T/N: Please do not try this at home.
Day 16 15:42
The night before his return, He Zhiyuan experienced the deep anxiety of wishing to go home as soon as possible.
Sleep eluded him.
He lay half-awake in bed until five o’clock. The sky had just begun to brighten when he left the house, locked the door, pulled out the key, and dropped it in the mailbox, leaving it to the regular housekeeping staff. Then, he called an Uber and hurried to the airport.
Because he had packed light, he had very little carry-on luggage—his living places both domestically and abroad were fixed, so he had clothes suited to all four seasons; apart from the outfit he was wearing when he left, he didn’t bring even an extra shirt. Instead, carefully-selected gifts for Bubu and Song Ran filled the suitcase to the brim.
He called Song Ran prior to taking off. On the other end, Song Ran was rather nervous, constantly urging him to stay safe.
He acknowledged that he didn’t have the ability to dismantle a plane with his bare hands, and the chance of encountering terrorists didn’t seem high either, so he said with a smile, “Don’t worry, I’ve flown more than a hundred thousand kilometres every year and haven’t encountered a plane crash yet.”
Song Ran was so scared that his face went white. “Don’t raise a flag for no reason!”
He Zhiyuan: “…”
“Uh…” Song Ran awkwardly rubbed his nose and said softly, “I-I pointed out the flag, which is equivalent to pulling it out, but… but be careful with your words. You’re not allowed to raise any more of them.”
He Zhiyuan began to softly laugh, making his chest shake slightly. “Has anyone ever praised you for being cute before?”
With his face heated up, Song Ran unabashedly said, “Yes, too many to count!”
This was the tone Bubu had been using recently, and Song Ran was unconsciously influenced. The more He Zhiyuan listened, the more he felt that it was cute, and he affectionately bid goodbye on his end of the call only after giving the other a kiss and repeatedly promising he would definitely return home safe.
Song Ran tossed and turned that night, unable to sleep.
In bed, he lay facing the ceiling with eyes open and imagined that it was the vast and dark night sky above the Pacific Ocean. He stuck out two fingers, one representing himself and one representing Mr He, and slowly moved them towards each other.
Ten thousand kilometres was such an endless distance. From his birth up to now, he had never been to such a faraway place.
Song Ran soundlessly prayed as he faced his own fingertips, Little plane, you aren’t allowed to shake or wobble. You have to smoothly fly little by little, fly over that ocean that reflects the stars, and safely return the person I yearn for to my side.
The left and right fingertips gradually approached each other, bumped together, and affectionately smooched.
After sending Bubu to the kindergarten in the morning, Song Ran found a barber shop.
He hadn’t cut his hair in a month. His hair was soft to begin with, and with his fringe as an obstruction, it made him seem not very lively. The young barber considerately came over with an iPad in hand to recommend styles, and the first page was brightly coloured with rows of cool scene kids; not even throwing a bomb into a dye vat may have been able to achieve this result. Song Ran unconsciously was about to refuse, but halfway through saying it, the barber swiped to the second page. Amongst them, a particularly eye-catching short hairstyle stood out: simple, clean, and refreshingly good-looking.
Song Ran immediately changed his mind.
If his wallet didn’t bleed today, then there would be no point to the money he earned.
One hour later, he walked briskly out of the barber shop with his forehead, ears, and neck exposed, causing his skin to feel chilly when the wind blew. His hair lightly swayed in the breeze, showing the youthful vigour of flourishing sunlight.
After going home, he took a selfie in the mirror and sent it to Lin Hui via WeChat.
The girl replied instantly with three rows of exclamation marks and, waving the cell phone, went to provoke Zhan Yuwen.
In the afternoon, Song Ran left very early.
Half an hour before the kindergarten let out, he neatly locked his bicycle on the fence at the entrance and leaned against a tree, leaving it to chance—Mr He had sent a text earlier saying that he landed safely. With his heart itching unbearably, he thought about where to wait and simply came over ahead of time to lurk.
An old woman carrying a basket of water chestnuts, dried tofu, and Indian aster slowly walked over. Upon seeing him with his hands in his pockets and leaning against a tree, she cheerfully greeted him using dialect. “Young man, come to pick up yer lil’ tot?”
“Yes, picking up my son.” Song Ran’s face lit up. “Did you come to pick up your grandson too?”
“My family’s child is a sweet pea, a plumb beautiful one.” Upon hearing that he was speaking Standard Mandarin, she switched to a Shanghainese-tinged Mandarin as well. She hefted the basket, allowing Song Ran to look at the produce within, and said, “See, they’re all the vegetables she likes to eat. I bought them to cook at home. My family’s sweet pea has been picky since she was a babe, having been brought up indulgently. Dried tofu tossed with aster, must be fresh, and it even has to be specially chilled after cooking. She won’t even eat it if it’s mixed with chives, the little imp.”
Although the old woman was complaining, her eyes were deeply creased from her smile. She examined Song Ran and saw that he looked like a student, so she asked, “You look quite young. How old is your child?”
Song Ran said, “Four years old. He just started attending the middle1The class for children from five to six years old class.”
The old woman nodded. “Then he’s younger than my sweet pea by a year, but boys grow quickly. His height’ll shoot up in a flash, and you can’t stop it even if you tried. You’re so tall, the child definitely won’t be bad either… That’s right, where’s the child’s mom? How come you came to pick him up?”
“Mm, in our family, I’m usually in charge of the household. His ‘mom’… is rather busy.”
Flying here and there all the time on business trips all over the world, and he still hasn’t come home yet.
Song Ran seized the opportunity to change Mr He’s gender and secretly felt gleeful inside.
