3. A Broken Wing
Edison* said that success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. However, I feel that success is 10% inspiration, 30% luck and 60% perspiration. On the road that we have walked, quite a large number of people have inspiration and are also willing to work hard but fate does not look upon them with favour. Respected people are these who do not call out in pain or blame it on fate. They stay quiet, work hard, and continue. Fate will often take things away unsparingly, it can be as small as an opportunity, as big as one’s health and it can even be life. We are unable to prevent fate from snatching things away from our hands, but we can choose to treasure those we have already obtained in life.
In the harsh crackdown, because Little Six was usually arrogant and offended too many people, I don’t know if it real or if someone around him had planned it, but, the news I heard was that because he was fighting over a woman, he disfigured a man. The way he disfigured him was very special. He used an eagle knife to slice the man’s face open bit by bit. It was originally a long standing debt between them but someone reported it and the police took him into custody. Through investigation, they discovered his crimes of doing drugs, selling drugs and owning private weapons. With the crimes combined, he was sentenced to the death penalty, a small bullet ending a life.
Only later did I understand that this had nothing to do with anyone. The police had their eyes on Little Six from long ago. In the crackdown period, each department had a targeted task, they would definitely take down Little Six so any reports were only a cover up for this investigation.
The news of Little Six’s death penalty flashed by on the news. I didn’t even realise that it was Little Six (I didn’t know his real name and his head was also shaved). Later, after hearing Brother Li’s brothers discussing it did I realise that it was Little Six.
Little Six’s gang members were completely extinguished but Zhang Jun was still in school. He didn’t go to prison and the police stopped looking for him to talk, proving that he had peacefully passed through it all. However, Zhang Jun didn’t look the slightest bit relaxed. During that period of time, he looked especially pale, everyday, his hair was messy as if he had just climbed out of bed. His clothes were also unkempt and he didn’t look people straight in the eye.
He always seemed expressionless, no matter what happened, he always had an whatever attitude. It was the first time seeing him like this so it looks like this whole situation had a big impact on him.
However, none of our classmates knew his relationship to Little Six, rather, everyone was sure he was deep in grief over his break up.
Regarding Little Six’s news, no one in the school followed it, his world was much too distant to theirs. The punks in the school were fond of discussing Chen Xun, because he participated in drug dealings, he was sentenced to three years of labour reform. Luckily he wasn’t yet sixteen and his possession of drugs seized was very small or else the sentence would have been much worse.
For majority of the students in the year, it was their first time hearing about drugs in real life. When they discussed it in whispers, they all wore alarmed expressions.
Drugs! How distant, so distant that it seems like those only appear in gangster films and textbooks but there is actually a day when it appears near us, and is so close to us. This generation of young people see these things with disgust and hatred but also with curiosity and worship. In their minds, people like Chen Xun lived in another world and had the impulse and hot bloodedness that they didn’t have, they were wanton and unrestrained.
Chen Xun became legendary and as Tong Yun Zhu was his girlfriend, she became the most legendary girl in the middle school department.
Wu Zei wasn’t as lucky as Chen Xun. Although the amount of drugs was very small and he didn’t have a record of dealing, doing or keeping drugs, but he was an adult and due to the harsh crackdown period, he was sentenced to ten years in prison.
When the sentence came out, Enchantress beat Xiao Bo like she had gone crazy. Xiao Bo stood there stupidly, letting her hit him and no one around tried to stop it. I tried to endure it for a long time but I wasn’t able to so I charged over and pushed Enchantress to the side and stood in front of Xiao Bo. Enchantress wanted to keep hitting him but I pointed at her nose and said, “Try hitting him again. Xiao Bo’s not the only one at fault, why aren’t you hitting Brother Li?” I didn’t finish speaking before Xiao Bo pushed me aside, hard enough to make me fall to the ground.
He walked in front of Enchantress as if he expected her to keep hitting him. However, Enchantress didn’t keep hitting, instead, she knelt on the floor and started wailing loudly. I sat on the floor, also wanting to cry. Xiao Bo stared at Enchantress painfully for a while then left dragging his feet. I could only keep in my unhappiness, jump up and chase after him.
Brother Li opened his businesses again and everything went back to normal. However, the gentle Xiao Bo had completely changed.
In the past, he only smoked as a way of conversing but now, his addiction to smoking grew and grew and often, he would always have a cigarette in hand. Although he didn’t talk much in the past, but he was still considered an open person. But now, he was so quiet it was scary.
