Chapter 10: Those Bright Colors
1. Simple Life
The genesis of a person’s personality can be chased back to the family they were born and raised in. In this world, there are only bad families, not bad children.
Since the first day of high school, my life has become very simple. Everyday, I repeated the same cycle, going from school and back.
During winter break, I would sleep in everyday. When I rose, I would make a cup of green tea and read an hour of English. Then, I would eat breakfast, read and watch TV. I pretty much didn’t step out of the house and if I wasn’t in the living room then I was in my bedroom.
When my little sister practices the keyboard, she doesn’t like to close the bedroom door. In the past, I wasn’t at home so it didn’t affect me but now, it really affected me. I didn’t argue with her about it though, but rather, I changed the perspective to solve this. Apparently when Sun Yat Sen was young, he would specially find noisy places to study in order to train his concentration skills. Hence, I used this as a training opportunity. As the days past, even if someone played rock music, it wouldn’t affect me doing geometry questions.
During high school, I pretty much left home early and came home late everyday. But it’s as if my life now compared to back then was lived by two people. My mom however, didn’t feel comforted and instead was a bit worried. She persuaded me to go out and play more. My dad also said that children should play more with their friends.
I found it amusing, they were probably the only parents who would persuade heir children to go out and play more. I told them to not worry about me, I knew what I was doing.
My mom and dad could only care for me from a distance. Luckily, they still had a younger daughter who had all the problems a normal child would have. She tried to get out of playing the keyboard, wanted to watch television rather than do her homework, admired the pretty clothes other classmates wore, thought her own shoes were ugly, tried to haggle the amount for her pocket money, when she helped mom buy soy sauce, she would secretly take the change, when mom helped her set up an alarm clock, she would secretly disable it, she refused to get up in the morning until the very last minute so it was like she was at war every morning……next to her, mom and dad experienced the joys and frustrations of being parents.
I however, was a completely different case.
Once, when my aunt came to our house to stay, she slept in my room and I moved to my little sister’s room.
It was winter and the electricity had been cut off so the heater couldn’t be used. The house was dark and cold and everyone huddled in their blankets. However, I didn’t use the electricity cut as an excuse to sleep for half an hour longer. Instead, I got up as normal and lit a candle to practice English.
My aunt probably had not adjusted well to sleeping in a new place yet so she woke up early. When she heard voices, she opened the living room door and saw me standing on the balcony, cloaked in my dad’s cotton coat, practising English under the candlelight.
The scene at the time gave my aunt a great shock and many years later, she would still constantly talk about how she has never seen such an obedient and responsible child.
Actually, in my eyes, I was just following the game rules I had set for myself. The electricity and heating cut was too insignificant for me to break my own rules. But my aunt didn’t think this way. She spread this around to our relatives who spread it further until I became a ‘good child’ in the eyes of my relatives and elders.
Sometimes, my little sister would get very jealous of me. She was annoyed that I won so much praise. I was somewhat confused, in my memory, it should be me getting jealous of her, the adults shouldn’t like me, how did it turn like this in the blink of an eye?
On the third day of Chinese New Year’s, I upheld my tradition of paying Teacher Gao a New Year’s call.
Teacher Gao had gotten married. Her husband was the vice principal of a technical school. He wore black rimmed glasses and welcomed me warmly. After pouring us juice, he voluntarily went to the study and left the living room for me and Teacher Gao.
Teacher Gao looked me up and down, “Qi Qi, you’ve changed.”
I laughed, “Actually, I haven’t changed inside. It’s just the way I see the world that has changed.”
“Zhang Jun has also changed.”
I told myself to keep quiet but my mouth couldn’t be controlled, “He always thinks that he’s more mature and smarter than everyone else but actually, he keeps doing stupid things.”
Teacher Gao sighed, “During these years, I keep worrying about him. I was afraid he’d go down the wrong path but I can sigh now. He’s also had it hard.”
“How has he had it hard? He’s the only son in his family. He’s from a wealthy background and his parents spoil him. His appearance is more than ordinary and he’s naturally intelligent. Whatever he wants he gets but he made a gang of scoundrels his friends and got into affairs with girls.” Although what I said was the truth, I seemed to be going against my heart and my tone was criticizing.
Teacher Gao stood up and helped me refill my cup of juice. Suddenly she smiled, “Back in the year, when I taught you guys, I had just graduated from technical school and was only seventeen. After every class, my palms were full of sweat. You and Zhang Jun were both very mischievous. I didn’t dare treat you two like kids and always respected you guys like friends.”
I smiled without speaking but inside, I said, “In this lifetime, you will always be a greatly respected teacher to me.”
Teacher Gao said, “Zhang Jun’s third brother in law was in the same class as my husband back in university. Now he’s also a vice president of a middle school. When Zhang Jun got into the incident, he called my husband. My husband is the pupil of your last principal.
No wonder Zhang Jun didn’t get expelled for such a big incident. If Xiao Bo had family connections, his outcome would definitely be different, perhaps he would already……
I can only say that people and their fates are completely different.
Seeing my expression, Teacher Gao guessed that I was thinking about something and said, “When you’re a bit older, you will understand that the heavens is very fair. When a person gains things, they are destined to lose things. Sometimes, losing is for the sake of gaining, sometimes gaining will come with losing. There is no one in this world who has it all so never envy what others have. Learn to treasure all you have.”
“What did Zhang Jun gain and what did he lose?”
“He has better material conditions than others but he doesn’t have a complete family.”
I didn’t understand and looked at Teacher Gao, “I heard Zhang Jun has four sisters. He’s the son that his parents finally got so they give him whatever he wants and spoils him dearly.”
