid of the lunchbox, took out the small box, and pushed half of the braised pork inside.
“Where’s Er Miao?” His mother asked.
“She went out to play. Just save her a bit,” Gu Fei said, “She’ll come back to eat when she’s hungry.”
His mother sighed: “Being out all day to the point of becoming like this, and having that kind of temperament… just looking at her stress me out2, what’s going to happen later on?”
“Then don’t look,” Gu Fei sat down and began to eat.
“You should go out today,” his mother looked at him and suddenly said.
“Go where?” Gu Fei ate a piece of meat; actually, he knew what she was talking about.
“Today is what day that you don’t even remember it ah!” She smacked the table, “How long has it been since your father died that you don’t remember!”
“He died quite a long time ago,” Gu Fei said.
His mother glared at him without speaking and then after a moment, she took out a piece of tissue and started to wipe her tears.
Gu Fei had never wanted to understand exactly what kind of feelings his mother had for her husband. When he was alive, they had argued every day, after the arguments ended, they would fight and once that was done with, she would plead to God to have this man die quickly3 yet now that he was dead, tears would stream at the mention of him.
Sometimes the crying was quite sincere and genuine that it was heartbreaking.
“I went to the cemetery two days ago,” Gu Fei said as he ate.
“That’s pointless, I said, going to the cemetery is pointless!” His mother looked at him, “Wherever he died, go there! How many times have I said that! Otherwise, no one will be at peace! If you don’t want to go, I’ll go myself!”
“I’ll go in the afternoon,” Gu Fei sighed.
“Burn some paper offerings,”4 she continued to wipe her tears. “That idiot really knows how to use money, I reckon he’s begging for food on the other side.”
“Stay in the shop this afternoon,” Gu Fei said. “And don’t touch the money. If you dare to touch any of it, I’ll tell the King of Hell that what I burn is all fake money.”
“…nutcase!” She glared at him.
The lake that his father died in was quite far away; it was said that a small park was to be constructed there yet the land had never been touched all this time, mainly because there were no residential areas in the vicinity, and the people that went there were only in the handful.
In the past two years, even the water was nearly all gone and with no one going there, not even the shadow of a person could be seen once winter approached.
If the lake was as waterless as it was now back then, and if the water in the lake was frozen even the slightest more… father would have not died.
When he had given Jiang Cheng a summary of Li Baoguo, he was somewhat absent-minded… for just a split second, he thought that he was introducing his own father to others.
Sometimes he didn’t dare to think about it – didn’t dare to face his own heart that had once so wished he would die, didn’t dare to face his own heart that even now thought that if it was to take place again, he would still wish for that man to die.
His heart and this lake… both were places that he did not want to get close to.
If his mother didn’t make him go there to burn paper offerings every year, he would never be near it.
From the house, it was a left turn; after bypassing a small factory, it was a continuously straight line with no curves or forks, and when there was nowhere else to go, you would arrive.
After he bypassed the small factory, there was no one in sight and only the ruins and sense of desolation filled his vision – the cold and cheerlessness seemed to portray another space.
Gu Fei lowered his hat, wore his face mask, and then put on ear muffs; perhaps because there were no buildings here, or perhaps because he was afraid, he felt cold and that whichever direction the wind appeared from, it could easily drill into his body – the chilliness penetrated from the outside a layer at a time.
There was not much snow this year, but because no one had cleaned it, the thick layer that remained on the ground created a sound with each step that provoked nervousness in those that treaded on it.
After walking for a while, he looked down at his feet only to suddenly discover a series of footprints on the ground.
He froze and glanced back and forth at the road, indeed there were two lines of footprints – a set coming in and none heading out.
Someone actually escaped to the lakeside in this season.
Coming to the lake to burn paper offerings was the kind of thing that he did not want others to see, he did not want to make others think that he harbored any guilt.
He had no guilt, he only had fear – nothing more.
Although the surface of the water was not large, after walking toward the lakeside, the wind was still blowing rapidly, raging by until his eyes hurt badly.