Brother Li said to me, “Xiao Bo is the most delicate of us all and the one who values relations the most. When he was Year 4 or 5, Wu Zei took him out to play and because people shouted that he had no father, Wu Zei fought with them. He is more clear than anyone that Wu Zei going in alone is better than all three of us going in but he can’t accept it emotionally. Wu Zei had reassured Xiao Bo that once the storm was over, he will behave well in jail and if we lobby a bit on the outside then his sentence will definitely be reduced. However, Xiao Bo just wasn’t able to get past himself. He kept thinking that if he didn’t have his mind all on studying at the time and attended to the place more, Wu Zei wouldn’t have fallen into someone’s trap.”
Brother Li and I both couldn’t do anything, we could only wait until he forgave himself.
Whenever I had time, I would go and pester him, getting him to treat me to eat and play with me. Xiao Bo’s request to me was very simple, no matter how much I played or messed about, I definitely must get into a top high school.
For a period of time, I crazily revised for days and nights on end then walked into the high school entrance exam.
After the exam, I felt unrest, I felt like I could definitely get into high school but whether or not it was a top high school was up to fate. My maths and science were not bad but I was anxious over whether I’d be able to pass English. My English was very bad. In Year 1 and 2, because I was busy hating Treasure Bowl, I pretty much didn’t study.
Brother Li helped me inquire about my results. Before the results were released, they already knew that I was accepted into No. 1’s high school department. While my parents were still anxiously waiting for my results, I was already celebrating.
Brother Li helped me hold a lavish celebration. Actually, celebrating was secondary, what was important was making Xiao Bo happy. I didn’t know most of the people who came and I felt uncomfortable inside, Wu Zei and Enchantress who should have came, didn’t come. No matter how many of these people who shouldn’t have come came, how much they laughed, they couldn’t cover my sadness.
Xiao Bo would toast at everyone he saw, he was so happy it seemed as if he had gotten into university. I didn’t know how much he drank exactly that night, I only remember that everyone collapsed from having too much to drink. Brother Li drank until he cried and he slurred to Xiao Bo, “Brother is sorry to you.” Xiao Bo didn’t cry but he kept puking, after he finished puking, he’d continue drinking. I didn’t drink a drop yet I seemed like I was drunk. I kept crying non stop but I didn’t know what I was crying about.
The day our results were released, my mom dragged me to see the results board early in the morning.
We first looked at the red board on the left to see if I had been accepted by No. 1. I looked along with my mom but while she searched for my name, I was looking for Zhang Jun’s name.
I first found Guan He’s name. She was placed at number fifty. I was speechless, among the future high school department’s students, she wasn’t even able to place in the top ten. I continued to look down and actually found Zhang Jun’s name in the 200’s. I stared at it in surprise for a while. After so many things happening, I was worried he wouldn’t be able to get into a top high school but it turns out that not only did he get in, he did better than me.
My mom finally found my name and excitedly pointed at my name, shouting loudly: “Qi Qi! You! You! Here!”
The parents around us were all happy for us and all said, “Congratulations, congratulations!”
I stared at my name, not wanting to say anything. Placed 300 from the top and 50 from the bottom, I dangerously squeezed into No. 1. What was there to be happy about?
My mom didn’t care about the numbers though, she only cared that I got into No. 1. She excitedly pulled me along, “Let’s go phone your dad, we’ll go out for dinner tonight.”
Because my mom grew up with her stepfather, she lived a hard life and grew used to living frugally. She pretty much never went out to eat and her favourite phrase was, “It’s unsanitary outside.” It seems like she was truly happy today, she completely didn’t care about how ‘unsanitary’ it is outside.
I suddenly remembered Li Shan, Song Chen and the others. I pulled my mom to the board on the right, “I want to see the results of the others.”
Ever since Xiao Bo came back, I had become distant from Guan He, Song Chen and the others. I didn’t even attend our class’ graduation party.
I looked for their names one by one on the board. Luckily, all of them got into high school.
Mom asked me, “Did you find your classmates’ results? How did they do?”
“Pretty good, two of them got into top high schools and one of them is probably in a normal high school.”
My mom laughed, “That’s good. Let’s go, let’s go give your dad a call.”
“I don’t want to go out to eat. If you’re happy then cook some nice food. Later I want to go find a classmate.” Just as I was talking, I saw Guan He and her mom squeezing through the crowd. I immediately shouted out, “Guan He, Guan He.”