“This is just an image. Zhang Jun’s dad is a very capable man but he has a strong sense of filial piety. Zhang Jun’s grandmother has a very traditional concept of continuing the family line and believed that if her daughter in law couldn’t produce a son, she was breaking the Zhang family line. When Zhang Jun’s mom produced daughter after daughter, the grandmother kept persuading her son to get divorced. When Zhang Jun’s mom was in confinement after giving birth to her fourth daughter, Zhang Jun’s grandmother dragged his dad matchmaking. Finally, they birthed a son but their marriage had already reached its end.
“They got divorced?”
“No, but it was pretty much the same as a divorce. Zhang Jun’s eldest sister personally witnessed her mother suffer everything so she joined the work force early on. After she started working, the first thing she did was change her surname to her mother’s. She then took her mother to her side and persuaded her to get divorced. However, both her parents refused so to outsiders, they say that her mom isn’t well and needs her daughter to take care of her. You definitely won’t be able to understand but their generation was like that, they are unable to continue living together but they refuse to get divorced.”
“Then Zhang Jun didn’t have a mother since he was young?”
“Pretty much, after he was born, he lived with his grandma for the whole time. It was only after his grandma passed away that he returned to his dad’s side. However, his dad is on leave without pay and has accepted outside work. I heard his third brother in law say that it’s good if he even sees his dad for a month in a year.”
With my own case, his wasn’t hard to understand. Zhang Jun’s grandma probably spoiled him a lot but after she passed away, he turned to being not close with his mother, far away from his father and hated on by his sisters. The psychological difference was too big so he became so rebellious during that time.
Teacher Gao sighed, “His third sister came to my house yesterday and mentioned Zhang Jun. She said that now that she’s older, she feels very sorry for the things in the past. Zhang Jun lived with their grandmother when he was little so he was filled with negative thoughts of his mother by his grandmother. Hence, he wasn’t very respectful towards his mother so she despised him. She would secretly hit him and beat him up with his fourth sister. After a while every time the little Zhang Jun saw his sisters, he would turn into a frightened cat. He was forced to quickly learn to fight and when he was eight, he hit his fourth sister until she burst into tears.
I said, “Zhang Jun grew up with his grandma so he naturally wanted to help her. He didn’t know about what had gone on between his grandma and mother so how could his sisters blame him?”
Teacher Gao nodded, “Yeah! How would a little kid understand what had happened between the adults?”
“Then…has Zhang Jun’s relationship with his sisters grown better now?”
“Everyone’s grown up. There are many things that they can understand each others sides in. Or else, when Zhang Jun was in trouble, his mom and dad and four sisters wouldn’t have come rushing back. I think Zhang Jun also understands that everyone cares deeply about him so he will definitely be able to forget about the matters of the past.”
Teacher Gao probably grew up in a very happy family so she wouldn’t be able to understand. No matter how good the present is, the lacking things in childhood have long been blended into a part of one’s personality and will forever be engraved into one’s memory. We’ve only learnt how to ignore and bury those things but we will never truly forget them.
Teacher Gao asked, “Have you changed your impression of Zhang Jun yet? Zhang Jun really isn’t as bad as he looks. Next year come visit me together! I remember that you two got along quite well when you were younger and often went home together.”
“I never thought of Zhang Jun as a bad person.”
Teacher Gao was surprised, “You didn’t? Zhang Jun complained to me that you started ignoring him first. You looked down on him and refused to play with him.”
I froze for a bit, “When did he say that?”
Teacher Gao had let that information slip so like a child, she laughed awkwardly, “I kept asking him to come visit me with you but he never said anything. I lecturd him that boys should act more magnanimously so he told me that it wasn’t him who was ignoring you but it was you who was ignoring him. Is this true?”
I refused to admit it, “How? It’s him who ignored me.”
I didn’t dare to speak any further about Zhang Jun and started discussing my studies with Teacher Gao instead. As expected, she cared a lot about this topic.
She said, “With you grades, a top tier university should be no problem.”
“My goal is first to be top of the class then top of the year.”
Teacher Gao was surprised, “Don’t give yourself too much pressure.”
“There’s no pressure, there’s just no action.”
“Making the effort is enough. Don’t force yourself too much. In this world, there is only one first.”
We chatted for a bit more then I stood up and bid farewell.
On the road home, I thought about the proud words I had said. Could I really accomplish it? Even Guan He was only between top eleventh to fifteenth in our year level.
I noticed a motorbike parked beside a small convenience store. The motorbike looked similar to Zhang Jun’s. I couldn’t resist stopping in front of the motorbike even though I knew that he had already visited Teacher Gao yesterday so it couldn’t be his motorbike.
Now, standing in this direction of time looking at that direction of time, everything that had happened became clear.
At that time, he was very similar to me. Because of the sudden change in our environment, we were both very lonely but he had learnt to conceal it from a very young age whereas I had not. Perhaps because he had understood this so he gave me a little bit of warmth and care yet he didn’t know that it was something I would not be able to forget in this lifetime. Similarly, Teacher Gao wasn’t the kindest or best teacher to me. As my grades improve, teachers became nicer to me, as my personality changed, teachers became more easy going. More and more teachers dote on me like a teacher’s pet, much more than Teacher Gao had treated me back in the year. However, no matter how nice they are to me, I didn’t care the slightest about them. The only teacher I remember is Teacher Gao.
Staring at the motorbike, I thought of Zhang Jun. Then I thought of Xiao Bo. The days of riding a motorbike, speeding off into the wind seemed like it was a million years ago. We’ve all packed up our rebellious acts and have started to work hard for our path in life.
After standing there for a long time, I turned around and left. Seeing a stall sell lamb skwered on the side of the road, I went and bought ten, urging him to add more chilli.
Eating the lamb skewers that made my mouth numb with spiciness, I smiled into the cold wind.