Day 01 19:11
Song Ran’s opinion of 8012B reached a historical low—he could overlook this family’s haphazard attitude towards raising plants, but their way of raising kids was even more haphazard.
It was seven o’clock in the evening, yet there was no trace of the mother, and the father had flown ten thousand kilometres away for a business trip. The live-in nanny also neglected her duty. She had stuck a written request for leave to the front door and slunk off, writing only her name and nine words (Something came up in my hometown, I’ve gone back—Huang Guihua).
This child was only four years old. After kindergarten let out, he could not wait any longer for the nanny to come pick him up, so he loitered back and forth by himself on the street for two hours—he walked for an hour, squatted outside a pet shop and played with a golden retriever through the glass for half an hour, and slipped into a movie theatre to repeatedly watch the same Disney animated film trailer for half an hour.
Like this, he frittered away the time. He frequently looked out at cars and people on the street, wanting to wait for someone to pick him up and take him home. But the sun started to set, the wind picked up, and the street lights lit up one by one, elongating the shadows underfoot.
He reluctantly returned to Jadewater Bay, but didn’t have courage to enter the pitch-black home. He could only sit, hungry, on 8012A’s doormat, talking to the motionless chipmunk while tears splashed down.
If Song Ran had not come outside to mist the flowers, the child might really have huddled at the doorway for the entire night.
The kindly young man was filled to bursting with both compassion and indignation. With no hesitation, he immediately welcomed the pitiful child into his home.
The unwanted child was surnamed He, full name He Yueyang, nicknamed Bubu. Currently, he sat next to Song Ran’s dining table, with a snow-white canvas draped on his chest. Two corners of the canvas were tied into a pretty bow at the back of his neck.
He craned his head with all his might, eagerly looking in the direction of the kitchen.
The fragrant aroma of food wafted out, but the pot was blocked by Song Ran, so he could not even see its shadow. Anxiety gathered in his heart, and his small round bottom wiggled back and forth; he could not sit still for even half a second, as if the chair was covered with a layer of wax. Not far away, on the sofa, the Ragdoll cat posed with its paws tucked underneath its body, lying on its stomach and observing him; its long light-grey tail occasionally swished back and forth.
“Big Brother, Bubu is hungry, wanna eat…”
He softly begged Song Ran, sniffling while he rubbed his tummy to show that he was really very hungry.
Song Ran turned on the stove and heated the oil. He cracked an egg into the frying pan with a sizzle, before hopping back a few steps with spatula in hand. He stuck his head out from the kitchen and said, “Just wait a bit more, we’ll have dinner soon!”
With a casual toss, he sent the eggshell sailing into the garbage bin.
Bubu lowered his head and bit the canvas with a chomp, dangling it in his mouth. He puffed out his cheeks, and wiggled his bottom even more vigorously.
On the countertop, the asparagus and shrimp porridge cooled in a shallow bowl. In the frying pan, the wooden spatula flipped the bright yellow fried egg.
Right now the child was in a growing phase, and Song Ran was concerned that drinking porridge alone was not nutritious enough, so he spent two minutes to fry an egg. He took mouthfeel into consideration, and specifically fried it so that the yolk was still runny. After sprinkling with salt, he put it onto a plate and brought it out with the bowl of porridge.
He scooped up a spoonful of porridge and blew to cool it. Lifting it to Bubu’s mouth, a thought abruptly occurred to him, and he pulled the spoon back slightly. “Have you eaten shrimp before?”
Bubu nodded. “I’ve eaten it before.”
That’s good, he shouldn’t be allergic to seafood.
Song Ran relaxed and lifted the spoon towards him. Bubu majestically opened his mouth wide to bite down on the spoonful of porridge, impishly giggling at him. He laughed for a while before letting go, and ate the porridge with gusto.
Song Ran used the canvas to wipe at the corners of the child’s mouth. He then scooped up a piece of shrimp, but this time Bubu shook his head, unwilling to open his mouth.
Bubu proudly stated, “Big Brother, I can eat by myself!”
The small spoon clinked against the bowl, making crisp sounds.
