Day 05 07:19
The next day was a Saturday. Waking up on a sunny bed, Song Ran saw a little red and white foot on his chest, the five toes moving from time to time like a jumping row of piano keys.
Bubu had slept unrestrainedly; over the course of the night, he had rotated ninety degrees, ending up sprawling to the point of nearly tumbling from the bed. Song Ran scooped up the child and tucked him back under the covers, but Bubu still didn’t wake up. Instead, he simply smacked his little lips while dreaming. Then, after turning over and tightly hugging the duvet, he began to chew on it with drool flowing.
I really want to give him a cute pacifier.
Song Ran thought, a hand pressed to his cheek.
Lin Hui didn’t have time to go home last night, so she temporarily slept in the neighbouring guest room. In the morning, she came out yawning and discovered the front door in the living room was wide open. The door of 8012A, which was separated by a hallway, was also open, and as the doors faced each other, the interior was clearly visible. The loud and shrill sound of a cat’s cries carried over, full of rage; anyone could tell from the sound that it was cursing someone out.
“Song Ran, what is your cat doing?”
Lin Hui went over and knocked on the door.
Song Ran was squatting on the ground, his right hand clamped in Bu Doudou’s mouth and his left hand holding a can that he was trying to open with his teeth. He explained with a woeful expression, “Since I didn’t return last night, the ancestor was starved into a frenzy and exploded.”
Lin Hui opened the can for him and poured it into the small bowl.
Having smelled the fragrant aroma of chicken, Bu Doudou finally released Song Ran from his imprisonment, but the flames of its fury hadn’t been completely quelled. It licked at its food while whining, the very picture of grudge-holding pride.
There was plenty of time to spare on the weekend, so breakfast was more sumptuous than on regular days: a plate of pan-fried vegetables mixed with soybean paste, a plate of soybeans boiled in salt water, and a plate of spiced beef. The rice porridge from the small pot was divided into three bowls, and the middle of each bowl was decorated with meat floss, preserved egg, and pickled mustard. Bubu enjoyed VIP treatment, receiving an additional cup of fresh milk.
As Lin Hui helped set the table, her line of sight began to follow Song Ran as he walked around. She thought he was handsome even while wearing the plaid apron, he was handsome even while putting the bowls and chopsticks on the table one by one, and he was even more handsome while he fastened a small canvas around Bubu’s neck. The more she looked, the more she liked; the bubbles of love filling the air flew around wildly.
Her line of sight was overly scorching. Feeling embarrassed by the stare, Song Ran gave her an additional heaping spoonful of porridge. “Eat your food, and stop looking.”
Lin Hui shook her head. “No way!”
Song Ran held up the pot and soup ladle. “Am I so good-looking?”
Lin Hui grinned and turned her head to ask Bubu, “Is Big Brother Song Ran good-looking or not?”
Bubu loudly replied.
Consequently, it became two people staring at Song Ran together.
In the face of Lin Hui’s crude flirting technique, Song Ran was overwhelmingly defeated. With a bashful heart and flushed face, he scratched his short hair with one hand and awkwardly hid back in the kitchen.
After eating breakfast, Lin Hui bid farewell and returned to campus, while Song Ran took Bubu to the vegetable market for a ‘real-life observation’.
‘Real-life observation’ was the kindergarten’s regular parent-child activity where parents and their children would complete a little lifestyle prompt every weekend. For example, they might bake small cookies and bring them to share with all the other children on Monday, or plant ryegrass and observe the process of its growth from seed to sprout and then create an illustrated journal.
He Zhiyuan was busy with work, so he had always entrusted the nanny with the responsibility of taking care of this ‘small-scale’ activity, but the nanny had never taken it seriously either. Only Song Ran thought that it was very important.
At least, this was an ‘important matter’ for children.
This week, Bubu’s small task was to ‘look for a round vegetable’. With a reusable bag hanging from his hand and a hundred yuan in his pocket, he followed Song Ran into the vegetable market while craning his neck to peer all about. The vegetable market was crowded and noisy, and because Bubu hadn’t been here before, he was a little uneasy. Song Ran demonstrated the process of picking vegetables and paying for them several times; Bubu was very quick on the uptake, and he began to bounce, rabbit-like, between the various stalls with ease.
After digging out his cell phone, Song Ran chased after Bubu while taking pictures as mementos.
“Purple sweet potatoes, ¥3.60!”
Holding a purple sweet potato in each hand, Bubu lifted them to the top of his head and arranged them to form a Mickey Mouse silhouette.
