Just when things were starting to look up for Luo Qi Qi, she gets thrown back into the darkness…Will things ever start going well for her?
2. Grandpa Passed Away
Time is brief, instant, therefore love and warmth are always in a hurry, there is no time to cherish it, with a blink of the eye, it has already passed.
Time is also endless, long, therefore those love and warmth are engraved forever in your heart, unable to be forgotten, for life.
I don’t know when the popularity started, but by the time I knew about it, the entire year of boys and girls were rollerskating. Roller skates during that era were very simple and crude. They were just four wheels with a few pieces of metal on top with a soft leather strap attached. The metal sheets could be adjusted for size so there was no need to take off your shoes as the roller skates were attached to them.
There weren’t many students in our year with roller skates so everyone would crowd around those few people who did have a pair and line up to take turns playing on them. Zhang Jun never fell behind on these popular things, when other boys were tottering around, walking on their skates, he was already able to skate backwards. All of a sudden, he turned into the most popular guy as all the girls wanted to borrow his roller skates and needed him to teach them how to skate.
I watched them trip around on the concrete from afar. In the depth of my heart, I longed to join them yet I acted like I wasn’t the slightest bit interested. I didn’t want to curry up to someone just for the sake of a pair of roller skates, even if that person was Zhang Jun, especially if that person was Zhang Jun.
After mom received a telegram, she suddenly announced that she had to go back to her hometown and told little sister and I to listen to our dad. I asked her if she could bring me along too , but she replied that I had to study and couldn’t skip school.
At night I stayed up writing a very long letter, telling grandpa that everything was great, there was a Teacher Gao who treated me very well, and praised that I was smart, the students all like me, I have lots of friends, I have already read lots of books, I will grow up very quickly and when I grew up, I will go visit him, accompany him fishing…
The next day, mom hurriedly left. I looked forward to her return and imagined what my grandpa would give me. Perhaps it will be a pair of roller skates. I’ll skate really, really well and let Zhang Jun be surprised.
A week or so later, mom haggardly returned, thinner than before. I pestered her, asking, “did grandpa see my letter? Did he give me any presents? What did he say…”
Dad pulled me to a corner and told me, “your grandpa had esophageal cancer. He’s already passed away and mom is very sad. Don’t pester after her mentioning grandpa anymore.” I stared at dad, stupefied. Dad gave me $5 and said, “go out to play, when you’re hungry, you can go and buy something to eat.”
I held onto the money and left the house. In the emptiness between heaven and earth, I didn’t know where to go. Grandpa passed away? Passing away means that the person has disappeared from earth? I will never see him again. I yearned to grow up because after I grow up, I can go back to his side, but what should I do now? What should I do when I grow up? Where can I go?
Xiao Bo was sweeping outside the game house when he noticed me. Smiling, he asked, “whats wrong? What’s wrong with your expression?”
“I’ll treat you to lamb skewers,” I replied.
He was dumbfounded for a moment. We were both cheapskates and didn’t spend money often. We practically never bought snacks. For me, it was because I wanted use the money to rent books whereas he seemed to have a hobby of saving up money. Today, I unexpectedly changed my nature and became generous. He stood the broom up against the wall and cheered, “Sure!”
We walked to the lamb skewer stand in the corner of the street. I handed the five dollars to person skewering and said, “twenty lamb skewers, ten with little chili, ten with lots of chili.”
“Put some more chili, put some more chili….” Under my directions, my lamb skewers pretty much turned into chili skewers.
We ate the lamb skewers as we walked. When it entered my mouth, my mouth was on fire from the spiciness, yet I continued to eat it one bite at a time. Xiao Bo held his lamb skewers and silently looked at me.
After finishing all my lamb skewers, I wiped my tears as I said, “it’s really spicy!”
No matter how much I wiped, I couldn’t wipe away the tears. It was like a dam had burst; the water all flowed out. Furthermore, my tears were increasing more and more. I felt very embarrassed and started to run away. Xiao Bo grabbed my arm and took me back to the yard.
I stood underneath the grapevine and facing the wall, the tears came gushing down. He sat on the billiard table, silently watching me.
I don’t know how long I cried for, but it was probably a long time because in the middle, Wu Zei tried to come in and was driven out by Xiao Bo. There were also a few people who wanted to come and place bets but were also rejected by Xiao Bo.
After my tears stopped, I wiped my face with my sleeve and turned back around. Xiao Bo asked, “Are you hungry? I’ll treat you to beef noodles.”
I nodded and the two of us went to eat beef noodles. In the beef noodle shop, I covered my face and told him, “my grandpa passed away.”
He was silent. I continued, “mom and dad thinks I am young and don’t remember but actually I remember it all, everything related to grandpa, I remember it all, because I miss him.” My tears started forming in my eyes again. I didn’t dare to continue so I started eating the noodles.