Guan He held her mom’s hand, wanting to squeeze over but there were just too many people so I dragged my mom over. Guan He’s mom was very thin and looked rather old but her expression had the vigour of a young person. She grumbled at Guan He, “I told you earlier that we should come earlier, see, now we can’t even squeeze to the front.”
I smiled, “Does auntie even need to worry about Guan He’s results? I just had a look and she’s ranked 50 on the list accepted into No. 1.”
When my mom heard, she started chatting very warmly with Guan He’s mom. However, her mom wasn’t very pleased and through her tone, it seemed like she didn’t think Guan He’s results were good enough.
My mom immediately shared the gossip she had just heard in the crowd to Guan He’s mom, “This time, No. 1’s high school entrance results aren’t very good. I heard that overall, the results are ranked last of all the key middle schools. Of the top 10 people accepted into the high school department, not one is from No. 1. Just then, a few parents were talking about how this is the worst graduating class in No.1’s history. I really don’t know how these teachers are teaching.”
Guan He’s mom immediately agreed, “That’s right, all these children are being held up by them……”
Guan He pulled her tongue at me and smiled, “How about you?”
“I squeezed into the gates of No. 1 with force.”
My mom and her mom were chatting enthusiastically, regretting not having met earlier.
The two of us decided to ditch them and ran to the shade off in the distance to chat.
Guan He suddenly asked, “What rank is Zhang Jun in No.1’s acceptance list?”
I was surprised inside but I indifferently said, “I didn’t pay too much attention, I think its in the two three hundreds. How did you know that he’d definitely get into No. 1?”
“Later your mind wasn’t on school at all so you didn’t notice. Later on he tried so hard! It was as if the person had changed. During self study, he couldn’t concentrate because of the people in his class so he actually beat them up behind the classroom. He even cracked a chair. In the other slow classes, the closer they got to exams, the more restless they became but his class was the exact opposite, the closer they got, the more attentive they were, just because Zhang Jun wanted to concentrate on revising.”
I became quiet. Suddenly, I felt a bit regretful that I listened to Xiao Bo and applied to No. 1. I should have gone to another middle school.
Guan He asked, “What plans do you have for summer? Are you going somewhere to play? Li Shan said that as long as he got into No. 1, his dad will take him to Hang Zhou for a vacation. Wang Hao’s parents are taking him back to their home town and Zhang Jun this rich guy, went back to Shanghai as soon as he finished his exams. How about you? Are your parents giving you any rewards?”
“I’m not going anywhere. How about you?”
Guan He smiled, “Even if I wanted to go somewhere, I can’t. I can only stay at home obediently and help mom with housework.”
I said, “Wait till you graduate from high school. When you make your own money to spend, you can go wherever you want to play.”
Guan He smiled, “There’s still 7 years.”
Amongst us all, she was probably the one who wished that time would fly by so that she could grow up the most, whereas I was probably the only one who didn’t want to move forward, I wanted time to move backwards.
If Xiao Fei could come back, if Wu Zei could not go to jail, if Xiao Bo could successfully participate in the gaokao…… There were too many ifs but time is only an arrow shot only after a bow is drawn, it can only go forwards, not back.
We chatted for a long time but No. 1’s school gates were still filled with gates. Lin Lan squeezed out from the crowd and saw me. She waved at me beaming and seeing there were no cars, ran over, “Luo Qi Qi, I saw that you got into No. 1. Congratulations.”
Only then did I remember, I didn’t seem to see her name on the board and asked, “Don’t you plan on going to No. 1? Which school are you going to?”
She smiled, “I applied for a technical school. I don’t plan on going to high school.”
Guan He and I were both dazed. In previous years, technical schools were still quite popular but now, going to technical school wasn’t considered as a very good plan. Your grades needed to be very good, their requirements were higher than getting into the key high schools yet when you graduate, you can’t compare to a university student so as long as students didn’t have any hardships, they wouldn’t choose technical schools.
I really couldn’t resist any more and asked, “With your grades, you can definitely get into university, why do you need to go to technical school?”
Lin Lan looked at Guan He and smiled, “It’s not like I’m the only one with good grades that is going to technical school. Shen Yuan Zhe’s little sister, Shen Yuan Si is also going.”
Guan He felt her mood and said to me, “My mom’s still waiting for me. I’m going home first.” She then politely said “goodbye” to Lin Lan and left.