He walked through the sparse woods and stepped on the pile of wild grassland to the lakeside, his footprints all disappeared into the broken stubble of ice.
He looked to the right and left only to see no one, he hesitated for a moment and then stared at the lake with many of its areas exposing the very bottom of it, there was still no one.
Of course, even if someone had previously stepped on the broken ice and fell in… the lake as it was now, could not drown anyone to death, only freeze them to death.
He found a tree, crouched down against the trunk, threw the bag in his hand to the ground and took out a cigarette.
He wanted to wait a bit longer, especially since he didn’t want to walk along the lakeside anymore, and also, this was a prime location as the entrance and exit were unavoidable. His plan was to wait until that person left before he started to burn the paper offerings.
But after waiting for nearly twenty minutes, without moving, he should be frozen yet still no one emerged.
“Fuck,” he hesitantly nipped out his cigarette and picked up the bag.
He could only walk a bit further in: one, to see who had passed through here, and two, to look for a more hidden spot.
After a few hundred metres, Gu Fei heard a crisp sound coming from the middle of the lake.
The sound was undoubtedly not the type where the ice had cracked naturally, it was more like someone had stepped on it or something had struck it.
He quickly turned and looked toward the middle of the lake, but he did not see anyone or anything else – everything was still as can be.
Suddenly, he felt his back went cold and turned sharply to look behind him.
No one, nothing… something seemed suspicious.
Before he could turn back, a crisp sound came from the lake once more; he turned his head sharply again, feeling as though it was going to break off.
He still didn’t see anything, but the sound this time was much stuffier than the previous.
Slowly, he drew back a few steps and leaned against a tree; although it was a bit naive, he had to actually back into something real for him to have a peace of mind.
This time, he stared attentively at the lake.
Just a few seconds later, he caught sight of a stone-like thing flying out of the dried-up underbrush, near the lake about a hundred metre from where he was, hit the surface of the ice.
That echoing sound was not crisped, but rather a dull, plop.
Someone was throwing stones?
But looking at the speed of the thing flying out, it didn’t seem to be thrown by a hand.
Gu Fei pulled up his clothes, and slowly approached that direction.
Less than twenty metres away, he saw a shadow swaying on a sunken spot in front of the lake, and although there was tall withered grass almost the height of a person blocking his line of sight, he could still make out that it was a person.
Not a ghost.
He was unexpectedly scared until his heart was raced by a person who was probably bored enough to throw stones by the lakeside for fun.
Though he felt ridiculous, he was nonetheless, relieved.
He did not go any further, but instead, retreated to the woods with the intention of waiting for the person to leave and also to see what the person was doing.
That person hadn’t yet noticed another presence as he bent down seemingly to pick up something and then one of his arms stretched forward while the other pulled back.
A piece of something black flew by, ‘swooshed’, hitting the surface of the lake once again.
Gu Fei could immediately see that the person was playing with a slingshot, furthermore, he thought that the person’s clothes… were familiar-looking.
He stared at the person through the space between the withered grass for a few more moments and then froze.
The clothes on the person were the ones that Jiang Cheng had worn when they fought, and on the chest area were two wide grayish-white stripes – so freaking hideous.
He looked around, there was no one else, Jiang Cheng actually found this place by himself?
And then came to play with the slingshot at the iced surface?
What a sentimental xueba ah… such a great time, yet he’s not home studying, and instead, he ran here to play with a slingshot.
Gu Fei lit another cigarette and held it in his mouth as he watched Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng must have used small stones, however, now that the riverbank had frozen over, finding stones was not easy and every time he stooped down, he had to dig around for quite a while; sometimes he even used his feet to kick it a few times.
Gu Fei watched for a moment and felt that Jiang Cheng appeared to not be in a good mood again. Several times, when he used his feet to kick, his action was just as if he wanted to fight – the hidden anger could obviously be seen.