After we finished eating, Xiao Bo took my to a small shop* and said, “I want to buy some snacks, what do you think is good?”
*[A small convenience store that sells snacks and cigarettes]
Without any hesitation, I pointed at the the chocolates and said, “the ones with alcohol fillings are tastier.”
“Chocolates with alcohol fillings? Give me half a jin*”
*[Jin is the standard unit of weight in China, 1 Jin= 500 grams so 1/2 Jin= 250grams]
Xiao Bo got half a jin of chocolate with alcohol fillings. He ate one and also invited me to eat them. I unwrapped one and put it in my mouth, my heart was in agony yet my mouth was filled with sweetness.
At night when I got home, mom handed me a hand copied version of ‘The Heaven Sword and Light Saber’, “your grandpa transcribed this book. Originally your grandpa left you tens of thousands of dollars…” Mom softly sighed, “mom only brought this back for you, take good care of it.”
Mom’s haggardness and exhaustion made her seem darker and skinnier. She didn’t know my sorrows yet I could understand her sorrows. I softly said, ” you should sleep early.”
Mom touched my head and went out the room.
I opened ‘The Heaven Sword and Light Saber’ and started to read. Although I’ve already read the book, ‘The Book and The Sword’, and I’ve watched the television series, ‘The Legend of the Condor Heroes’, Jin Yong’s name was still unfamiliar to me. I haven’t read ‘The Return of the Condor Heroes’ either, so when I saw Guo Xiang roam to the ends of the world on her donkey, although I felt sad, I was still muddleheaded. When I read to chapter 3, the first sentence: “Flowers bloom and wither. The young men in the martial world have become old. The young girls have begun to show their age with hair turning white……”
*[The Heaven Sword and Light Saber is a wuxia novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha) and the third in the Condors Trilogy. The first in the series is ‘The Legend of the Condor Heroes’ and the second is ‘The Return of the Condor Heroes’. ‘The Book and The Sword’ is another novel written by Jin Yong.]
I suddenly felt overwhelmingly sad, the handwriting was his, yet he wasn’t here! There’s never been a moment where I understood the cruel and ruthlessness of time more than right now.
I immediately closed the book and never read on. It wasn’t until university that I dared to continue reading ‘The Heaven Sword and Light Saber’, and found out that the girl who I’ve loved for many years – Guo Xiang, wasn’t even a side character in the story.
I still went to school like before, but the world my eyes saw was somewhat different. I would often wake up in the middle of the night, and hide inside the blankets crying. I missed grandpa like crazy. I longed for the chocolates with alcoholic filling that he bought me, I longed for the light smell of ink on him, and his gentle eyes filled with doting love. I clearly knew that in this world, there will never be anyone who will dote on me like him anymore.
My classmates were still carefree and without any worries, whereas I already understood loss. In this world, how much happiness you got when you had something, means how much pain you will receive when you lose it. However much God gives you is however much will be taken away.
In the weekend, I took Chiung Yao’s ‘The Wild Goose on the Wing’ to the game house to read. Xiao Bo, Wu Zei and a few of their brothers [mates] were in front of the game house pouring cement.
I asked what they were doing, Wu Zei said that it was Xiao Bo’s idea, paving the outside with cement will make it easier sweep and keep clean. In the summer, they can set up sunroof and also sell cold drinks.
I watched on the side for a while before running into the yard to read. After reading the entire novel, I looked up at the grapes above my head, daydreaming. Do the men in the novel really exist? Will there be someone who will love me like this? Thinking to Zhang Jun made me happy, melancholic, and also a feeling of secret anticipation. Perhaps in the future, there will be a day when he will love me just like how the male lead in the novel loves the female lead.
The next day when I went to the game house, the cement outside had already dried. Wu Zei and Xiao Bo were roller skating. They both skated well and I stared at them, surprised.
Someone came to buy game coins. Wu Zei took off his roller skates and called me, “Four Eyed Panda, I’m going to look after the store, you can play.”
I looked at the half old pair of roller skates in front of me and in my infinite joy, there was also a feeling of helplessness at what to do. Xiao Bo sat by my side and helped me adjust the size of the skates. “Try it”
It was like I was trying on the glass slippers*, I cautiously put on the roller skates and felt the wheels under my feet skidding around, I was too scared to stand. Xiao Bo held out his hand and holding his hand for support, I stood up shakily. He offered me advice, “first learn to skate with your toes outwards, place one foot firmly on the ground and use the other foot to slide forward. In the beginning, it’s not easy to keep the balance, so you have to keep your legs bent. Try to keep your weight low and remember to lean your body forward, this way, if you fall, you have your arms for protection and won’t hurt your head…”
Under his support, I started to roller skate. But what can you do, my little brain was extremely stupid and couldn’t grasp the basics so I often fell. Sometimes, Xiao Bo was able to catch me, other times, he wasn’t able to hold me and fell down with me. Wu Zei sat by the door and laughed, “How can Four-eyed Panda be so stupid? I was able to skate after just three tries, how long will it take her if she’s like this?”
