T/N: Big thank-you to Meowmiao for pinch-hitting this week!
Day 07 21:00
It was only after their customary late-night phone call that He Zhiyuan learned of Bubu’s illness.
Song Ran had originally planned to hide it to the end because he knew in his heart that He Zhiyuan couldn’t fly back for a short while, and if the other man knew that Bubu had gotten sick, the most he could do was uselessly worry from afar. But he overestimated his own determination; as soon as the phone call went through and He Zhiyuan’s magnetic voice entered his ear, he completely leaked out all the secrets as though he were a leaky kettle with seven or eight holes in it.
After the leak, he tried hard to salvage the situation by saying that Bubu’s fever had already gone down and told He Zhiyuan to not worry.
This wasn’t a lie.
Bubu was indeed in good spirits. Lying belly-side down in Song Ran’s embrace and chatting with his father, his words were clear, sharp, and especially lively. It was just that the sick child was somewhat more vulnerable than usual; as they conversed, his little mouth suddenly twisted, and two streams of tears flowed out.
“Dada, I miss you so much.” Bubu sobbed, “I haven’t seen you in so very, very long.”
Mr He had already been away on his business trip for a week; to four-year-old children, this was already enough of an indefinite separation. Song Ran hugged Bubu, using his own warmth to comfort him, before lowering his head to kiss his little face.
The upcoming time belonged to father and son. Song Ran stayed nearby to keep them company; he listened to He Zhiyuan comfort Bubu with sweet words and occasionally chimed in a bit at opportune moments.
He Zhiyuan replied that he would return on April 18th, and Song Ran followed up by saying that he would draw a calendar with empty footprints for Bubu, and that Bubu could fill one in each day with crayon; by the time they were all filled, his dad would have returned home. He Zhiyuan said that after he returned from his business trip, he would tell stories to Bubu every night, and Song Ran followed up by suggesting that they pick out the stories Bubu liked the most, one by one, so that by the time he wanted to listen to one, he could have his dad read it.
The very interesting thing was that children were always able to accurately identify genuine affection, and children who were bathed in love would never cry for too long.
Bubu quickly stopped crying and said into the phone, “Dada, come back soon. Me and Big Brother… Um, we’re both waiting for you.”
“I will.” He Zhiyuan said, “You also have to listen to what Big Brother says. Recover well, and tell him if you feel uncomfortable anywhere, got it?”
Bubu nodded. “Okay.”
It was already 9:30 by the time the phone call ended, which was their bedtime. Song Ran checked the state of Bubu’s breakouts; although there were several dozen spots scattered all over, it wasn’t anything too serious. After leaving a cup of warm water by the head of the bed, Song Ran placed a small pillow in Bubu’s arms, gently patted his back, and soothed him to sleep.
When he came out, the cell phone on the coffee table was vibrating on and off.
It was He Zhiyuan’s number.
Astonished, Song Ran bent over and picked up the cell phone, then accepted the call. “Mr He?”
“Song Ran, I just thought of something that I need to confirm with you.” He Zhiyuan came straight to the point. “Have you gotten chickenpox before?”
He Zhiyuan stressed, “You should know that chicken pox is very infectious. If you haven’t had chickenpox as a child, you’ll lack antibodies, so you should stay away from Bubu right now.”
“There… there’s no problem.” Song Ran flopped onto the sofa, saying flippantly, “Didn’t I mention it before? I had a lot of younger siblings. With so many children in the house, if one of them got it, then everyone else would suffer as well. I’ve definitely had it before.”
To be honest, Song Ran had never been associated with the words ‘good luck’ since childhood.
He had spent ten years in a welfare institution and experienced many things along with the other children until he grew up, taking his turn to experience every misfortune that occurred; if one were to say that someone with this kind of constitution could avoid chickenpox by a fluke, he himself wouldn’t believe it.
Unfortunately his ‘reasoning’ was too far-fetched; in He Zhiyuan’s eyes, it was completely insufficient.
He Zhiyuan asked again, “Are you sure?”
Song Ran smiled. “I’m not very sure, but it ought to…”
“There’s no ‘ought to’, only ‘yes’ and ‘no’.” Unrelenting, He Zhiyuan didn’t allow any deceptions; his tone of voice took on an unprecedented severity. He lifted his wrist to glance at his watch, calculated the time difference, and said, “It’s not yet ten o’clock right now. Your family must not have gone to bed yet, right? Song Ran, give your parents a call and verify it. Otherwise, I won’t be able to rest easy.”
Song Ran was dumbfounded. “Give… give my parents…”
He Zhiyuan perceptively caught a trace of something unusual. “Is there a problem?”
“N-no!” Song Ran hurriedly covered it up. “Then… I’ll hang up first?”
“All right.” He Zhiyuan said, “After you ask, remember to let me know.”
After hanging up the phone, Song Ran sat on the sofa by himself, holding the cell phone and silently rubbing at his own knuckles.
People shouldn’t lie.
The initial lie must be patched up with numerous subsequent lies; the more it was patched, the more holes there would be. When the holes could no longer be patched up, the lies would be mercilessly unmasked.
He had embellished his experiences in the welfare institution; in front of Mr He, he pretended that he had a lively big family, so right now he was placed in a new dilemma—at 10 p.m., the staff at T City’s welfare institution would have gone home long ago. Who could he call? And even if the call did go through, who would remember if a child who left seven years ago had gotten chicken pox?
Nobody would remember.
There was never anyone who would.
Ten minutes disappeared in a flash. Unable to procrastinate any longer, Song Ran’s fingers flew over the keys, and he sent out a message.