Click. Song Ran pressed the shutter.
Bubu held a few zucchini to his chest, forming the shape of a love-filled bridal bouquet.
Click. Song Ran pressed the shutter again.
Carrying a pumpkin on his shoulder, Bubu clenched his fist and raised his head, pretending to be Hercules.
Click. Song Ran pressed the shutter for the third time.
After the two of them bought enough ’round vegetables’ to fill half the bag, they finally wandered to the front of a radish stall selling carrots, daikons, and purple radishes. Bubu picked through the radishes while standing on tiptoe, thinking that this one was round and that one was also round, hesitating with his cheeks puffed out. Song Ran had originally been happily picking with him, but he started feeling an increasingly terrifying pressure on top of his head. After looking up, he faced a pair of narrow old eyes, and his heart immediately skipped a beat.
Wasn’t this the old crone who had assumed he’d had a child out of wedlock?!
Although the crone was getting on in years, her eyes were still sharp. She looked at Song Ran, then looked at Bubu, perfectly deepening this misunderstanding. Unsteadily rising to her feet, she asked, “Little friend, how old are ya this year?”
Bubu was full of spirit. “Hello, Granny, I’m four years old!”
The crone probably didn’t expect a child from a single-parent household to be this cheerful; she clearly looked stunned. She stared at Bubu’s little face for a while, the rims of her eyes slightly reddening as she seemed to recall some long-ago memory. Pulling out a plastic bag, she picked a few round and fat daikons and put them in, mumbling, “Granny will help ya pick good ones. Put away yer money, they’re free, they’re free.”
Although the radishes weren’t worth very much, they were the crone’s business that she relied upon to make a living. Because Song Ran didn’t want to use the misunderstanding to take advantage of others, he hurriedly tried to stop her but was instantly slapped away.
The crone glared at him; her expression was fierce, but her tone of voice was kindly. “Raisin’ a son by yerself, ya must’ve suffered a lot of hardships? Raisin’ him so well, coming out to help ya buy vegetables at such a young age, it’s not easy, not easy. Ya gotta go far in the future.”
As she spoke, she tied up the plastic bag and handed it to Bubu.
Bubu held the daikons using both hands, asking in befuddlement, “Granny, why won’t you take the money?”
The crone said with a smile, “I like ta see ya.”
Accepting this reason, Bubu said very thoughtfully, “The teacher wanted everyone to find round vegetables. It’s perfect that Granny’s radishes are round. Thank you, Granny! I like you too!”
The crone was almost moved to tears by his speech. She seized Song Ran’s hand and pointed to the pork stall opposite, telling him, “Since the child is growing, his nutrition needs ta keep apace. The ribs from Master Ge’s place are very fresh. Go buy some and boil radish soup after getting home, got it?”
Bubu tugged the hem of Song Ran’s clothes as well, his face full of anticipation. “Radish soup!”
Song Ran expressed his gratitude to the crone, put the radishes into the reusable bag, then squatted down and said while smiling, “Okay, Big Brother will boil radish soup for you.”
For the Song family’s beloved pork rib and radish soup, slice some ginger, chop spring onions, add two bottle-caps of cooking wine, and boil for three hours over high heat to produce a white broth with the radish pieces bobbing up and down. With its soft and glutinous texture, translucent colour, and a layer of spring onion fragments sprinkled on top, the soup’s alluring fragrance pervading the entire living room.
Bubu was so greedy that he didn’t even tease the cat anymore. Taking the initiative to tie the small canvas on himself, he jumped onto the dining chair, sitting prim and proper as he waited to be fed.
After mealtime was a leisurely afternoon naptime. Song Ran held Bubu and told him an impromptu tale of a radish’s adventures. Usually, after telling the story, Bubu would be able to fall asleep, but he had just finished drinking the radish soup and particularly cared about when the radish would enter the pot, constantly asking “Will the pot appear?” and “Did it meet the pot?”
Song Ran’s radish managed to escape from the sky with much difficulty, but it didn’t think that fate would be so merciless; after several twists and turns, it tragically ended in a soup pot. Having spent two hours making up the whole story, he was drowsy almost to the point of tears.
When He Zhiyuan called in the evening, Bubu was sitting on Song Ran’s lap, colouring with a large flat brush in his grip.
This time, it wasn’t coloured pencils, but rather real watercolours.
His left hand held the phone while his right hand was gently enveloped in Song Ran’s hand: dipping the brush into pigment, adding water, adjusting the intensity of the colour, then carefully applying one stroke at a time.