Ting, ting, ting.
Song Ran also filled a bowl with porridge for himself. Sitting to one side, he watched Bubu eat with great interest.
This child’s movements were not fast, but they were unusually precise. The shrimp porridge disappeared at a rate directly proportional to the size of the fried egg.
After fifteen minutes, he slurped up the rest of the runny yolk and gulped down the rest of the egg white. He let out a small satisfied burp, remnants of egg stuck around his mouth.
Only a small amount of porridge was left in the bowl. Song Ran had just thought of getting to his feet and tidying up when Bubu suddenly became anxious. He sat upright, wrapped the bowl in his little embrace, and hurriedly scooped another small half-spoonful into his mouth.
This time, he ate very carefully. Every spoonful only contained two or three grains, which he slowly chewed, as if those few grains had some kind of special flavour.
Song Ran asked him, “Was it tasty?”
Song Ran asked again, “Then, are you full?”
Bubu hurriedly hugged the small bowl, head shaking like a rattle drum.
How could he answer that he was full? After eating, there would no longer be any reason to stay at this big brother’s house. He needed to be a sensible and obedient child, and return to his own pitch-black home to sleep. But he was the only one there, all alone, where it was not nearly as bright and warm compared to this place.
Let’s eat another two mouthfuls.
If he ate two more mouthfuls, he could stay that much longer.
Children’s eyes are like clear glass, covering hearts that are incapable of telling lies. Song Ran noticed his apprehension, and understood all the things that should be understood. He smiled, kindly telling Bubu, “Let’s not hurry to eat our fill. Save some of your appetite, because we’ll be eating fruit in a little while.”
As soon as Bubu heard that he didn’t need to leave, his eyes immediately brightened, and he discarded the small spoon with a ‘clang‘.
After eating dinner, Song Ran removed the canvas from Bubu’s neck. He took him to the bathroom to rinse his mouth and wash his hands. He used a white towel to wipe dry each finger, then applied a layer of Dabao hand cream.
From start to finish, Bubu was very obedient. He spread out all ten fingers, laying them flat in front of Song Ran without moving an inch. After they were all wiped, he politely said, “Thank you, Big Brother.”
A particularly thoughtful child.
But Song Ran always felt that there was a kind of obvious restraint in his thoughtfulness, especially in his gaze, which was filled with an anxious tension and nervousness as if awaiting evaluation, like a well-trained puppy; if it could not perform the appropriate trick at the appropriate time, it could not earn a reward from the master.
Was it because he was at a stranger’s home, so he behaved in a more reserved fashion than usual? Or was he overthinking things?
Song Ran had no way to be sure.
However, when they arrived in the living room, Bubu finally made a ‘wow‘ sound. His eyes opened wide, showing the childish expression of joy that Song Ran had expected.
“Big Brother, you have so many fairy tale books!”
He extended a hand, pointing at the coffee table, and excitedly raised his head to look at Song Ran.
There were almost a hundred children’s picture books, including standalone volumes and series, both domestic and foreign, scattered all over the living room sofa, coffee table, and floorboards.
Since he moved into Jadewater Bay, with such a spacious and bright big living room, Song Ran no longer needed to curl up in a cramped room to paint. He moved his workbench next to the living room’s French windows. Normally, when referencing materials, he would simply pick up and put aside books wherever he pleased. Since nobody came to visit, he didn’t pay any mind to tidying up.
These picture books, along with his paper, brushes, and paints, comprised all the things Song Ran needed to make a living.
Upon seeing the collection that consisted exclusively of storybooks, Bubu’s two eyes shone like that of a mouse that had fallen into a vat of grain, looking as if he planned to aimlessly idle there for the rest of his life. Amidst the nearly one hundred dazzling book covers, the first one to catch his eye was The Chipmunk’s Dream.
On this planet there existed a lot of similar-looking chipmunks, but to Bubu, only this one was unique.
It was Bubu’s old friend.