“I asked my mother. I got chickenpox before.”
With his gaze firmly fixed on the cell phone screen, he saw the message bubble’s status indicator change from ‘sent’ to ‘read’. After ten or so seconds, a new white bubble popped out—”Good, I can rest easy.”
Song Ran threw the cell phone to one side, closed his eyes, and let out a tired sigh.
On the second day, Bubu’s fever broke; his temperature dropped to 37°C, and his appetite likewise had more or less returned to normal. After having breakfast, Song Ran carried him to the balcony to sunbathe and kill germs in passing. Bubu sat on a velvet cushion in his yellow duck pyjamas, alternating between reading picture books and playing ball games with Bu Doudou as well as stepping on each other’s tails.
The duck’s tail was short while the kitten’s tail was long; taking advantage of his superior species, Bubu was able to triumph by nimbly twisting his bottom, so he was in high spirits.
Standing in front of the French window in the living room, Song Ran called the T City welfare institution.
He wanted to verify his own medical history.
T City was a fourth- or fifth-tier small city in one of the inland provinces. The welfare institution for children covered a small area, had squat buildings and poor facilities, and the quality of its employees varied. The man working in the archives was fifty minutes late to work. He brewed a pot of coarse tea, opened a magazine, ripped out a page of advertisements and wrapped it around his fried pancake before he started eating. Very soon, he had become immersed in the erotic story between a high-ranking official and his mistress, so that when he was interrupted by an inconveniently-timed phone call, he clicked his tongue with extreme displeasure.
Song Ran politely explained his purpose. The man chewed two mouthfuls of his pancake before brushing him off in a heavy local accent. “Yes, yes, which of our children here hasn’t gotten it before?”
As soon as he said it, he wanted to hang up.
“Wait! Can… can you just check once for me?” Song Ran hastily requested, “Teacher Jiang had said before that our medical histories would be kept on file, and they should be in the archives.”
The man’s complexion immediately turned ugly.
He slammed down the pancake, pushed aside the magazine upon which an actress’s picture was printed, flipped open the registration sheet, and asked with extreme impatience, “Surname, age, year of admission.”
“Song Ran; Song from ‘to extol’ and Ran from ‘naturally’. Twenty-three years old, admitted in February 2001.”
The man carelessly scribbled down the information and tossed the pen aside. “I’ll go check right now.”
Although he said this, what he actually did was open the magazine, find the ‘High-Ranking Official and Mistress: A Bloody Rose Trap’ that he was looking at earlier, and keep reading. Five minutes later, he finished reading the predictably dog-blooded story and opened his mouth and spat out a curse before he remembered Song Ran had been left hanging on the other end of the phone. As a result, he picked up the receiver and said carelessly, “I’m done checking. You’ve gotten chickenpox before.”
Song Ran didn’t hear the sounds of the table or chair moving, nor did he hear the sounds of footsteps; he only heard the nearby sound of pages being flipped. Naturally, he felt unconvinced, so he asked, “Which year did I get it?”
The other party lost patience and became irritated right away. “What’s wrong with you? I said you got it before! I’ll only check once, so you can believe if you want to or not!”
After that, he hung up the phone.
Song Ran put down his cell phone and gazed at the pitch-black screen, then derisively shook his head and laughed—seven years later, the welfare institution was still the same, having not changed at all. Even separated by the phone, it could make one feel cold.
A very long time ago, the welfare institution in Song Ran’s memories had a fading banner hung up over its main gates, upon which a slogan along the lines of ‘The big happy family to which all children belong’ was written. The adults always liked to say, This is your home. You are all each other’s siblings, and the teachers are your parents. Isn’t life so wonderful? On holidays, people from TV stations and newspapers would usually come over to conduct interviews. So long as the children could be led to face the camera and say ‘The welfare institution is my home’, the obligation would be considered to have been completely accomplished.
But every child understood clearly that the welfare institution wasn’t a real home.
This concept of ‘home’ was too delicate and too fragile. It was like a glass sculpture placed upon a velvet cushion; the slightest impact would shatter it to tiny pieces. Sometimes, when the children almost believed it, some words that were overly pitying to the point of approaching humiliation, a cold gaze that that was affectionate in public and indifferent in private, or, like today, a request for assistance from the man working in the archives after getting sick would make them promptly wake up and realize—this wasn’t a home.
No matter how many decorations were pasted onto the walls or how many flower bouquets were arranged on the tables, this wasn’t a home at all.
Song Ran lifted his head and looked through the twelfth-floor French windows; across from him were rows of very similar windows. He then turned his head to look at the balcony again. A ray of misty sunlight pierced through the clouds, evenly spilling into the room. A barefoot Bubu hugged the fluffy furball, having fallen asleep curled up beneath the hanging bellflowers.
He crept over, sat next to the child, and covered him with a small blanket.
So, what was a home?
Home ought to be a place like this, where people who accompanied each other lived and where one person’s life would become the others’ shared memory. Family members would remember which year and which month you got chickenpox, whether you had a fever or not, whether you cried or not, and how you spent your days until you recovered. Once you grew up and lost the fragmented blurry memories of your youth, only family members would still be able to keep them wholly intact for you.
Because they remembered each other, no matter where they went, they wouldn’t be lost or helpless.
Song Ran stretched out a hand and poked Bubu’s little round face.
It didn’t matter.
Although nobody had kept memories related to him, making it so that even now he was unsure if he had ever gotten chickenpox or not, he and Bubu had been in close contact for so many days that they would sink or swim together. If he got infected, it would’ve happened ages ago, so there was no need to worry too much.
Now, taking care of Bubu was the most important thing.