Everyone had their own way of surviving and not everyone wanted to be aggressive, haughty, and stomp all over someone else.
Wang Xiaoming thought he should use that sentence as a retort but he opened and closed his mouth several times; everytime he gathered up his courage to make that declaration, his gaze would land on Baal’s bright eyes and he would avert his gaze. Then Wang Xiaoming lowered his head and enjoyed that inexplicable sensation of sweetness that was growing within him.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to go on a date?” Baal watched the way Wang Xiaoming’s head bobbed up and down, as if the man was immersed in his own world. Baal felt quite vexed at the thought that Wang Xiaoming was ignoring him.
Wang Xiaoming scratched at his scalp. “You… do you want to take a boat ride?”
Baal’s eyebrows twitched.
Wang Xiaoming noticed the unenthusiastic way Baal was behaving and clapped his hands, suggesting, “Why don’t we go to the gym?” Since Baal liked games so much, then maybe he would also like exercise.
As expected, Baal perked up and asked, “What do you do there?”
Actually, Wang Xiaoming rarely went to the gym. The last time had been for the basketball match half a year ago between his college and another school. Chang Haitao had been a key player then and all his roommates had gone to be cheerleaders.
Wang Xiaoming had long forgotten which public bus route he had taken then.
Wang Xiaoming generously took out a twenty yuan bill for the taxi fare.
When they got there, his eyes glanced at the meter—￥32.50.
Wang Xiaoming dug out the money like he was shaving his own skin and then walked into the gymnasium with his head held high and his chest puffed out.
A young girl wearing loose clothing stood by the door and greeted him as soon as she spotted him. She handed him a flyer and asked, “Mister, would you be interested in signing up for Taekwondo classes?
Wang Xiaoming was actually quite interested in Taekwondo.
In everyone’s heart, there lived a superhero who was capable of anything and could dispense justice. It was only that in the West, he wore a cape and inside-out underwear and flew proudly between skyscrapers. In the East, he held a sword and walked by himself into the setting sun.
Every promotional flyer had the same characteristic: exaggeration. Walking became running, running became flying, flying became invisibility… Basically, it hooked into the buyer’s psyche and tried its very best to shove itself into that sweet spot. Whether that was a sweet spot for spending money or for chasing people away, that would depend on the person.
Wang Xiaoming was bedazzled by the exuberant claims but in the end, the tuition poured a bucket of cold water on his hopes.
One year, two thousand six hundred and forty-eight yuan.
Half a year, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight.
Three months, six hundred and eighty-eight.
One month, promotional price, two hundred and fifty.
That wasn’t the main point. The main point was that—there would only be four lessons a month, which meant that each lesson would cost around sixty yuan.
Wang Xiaoming asked, “Is it one-on-one instruction?” If that was the case, the tutoring fee wasn’t expensive.
The young girl smiled and answered, “It’s a big glass, so about a dozen people. Very lively and you won’t be lonely.”
What an expensive group meal.
Wang Xiaoming silently handed the flyer back.
Baal asked, “What’s Taekwondo?”
“A way of close combat.” He realized that Baal was still confused and explained further, “Especially used for fighting.”
“Oh?” Baal’s interest was piqued.
Wang Xiaoming asked, “Do you want to go see? But you’re not allowed to move people around.”
Baal answered with a smile, “It’s immoral to interrupt people while they’re fighting.”
Did he mishear or did Baal misspeak?
He actually heard Baal say “immoral”…
Wang Xiaoming walked to the address listed on the flyer in a daze.
The Taekwondo class was currently in session. A dozen young girls and boys wore loose white Taekwondo uniforms and kicked out their legs in imitation of what a middle-aged man with a black belt was doing.
Baal demanded impatiently, “When will they start fighting?”
Wang Xiaoming answered, “… After they complete the study?”
“When will they complete the study?”
Wang Xiaoming said, “That depends on how much they’ve paid.”
Baal stroked his chin. “Is there any way to have them start fighting immediately?”
Wang Xiaoming saw the glint that flashed across Baal’s eyes and cautioned fearfully, “You, you take it easy.”
“Are you here to sign up?” As the students practiced, the coach strolled over.
Wang Xiaoming gave an embarrassed chuckle. “I’m just here to watch.”
“Taekwondo is very interesting. You can train your body and it’ll make it easier to find a girlfriend.” As he said so, the coach put the training gloves with targets on and instructed, “Come on, try and kick here.”
“Huh?” Wang Xiaoming stopped in confusion. He was here to watch the drama, not to be part of the drama.
A lot of students sneakily stopped practicing and glanced over.
Wang Xiaoming couldn’t say no and laughed again in embarrassment, “Then I’ll give it a try.”
“Come on.” The coach patted the target. “It’s pretty solid. Kick however you want!”
Wang Xiaoming whipped out his legs and kicked.
“Ow!” The coach’s eyes instantly flew wide-open.
The students in the audience instinctively protected their crotches.
Wang Xiaoming looked helplessly at the coach’s pained expression as the man held his crotch area. He awkwardly said, “So-sorry, I misjudged the distance. I just…” He had clearly gone after the target so why had the coach suddenly moved? He looked over at Baal dubiously.
Baal smiled evilly.
Wang Xiaoming was furious. “You…”
On the other side, the coach slowly straightened up and waved a hand. “Don’t worry, I wore a jockstrap. After this, I’m sure everyone will know how important a jockstrap is. If you need one, please remember to go sign up after class at the reception desk.”