A month ago, this chipmunk magically appeared at the doorway of 8012A, where it happened to encounter Bubu, who left the house early each morning. It had chestnut-coloured stripes on its back, sharp thin claws, eyes like black soybeans, and two cheek pouches that puffed out in an exaggerated manner. It squatted in a tall pile of pinecones, and the background was a golden yellow sea of Chinese parasols.
Bubu immediately fell in love with it, and thought about it day and night.
When he left for the kindergarten in the morning, he had to first greet the chipmunk (“I’m leaving”). After returning from the kindergarten in the evening, he also had to greet the chipmunk (“I’m back”). Occasionally when his dad was not at home and Bubu was feeling lonely, he would take advantage of the nanny’s absentmindedness to sneak out and sit next to the chipmunk. He would touch its soft fur, seeking comfort from it.
The fleece was warm, and the chipmunk printed on it looked like the real thing.
Bubu even went so far as to think that if he had a real live chipmunk, touching it… it would have approximately this kind of texture, right?
It was an interesting yet staunch companion, staying in the same place 24/7, always vividly coloured, and constantly in high spirits. It had a pile of crunchy pinecones that could not be eaten, and was permanently illuminated by the light of a golden autumn day.
This static illustration on the doormat was a book cover that couldn’t be flipped open.
Bubu read it for a full month.
On this night, the cover was finally opened. He was pleasantly surprised to see that on the title page, the familiar old friend had changed its pose—it stood up, a large pinecone cupped in its paw, craning its neck to gaze into the distance.
On the page that its gaze was focused on, a simple signature had been printed in a font that looked handwritten.
Currently, Bubu was still unable to read, and furthermore all his attention was focused on the chipmunk, so naturally he skipped over this familiar name that he would come to call many times in the future. He flipped straight to the next page.
The next page was the starting point of the story.
Golden Chinese parasol leaves blanketed the ground, and the small chipmunk lay in the autumn sunlight, lazily dozing—what kind of amusing oddities would it encounter?
He really wanted to know.
Bubu plucked up his courage, hugging the picture book while asking Song Ran, “Big Brother, can you read this story to me?”
Song Ran happily replied, “Sure.”
The dishware could always be tidied up later; likewise, the fruit could also be washed later. The precious child wanted to listen to a story; therefore, that was the most pressing matter at the moment.
The fabric sofa sank down with Bubu sitting on Song Ran’s lap, leaning against the crook of his arm. He flipped open the picture book that he had long dreamed of. Nearby, the big furball Bu Doudou meowed enviously upon seeing this, and tumbled down from the armrest to lie next to them.
“Once upon a time, there was a big forest, and in the forest there lived a cute little chipmunk.”
As soon as Song Ran opened his mouth to read the first line, Bubu was completely absorbed, staring at every single detail of the illustrations.
Song Ran was far too familiar with this story; he only needed to close his eyes, and every image and every line would become like fireflies in a summer night, twinkling and dancing before his eyes.
This chipmunk not only loved to play, it was also quite lazy.
Autumn was arriving. Its neighbour, the grey squirrel, was busy hoarding pinecones, preparing its food stores for the winter, but the chipmunk squatted on the tree branches and teased caterpillars. Gradually, autumn passed, and winter was about to arrive. The grey squirrel’s piled-up pinecones had filled half its home, but the chipmunk was still in the tree branches and swinging from its tail.
The grey squirrel asked, “When will you start gathering pinecones?”
The chipmunk replied, “Don’t worry, don’t worry. I have a dream where I’ll find the biggest pinecone in the world, and just one will be enough for me to avoid starvation for the whole winter.”
Finally, winter arrived.
When the first snowfall arrived, the grey squirrel’s pinecones had entirely filled its home, but what about the chipmunk?
There was not even one pinecone in the chipmunk’s house.
Its stomach was empty, so it set off to find the legendary biggest pinecone. But in the deep snow outside, how could it find even the shadow of a pinecone?
The chipmunk heard that the rabbit family had a big pinecone, so it visited their home. But the rabbit family had turned the pinecone into a beautiful pantry and filled it with carrots.
“No way, no way, how could I eat someone else’s pantry?”
The chipmunk shook its head, and left with an empty stomach.