As soon as the old woman heard he was in charge of the household, her gaze instantly became warm. “You’re a very good young man. Your relationship is good, you’re thoughtful, you don’t put on airs, and you’re willing to accommodate your wife. In the past, my daughter didn’t meet a man as good as you. She and my son-in-law are both busy, so the sweet pea had to be given to me to bring up. My husband doesn’t take charge either—every day, he plays cards and walks amongst the birds at the park. When I tell him to come back at four o’clock, it goes in one ear and out the other. I don’t even know where he is…”
The old woman became fired up and began to chat about this and that after having talked about Song Ran’s daily life. Thinking it was pretty interesting, Song Ran enthusiastically kept her company, listening to her curse her son-in-law and her husband, as he paid attention to the vehicle traffic on the road—they had agreed to meet at four o’clock, and there were less than twenty minutes left. His Mr He could be sitting within any one of the cars passing by.
His heart beat rapidly, making thumping sounds.
His ears slowly warmed, followed by his neck, and then his face.
Song Ran endlessly reviewed the opening lines he had spent the entire night preparing, rehearsing the best-looking version of his smile and the most appropriate handshaking motion in his mind… When he had just moved to Jadewater Bay, every time he swiped his keycard and entered the lobby, he would anxiously fret in this manner in front of the glass for a while for only the trivially miniscule probability of encountering Mr He.
In the blink of an eye, two months had passed.
The cell phone in Song Ran’s pocket began to vibrate, taking him by surprise, and his mental state instantly awoke to maximum alertness. He swiftly pulled out the cell phone, saw the words ‘He Zhiyuan’ written in white on the screen’s black background, and hurriedly said to the old woman, “I’ll be taking this call.”
The old woman: “Ah, go ahead, go ahead.”
As she spoke, she took two steps back.
As Song Ran held his cell phone, his fingers trembled unstoppably; he had to swipe three times before he could unlock its interface. “Mr… Mr He?”
“Song Ran, it’s me.”
More than ten hours later, the low-pitched and smiling voice finally sounded out against his ear once more. Perhaps because the distance between them had diminished, it made his ears warm. “Have you arrived at the kindergarten?”
“I have, I have.” Song Ran stood up on tiptoe and turned his head to look all around. “I’m over at the Gaolan Road entrance. How about you? Are you almost here yet?”
“There’s not too many parking spots over there, so it’s a bit crowded. How about we meet somewhere else?” He Zhiyuan suggested. “Head west, turn left at the first four-way intersection, and stop when you see a teahouse with a door curtain.”
Song Ran cheerfully bid goodbye to the old woman, waving his right hand high in the air, then turned and started to jog; his footsteps were as light as if he were stepping on clouds and breezes as he traversed over the ground covered with fallen leaves.
The place where He Zhiyuan and he agreed to meet was a long street with a row of plane trees planted along the footpaths. On both sides were old bungalows with whitish-grey yard walls and rust-spotted fencing.
In the spring month of April, clusters of budding leaves covered the plane tree branches that criss-crossed high overhead to form webs. The sunlight resembled shards of glass spilled in the deep shade, sparkling brightly all the way down the road and lending some light to the secluded long street.
A plain-looking small tea house was located at the next street entrance nearby.
There was a wall half-covered with Boston ivy, a curtain of wisteria blossoms, and a grey-blue door curtain hanging beneath the walnut signboard with the word ‘tea’ written on it in an elegant-looking script.
“I see the teahouse. Are you inside? The first or second floor?”
Song Ran ran impatiently and stopped, gasping for breath, only after he found his objective. He tried craning his neck—the lighting within the teahouse was dark, and the interior couldn’t be clearly seen through the window glass.
“I apologise, I’m still on the road and will only be there a while later,” He Zhiyuan said, neither fast nor slow. “There’s a bus stop near the teahouse. Do you see it?”
Song Ran looked around. Sure enough, he discovered an inconspicuous little stop.
It really was too inconspicuous: a wooden awning, glass walls, and a one-metre-wide bench upon which only two people could sit abreast. A green-and-white vehicle information sign was stuck on the signboard that was otherwise empty, indicating that only one bus passed by this place. The stop was already small, and with the flourishing Boston ivy and wisteria blossoms blocking it, practically most of it was hidden away.
Song Ran didn’t understand why, so he asked in bafflement, “There is a small stop, what about it?”
He Zhiyuan was silent for three or four seconds as he mulled over something with extreme care. The decision he was on the verge of making was critical to him, so he was still repeatedly weighing the pros and cons up until the very moment he began to speak. In the end, he didn’t lose his resolve, saying solemnly, “Song Ran, stand where you are and don’t move. Look at the bus stop and start counting from one.”
Song Ran abruptly froze.
His joy instantly disappeared without a trace, and he blankly looked at that small stop with clenched fingers and pallid face. He felt like a bucket of ice water had been poured onto him and penetrated from the crown of his head directly into his bone marrow, so cold that he felt chilly all over.
“No, I can’t, don’t do this…” He slowly shook his head and murmured through trembling lips, “Mr He, I can’t, I can’t do it…”
The reedy words, forced out from his throat one by one, shook so badly that they seemed about to shatter.
Enduring his own fierce heartache, He Zhiyuan asked him, “You don’t want to see me?”
Song Ran shook his head again and backed a step away. “I want to see you. I really, really want to see you, but…”
But can you not force me? Don’t press me by holding my feelings for you hostage and compel me to face those unhappy things.
Mr He, look at this small bus stop. It’s both remote and deserted, having been long forgotten already.
The bus wouldn’t come.
The bus would never come.
- 1The class for children from five to six years old