Lin Lan looked at her walked off and the smile on her face, “I have no energy to study any more, I’m too tired. It’s not the pressure from studying but other factors. I want to leave home early and leave this place. Perhaps after a few years, I’ll forget about everything.”
Li Lan was a proud girl. In the first year of middle school, she imagined she was going to be a beautiful university student at a top university and fly freely in the outside world, but now, before she has even flown, her wings have been restrained.
Does her mom realise that because of her, her daughter has completely changed her life orbit? She should probably know, just like how every family that fights for divorce knows that their child’s slipping grades are because of them.
Lin Lan has already tried.
Lin Lan quietly looked at No. 1. Perhaps she was sighing she would never know what the distinguished No. 1 high school department is like. I quietly looked afar, in the blue sky, there were white birds flying. Under the sky, there were fresh flowers looming. The colours of summer are always exceptionally bright but this was a season of sadness.
On the other side of the road, someone called for her. It was Lin Lan’s mom who was dressed up fashionably. She didn’t look at all like she had a daughter of Lin Lan’s age. Beside her stood a young man with an outstanding deposition.
Around them, there were always people secretly staring at them. I also couldn’t resist staring. Lin Lan was very sensitive about these things and could immediately sense it. I quickly apologised, “Sorry.”
While she waved enthusiastically at her mom, she smiled, “It’s nothing. I really hate her, but she’s my mom. If even I don’t defend her then there won’t be anyone in this world who will.” She bid farewell to me, “I’m going now, bye!”
She ran towards her mom and in my heart, I quietly said, “Goodbye!”
Watching her silhouette disappear into the distance, I truly felt that my middle school life has come to an end.
Back when I graduated from primary, I looked forward to going to No. 1. I always felt that three years were going to go slowly but I didn’t realise it would go by with the blink of an eye. But with the blink of an eye, too many things had happened.
The first friend I made, Lin Lan, went to technical school; my best friend Xiao Fei, disappeared with a trace. They were one of the best students but yet they didn’t go to high school whereas trash like Zhang Jun and I got into high school.
I slowly strolled to the karaoke bar. Xiao Bo was sitting outside the bar in the shelter of the willow tree. When he saw me, he smiled.
I saw beside him and leaned on his shoulder. He smoked on his cigarette and asked, “Very sad?”
I didn’t reply. He smiled, “When I graduated from third year of middle school and finished looking at the results board, I also felt empty inside. The students I was close to were all ones who didn’t study well. I was the only one out of them who got into high school.”
“Take me out for some air.”
Xiao Bo threw away his cigarette and went in to get his keys and the helmets. I hugged his waist and rested my head on his back, listening to the roar of the motorbike on the road. He rode faster and faster as if he could keep speeding up. After a long time, the bike stopped. I opened my eyes and discovered that we had stopped by the riverside. He took off his helmet, “Let’s go over and sit for a while.”
We sat by the riverside. Xiao Bo looked at the river water as if he was pondering over something. I picked up a willow branch and hit at the water while trying to talk as casually as I could, “Where do you plan on doing the gaokao next year?”
He lit a cigarette and slowly smoked, “Getting into university has always been my dream or, becoming an intellectual. It’s been my dream to surpass the environment I was born and grew up in. Although I drink, smoke and fight like other hooligans, in my heard, I was certain that I was not the same as them. When Wu Zei became brothers with Brother Li and got tattoos because Brother Li had them, I determinedly refused because I was going to be a university student in the future so I shouldn’t do these unclean things.”
“You’ll definitely get into university.”
“Right now, my thoughts have changed. I don’t want to go to university any more. Wu Zei’s parents are small businesspeople with a fixed income and his little brother is still studying. Brother Li’s business needs people. Before, when we opened our first small ship, us three brothers said that we’ll venture out into the world together. Today, there’s only two of us left but we’ll still venture out into the world together.” He smiled deeper and flicked his cigarette, “There are too many things to do at hand, I really don’t have the time to go to university for four years.”
I tried to be calm, “If you don’t want to go, then don’t. Being a university student isn’t something rare anyway.” Even I felt that my words were fake. In the 90’s, universities haven’t expanded yet so they were extremely hard to get into. University students were still very treasured and respected, not like now where university students were bought like cabbages.
“Do you know why it’s so hard to surpass the environment you live in? It’s not that you don’t try hard, it’s because your seven human emotions is destined to be influenced by the people and environment around you. That’s why people say, ‘hang around good people to become a good person, hang around bad people to become a bad person’.”