Then it heard that the hedgehog family had a big pinecone, so it visited their home. But the hedgehog family had turned the pinecone into a beautiful Christmas tree and decorated it with colourful gifts.
“No way, no way, how could I eat someone else’s Christmas tree?”
The chipmunk shook its head, and again left with an empty stomach.
Then it heard that the ant family had a big pinecone, so it visited their home. But the ant family had turned the pinecone into a beautiful playground that was covered with happy baby ants.
“No way, no way, how can I eat someone else’s playground?”
The chipmunk shook its head, and once again left with an empty stomach.
The chipmunk searched for a very long time, but until the very end, it did not find the biggest pinecone in the world. It dejectedly returned home, empty stomach gurgling. At this time, its neighbour the grey squirrel came over and knocked on its door, asking the chipmunk, “Did your dream come true?”
The chipmunk shook its head in embarrassment.
“Next year, next year it will definitely come true!”
It promised the grey squirrel, but its stomach rumbled louder and louder.
The grey squirrel produced a big pinecone from behind its back, and held it in front of the chipmunk, saying, “I’ll give you this pinecone. This isn’t the biggest pinecone in the world, or the biggest pinecone in the forest; it’s only the biggest pinecone in my home.”
The chipmunk received the pinecone and hugged it to himself, feeling like he received a pantry, a Christmas tree, a playground, and a precious, precious friend.
He thought, This is definitely the biggest pinecone in the world.
Bubu flipped another page, but the picture book had closed. A barcode stuck to the squirrel’s tail on the back cover announced the end of the story.
He still had questions in his heart, so he asked, “Big Brother, did the chipmunk eat the pinecone after that?”
Song Ran hadn’t thought of this question before. He pinched his chin and considered it seriously for a while, before replying honestly, “I don’t know either, but I guess he probably saved the pinecone—it was a gift from a friend.”
“But if you don’t hurry to eat your food, it will quickly go bad, like…” Bubu racked his brain, “… like donuts!”
He randomly blurted out an English word.
“Then he ate it, I suppose.” Song Ran smiled, “Actually, it doesn’t matter if he ate it or not. As long as you have friends, there will always be gifts.”
Bubu felt that this made a lot of sense—as long as it was neighbours with the grey squirrel, the chipmunk would definitely receive more pinecones in the future.
He suddenly relaxed. Hugging The Chipmunk’s Dream and lying down in Song Ran’s arms, he squinted his eyes and smiled. “Big Brother, you’re very good at telling stories, way better than Granny. Granny doesn’t like telling me stories, so she always tells them too quickly. She’s very impatient, and also has a bit of an accent, so I don’t understand it… Big Brother, do you often tell stories?”
Song Ran scratched the back of his head. “Um, I guess so.”
Roughly speaking, it had been about seven years since the last time he told stories, but his skill hadn’t diminished; rather, it was something worthy of praise.
Bubu rolled upright. He put down The Chipmunk’s Dream, grabbed a new picture book, and expectantly handed it to Song Ran. “Big Brother, tell me another story, okay?”
Song Ran raised his head to look at the wall clock. The hand was almost pointing to nine o’clock. The child was only four years old, so it was time to obediently take a bath and go to sleep.
He pointed at the moon, flying carpet, and chimney on the cover, and said, “Bubu, this is a bedtime story, so you can only listen to it before going to sleep in order to have a sweet dream. Let’s eat some fruit first, and then read it after getting into bed, okay?”
Bubu was clearly stunned.
He hugged the picture book to himself, staring blankly. He practically could not believe his own ears; it took him a long time to realize that Song Ran was inviting him to sleep over, and immediately nodded with great joy. “O-okay!”
Song Ran bent down and took out a board book from the coffee table drawer. It was Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. He had collected a complete set of original hardcovers of the old man’s early works; when he had time he would take them out and worship them. This story was especially simple, but it was also a classic; it was a story about a small caterpillar that ate various things every day, eating from Monday to Sunday until it finally grew into a big butterfly.
He asked Bubu, “You can read English, right?”
Bubu nodded his head and said, “Mm-hm.”