There was a fat, round daikon on the paper, half of it buried in the dirt and half of it peeking out. A long-eared grey rabbit squatted next to it, tugging on the daikon leaves while huffing and puffing.
“Dada, I’m drawing a radish!” Bubu said sweetly, “After I’m done drawing, I’ll bring it to show to the other kids and tell them the story of the radish.”
He Zhiyuan asked in amusement, “How could a radish have a story?”
Bubu said in a burst of sentence fragments, “Of course the radish has a story! It started as a small seed buried in the dirt, growing and growing. Then one day, it grew big and got pulled out by a rabbit. The rabbit couldn’t eat such a big radish, so it gave it to Granny, and Granny gave it to me. Big Brother then made it into soup, and in the end, I drank it all up!”
His tone of voice was lively and cute. He Zhiyuan laughed, asking him, “You’ve learned how to draw radishes?”
Bubu shook his head shyly. “Not yet.”
“So… it was Big Brother Song Ran who drew it?”
“Yep.” Bubu nodded. “The radish and rabbit were all drawn by Big Brother. I only need to colour them. Dada, I’m telling you, colouring is so fun. You pick up some paint, mix it in the squares, add water, and then—then brush here, brush there… Oh no!”
As he spoke, he became too excited and lost control of the strength in his hand, causing a stroke of pink to be applied outside of the radish.
Dumbly staring at the unsightly red line, Bubu felt guilty. He lifted his head, big jet-black eyes looking up at Song Ran. “Big Brother, I accidentally coloured outside… Sorry.”
His eyes were watery and his voice was soft.
Song Ran swiftly comforted him. “It’s okay, Big Brother also colours outside the line often. It’ll be okay if we just change it a bit.”
As he spoke, he picked up a small brush and quickly sketched out a few strokes, drawing another radish next to the original radish that happened to encompass the mistakenly-coloured pink brushstroke in its middle.
“Look, isn’t it fixed now?”
“Wow!” Bubu stared at the newly-grown radish, marvelling, “Big Brother is so capable!”
Song Ran smiled and continued to hold his small hand and paint. Bubu’s hand was busy, but his mouth was idle, so he began to narrate the whole painting process to He Zhiyuan; for a while, he coloured the radish leaves, which were a very pretty green, and for a while, he coloured the rabbit’s eyes, which were a very pretty red.
Separated by the phone, in this manner He Zhiyuan accompanied Bubu to finish painting the very first watercolour painting in his life.
Frankly speaking, when children get excited it is difficult to avoid noise. Previously, He Zhiyuan couldn’t really bear it and always hoped for him to be a little quieter, but now he thought that Bubu jumping for joy was pretty cute.
This child was sensitive to colours and shapes and liked to chatter in bits and pieces; the sound of his laughter was carefree and lively. Occasionally, he’d make small mistakes and get nervous at each one, then anxiously seek help from Song Ran. Once the matter was resolved, he would return to being that joyful and boisterous darling child who loved to make mischief.
Though he could not be described as well-behaved or quiet, he really was cute indeed.
He really wanted to pick up Bubu and kiss him, poke Bubu with his stubble that hadn’t been shaved yet, and allow Bubu to unrestrainedly set free his natural instincts in his embrace, likewise acting spoiled and laughing loudly like this.
He Zhiyuan discovered that during his and Bubu’s phone calls, Song Ran didn’t interrupt often. Only when Bubu asked questions would he briefly reply with a few short sentences, seemingly afraid to disturb their rare father-son interactions.
Although he didn’t speak much, every sentence was assuredly considerate and patient; He Zhiyuan even suspected that Song Ran’s tolerance towards children was both innate and limitless. There was one occasion where Bubu was very stubborn and dead-set on colouring a rainbow rabbit. Song Ran warmly and gently explained many times, saying that rainbow rabbits didn’t exist, but Bubu was obstinate and wouldn’t go along with him no matter what. He Zhiyuan thought that Song Ran ought to have gotten angry, but Song Ran only laughed, saying that they should put the best-looking set of colours together and draw the best-looking rainbow rabbit.
In front of the child, Song Ran was constantly gentle and calm, but in front of He Zhiyuan, Song Ran was constantly unable to let go of the little anxieties at the bottom of his heart, stuttering and frequently biting his own tongue.
He Zhiyuan didn’t know which side of him he liked more, or in other words…
Actually, he liked everything.