I quickly said, “If you’re a bad person because you don’t go to university, then there’s way too many bad people in this world.”
Xiao Bo smiled and threw his cigarette in the water. He pulled me up and we got on the motorbike.
After riding for a while, he pulled the bike to a stop in front of a small shop selling toys and took me in. When the person inside saw him, they immediately smiled in welcome, “How does Brother Xiao Bo have the time to come today?”
Xiao Bo smiled, “Ah Jian, I want you to help me ink a tattoo.”
Ah Jian smiled, “No problem.” He turned inside to get a photo album and put it on the table. He flipped through page by page, introducing each one as he showed Xiao Bo, “What kind of picture does Brother Xiao Bo want? A beast of prey or a bird of prey?”
Xiao Bo flipped through a few pages and didn’t seem too satisfied. He looked at me, “Qi Qi, help me draw one.”
I felt so overwhelmingly uncomfortable inside, he was using this method to bid farewell to his past self, he was using a tattoo that can never be erased to always remind himself of his status.
“Why must it be a tattoo? The pictures all don’t look good, plus I’ve been learning art so sloppily, apart from being able to draw a lotus flower, I can’t draw anything else.”
Xiao Bo smiled, “I must have one. Qi Qi, no matter how your drawing skills are, I only want you to help me create one.”
I finally nodded silently. He smiled and said to Ah Jian, “Wait till we get the picture ready and then we’ll come find you. I want to get it inked in my shop, later you can prepare your tools and come.”
Ah Jian naturally was full of agreement.
Under Xiao Bo’s urges, I started drawing. Considering that Xiao Bo was born in the year of the dragon, I spent three days time to collect pictures of Chinese dragons and western fire dragons. I drew a long dragon with wings that was riding the clouds and mounting the mist. However, the dragon’s wings were tacked with a sword. The clouds around the dragon were all stained with red.
When Ah Jian saw the picture, he cautiously said, “The picture is very big. I’m afraid we’ll have to break it up into many parts to finish or else your body won’t be able to handle it.”
Xiao Bo laid on the bed and said, “I’m not in a rush, you can take your time.”
I sad on the sofa on the side and stared at Ah Jian. When he was cleaning Xiao Bo’s back, ready to start inking, I wanted to leave but Xiao Bo called out to me, “Qi Qi, stay with me.”
I walked back and carried a little chair over. I sat in front of him and asked, “Does it hurt?”
I grasped his hand and he closed his eyes. I silently watched the picture develop bit by bit on his back.
When I was creating the picture, Xiao Bo was impatient and seemed as if he wanted to get the tattoo immediately but when it was being inked, he wasn’t the slightest bit impatient. Sometimes, even though some more could be inked on, he would tell Ah Jian to pack up and continue tomorrow.
Because Ah Jian was being paid by the day, he was happy to ink for more days but even with the slow speed, after a month, the tattoo was completed.
Ah Jian looked at the dragon on Xiao Bo’s back with a sense of accomplishment, “I started inking tattoos when I was sixteen but up to now, this is my best work.”
Xiao Bo asked me, “Qi Qi, what do you think?”
Ah Jian asked Xiao Bo with anticipation, “Do you want to find a big mirror to have a look?”
Xiao Bo stood up and put on his clothes as he talked, “Later all I have is time, I’ll look at it slowly.”
He took me to eat lamb skewers. After eating lamb skewers, the sun was already setting. We slowly walked along the boulevard when he suddenly said, “Qi Qi, let’s break off relations!”
I suspected I heard wrong and looked at him in astonishment. He smiled, “Let’s break off relations. In the future, we’ll never be friends again and we’ll never meet.”
With the red glow of the setting sun and the sweet scent of the flowers, with his warm smile, it seemed like the countless summer sunsets we saw together in the past. I laughed and hit him, “You’re crazy!”
He smiled and opened his arms, “Do you want one last hug?”
I laughed, “So it turns out you were looking for an excuse huh? I’m not hugging you!”
He rejected my decline. He pulled me into his arms and hugged me tightly. I laughed and also hugged him. Inside, I was quietly saying, “Everything will be better, everything will be better.”
After a long, long time, he let me go and smiled, “I’ll send you home.”
I punched him with a laugh, “Next time you go crazy, find a better excuse.”
We laughed and walked along like normal. When there was a bit of distance left till my house, he stopped. I waved at him, “I’ll come find you tomorrow.”