Song Ran put the book on his lap, patted his head, and said while smiling, “I’ll go wash some strawberries. The little caterpillar will chew on this book for a while, so be good.”
“Mm, I’ll definitely be good.”
Bubu replied sweetly.
It was 8:50 in the evening. The pots and pans in the kitchen clanged, and the peppermint-scented dishwashing soap foamed up into piles of snow-white bubbles.
Bubu had flopped on his stomach on the sofa, flipping through the book one page at a time with a small strawberry dangling from his mouth. The caterpillar in the book had a hearty appetite, eating steadily from Monday to Saturday. Right when it was about to turn into a butterfly, a series of ringing sounds bursting with cuteness started coming from the living room.
Bubu’s eyes brightened. “Ah, it’s Dad!”
He quickly jumped down from the sofa and pulled out a children’s cell phone from his backpack. After pressing the ‘receive call’ button, he spoke into the receiver with a honey-sweet tone, “Good morning, Dada!”
Song Ran’s eyebrows furrowed slightly.
Just now he was using ‘dad’, but in the blink of an eye he switched to ‘dada’. This kid really knew how to put on an act.1In the original text, Bubu says 爸爸 and 拔拔 which use the fourth and second tones, respectively. Song Ran’s reaction originally compares the two different pronunciations.
He turned back to see Bubu holding the cell phone, chatting while bouncing around, his feet going pitter-patter. The big furball followed behind with its tail raised high. The boy and the cat made two laps around the table before finally tumbling haphazardly back onto the sofa.
Song Ran smiled while shaking his head, continuing to earnestly scrub the dishes. He had gotten halfway through scrubbing when Bubu suddenly stuck his head in. “Big Brother, just now we ate that green thing that was cut into small pieces, what’s it called?”
Song Ran said, “Asparagus.”
Bubu quickly replied to his dad, then asked again, “What about the red things?”
Song Ran said, “Shrimp.”
Bubu was so happy that he repeated it twice into the phone, as if afraid his father would be unable to hear him clearly. After a while, he said again, “Other than porridge, there was also a fried egg. Big Brother specially fried it for me. It was really yummy, even more yummy than Granny’s!”
Immediately after came a question from the other side. Bubu hesitated, unable to answer. With a pitter-patter he ran a couple steps into the kitchen, handing the cell phone over to Song Ran. “Dad asked me, why did Big Brother cook today instead of Granny?”
You still have the nerve to ask.
Song Ran’s mouth flattened, sourly criticizing in his heart, Your family’s nanny Huang Guihua snuck off, yet you, as a parent, were unaware until now, aren’t you dumb?
Soap bubbles covered his hands, so he could not take the phone. He bent over at the waist and signalled for Bubu to put the phone on his shoulder. He tilted his head and used his ear to clamp it in place before standing up to continue scrubbing at the dishes.
“Hello, nice to meet you.”
Song Ran gave a by-the-book greeting.
After three seconds, his movements stiffened, and the porcelain bowl in his hands dropped with a clatter.
Bubu cried out in alarm, “Big Brother!”
As if shocked by electricity, Song Ran tossed aside the ball of steel wool. He grabbed a nearby towel and roughly wiped his hands, hurrying to move the phone away from his ear. In his confusion, he accidentally dropped the cell phone, which landed on the countertop and slowly spun in a half-circle.
Song Ran stared at it, blood vessels dilated and cheeks burning hot; his neck and ears were completely reddened.
The other party had actually only spoken one sentence.
“It’s nice to meet you, I am He Yueyang’s father.”
This was the first time Song Ran heard He Zhiyuan’s voice.
A low and sexy timbre. Because the owner of the voice had just awoken, it carried an undercurrent of indolent laughter. At that proximity, the words being articulated directly into his ear, along with the exhalation of a fragrant warm breath brushing past his eardrum, triggered a rush of excitement in Song Ran’s defenceless heart.
His heart pounded in double-time, and his brain was short of oxygen.
Song Ran’s scalp immediately tingled; never mind replying, he didn’t even remember his own surname anymore.