I glared at him but he continued laughing. Xiao Bo comforted me, “take it slowly.”
Under the sounds of Wu Zei’s laughter, we fell again and again. I fell until my arms were covered with bruises. Xiao Bo was dragged down with me until he also had bruises. Wu Zei shook his head laughing, “too scary! When Xiao Bo learnt by himself, he didn’t fall more than twice before he was able to skate. Now, when he’s teaching the stupid you, he’s fallen more than when he learnt it himself. I’d rather die than teach a girl roller skating.”
After skating for more than an hour, I was still too cowardly to even stand by myself. Wu Zei grinned and teased me continually, humiliating me, “too stupid, Brother Li had said you were smart, smart my ass!”
I didn’t utter a word. Taking off the roller skates, I silently sat in the yard and started reading. My eyes were focused on the book but Zhang Jun appeared in my mind, holding girls and skating with them.
Xiao Bo came in and looking at me, asked, “are you angry with Wu Zei?” Wu Zei stood outside the door looking at me.
I snorted and disdainfully said, “I can recite all of ‘Blossoms on a Moonlit River in Spring’*, can he?”
“Fuck”, Wu Zei shook his fist at me then turned around and went inside the room. Xiao Bo laughed, “do you still have the confidence to skate?”
I also laughed, “why wouldn’t I? Others can skate after three tries, it’s no big deal, I’ll just try ten times, a hundred times then!”
“Ok, I’ll continue to teach you tomorrow.”
“You don’t need to teach me.”
Xiao Bo was confused, I said, “you’ve already told me everything you need to tell me. Next, it’s up to myself to learn.”
Xiao Bo quietly looked at me, and laughed, “That’s good too, the roller skates will be put in the yard. When you want to skate, come get it yourself.”
From then on, everyday after I finished my lunch, I would go and practice. I would practice at night and on the weekends too. I always remembered Xiao Bo’s advice, it’s okay to fall but don’t fall on your head. Every time I fell, I remembered to use my hands to protect myself and due to constantly using my hands for support, it felt like my arms were broken.
I don’t remember how many times I fell, I only remember that in that period of time, I swayed as I walked, my palms were full of injuries. Once when I fell down, my thumb bent and for a long time, it wasn’t able to stand straight but I still continued practicing.
My determination and perseverance came as a great shock to Wu Zei. Seeing me suffer as I fell, he specially went to tell Xiao Bo, wanting Xiao Bo to persuade me to stop. Actually it wasn’t because I really enjoyed roller skating, it was only because my mind was filled with an image. In the images, Zhang Jun is holding my hand, as we skated.
In my hard struggles with roller skating, the grief from grandpa’s passing settled little by little to the bottom of my heart. My physical tiredness allowed me to sleep like the dead so I never woke up in the middle of the night crying again.
A few months later, when I had reached my capabilities, my skating still didn’t look as though I was gliding like the wind but it looked okay. Just when I decided to start learning how to skate backwards, just when I decided to choose a suitable opportunity to show off in school, I suddenly discovered that the students didn’t skate anymore. It was like a gust of wind, it came suddenly and it left suddenly. My response was always much slower than others. When other people were playing at the height of its popularity, I had just noticed. When I learnt it, everyone had already stopped playing.
I was originally hot blooded but with nowhere to spill, I vacuously abandoned rollerskating. Learning to roller skate backwards from Xiao Bo naturally also came to nothing.
Yay! I should be focusing on my exams but I felt overwhelmingly touched by all the comments of support for this novel. Thank you everyone!!!!! I hope you’re all enjoying this novel as much as I am!
To be honest, I was really surprised Luo Qi Qi’s grandfather passed away so suddenly. He was like a sweet dream to her really. She never got to say goodbye but I’m glad she got to have lots of happy memories of him. I feel like Luo Qi Qi is forced to grow up quickly due to the continuous negative experiences she encounters though. She is still quite innocent but by the way she describes things,her maturity peeks out too.
Xiao Bo is a great older brother for Luo Qi Qi. In some ways, he is quite similar to her grandfather, and in a way it kind of feels like he’s stepping in the role her grandfather had as her protector and mentor. He is patient, understanding and caring towards her. Other guys probably would’ve long given up in teaching her rollerskating, especially if they’re getting injured too so I’m really glad she had him by her side during this tough time. Go Xiao Bo!!