He looked at me under the glow of the setting sun and quietly smiled.
I started running and when I was about to turn, I turned back to wave at him again. I wasn’t able to see his expression, I could only see his long body bathed in the orange glow.
The next day, I went to the karaoke bar to find Xiao Bo. The person inside told me, “Brother Xiao Bo no longer manages the karaoke bar. He’s gone to manage some other business.”
“Then where is he now?”
“I don’t know.”
I glared at him, refusing to believe his words. He apologised, “Brother Xiao Bo told me to tell you that he no longer wants to see you. He says that you shouldn’t come back again. In the future, you are not permitted to enter any all businesses managed by Brother Xiao Bo.”
I asked loudly, “Did you get it wrong? I’m Luo Qi Qi!”
He only looked at me with a sympathetic expression, like looking at girls who refuse to accept reality when their boyfriends suddenly disappeared. My pride was injured. I turned and left.
As I walked, the scene from yesterday replayed in my mind. I suddenly started shaking all over and knelt on the floor, Xiao Bo wasn’t joking! He really wanted to break off relations with me!
But why? What did I do wrong?
I rode my bicycle to ‘Across the Water’. When the person managing the door saw me, he refused me entry. I pushed back, wanting to force my way in but I was pushed to the ground and warned that if I wanted to continue creating a scene, they would notify my parents and the school.
People walking by all looked at me. Tears started forming in my eyes but I suppressed it and stood back up. I hid in a corner and sat on the floor waiting.
When the sky was about to turn dark, I saw a familiar motorbike drive over. I immediately ran over but I was blocked by someone. I loudly shouted, “Xu Xiao Bo, talk everything out. What wrong did I do to you exactly?”
Xiao Bo didn’t even turn his head. He handed his motorbike to someone and walked into the dance hall while taking off his helmet.
I finally couldn’t suppress it any more, the tears came gushing out.
Brother Li’s car stopped on the side. He rolled down the window and ordered the person blocking me to let go.
“Qi Qi, in the future, don’t come looking for us again. You know Xiao Bo’s personality well. As soon as he sets his mind on something, he won’t turn back. In the future, as long as it’s our business, you won’t be allowed to enter it.”
Brother Li started rolling his window back up and gestured at the driver to drive. I cried out, “Why?”
“Qi Qi, you’re not on the same road as us. You have your own path to walk down.”
The window closed and Brother Li’s car drove off.
I couldn’t stop crying. I’m not on the same path as you? Then with who am I on the same road with? I moved to this city when I was seven, I met you guys when I was nine. Six years have gone by, Xiao Bo’s taken me to pretty much all the places in this city on his bicycle, pretty much all the memories I have in this city are related to you all. Now you’re telling me that I’m not on the same road as you!
I didn’t go look for Xiao Bo again because I knew that when he said to break up relations, he’ll definitely break the relations. Even if I die crying in front of his eyes, he won’t give me another look, just like how back in the year by the pond, when he was memorising English, no matter how much commotion I caused, he ignored me just like he said he would.
After Xiao Bo and I broke relations, I suddenly became someone with no friends and nowhere to go.
At home, little sister practised on her keyboard everyday. I thought she was noisy, she thought that I was disturbing her by being at home. I told her to close the door when she practised and she impatiently replied, “It’s so hot, if I close the door, won’t I die from the heat? Why don’t you go out to find friends to play with?
It turns out that because I often wasn’t home, this house was already not used to my existence. I could only put on my shoes and leave.
I used my pocket money to buy a packet of cigarettes and sat by the riverside smoking.
The water in the river was exactly the same as before but everything had changed.
Under the bright sun, I smoked one cigarette after the other. I remembered back to how one year ago, I was still cuddled up on the sofa with Xiao Fei discussing the future, discussing whether Qinghua was better or the University of Beijing; I accompanied Xiao Bo to the lotus pond early every morning to memorise English and revise together.
It felt distant and unrealistic but, it was actually only a year ago. Why in the short space of a year, the whole world is unrecognisable?
Thinking about the three long years of high school, I suddenly felt very tired and started to really understand Lin Lan’s decision to go to technical school. Because she was tired and unable to support herself any further, she wanted to quickly end it and give herself a result.
I sat by the riverside one day after the other, smoking one packet of cigarettes after the other until I came to a decision.
At night, after dinner, I told my mom and dad, “Don’t go out to dance just yet. After I finish washing the dishes, I want to discuss something with you.”