But after seeing him slingshot four or five stones, Gu Fei was once again surprised.
He took out his glasses from the inner pocket of his jacket and put it on, staring and looking.
Jiang Cheng was aiming at the same spot that was roughly 30 metres away from the shore; surprisingly, he had actually struck the target every single time, causing an ice hole to form there.
There were plenty of people who played with slingshots, and among the people that Gu Fei knew, there were also many who bragged about how awesomely accurate they were – many having claimed they could hit a target 70 metres away.
But for the first time, he saw for himself that someone could indeed sling a stone continuously into the same hole more than a dozen times in a row.
Jiang Cheng played for a while and then stopped before he stooped to dig and kick again, yet after some time, he still didn’t straighten back up, possibly unable to find any more stones.
After making a few laps in the same location, he walked in Gu Fei’s direction causing Gu Fei to quickly move back and squatted behind a tree.
“Fuck!” Jiang Cheng could not find any stones for what seemed like half the day, and shouted unhappily; his voice was pretty loud, and as it flowed along the wind, Gu Fei could hear it quite clearly.
There are no more stones, you should just leave.
But Jiang Cheng didn’t leave, he looked down at the ground, kicked a few times, and found a small stone after kicking a piece of frozen snow.
Gu Fei sighed.
Jiang Cheng placed a few pieces into the pocket of his jacket, looked toward the lake and then turned around.
After steadying his hold for a few seconds, he turned around and raised his hand, slinging out a stone.
Bam, the sound of the stone hitting somewhere in the distance exposed a thin steel bar on the ground.
Gu Fei was shocked; had he not worn his glasses, he would not have been able to see where the steel bar was.
Jiang Cheng turned around and took a few steps to the side before he once again swung his body around. The stone that flew out struck the steel bar again, tearing through it to pieces.
“Oh yeah! That one too!” Jiang Cheng clapped, then raised his slingshot, waved in all directions and bowed a few times: “Thank you, thank you.”
Gu Fei held back his laughter, and slowly retreated for a good distance – if Jiang Cheng was to discover that he was here, it was expected that the two of them would flatten the field of trees.
“The contestant, Jiang Cheng, has decided to raise the difficulty level once more! He has decided to raise the difficulty level once more! Wow—” Jiang Cheng said enthusiastically while drawing two stones from his pocket.
This time, instead of turning his back to the steel bar, he aimed ahead and pulled his hand.
Gu Fei practically heard two sounds simultaneously.
Of the two stones that he had slingshotted together, one hit the intended target, the other missed and hit the ground.
“Aiya, what a pity.” Jiang Cheng fished out another stone out of his pocket while saying, “Coach X, do you think he made a mistake this time or his skills are not up to par?”
Gu Fei finally reacted after some time, what the hell is a Coach X?
“I think that there is still room for improvement in his skill,” Jiang Cheng slingshotted again, “It seems he wants to change the pattern of the challenge… will he decrease the difficulty or continue…”
His hand loosened, a stone flew out, and without waiting for Gu Fei to see clearly, he followed with another pull; the second stone also flew out, immediately followed by the third.
Ding, ding, ding.
All three struck.
Gu Fei looked at his back, if it wasn’t for this current scenario, he would have truthfully given Jiang Cheng an applause – not only for his aim, but his movements were pretty much ridden with ease and confidence.
If Li Yan was here, after watching the silent version of this scene, he would certainly no longer say, ‘he doesn’t fit in right with me’.
However, after such an excellent performance, Jiang Cheng unexpectedly did not applaud himself or wave his hand and bowed – he simply stood still without uttering a word.
After a while, he lowered his head and slowly crouched down, holding his head in both hands.
Gu Fei froze.
That engrossed in his performance…?
But soon he saw Jiang Cheng’s shoulder lightly twitched a few times.
This was crying.
Gu Fei smoked the last two puffs from the cigarette before he snubbed it out beneath his feet, got up and continued to walk ahead.