The students each looked at one another seriously and nodded their heads.
Wang Xiaoming looked at the teacher and students who were once again passionately engaged in the lesson and wondered dazedly whether he had just helped do some kind of ad campaign.
Baal asked impatiently, “This is the so-called exercise for humans?”
Wang Xiaoming answered, “Of course not. We have lots of fun exercises.”
Wang Xiaoming stood in front of a wall.
There were variously sized anchors attached to the wall.
Baal perked up and asked, “Is the goal of the exercise to clean up everything on the wall?”
“… No.” Wang Xiaoming pressed a hand against his temple and explained, “The goal this time is to do rock climbing.”
Baal was very confused.
Wang Xiaoming decided to personally demonstrate. He paid the fee and the staff started helping him put on safety ropes and explaining the important details. Finally, the staff member said, “The best record for rock climbing is six minutes and fifty six seconds. If you can beat that record, you’ll get a VIP card for our gymnasium and your future visits will be 20% off.”
Wang Xiaoming looked at the height and laughed dryly, “Will there be a prize for finishing?”
“Absolutely,” the staff answered with a smile, “you’ll earn our heartfelt applause.”
Wang Xiaoming started making his way up and was pretty successful at clearing the first few blocks; they weren’t very high and he had plenty of energy left. But when he got to the sixth block, he started to lag despite his best efforts. Whenever he stepped onto an anchor point, he didn’t want to move, especially when he saw the finish line that seemed infinitely far away. His entire body felt like all of its energy had been sapped away.
“What’s the goal of this exercise?” Baal asked in confusion.
Wang Xiaoming jumped at the surprise voice. He turned around to find Baal flapping his wings and flying around midair.
“…” Truly, flying around was safer than moving people around.
As Wang Xiaoming gripped an anchor and rested, he heard a staff member say from above him, “Almost three minutes, stay strong.”
Nevermind staying strong, even if he turned into The Hulk he couldn’t do it.
Wang Xiaoming sneaked a look downward and a wave of dizziness came over him. He slowly reached for the next anchor point but he tried twice without being able to support himself there.
The staff burst into a series of quiet laughter and then into cheers and words of encouragement.
Baal pursed his lips in disdain and suddenly grabbed Wang Xiaoming’s collar, rapidly lifting the man into the air.
Wang Xiaoming didn’t know how he did what he did next. Basically… he clambered to the top of the wall using all four limbs like Spiderman, as if the wall were a smooth floor to walk on.
When he looked at the staff members, who looked like they had seen a ghost, he calmly asked, “How long?”
The staff member’s jaw dropped and he looked at the stopwatch. “I forgot to press… probably not more than four minutes.”
“Do I get a VIP card?” Wang Xiaoming’s eyes glinted.
The staff looked at each other and nodded. “Yes, please follow me.”
Wang Xiaoming followed the staff member to the service desk.
On the way there, the staff member couldn’t help turning around to ask, “How did you do what you just did?”
Wang Xiaoming said, “I know martial arts that lets me fly.”
The staff member, “…”
Since he’d already been a monster, he might as well become a martial arts master, right? Wang Xiaoming discovered that his skin was getting thicker and thicker.
After they processed the VIP card, the staff member suddenly kneeled down on one knee and very sincerely put his hands together in a fist as he said, “Master, please take me as a student!”
Wang Xiaoming, “…”
After he fled from the gym, Wang Xiaoming stood at the bus station and looked apologetically at Baal. “I wasted our date today.”
Baal answered, “I wasn’t expecting anything to begin with.”
Liar, he had clearly been expecting this when they had first left.
Wang Xiaoming accused with his eyes.
Baal glanced down at him and said, “I’ve almost gotten used to it.”
Impulsively, Wang Xiaoming wanted to bash his head against the nearby lamppost.
“But—” He thought of what had happened at the Lake of Love and all his passion had passed. He could discuss things calmly now. “China has a saying that goes ‘follow the customs of the host.’ I know you mean well, and I’m very grateful and very touched, but I still want you to solve problems using the human way. For us, death really is something that’s very, very serious.”
“You fear death?” Baal raised an eyebrow..
“Yes,” Wang Xiaoming admitted freely. “It’s because we don’t live as long as you do that we try so hard to live and cherish the process. Even if you tell me that I won’t vanish after dying, that I might go to heaven, that’s still not me. Not a human.”
“What’s to miss about being a fragile human?”
Wang Xiaoming thought for a moment and then said, “How do you know the pleasures of a fish if you’re not the fish? You’re not me, so you won’t know. It’s just like how I can’t imagine what you’d want when you have eternal life.”
Their day of dating ended hurriedly amidst the long exposition.
Wang Xiaoming came back to the Silver House cafeteria utterly starving and after a meal where he gulped down everything in sight, he went back to their dorm in satisfaction.
Baal was silent the entire time.
Wang Xiaoming wanted to start a conversation several times but couldn’t find a good topic, so he could only let the silence continue until they returned home. He shut the door and was about to walk into the bathroom to wash some clothes and change his mood when, suddenly, a figure lounging on the sofa and watching television attracted his gaze.
Dark red hair stood up in spikes like a hedgehog. The man wore a form-fitting black T-shirt and the material rose and fell with the curves of the man’s muscles. He wore a windbreaker, as red as fire, and his long and slender legs were encased in black leather pants with several silver chains draped against the pant legs.
“Who are you? How did you get in?” Wang Xiaoming was certain that he had never seen the man in the last twenty-three years, including on television.