My seriousness made my mom and dad became serious as well. They sat on the sofa and asked a bit nervously, “What’s the matter? Talk directly, you can do the dishes later.”
“I don’t want to go to high school.”
Dad’s face instantly changed colour. Mum pressed on his arm, hinting that he shouldn’t get impatient then looked at me and asked, “Why?”
“There’s no why, I just don’t want to keep studying. I want to enter the workforce earlier. I can go to technical school, I definitely can get in, after two years, I’ll be able to start work.”
Dad’s face turned green, “Although our family isn’t wealthy, we don’t expect you to earn money to support the family. No matter if you want to keep studying or not, you have to go to high school.”
I lightly said, “If you force me to go to high school, I can only go. You’re the parents and I’m the daughter so I can’t not listen. But if you let me go take the exam to get into technical school now, I can get into a better profession. If you don’t agree, after a few years, I probably won’t even be able to get into technical school.”
Dad stood up violently and raised his fish. Mom hurriedly held him back and pushed him out, “Go out first, I’ll talk to Qi Qi privately.”
Mom sat beside me. I looked at her silently, icily thinking that she wouldn’t have any way to make me change my mind.
She thought for a long while before she started to speak, “I know that all this time, you’ve been carrying resentment at us inside for sending you off to your grandpa’s. You’ve also been thinking that we’re biased and treat your little sister better but I gave birth to both of you. Inside, your dad and I treat you both the same. It’s just that your little sister is more lively and can speak better so we naturally communicate more with her; on the other hand, you’re rather quiet and refuse to tell us anything so naturally we talk less to you. Think about it yourself, did mom say anything wrong? Everyday when we eat together, your little sister will always tell us about things that happened at school whereas you don’t say anything. We ask you and want to talk to you but you always end it with a ‘nothing much’.”
I was silent, could it be that I was born with this quiet and weird personality?
“Actually, your dad and I haven’t worried any less about you than your little sister. When your little sister does something wrong, we can just shout at her and she’ll cry but the next day, she’ll be fine again, she’ll never distance herself from us. But you? You’re stubborn and obstinate. We fear that if we say too much, you’ll rebel but we worry if we don’t say anything.” Mom’s eyes turned red.
Actually, I understood the reason, it wasn’t that they didn’t love me. If they didn’t love me, they’d let me go directly to technical school since it saves money and energy so why would they try and force me to go to high school? However, on the smaller things, they will unconsciously be biased but there are no parents in this world who will admit to being biased. They feel that those are irrelevant trifles but what they don’t know is that a child’s world is formed by these countless trifles.
“Your grandpa and grandma both came from big families. Your grandma went to a foreign school and knows English, your grandpa is a famous engineer but both their daughters did not receive higher education. For me, it was because my stepfather refused to pay for the education, for your auntie, it was because she didn’t get along with her stepmother and taking advantage of your grandpa going away on business, secretly went and applied for a job. This had become a lifetime of pain for your grandpa. When you hear our names, you’ll know that your grandpa had high hopes for us but we let him down. He put his hopes on you and before he passed away, he specially left twenty thousand dollars for you, saying that it was for your university fees. He told me to make sure I get you into university and he also that if you get into university, you have to remember to go to his grave to visit him.”
No one has talked about my grandpa to me in a long time. My tears started falling uncontrollably.
“Twenty thousand dollars isn’t a small sum even now so what about back then? When your grandpa was very sick, your step grandma used the opportunity to hide away all the family’s savings. Your grandpa has lived a very rough life and your auntie and I didn’t want him to witness the family disputing over inheritance before he passed away so we told him that we already received the money. Your auntie renounced the half of the estate that she inherited and only got your grandpa’s artworks and books. I only received his handwritten copy of ‘The Heave Sword and Dragon Sabre’. Talking about these sad things made her also start crying, “Don’t bear a grudge against your step grandma, she doesn’t have any children so she has a very firm grasp on money. Your auntie and I both don’t bear any grudges towards her. Although your dad and I don’t earn much money, as long as you can get in, we’ll do everything we can to provide for you. You just need to remember your grandpa’s piece of heart.”
Mom wiped her tears, “Although your grandpa really wanted you to go to university, I won’t force you. You’re not young any more, you’re fifteen now. At your age, I had already started working at a factory for a year and your father was unloading coal on the railway to earn money for his school fees. I believe that you will be able to think it through yourself and make a decision. If you still decide to go to technical school, I will persuade your father to agree to let you go. In the future, I will go to your grandpa’s grave and explain to him that it was I who was incapable as a mother who let him down and that it has nothing to do with you.”