He had no interest in watching this kind of scene. It was okay to watch an entertaining matter, but peeping at the injuries of others, and watching someone that always seemed to explode, cry – was meaningless.
This lake had an end though you couldn’t go around it and ahead was a mountain that resembled a rotten sweet potato, making it impossible to cross over.
Gu Fei found a small piece of land with no grass and spent about ten minutes until he was able to start a fire.
Then he took out the bundle of paper money out of the bag and threw it into the fire.
There were gold and yellow ones, and also flowers; the face value ranged from nothing to several hundred billions – everything that should be there was there.
Gu Fei looked at the rising flames and stretched his hands over them.
At this kind of moment, he should probably say something; others would generally say things such as ‘take the money ah, we’re all doing pretty well so don’t be concerned ah, if you don’t have enough money just say it, don’t worry ah’… if he wanted to speak, he truly did not know what he could say.
He watched as the flames silently changed color, rising in the thick smoke, rippling like a wave in the wind, then getting a little smaller, and finally, only a bluish-black smoke remained.
Gu Fei grabbed a twig and lightly flicked it to the side rousing the black fragments of paper, still embraced with sparks to float delicately, then everything resumed its tranquil state.
He stood up, kicked the loose snow from the side over to cover the black ash before he turned to leave.
Every year, after this day, Gu Fei felt less suffocated – relaxed really. The days returned back to that of senselessness, consisting of watching the shop, watching Gu Miao like a rabbit scuttling the entire streets, going to school to attend boring classes, playing the retarded Craz3 Match game, and watching Lao Xu’s futile attempts to rescue him from his so-called darkness.
That day, Jiang Cheng did not cry that long by the lake; by the time he had finished burning the paper, and turned his head, Jiang Cheng was no longer there.
However, when Gu Fei bumped into him at school, he couldn’t make out anything abnormal – he was still dragging a thorny demeanor with a sting to his words; in class he still rested his body on the desk as usual or closed his eyes while still listening, and occasionally squinted to take down notes.
The two did not interfere with each other in class, and had nothing to say.
Though, every time Gu Fei recalled his performance at the lake, he was always worried he would laugh out loud.
“Da Fei,” Zhou Jing leaned on his desk, “Da Fei? Da…”
Jiang Cheng impatiently picked up the book in his hand and smacked him in the head and controlled his voice: “If you have something to say, just fucking say it directly! Have you really never been beaten badly by anyone because of this before!”
“Fuck!” Zhou Jing clutched his own head and glared at him, then looked at Gu Fei. “Da Fei, when I went to Xu Zong’s office earlier today, I heard him say something like the school wants to hold a spring basketball competition next month.”
“I don’t know,” Gu Fei said.
“You’re joining, right? Our class is counting on you, if you don’t join, we’ll definitely lose,” Zhou Jing said.
“Don’t bother me,” Gu Fei pointed at him.
Zhou Jing turned around and rested on his own desk.
Jiang Cheng’s mind suddenly began to wander, next month? Spring basketball competition?
March is considered spring?
Thinking of the basketball competition, he suddenly felt a bit contrite.
Recalling his past memories of playing basketball in school would evoke some other unpleasantness, and yet it was unstoppable – memories of those delightful moments running freely on the court.
Compared to the present, those memories were all bright.
Happy reading, and see you Friday night (EST) =＾● ⋏ ●＾=
1 叔 – shū means ‘uncle’ so Uncle Shu, I’ll leave it in Chinese pinyin
2 头都大 – ‘…stress me out’, can also be ‘gives me a headache’, ‘makes me confused’ and etc.
3 早死早超生 – to die quickly; the whole idiom is, “to end one’s suffering by dying quickly and being reincarnated / (fig) to get it over with
4 paper offerings – she’s talking about ‘Joss paper’: also known as ghost/spirit money, are sheets of paper that are burned in traditional Chinese deity or ancestor worship ceremonies during special holidays; a practice believed to send money and the material wealth to your deceased relatives and friends.