Mom cried soundlessly and I also cried till I couldn’t breathe.
Mom waited until her emotions calmed down before continuing, “I’ll give you three days to think about it. After you think it through properly, give us an answer.”
I went back to my room and lay on the bed hugging ‘The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre’, the tears still dropping uncontrollably.
I thought about it for the entire night, grandpa’s face and voice floating in my mind the entire time.
Actually, I understood my mom’s strategy of retreating with her last few words were used to excite me, it wish grandpa’s wish. It was the only thing filial thing I can do for him.
The next morning, I went into my parent’s bedroom and said to them, “I’ve decided to go to high school.”
Mom and dad both let out a breath of relief. Dad immediately went and got a ballpoint pen from inside the drawer and gave it to me, “This pen is very precious, I left it specially for you. Your mom and I have discussed it already and no matter how you do at school, it’s fine as long as you are proud of yourself. We don’t request for you to get into university.”
There were two lines of golds written on the pen: hard work is the boat to the endless sea of learning and diligence is the path to the mountain of knowledge.
I grasped the pen in my hand, “Since I chose to go to high school, I’ll definitely get into university. I want to ask for a request.”
“I want to pass through high school through my own methods. I want to ask you guys to believe in me and give me freedom.”
Dad looked at mom, mom spoke, “No problem. We’ve believed in you all along. Plus, your dad and I don’t restrict you anyway. Look at the neighbours in this building, who raises their daughter like we do to you? I don’t even let your little sister come home after ten but you play outside until eleven. The most we can do is give you a warning. Actually, your dad has been raising you like a boy and is reluctant to control your temper.”
Dad spoke, “When I was thirteen, I started studying whilst working. I believe that my daughter has the ability to be responsible for herself.”
I nodded, turned and left their room. Although the knot inside my heart has been untied, the barrier between us, formed through the years, is still unable to disappear. I probably won’t ever be able to be like little sister, hugging dad’s neck, lying spoilt in mom’s arms, but……this is enough.
The willow trees by the riverside were green and lush, the early morning air was cool with moist, and the air was fragrant with the smell of grass.
I sat by the river, took off my shoes and dipped my feet into the water.
I closed my eyes, all my memories seemed to be in front of my eyes.
At 5, I left grandpa and went back to my parent’s side.
At 6, I started school and also left school.
At 7, I resumed school and met Xiao Fei.
At 8, I moved to this city and met Zhang Jun.
At 9, I head butted with Teacher Zhang, skipped school to go to the game house and met Xiao Bo.
At 10, I was desk mates with Chen Jing and met Teacher Gao.
At 11, Guan He transferred to our class.
At 12, I was reunited with Xiao Fei and met Teacher Ceng Hong.
I once thought that this world gave me too little but when I really calmed my mind down to think, did I really receive too little?
Xiao Fei’s dad hits her mom, she faced family violence; Guan He’s dad passed away long ago, Guan He needs to depend on others and behave well to her stepfather, brother and sister; Xiao Bo’s dad passed away early, his mom is mentally unstable and they aren’t well off; although Lin Lan still has both her parents, she needed to awkwardly face her mom’s new marriage and endure the gossip; Chen Song Qing studied hard but because of his family’s financial state, needed to carry the heavy burden of the family.
They are all strong and continue to smile, what about me?
Mom and dad have a harmonious relationship and are enduring of me, I also have a grandpa who loves me so much. Although in my younger years, I lacked parental love, but I have precious memories of being together with grandpa. Little sister will never know how refined and gentle our grandpa is. She has what I don’t have, but I also have what she doesn’t have.
During primary, I didn’t have any classmates and was isolated by the whole class, but because I was isolated, I got to know Xiao Bei, Wu Zei and the others. What Xiao Bo gave me is more than what a thousand classmates could give.
Although I met Teacher Zhang, I also met Teacher Gao who cared about me; although I met the selfish Treasure Bowl, I also got to meet the cool Ceng Hong.
What reason did I have to detest the world? What reason did I have to give up on myself?
I threw all my remaining cigarettes into the river and watched them flow away with the water.
I stood up, a completely new start wasn’t just for myself but for grandpa, my parents, Xiao Bo, Xiao Fei, Teacher Gao, Ceng Hong……A person doesn’t live just for themselves, they also live for everyone who loves them.